Saturday, December 31, 2005

Winning friends, admirers...and prizes

The Globe and Mail has rightly named Ed Broadbent its Nation Builder of the Year for 2005:
Farewell, Honest Ed, the best prime minister Canada never had. In an era of contemptuous, mean-spirited public discourse, Mr. Broadbent is an oxymoron -- a decent Canadian politician...

"People always say there're no honest politicians," says Lowell Green, a right-wing commentator in Ottawa, who holds the record for North America's longest-running talk show. "I say, 'What about Ed Broadbent?' That shuts them up."...

Some think that he might have been prime minister if only he had led another party. Had he ever thought of attaching himself to the Liberals or Conservatives?

He stops smiling. "For me, it's just a non-starter. I am who I am. My first objective was not to have power, but to fight for what I believe in. And have power."

Goodbye, Mr. Decent. Canadians will miss you.
The entire article contains an interesting review of Broadbent's career, and deserves a read. While nobody can blame Broadbent for retiring in order to take care of his wife, there can be little doubt that Parliament will be worse off for his departure...or that there are some mighty big shoes to be filled in the NDP caucus.

On second chances

While there's been much talk about the developing gang problem in Saskatchewan, a dangerous indicator of the sway of gangs seems to have flown largely under the radar:
A prisoner who died hours after arriving at Saskatchewan Penitentiary last week was once a high-ranking member of a street gang, but later renounced his gang life, CBC News has learned.

James Ronald Taylor, 28, died Dec. 22 after being stabbed three times while in a gymnasium in the high-security area of the Prince Albert prison. He had been transferred from an Edmonton prison earlier the same day...

(I)n 2004 when Taylor applied to be released, he said he had turned his back on gang-related crime. The (National Parole Board) said he appeared sincere in "denouncing" his gang membership.

"Your violent offending has been influenced and driven through your gang activities," the board said. "While you explained the serious implications to your own safety in leaving the gang and your own vulnerability, you were able to remain steadfast in your decision."
The article notes that there's been no definitive link between gang retribution and the killing. However, the effect of Taylor's death is surely to send a message to others that the prison system won't do much to keep them alive if they try to end their gang affiliation. And that can only force anybody who's already been recruited to keep up a role in the gang structure.

The ideal result would obviously be to prevent more people from joining gangs in the first place. But a full strategy to deal with gangs needs to also recognize that some people who join gangs while young and immature may well make a legitimate decision to change - a decision that society should be eager to encourage. And such decisions won't likely be made if the perceived outcome is death due to a lack of protection against the gang.

Positive matter

While prominent members of the other major parties make waves with their shockingly thoughtless and/or tasteless writings, MurkyView notes that one of the NDP's star candidates is instead contributing meaningful and interesting content to the political sphere:
To be a responsible citizen in a world where nonrenewable fossil fuels are put to ever increasing and "ever faster track" depletion requires that ultimately citizens band together to demand reanalysis and redirection. We used to say that good citizenship requires literacy and that democracy requires a literate population. That remains true but it becomes obvious that to understand energy and environmental sustainability in this Modern Era now also requires a pervasive numeracy...

The essence of the energy and environmental policy dilemma is not whether we must change policy direction but rather how soon can we start. We must put practical renewable energy capacity in place. There are two reasons why we must insist that no more time should be wasted as has been wasted this entire past decade. Some may argue that almost half of world oil reserves are now depleted while optimists (forced or otherwise) may insist that almost half of ultimate reserves remain to be exploited.

They both happen to be right. That is not the point. Does it really matter so much if the cup is half full or half empty? The far, far more important thing we must do is to accept the real possibility that beyond a certain point, global capacity to produce will decline and fail to meet demand. Prices will soar as supply becomes erratic and undependable month to month. We will either be ready with a rational plan of practical alternatives (that are also non-greenhouse gas emitting) or we will witness a deterioration in environmental balances and sustainability, even while misery escalates in the face of decline in the production of the necessities of life.
(Emphasis in original.)

Reading Schreyer's piece, it's easy to understand the reason why Ignatieff once appeared to be a rising political star rather than a liability: it's tough to overstate the value of a candidate with both a strong vision and the ability to express that vision eloquently. But unlike Ignatieff, Schreyer offers both a vision that most Canadians can easily share, and a candidacy that isn't tainted by political interference. The only great danger for both him and the NDP is that any positive message might get lost amid media reports of campaign sniping...but if that happens, it won't be for lack of merit in Schreyer's writing.

On truly contentious relations

The Globe and Mail points out a set of war plans from the 1920s and 1930s involving both the U.S.' strategy to invade Canada, and Canada's planned response (featuring attacks on the northern U.S., and possibly an attempt to conquer Alaska). Both the Washington Post and a current Canadian spokesperson rightly laugh at the suggestion the past plans would be of any significance today. But is it time to start taking bets as to how long it'll take a U.S. neocon to use Canada's 80-year-old plan of counterattack as reason to invade preemptively?

Friday, December 30, 2005

On choosing the right alternative

Since I've spent plenty of time recently addressing the Libs' indiscretions and cover-ups, I'll take a moment to point readers to Bouquets of Gray, passim, for the latest insanity emanating from the Cons. Prominent Libs have shown all too often lately that they don't deserve to be taken seriously when they claim to stand up for multiculturalism or ethics in government. But there are also plenty of indications that the Cons would be all the worse, and Buckets does his usual thorough job of pointing those out.

The upcoming election shouldn't be an exercise in replacing one flawed government with another, but rather in making sure that power lies with a party which actually stands a chance of improving matters. And the Cons couldn't be further from fitting that bill.

Well pointed out

From the NDP's Rapid Response:
Today, Liberals rely on the example of Michael Wilson, Mulroney's Finance Minister who did not resign during a police investigation in 1989. Liberal Party talking points circulated on the Internet say "In May, 1989, Global News reporter Doug Small leaked Michael Wilson's Budget; a police investigation ensued and Finance Minister Michael Wilson did not resign during investigation."

That's a fact.

Now here's another one: in 1989, Liberal MPs argued that a finance minister who leaked information that could give an advantage to a few investors was not fit to hold that office...

Mr. Paul Martin (LaSalle-Émard): "There is only one question before this House. You are bringing this House into disrepute. Why the cover-up?" [May 19, 1989, Hansard pg 1969]

So how 'bout that apple cart?

Assorted quotes from Bay Street analysts on the income trust fiasco:
''It certainly doesn't help our image,'' said Patti Croft, vice-president and chief economist with Phillips, Hager & North Investment Management Ltd.

''We, after all, are a developed economy,'' she said. ''Investors usually invest in those stock markets with a great deal of confidence in the clarity of the rules and regulations and that hasn't been the case with the income trust issue.''...

''The whole way the tax leakage situation was handled by the Department of Finance was not particularly tight or professional,'' said Gavin Graham, vice-president and director of investments at the Guardian Group of Funds, a major player in the income trust market. ''The general impression left was that there had not been a great deal of time or thought put into the whole process.

''Therefore, if there was some leakage, and the jury is still out on that, it would not be surprising given the way in which other aspects of the whole process were handled ... ,'' Graham said.
Regardless of the outcome of the RCMP investigation, it's worth remembering that either way, Goodale's department's disregard for even its own processes helped to set the stage for whatever the RCMP may find. And granting that there may well not be any criminal implications, I for one still look forward to an "Incompetent, but not criminal!" campaign the rest of the way from the Libs.

One to watch

It's anybody's guess as to how much will be accomplished as a result, but the issues facing Canadian agriculture will get a public hearing during the campaign:
Gone are the farm protests on prairie highways and screaming headlines about the mad cow crisis.

Agriculture officials are focusing instead on the urban palate to gain attention in the campaign leading to the Jan. 23 federal election...

A debate on issues facing the industry will be held in downtown Toronto on Jan. 13, featuring Agriculture Minister Andy Mitchell and critics from the other parties...

Frustrated that the first two debates by the federal leaders ignored farm and food issues, many agricultural groups have urged their members to flood debate organizers with agriculture questions via e-mail.
Many of the most obvious solutions (particularly international subsidy reductions) are far beyond the reach of the Canadian federal government. And there's always reason to be leery when a party promises a reformed Canadian farm support system given how many such efforts have failed to have any real effect in the past.

But if nothing else, it's a plus to see the importance of agriculture and the plight of Canadian farmers as subjects for discussion and debate during the campaign. We can only hope that at least some of the ideas discussed on the 13th are still remembered once the campaign is over.

