Saturday, March 20, 2010

On insinuations

Shorter Les MacPherson:

As far as I'm concerned, Tommy Douglas must have been doing something wrong to have been the subject of 30 years of covert RCMP surveillance. And it's for Douglas' own good that we should keep suppressing the files which can prove otherwise.

Saturday Morning Zombie Lie Hunt

I suppose it was inevitable that the corporatist right would eventually start trying to spin social-science research into supporting a free-markets-above-all worldview, and that right-wing pundits would further twist the outcomes. But of course it's highly dangerous to let that type of assault on reality go unchallenged lest it come to be taken as conventional wisdom - so let's take some time to point out the glaring flaws in the National Post's effort to push both yesterday.

Let's start with the article on the work of Joe Henrich. Naturally, the article itself is absolutely loaded with spin - but at base, here's what it's talking about:
The 13 researchers on Mr. Henrich's international team spent time -- and played clever psychological games -- with more than 2,000 people in 15 different societies.

One researcher trekked to Bolivia to play the games with the Tsimane people who hunt and forage for food in the rain forest. Another anthropologist introduced the games to the Hadza living in small nomadic groups on the savannah in Tanzania. At the other end of the human spectrum, the researchers studied wage earners in Accra, Ghana and Missouri, in the American Midwest.

In each of the 15 societies, they recruited volunteers to play Dictator, Ultimatum and Third-Party Punishment - games widely used by researchers to gauge people's willingness to share with strangers, and punish people who make unfair allocations.

The study found that the likelihood that people "played fair" with strangers increased with the degree people were integrated into markets and participated in a world religion. Participants in the larger-scale societies were also more likely to punish players who did not play fair.
Eliminate the obviously slanted language about markets, and there are plenty of grounds for distinction between the groups of people considered. Rather than simply consisting of "non-market" vs. "market", they can equally easily be framed as "tribal" vs. "non-tribal", which would seem to reflect reason for suspicion about the right's constant efforts to foment a war of civilizations. Or "interconnected to the broader world" vs. "not interconnected to the broader world", which would seem to fit particularly well with the findings related to "world religion". Or even as "not subject to stable democratic government which regulates social relations" vs. "subject to stable democratic government which regulates social relations", as evidence that democratic regulation is in fact the basis for good human behaviour.

Now, I'm not going to say that any one of the above is necessarily right. But the researchers look to have deliberately ignored obvious and important differences between the groups studied in order to pretend that capitalism is the fount of all that is right and good.

Naturally, that already-misleading message gets turned into such ever-less-plausible assertions as "markets have been a force for good over the last 10,000 years" and "people trust and play fair with strangers because (of) markets and religion". And all this in what's supposed to be a news report rather than a Fraser Institute polemic.

But it takes Tasha Kheiriddin to turn the study into proof of the divine wisdom of the prophet Gekko.

Keep in mind that the "market" societies studies in fact differ from the "non-market" ones in having both more capitalism as generally understood, and more government regulation. (Indeed, one could hardly imagine a type of individual more free of government interference in a true libertarian sense than somebody who has the opportunity every day to wander off and live off the land according to his or her own ability to survive.)

Notwithstanding the fact that the study as reported - even on its own biased terms - doesn't pretend to say anything about the effect of regulation on individual behaviour, Kheiriddin manages to emit this stunner:
(I)f governments act to curtail market forces, are they actually curbing our civilizing impulses as well? In other words, will a bigger welfare state take us back to our ruder, cruder nature?

Certainly, receiving a state entitlement demands less of the recipient than a voluntary transaction would. Getting a government cheque or benefit is not an exchange; it is a one-way transaction, and often faceless at that. If our sense of fair play depends on our integration into a larger commercial society, then it follows that the more we are taken care of by government, the less practice we will have with exercising these impulses.
In other words, access to health care is exactly the same as isolation in a remote rain forest with no contact with the outside world. And because of that common effect, if we just eliminate the government that makes an interconnected society possible and instead allow corporate monoliths to sell lead paint chips as children's snacks subject only to punishment in the "market", we'll all be able to better fulfill our true potential for human goodness.

Suffice it to say that anybody paying even a modicum of attention should know better than to take either the slanted research or the upside-down opinion linked to it as having anything useful to say. And the more the likes of Kheiriddin try to grasp at such broken straws in an effort to support their justification for crass me-firstism, the more obvious it should be that their beliefs don't hold up in reality.

On obvious intentions

There's been plenty of discussion this morning about the report which slams the Cons' previous set of publicly-funded propaganda which advertised the home renovation tax credit as wrongly promoting Harper and his party. But how much more scathing a report can we expect when the most recent set of ads - which doesn't include anything for viewers to do but bask in a list of Con talking points - comes under similar scrutiny?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Musical interlude

Cake - Sheep Go To Heaven

Saskatoon Northwest - Catlin Hogan Seeking NDP Nomination

One more nomination note which I haven't yet blogged: Catlin Hogan, who ran a blog of his own for a time last year, is seeking the NDP's nomination for Saskatoon Northwest.

