Saturday, May 15, 2010

On waiting strategies

I've noted before that it seems that the Cons would have more to gain than anybody from pushing the concept of auditing Parliamentary expenses if they didn't think the results would be disastrous for their own MPs. But on further reflection it's worth noting neither they nor any other party would figure to get a lot of mileage out of such a message - if only because it's highly unlikely that any move by a national party as a whole to demand such audits will meet with any particular resistance.

After all, the cost of being seen rejecting transparency when it's being demanded by one's main opponents will be far higher than the cost of accepting non-disclosure as a mutually agreed status quo. Which means that any advantage associated with taking the first step will be a limited one - and will create some additional risk of being labeled a hypocrite if the first party to move ends up taking the worst of any coverage once the results of an audit are released.

So if there was any reasonable expectation the issue would die off, I'm not sure any of the federal parties would be upset to keep up the current system. But with plenty of voices coming together to keep MP spending in the headlines, it now seems like only a matter of time before at least one of the national parties decides to take that first step toward calling for a full audit.

To date, only a couple of individual MPs in Michelle Simson and Peter Julian have done so. But as long as the issue stays in the front pages with public opinion squarely on the side of audits, there can't be much doubt that one of the leaders will eventually decide that it's worth getting in front of the parade - and again, the others will have little choice but to follow when that happens.

Which means that the main decision for each of Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper is whether to try to claim any boost that comes from being seen to move first, or to wait for somebody else to momentarily own the issue. And considering all the effort that the party leaders put into achieving even the smallest of gains, I'll be shocked if it takes long for one of them to take the opportunity to be the first leader to speak up for full auditing of MPs.

Fair and balanced north

Let's see if the National Post's report on corruption in the U.S. political system managed to miss anything:

But in fairness, I'm sure they just couldn't think of any examples.

Well said

Brian Topp presents his thoughts on prorogation as presented to a House committee. And while I'd like to see some effort to make sure that Parliament's role extends beyond voting confidence or non-confidence, it's tough to disagree with the principle behind his call for a simple, absolute rule that the executive shouldn't be able to avoid accountability in Parliament:
In my view the power to declare or withdraw confidence is THE fundamental power of the House of Commons.

There are other critically important powers, like the right to originate money bills.

But the right to assign and withdraw confidence in the Ministry is the crux of the matter -- the central act of legitimacy and political power in our political system between elections.

This being so, subordinate or unelected players must not interfere in its exercise. I refer here to the Cabinet, to the Senate, and to the Governor-General as well as to the Courts.

To do so is to attack responsible government in Canada at its root.

It is therefore my view that the Crown should and must never again seek to interfere in the sitting of the House of Commons when a confidence vote is properly before it.
I suggest you find a way to say that when a confidence vote is properly before the House, the House cannot be prorogued or otherwise interfered with. In any circumstances. For any reason. By anyone. Until that confidence vote has been dealt with.
If you feel the need to pass rules on the broader issue, I suggest you establish that the Prime Minister shall not advise the prorogation of the House without a prior authorizing vote by all MPs. Ever, in any circumstances, at any point in the Parliamentary calendar.

The guest list

Let's take a leisurely stroll through Thursday's Hansard and see which guests' names turn up now that nobody is trying to shut important voices out of the Legislature. Say, what's this?
Hon. Mr. Boyd: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, during the Standing Committee on Crown and Central Agencies hearings on SaskPower future generation plans in late 2009 and early 2010, we heard that our electrical utility would be pursuing emissions-free hydroelectric generation as part of its medium- and long-term plans.

Well, Mr. Speaker, it’s my pleasure to welcome some very special guests to the Legislature here this morning that are seated in your gallery. They are here today for an announcement that we are very pleased to be hosting in the Legislative Building at 11:30 this morning regarding a significant agreement on hydroelectric power between three First Nations in this province and additional folks as well.

Joining us today are...Guy Bruce from SaskPower; Kevin Doherty from SaskPower; Wayne Rude from SaskPower; and Ray Desjarlais from SaskPower.
Let's see. Kevin Doherty from SaskPower...Kevin Doherty from SaskPower...why does that name ring a bell?