Edit: typo.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Giving people a chance

I'm not quite sure how the U.S. was first seen as a Safe Third Country for refugee purposes a year ago, but three humanitarian agencies are doing their best to give refugee claimants a chance to settle in Canada if they can't avoid passing through the U.S.:
The Canadian Council of Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches opposed the Safe Third Country Agreement even before it took effect a year ago.

They will ask the court to find that the United States does not meet the criteria of a safe country because it has not respected its obligations under the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention.

They will also argue that, by returning refugee claimants to the United States, Canada is violating its international obligations as well as the claimants' Charter rights...

"We are asking that there at least be an opportunity for individual applicants to show why they would not be safe in the United States," said Ms. Dench, adding that she does not dispute the fact that the United States is a safe country for some refugees.

"Our concern is that it is not safe for all."
My initial gut reaction is that the lawsuit doesn't stand much chance of success given the deference usually given to departmental decisions, particularly ones with a political component as this one seems to include. But kudos to the humanitarian groups for at least calling attention to the department's willingness to put the lives of refugees in the hands of the U.S. government. And with some luck, maybe the action will result in more refugees getting a fair chance to stay in Canada than they'll get as long as the agreement is in force.

Edit: typo.

The bigger they are...

It's been a long time since my home riding has faced much of a race - but thanks to the income trust leak, CBC speculates that the Goodale machine may run into greater barriers than it can overcome:
While the income trust controversy plays out on the national scene, opponents of Liberal candidate Ralph Goodale predict it will be a part of the local election campaign in Regina as well...

Conservative Brad Farquhar, who is challenging Goodale in the Regina riding of Wascana, said his campaign is already benefiting from the questions about the finance minister.

"We had people calling to say, 'Listen, I'm so mad at Mr. Goodale, I want to make a contribution,'" he said. "Now that there's a criminal investigation, Mr. Goodale should just step aside and let that take place."...

(NDP candidate) Helen Yum has taken a Christmas break from campaigning and won't be going door to door for another few days. However, she's sure it will improve the NDP's chances of taking the seat.

"This must raise further questions in people's minds about the Liberal government," she said.
With the seat seeming to be up for grabs far more than it's been in some time, it'll be interesting to see whether the opposition parties can put in enough of a push to topple Goodale. And if nothing else, one has to suspect that Goodale will be limited largely to defending his own turf rather than being able to help other Liberal candidates in the province.

Minority report

Peter MacLeod writes about some of the big ideas that helped to shape 2005, including this passage on the minority Parliament:
The funny thing about minority governments is that constant squabbling aside, they have a habit of producing surprisingly good legislation with real options and debate. Without the legislative monopoly that majority government ensures, parliament regains its vitality as a genuine marketplace of ideas and alternatives. Sure the politicians might hate it, but Canadians, especially centrists and those on the left, have been well served by the 38th Parliament and should be sad to see it go.
It's tough to disagree with most of MacLeod's sentiment, though it's worth keeping in mind that the end of the Parliament unfortunately came about as a result of a Liberal refusal to keep the marketplace of ideas going.

In any event, it won't be long before Canadians have a chance to decide again whether they'd sooner continue that genuine marketplace, or spend the next 4+ years stuck with policy from either Harper's House of Tax Cuts or Martin's Broken Promises Emporium. Let's hope they make the right call.

Goodale grief

One of the Prog Bloggers says directly what Goodale hinted at indirectly last night: that the income trust leak is under investigation solely due to public outcry and political reasons. But what does that say about the commenters' views on the RCMP itself?

There's no doubt that Liberal for Life must have an awfully low opinion of the RCMP based on the ridiculous analogies to other grounds for investigation. (To answer what seems to be the Lib response so far, note the distinction between "direct evidence of wrongdoing", which hasn't been discovered by the initial review, and "a basis upon which such evidence might be found", which presumably must be present for the investigation to continue, and wouldn't be present in Lib for Life's proposed crank calls.)

But does Goodale himself honestly believe that the RCMP has so many spare resources that it can extensively investigate issues where nothing in its initial review found a basis for further investigation? Or is this more a case of Goodale standing in front of a house with smoke billowing out every window, claiming that since he's satisfied there's no fire, the fire department must be responding only to his cranky neighbours?

Update: Or, to put it more formally:
The RCMP makes it clear that they do not investigate all complaints. On their website they explain the criteria for conducting an investigation:...

"Any referred case is given a weighted score based upon a set of
criteria that ensures that the most important cases relating to our
investigative mandate receive the attention and resources they deserve. Cases with higher scores are more likely to be selected and investigated."

The RCMP is pursuing this case because there are serious grounds to believe that average investors were hurt by insider trading.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The hits just keep on coming

It looks like the Greens' campaign may test the limits of the idea that any publicity is good publicity, as yet another complaint from a formerly-prominent member has gone public:
A second complaint to Elections Canada of alleged electoral-law violations by Green Party officials has been made public by a former party member, even as the party threatens legal action against the initiator of a complaint reported last week.

B.C. activist Dana Miller, who served in the party's shadow cabinet with responsibility for human rights issues, provided The Canadian Press with a copy of her April 15 complaint, alleging violations of federal law and the party's own constitution.

Miller had hoped to run for the party in the riding of Delta Richmond-East. She said in an interview she had been expelled from the party, without due process, after filing the complaint.
The article also cites several more sources for past complaints, featuring an alleged lifetime ban based on one derogatory comment about party leadership (would the Liberals have had more than half a dozen members left if they imposed that policy during the Chretien/Martin transition?), as well as more apparent concerns about the party's financial oversight.

I'll accept the point of the Green official cited in the article that most groups have at least some internal dissent. But it can't be a good sign for the Greens that the dissent seems to be have far more staying power than its positive contributions to the campaign.

More to the story

Remember how Ralph Goodale managed to satisfy himself that there was no need to further investigate any potential leak on income trusts? As it turns out, the RCMP disagrees:
Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli has written to NDP Finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis to confirm that that the RCMP has launched a criminal investigation into the Liberal government, related to the income trust issue.

Mr. Zaccardelli confirmed that the RCMP has launched a criminal investigation "regarding a possible breach of security or illegal transfer of information in advance of the federal government's announcement of changes to the taxation of Canadian corporate dividends and income trusts November 23, 2005."
There's no guarantee that the investigation will lead to any charges. But it's still noteworthy that Goodale was willing to declare the matter closed within two days of its coming to light, while the RCMP has determined that the issue is likely enough to give rise to criminal charges to be worth investigating now. One has to then wonder just how little oversight the Liberals generally conduct over their own affairs...and what else has gone completely unaddressed when there hasn't been any outside investigation.

The voice ignored

One of the less-discussed aspects of the Klander scandal has been the second way in which Klander's blog went off the Liberal message. Not only did the posts in question completely undercut the claim of senior Liberal staffers to hold anything but complete contempt for racial and gender equality, but they also showed that Liberal higher-ups in Ontario see the NDP as a far more immediate opponent than the Cons. To anybody paying attention, that would surely indicate the relative irrelevance of the Cons in the region, and thereby undermine the usual Lib entreaties to vote strategically.

Fortunately for the Libs as well as the Cons, the CP does its best to undo the damage on the second point, giving Stephen Harper a separate article in response to Klander's resignation based on his close connection to the incident as...well, another person involved in Canadian politics. Meanwhile, no such courtesy has apparently been extended to Layton and/or Chow: the NDP's reaction cited by the CP is limited to a spokesperson's response in the original story centred on Klander.

It struck me as amazing that anybody would conclude that the effect of Klander's blog would be to lead to increased Con support - particularly given the propensity of many Con members to issue equally outrageous statements. But that result seems much more plausible as long as media outlets feel free to decide that the actual injured party doesn't deserve to be heard, and that even a wrong against the NDP should be taken as a reason to support the Cons instead.

Update: In fairness, I'll note that the CP eventually did give coverage to Layton's response - albeit while giving additional publicity to Harper on the issue as well.

Subverting diplomacy

To my recollection, most of the talk of moving the U.N. away from its current U.S. base comes from neo-cons ranting about how nothing should place a limit on the U.S.' power. But yet another ridiculous application of U.S. power may offer plenty of reason for the U.N. itself to pack up and move elsewhere:
Disclosure of the wiretaps and the monitoring of U.N. members' email came on the eve of the Iraq war in the British-based Observer. The leak -- which the paper acquired in the form of an email via a British translator -- came amid a U.S. push urging U.N. members to vote in favor of a resolution that said Iraq was in violation of U.N. resolution 1441, asserting that it had failed to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.