Based on the 2007 results (which saw a 23-point victory for Serge LeClerc), the seat might not seem to be a prime target. But it was actually home to extremely close races in each of the previous three elections, with candidates from three different parties emerging victorious. And whoever else joins in the race for the nomination, Catlin's early start in the riding should help maximize the chances that the NDP can flip the seat once again.

Regina South: Yens Pedersen Enters NDP Nomination Race

Leftdog reports that Yens Pedersen has announced his plans for 2011, and has decided to seek a rematch against Bill Hutchinson in Regina South after suffering a narrow loss in 2007.

But of course, he'll face a challenge for the NDP's nomination first. And with Heather McIntyre already in the race, the nomination contest looks to be a fascinating one. And due only in part to the fact that the two candidates were fixtures in each others' inner circles in the races that each ran in 2009 (Pedersen for the NDP leadership, McIntyre for City Council).

Perhaps even more noteworthy, though, is the fact that some of the main messages used by each in their previous campaigns will now cut in the opposition direction. McIntyre, having fought a "doesn't live in the ward" message in her Council race, is now the candidate who would be tempted to run as the candidate who does live in the riding - while the experience vs. renewal dynamic from the leadership race may be reversed as Pedersen grapples with his status as the candidate who's run but lost in the riding before.

Either way, Regina South voters will be able to look forward to a strong NDP candidate in 2011. And when that's combined with the increased level of enthusiasm following a hotly-contested nomination battle, one has to like the odds of the NDP retaking the seat.

On discrepancies

CBC's report on the commendation given to Saskatoon Police Service for helping to prevent "embarrassment" for Stephen Harper points out another detail which looks to deserve some significant follow-up, as the police look to have been far more restrictive in handling the CAPP protesters than they normally are in protecting VIPs. Here's the Chief of Police:
Chief Clive Weighill said Saskatoon police don't want people to get too close.

Police Chief Clive Weighhill of Saskatoon says officers have to ensure VIPs are safe.Police Chief Clive Weighhill of Saskatoon says officers have to ensure VIPs are safe. (CBC)"Our job is to prevent anybody who wants to exercise their freedom of speech not to get too close to a VIP," he said. "That's all our job is."

When asked how close was too close, Weighill responded, "Within arm's-reach or possible harm's reach."

But he also said there isn't a handbook of rules for such situations.
In contrast, here's how the CAPP protesters were actually treated:
Goldie said protesters were kept across the street from the hotel for most of their demonstration and were never in a position to do harm.

"We were shouting slogans and that sort of thing, trying to get attention, but nothing outside of the normal run of a protest," he said.
Now, it would seem fairly obvious that had the police wanted only to avoid "harm" to Harper, they could just as easily have cleared a single path for him while allowing the protesters to stay in front of the hotel. And it's not hard to draw a connection between the city policy instead corralling the protesters much further away than they could possibly justify from the standpoint of preventing harm, and the RCMP offering its commendation for sparing Harper the "embarrassment" of a peaceful protest.

Of course, that raises the question of who exactly made the decision that Saskatoon's police should be serving Harper's interests rather than those of the public. But from the response so far, it doesn't look like either the Saskatoon Police Service or the RCMP will come out unscathed.

On choices

Shorter Diane Finley (to the Institute of Marriage and Family, quoted by Paul Wells):

And while we're at it, I'd add indoor plumbing, potable water and shelter to the list of unaffordable luxuries which we should be looking to take away from those lazy, shiftless bums who don't deserve them.

The costs of cutbacks

It figures that the Leader-Post can't publish a column on the Sask Party's plan to cut 16% of Saskatchewan's public service positions without including repeated declarations that everybody loves hacking away at the civil service. But at the very least, it's pointed out a couple of rather important considerations which the Wall government is ignoring in its attacks on the size of Saskatchewan's public sector.

Yesterday, the editorial board tossed in as an afterthought the rather important point that cutting public services doesn't make a lot of sense in what's supposed to be a growing population - which means that under Wall, a significantly smaller public sector will have to do significantly more work:
(Reducing the size of government) won't be as easy as some think, particularly in a growing province with rising demand for public services.
And today, Murray Mandryk points out that the Sask Party's choice to cut jobs through attrition rather than through any review of what programs are actually needed is obviously a flawed way of reducing expenses:
(Is) it necessarily responsible to use attrition to cut the civil service? Will the government reduce political hiring as well? What about those areas of government that legitimately might need more staffing?