Ah yes, that Kevin Doherty from SaskPower. Who's apparently being invited to participate in public announcements on behalf of a public utility even as his name and face are being blasted from the rooftops as part of the Sask Party's 2011 campaign.

Now in fairness, the fact that Doherty was introduced based on his role at SaskPower rather than his capacity as a candidate suggests that the Sask Party hasn't gone quite as far as its federal cousins in directly using public announcements to promote unelected non-representatives who have nothing to do with the subject matter of an event.

But it's still rather dubious that Doherty is being chosen for media presentation at a government-sponsored event while he's actively involved in a political campaign on behalf of the governing party. And it'll certainly be worth keeping an eye on just how often Doherty's current job is used to raise his profile for electoral purposes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Musical interlude

Daft Punk - Voyager

This really doesn't strike me as that difficult

EFL seems to be having a serious break from reality. So let's see if we can make this even more clear with two points that I'd think would be unassailable.

1. The Liberal Party is not CAPP. Nor is CAPP the Liberal Party. Disagreement with the Liberal Party on any particular issue does not constitute derision of, nor any other position toward, CAPP.

I'd normally expect EFL to be smart enough to figure this one out. But that only makes it all the more egregious that he's pretending not to understand it.

2. The Liberal Party's plans are not revelations from on high, such that another party's merit or good faith is judged solely by its enthusiastic embrace of them. Instead, reasonable people may consider the Liberal Party's plans to be fallible or subject to disagreement.

And it's not as if EFL doesn't recognize this one from time to time - but apparently the principle doesn't apply to members of other parties.

What's saddest about EFL's embarrassing outburst is that CAPP's actual events made for an excellent example of people from multiple parties (or no parties) putting their differences in allegiance aside in support of a common goal. And indeed Cons were invited to participate and treated respectfully when they showed up to counterprotest.

But apparently at least some Libs are in the midst of a wholesale rewrite of history, cutting NDP supporters (and presumably Greens, Bloquistes and anybody else outside the Libs' tent) out of their mental pictures of CAPP's rallies in order to proclaim that the popular movement to protest Harper was theirs and theirs alone. And that can only have the effect of helping to undo whatever goodwill the opposition parties managed to generate through grassroots cooperation.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Final and unreviewable

Kady has the terms of the tentative deal on Afghanistan torture documents. And while there are a few points which seem somewhat positive, on the whole the outcome looks to be something less than the opposition parties should have accepted.

The good news beyond what should have been expected already (i.e. full opposition MP access to unredacted documents) is that the documents will be accompanied by the ability to seek further information from government officials. We'll see whether or not the Cons instruct those officials to stonewall (and no, "(a)ssuming good all one can do" isn't a reasonable standard when Stephen Harper is involved), but there's at least some prospect that the opposition has secured some cooperation which will help them to get to the bottom of the documents.

On the surface, it's also a plus that relevance will be tested solely by the MPs involved. But that step itself looks to be a superfluous one which effectively undercuts the meaning of Parliament's previous order. In effect, the agreement suggests we're starting at square one as to what documents are "necessary" to enable the opposition to hold the government to account - and each document will have to be reviewed individually in a process which the Cons can stall in order to have it declared relevant and necessary.

But it's the next step in the process that's most problematic. Even after the MPs have decided that a document is relevant and necessary, a "Panel of Arbiters" will make its own "final and unreviewable" determination as to what will actually be released, with an implication that the rule will be summaries or redactions rather than full disclosure of anything. It remains to be seen who will be on the panel, and it's possible that the right panelists could result in reasonably broad disclosure - but there's little reason for confidence at this point, particularly with the same government that's fought tooth and nail to avoid disclosing anything having to agree to all panel members.

And it can't be ignored that the agreed process actually requires that all documents be reviewed and evaluated twice before they're disclosed - ensuring at least some delay, though again the amount remains to be seen.

In sum, then, while the agreement could have been worse, there are still far more ways for the process to go off the rails than the opposition should have been willing to accept. Which means that it's far too likely that those declaring victory now (and unfortunately the NDP was quick to do so) will end up having to eat their words.

Negotiating away a win

This doesn't exactly provide reason for confidence about the outcome of the ongoing negotiations on access to documents about torture in Afghanistan:
“We’ve crossed the Rubicon on the idea there’s a panel and the government crossed the Rubicon on the idea that they have to show un-redacted, unfiltered documents to MPs,” one MP familiar with the negotiations said.

