Saturday, October 22, 2005

Imposing costs

The AP reports on the effect that global warming is having on Africa:
African nations account for a tiny percentage of the emissions but are already suffering the consequences, researchers say.

The ice cap is receding on Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. Desertification is spreading in the northwestern Sahel region.

Droughts, flooding and other extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and severe. Numerous plant and animal species are in decline...

Hotter, drier weather in the semiarid west of South Africa could reduce production of maize, a staple, by up to 20 percent and generate a proliferation of pests, researchers said.

In the moister areas to the east, where rainfall is forecast to increase, thickets are encroaching into productive grasslands, threatening livestock and wildlife activities.

Rising temperatures at higher altitudes could also quadruple the number of South Africans at high risk of malaria by 2020.

Not that any of this should be too much surprise to those who pay attention to the interconnectedness of actions. And I won't pretend that it's likely to convince anybody who's already unconcerned about the damage that global warming can do closer to home.

But it's still worth noting that while developed countries take all the main benefits of their consumption, they may not bear the most important costs. And it's all the more worth wondering just how our purchasing patterns would differ if that wasn't so.

Security of and for all

The CP reports on the fairly obvious point that Canadian security services will be more effective if they reflect a wide variety of backgrounds:
Federal security agencies need to recruit more employees from diverse ethnic communities to foster trust and co-operation, says the deputy minister of public safety.

Security organizations run the risk that some cultural groups will close ranks and stop communicating with the government if support is lacking, Margaret Bloodworth told the annual conference of the Canadian Association for Security and Intelligence Studies...

Roger George of the CIA University's Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis argued a workforce with “a very diverse set of backgrounds” would help bring the perspectives needed to tackle international security issues.

As observed in the article, the issue isn't merely one of representation in terms of numbers. Rather, agencies which have to be able to identify potential threats in any community need to build enough trust to secure information from those communites - not just by surrepetitious surveillance, but also through community cooperation. And that depends on a widespread belief that the security agency will ultimately act toward the community's greater good.

There's a good ways yet to go on that front. But at the very least the issue is getting attention within security organizations. And more media focus on the actions being taken could help ensure both that the organizations earn public respect, and that they actually receive it.

Differences between neighbours

While the U.S. goes out of its way to prevent the gun industry from being held accountable for anything, Canada is looking at ways to ensure at least some responsibility for gun violence:
Government sources told the Star yesterday that Canada will be looking into "every legal option" to stem a tide of crimes involving weapons that make their way into this country illegally from the United States, whether they're sold through the Internet or smuggled across the border.

That includes possible suits against U.S. manufacturers, launched either in the United States or in this country if the firm has assets here as well, the sources said. Though no precise estimates are available, Toronto police have said repeatedly that almost half the gun crimes committed in Canada involved illegal, U.S. weapons.

I'm not entirely sure why it's the federal government taking a position on the issue when responsibility for the court system generally lies with the provinces. But to the extent the federal government is looking to make sure that gun companies (as well as smugglers and offenders) have to own up to their conduct, this is a good sign for now. We'll see soon whether there's any follow-through, or whether it's just public posturing to be forgotten long before anything gets done.

On choosing one's response

It's difficult to believe that so many European states are still taking Bushco's word on so many issues. But consider these respective responses to the U.N.'s report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

Hariri's son wants to see the perpetrators brought to justice through an international tribunal:
Hariri, who had demanded the UN probe into his father's killing, called for an international tribunal to try the alleged killers.

"Reaching justice presents the Arab and international community with additional responsibilities that prompt us to urge them to continue all aspects of the investigation in the crime and refer it to an international court that is capable of punishing the criminals," he said.

"We do not seek revenge. We seek justice," he said.

Sounds to me like an eminently reasonable request. But for Bushco, the response was a bit different: never mind the people directly responsible, let's punish Syrians in general instead:
The United States, Britain and France are preparing to ask the United Nations next week to impose sanctions on Mr. Assad's government in the wake of a damning UN report that pointed to Syrian complicity in the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Mr. Hariri and 20 others.

Of course, we should be familiar with the ultimate effect of sanctions: whatever government assets get frozen abroad, the cost is passed along to its citizens. Meaning that however much the Syrian government was responsible (and presumably its own members hold varying degrees of responsibility in any event), it'll be the general public in Syria that loses out the most. One more step in Bush's brilliant battle for hearts and minds.