News of the NSA spying on the U.N. received scant coverage in U.S. newspapers at the time. But with the explosive domestic spying report published in the New York Times last week, a closer examination of pre-war spying may shed light on whether the Bush administration has used the NSA for its own political purposes, as opposed to tracking down communications regarding potential terrorist threats against the U.S.

The leaked NSA email detailing the agency's spy tactics against the U.N. was written Jan. 31, 2003 by Chief of Staff for Regional Targets Frank Koza. In the email, Koza asked an undisclosed number of NSA and British intelligence officials to "pay attention to existing non-UN Security Council Member UN-related and domestic comms (home and office telephones) for anything useful related to Security Council deliberations."
It's surprising that the North American media hadn't paid much attention to the story yet, since the spying on the U.N. would obviously be an early example of spying for purely political purposes. But it never hurts to be reminded of Bushco's complete disregard for the interests of anybody but itself - particularly when the effect is to show that neither the world's top diplomats nor any ordinary American can trust that their communications are free of interference.

(Via Canadian Cynic.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Nicely timed

While nobody should be surprised to see PR getting some talk from Layton, it's all the better to see it as the NDP's first public message coming out of the holidays...with a nice slap at the Libs to boot:
Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin brushed Layton off earlier this year, after an initial promise to pursue electoral reform, the NDP leader recalled with some frustration and a hint of anger.

"He said, 'You're two votes short,' " to make any demands, said Layton.

"And that was the story of this Parliament. Arrogance. 'You're two votes short, you haven't got enough power to keep me in power, so to heck with you.' "
The interview nicely explains why the NDP wasn't able to get PR on the agenda last time out...but also highlights that if the party has enough opportunity to do so, it'll keep PR at the top of the list following the 2006 election. Now if only the NDP can make up the two votes to fit PMPM's bill for a party worth listening to...

Legitimizing discrimination

Awhile back, a couple of comments on this blog dealt with Maher Arar's inability to find regular work after his return to Canada, despite his training as a computer engineer. At that time, Mike and I agreed that something smelled fishy about the lack of employers interested in Arar's services. But especially after recent news about the scope of U.S. surveillance (and Canada's complicity in some of it), the decision not to hire Arar may well make perfect sense from an employer's standpoint.

After all, Arar is both an outspoken critic of Bushco and the plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the legality of his rendering which the U.S. claims could be harmful to national security. Meanwhile, U.S. has refused to admit that it was wrong to subject Arar to torture, based presumably on its continued belief that the available evidence on Arar justified the rendering. Based on the continued suspicion going both ways, one has to figure that whatever Arar does in the future, he's likely to live under every bit of surveillance the U.S. can muster.

And there shouldn't be much doubt that the surveillance on an employer could have harmful effects to that employer's interests. Even if a given piece of surveillance wasn't immune from all review, there's no apparent way to trace the way information obtained in a Patriot Act request which is then misused to undermine the company's economic interests.

According to the link on Echelon above, there's already speculation that a system in which Canada willingly participates has been misused for commercial purposes. It's far from sure that any information obtained under surveillance would be misused, but why take the risk?

What's worse, the harm could go beyond the firm's information to the well-being of its employees - both for business and personal purposes. Remember that Arar himself was rendered for his association to people alleged to have terrorist links, and not based on any real evidence against him personally. Assuming that Arar is still on U.S. watchlists, the act of hiring Arar could then put both the employer and any other co-workers on watchlists as well.

No matter how highly valued Arar should rightly be for his skills, it's probably fair to say it's not worth an employer's while to add those skills at the cost of preventing everybody involved in the company from flying to or through the United States, particularly if anybody could potentially face Arar's fate.

Mind you, it's far from clear to what extent any of the above risks would ultimately materialize. But while it would be nice to see a private employer take the risk, it's difficult to blame anybody for believing that the potential downside of hiring Arar could exceed the upside by far too much to be worth the danger.

That type of equation is unfortunate enough in a single case such as Arar's. But what if the same type of decision-making also affects a wider range of corporate hiring or promotion decisions? The effect could well be that individuals seen as likely to make a watchlist would be systematically avoided by employers...with the result that many entirely innocent people could be shut out of positions which they would win on merit alone. This in turn would both reduce the ultimate productivity of employers, and create a class of people rightly frustrated with a system that discriminates against them.

Even if employers are relatively blameless for the reasons pointed out above, there's plenty of blame to go around for those who have allowed this type of situation to develop. Naturally, Bushco should bear the brunt for its insistence on claiming that all's fair if it claims national security as the justification. And to a somewhat lesser degree, Canada's government also deserves blame for its cooperation in the U.S.' actions, and for its apparent acceptance of Bushco's position when it comes to civil rights in Canada.

Something fishy is indeed afoot, but it could well be less a conspiracy among employers so much as a reasonable response to known government policy. And any discussion of the proper response to terrorism should acknowledge the discriminatory effect of both increased surveillance and a "guilt by association" standard.

Positive PR

The CP points out that Fair Vote Canada and other PR proponents are far from giving up on proportional representation. But perhaps more significant is buried in a CanWest article on Harper's refusal to form an official coalition if he wins a minority government:
(T)here is a growing sense that Canada needs to make a fundamental break with the past.

Rick Anderson, a senior advisor to former Reform leader Preston Manning, has become so disillusioned with the prevailing political culture that he has founded the Fireweed Democracy Project, which aims to promote democratic reform in federal politics.

"If ever there was a country needing a coalition governance model in its democratic institutions and culture, it is 21st century Canada," he says. "[The political system] remains stuck in the past, better suited to excessively partisan combat than to legislative co-operation. This needs to change."
Anderson doesn't refer to PR directly. But the principle that a coalition can be more effective than a majority in representing the interests of the country as a whole is one that lends itself readily to a PR-type system. And the website for Anderson's project includes PR among a bevy of possible improvements to the status quo.

As far as the election is concerned, the Fireweed Democracy Project seems to have limited itself to informing voters about party policy rather than making endorsements. But it's noteworthy that the NDP is not only the largest federal party looking to PR as a solution, but that it's also posted the most content on democratic reform during the course of the campaign.

Based on the Fireweed project as well as the continued efforts of Free Vote Canada, it should be clear that PR isn't going away as an issue...and that there's a strong populist undercurrent whose policy interests are aligned with those of the NDP. If enough of those voters cast their ballots for the best chance of change, then the NDP could end up with enough clout to make PR a reality within the next Parliament.

On reasonable responses

The Vancouver Sun reports on how the Libs' stance on compensation for the head tax on Chinese immigrants could be a campaign issue. But can anybody even pretend that the issue should run in favour of the Cons, as theorized by one community leader?
"With the Conservative party and the Liberal party taking diametrically different positions on this, that could have an effect," former Vancouver councillor Tung Chan said...

In November, the Liberal government announced a $2.5-million plan to recognize the historic injustice of the head tax, but it did not apologize or offer individual financial redress to victims and their families...

While campaigning in Ontario earlier this month, Conservative leader Stephen Harper changed his position on the head tax issue and joined the New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois in condemning the government's $2.5-million plan as inadequate.
The article also cites another Chinese community leader who avoided any mention of specific parties in criticizing the Libs' policy - which seems like a better-grounded take on the issue. But there's no apparent reason why a group concerned about the Libs' unfairly-imposed settlement would show its discontent by throwing its support to a party that was utterly disinterested in the issue until the campaign was underway.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Lending a hand

Rosie O'Donnell's citizenship may have prevented her from donating money to Peg Norman's campaign - but the publicity surrounding O'Donnell's offer should help to put Norman on the political map. And that may be far more valuable to Norman than any amount of money O'Donnell could have donated.

Outrage fatigue

I'm no fan of the Martin Liberals generally, and there are plenty of reasons for voting the party out of power. But the CP's article on "scandal fatigue" is still far off base in its apparent conclusion that it would essentially take a disease to cause a voter to support the Libs:
Scandal fatigue may be the malady of the modern media age.

From the United States, where the term was likely coined, to the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the Czech Republic, scandal fatigue has been a handy diagnosis for a lenient public unwilling or unable to summon the outrage to throw governing bums out.