“We’re circling around how the panel gets triggered and how do the MPs relate to the panel. That’s where we are, sort of,” the MP added.
Simply put, the supposed question as to whether MPs are entitled to "un-redacted, unfiltered documents" has already been definitely answered. And the fact that the Cons are finally acknowledging that reality can't be considered a concession.

Which isn't to say that it's completely unreasonable to work toward an agreed outcome with the Cons - as long as a separate panel process doesn't needlessly delay the release of documents, and the majority of elected MPs ultimately has the final say. But not coincidentally, it sounds like those are exactly the areas where the Cons are digging in their heels. And if that's the case, then the opposition parties should all stick to their current position of strength rather than bargaining away the notion of Parliamentary supremacy.

On false equivalencies

Murray Mandryk manages to reach a new level of absurdity in his effort to sell a message of "they're all the same". As a supposed analogy to the numerous ongoing cases of the Wall government ramming through policies without consultation, Mandryk points to a single counterexample...where the NDP actually decided not to follow through with a policy after its initial announcement wasn't well-received.

Needless to say, that's a serious problem from an accuracy standpoint. But it's no less damaging in the incentives it sets up for the Wall government. After all, if the province's media sends the message that it's no better to respond to public concerns after making an initial policy announcement than to barge ahead and pretend to hear nothing, doesn't that make it far easier for Wall to keep on doing the latter?

This will not end well

So in response to a series of Con attacks so ridiculous that even Jane Taber couldn't take them seriously, the CBC has decided to waste time and resources pretending there's some merit to them. But what exactly can the CBC expect to happen now?

There's no reason to think commissioning a study will buy any peace with the Cons. In fact, they've come out immediately with a declaration that they don't think the study is worth bothering with:
Conservative Party spokesman Fred DeLorey said if CBC needs a study to determine the appropriateness of using a Liberal Party donor as a pollster, it demonstrates how “deeply out-of-touch the network has become.”
So what can happen once the study is done? If it doesn't conclude the CBC is biased, the Cons will say it was rigged. If it does find even the slightest hint of slant in any direction, the Cons will use that to attack the CBC further, and perhaps demand that CBC's political programming be turned over entirely to Kory Teneycke, Tim Powers and Allan Gregg. And either way, the fact that the CBC is putting resources into commissioning the study is going to make the network into a juicy target for future cuts, since it implies that the CBC has money sitting around that it doesn't need for programming.

Unfortunately, after getting the answer right to begin with by pointing out the Cons' baseless attacks for what they were, the CBC is now reinforcing and enabling those attacks. And it's difficult to see what good can come of that choice.

Update: As Rick Salutin notes, there's plenty of reason for concern that the CBC actually lists to the right due in large part to the Cons' past pressure. But I'm not optimistic that either they or the Cons will accept that conclusion even if it's true. (h/t to Dr. Dawg.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Regina Northeast - David Froh Seeking NDP Nomination

It was just days ago that David Froh had a strong defence of the NDP's resource development record published in the Leader-Post (yes, if you listen carefully you can hear veins bursting with rage at NDP Watch). Now, he's announced his entry in the NDP's Regina Northeast nomination race, with both a campaign website and Facebook group already operational.

Of course, I fully expect the Regina Northeast nomination to be at least as hotly contested as most of the NDP's other open-seat ridings in advance of next year's election. But David's combination of NDP roots and business connections should make him a competitive candidate for the nod. So kudos to him for making a run, and I'll look forward to seeing who else emerges in the race.

Question and answer

Andrew Coyne asks a few questions whose answers look far too likely to prove unsatisfactory:
(W)ill the opposition allow themselves to be played in this way? Will they heed the voices telling them that this is not worth fighting an election over? Will they chicken out? Or will they, you should pardon the expression, man up?
Mind you, there's always some potential danger in lumping all of the opposition parties together. But it only makes matters worse that it'll only take one to allow the Cons to turn a Speaker's ruling affirming the supremacy of Parliament into yet another opportunity for delay and denial about their role in facilitating torture. And it's tough to be optimistic at this point.