In fairness, France is seeking a more reasonable scope for the threatened sanctions (demanding only justice for those responsible as well as Syria's commitment not to meddle further in Lebanon). But the U.S. also wants to condemn Syria for defending its own border on Iraq, since apparently U.S. incursions into the country haven't gone as smoothly as planned. And when any state goes into talks with the U.S. as to how to present a "united front" before the Security Council, there shouldn't be much doubt as to who will set the terms of that front.

Meaning that as with the initial Iraq invasion, the U.S. is using the aftermath of one event which demanded accountability to try to impose its will on completely unrelated issues. It's far beyond me why any other country is still willing to play along with such charades, rather than listening to those closest to the victim in their calls for justice rather than vengeance.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Still happening at home

CTV reports on the state of the Kashechewan First Nation's water supply. And it's tough to believe there's still such neglect in Canada:
The fly-in community about 450 kilometres north of Timmins, Ont., has been under a Health Canada boil water advisory for more than two years. Now, with a broken sewage levee and a water plant held together with rope and a plank of wood, its water supply is contaminated with E. coli.

The situation flared up last week, when federal officials warned of the potentially deadly bacteria in water flowing through the taps of the community's 1,900 residents. E. coli can make people ill, and even prove deadly for young children, the elderly and those already sick...

A federal study released in 1995 concluded that approximately 25 per cent of water systems on reserves posed a potential health and safety risk. In 2001, another study found three-quarters of the systems tested posed a safety risk to the drinking water.

The Auditor-General's report estimated the cost of replacing the water systems at $1.4-billion.

The problem hasn't been a complete lack of funding. The system itself is only ten years old, and the federal government spent $500,000 to renovate Kashechewan's system last year. But there's no explanation for why the system was built so poorly in the first place, and the renovation didn't bother moving the intake area away from a sewage release point.

In other words, the issue has been the Liberals' typical lack of focus on making sure the money gets spent for useful purposes, rather than merely to make the party look good.

A more visionary government might consider the long-term benefits of using a portion of one year's surplus to tackle the problem across the country. Hopefully the people most affected by third-world living conditions in Canada recognize which party is most likely to put that type of vision into practice - and other Canadians will recognize the value of making sure no Canadian has to live in such conditions.

Jumping the gun

It figures that the one time the Liberals are actually willing to act quickly, it's on an issue where it would make sense to wait:
The federal government will spend $40 million annually to bring in new auditing and oversight rules in the wake of the sponsorship scandal.

Treasury Board President Reg Alcock says the 158 "separate actions" to be taken within the civil service represent the most fundamental change in any government system in the world...

Alcock says the reforms are directed at the second stage of Gomery's work expected in February, when the justice will recommend changes to government to ensure future such scandals cannot occur.

Never mind the connection between introducing the measures now and the first Gomery report. The bigger question is why the Libs would want to introduce "the most fundamental change in any government system in the world" several months before it receives the a comprehensive public report on what can be done to solve existing problems...lest it have to make even bigger fundamental changes once that report is released.

Once again, PMPM's attempt to be perceived as responsible is taking precedence over actual responsible government. And that's been an ongoing problem regardless of what Gomery eventually has to say.

On using one's power

As if the federal government lacked enough reasons to reformulate EI as an actual program rather than a revenue source, any doubt about its constitutional authority to do so has now been removed:
The top court said yesterday that Ottawa was within its rights to use the EI system to provide payments to natural and adoptive parents when they take time off work to care for young children...(T)he Supreme Court said Parliament had the right to adapt EI "to the new realities of the workplace."

According to the article, several groups are already putting forward ways of dealing with the authority. Among the more interesting ones are paying more EI benefits on a percentage basis to low-income earners, and providing for EI when a worker leaves for a short training period.

Of course, the above ideas are a long way from truly fixing EI. There are still plenty more changes which need to be made to make EI more generally accessible. But as a result of the decision and the ensuing reaction, the issue is back in the public eye. And the result has been yet more suggestions to improve what should be a far more effective program.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Preserving diversity

No wonder the U.S. right hates the U.N. so much: no matter how many times it's told not to think for itself, it just keeps endorsing important ideas. And this time, it really is ideas that were at stake:
In a vote cast as a battle of global conformity vs. cultural diversity, delegates to a U.N. agency turned aside strong U.S. objections Thursday and overwhelmingly approved the first international treaty designed to protect movies, music and other cultural treasures from foreign competition.