In Canada, the main symptom of scandal fatigue may be the persistent reluctance of Canadian voters to dump their Liberal government, despite the well-documented ethical breakdown of the sponsorship scandal.
The rest of the article does at least consider the possibility that something other than reaction to past scandals should come into play in determining one's vote. But there's surely no reason to start an article from the position that the public should allow its outrage to completely override its ability to make rational calculations as to which party is best capable of governing - no matter how much one disagrees with the resulting calculations.


It's bad enough that PMPM went out of his way to win political points by proposing a "ban" on weapons which are already illegal without a license. But the Globe and Mail discovers that in response to Martin's proposal, people are now stocking up on handguns in hopes of either fitting into the "target shooting" exemption, or getting the benefit of any grandfathering in the proposal:
Gun shop owners and distributors across the country say handgun sales have increased since the Liberal Leader promised to ban them if his party wins the next election. Buyers are stocking up on coveted models before it's too late and hoping the ban would not be retroactive by including guns already owned...

Phil Harnois is a former police officer who now owns one of the biggest gun shops in Western Canada. Handgun sales at his Edmonton store, P&D Enterprises, have skyrocketed since the Liberal announcement.

“In a week we've done about 60 handguns, where we'd normally sell about 15,” Mr. Harnois said. “It's certainly driven sales and we didn't try and assist that at all. People just came on their own.”
It's far from clear that Martin's promise will ever become reality. And if the next government doesn't follow through on Martin's promise (whether due to a Liberal government typically forgetting its platform, or shift to Con government), then PMPM will have managed to do nothing but increase the number of guns on the same streets that he supposedly sought to protect.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

One has a political future. One doesn't.

The blogs and discussion boards are abuzz about the first huge gaffe of the campaign, namely senior Liberal organizer Mike Klander's smear of Olivia Chow. As a public service, let's fix Klander's most egregious post:

Chow................and Ciao.

Edit: Klander's resignation is now official.

Against the odds

The CP reports on two of the candidates fighting campaigns against party leaders, including the NDP's candidate running against Stephen Harper:
In 2004, the previous NDP candidate trailed Harper by more than 32,000 votes.

But (NDP candidate Holly) Heffernan, a nurse who was first recruited by the NDP to run in the 2004 Alberta provincial election, brings a hearty sense of humour and unflagging optimism to the doors she knocks on.

"I get 'Go for it!' and 'Kick some Conservative butt!' and I also get - well, they just look at you and laugh. I get a lot of that," Heffernan admits...

With 30 years of experience in the health-care system, Heffernan agreed to run so she can warn voters about the dangers of increasing privatization - something only the NDP has flatly rejected.
The article notes that neither Heffernan nor the other candidate discussed (the Cons' challenger to PMPM) is able to get away from work for all of the campaign, making the odds all the more difficult. But a candidate can do plenty of good for a party merely by doing well as an also-ran - particularly when that candidate presents as strong an issue-based message as Heffernan.

Kudos to her for her efforts in the campaign, and hopefully she and many of the other NDP longshots around the country can at win at least enough votes to make even the top Libs and Cons know they can't take their seats for granted.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy holidays!

Light blogging over the next couple of days. Season's greetings to all, and all the best in the new year.

The reviews that matter

For all the talk about how effective Harper's campaign has been so far, the latest Strategic Counsel poll suggests that the Cons not only aren't winning over voters, but are in fact seen by less and less voters as having run the best campaign:
According to the survey conducted by The Strategic Counsel, 25 per cent of Canadians say the Liberals are running the best campaign, up six percentage points from Dec. 5-6. By contrast, 23 per cent think the Tories have the best campaign, down from 26 per cent, while 16 per cent of Canadians think the NDP is making the best effort, up two points. The survey also found that the number of Canadians who think the country is on the wrong track is declining.
Presumably, part of the problem is that voters who have paid only casual attention will remember the Cons' amateurish TV spots which have been rightly decried by pundits and voters alike. And for those paying closer attention, unveiling a policy a day doesn't necessarily do that much good when the policies aren't all that popular.

Not that there's ever a lack of reasons to be skeptical about the Cons. But the poll suggests that Canadians are remembering those reasons for themselves rather than listening to what's often been a fawning media response to the Cons. And it's tough to think a lot of voters will consider the Cons the best choice to run the country if an ever-declining number consider them able to run even the best campaign.

Friday, December 23, 2005

On general accountability

I'm by no means always a fan of Democracy Watch, particularly when it seems focused on trying to politicize the judiciary. But sometimes it comes up with ideas which strongly deserve public backing...and it's tough to see any apparent reason why the NDP wouldn't be eager to sign onto at least the bulk of Democracy Watch's proposed corporate accountability rules:
Key General Corporate Responsibility Changes
1. Require corporate directors to consider stakeholder interests (represented by workers, customers, communities, social justice and environmental groups) in making decisions, and to account publicly for the extent to which they do.
2. Require corporations to disclose their records of compliance with environmental, criminal, competition, human rights, labour, health and safety laws, and set up an on-line database so that the public has easy access to the information;
3. Establish an effective system to protect, from any form of retaliation, so-called "whistleblower" employees who disclose corporate wrongdoings to the public or to the government.
4. Prohibit corporations that violate laws from receiving grants or contracts from government for a specific period of time (e.g. 5-10 years).
5. Lower the barriers to holding corporations and corporate directors, officers and executives liable for crimes committed by managers or employees working for the corporation.
6. Require corporations to send a flyer to individual shareholders inviting them to join a nation-wide corporate watchdog group.
7. Allow stakeholders to apply for dissolution of a corporation that repeatedly violates laws.
Particularly in the context of the NDP's strength as a voice on ethics with respect to government, it seems to make plenty of sense to ensure accountability in the private sector as well. Hopefully the NDP will take (or has taken) a strong look at the proposal, and will eventually integrate at least the social-responsibility, whistleblower and watchdog-awareness provisions into their platform.

Revealing answers

The Toronto Sun asked the federal leaders several questions from their readers...and a couple of the answers are particularly interesting. First, Stephen Harper apparently refuses to acknowledge that other parties could possibly have any good ideas to offer:
4. What's one of your opponents' proposals that you agree with?

-- Gary Wilcox, Crystal Beach

MARTIN: The Conservatives have proposed a Canadian Strategy on Cancer Control, and the Liberal government absolutely agrees that Canada needs to do more to address chronic diseases, including cancer.

LAYTON: The Conservative democratic reform plan has some good aspects -- like stopping parties from imposing "parachute" candidates on ridings. That shows some respect for local democracy, something that still eludes the Liberal Party.

HARPER: We are focusing on our own proposals and plans and have spent the first three weeks of the campaign presenting these to Canadians. We did agree with Prime Minister Martin and the Liberals on UNESCO until the prime minister changed his position.
Much has been made of the Cons' supposedly positive campaign. But it's telling that Harper's focus is on his own party's views to the point where he refuses to find a single policy worth complimenting in any other party's current platform. One has to wonder how Harper could possibly function as a minority PM if he's not even willing to consider whether the other parties have good ideas to offer...and it's probably beyond wondering whether a potential Con majority would give so much as a second thought to anything but pandering to its base.

Meanwhile, PMPM continues to show his lack of willingness to put himself on the same level as most Canadians when it comes to health care by refusing to answer a simple question about making use of the system:
10. When was the last time you or a member of your family had to spend hours waiting for medical care in a hospital emergency room?

-- Roger Goldson, Hamilton

MARTIN: Did not respond.
Both Layton and Harper were able to cite recent examples of trips to the emergency room - Layton noting that the health professionals did a good job, Harper merely sounding unimpressed with the system generally. But the man who's trying to claim to be a defender of public health care apparently can't even be bothered to remember the last time he made use of the system.


The Globe and Mail discusses the case of Haiyang Zhang, who was first fired from the Privy Council office, then excluded from consideration for the vast majority of government positions based on her having worked for China's national news service a decade ago:
Ms. Zhang was fired by Alex Himelfarb, the Clerk of the Privy Council, Canada's most powerful civil servant. She was also told that it would be almost impossible for her to work anywhere else in the federal government. While the department acknowledged that her dismissal had nothing to do with her work and that there was no proof she had ever been a spy, it stood by CSIS's conclusion that she was a threat to national security...

She said she has no idea how CSIS came to its conclusions. According to a letter sent to her from the Privy Council Office, CSIS concluded that as a former employee of the Chinese news service "you may have engaged in intelligence collection activities on behalf of a foreign state. Secondly, we are concerned that you appear to maintain regular contact with foreign representatives who may be involved in intelligence collection activities."