And, most critically, shouldn't a government be eliminating unnecessary programs rather than reducing the staffing complements in necessary ones?
Mind you, Mandryk stops somewhat short of the ultimate conclusion to be drawn from the Sask Party's attrition strategy. While targeted cuts are naturally seen as a more direct attack on the workers who currently hold the positions, a government-wide attrition strategy actually hints at far more contempt for the work of the public sector: in effect, Wall is telling Saskatchewan that as far as he's concerned, there isn't a single public-sector worker in the province (or combination thereof) who can't be replaced with an empty chair without the public noticing.

Of course, it generally takes some time for the real costs of attacking the public service to become apparent - so one might think Wall could get away with it long enough to cling to power in 2011. But the fact that the Sask Party is bound and determined to impose cuts for years into the future (even as it supposedly projects growth in the province's economy and population) signals that we can expect the worst if Wall is left in charge long enough to carry out his plans. And that should provide the province's citizens with every incentive to stop him before he gets the chance.

Edit: fixed wording.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

On eerie parallels

The Harper Cons' attempt at damage control just last month after it was revealed that political staffers had deliberately chosen not to follow the law in suppressing information without a legal basis:
Federal ministers have been warned by their boss against subverting Canada's freedom-of-information law after a political aide at Public Works ordered a sensitive document withheld from a media requester.
But of course, that public statement bore absolutely no resemblance to the message sent behind the scenes:
(D)espite PMO statements that all staffers have been directed to abide and uphold the Access to Information Act, the PMO interference continues.

"This still continues and staff are told publicly to 'respect the process' but are expected to find ways to thwart the process," the staffer wrote. "Trust me—despite the public musings—political staff were told 'not to interfere,' nudge nudge, wink wink."

Staffers, another Tory staffer said, are very aware they are being "reminded of rules which they know they haven't been asked to apply."
Today, the Harper Cons' attempt at damage control after a second cabinet minister decided that ministers don't have to follow the law when it comes to air travel:
The PMO says Prime Minister Stephen Harper will issue an edict to his ministers, reminding them that they're not above the law.
So are there any guesses as to what the Con cabinet ministers are in fact being told behind the scenes?

Edit: fixed label.

Burning question

So if it's the job of the police to keep Stephen Harper from getting embarrassed, how many members of his "VIP security unit" have been reprimanded for failing to stop him from proroguing Parliament?

On crowded fields

Sean breaks the news that there's another entrant in an increasingly-crowded group of candidates in Saskatoon-Humboldt, as Saskatoon Councillor Darren Hill will be seeking the federal Libs' nomination to challenge Brad Trost, Denise Kouri and Jim Pankiw.

For those wondering how Hill's decision to join the race will affect the NDP's chances of winning, keep in mind that the NDP's share of the vote in the riding has regularly been between 26% and 32% - even as the number of viable candidates has varied from two to four, and the Cons' share of the vote has ranged from 27% to 54%. So when the NDP has come closest to winning, it's been the result of extensive vote splitting.

Now, with Hill apparently cutting into the Cons' support from the left while Pankiw pursues it from the right, Trost figures to be in a world of trouble trying to hold onto his vote. And the NDP still looks to have the best chance of taking advantage of that opening.

Well done

Not surprisingly, I'll join the chorus offering kudos to the members of all three opposition parties for acting on the Cons' blatant violations of Parliamentary privilege. It's worth keeping in mind that the contempt motions are just the start of the process, and indeed the more important question is the willingness of the entire House of Commons to back up the motions presented today - but this morning's events made for a necessary step in actually preserving some semblance of Parliamentary supremacy.

On blockage

Most of the talk from Ottawa this week has understandably revolved around two opposition motions: the Libs' on wasteful spending including ten percenters, and the NDP's on prorogation. But in between, the Bloc also got a chance to present a motion - and in so doing, they made a few choices worth pointing out.

Here's the text of the Bloc's motion:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government demonstrated in its Speech from the Throne and its Budget that federalism does not fulfill the goals and requirements of Quebec, as there were no commitments to allocate $2.2 billion to Quebec for harmonizing the QST and GST, to provide the forestry industry with an assistance plan equivalent to that given to the automobile industry, to offer stimulus measures to the aeronautics industry, to meet Quebeckers’ expectations regarding the environment, and to enhance programs to assist the less fortunate in Quebec.
So what's noteworthy about the Bloc blaming everything on federalism? Only the fact that it was repeatedly offered a chance to actually focus its criticism, and made a conscious choice to rail against "federalism" generally rather than the government (or even governments) responsible for its substantive concerns. And in so doing, it forfeited any chance of having its motion actually pass.

Here's Thomas Mulcair's speech in response to the motion, describing the NDP's efforts to work out some compromise wording:
I would like to start by saying that we have carefully studied the motion. We initially contacted the Bloc to discuss a possible change in the wording. I wish to apologize to our extraordinary translators as I will be stumbling back and forth between the two versions of the motion. The French version states:

Que, de l’avis de la Chambre, le gouvernement a fait la démonstration dans son discours du Trône et dans son budget que le fédéralisme ne répond pas aux aspirations et aux besoins du Québec en ne s’engageant pas [...]