The 148 to 2 vote at the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization emerged as a referendum on the world's love-hate relationship with Hollywood, Big Macs and Coca-Cola...

Called the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the document approved Thursday declares the rights of countries to "maintain, adopt and implement policies and measures that they deem appropriate for the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions on their territory."...

What its practical effect would be remains unclear. But proponents and dissenting U.S. officials agree that it would at least allow countries to require that imported movies have subtitles or dubbing in native languages.

While the U.S. position was based on a claim to freedom of information (in this case, the freedom to dump whatever information it wants whenever and wherever it pleases), the real question was whether local languages and cultures could be defended and allowed to survive when faced with well-funded foreign influences - whether from the U.S. or otherwise. It's only appropriate that the U.N. nearly unanimously chose the right side of that question.


Apparently the recent public acknowledgement of Bushco's poor strategy, scandal and incompetence made this the perfect time for the administration to toss some of its leading patrons another undeserved gift, with help from some Dem House members:
Congress gave the gun lobby its top legislative priority Thursday, passing a bill protecting the firearms industry from massive crime-victim lawsuits. President George W. Bush said he will sign it...

The House voted 283-144 to send the bill to the president after supporters, led by the National Rifle Association, proclaimed it vital to protect the industry from being bankrupted by huge jury awards. Opponents, waging a tough battle against growing public support for the legislation, called it proof of the gun lobby's power over the Republican-controlled Congress.

Keep in mind that the only way a lawsuit against the industry could succeed would be if the plaintiff proved that it was through the gun manufacturer's negligence that he or she was injured. Apparently, the obligation to demonstrate due diligence or reasonable action is something could wipe out the gun industry. And that's supposed to be a reason to pass legislation against victim recovery.

But if you've been the victim of gun crime? Don't worry, you'll still have access to the notoriously deep pockets of...the immediate shooter. That is, as long as a criminal court has already issued a conviction:
The bill's authors say it still would allow civil suits against individual parties who have been found guilty of criminal wrongdoing by the courts.

Which from the sound of it means that if the shooter can't be convicted because of a rights violation, or was demonstrably guilty on a civil standard of proof but not beyond a reasonable doubt, or was not guilty by reason of insanity, then the plaintiff can't even go to trial.

Don't worry, though; those fortunate people shot by a wealthy individual who doesn't use that wealth to secure an acquittal will still be able to seek recompense for gun violence. And if you're a victim of gun violence who doesn't fall into the above category...well, maybe you should have donated more to Bushco and friends to win their legislative approval.

The impossible dream

Scott Piatkowski comments on the problems that arise when one party's scandal gets taken as an indictment of government in general, and speculates about an ideal scenario:
For progressives like me, who want to convince voters that governments can make a positive difference in their lives, a widespread loss of confidence in politicians and government can only undermine our argument...

This might sound like a fantasy, but wouldn't it be great if elections were decided based primarily upon ideas, instead of which candidate is the bigger crook? Much as I want to see the defeat of the Liberals in Ontario and nationally, and the Republicans south of the border, I'd rather see that happen because voters got smart — not just because they are angry about ethics scandals. Scandals aren't just bad for the parties in power. They're bad for everyone.

Very well put. Granted, a scandal may play some role in determining which party is in fact best suited to power. But that calculation should take place based on a wider view of how much good each party can and will do while in office - not solely based on one's immediate outrage over the day's headlines.

On unappealing offers

As so often seems true, the best possible news for the NDP is that the Cons are calling attention to themselves. This time, the story is a familiar request that the NDP shut down Parliament in order to try to force an early election:
When asked how the Tories could force an election before the scheduled opposition days, Conservative House Leader Jay Hill said his party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP could bring the House of Commons to a halt.

"I'm sure if all three parties wanted to resort to disruptive tactics and shut the House down, basically bring business to a standstill to show that we're not willing to accept the government's timetable in allowing us our opposition days, we could quickly bring Parliament to a standstill."...

Mr. Harper said his party still believes "this government should not be in office. I think that's the position of the Bloc. It's the NDP who have to ask themselves why they are supporting the government."

