Saturday, March 05, 2011

Fair game

Jeffrey Simpson's column on Stephen Harper's controversial views which form a matter of public record is well worth a read. But the point worth taking away is the opposite of what Simpson wants to suggest:
In 1999, a right-wing doctor, David Gratzer, wrote a book, Code Blue, that tore apart medicare, suggesting it should be replaced by U.S.-style private medicine and medical savings accounts. Dr. Gratzer now advises Republicans on health care.

Commenting on the book, Mr. Harper said: “Gratzer proposes a workable solution for the biggest policy problem of the coming generation – government-controlled health-care monopoly. Canada needs Gratzer’s solution.” Mr. Harper’s praise appeared on the cover jacket of Code Blue.

As Canadian Alliance and Conservative leader, Mr. Harper never repeated those views. On the contrary, he has repeatedly said he favours Canadian-style medicare. Would it be fair to run an attack against him for views he held in 1999?
Mr. Harper once favoured Canada’s participation in the invasion of Iraq (Mr. Ignatieff, then at Harvard, favoured the invasion, too). He was part of a political party, Reform, that cast doubt on the science of climate change, a position his government’s websites don’t support today.
It would be just as inappropriate to tie him to long-abandoned positions as it is for the Conservatives, in their disgusting attack ads, to tie Mr. Ignatieff to positions he’s since rejected.
Of course, the problem in these cases is that Harper's actions in government are broadly consistent with his previously-expressed positions, even if they're presented in such a way as to scare voters less than the previous stances.

No, Harper doesn't talk anymore about replacing health care with a private system. But his government has chosen to end what little enforcement of the Canada Health Act ever took place, helping to make it even easier for provinces to move in that direction on their own.

No, he doesn't want to get into Iraq anymore. But he's extended Canada's compensatory combat mission in Afghanistan at every opportunity, including by forcing it through as a confidence measure. And he's wasted no chance to serve as an international voice of the American right even as the U.S. itself has shifted its position under Barack Obama.

And no, his government doesn't dare to admit to climate denialism. But it's produced exactly the complete lack of meaningful policy one would expect from a party which genuinely refused to accept that climate change is an issue worth addressing.

So the end result isn't that we should ignore Ignatieff's past statements just like far too many people have been willing to ignore Harper's. Instead, we should recognize that Harper's views likely haven't changed even if his framing has, with his government's actions in power serving as compelling evidence. And indeed we'd be well served to pay more attention to what Harper really thinks as evidenced by his statements when they weren't under a microscope, rather than focusing solely what he wants the public to believe he thinks today.

Saturday Afternoon Links

Assorted material for your weekend reading.

- Armine Yalnizyan discusses how free-market economic theory fails to take into account the realities of human (and other animal) behaviour:
Observing a group of chimpanzees she had trained to use currency to trade for food, Ms. Santos found monkeys don’t like to save. They often steal from one another and from the market “salesman”. And they display a tendency towards greed. Sound familiar?

There’s more, and it speaks profoundly to what makes rapidly expanding markets so prone to increasing risk. Confronted with complex decisions we make mistakes, panic and revert to basic instincts. One such instinct is a bias towards thinking in relative, not absolute terms. Another is a bias towards loss aversion.

Both lead to a simple and potentially disruptive truth: Humans don’t like to lose anything of value that they’ve obtained, and will actually take on more risky behavior with the object of value in a misguided attempt to save what they already had.

The research gives the lie to the notion that markets are rational. It sheds important light on ways to reduce risk and improve performance. And it suggests why markets tend towards greater concentration, an inherently unstable distribution of resources and power because it reinforces both greed and fear.
- Meanwhile, it's a day ending in "y". Which means that Erin has once again exposed a Jack Mintz tax-slashing screed as containing a typical combination of factual errors, questionable assumptions and non-disclosure.

- I've supported competing candidates in each of the last two municipal elections. But it's still a plus to see Fred Clipsham pursuing the NDP's nomination in Regina Qu'Appelle - particularly since the incumbent manages to stand out even among the Cons' invisible Saskatchewan MPs for sheer uselessness.

- Let's give due credit to the Sask Party for at least one form of democratic participation that's been excised from all other parties besides the NDP, as it actually saw a sitting MLA defeated in a nomination contest. Though that type of competition would have far more meaning if it wasn't limited to changing the individual responsible for defending policies not set by the party's membership.

- I don't dispute that it would be a plus to see usage statistics for SaskConnected - both to see how it's working now, and how it can be improved. But otherwise, David Seymour's attempt to sell the service off looks to be based on little more than the usual desire to hand free assets to the private sector rather than any valid reason why wireless Internet access can't practically be treated as a freely available public good.

- Finally, pogge nicely points out what's most frustrating about the current federal landscape:
This last extended break from blogging was originally prompted by illness but more recently I've simply had difficulty getting my enthusiasm for it back. Weighing in on the endless election speculation doesn't do a whole lot for me when I don't expect the outcome of an election to make a lot of difference in the direction the country takes. And I don't. When the rallying cry "Blogging for a Harper-free Canada" first surfaced a while back, my initial reaction was to ask myself why we should set the bar so low. I still think it's a good question.
And the likes of Thomas Walkom aren't helping matters by looking to keep the bar in position through the next election campaign.