I would have automatically translated the French terms aspirations et besoins by “hopes and needs”. Thus, we were very surprised to see that they were rendered by fairly different terms, “goals and requirements”. It was as though the reader would be required to espouse the ultimate goal of the Parti québécois, Quebec's sovereignty. The English does not render the sense of the French term “besoins” but instead chooses to use the term “requirements”, in the sense of something that has to be done.
We contacted the Bloc to determine if it would be possible to change the translation. The Bloc refused outright, which was an indication that this was about playing a political game rather than pointing out that Quebec had not been given its fair share. With the Bloc, it is all about strategy and tactics.

It is often said that the Conservative government and the Prime Minister are always looking for an angle. When the Bloc refused such a simple request, we began to worry.

Never giving up hope, however, the leader of the New Democratic Party, the member for Toronto—Danforth, contacted the leader of the Bloc Québécois to propose an amendment. He told the leader of the Bloc that, if his real aim was to blame the government for its behaviour with regard to Quebec and not to say that the problems set out here are the product of federalism pure and simple, he agreed with him. I am not proposing an amendment at the moment, but will do so later.

He suggested the following minor change. After the word “federalism”, the words “as practised by the Conservatives, among others” would be added.
With this amendment, it would have been very easy to agree with the Bloc's proposal, because this is divisive federalism. Federalism of exclusion, as practised by the Conservatives today and the Liberals before them, is at the source of the problem.
When the Bloc rejected this amicable change proposed by the NDP leader, we realized what was happening. We realized that, as usual, the Bloc was choosing to withdraw and stick to its ideology.
And Mulcair made one more appeal for a change in wording which would have had a strong chance of passing in light of its direct focus on the Cons:
We could have worked with the Bloc had it been willing to amend its motion to say that the goal is constructive criticism for the future. Conservatives are being blamed, which does not preclude possible criticism of the Liberals, mainly for their stand on harmonization, but the Bloc would not listen.

In order for this to remain in the public domain, I wish to move an amendment.

I move, seconded by the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior, that the motion be amended by adding, after the word “federalism”, the following: “as practised mainly by the Conservatives”.
So how did the Bloc respond? Here's the reply from Pierre Paquette:
Mr. Speaker, we could accept the amendment if we could introduce an amendment to the amendment saying “federalism as practised by the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP”.

I therefore reject the amendment.
Now, in mentioning only the three national parties in Parliament, I suppose one could try to spin the response as reflecting Bloc approval for the Greens' brand of federalism. (Hey, the Greens can probably use the break.)

But the more plausible interpretation is that the Bloc is so bent on railing against "federalism" in general that it's deliberately ignoring the question of who's actually responsible for its grievances - and more importantly, that of which national parties might actually have some interest in acknowledging and correcting them. And one has to figure that the more the Bloc styles itself primarily as a critic of federalism rather than a remotely constructive voice for Quebec, the more likely voters will be to question whether there's any point in electing Bloc MPs.

Well said

Erin points out the absurdity of the McGuinty government's attempt to justify imposing the HST on the province:
(H)armonization will reduce annual revenues by $0.7 billion because the input tax credits paid to business ($4.5 billion) exceed the net additional tax paid by households ($6.1 billion - $2.3 billion). The corporate income tax cut will reduce annual revenues by a further $2.4 billion. To quote McGuinty again, “Our tax reforms, in fact, cost the treasury billions of dollars.”

King Louis XIV’s finance minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert, famously quipped, “The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.” Conversely, the McGuinty government has managed to provoke a full-blown tax revolt without gaining any additional revenue.
What's most remarkable about the current discussion is the fact that McGuinty is trying to paint the fact that the HST will "cost the treasury billions of dollars" as a plus even as a wave of deficit hysteria is spreading across the country. But while there's little sense that even the admission that he's voluntarily damaged Ontario's fiscal position will change McGuinty's dierction, it might be worthwhile for those trying to push the same policy elsewhere to take note of the reality.

Suggested slogan

Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party: Reflexively supporting cover-ups since 2007.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On conflict avoidance

It's definitely good news that the NDP's prorogation motion has passed in the House of Commons. But perhaps even more interesting is the lack of some of the fight that I for one fully expected to materialize from the Cons.

After all, the Cons' normal modus operandi has been to raise the greatest possible stink about imagined consequences of opposition motions or legislation, then ignore them only after they've passed. (See e.g. their cries that Pablo Rodriguez' C-288 requiring a plan to comply with Kyoto would be the end of life in Canada as we know it, followed by their complete lack of action once it actually passed.)

So consider what would have happened if the Cons had taken the same approach to a motion which at least arguably restricts the PM's ability to take advantage of what the Cons have repeatedly argued to be a constitutional power. In principle, there was probably at least some room for argument that the motion restricts the constitutional authority of the PM as framed by the Cons - meaning that it would have been entirely in keeping with their past approach for the Cons to go so far as to treat Layton's motion as a matter of confidence if they thought they could pull off their usual brinksmanship.