Layton's response was essentially to say that nothing's completely off the table depending on how the session turns out. And it makes sense not to rule anything out entirely.

But unless the Liberals try to govern as if they had a majority, there's no particular reason to accept Harper's offer/threat. There's no real upside (for any party) to forcing an election at this point, and I have serious doubts that a Con claim of "We asked them to join us in childishly refusing to accomplish anything, and they said no!" is a message that the NDP fears in an upcoming campaign.

On the other hand, the Cons' alignment with the Bloc, with an agenda of disrupting the functions of government, has driven their numbers down before and likely will again. Which explains why Harper is looking for the political cover that NDP agreement would offer.

For the Cons, that would be the ideal outcome. But for the NDP, that potential outcome only offers reason to continue its current position of cooperation toward better government. After all, the status quo not only offers the benefit of potentially improved policies, but also hands the Cons all the more ammunition with which to shoot themselves in the foot. And that may be just what the NDP needs to make more voters see the party as the eventual government-in-waiting.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bad signs

The good news from the First Nations University of Canada is that there's now at least a plan, thanks to a task force commissioned to address the problems. The bad news is that the plan seems based largely on avoiding everything that's been done to this point:
Among the findings of the task force:

- A lack of fiscal controls "may permit individuals to conduct themselves improperly."
- the fact the union has filed 13 grievances against the university is a concern and speaks to a lack of employee confidence in management.
- The task force is "uneasy" about the number of employees who have been hired outside the normal recruitment and selection process.
- A properly conducted search for a new permanent president for the university is crucial.
- A full-scale review of the administration is needed, including "a very hard look" at administration policies and practices at all levels.
- The university needs to have a full debate about the meaning of academic freedom in response to those who say it is being eroded.

The report also said the university is lacking direction and needs a clear plan for the future.

From the looks of the recommendations so far, the task force has only begun to scratch the surface of the problems, though the detailed report should make things a bit more clear.

As an institution, FNUC undoubtedly deserves enough investment of time and effort to make it into a success. But that unfortunately hasn't been close to enough to actually make it successful so far. The website doesn't report the number, but according to the CBC news (citing a number from the University of Regina), FNUC enrollment has dropped by 11% this fall. We can only hope now that the task force's detailed plan will be implemented before the last of the potential students vote with their feet.

Non-viable policy choices

The Globe and Mail points out that while the U.S. has held a contentious stem-cell debate over the past few years, Canada has instead avoided any real discussion about changing antiquated guidelines which prevent research. And the result is that a new international research effort is completely ignoring Canada:
Scientists from South Korea, Britain and the United States are to announce in Seoul today the formation of a World Stem Cell Foundation. Its aim is to collect stem cells from cloned human embryos and sell them to researchers -- many of whom are banned from cloning in their own countries.

The project will rely on cells from patients in England, South Korea and California who agree to be cloned for research and on women willing to donate their eggs. Both are essential to the technique known as therapeutic cloning...

Because Canadian law prohibits the creation of human embryos for research, Dr. Rudnicki said it also prevents researchers from importing stem cells produced by methods considered criminal in Canada.

"This puts us in very isolated company internationally," Dr. Rudnicki said. He called for legislators to reopen the debate around Canada's stem-cell law -- which, alongside those of Italy and Germany, is one of the strictest in the world...

Dr. Leader, who is also chief of reproductive medicine at the University of Ottawa, noted that Canada's law, which is to be revisited in about three years, applies to both the public and private sectors.

Unlike Bushco, Canada doesn't even have the excuse of having a particularly strong religious right to appease. Instead, the lack of a policy allowing research based off of therapeutic cloning is the result of nothing more than government inaction. And the policy is far more restrictive than the U.S.', which merely bars public funding rather than private action.

Any government truly dedicated to encouraging research should have been well ahead of the game on this issue. The question now is whether any of the parties will step up and bring the issue to the forefront of public policy, rather than letting it go ignored for another three years while researchers are forced to take their efforts elsewhere.

Worth a look

The Tyee is in the midst of an interesting series on outsourcing, noting that for all the trade disputes between the U.S. and Canada, the greater American concern is the loss of jobs caused by outsourcing to other countries:
The jobs leaving the U.S. are not just IT and call centre work. The Reuters news agency is hiring 1,500 staff in Bangalore - 10 percent of its workforce - at the expense of American jobs. The U.S. health care industry is sending X-rays and MRIs to be read by Indian radiologists. One analyst expects that in 2005, 400,000 U.S. tax returns will be produced in India.