On goal-setting

Rick Salutin is partly right in describing the gap between the developing labour protests in North America with the ones that led to massive changes in decades past:
(L)abour’s high points in the past didn’t occur because unions thought they could help out progressive causes or buck up the GDP. Those were byproducts. The fuel was a moral convicition of the rightness of its own cause, as in its anthem, Solidarity Fovever: “It is we who ploughed the prairies, built the cities where they trade. . . Now we stand outcast and starving ’mid the wonders we have made/But the union makes us strong.”

That was heady stuff. It justified bold tactics and sacrifice because “we” workers, who created wealth, had seen it stolen by the owning class and doled back to us in meagre portions. “We” were creating a movement to reclaim our rightful inheritance, and that of all the dispossessed.

Canadian poet Milton Acorn wrote, “I have always treated the working class as kings in exile.” It was a moral myth (i.e., leaving aside how true it may be) that led to confidence and courage.

The current labour resurgence, so far, lacks that motivational grandeur. “No more givebacks,” “Don’t dilute our pensions,” “Save collective bargaining,” are all very defensible, but also defensive. They miss the urgent moral sense of justification in those earlier versions.

One component in the current crisis does have that moral intensity. It’s the widespread rage against the arrogant, greedy behaviour of big business and especially finance: the banksters and hedge fundies who demanded deregulation, peddled their useless monetary “devices” that brought on the apocalypse, then demanded a bailout, then more bailouts, while continuing to gobble bonuses and call for cutbacks in underfunded basics like education to pay for their own bailouts.

It’s revolting. It’s not even their original sins that elicit the disgust, it’s their subsequent graceless ingratitude. There’s some of the moral fury in reactions to this behaviour that was also found in the passion that fuelled the rise of labour in earlier eras.
Now, I'm in agreement that there's a need to harness the justified public outrage over the behaviour of the corporate sector toward greater ends. But the larger point seems to be that both of the parts of the current protests are largely oriented toward preserving something seen as a status quo from a policy perspective - whether it be the rights and benefits of union members and public employees, or the obligation of big business to contribute at least something considered its current fair share to the society which makes its profits possible.

What's lacking, though, is the sense that there are some realizable gains which are both consistent with the moral message, and within reach from a policy standpoint. Yes, there are some issues being discussed which have the potential (a guaranteed annual income, pharmacare and child care ranking high on the list) - but there's been precious little connection so far between the lack of contribution from those with the most, and the failure to make any progress for everybody else.

Of course, there are separate issues involved in trying to determine which issues to then present as the main goals of a movement. But even if we can't agree in advance on what to push, it's well worth placing a far greater emphasis on what a reasonable tax structure and labour policy would mean in terms of public benefits - and making the case that such changes are morally right as well as beneficial to voters.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Saskatchewan Party Cancelled Due To Lack Of Interest II: This Time We Mean It

After the Sask Party showed its near-complete lack of member participation with a policy-free convention in 2010, I figured it would make sure to avoid similar stories in an election year.

Well, it's certainly changed something about its handling of policy resolutions:
(W)hile the Sask. Party convention is focused on the upcoming election, one thing that won't be seen is policy development for the party's platform.

There are no policy resolutions to be debated by delegates.

Wall said there are other ways of developing policy and the Sask. Party has focused on developing its plan through consultations by MLAs with Saskatchewan residents.

He dismissed concerns that the policy process could appear non-transparent or top-down, saying party members would not "countenance" policies that didn't represent them.

After a lengthy policy review, the NDP recently released a 65-page draft report that will be debated at a convention at the end of the March. But Wall said the Sask. Party had done a complete policy overhaul after its 2003 election loss.
Now, Wall seems to be making two separate excuses for the fact that the organization he's leading has ceased to be a political party in any meaningful sense of the term. But both look highly dubious under the circumstances.

Chronologically, the first claim is that the Sask Party hasn't had any need to develop new policies in the last 8 years. Which is obviously enough absurd on its face - but looks to be wrong even on Wall's own account. After all, he himself recognizes a need for somebody to set his party's current policy through some means rather than being able to sleepwalk through a decade at a time.

That leads to the claim that consultation through MLAs is enough to meet the Sask Party's top-down policy-making needs. But even leaving aside the principle that it's probably best to have multiple forms of engagement with the province, Wall also has to face his party's track record of hand-picking those whose input is acceptable and going out of its way to ignore the rest of the province. And a convention focused on policy would seem to be exactly the place to determine whether that kind of selective consultation had led the party astray.

That is, for a leader who placed any value on member and citizen engagement. But rather than looking to increase his own party's interest in policy from embarrassingly low levels, Wall has apparently decided that it's easier not to countenance any policy debate inside or outside an election campaign. And if public participation is the last thing Wall wants to encourage going into an election where he hopes to coast to a second term on general apathy and disinterest, then that surely doesn't speak well as to whether we can expect Wall to listen to anybody if he gets what he's after.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Musical interlude

Gandharvas - Downtime

On prior knowledge

From Jennifer Ditchburn's story on the Cons' conscientious objectors to the in-and-out scheme, a reminder that one of their supposed law and order stalwarts knew all too well the dangers of similar ruses:
Mark's former campaign manager, Debby Sorochynski, said she recalls being asked to receive money and then have the funds withdrawn quickly afterward.