Instead, the Cons seem to be looking to call as little attention to the NDP's motion as possible, rather than using the opportunity to bully an opposition party into submission. And the fact that they've chosen to minimize the impact of the motion from the beginning rather than applying their usual escalation seems to signal some recognition as to just how damaging the issue of prorogation is to the Cons.

On counterweights

It only took a week's wait along with three scathing blog posts. But yesterday, Murray Mandryk became the first mainstream media opinion columnist to bother mentioning the Sask Party's 9/11 exploitation - albeit in a rather surprising context:
(M)ake no mistake . . . each side is gunning for the other in ways we haven't much experienced in Saskatchewan. The Sask. Party is using its vast coffers for American-style TV campaigns that have been used by Stephen Harper's Conservatives. NDP caucus communications are using friendly bloggers to wage a guerrilla campaign by throwing everything at the Sask. Party in the hopes that something will stick. New Democrats certainly scored when they managed to elevate Nancy Heppner's tacky and stupid fundraising poster (advertising a constituency fund-raising pig roast over the images of the burning twin towers on 9-11) to the status of a supposed international incident.
That's right: the fact that people were eventually informed of the Sask Party's efforts to raise money off of 9/11 (despite the best efforts of Saskatchewan's media) is just a case in point as to how terrible it is that the NDP has supportive bloggers. And what's more, our existence is apparently a direct and equal counterweight to the big-money attack ads that have been flooding Saskatchewan's airwaves thanks to the Sask Party.

Of course, it's tempting to dismiss the equivalence as another example of Mandryk's inability to present a valid criticism of the Sask Party without inventing some misplaced attack on the NDP in the name of "balance".

But let's look on the bright side. If Mandryk is right in implying that the progressive blogosphere is in fact a no less significant factor in shaping Saskatchewan's political scene than the Sask Party's bottomless pit of corporate ad funding, then that would seem to reflect a seismic shift in the ability of ordinary citizens to influence Saskatchewan's political process. And if that influence meets Mandryk's apparent expectations, there's plenty of reason for hope both that we'll see far more of a focus on policy in the next year an a half than would exist based on mainstream coverage alone, and that the NDP will indeed be able to put some lasting dents into Wall's public perception in time to make the NDP's new ideas a reality starting in 2011.

Saskatchewan NDP Nominations - Prince Albert Carlton & Prince Albert Northcote

UPDATE: See below.

The Saskatchewan NDP's convention is set to take place on March 26-28. And in addition to addressing what we presume will be far more than five measly resolutions, the weekend will also include a joint nomination meeting for Prince Albert Carlton and Prince Albert Northcote.

In the latter riding, there's no apparent reason to doubt that MLA Darcy Furber will once again carry the NDP's banner. But what about Prince Albert Carlton, where Chad Nilson lost a nail-biter in 2007 to the Sask Party's Darryl Hickie in a seat that had long been held by the NDP's Myron Kowalsky?

Well, after his extremely narrow loss, Nilson mentioned that he'd be "ready for Nov. 7, 2011". And given that Hickie has failed miserably in his main promise to the riding and then been booted from Brad Wall's cabinet for failing to meet even the Sask Party's barely-existent bar for competence, there's little reason to think anything in the meantime would have dissuaded Nilson from following through on that intention.

Meanwhile, a quick scan of the most likely sources of news about other candidates doesn't show anybody else publicly pursuing the nomination. And presumably the meeting wouldn't have been called if there was nobody expected to step forward as the candidate.

So the best guess for now looks to be that Nilson will get his expected second shot at the Prince Albert Carlton seat - though as with all NDP riding nominations, it'll be the riding's members who ultimately get to decide.

UPDATE: In comments, Guest rightly notes that Prince Albert City Councillor Ted Zurakowski is in fact the anticipated candidate for Prince Albert Carlton - which I missed as it appears at the end of an unrelated notes article. The paragraphs above are struck through to reflect the error - though lest there be any doubt, the "riding's members will ultimately get to decide" does still apply.

At least one answer

Predictably, Stephen Harper's Google interview was just as free of any substantive content as his answers in any other forum. But the surrounding reporting is starting to set up a useful timeline on the preferential treatment given to the Cons by Google:
Dimitri Soudas, Mr. Harper's press secretary, said officials from Google, which owns the site, approached with the offer about a month ago.

“It didn't take us long to say, ‘this is great,'” he said Tuesday. Indeed it is, if you're a politician.
Compare that to CBC's report on Google's interactions with the NDP:
We met with two representatives from Google a few weeks ago - no members of other parties were present. They pitched us on the live streaming technology that Google's American arm used for President Obama's State of the Union and which Prime Minister Harper took advantage of today.