Still, it's information technology, particularly software development, that is most at risk right now, as global corporations tap into a young, well-trained, usually English-speaking workforce that earns about 20 or 30 percent of the wages garnered by a comparable U.S. worker. The Hiras argue the lack of opportunity in the IT sector is reflected in a 20 percent decrease in U.S. computer science enrolment in 2003-04.

Give Part 1 and Part 2 a read.


I'm not the first to comment on the new poll results from this morning. But while most of the focus so far has been on the main party numbers, the bigger story to me is the public's impression of PMPM. According to the poll, Martin's favourable rating has gone from a net -12 (44 favourable, 56 unfavourable) to a net -2 (49 favourable, 51 unfavourable).

I presume that the effect of a summer without a question period to keep bad news in the headlines has been to allow Martin and company to spread their future plans with very little media opposition. Now the question for the opposition parties is how to counteract that in a way that'll help the party's standing.

For the Cons, the answer is simple: nobody's ever going to like Harper, so the clear strategy is to try to bash Martin down to roughly the same level of distrust. Likewise, all of the numbers look good for the Bloc except for Martin's own popularity, so it's a natural choice to slam Martin at every available opportunity in hopes that some of the damage sticks.

For the NDP, the calculus is a lot more difficult. Not only has the party lost some of its influence in the House thanks to Desjarlais' defection (though she can probably be counted on to vote similarly to the NDP on economic matters anyway), it also can't afford to take too many shots at the government, particularly given that a majority still wants to see the NDP support the Liberals.

At this point, the Libs may yet be able to paint the NDP into a corner by going along with enough of the party's policy demands. For now, it looks like the country's most popular national leader needs to shore up support in his own region not only by pointing out that good that the party has done so far, but also by pointing out how much more the party could do given more leverage in the future...while leaving the most blunt Martin-bashing to the parties who benefit more directly from it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

On disaster areas

For those who aren't yet completely donated out after all the other disasters this year, the Guardian reports on an area facing far more dire straits than the ones in the headlines:
Last week the entire country was declared a disaster area by its president. Aid agencies warn that nearly half the country's 12 million population could starve in the next six months without massive and immediate food donations. So far, it has not been forthcoming. The UN World Food Programme still needs $76m (£43.3m) to feed 2.9 million Malawians until the harvest in April. Sheila Sisulu, deputy executive director of the WFP, described international inaction over Malawi as "deplorable".

While the British government aims to feed 2.2 million Malawians through a voucher scheme in 16 districts, it is not enough. "We know governments only act when they see children dying on their TV screens, but once the damage is done it's very difficult to undo," said Peter Smerdon of the WFP. It's much harder to fund an emergency and prevent massive loss of life than stop one happening."

Of course, the needs of local food banks and the like are also important, along with relief in the better-publicized areas. But Malawi and its neighbours may present a humanitarian disaster on a scale far beyond even the tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes that get more attention. And the long-term assistance given through this year's planned debt relief hasn't yet begun to help the region.

Spread the word, along with whatever wealth you can spare through the World Food Programme.

Freeing the sky

It's not as big a change as would be ideal, but it looks like airline passengers will soon have a few more options based on new Canada/U.S. negotiations:
Lapierre cited three likely reforms that would lower the cost of some international flights, including:

-Liberalized pricing rules that would allow foreign carriers to undercut domestic ones.

-Allowing passengers to travel from Canada to the United States and to a third country on a single flight.

This could mean a Toronto-Mexico City flight stopping to pick up passengers in Dallas, for example. Other possible routes include Boston-Vancouver-Beijing, or St. Louis-Montreal-Paris.

-Allowing cargo carriers to drop off packages in two cities across the border, instead of the one currently permitted.

The article notes that the issue of cabotage will be held off for now, which is unfortunate. From a consumer standpoint and an airline standpoint, one would think that added flexibility would be a plus. But the likely agreement is still both a step in the right direction, and a sign that disagreeing on some issues doesn't mean that Canada and the U.S. can't still work together in the interests of both countries.

