Saturday, November 05, 2005

Learning experience

The CP reports that student dissatisfaction with private career colleges is finally leading to government action. And it's about time, given examples like this:
A former sales associate at three CDI College campuses in Toronto, who asked not to be identified, says complaints against CDI like those of Aliza Bernstein and Laura Menzies are familiar.

"I had a man come into my office crying because of his son. It was a horrible, horrible situation," she said of the last customer she spoke to before she quit. "I advised them to sue."

She says the man paid $14,000 toward his son's CDI tuition only to later learn his son was without a teacher for eight months.

The ex-employee says there was pressure to meet enrolment quotas, even if that meant convincing students who couldn't afford tuition to take out loans.
The most disturbing part of the article is the extent to which CDI tries to minimize a series of examples of shoddy education at its schools - including two in the article alone citing classes which lacked instructors. While CDI is probably right that the majority of students derive some value from the institution, that doesn't do much to help those whose legitimate complaints have apparently been ignored.

Part of the issue appears to be a matter of administration, which is apparently being dealt with. And that's the part of the equation where it's relatively easy to sympathize with private colleges: it may well be difficult to plan for all contingencies as to which instructors will and won't stay around.

However, the problem not covered in Bill 197 (aside from a registration requirement) is that of recruiting tactics which are naturally designed to push as many students as possible into the college rather than to move them toward the most suitable individual choices. That may be a particularly difficult issue to handle with regard to a private actor whose interest is best served by maximizing the in-flow of students. But the same issue in turn should highlight the problems with for-profit education. And in taking steps to regulate the industry, the provincial government will now bear some onus to ensure that students know the risks.

Wider protection

CBC reports on a Manitoba initiative to extend protection against domestic violence and stalking to situations where a couple hasn't lived together:
Under the old legislation, only those who had been living together could apply for such protection. The amended Domestic Violence and Stalking Act now extends to those who are only dating...

Mackintosh says Manitoba is the first province to put such legislation in place.

A protection order can prohibit the people named from coming to the victims' homes or workplaces and following or communicating with them. It may also force them to turn over any weapons they may have.
Oddly enough, one of the points made in opposition to the legislation is that it's unclear how soon in the dating process the legislation could apply. I would seem to me that application after one date would be entirely appropriate if the order is necessary - stalkers should be dealt with as stalkers, regardless of how close the two people involved were at some previous point.

Kudos to Manitoba for taking the lead in this area, and I'll hope to see other provinces following suit soon.

Work to be done

For those looking for a truly worrisome poll result (and at least somewhat interested in local Regina politics), here it is:
A substantial majority of Regina residents believe Mayor Pat Fiacco is doing a good job, a new public opinion poll indicates.

Of 824 city residents surveyed, 70 per cent said they either approved or strongly approved of the way Fiacco is doing his job.

Only 12.8 per cent said they disapproved or strongly disapproved while another 17.2 per cent offered a somewhat neutral opinion.
This in the midst of an administration marked by a dogmatic determination to avoid tax increases even at the expense of necessary services, and just shortly after a strike where the city tried to claim that mandatory pension contributions were a raise to city workers.

The numbers are moving in the right direction from the even more ridiculously high approval ratings earlier in Fiacco's tenure. But there's a long way yet to go to try to restore any sense of balance to City Hall next year.

Friday, November 04, 2005

When rights don't apply

Amidst the furor over Kashechewan, another case of discrimination against First Nations people has drawn the U.N.'s notice...and this one is contained in a statute which is supposed to guarantee equality:
The United Nations Human Rights Committee is calling on Canada to act immediately to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, a section that excludes some First Nations people from protection under the Act.

The Committee tabled its Concluding Observations on November 2, following the review of Canada's Fifth Periodic Report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In this document, the Committee raises several issues regarding Aboriginal rights in Canada, including the fact that section 67 allows discrimination as long as it can be justified under the Indian Act. The Committee goes on to say that it is concerned that the discriminatory effect of the Indian Act against Aboriginal women and their children in matters of reserve membership has still not been remedied, and that the issue of matrimonial real property on reserve lands has still not been properly addressed.

This only a few days after the Canadian Human Rights Commission released its own report, A Matter of Rights, asking Parliament to immediately repeal Section 67. Chief Commissioner Mary Gusella said at the time of the release, on October 26, 2005, that section 67 was a hole in the fabric of human rights in Canada that needed to be fixed and that this exclusionary provision of the Canadian Human Rights Act was nothing less than "a national and international embarrassment to Canada."
Fortunately, it seems that the movement to change the current Section 67 is already it may not take much more public attention to get the change made. But the current text is just one more reminder of how the law has historically treated Canada's aboriginal people as something less than complete citizens...and how much further we have to go to try to undo the effects of that prejudice.