At the time, they said that the infrastructure to support this stream was not yet available in Canada but gauged our interest in making use of it, if and when it was available.
From those passages, it looks like it was Google which approached Canada's political parties to offer its pitch for live-streaming to build on its use of the technology for the State of the Union address. And perhaps not surprisingly, Google apparently approached the Cons first - which isn't problematic from the standpoint of working their way down the list of Canada's parties based on seat totals.

But its message toward the NDP was different after it made its offer of an interview to the Cons - who, of course, would have been in a position to dictate whether or not Google received access to Harper comparable to what they received from Obama.

So the key question would seem to be, what caused Google to offer a different pitch to the NDP than it offered to Harper? And did the Cons set conditions on Google's access to Harper which resulted in its refusing to work with Canada's other political parties on the same terms offered to them?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On access restrictions

Shorter Tony Clement:

Canadians' access to the wealth of information online is essential. So we have no choice but to reject a small tax on a small number of devices in favour of draconian copyright laws allowing corporate interests to bar users forever.

On forward motion

The NDP has taken the lead in introducing a prorogation motion for consideration by the House of Commons. And while it wouldn't have a direct binding effect, it looks to be a useful first step in building up momentum toward the legislation the NDP has discussed before:
The motion that Mr. Layton will introduce reads as follows:

“That, in the opinion of the House, the Prime Minister shall not advise the Governor General to prorogue any session of any Parliament for longer than seven calendar days without a specific resolution of this House of Commons to support such a prorogation.”
What's perhaps most notable about the motion as compared to the NDP's previous proposal is that it incorporates one of the ideas suggested by the Libs to restrict only extended prorogation orders. The change weakens the original NDP position somewhat by continuing to permit governments to hit the reset button with relative impunity (if only for a short period of time). But that compromise will figure to be worthwhile if it encourages the Libs and Bloc to vote along with the motion and establish the will of the House of Commons on how prorogation can and can't be used.

On timelines

There's been plenty of justified outrage over the Cons' suggestion that their decision to hire Justice Iacobucci should buy them 18 months of unaccountability for their Afghanistan torture cover-up. But it's worth taking a closer look at why that particular timeline is being suggested.

The first and most obvious reason why the Cons would want the 18-month number floating around is the perception that an election is likely at some point in the next year or so. In effect, the result of hiring Iacobucci would then be to completely cloud the issue for the next federal election campaign.

But what if the anticipated election doesn't come in the meantime? That's where the endpoint of the Cons' timeline becomes particularly significant: by the Cons' reckoning, the report would be completed around September 2011, just a few months before the nominal end date for Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan. And it will be easy enough for the Cons to hide behind the troops and say that regardless of the outcome of the report, we should wait until after withdrawal from Afghanistan to allow any of the documents to be seen.

That makes for a big enough problem on its own. But it gets worse when one considers that it's not too late for Harper to decide to extend the combat mission - which he'd have a greater incentive to do if any of the opposition parties accept the message that it's reasonable to tie the release of documents to our departure from Afghanistan. So if the Cons are able to sell the message that the documents can't be released until after we're out of the combat role, then they could actually increase the likelihood that we'll be in that role much longer - while also laying the groundwork to keep on suppressing the truth for years to come.

So what are the odds of that happening? It's easy enough for now to presume that the 2011 end date will stick, as even the Cons aren't actively talking about an extension these days. But if the Libs in particular are weak enough in the meantime to allow themselves to be strongarmed on the Cons' confidence motions, it won't be much surprise if Harper can also push them into agreeing to another extension. And even if not, there's no official mechanism to keep Harper from announcing an extention unilaterally (which he was fully prepared to do in 2006).

Now, the extension scenario is far from being one of the main reasons why the opposition should reject the Cons' efforts to hide behind Iacobucci. But it does hint at the fact that the consequences of allowing the Cons to run roughshod over parliamentary democracy can be far-reaching - which should make for an added incentive for the opposition to take a stand in enforcing its production order.

The company they keep

Shorter National Post editorial board:

Why would Google allow its technology to be used as a political tool of an all-controlling government in China when it can do the same much more easily right here in Canada?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Just wondering

Not that I endorse Brad Lavigne's choice of hashtags in spreading the word about the NDP's anti-torture bill. But let's ask this: if Lavigne hadn't included a jab at Michael Ignatieff in pointing it out, would commentators from any other party have so much as acknowledged that the bill exists?

On limited access

In addition to offering some background on the solicitor-client privilege issue raised in my post yesterday, Kady has plenty more on the Iacobucci terms of reference - featuring in particular a serious problem with the lack of any ability to look past the documents the Cons want to provide to him:
Meanwhile, buried in the the fine print devoted to detailing exactly which documents he'll be reviewing, we see the reappearance of that oddly Orwellian phrase that Nicholson employed when first announcing the appointment two weeks ago. Iacobucci will, it seems, conduct "independent confidential review of the information that is proposed [by the government] to be withheld from release."