On falling behind

No, Canada isn't worse than the U.S. when it comes to pollution and environmental damage. But that doesn't mean we're doing well by any means:
Canada is sinking to the bottom of industrialized countries when it comes to its environmental record, a new report from the David Suzuki Foundation says.

It ranked 28th out of the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development based on 29 environmental indicators. Those include its approach to energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, recycling, air pollutants, pesticide use and the number of protected areas.

Only the United States (30th place) and Belgium (29th place) had a worse record...

The study found that Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions are two times higher and smog-causing air pollutants are two to three times higher than average for other industrialized countries...

The study also revealed that Canada's inefficient water use is contributing to its overall poor ranking. Per capita consumption is almost double the OECD avearage.

As noted by the article, the failure to improve in many areas isn't for lack of ready means to do so, as many other countries have already managed to implement precisely the types of policies which can help. The problem is that policy choices effectively encourage emissions and water use as compared to the alternatives.

Granted, you'd never know that current technology and policy can make positive changes by listening to Bob Mills, the Con MP cited in the article who promotes plasma gasification of garbage (while apparently ignoring the water and emissions issues). Mills is right in criticizing the Liberals as being all talk and no action, but he also highlights his own party's penchant for putting speculation about future technology ahead of sensible immediate measures.

It shouldn't be too difficult to create disincentives toward overuse of resources, and concurrent incentives toward sustainable industry. And the Liberals' complete failure to take any action in that direction should make voters take another look at who's actually looking to protect the environment.

Closed trial, show execution

Remember the importance of bringing Saddam Hussein to justice? Based on new laws passed by the Iraqi parliament to apply only to Saddam's trial, it looks all the more likely that the "justice" part is going to be left out:
International monitors en route to Baghdad to observe the trial said the new statutes, passed by parliament but not yet published as law, add a "new layer of murkiness" to a controversial process that is expected to set a benchmark for the quality of law in the new Iraq.

The statutes, expected to take effect as early as tomorrow, include a provision allowing the five-judge Iraqi Special Tribunal to prevent Saddam from speaking in his own defence...

International observers assigned to the trial remain troubled by what they describe as a closed process.

"Look to Rwanda, to the former Yugoslavia, to Sierra Leone and East Timor and you see a pattern of internationalized tribunals, where the process was transparent and open to comment and refinement before the proceedings began," said Richard Dicker, who will attend Saddam's trial for Human Rights Watch.

"But the model chosen for Iraq goes the other way."

The secrecy of the tribunal wouldn't be as big a problem if there was any reason to think that a fair trial would take place. But there's little reason to think that when the parliament is all too willingly violating multiple principles of fair trials. From this article alone, it's clear that the parliament is passing laws of specific rather than general application, not making the laws known to the defence (or to anybody else), and not allowing the defendant to rebut the evidence against him. That combination can only serve to make any conviction illegitimate.

There's almost certainly a case to be made against Saddam which would hold up in a fair and open tribunal. That being the case, the outright refusal to provide such a tribunal only makes Iraq's current rulers look like they're going to follow in the footsteps of the man now on trial. And one would think those are benchmarks that the new regime would want to avoid.

Monday, October 17, 2005

That all-pervasive anti-Americanism

Isn't it a shame how Canadians won't listen to their southern neighbours?
The former president bought his views on Canada-U.S. relations to a sold-out hockey arena in this southwestern Ontario city, with audience members paying, on average, $100 to listen.

Without the benefit of prepared notes, Clinton spoke eloquently on global issues ranging from AIDS to climate change to a rapt audience and thunderous applause.

A handy example to keep in mind next someone's suggesting that Canadians don't respect Americans. If there is a problem, it isn't to do with the country by any means; indeed, good numbers of Canadians are glad to pay attention to all people worth listening to, whether from the U.S. or elsewhere.

And if we don't often think the same about Bushco...well, that just puts us on par with the current majority in the U.S., and most of the rest of the world.

The hazards of democracy

One of the NDP's problems in trying to be more responsive to members than other political parties is that every so often, that responsiveness leads to results that the leaders likely wouldn't have chosen. For an example, look no further than Bev Desjarlais' defeat in a nomination battle:
Bev Desjarlais, the NDP MP who broke ranks with her party to oppose same sex marriage, has lost a battle for the NDP nomination in her northern Manitoba riding.