Ms. Zhang said she worked at the news service from 1989 to 1992 and did routine stories. She said her only contact with "foreign representatives" is helping Canadian businesses develop markets in China.
I'll grant that the Privy Council office probably has more need than almost any other body to err on the side of caution in ensuring the loyalty of its employees. But there still doesn't seem to be much reason to assume that the mere fact that an immigrant to Canada maintains contacts at home means that CSIS should presume disloyalty. And there's certainly no basis for applying what should be a higher Privy Council standard to government positions which aren't closely associated with national security or particularly sensitive information.

Fortunately, Zhang's willingness to pursue the issue has resulted in an order from the Public Service Board that the government seek to find a suitable position for her. But the apparent default position on applicants such as Zhang is doubly harmful, both in sending a message to immigrants that Canada will apply unfair standards if they seek government jobs, and in depriving the public service of well-qualified applicants based on sheer speculation. And any party truly dedicated to the interests of immigrants (not to mention taxpayers in general) should be eager to make sure that position changes.

Unintended effects

For all Harper's blustering over Quebec, the latest polling data suggests that if anybody's winning over disaffected federalist votes in Montreal, it's the NDP:
In Montreal, the Liberals have the support of 27 per cent of respondents, down from 44 per cent on election day. The Bloc Québécois is up eight percentage points to 49 per cent, while the NDP has almost doubled its support to 12 per cent. The Tories are stable, bumping up two points to 8 per cent.
Not that it's likely a large enough sample to prove much. But it's still noteworthy that Harper's attempt to become Captain Canada hasn't pushed his party anywhere near a level that could result in seats this time out, while Layton's more genuine campaign seems to have connected better at least with the voters reached by Strategic Counsel.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Expensive overtime

Wal-Mart finally faces some of the music for its violations of workers' rights, as a jury has awarded California workers $172 million for Wal-Mart's failure to offer required lunch breaks. It's anybody's guess as to whether or not the punitive part of the award ($115 million) will stand as awarded, but even the $57 million in general damages should give Wal-Mart an important reminder that it can't put off the consequences of its actions forever.

On allocating entitlement

Pat MacAdam stakes out some unusual turf as one of the few people who thinks the biggest problem with Canadian politics is that voters have too much choice. Funny, though, that in complaining about federal money allocated to the NDP and the Bloc, MacAdam doesn't seem to see any problem with larger amounts handed over to the Cons and the Libs.

Missing the point

James Travers almost gets it:
Canada's current reality is that it has a Liberal prime minister who thinks like a conservative and is only kept from behaving more conservatively by public opinion and the fear of losing power. Instead of doing what he believes, Martin does what's politically expedient.
So far, so good. But Travers' apparent conclusion that the lack of difference between the two parties should result in a Con victory neglects the fact that the view of Canadians generally isn't in line with the Martin/Harper consensus. And it's the presence of another party which genuinely does agree with the Canadian public on the key issues that makes it both politically expedient and politically necessary for Harper and Martin to pretend to be more in tune with Canadians than they really are.

On clear statements

Lest anybody think that the apparent temporary agreement between Jack Layton and Ralph Klein went any further than both seeing through the empty promises of Martin and Harper, Jack took the opportunity to set the record straight:
NDP Leader Jack Layton today delivered a blunt warning to Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.

“Back off. You are not going to destroy public health care,” Layton said. “New Democrats won’t let you.”

Layton was responding to the Alberta government’s decision to spend $1.5 million on a consultant’s study on how to introduce private, for-profit insurance companies into the province’s health care system. Layton also had harsh words for the failure of Paul Martin and Stephen Harper to defend medicare in Canada.

“The Liberals are avoiding the responsibility of standing up for Canada and Canadians – with action – not election rhetoric,” Layton said. “And the Conservatives? They’ve become today’s Liberals in a hurry.”
Of course, Klein's acknowledgment that Layton should be taken seriously on health care is probably still awaiting use in a future Liberal attack ad. But those people paying attention will know better than to believe a word Martin's war room has to say - as they already should when it comes to the Libs trying to lump Layton in with Harper and Duceppe.

Better late than never

The Star notes that Toronto's public housing authority is finally replacing older appliances with new, energy-efficient ones:
Toronto Community Housing Corp. expects to spend about $30 million by the end of 2007 to replace about 75,000 appliances. About 25,000 have been replaced this year at the public housing company, Canada's largest with 58,500 units.

When finished, the shift to new efficient appliances is projected to reduce electricity demand by 10 megawatts, saving enough juice to power 10,000 homes.
It's a shame it took this long for the housing authority to make a full move toward more responsible resource use - while the extent of last summer's strain on Ontario's power grid may have been relatively new, surely nobody could be surprised that it's possible to avoid a lot of unnecessary waste by replacing such a large number of outdated appliances. But at the very least, the authority is starting to set a positive example now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Good Copps

The conventional wisdom this campaign said that Tony Valeri was relatively safe as the backlash against Sheila Copps' ouster subsided. But Copps herself isn't letting Valeri off the hook just yet:
Former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps is helping out the Tory and NDP candidates in the Hamilton East-Stoney Creek riding in a bid to unseat her former Liberal colleague and political rival Tony Valeri.

Copps told the Hamilton Spectator that she is advising the campaign of Conservative Frank Rukavina and encouraging supporters to back the NDP's Wayne Marston in the Jan. 23 federal election...

Copps said Valeri does not deserve to get re-elected "because if you win your nomination using stealth, you don't deserve the confidence of the people."
It's all the more striking that Copps is apparently doing her best to back both of Valeri's opponents. For the future, I have to figure that makes Copps doubly unlikely to run again for the seat...both because I can't think many principled Liberals (if such creatures exist) would take kindly to somebody who's been willing to fight the party on multiple fronts, and because the Cons would now have access to some of the same knowledge which made Copps so successful.

Evidently, Copps is willing to hurt her own future chances at office to make sure that "anybody but Valeri" takes the seat. And if Copps can get as many of her supporters as last time to back the NDP, one of Martin's top lieutenants may yet receive his rightful reward for PMPM's meddling.

Wind in the sails

CBC reports on the latest in SaskPower's move toward renewable energy, as 13 wind-power projects are currently being considered:
Over the next decade, SaskPower is looking to purchase up to 45 megawatts of electricity from companies with small, environmentally-friendly power plants.

In the latest round of proposals – designed to generate 32 megawatts – SaskPower recently received 17 applications and 13 of them are for wind power stations...

An independent auditor is now looking at the 17 ideas to generate "green" power. Three of the non-wind projects would use heat recovered from other industrial process to drive steam turbines. One "biomass" project involves burning waste materials such as wood chips to generate power.
The new possibilities aren't as big as the current Swift Current project, and they're hopefully only the beginning of an expanded move toward wind power sources. But nonetheless it's a plus both to see so many groups interested in bidding on green energy, and to see the government keeping its promise to move toward environmentally-friendly power generation.

Keeping positive

Amidst the bickering between the Cons and the Libs over who supposedly supports the Bloc, the NDP continues its focus on positive steps rather than personal attacks:
NDP Leader Jack Layton committed to the full implementation of the Kelowna agreements as an essential next step in repairing Canada’s relationship with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people...

“These platform commitments are different than many election platform planks,” Layton said. “They are not promises about what New Democrats will do for you. They are what New Democrats will do with you.”
(Emphasis in original.)

While the goals set out today don't yet include the policies designed to achieve them (those are to come in more detail in a later policy announcement), the NDP's focus shows that the Dippers will make sure that regardless of which party takes power, the next government won't be able to forget the needs of Canada's First Nations. The main danger now is that that message itself will get lost amid politics as usual.

(Edit: typo.)

Liberal, Tory, same old pyromaniacs

Apparently in the view of the Cons, the only problem with PMPM's effort to turn the election campaign into a separation referendum is that Stephen Harper couldn't get any publicity as a result. But given the chance to pick his own unnecessary fight over separation and pretend to speak for Canada in the process, Harper seems glad to oblige:
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is willing to debate one-on-one in French with Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe on a Quebec television network, CBC News confirmed Wednesday...

Sources say Harper's campaign team will contact the TQS TV network in Quebec on Wednesday to make the offer.
Apparently Harper doesn't see any problem with his claim to be the voice of Canada in the absence of any mandate to take that role. But I suspect a lot of Canadians would prefer to have federalism defended on the basis of the good a federal government can do, not on the basis that under a Conservative government so much power would be left with the provinces that there'd be no need for Quebec to separate.