Memo from your corporate media overlords

Dammit Wherry. How many times do we have to tell you that the 2008 coalition agreement was written in the blood of innocent children and will irreparably burn the eyes of all who dare to so much as glimpse at it before you'll stop trying to get people to look at it reasonably?

Mistakes were made

Let's follow up on yesterday's post with another telling moment from the exchange between Dwain Lingenfelter and Brad Wall on Monday. For obvious reasons, it isn't often that Wall actually seems to talk about his failures in business. But in the extended back-and-forth session, he apparently decided to include his own spin - and what he had to say is rather remarkable:
Hon. Mr. Wall:...Mr. Chairman, I remember, I remember two of the visitors that came to the hall of fame. I did have a management contract through my company, TCB Communications, Mr. Speaker, which worked quite well. My last client was able to offer me a full-time position at the city, and I took that, Mr. Speaker. And I would say this as well, that two of the visitors at the hall of fame, two of the visitors, two of the first visitors to cut the ribbon was Brian Sklar and the current Leader of the Opposition.

Oh yes, yes. Oh yes. He never ever misses a chance for a photo op, Mr. Chairman.

You know what? You know what, Mr. Chairman? It was the previous NDP government that approved the grant. Those kinds of grants to business are what we've ended on this side. Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chairman, mistakes are made. This side's learned from the mistakes. That side shows up for a photograph at the mistakes, Mr. Chairman.
Now, there are plenty of areas worth discussing that I won't get into since they don't seem to entirely capture the problems with Wall's stance. So I'll just note in passing the absurdity of Wall criticizing a country musician for appearing at a country music museum and the hypocrisy in Wall deciding after the fact that the grant he applied for is the type he believes shouldn't exist.

Closer to the point is the sense that Wall is turning parody into reality with his attempt to assign responsibility for the failure of his museum. "Dwain Lingenfelter is such a poor manager that he even allowed serial business failure Brad Wall to fritter away $150,000 of public money. Vote Brad Wall for Premier."

But even that's not quite right, since the Simpsons' caricature of a Republican campaign at least has the good sense to keep the words out of the mouth of Sideshow Bob. In contrast, it's Wall himself who has the nerve to attack others for offering him an opportunity - and the result is a gobsmacking combination of self-righteousness and evasion of personal responsibility.

After all, Wall doesn't even hint at any possible "mistakes" involved in his application for the grant or operation of the museum. (Though of course the best-known mistake - that of catastrophically optimistic projections with no basis in reality - isn't one that Wall can pretend to have learned from.)

Instead, Wall effectively claims that the sole problem with the failure of his museum was that he was offered an opportunity in the first place - such that his spectacular failure in no way damages his own sense of personal infallibility. Or to phrase the apparent combination of blame and perceived merit put another way, "It's their own damn fault for believing me when I said I knew what I was doing. Suckers had it coming."

From my standpoint, that attitude brings the problems arising out of Wall's museum management far closer to the present day than they'd belong otherwise. To the extent the issue was simply Wall having made some bad business decisions which he'd know to avoid now, it would be simple enough to see the issue as one which should stay in the past. But if he's actually trying to peddle the line that even his most obvious personal failures should be laid at the feet of the NDP, then there doesn't seem to be any limit to the degree of denial involved in his decision-making.

Which is of course a serious problem now that he has far more than a mere $150,000 in public money at his disposal. And Saskatchewan voters will surely have to consider carefully how they'll see their voting decisions once Wall is comfortably ensconced in a cushy corporate job far removed from the smouldering wreckage of Saskatchewan, telling his new bosses "It's their own damn fault for ever giving me power. Suckers had it coming."

Policy in bloom

It's good to know at least something will be growing thanks to the Sask Party. Have we picked a suitable location for the Brad Wall Commemorative Garbage Mound and Dandelion Patch?

Determined to do nothing

Shorter Jim Prentice:

We would never have claimed to want to match the U.S.' climate change policy if we'd thought they'd get anywhere.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A graceful departure

Within a day after public questions first surfaced about his plans, longtime Regina Northeast MLA Ron Harper has announced that he'll be stepping down after the 2011 election. We'll find out soon just who will seek the now-open NDP nomination in a riding which the party has regularly won in a romp until an unusually close race in 2007 - but for now, Harper deserves credit for his 16 years of hard work in the party and the Legislature.