Sorochynski said she remembers the issue because it sounded similar to a case involving Conservative cabinet minister Vic Toews, who pleaded guilty and was convicted of electoral overspending in a Manitoba provincial election.
Three other candidates in that election were also convicted of the breach of electoral laws.

The provincial Progressive Conservative party had asked candidates shortly before the 1999 election to sign an authorization to absorb $7,500 each in central campaign expenses, according to the Winnipeg Free Press' account of court testimony. Toews' lawyer said at the time that Toews initially did not want to participate in the plan.

"That was a well-known, documented story in Manitoba, so when the national office offered an opportunity to get involved in something that sounded similar to that, we just said No," said Sorochynski.
So what does it say about the Cons' central command that its apparent source of ideas for campaign management came from a scheme that managed to get a prominent Con (among others) convicted of breaching the law at the provincial level?

On disciplinary problems

Come to think of it, this can probably be summarized in "shorter" form. So here's shorter Gerry Nicholls, Age 10:

MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!! Mr. Mayrand gave me detention for starting fights again! But it's not my fault. He only hates me 'cuz I call him Mr. Doodyhead!!! No fair!

On projection

Gerry Nicholls' latest most certainly demonstrates a pattern of interaction between Elections Canada and right-wing organizations. But it's the exact opposite of what Nicholls is trying to pretend.

Here's the sum total of Nicholls' evidence of a supposed "vendetta" by Elections Canada against Stephen Harper and the NCC:
Now before you write me off as paranoid, consider the background. Before the charge was laid against us, the NCC had long been a vocal opponent of Elections Canada's attempts to impose free-speech stifling third-party advertising laws on the country. We called them election gag laws.

In fact, in 2000, our president at the time -who happens to be current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper -went so far as to publicly call the then head of Elections Canada, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, a "jackass."

More to the point, the NCC also frustrated Kingsley by ceaselessly fighting his gag laws in the courts at every turn, delaying their implementation for years.
Now, it shouldn't take a particularly close examination of that "background" to notice that it involves absolutely no wrongdoing by Elections Canada.

In fact, the obvious conclusion is that the NCC went out of its way to attack Elections Canada at every opportunity, through both legal means and personal insults. And Elections Canada didn't take the bait: instead of sinking to the NCC's level, it chose only to work on enforcing the law as it stood. Which would seemingly be exactly what one would want out of an independent regulator.

But as far as Nicholls is concerned, his own side's jackassery (to apply the term where it actually belongs) somehow serves as evidence of wrongdoing on Elections Canada's part. Because apparently as soon as somebody is on the receiving end of enough baseless cheap shots, it can't actually do its job without been seen as harboring a vendetta.

Needless to say, there is indeed a parallel between that case and the Cons' in-and-out scandal. But the connection is that in both cases, Stephen Harper has tried to pre-emptively attack an independent regulator which can't return fire in the hope of avoiding being subject to the law - apparently keeping in reserve the ludicrous argument that his own unwarranted attacks could somehow be used to smear Elections Canada, rather than serving as evidence of his own bad faith.

Under those circumstances, the hard-earned "terrible news coverage" arising out of the Cons having brazenly broken the law is still far better than the Cons deserve.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

To avoid any confusion

Just so we're all clear on the timeline...

Past: Conservative MP (and former cabinet minister) discovered misusing parliamentary resources to influence the course of a nomination race (and the subsequent vote in the riding).

Present: Conservative MP (and cabinet minister) discovered misusing Parliamentary resources for party fund-raising and organization.

Future: Conservative MPs (at behest of Prime Minister) discovered misusing Parliamentary resources to threaten the complete withdrawal of services from any riding which fails to elect a Con MP.

Always glad to help.

Thursday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Pogge is absolutely right to see the Bloc's threatened withdrawal from the Afghan cover-up commission as utterly useless:
(T)he serious consequences expected to result from the Bloc's withdrawal?

"Our withdrawal could weaken the political committee and would take away its credibility," he told La Presse.
I think that train left the station some time ago. So the Liberals and the Conservatives will vow to carry on and we'll never hear another word about it.
- Silly CCPA, bothering to report on massive increases in government outsourcing costs. Don't they know that public money used to enrich private consultants is free?

- There's some remarkable follow-up to Erin's calculations on potash royalties, as PCS isn't bothering to challenge the conclusion that Saskatchewan is seeing less return on PCS' massive mining operations than Trinidad and Tobago take in from a single nitrogen facility:
I suggested that the company may be paying less corporate income tax to Saskatchewan than to Trinidad. PotashCorp could clear things up anytime by simply disclosing the amount of corporate tax it paid to the Saskatchewan government.