Granted, Harper's voice should be at the table as well...but only along with the competing vision of a Canada with a more effective federal government. And it so happens that there's a forum where a variety of federalist views were placed in contrast to the Bloc's separatist position to reflect the diversity of Canada's political scene...and where Harper failed to make a dent in the skepticism of Canadians both inside and outside Quebec.

Hence Harper's willingness to play with fire in order to try to move past the Cons' core support level. But the result looks to be a "sovereignty debate" where Harper raises his own profile while misrepresenting Canada as a whole. And if that has the effect of handing yet more seats to the Bloc and stoking the fires of separatism, there won't be much doubt who's left holding the gas can.

(Edit: cleaned up wording.)

More toxic policy

The public outcry over Kashechewan may have at least drawn some attention to the issues facing First Nations reserves, even if it's unclear just how many of the problems facing even Kashechewan have been dealt with. But the Globe and Mail points out that there's an awfully long way to go on one reserve in Manitoba:
Pukatawagan's woes date back to the 1950s, when Manitoba Hydro established a diesel generating station to heat the nursing clinic, the school and the nunnery where missionaries lived.

The tanks and fuel lines were poorly installed and leaked thousands of litres of diesel into the ground. For 30 years, the spill was not discovered, while locals say members of the community grew sicker and sicker...

After the spill was found in 1989, the band office and the school were evacuated and closed. Dozens of houses were condemned because fuel had seeped into their soil...

An independent Edmonton company carried out an environmental study in 2000 for the band and Indian Affairs.

The study found about $18-million was required for a full cleanup. Band leaders say Indian Affairs provided less than a quarter of that amount...

The houses condemned and knocked down because of the fuel spill have not been replaced, leaving only 299 residences for 2,600 people, with an average of nearly nine occupants per house.
Unlike the situation in some of the other reserves, there isn't even any argument at Pukatawagan as to who's responsible, since the federal government took a payment from Manitoba Hydro in 1996 in exchange for its agreement to clean up the spill. But DIAND's all-too-typical response has been to promise less money than needed to solve the core problem, dispense less money than promised, and fail completely to pay attention to the reserve's interim needs. As a result, over half of the condemned houses on the reserve are still inhabited for lack of any other available housing.

Once again, it may take the glare of media exposure to induce any change at all. Hopefully the Pukatawagan story will likewise result in greater public attention to the conditions on reserves...and maybe cause DIAND to start dealing with such problems on its own before they make the national headlines.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On making progress

Based on Decima's latest polling numbers, the electorate may be less stable than one would assume from the consistency of past polling numbers, and the NDP is in a position to gain from that fluidity:
One in five respondents to Decima's online survey of more than 6,000 people had changed their opinion since the federal election campaign began three weeks ago.

Yet on a national level, overall public opinion has barely budged, suggests the poll provided exclusively to The Canadian Press.

This week, Decima found the Liberals led with 35 per cent of committed support, followed by the Conservatives at 25 per cent, the New Democrats at 21 and the BQ at 13...

Decima CEO Bruce Anderson says the national numbers obscure some interesting movement, including New Democrats drawing above their weight with undecided voters and soft NDP supporters as likely to switch to the Conservatives as the Liberals.
The polling of swing voters suggests that a good number of Canadians are managing to defy the media's coverage of the election: rather than buying into the Lib/Con dichotomy, it appears that substantial numbers of voters are looking primarily at a Lib/NDP or Con/NDP choice. And based on the NDP's better standing in soft support than in committed support, plenty of the voters looking at those choices have liked what they've seen from the NDP so far.

Not to say that the NDP isn't doing well with its base in the survey as well, as the Decima numbers for committed NDP voters are already higher than those in most other polls to date. But if Anderson's conclusions as to the current swing vote are anything close to accurate, then there's ample room for even more growth through the rest of the campaign.


The NDP's Rapid Response points out that the Liberals' slate of election promises includes policies that the Libs specifically refused to agree to when opposition parties brought them up just a month ago:
The Liberals are promising to raise the lifetime capital gains tax exemption for farmers (from $500K to $750K). They say this will help families transfer farm operations to their kids.

(In Parliament,) (t)he Liberals opposed an opposition motion (M-225) to raise the lifetime capital gains exemption for farmers. They said that's not needed because the Liberals are doing enough for farmers. The Liberals denied unanimous consent on November 25, 2005. The motion died on the order paper.

Crash and burn

More news comes out about the Libs' bungled bidding process for military transport planes:
Last month, after a plan to buy $12.2-billion worth of 50 military aircraft was criticized by industry insiders and opposition politicians for perceived unfairness of the bidding process, the Defence Minister announced an abridged plan, for transport planes only. Of the total $4.6-billion cost, $3-billion is directly related to procuring the aircraft, with $1.6-billion for servicing costs over 20 years...

Interviews with industry and government insiders -- all of whom insisted on anonymity for fear of missing out on future government work or suffering other reprisals -- confirm that the transport contract, whatever it may evolve into in future, has not been designed to produce a competition...

DND officials have also privately conceded that a requirement that the new aircraft be "certified to aviation certification standards" by the expected contract award date effectively rules out Airbus's A400M transport...This condition on certification is a first in Canadian military procurements. In the past, the department has required certification by the delivery date.
The article notes also that also the bidding specifications set out a delivery date of 2008, internal documents anticipate delivery only by 2010 - by which time Airbus is expected to have added capacity to build planes which would suit Canada's purposes.

It may be necessary in times of genuine emergency to bypass some elements of competitive bidding even on such large contracts. But the need for transport planes isn't a new one, so that argument always rang hollow when it came to this purchase. And there's never any excuse for building artificial requirements into the bidding process for the sake of reaching a preordained outcome...particularly when the reality seems to be that the situation is less urgent than the government has claimed.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Cause and effect

Remember UK Conservative leader David Cameron's strategy of embracing "green politics"? Two weeks after that idea hit the headlines, Cameron has already overtaken the governing Labour party in the eyes of the British public:
The poll finds that the Tories are ahead of Labour by 37% to 36%, with the Liberal Democrats on 21%, compared with Labour's five-point lead a month ago. Minor parties have also been squeezed from 10% to 7% by the David Cameron-led Tory revival. It is the first time in five years the Tories have been ahead - the last was during the fuel crisis - and the second time since 1993, after the pound crashed out of the European exchange rate mechanism. It suggests that a solid majority of voters, 55%, is now dissatisfied with the job Tony Blair is doing as prime minister, though he remains overwhelmingly popular (82%) among Labour voters.
Note also that much of the bounce appears to be coming from votes previously parked in the Liberal Democrats, as Cameron's environmentally-responsible stance wins over voters who oppose Labour but don't want to see a hard-right alternative take power instead.

Fortunately for the NDP, nobody in Canada's Cons has yet had the same bright idea as Cameron. And with Harper still in charge for another election and Layton's popularity still finding ways to improve from the high levels already reached after the last session of Parliament, the NDP looks to be a long ways away from facing the same problem as the Lib Dems.

When in doubt, promise anything

The CP's Trail Tales focuses on Stephen Harper's misinterpretation of a reporter's question...but the more telling part is Harper's ultimate answer:
Quebec City reporters asked the Conservative leader where his party stands on helping repair the Quebec Bridge.

One of the longest cantilevered steel railway bridges in the world is rusting and needs $60 million in repairs

As Harper answered in his second language, it became clear that he had misunderstood the question.

"A Conservative government would be willing to spend whatever is necessary to make the Jean Lesage airport a modern facility," he said.
Now, the Cons' website isn't searchable and doesn't turn up any results for a few related search terms - the closest was the Cons' security policy which includes upgrades to airport security. (If there actually is some backing to a promise of general airport upgrades at any cost, feel free to post it in the comments.)

As best I can tell, Harper's immediate reaction to the question he thought he heard was to promise whatever the reporter seemed to want, without either any party policy to back it up, or any consideration as to the costs or benefits involved. And that's open to only two interpretations: either Harper is so determined to win the election that he'll happily spend money without reason in order to win, or he's reflexively making promises with no intention of keeping them. Either way, that's not somebody who Canadians should want to see in control of the levers of government.

When Pat Fiacco attacks

Regina's municipal election campaign doesn't even start until later in 2006, but Pat Fiacco is already going strongly negative against somebody:
Mayor Pat Fiacco had some strong words for those he says are "getting in the damn way" of attempts to improve life in the inner city.