Ms. Desjarlais was defeated by Niki Ashton, the daughter of Steve Ashton, the Manitoba cabinet minister who represents the Churchill riding provincially...

NDP insiders insisted yesterday that Ms. Desjarlais' defeat had nothing to do with her June vote (against same-sex marriage). Rather, Mr. Layton has maintained a policy of allowing all sitting MPs to be challenged for their nominations.

From the sound of Ashton's resumé as listed in the article, it looks like she too will be an absolutely fantastic candidate. But for a party with as few seats as the NDP now holds, it hurts to lose the power of incumbency. And particularly given the NDP's difficulty in recruiting top candidates in some locations, it's painful to see two such good ones face off internally rather than spreading out into different ridings. (Though as noted by Brad Lavigne in the article, it is a good sign to see new potential stars getting into the mix.)

In the short term, hopefully Desjarlais will stick with the party and either look for another riding to represent, or work to help win Churchill for Ashton. And in the long run, hopefully Canadians will remember which of the national parties recognizes that democracy - both within the party and in government - is more important than immediate electoral gain.

Questionable results

The AP reports on the upcoming audit of the Iraq referendum:
Iraq's electoral commission said Monday it intended to audit "unusually high" numbers in results coming from most provinces in Saturday's landmark referendum on the draft constitution.

The commission's statement came after Sunni Arab legislator, Meshaan al-Jubouri, claimed fraud had occurred in the vote, including instances of voting in hotly contested regions Saturday by pro-constitution Shiites from other areas. His comments echoed those from other Sunni officials over the weekend...

The commission said it would take random samples from ballot boxes from areas reporting very high or very low percentages. It did not specify which provinces the unusual reports were coming from, or say to what extent it could affect the outcome.

From that report, the results seem questionable enough. But it takes Juan Cole to mention just how far out some results appear in some areas:
Al-Hayat reports that 643,000 votes were cast in Ninevah Province (capital: Mosul). At the time it filed, 419,000 had been preliminarily counted, and the vote was running 75 percent in favor. Ninevah Province was the most likely place that Sunni Arabs opposing the constitution might be able to get a 2/3s "no" vote.

Several of my knowledgeable readers are convinced that the Ninevah voting results as reported so far look like fraud. One suspected that the Iraqi government so feared a defeat there that they over-did the ballot stuffing and ended up with an implausible result.

One of my Iraqi-American correspondents compared the turnout statistics from Ninevah and Diyala provinces last Jan. 30 to those coming out now, and found the current numbers completely unbelievable. He pointed out that the Iraqi Islamic Party had not garnered many votes in Ninevah last January, and its support of the constitution could not hope to explain the hundreds of thousands of "yes" votes the constitution appeared to receive on Saturday.

From the U.S. election experience, it's safe to say how the process will work from here. The public image will be one of passage without serious question. The audit will go forward as planned, but probably won't be able to conclusively establish the nature of any fraud or error. In the meantime, the governing coalition will act as if passage was completed, and any Sunnis wanting to at least wait for a final result will be criticized for "destabilizing" the government's plans going forward. And even if the audit eventually reveals reason to overturn the result, that conclusion will be dismissed by the governing majority, accompanied by claims that it's too late to change the presumed result.

(Via MarkInSanFran at Kos.)

When the system is broken

While a lot of attention goes to Dingwall, Volpe and company, my bigger concern is where there's a genuine systemic problem rather than an individual's expenses not fully accounted for. And according to a recent audit reported by the CP, there's just such a problem at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans:
The exhaustive internal review of the department's $42-million annual bill for travel and hospitality found:

- Some employees attending foreign conferences stayed abroad after meetings ended, claiming expenses without any evidence they were actually doing government business.
- Staff at some meetings claimed meal allowances, even though meals were provided at the gatherings.
- Other employees used exorbitant exchange rates to make claims for foreign travel even though the rate they actually paid was lower...

Investigators also found numerous cases where travel was not pre-authorized as required, expense claims were missing receipts, and Treasury Board policies were being ignored or subverted.

"The majority of claims in all regions were missing pre-approvals, had incomplete supporting documentation, and had invalid or missing ... signatures," says the audit, referring to problems with hospitality claims worth about $1 million each year...

Only 16 out of 42 hospitality events were posted on the departmental website as required, suggesting widespread failure to obey the rules.