Rather than doing so, its spokesman argues that the province of Saskatchewan is not comparable to the country of Trinidad. He has a point: most Canadian corporate taxes flow to the federal government as opposed to provincial governments. That fact underscores the need for higher provincial royalties to collect a fair return on potash, a provincially-owned resource.
- Finally, I'll be hoping to see much more from LeadNow, including some more effort to paint public involvement as downright desirable rather than merely something not to be ashamed of. But this is a great start in looking to normalize political participation:

Of kingpins and pawns

Somehow the reporting on Doug Finley's Twitter outburst has missed a rather remarkable point. So let's note that senior Cons seem to be following up with their new strategy of unveiling policy on Twitter by now using it to undermine their own legal position.

After all, Finley is personally facing charges arising out of the in-and-out scandal. And presumably, one of his defences would seem to have been that he personally wasn't responsible for the shifted costs and fabricated receipts forming part of the scheme - particularly since he didn't play a direct role in the transactions on the public record.

However, it wouldn't make any sense for Finley to say personally and publicly that Harper wasn't in a position to know about the decision-making process surrounding the in-and-out transactions unless he had enough personal involvement to know what did and didn't filter up to Harper. So Finley may have managed to substantially undermine his own defence in under 140 characters.

But does that make Finley's tweet credible in its exculpation of Harper? Let's revisit the Cons' governing philosophy per Paul Wells and John Geddes:
Someone who was there paraphrased Harper’s message to his ministers at his first cabinet meeting in 2006: “I am the kingpin. So whatever you do around me, you have to know that I am sacrosanct.” Harper was telling his ministers that they were expendable but that he wasn’t. If they had to go so that his credibility and his ability to get things done were protected, so be it.
So what implications might that philosophy have for Finley - a Harper loyalist since long before the Cons took power, who presumably had a role in building Harper's own internal message?

To the extent Finley believed his party's own hype, it would seem as likely as not that he'd be willing to throw himself under a modest-sized bus for the sake of protecting the kingpin. And that means there's reason to call the attempt to insulate Harper into question - even as it serves as substantial evidence against Finley himself.

Update: Leftdog has more.

Epic market fail

As part of the new debate over rent control and public housing development, the Saskatchewan NDP has rightly pointed out that Manitoba has done well in keeping rents down while encouraging construction. But the more important point looks to be the flip side, as the argument that we can't interfere with the market rings entirely hollow when the market is so obviously failing on its own.

For anybody looking to make a case that the market shall provide if we just have enough faith, the last few years (featuring a corporate-friendly government, a growing population to occupy any new units, and none of the rent controls that are supposed to make building more difficult) would seem to have offered a golden opportunity. But rather than seeing some influx of innovative builders meeting the obvious demand for rental housing, Regina has seen vacancy rates plummet and rents soar. And aside from plenty of owner-unit construction, the most obvious shift in the housing market has been...condo conversions, with even more rental units being taken off the market and sold off until the City of Regina stepped in with a moratorium.

Now, it's not hard to see how the incentives involved for builders and landlords have led to that outcome. Given the choice as to what to do with a new construction project or existing building, it's entirely rational to look to make quick and easy money in a booming market, rather than waiting for rent payments to offer a return on investment over a period of decades. And with the vacancy rate so low, it's equally obvious why landlords are taking the opportunity to push rents upward.

But the end result is that the market is failing miserably when it comes to the needs of citizens who are either looking for rental units, or trying to afford the ones they now occupy. And the gap between Manitoba's success with rent controls and Saskatchewan's failure without them should signal that it's the height of folly to leave such a basic necessity at the mercy of market-based decision-making.

[Edit: fixed wording.]

Simple answers to simple questions

Does the National Citizens Coalition Also Claim That Canada's Federal Court Of Appeal Is Retaliating Against Harper With In/Out Charges?
Yes. Along with Harper's own Director of Public Prosecutions. And the cursed inventors of paper and e-mail who are to blame for allowing damning evidence to be preserved. And reality in general, with its well-known anti-Harper bias.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Suddenly it all makes sense

No, Sask Party Watch's post documenting John Gormley's refusal to talk to PC Leader Rick Swenson wasn't much of a surprise from the standpoint of civility and openness to debate. But I did find it somewhat odd that Gormley would be refusing to hear criticism of the Wall government even from the right.

Suffice it to say that's one mystery solved.

Wednesday Morning Links

Content goes here.

- Lest there be any doubt, the Federal Court of Appeal's decision strongly rejecting the Cons' arguments about rebates isn't any more conclusive of the individual charges against four key Con insiders than the ruling below. But the fact that Elections' Canada's interpretation of the law it's in charge of enforcing has been found to be correct is still a rather important development - particularly since there's no general right of appeal unless the Supreme Court of Canada chooses to grant leave (which is does only in a small fraction of cases).

- Scott Payne's contribution to Aaron Wherry's series on the current state of the House of Commons is well worth a read. But I'd argue that his general metaphor is part of the problem: while politics are too often seen as a matter of merely hooking in votes on a one-time basis, the true measure of success should be to get people to want to be involved more generally.