On the surface, the latest developments in the Wall government's patient fund-raising scheme might seem to be positive ones. But on a closer look, they actually suggest both that the Wall government has no clue what it's actually doing, and that it's again misleading the province as to the effect of its actions.

From CBC:
Saskatchewan's health minister says he won't share patient information with hospital fundraising foundations before he can tell patients how to opt out.

The provincial government's plan to amend privacy rules in order to allow the names and addresses of recent hospital patients to be used for fundraising has drawn criticism from the province's privacy commissioner and the NDP.

The amendment, which was approved in April, came into effect this month.

Health Minister Don McMorris now says the government won't release any information until it determines how people who don't want to participate can opt out.
Premier Brad Wall recently said that people who wanted to opt out could contact McMorris's office directly.

But McMorris said that won't work.

"There are some [people] that feel comfortable opting out when they're in the hospital, or two months after, some may want to opt out before. Those are the details that are being worked out between the ministry and the health regions," he said.

"We're not rushing into this at all because we want to make sure that we've thought of all the options."
To start with, it's remarkable that Wall ever suggested that members of the public try to create their own opt-out process through McMorris' office. But for the same reason why that supposed solution wouldn't work, there's little reason to think McMorris' supposed moratorium actually means anything.

To see why, take a look at who's actually entitled to use or disclose patient information under the Sask Party's amendment to the Health Information Protection Regulations (section 7.1). The "designated trustees" actually covered by the section are the regional health authorities and their affiliate care providers, not the Ministry of Health or any other provincial body. And nothing in the provision requires further provincial approval for the disclosure of information once the provision is in force.

In other words, McMorris can't actually speak on behalf of the bodies who have the ability to use or disclose personal health information for fund-raising purposes. And given the Sask Party's track record of not bothering to consult with anybody before making drastic changes, it's anybody's guess as to whether or not the province's health regions and affiliates will see themselves as having to follow a non-binding ministerial statement that contradicts a substantive regulatory change.

Likewise, the requirement for an opt-out is at the trustee level, not the provincial level - which is why Wall's proposal to have concerned patients send their opt-out requests to McMorris' office was off base. But the problem applies equally to McMorris' statement that the provincial government will decide what opt-out process to use: the regulation allows the designated trustees to decide what type of process to follow, such that the province doesn't have any formal role in "(determining) how people who don't want to participate can opt out".

To sum up, then, the Sask Party has followed up its initial failure to consult with a series of suggestions and promises that make no sense based on the regulation it's already proclaimed. And that can hardly offer any reassurance for patients already concerned that the Wall government doesn't take their privacy seriously.

(Edit: fixed wording, typo.)

On finalized terms

As for the terms of the deal between the UK Cons and Lib Dems, while it's certainly to the credit of all concerned that they've been able to reach agreement, there are a couple of points that strike me as somewhat dubious.

First, it's worth noting how the trade-off made by the Lib Dems differs from what's been on offer from the NDP in Canada. Particularly during the 2008 coalition discussions, the NDP has consistently made clear that its top priority has been securing positive policy outcomes. And in order to reach those, it's been willing to trade off any expectation of top cabinet positions such as deputy Prime Minister, as well as to work in structures where its goal of electoral reform isn't on the table.

In contrast, the two largest benefits for the Lib Dems in their agreement seem to have little to do with substantive policy. Instead, Nick Clegg's appointment as deputy PM and the promised referendum on an alternative vote model look to be the main carrots for the Lib Dems in an agreement loaded with conservative policy priorities with only a modicum of mitigation for the worst off.

As a second point of concern, there's this tidbit forming part of the parties' agreement on a five-year fixed term for Parliament:
A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government will put a binding motion before the House of Commons in the first days following this agreement stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015. Following this motion, legislation will be brought forward to make provision for fixed-term parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour.
Now, I'm not sure which of the parties would have been pushing the supermajority standard for dissolution. But the requirement would seem to be a significant departure from the usual principle of majority support in Parliament as the fundamental basis of governmental legitimacy. And the threshold would seem to pose some serious problems if a future Parliament sees two relatively evenly-matched party groupings who lack the ability to form majority coalitions but have sufficient votes to stall any dissolution.