While it's difficult for any department to be 100% accurate and compliant in all areas, there should at least be a meaningful effort to get near that number. And there's absolutely no excuse for failing to meet either individual or event documentation requirements more than half the time.

What's worse, it doesn't look like any individual discipline will result from the audit. The article does mention future spot checks to verify reporting data, but it's hard to think that will be a meaningful deterrent when the audit itself hasn't given rise to any accountability...and when there's all too clearly an existing culture of non-compliance within the department.

The only way to change that sort of culture is through strong leadership sending a clear message that failure to follow the rules will have consequences. And while credit is due for the stricter standards originally, enforcement unfortunately doesn't seem to be a strong point for PMPM and company.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Following the leader

In case any other provinces were merely waiting for somebody to take the first step in matching daylight savings time to the new U.S. standard, it looks like Quebec will do just that:
Quebecers who were dreaming of enjoying daylight for an extra hour in the fall and spring will soon get their wish.

The provincial government is on the verge of following the lead of the United States to extend daylight time by two months, according to various government sources...

Quebec is now trying to convince its provincial neighbours to follow suit. While time is a provincial jurisdiction, federal government officials have urged the provinces to find a common solution from east to west.

This doesn't seem like an issue where the rest of the country wants to be fighting the U.S., as there's little to be gained by sticking with the current system and potential for a substantial cost if coordination with the U.S. becomes tougher. Hopefully the other provinces which apply Daylight Savings Time will soon match Quebec's expected action.

The laundry list

Layton has publicly listed the NDP's priorities for the fall session - and one has to like the issues:
Layton said Sunday that the NDP wants the Liberals to:

- Demonstrate support for public health care and stop what the NDP calls increased privatization.
- Take action on climate change.
- Get the U.S. to address the softwood lumber issue.
- Protect workers' pensions.
- Address ethical issues.

While some observers had thought that the NDP would support the Liberals, as they did earlier this year, the list of specific demands was surprising.

It means the Liberals can't take NDP support for granted.

I do have to wonder who the "some observers" are, as they don't seem to have been paying too much attention to the NDP's consistent position that support for the Liberals will be based only on policy which fits with the party's principles. But that aside, the big question now is what kind of response will greet the list.

In principle, it shouldn't be too difficult to reach an agreement on a lot of the issues, especially to the extent that health care and the environment are usually Liberal platform staples (if ones which are easily forgotten post-election). And there's probably room for the Liberals to gain politically by going along with most of the NDP's priorities.

Meanwhile, the NDP has put itself in as strong a position as possible. If the Liberals won't go along with reasonable requests on these issues, then the NDP should be able to take a bite out of their centre-left support. If the parties can reach agreement, then the NDP looks stronger as a potential government, and hopefully bleeds some Con support away in the process.

There's an awful lot more left to be done, but at the very least either possible result of this announcement should present some significant upside for the NDP. Now that another public message has been sent, we can only wait now to see how both the Libs and the public respond.

On recognizing tradeoffs

The Star has an interesting article on NIMBYism, both in the Toronto area and in general:
People want to run their air conditioners all summer long. But the prospect of a generating station in their neighbourhood sent Newmarket residents into a frenzy. People want a subway line to the airport. But when people in Weston heard of the plan to run the rail through their community, they packed a public meeting in protest. We all agree we should build up instead of sprawling out, but when a developer pitched a plan for twin condos in the Annex, the local resident group went ballistic...

In the past, some NIMBY campaigns have led to real innovations. Enjoying your green bin? They are the direct result of the massive campaign against the city's plan to ship Toronto's garbage to the northern community of Adams Mine. Similarly, our blue box program stemmed from community resistance around the province to plans proposing new landfills.

Across the border, a campaign against building housing on toxic landfills led to a national pollution-prevention movement.

At that point, NIMBY becomes NIABY, says Keith Stewart of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. "If NIMBYism is simply about sending it somewhere else, then it should be properly critiqued. But if people say, `We don't want it here or anywhere else, we have to prevent this problem,' then you can have an incredible force for change."

Not much to add other than that Stewart has it exactly right. While we should be rightly critical of efforts to move necessary services away from one's own area, the response to a NIMBY movement offers opportunities to ask just which services are actually necessary - and which are so harmful as not to be worth building anywhere. And it's generally a bad sign if a project is already in the works before those questions have been posed.