- Having already duly mocked Lorne Gunter's inane column on the Senate, let's note that Chantal Hebert's more reasonable analysis still looks to be somewhat off base.

Of course, nobody will dispute the point that abolition figures to be a difficult process. But I'd argue (as the NDP seems to be doing) that the experience of Canada's previous failed attempts at constitutional reform should be taken as a signal that there's more chance of success in seeking a popular mandate on specific issues, rather than trying to cobble together a full constitutional package through complex negotiations with ever-changing parties.

And it's also worth noting that Stephen Harper used to agree on abolition as an alternative (with no such criticism from the likes of Hebert) - that is, until he stacked the upper chamber with enough of his cronies to be able to override the will of Canada's elected representatives.

- Finally, let's start working on the backlog of developments in the potash sector with this observation from Erin:
PotashCorp paid zero Potash Production Tax in 2010. In other words, the company is swimming in writeoffs and had no taxable profits according to Saskatchewan’s profit-tax formula.

The company’s entire $77-million royalty payment was the provincial resource surcharge, set at 3% of sales.
PotashCorp’s 2010 Canadian income tax expense of $333 million comprises about $200 million to Ottawa and $133 million to provincial governments. Because the company also operates in other provinces, Saskatchewan is probably getting less than $133 million.

Meanwhile, PotashCorp is paying $113 million of corporate income tax in Trinidad, where it has a nitrogen facility. In the previous year, 2009, it actually paid more corporate tax to Trinidad than to all levels of Canadian government!

On impending giveaways

Remarkably, it doesn't seem to have received much comment yet aside from a mention in James Wood's legislative notebook. But the fact that the Wall government is actively looking to hand free money to oil companies would seem well worth criticizing as the province debates how best to secure and invest its resource revenue:
Saskatchewan is considering competing with Calgary.

Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd says the Saskatchewan Party government could expand head office tax incentives beyond the potash industry, with oil companies a potential target.

In 2009 the government introduced a five-year, $100,000 per employee annual tax credit for each head office job created or relocated in Saskatchewan by potash companies.

Potash was seen as a natural choice because of the size of the industry in Saskatchewan, but others are also being eyed, acknowledged Boyd.

"Would we look at any kind of an incentive for oil companies and try to attract them to Saskatchewan? It might be something we would consider, yes," he said.
Now, it would be hard to blame any company for taking up the offer: after all, they surely can't say "no" to having Saskatchewan pay its employees while being able to reap the profits of their work. But the fact that an incentive program would largely be intended to lure businesses from Alberta only proves that there's no expectation of long-term gain: as soon as anybody else offered a better deal, they'd have an equally strong incentive to bolt rather than actually setting down any meaningful roots in Saskatchewan.

As a result of both that reality and the sheer absurdity of shoving more public money at already-profitable industries, I highly doubt that most Saskatchewan citizens see paying the oil industry's bills as being the best use of Saskatchewan's resources. And since there doesn't seem to be much room for doubt that another term of the Sask Party would see millions upon millions more in giveaways, it's long past time to highlight the Wall government's desire to make sure the proceeds of Saskatchewan's boom are funneled into corporate coffers before it's too late.

Misrepresenting the West

Shorter Lorne Gunter:

Pay no attention to Lorne Nystrom and other longtime NDP MPs who built their base in part on a longstanding and widespread belief in abolishing the Senate. As the official voice of Con-approved Western populism, I hereby declare that the only reform anybody has ever wanted is patronage appointments for Conservative election fraudsters.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Quality control cats.

History repeating

Rarely can a single tweet so perfectly sum up the problems with a political party. But according to Michael Geist, the Libs are apparently offering to speed up passage of the Cons' anti-consumer copyright legislation in exchange end to their attack ads on the issue.

So once again, the Libs are eager to trade off substantive policy for only a bare, temporary political gain. And the Cons can respond by launching similarly inaccurate attacks based on their next legislative priority, knowing that they'll serve only to push the Libs to give in once again.

And what's most sad is that as much as it seems that the deal couldn't be any worse for the Libs, you know they'll find some way to accept less.

Back in play

Keen-eyed readers of this blog may have noticed that since last fall, I've dealt exclusively with federal and international politics rather than provincial and municipal ones. (Some even seem to have managed the feat without noticing the e-mail address which could have been used to follow up on an explanation as to the change in focus, rather than operating under the bizarre assumption that "poll results" were the cause.)

As it happens, I've been under some work-related restrictions on my blogging subject matter since going public with my name last fall. But that work situation has now changed - so from here on in, expect plenty more commentary on the Saskatchewan scene.

Before diving back in, though, I'll point out what looks to be the most significant development of the last few months: the release of the NDP's policy consultation report. For now, have a read if you haven't yet - and I'll follow up with my take in the days ahead.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday.

- Sure, it may not be a surprise that the Star is calling for a G20 inquiry:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Dalton McGuinty have refused to hold the independent inquiry that could get beyond the stories, subpoena officials — both police and their political bosses — and find out how things got so out of hand.