As a commenter pointed out earlier, it sounds for all the world like Iacobucci will be acting as a specialized ministerial ATIP advisor, with no special ability to force the department to turn over any additional material of which he could, in theory, become aware only after he begins his review of the documents provided, despite the words "all other relevant documents" having been tacked onto the end of his to-do list.

Without the power to subpoena testimony or records, he won't know whether he actually has all of the relevant material, or only that which the government is willing to deliver to the House after it goes through the censors.

Take the challenge

It's been awhile since I suggested a donation to Saskatchewan's federal NDP ridings, with a focus on those which already had a candidate in place. But with the Local Victories Challenge now taking place (ensuring that your donation goes even further than it normally would), it's an ideal time for a reminder that the NDP's efforts to challenge the Cons across the province rely on enough local resources to at least partially level the playing field against the Harper money machine.

So I'll encourage readers to take the opportunity to make a donation toward one or more of the following ridings:

Battlefords-Lloydminster - Currently held by Con Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, whose exploits shouldn't require much introduction. The NDP pulled ahead of the pack into a solid second place in 2008 - but has a ways to go in taking back what's been fertile territory in the past.

Cypress Hills-Grasslands - The NDP finished a distant second here in 2008, and the lack of much competition may explain why Con MP David Anderson may have figured he could get away with doing nothing during his Harper Holiday. Needless to say, it would be a plus to prove him wrong.

Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River - With star candidate Lawrence Joseph seeking the NDP's nomination, this should be one of the NDP's top target ridings in the next election.

Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre - An NDP seat as recently as 2000, and with the Libs dropping out of the picture over the past couple of elections the NDP's next candidate will be easily the strongest contender for the riding. And as an added bonus, your donation can help to unseat Tom Lukiwski.

Regina-Qu'Appelle - Consistently an NDP seat until 2004, but has unfortunately stayed in Andrew Scheer's hands despite strong challenges from Lorne Nystrom and Janice Bernier. And money looks to have been a key factor: Nystrom was able to win against Les Winter when he had the cash advantage, but the Cons have taken the riding largely by outspending the NDP in recent cycles.

Souris-Moose Mountain - Ed Komarnicki is another of the Cons' napping MPs due to a lack of recent competition. But the NDP has performed strongly in the area before, and Raquel Fletcher managed to earn second place for the party (ten points ahead of the Libs and Greens) in 2008.

Wascana - Lib MP Ralph Goodale has been in the Cons' cross-hairs for several election cycles now. But the NDP has plenty of history of success in the riding, holding the main component seat throughout the '80s and beating both Goodale and the Cons at least once after that. (And it's also my home riding, so I'm particularly interested in seeing it won back into NDP hands.)

Yorkton-Melville - Garry Breitkreuz has managed to hold the riding for a disturbingly long time as a frequently-offensive one-issue MP. But Lorne Nystrom's longtime seat should be one which the NDP can compete for again, particularly if Breitkreuz' one issue disappears.

Edit: fixed link.

On impending announcements

As part of a slew of new posts about the Saskatchewan NDP's nomination races, LRT points out the latest news from leadership contestants Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen, who will both be announcing their targeted nominations very shortly.

Of course it's no surprise that both will be pursuing seats, but it's good to see that they're getting an early start on the task. And there can't be much doubt that two candidates who built up remarkably strong province-wide support during the course of a six-month leadership race should be well positioned to assemble winning riding campaigns in the year and a half before the 2011 election.

On protected information

There seems to be general agreement that somebody should offer some actual explanation for the fact that the serious charges against Rahim Jaffer were dropped never to be dealt with again. But an important part of the picture seems to have been ignored so far - particularly by the Con spokesflacks who are pointing solely toward the McGuinty government.

As best I can tell from the facts reported so far, there's little prospect that the Attorney General could offer anything approaching a substantive explanation without revealing information about what happened between Jaffer and the police who arrested him. But information about Jaffer's place in the exchange would be considered his "personal information" - which the Attorney General is generally prohibited from disclosing without Jaffer's consent.

Now, there are some possible exceptions to that rule, based on either specific circumstances where disclosure is permitted or a public interest override. And it's conceivable that the province could provide at least a partial explanation without releasing details specific to Jaffer personally.

But it's Jaffer alone who can provide the authorization needed to move the province's ability to speak openly about the case out of a legal grey area. And until he's done so, I can't particularly blame the Attorney General for being careful as to what gets made public.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On business decisions

Following up on the Cons' sweetheart deal from Google for free live-streaming of Stephen Harper at a time when the NDP was being told that the technology wasn't even available in Canada, let's note one other potentially significant aspect of the story.