"We know there are things that we can do differently, so we'll do them. But we're not going to stop," the mayor said Saturday at the release of a progress report on the Regina Inner City Community Partnership (RICCP).

"You're either part of the construction team or you're part of the demolition team. This is the construction team. If you want to be part of the demolition team, get the hell out of the way," Fiacco said.

Asked afterwards to whom he was referring, Fiacco would say only: "I think that the individuals know who they are."
Not surprisingly, the Leader-Post finds several quotes roughly agreeing with Fiacco and nothing by way of a contrasting view. But one can draw a hint from this quote:
Fellow board member Morris Eagles, who has lived in north central for 30 years, said community residents need to take ownership of the issues. "They also have to be the ones that act as a catalyst for change. We're the residents here. We're the ones who have to identify what the real issues of the community are," he said.
In other words, the dispute seems to come down to individual residents of the north-central area who don't agree with a renewal plan, and Fiacco's efforts to implement that plan. If that alone were the question, it's hard to argue with need for some change. But there's still the small matter of how to win the approval of the people most affected.

On that count, telling people to "get the hell out of the way" rather than listening to their concerns only serves to make the process unnecessarily adversarial. And even if the rebuilding program is successful, it's hard to see how the area will be much better off for the resentments that are bound to result from Fiacco's explicit desire to impose it against the will of residents.

While Fiacco's image as a plucky boxer may have served him well so far, there's no benefit to picking unnecessary fights. And it won't be long before a lot of people who he's managed to drag into battles with City Hall will get their chance to deliver a knockout blow.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

On cover-ups

The CP reports today that Harper's infamous 1997 speech was brought to the press' attention by a Martin employee and a Liberal member who tried to cover up their partisan affiliation:
News organizations receive tips or leaks from partisan sources all the time. It does not disqualify the newsworthiness of the leak. But everyone in politics has an agenda, and recognizing the agenda is part of the critical appraisal any news organization brings to its assessment of a story - even if a news tip's provenance is not always conveyed to the public.

Munter asked to remain anonymous as the source of the tip. Contacted by CP's election desk, he also vigorously denied acting with any partisan direction...

The Canadian Press (later) learned that Munter was in Vancouver with the Liberal team, working with Martin on debate preparations.

Munter, contacted again Thursday, was repeatedly asked whether the Liberal party had any connection to his suggesting CP look for the story.

Each time, Munter evaded the question...

Munter eventually offered that the speech was found by a friend "who is something of a whiz on the Internet."

He was asked if his friend had any connection with the Liberal war room. He said he didn't know, but finally conceded: "He is a Liberal."
As the article notes, it should come as a surprise to nobody that the people involved in publicizing the article had partisan motivations. But there's no reason why they needed to lie to the CP in order to bring the story forward.

So far, the Liberals' war room is apparently refusing to comment...which is somewhat understandable given its efforts to avoid any association with the initial story. But the longer Munter is the Liberal voice associated with this story, the worse Martin and company will look in their implicit endorsement of dishonest campaigning.


Balbulican points out an effort by Con bloggers to build an aura of "Harpermania". And to think some people claim the campaign hasn't been all that funny yet.

On metaphors

(I)n Regina, Paul Martin and the Liberal campaign thought they had the perfect Christmas election campaign photo opportunity lined up today.

Though it was -27 C in Regina, Martin was to take the reigns of a horse-drawn sleigh for a little ride for the cameras. Unfortunately for the Liberals, the back wheel on Martin's sleigh blew a flat tire that no one could miss.

Northern lack of exposure

The CP points out some of the unintended consequences of Canada's federal campaign financing rules:
Reforms passed in 2003 resulted in a $1,000 limit on the amount of money corporations can donate to any one candidate. That killed a practice by northern airlines of giving free or discounted plane tickets to candidates - the only way for many of the 58 communities in the Nunavut and the Northwest Territories ridings to get a look at the men and women asking for their vote.

"The new campaign laws mean that airlines can no longer donate tickets to candidates, even thought they've done it for all candidates in the past," said Jack Hicks, an agent for Nunavut NDP candidate Amanda Ford-Rogers.
From the sound of it, all parties agree that the reduced capacity for travel in the North is a significant problem. Hopefully whoever wins the Northern vote this time out will be able to get Parliament as a whole to ensure that campaign finance rules don't harm representative democracy in areas where the normal costs don't apply.


The agreement may be far from perfect, but it's a relief that the WTO has hammered out a deal to eliminate farm export subsidies over the next decade:
Trade negotiators approved an agreement Sunday requiring wealthy countries to end farm export subsidies by 2013, a support system that poor nations say puts them at a competitive disadvantage...

The way was opened to an agreement when delegates managed a last-minute breakthrough on farm subsidies, with wealthy countries agreeing to eliminate their payments to promote exports like cotton and sugar by 2013. Developing countries say the subsidies make it hard for poor farmers to compete.

Poor countries had pushed for the farm subsidies to end by 2010, while the EU held out for 2013. But the accord includes a provision that a substantial part of the subsidies should end by "the first half of the implementation period" to set at a later date...

The agreement also calls on wealthy countries to allow, by 2008, duty-free and quota-free trade privileges for at least 97 per cent of products exported by the least developed countries, those with per capita incomes of less than $860 Cdn a year.
While an ideal agreement would have seen more subsidies included in the cuts and a shorter time frame for reduction, it's at least a plus to have complete agreement to move in the right direction. And the principals involved rightly note that this deal will help generate momentum for more talks in the future.

For too long international trade has been based on a framework which only made trade more difficult for the states which most needed it. And even if there hasn't been as much progress as hoped, at the very least the 149 WTO members have now acknowledged that that needs to change.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


The Globe's coverage of PMPM's event today notes a rather interesting choice of music:
"What a great way to start off a wonderful British Columbia morning," he said after being ushered into the room to the music of U2, whose lead singer Bono recently said he was disappointed with Mr. Martin for failing to meet pledges to help the world's poor.

As a refresher, here's what Bono last had to say when discussing Martin personally:
If Martin walks away from his pledge to increase foreign aid, "I think he will hear about it and feel it in the election. I'm absolutely sure of that. This is not to be underestimated," Bono said, likening the Make Poverty History campaign to the anti-apartheid movement and the battle for civil rights in the U.S.

With an election campaign looming, politicians will soon be making household visits, Bono said, urging Canadians – whom he said historically have always known more about these issues than anyone else in the world – to tell their government representatives that "the kind of Canada the world needs now" is a well-off country that "does not forget the poverty of its past and the poverty of the present world."
If that's the message the Libs wants to bring up at their own rallies, they're welcome to it. But it's amazing that the Libs apparently can't even make a music selection without further highlighting their broken promises. And it's worth remembering that unlike the Libs, one federal party has every intention of making sure Canada's commitment to the world is met.

Taking back the populist vote

It seems to have escaped the media's attention that Layton has never given the Cons a free pass through this campaign. But the good news is that it's a particularly good message for Western Canada that's received some notice as Layton's attack on Harper:
12 years ago the people of British Columbia sent Conservatives to Ottawa who said they knew what grassroots meant. But those Conservatives have settled into life in Ottawa. They’re really comfortable on Parliament Hill now. But they’ve forgotten who elected them. And they don’t represent the issues that matter to working families.
I've mentioned before the NDP's need to take back some of the Western populist vote, and with the help of the occasional key endorsement, it looks like the party is now headed in that direction.

Promising the impossible

It's bad enough that PMPM has stated his support for Senate reform just as soon as the Constitution can be touched up. But Harper is apparently so desperate to keep votes in B.C. that he's gone a step further and promised the impossible:
Harper has also promised that a Conservative government would give the province more seats in the House of Commons and Senate to give it better representation.
As discussed with regard to Martin's promise, making that change would require an agreement to amend the Constitution...and surely we know better than to think such agreement will be reached anytime soon, especially when the obvious effect would be to give proportionately less representation to other regions. Moreover, due to the need for provincial approval, the change isn't one that any federal government could even pretend to promise on its own.

It's bad enough to make promises based on overly optimistic economic assumptions or the like, but at least those bear some prospect of coming to fruition. But Harper is evidently willing to both assume away even obviously-insurmountable impediments, and ignore the rights of provincial governments, in order to promise what he thinks will be popular policies. And if he's willing to make promises he knows he can't keep, it's worth questioning how serious he is about anything he's said on the campaign trail.