Queen’s Park and Ottawa are hoping to ignore the calls for a public inquiry until they go away. The citizens’ report shows, yet again, why that should not be allowed to happen.
- But can there be much doubt that one is sorely needed when even the National Post joins in?
The new report from the CCLA and NUPGE, entitled Breach of the Peace, claims that rather than a few dozen officers removing their name bars to prevent being identified while using force to subdue protestors, the total was actually in the hundreds. Who told them to employ this trick? Was it senior officers on the ground or did the call come from higher up; Toronto’s chief of police, senior Mounties or perhaps even politicians in the Ontario or federal government?

The report argues, with justification, that overall police strategy could not have been devised by frontline officers. So who told them to round up protestors, some in advance of the protestors even committing any acts of violence or vandalism? Who ordered officers to hold protestors and journalists (including two working for this newspaper) for hours — occasionally in inhumane conditions and without medical treatment?
If nothing else, a public inquiry might — given the proper mandate — help police and security bureaucrats devise better methods to distinguish between real threats to public safety and garden-variety demonstrators at future summits. In an ideal world, police would be able to learn such lessons based on their own internal investigations. But so far, all signs from the Toronto police are that the organization is more concerned with circling the wagons and protecting its own than getting to the truth of what happened last June.

No doubt, many activists would use such an inquiry as a platform to criticize the police in scathing terms. But holding our police to account is an exercise in which all Canadians have an interest — especially those conservatives who embrace the principles of limited government and civil liberties. It is on this basis that we endorse the call for a G20 public inquiry.
- But while it's well worth some time and resources to ensure an accountable and effective justice system, the Globe and Mail rightly notes that the return on investment isn't there when it comes to the Cons' dumb on crime posturing:
Canadians don’t trust the courts to get it right on crime. Many would like a tougher approach. But they also don’t see crime or justice as a spending priority. Perhaps this explains the Conservative government’s silence on the costs of their law-and-order agenda.

Since 1994, the Focus Canada poll done by Environics has measured Canadian attitudes toward government spending. In 2010, justice was seen as the second last of 21 priorities, a sharp drop from 15th in 2008. Only 24 per cent said more money should be spent on the justice system. That was the lowest figure recorded since 1994, when just 20 per cent wanted more spent. Getting tough is one thing, paying for it another.
But even if the public would like tougher sentences, there appears to be no wish to pay a tab in the billions each year (in combined federal and provincial costs). The federal corrections budget alone is set to rise by $861-million, or 36 per cent, by 2012-13 over 2009-10. The provincial costs will probably rise by at least that much, because of federal sentencing changes.

Ottawa’s position is either that Canadians want a get-tough approach at any cost, or that they aren’t entitled to know what the cost will be. The government should reveal all the costs of the changes, and allow for a reasoned debate on where this country’s real spending needs lie.
- Finally, the NDP's motion on a Senate referendum is well worth some further discussion. But for now, it's particularly worth noting the Cons' actions in switching an opposition day without warning to limit debate on the issue.

Presumably part of the lesson they've taken from their past prorogation fiascos is that they can only afford to delay for so long in order to prevent a countermovement from building. But it still looks highly irresponsible for them to start raising similar issues of silencing opposition voices in Parliament with an election campaign looming in the near future - and if the NDP can direct the result toward a need for better representation in both chambers, then an election on democracy could produce some highly positive results.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Conservatives. Illegal Activity. Repeat.

Kudos to the Director of Public Prosecutions for setting the record straight that yes, two of Stephen Harper's hand-picked Senate appointees are accused of illegal activity. Anybody taking bets on how long it'll be before we hear that when the future government does it, it's retroactively not illegal?

Monday Afternoon Links

Content goes here.

- Brian Topp nicely sums up the state of the current competition for votes between the NDP and the Libs:
It seems reasonable to speculate that the New Democrats achieved their more recent success in the first instance simply by persuading former NDP voters, notably in Ontario and British Columbia, to return home. Having achieved that, Mr. Layton’s New Democrats may now be digging successfully into the “left Liberal” vote. These voters are more likely than the general population to have someone unionized in their family. They will nonetheless be more likely to self-identify as “middle class”. They tilt a bit more female and younger than the typical target Conservative voter. They are more likely to vote on “who do I trust” issues. They don’t like Mr. Harper. They find nothing to inspire them in Michael Ignatieff. And they seem to be helping to provide the New Democrats with a pretty solid vote notwithstanding much speculation to the contrary.

This will be distressing to Liberal campaign planners, who have built their most recent attempt to relaunch Mr. Ignatieff around a direct pitch to precisely these voters. Considering the damage the Conservatives are doing to Mr. Ignatieff on his right flank, it seems a bit funny that his campaign team would focus on an appeal to New Democrats via an abrupt, incongruous parroting of Jack Layton’s policies on corporate taxes and pensions. Maybe the idea was to try to “switch” that vote right now, in the pre-election, through a couple of gadgets and tricks. The Liberals could then perhaps hope that this vote would become one of their entitlements, and they could then turn to fighting the Conservatives on their right flank during the campaign itself. Perhaps by parroting Mr. Harper in some way?