Remember that in the 2008 federal election campaign, there was exactly one political party which actually made use of Google's paid advertising as a means of reaching people searching key election-related terms. And of course, that party was the NDP. So one would think that Google would have had ample experience with the NDP's interest in pioneering its services in Canada - which presumably would make for reason to keep the NDP in the loop as to what new options were going to be available absent some pressure to withhold that information.

Mind you, I wouldn't expect Google to treat the NDP better than any other customer. But the apparently misleading information given to the NDP to stands in stark contrast to the obviously preferential treatment offered to the Cons - and some explanations are surely in order as to why that distinction was drawn.

Sunday Afternoon Links

- The announcement that former FSIN chief (though that's just a small part of his impressive resume) Lawrence Joseph is running for the NDP's nomination in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River is definitely great news for the party's efforts to send multiple Saskatchewan NDP MPs to Ottawa. But perhaps even more important than Joseph's name and reputation is the message being sent about the role of the NDP's candidates:
The normally outspoken Joseph said he chose the NDP for what he believed was its attention to the average citizen.

The longtime politician said if chosen for the nomination and eventually elected, he won't ever be "muzzled."

"I can say the things that the constituents want me to say, not necessarily what the party wants me to say, and I like that(.)"
- Toby Sanger's post on the disastrous effects of preferential tax treatment for stock options is worth a look for a reminder as a reminder as to just how distorting and damaging the Con/Lib corporate agenda can be for ordinary Canadians.

- Jason Kenney has been in the news plenty over his office's manipulation of Canada's citizenship guide to remove any discussion of gay rights, including in Tabatha Southey's column yesterday. But he probably deserves no less criticism for his consistent efforts to put the thumb on the scale when it comes to refugee claims - and Embassy has a damning article on the latest court challenge to his interference.

- Finally, while I didn't get around to discussing it when the story first broke, the Cons' decision to end federal funding for climate science (in this case the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory) shouldn't pass without at least a link.

A propos of nothing

Chris Hayes' article on declining trust in elites is definitely worth a read as a whole. But one passage in particular looks to be worth highlighting for its application to the Cons' "trust us to protect you from the truth" stance on information:
According to McKiernan, the main institutional characteristics that produced the crisis were the Church's obsessive secrecy and its hierarchical nature. Those at the top of the pyramid, the bishops, were exempt from any corrective accountability from below. This dynamic isn't unique. "There are various ways in which the Church is a peculiar institution," McKiernan says. "But," he adds, "it is also simply an institution in which the rules of power apply and the effects of secrecy apply. I'm not surprised that people doing unexamined things do bad things."

More questionable terms

Following up on my posts yesterday, there are two more points worth noting about the Cons' terms of reference to try to channel Justice Iacobucci's report in directions which they can easily spin.

First, it's worth noting that the Cons look to be providing Iacobucci with a means to classify as much information as possible as "injurious" by giving him a perceived out in being able to say that information under this definition should be released in the public interest anyway.

But I'd hope he's canny enough to resist the temptation to seek out an artificial compromise by saying a large amount of information is both "injurious" and worth releasing anyway based on public interest. Keeping in mind that nothing about Iacobucci's conclusions is binding on the Cons, I'd fully expect them to respond to that type of report by saying that nobody can object to their continuing to withhold "injurious information" based on their being more concerned about national security than some out-of-touch retired judge.

Second, it's worth noting the utterly bizarre third consideration tossed in for Iacobucci's review:
(iii) advise as to whether any document or information is subject to solicitor-client privilege or otherwise ought not to be disclosed for other reasons of public policy;
Now, it's not at all unlikely that some legal memoranda among the documents to be considered might be subject to solicitor-client privilege.

But it's worth paying very close attention to what solicitor-client privilege actually is. While it provides a party with a legal entitlement to withhold documents subject to the privilege, it doesn't create any reason to do so. And in fact, solicitor-client privilege isn't for the benefit of anybody but the client in question, and can be waived at any time by the client who holds it.

So when the Cons (inevitably if Iacobucci finds any documents to be subject to the privilege) start bleating that they'd be happy to release more information if not for that gosh-darned solicitor-client privilege, know that the argument is as outlandish as the rest of the Cons' excuses to suppress the documents. The effect of solicitor-client privilege is precisely to allow the client to decide for itself whether or not privileged information will be released outside the solicitor-client relationship - so if the Cons try to hide behind it, the responsibility lies entirely with them.

Indeed, the inclusion of the exemption in Iacobucci's terms of reference in the first place speaks volumes about the gap between the Cons' spin and their actual culture of secrecy. If the Cons had the slightest intention of living up to their rhetoric of releasing all "legally available" documents, they wouldn't be wasting Iacobucci's time pointing to an exemption which has absolutely no legal force beyond what they choose to apply. And the fact that they're including that as an extra excuse to try to suppress documents even after their "national security" claims are debunked should serve as the most compelling signal of all that the Cons' reference to Iacobucci is a bad-faith attempt to delay the matter.