On unfair stereotypes

Don't you just hate when a prominent political figure wrongly insults our neighbour to the south solely for the sake preserving his own political hide? Take, for example, the Cons' Saskatchewan campaign co-chairman, who's so desperate not to be seen as having American support that he bashed the American press in general in response to the Washington Times article that endorsed his party:
"That article was just plain inaccurate on a number of fronts," Rybchuk said. "They (American journalists) don't even know capital of Canada -- let alone the details of Harper policies."
For the record, the commentary in question doesn't state anything about the capital of there's absolutely nothing to justify Rybchuk's comment on that point. And it's hard to figure out why Rybchuk would choose to tar all American writers (or at least multiple commentators) with the same brush when the article in question was written by only one person.

As for Harper's policies, the Times commentary casts Harper as "pro-free trade, pro-Iraq war, anti-Kyoto, and socially conservative", and says that he would "push to cut taxes and spending and the regulatory burden on Canada's business sector". For the next set of debates, I'd like to see Harper discuss which of these positions he actually disagrees with. At best he might try to argue that he's not really for the Iraq war, and hasn't explicitly stated that he'll cut spending...but that hardly makes the commentary inaccurate as to the general thrust of the campaign.

That said, I should note in fairness that the commentary was evidently wrong on one point: the "crude anti-American rhetoric" isn't coming only from the Liberal side of the aisle.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Not easy voting Green

As desperately as the Greens want to win media attention this election, I strongly suspect this isn't what they're matter how necessary the exposure may be:
Many people vote Green because they assume it is more grass roots, more democratic, than the others. They would be shocked to know that the party is the most top down of any of the federal parties - and that Harris simply ignores decisions that he doesn't agree with. The situation is so bad that five of the party's eleven officers have resigned from the governing council in protest or been suspended in the past eight months. Several positions remained unfilled for eight months, two are still vacant. According to dissidents, Harris delayed filling the positions because he was happy with the remaining officers who tend to support him and he did not want to risk having more people turn into troublesome dissidents...

There is a strong suspicion from some of those who resigned from the council, that Harris simply removed reference to party policies from the website because they caused him so much grief in the last election. You can see why. Enhanced food banks to solve poverty, more volunteerism instead of more money for social programs, reduced taxes on corporate income and investment, rejection of strong environmental laws and strong enforcement in favour of so-called "voluntary compliance" by corporate polluters. These 2004 policies were ridiculed as badly thought out, not costed and clearly contradictory of the Charter of the Global Greens which the party has adopted as its guiding principles.

The party is now issuing a news release with a new policy almost everyday. Some actually have a progressive tilt, but they are almost universally vague, hastily formulated, and have no roots in any party deliberations. And to make matters even more confusing, Green Party candidates in Saskatchewan are not even running on the national party’s policies but on their own locally developed platform.
It has to be a bad sign if the Green strategy is indeed to pick up protest votes while actively refusing any attempts at internal democracy. And it's all the worse that a party nominally dedicated to promoting new policy alternatives can't even settle on more than the vaguest of policies within its own ranks.

It could be that being excluded from the debates was the best way for the Greens to avoid having their internal weaknesses exposed for this election. Hopefully voters deciding where to park a protest vote will take a close enough look at the Greens on their own to see some of the weaknesses which should rightly keep the party from making too many gains.

Update: Mark at Section 15 takes his shot at rebutting Dobbin's article. Most of the dispute seems to be over interpretations rather than facts, though there are a few areas where Dobbin is plainly wrong (e.g. claiming the Bloc's 2004 policies were rated better by environmental groups than the Greens').

On trusted leaders

If figures that even when a poll offers good news for the NDP, the surrounding commentary still manages to slam the party:
(T)he Decima Research poll suggests Layton is considered the most decent, charismatic, ethical, caring and practical of the main party leaders on offer in the Jan. 23 election.

Respondents found Layton to have the best sense of humour of the group and to be the leader who best shares the concerns of Canadians.

Indeed, on a list of 18 personal attributes, Layton comes out on top in 10. Among undecided voters, he comes out on top in 14.
Based on that data, the Star applies a title suggesting that voters "like Layton, not the NDP"...even while noting that a good chunk of the Con and Lib numbers are based more on strategic voting than on any dislike (or lack of like) for the Dippers generally.

In fact, the results aren't an indication of limitations on the NDP's potential to connect with voters so much as they show that the party as a whole hasn't been able to do so yet. There's a huge opportunity available to the NDP if it can show it has more candidate depth than people know now...but also a risk of losing out on a huge advantage from having the most popular leader in the country.

Hopefully the acknowledgement of Layton's positive qualities will lead more people to take a closer look at the party behind him...and the media won't go out of its way to ignore the facts when people like what they see.

Velk's chance in a supernova

Ordinarily, Tom Velk is merely a rather dry shill for Bushco. But this can only be explained as either an audition for a supervisory role at the FBI, or a desperate cry for help:
“Don’t speak to me of justice when I have a sword in my hand." So said one of the great warriors of antiquity. It is unreasonable to think that the niceties of jurisprudence govern behaviour on the battlefield, when the enemy is finally at your mercy. Especially so if, all the while the outcome remained uncertain, you are convinced by good evidence that, should you be the loser, terrible tortures will be your fate...

What about biblical Justice? You have captured a supermonster: he is Pol Pot, Hitler, and Stalin, all rolled up into one. Either your family died in his camps, or you properly are the avenging angel for those who suffered. Don’t you owe it to the dead, owe it to the bereaved, and owe it to humanity to administer some pain before you execute the guilty?
No comment necessary.

Completing the process

I posted yesterday about some of the important considerations which were apparently left out of the Vicq committee's report on business taxes. Following up on that post, while the CCPA position as to the viability of Vicq's recommendations seems entirely right, I can't agree with the conclusion that the result is that the government should avoid acting on the report pending (at the very least) a solid resolution to the national equalization issue.

Before I get to that argument, however, I'll note another problem which appears from the list of submissions which is highlighted in the outcome.

The CCPA paper notes that the committee's proposals generally favour existing holders of capital in Saskatchewan while doing little to encourage further investment. That result shouldn't be surprising given that most of the entities making submissions fell into the former class...while of course somebody merely considering potential investments wouldn't likely go to the effort of making submissions to the Vicq committee, nor necessarily even be aware of the committee's existence. To the extent that one accepts that the goal of business tax policy should be to encourage further investment, the process was thus unfortunately aimed at people other than those who should have been foremost in the committee's thinking.

There are thus serious concerns that the committee may not have been aimed in the right direction to begin with, and may have neglected some important issues along the way.

That said, the consultation process has run its course, and the effective question now is whether the government will follow through on the implicit commitment that it made to the business community when it got the process started. The Vicq committee was the Calvert government's main reward to the business community based on the province's improved financial situation. To ignore the recommendations would only encourage the (albeit inaccurate) preconception that the Saskatchewan NDP is unfriendly to business...and that perception is both politically harmful to the NDP, and economically harmful to the province.

I'll grant that I'd like to see at least some effort to get the business community onside with a moderated approach - i.e. rather than eliminating the Corporate Capital Tax entirely, instead lowering the rate to .3% (which appears to be the national standard) so as to avoid any artificial equalization disadvantage, while also offering an investment credit on the remaining amount as proposed by the CCPA. And I'd hope that most businesses looking at the best interests of the province (and particularly those planning to invest further) would be willing to work with that type of structure.

But if it isn't possible to build a new consensus before the March budget, then better to implement the Vicq recommendations than to kick the can down the road. I certainly can't agree with a tactic of holding off on any action until the completion of a federal report; the Libs' habit of studying issues to death is bad enough when it isn't also holding up provincial action, and equalization doesn't seem to be an issue that'll be resolved anytime soon even once the current report is completed.

For the future, hopefully similar committees will be designed to ensure that concerns such as the CCPA's are taken into account. Similarly, I have to hope that the CCPA and other organizations will make future submissions ahead of time to ensure that a better outcome is reached. For this time, however, the process has run its course, and the Vicq conclusions should be implemented unless there's sufficient business agreement to support a better policy.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Apparently the one major check on the leaders' ability to simply spout off their platforms in the debate was the structure of the questions. And while the better traps were set for Harper (especially question 6), it's Martin who seems to have been caught:
In response to a question from a concerned citizen on the Acadian Peninsula about young workers leaving the region, Paul Martin pointed to the booming aerospace and auto sector.

There are no aerospace or auto plants in the Acadian Peninsula.