If this is the plan, it doesn’t seem to be working yet. Instead, the story seems to be an almost unbroken decline since Paul Martin and his faction assumed control of the Liberal Party. Suburbanites, new Canadians, “Reagan democrats” in Canada, left Liberals, and – above all – francophone Quebeckers have all been walking away from Mr. Ignatieff’s increasingly small red tent over the past decade, leaving that party with a shrinking base of traditional voters who vote for it, although they can’t articulate any particular reason for doing so these days.
- Meanwhile, the NDP could hardly have asked for a better contrast in the ads that came out today. Here's the Cons trying to paint their picture of a Canada entirely unlike the one they've put in place while in power:
We're lucky to live in Canada, a land where merit means more than privilege, where who you know matters more than who you know or where you came from.
(As an aside, the whole ad looks to be ripe for appropriate annotation.)

But here's the opening salvo in the NDP's national ad:
Q: Is it just me, or has Ottawa stopped working?

A: It sure looks that way. These days, lobbyists, Senators and insiders are getting all the breaks, while more and more seniors are struggling just to pay their bills. We have to do better.
So with one cabinet minister facing censure for misleading our representatives in Parliament, a couple of Harper-appointed Senators facing charges, and nobody's views but the Cons' figuring to be included in the budget that looks likely to provoke an election, which of those messages seems likely to strike voters as more plausible?

- And speaking of privileged Cons in trouble, John Geddes is the latest to chime in on the meaning of the Oda ado:
(A) minister under siege has traditionally fallen into one of three categories: “on the ropes” over errors they’ve made, but not over serious ethical or character lapses; “an embarrassment” because of some glaring instance of poor judgment, but possibly worth saving; and “guilty of a firing offence,” of which the undisputed examples are talking to a judge about a case or “deliberately and obviously misleading the House.”

At least, those used to be the undisputed firing offences. If Oda survives, misleading the House might have to be downgraded to Reid’s second tier of awkward but not necessarily fatal. Of course, the Conservatives aren’t conceding that Oda lied. They offer the following explanations. She was asked in a House committee who had inserted the word “not” in that document, and honestly said she didn’t know, but would have fessed up to having ordered the alteration had she been asked how the change came to be made. And when she said in a written answer to an opposition question that de-funding Kairos was a “CIDA decision,” she meant in the sense that “CIDA encompasses both officials and the minister responsible for CIDA.”

Milliken must now decide is there’s merit in those fine lines of defence. The House Speaker has been asked to rule on an opposition motion claiming Oda violated MPs’ privileges by misleading them. She might eventually be found in contempt of Parliament, which would be unprecedented for a cabinet minister. Yet Carleton University political science professor Jonathan Malloy isn’t sure even that would matter much. Malloy says Canadians generally view Parliament now mainly in terms of party wrangling. They cheer for one side or the other based on their partisan inclinations. “If this goes further as a contempt-of-Parliament matter,” he says, “it just becomes an extension of the partisan battle.”

And that might be an acceptable outcome for the Prime Minister. Casting the Oda affair as a mere partisan squabble over parliamentary niceties could allow him to save a minister, and avoid handing his enemies a win on a point of principle, with a possible spring election in the wind. If he succeeds, any cabinet minister’s future missteps will have to be viewed in the changed light of their much improved chances of surviving scandal.
- But of course, the Cons themselves have plenty left to do to try to cut down groups who they think have it too easy at the moment. Take for example victims of rape and domestic abuse. (Cue Jason Kenney: "Please!")

- Finally, Armine Yalnizyan points out how a free trade deal with Europe may add billions more to what are already unnecessarily-high costs for prescription drugs:
The government of Canada is in the process of negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Union–the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) — which it hopes to have concluded by the end of 2011.

One of the things the Europeans hope to get from this deal is changes to our drug patent laws and regulations. Specifically, they’d like to see an extension to the exclusivity of patents on top-selling drugs. Pharmaceuticals account for 15.6 percent of total exports from Europe to Canada, with a value of more than $5 billion annually.

In early February a study by Professors Aidan Hollis and Paul Grootendorst, two of Canada’s top academics on pharmaceutical policy, showed that the changes sought by the European Union would add $2.8 billion to our annual expenditures on drugs.

The federal government is calling the shots, but it won’t shoulder the costs. Almost all the cost impact of the new rules will be borne by provinces, private insurers and individuals paying directly.

Greatest Canadian vs. Worst News Source In The World

Shorter Fox News North:

Oh, how we hoped that fifty years of covert RCMP surveillance would give us some dirt on Tommy Douglas beyond the same tired attacks that have been duly mocked for decades. But no such luck. So who's up for another round of the same tired attacks that have been duly mocked for decades?

What really counts

Shorter Brian Lee Crowley:

The fact that Statistics Canada has taken the time to listen to our suggestions to supplement its crime analysis proves that they're wrong, while our willingness to stick to fearmongering long after it's been debunked proves that we're right. Ignorance is strength!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reason to deal

While Joan Bryden's article includes two contrasting alternatives as to the potential effect of the Cons' latest set of scandals (including the charges against key campaign figures), I'd think this is the more relevant point:
(T)he spectre of his party and its top officials being dragged into court — their first court date is March 18, just four days before the budget is expected to be introduced — may induce Harper to try a little harder to satisfy Layton.