We can only hope

I'm not entirely sure how Chantal Hebert distinguishes between the NDP's longstanding stance on a coalition (open to the possibility, but not discussing possible terms in detail before the end of an election campaign) from that of the UK's political parties. But otherwise she's dead on in her assessment of what we should expect from the next election campaign:
If polls are to be believed, the next election could well prolong Canada’s current minority cycle. Given the current party standings in voting intentions, the next Parliament might be even more prone to deadlock than the previous three.

If minority government is going to be the new normal in Canada, bringing voters in the loop of the available alternatives before they cast their ballot and negotiating how a minority Parliament best could work ahead of installing a government might actually make a lot of sense.

Spin spin sugar

A couple of headline-grabbing comments seem to be dominating the discussion coming out of Monday's discussion of the Wall government's main estimates. But it's worth looking past the most sensational statements to examine what we can tell about Dwain Lingenfelter and Brad Wall based on their apparent showdown.

So let's start with a passage that exemplifies the Wall government's addiction to spin over substance:
Mr. Lingenfelter:...My question to the Premier is: on oil production, since the Premier came to office, can he indicate, based on barrels per oil a day, what has happened to the production level of oil in the province of Saskatchewan, '07 to '09? Can you give us the average daily production of crude oil?
Hon. Mr. Wall:...Mr. Chairman, notwithstanding the change in price, notwithstanding the change in price, in terms of barrels production we have: 2,007, 156.2 million barrels up to 161.0 million barrels in our first year in government of 2008. Down again, down again to 151 million barrels but, Mr. Chairman, not significantly down. When you consider the differential in price, you'd see that the barrels production even in '09, and these are still estimates, is only down 5 million barrels from 2007. But we went up in our first year to 161. The production of oil in Saskatchewan went up to 161 million barrels, Mr. Chairman.
Now, there are other more glaring examples of Wall trying to ignore economic indicators such as the province's sharp declines in the number of oil and gas wells drilled. And I have no doubt that we'll see those emphasized as part of the NDP's message about the Sask Party's lack of any particular competence in encouraging the sustainable development of Saskatchewan's natural resources. But the above example strikes me as ideal because of Wall's diametrically different responses to a perfectly symmetric set of changes in the span of a single paragraph.

As far as Wall is concerned, a one-year increase in production of 5 million barrels from 2007 to 2008 is a change worth highlighting and evidence of his government's claimed impact on production. Yet at the same time, a one-year decrease of 10 million barrels from 2008 to 2009 - taking production below 2007 levels by exactly the same 5 million number - is supposed to mean that production is "not significantly down", and is brushed off as beyond anybody's control. Which results in the sad spectacle of Wall trying to keep shouting "up! up! up!" even as production has demonstrably declined on his watch.

Which should send a rather compelling signal that the Wall government's message about the province's economy is based on simultaneously inflating gains and minimizing losses even when the two can be readily compared, rather than making any reasonable effort to treat like things alike. And for Saskatchewan citizens who recognize that a sound economy needs to be based on realistic assumptions rather than obviously-misleading boosterism, that should be a far more important takeaway from the discussion of the province's estimates than any personal insults between the leaders.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Well done

It still looks far too likely that the combination of support from the Cons and Libs will result in the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement becoming law despite Colombia's notorious record of union oppression.

But at the very least, the Tweet-in organized by the Council of Canadians to prevent a closure motion from being pushed forward in committee today looks to have been a resounding success. And hopefully the momentum generated by today's effort will build to convince one party or the other that official favouritism toward a notorious human rights abuser isn't consistent with Canadian values.

On questionable recruitment

Kent is right to note that with the Sask Party obviously taking aim at Regina Northeast, the Saskatchewan NDP will need to figure out in fairly short order whether its 2011 candidate will be incumbent Ron Harper or a new face. But it's worth noting that there are some serious questions being raised about the challenger already appearing on Sask Party billboards. Here's Len Taylor from Thursday's question period:
The Premier brought in one Kevin Doherty back to the province to run as a candidate in Regina Northeast. To entice Mr. Doherty to run for the Sask Party, the Premier gave him a job as vice-president of corporate relations at SaskPower. Kevin Doherty is now being paid by the Saskatchewan people through their power rates, Mr. Speaker, to actively campaign for the Saskatchewan Party.
So to the minister: did the efficiency secretariat think it was a good idea for the Premier to use a vice-president position at SaskPower to recruit a Sask Party candidate, or is this yet another example of the Premier breaking trust with Saskatchewan people?