As NDP MP Pat Martin colourfully put it: "This could have a chill on election fever if they know that their campaign strategy might lead them to the hoosegow."
Until the latest set of controversies, there didn't seem to be any indication that the Cons were even seriously considering looking for common ground on the budget. But their calculations may change if they see a public narrative developing that would be too damaging if they succeed in forcing an election - and that figures to at least slightly increase the chances of avoiding a trip to the polls which otherwise looks inevitable.

On common ignorance

Sure, it may look bad that the catastrophically-suffering Larry Smith has no answers as to what a trade agreement with Japan could possibly hope to accomplish when he's been selected as the Cons' spokesflack on the issue:
He was asked, at a news conference where he announced a study on a possible trade deal with Japan, a basic question on what barriers to commerce currently existed. He was there last Wednesday on behalf of International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan.

"I am not informed about all the details," Smith replied. "You'll have to give me another two or three months before I respond to that question."
But let's be fair to Smith: if he can't name any trade barriers worth addressing with far-reaching anti-government agreements, that only puts him in the same general category as everybody else pushing the same position.

Sunday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your weekend reading (and participating).

- Tom Levenson points out one of the greatest ironies of the current Wisconsin showdown in particular and the attack on public employees in general, as they result in workers giving up exactly the type of intelligent retirement planning that we're supposed to be pursuing:
Wisconsin’s public service employees are not overpaid relative to their private sector counterparts. Rutgers University professor Jeffrey Keefe has done the analysis. (See his complete study on our Employment Policy Research Network website: Controlling for education and other standard human capital variables he found that Wisconsin’s public sector workers earn 8.2 percent less than their private sector counterparts in wages and salaries. Taking fringe benefits into account shrinks the difference to 4.2 percent. Thus, public sector workers have lower wages and higher fringe benefits (yes, pensions and health care benefits are the two standouts). But overall, they are not overpaid compared to the private sector. No easy scapegoat here.
That is: Wisconsin state workers are living exactly the way their fellow citizens should want them to: they are deferring present consumption for income security in retirement. This is what every financial counselor begs their clients to do. It is what as a society we want to happen—better by far that our citizens anticipate and prepare for life after work than to hit the bricks with a grin and a sawbuck in their pockets.
- Scott Reid nicely sums up what the Cons' advertising scandal (among other cover-ups) ultimately means:
What can — and what must — still be explored is whether the only principle that remains standing in Stephen Harper's Ottawa is that the ends justify the means. Whether the Conservatives will be held to account for their actions — if indeed it is shown they deliberately and willfully broke election law. And how can the wrong be righted since we cannot of course, turn back time and conduct again an election held a half-decade ago on different terms.

Stephen Harper will say he doesn't care. That it's a minor disagreement as to how a rule might be interpreted. But that is plainly disingenuous. Harper is the Roger Clemens of federal politics. A man who fights against any and all evidence he did wrong. Who accuses his accusers of ulterior motives. Who bullies those he can and demeans those he cannot. And who, in the final analysis, if — and we should say if — is confirmed as a cheat, will employ his supporters to argue that it does nothing to undermine his achievements. But it does. It undermines everything. Because it undermines his personal integrity.

In that respect, the historic issue at stake is not the result of the 2006 election. It is the legacy of the man who still leads Canada in 2011. Once the outcome of these charges has been fully adjudicated let's hope the finding takes a central, not marginal place in our permanent assessment of Stephen Harper. And let's hope that others refuse to follow his lead — whether it works or not.
- Meanwhile, Malcolm offers his take on the cause of Bev Oda's impending demise:
Despite Stephen Harper's bluster and misdirection, no one has disputed Bev Oda's right to suspend the funding - or, more accurately, to reject the proposal to continue funding.

If Bev Oda had the competence God gave a particularly stupid goldfish, she would have sent the documents back to the officials unsigned. She would have informed them that she was not going to approve the funding, and that would have been that. Alternatively, she could have instructed them to prepare another version of the document with an "I do / do not approve" option.
(F)or me, it isn't the dishonesty that's shocking. I've known politicians to be dishonest before. Heck, in the great scheme of political dishonesty, this isn't even a big one.

No. For me it's the stupidity.

Lying when you're caught out at something is, if not admirable, at least understandable.

Lying for no reason at all is simply inexcuseable.

In fact, it's just plain dumb.

Bev Oda may not be thrown under the bus immediately - but you can rest assured that her political advancement in the Harper heirarchy is done like dinner. She's an embarrassment - and Harper doesn't like to be embarrassed.

When her political obituary is written within the next year or so, people will blame her demise on the fact that she lied to Parliament and to the people of Canada.

The reality, though, is that she torpedoed her own political career because she is mind-numbingly stupid. The lie is merely a symbol of her incredible incompetence.
- Finally, time is running out to participate in the Mapping the Canadian Political Blogosphere survey - so for those with a few minutes, now is the time to help give as accurate a picture as possible of Canada's blogging community.