Shorter Christian Paradis staffer Sebastien Tognieri:

Everybody knows that ignorance is bliss. So is it really so bad if our government's policy is to keep Access to Information requesters happy?

The reviews are in

Of course Murray Mandryk is required to close his latest with a refrain of "it's always good news for Brad Wall". But at least this part of his take on the current state of Saskatchewan politics is more than worth pointing out:
Consider the litany of mistakes, (the aforementioned potash projections being the biggest); bad choices, (closing SCN, cutting mosquito and Dutch elm disease control); partisan choices, (its determination to push through an unamended Bill 80); misrepresentations, (Health Minister Don McMorris's debacle with the privacy commissioner, Environment Minister Nancy Heppner's changes to the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act regulation), and; just plain dumb choices (Corrections Minister Yogi Huyghebaert's comment that he was sending the police after Opposition House leader Kevin Yates for alerting the public to an escaped sexual predator).

This is a government that even some Sask. Party insiders admit has somewhat lost its way -- and is now coming across as too arrogant and badly in need of some serious reflection. One even gets the impression that Wall himself is coming to the realization that he and his government are off their game.
There's little doubt Lingenfelter and the NDP successfully distracted Wall on several days this session. (On no day was that more apparent than the day the premier blew a gasket when the NDP caucus chief of staff accidentally telephoned Wall's home number while searching for the remnants of Wall's former business Last Stand Adventure Company.) Equally unhelpful to Wall are the enablers he surrounds himself with whose job, it seems, appears to be to work the Sask. Party premier into a frenzy over the slightest criticism aimed at either Wall or his ministers.

This, too, is usually a sign of a government heading into a nosedive -- especially with all the other performance indicators weighing them down.

On exclusion

Shorter Harper Cons:

Surely it's best to only fund tourist events that unite even the most bigoted Canadians, rather than having a divisive debate over whether gays are people too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

On wrong lessons

Shorter Don Newman:

I'm outraged that the 52% of voters who voted for Labour or the Lib Dems might end up with more influence than the larger 36% number who voted for the Conservatives. Have I mentioned that I've been taking math lessons from Jim Flaherty?

h/t to Canadian Cynic.

Update: And Jeffrey Simpson manages to be even worse, focusing on the Lib Dems' percentage of seats under a system which obviously underrepresents them rather than the share of votes where they're well within the same range as the Conservatives and Labour.

On choices

Needless to say, Joe's latest on the Sask Party's sponsorship of and involvement in a corporate propagandafest is a must-read. But it's worth pointing out more succinctly what the post ultimately says about the Wall government.

When it comes to consulting with mere citizens on its policy decisions, the Wall government can't be bothered. But Brad Wall, Bill Boyd and company always have time to hobnob with the corporate sector.

And the Sask Party is eager to use its deficit as an excuse to slash public services ranging from aboriginal employment to SCN to family support programs. But the Wall government can always find public money to be funneled to its cronies.

Checked out

At last notice, Saskatoon Sutherland MLA Joceline Schriemer wasn't sure whether she wanted to bother running to hold the seat in 2011. But based on what happened in the Legislature on Thursday, it's worth wondering whether she's even interested in the job while she continues to hold it.

Here's what happened when a Sask Party motion which Schriemer was supposed to be introducing came up for discussion:
The Speaker: — I recognize the member from Lloydminster.

Children’s Hospital

Mr. McMillan: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m very pleased to speak to the children’s hospital in Saskatoon. It’s something that I know we take very . . .

An Hon. Member: — Point of order. Point of order, Mr. Speaker. Point of order . . . [inaudible] . . .

The Speaker: — Right. Right. Order. I remind the members that the member has to be in her chair to move the motion forward. I recognize the member from Saskatoon Sutherland.


The Speaker: — Order. Order. Order. Why is the member on his feet?

Mr. Yates: — Point of order, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: — The member from Regina Dewdney.

Mr. Yates: — Mr. Speaker, in order for a motion before this Assembly to move forward when it’s called, the mover of the motion has to be in their seat and move the motion, Mr. Speaker, and enter the debate. At the time the motion was called, the member was not there. A second member stood and spoke, began to speak, Mr. Speaker. I rose on my feet to say that was out of order, Mr. Speaker. Subsequently the member came back into the House, Mr. Speaker. The rules would say that that motion should have been passed over, Mr. Speaker.

The Speaker: — I recognize the Government House Leader.

Mr. D’Autremont: — On the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I’m not in disagreement with the point of order that the member raises.
Now, I'd think that an MLA responsible for presenting a motion would generally want to pay at least enough attention to make sure that it could be discussed. And it doesn't look like anything much out of the ordinary happened on Thursday to disrupt the usual schedule for legislative proceedings.

But Schriemer apparently didn't bother to stay in the chamber at the one point where her presence was actually required, then was caught entirely off guard by what seems to have been her main legislative responsibility for the day. And the result was that the Sask Party threw away its chance to have the legislature discuss its choice of motions for the day.

Of course, that doesn't figure to result in any great loss for the province - particularly given that the motion looks to have been little more than an attempt to pretend that the Wall government's decision to pull funding from the Children's Hospital should be ignored. But Schriemer's constituents surely have to wonder just what else she's missed while hemming and hawing as to whether or not she actually wants her job. And Schriemer's failings can only help convince the riding that it'll be better served electing one of the strong NDP contenders for her seat.

Truly embarrassing

Yes, that's our Prime Minister trying to rewrite history even as it unfolds:
Harper noted the problems flowing out of the debt crisis in Greece, which have led to jittery markets and concerns that the economies of other countries will also be dragged down, are not rooted in the financial sector itself.

“I don’t think we should forget that the primary crisis here, the fundamental crisis, is not in the financial sector. It is in the finances of certain governments,” said Harper.
So what about the global recession that Harper eventually acknowledged after denying its existence through the last election campaign? Or the private-sector financial meltdown that required hundreds of billions of dollars in bailouts, while toppling the dominoes that led to Greece's crisis?

In Harper's world, they've apparently been officially unhappened. Which frees him up to point the finger at a single government whose greatest mistake was probably its willingness to accept too much of the corporate-first dogma that Harper is once again peddling, while serving as the world's primary defender of financial-sector greed.

Hopefully Harper's complete disconnect from reality will send a signal to the rest of the world's leaders that he shouldn't be taken seriously in his crusade to keep governments on the hook for future financial meltdowns. But the fact that Harper has somehow managed to write any financial-sector problems out of his version of history - and plans to rule accordingly - looks to make it far more likely that Canada will be at the epicentre next time.

On possible benefits

Dan Leger is the latest pundit to pretend that any vote to enforce a simple document production order approved by a majority of elected MPs will give Stephen Harper a free pass to force an election. But he seems to miss an even more fundamental point in implying that the opposition parties should abandon all hope of effective oversight through Parliament in order to avoid any "benefit" to the Cons.

As I've noted before, the Cons' strategy on torture all along has been one of obfuscation and delay in an effort to avoid oversight. So any move to seek extensions or otherwise hold off on the release of the documents only gives the Cons exactly what they've wanted from the beginning. And if the opposition parties prioritize fear of an election above the exercise of their right to hold the government to account, the end result surely won't be anything but to further weaken their hand - both within Parliament in the near term, and when Harper decides it's convenient to plunge the country into another election.

So once again, the opposition parties should be seeking to enforce their document production order in full if (as expected) the Cons refuse to follow through on an agreed process to provide the ordered information to Parliament. And if the end result is indeed for the Cons to show their continued contempt for Canada's elected officials - which would involve deliberately ignoring both the production order and the terms of a contempt order which expressly avoids any implication of non-confidence - then an election may not be such a bad result.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Musical interlude

Hemingway Corner - Watch Over You

Nothing changed

Shorter Brad Wall:

It's unfair to say there was never any consultation about the contents of the WEPA back when it was called the TILMA. We've just chosen to ignore what that consultation actually said.