Subverting democracy

The Centre for Media Alternatives - Quebec has an interesting article on Canada's involvement in Haiti, featuring in particular this gem:
The ground is also being prepared for the privatization of Haiti’s state enterprises, a policy vigorously opposed by the Haitian people. The Interim Cooperation Framework (ICF), a document outlining the priorities of the “transitional government” and the donor countries, touts “private sector participation” in state enterprises and makes clear the anti-democratic nature of these reforms: “The transition period . . . provide[s] a window of opportunity for implementing economic governance reforms . . . that may be hard for a future government to undo.” Canada helped draft the ICF and has donated $147 million in support of it.

While it's tough to take a side in the apparent debate between this article and one from Rabble (criticized by the CMAQ) as to just how blameworthy the Aristide administration is, it should be glaringly obvious that there's plenty of blame to go around regarding Latortue and his international backers. And that's doubly so if the goal of the caretaker administration is to permanently undo the will of Haitians before they get another chance to go to the polls.

Vote for me and I'll go away

Much as I like to criticize Harper and company, this is a stroke of political genius:
In another part of his speech Friday, the Conservative leader also hinted that unlike former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who was a prominent target of blame in Gomery's report, he would not be a multiple-term prime minister.

Harper spoke about how admirable he finds it when people run for office, make a difference and then return to their normal lives.

"That is how I want my time in public office to be," Harper said. "I'm here to do a job. I'm not here to join a club. I'm not here to buy into a lifestyle."

Now, the article isn't entirely clear as to the definitions of "multiple" and "term"...and anybody who's seen the original text of the speech can feel free to clarify. But consider the possibility that "multiple" could mean "more than one", and "term" could mean "election in which Harper is elected as PM".

Under those definitions, Harper's promise would dictate that if he were to win a minority government in the post-Gomery election and have it collapse within a matter of months, he'd have completed his term in office and wouldn't keep running for the PM position.

Given the choice to rebuke the Liberals yet at the same time avoid any substantial implementation of Conservative policy, I suspect a good number of Canadians would take that opportunity. And getting rid of Harper at the end of that term would only be a bonus. Meaning that this may be the first good reason people have had to vote for the Cons since the party formed.

Tunnel vision

More confidence-inspiring material from Harper: now the Con leader has promised that if elected, he'll remain just as singularly devoted to criticizing the Liberals above all other priorities as he's been in opposition:
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper will sue the Liberal Party to recover more misspent sponsorship funds if he comes to power in the next election, saying this week's $1-million reimbursement by the governing party is far from enough...

The Conservative Leader said a civil lawsuit is necessary to find out exactly how much money was stolen from taxpayers by Liberal officials, arguing that a court process would force further confessions of wrongdoing.

Mr. Harper said he has received informal legal advice on the matter, and that as prime minister, he would instruct federal officials to obtain compensation for the misspending of sponsorship funds. He said up to $40-million is unaccounted for.

"You may in the end identify only $4-million or $5-million. But when you really want to get to the truth and get the money, you quite frankly, in the lawsuit, throw the kitchen sink at them."
Now, it's difficult to see why subsequent proceedings by any government would lead to "further confessions of wrongdoing" or added elements of truth beyond those which Gomery was able to elicit. And the money now unaccounted for seems to nicely match the amount currently at stake in the civil proceedings already launched by the government against the individuals and companies involved...making it likely that if there is any truth to a claim that the money ended up in Liberal hands, the defendants in the current proceeding would want to point out the party's wrongdoing rather than being liable for the amount themselves.

But never mind whether added litigation is either a good idea, or likely to produce positive financial results (particularly in light of the costs involved). And especially never mind whether the litigation avoids the ultimate issue of how to prevent future abuses, even as some parties actually have meaningful suggestions. (The Cons are supposed to present their proposal today, but it predictably sounds far more narrow and backward-looking than the NDP's policy.)

To Harper, even the prospect of forming government is merely an opportunity to use that power to keep attacking the Liberals. Regardless of one's ideology, surely that has to be seen as a problem.

None of the above is to excuse the Libs for anything related to the sponsorship scandal. But the mere fact that Gomery was the best thing to happen to the Cons in the history of the party doesn't mean that Canadians want to see their next government too obsessed with rehashing the '90s to govern in the present. One would hope this would lead people to look for a more viable alternative government, but it seems all too likely that Harper's dedication to bashing the Liberals is only helping to keep them in power.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Musical benches

For the ultimate example of the dangers of politicizing the judiciary, look no further than the wrangling now surrounding the proceedings against Tom DeLay:
A new judge was selected to preside over Representative Tom DeLay's conspiracy and money laundering trial today, after another judge became the second to step away from involvement in the case because of political contributions he has made.

Administrative Judge B.B. Schraub, a Republican who was to have selected the new judge for the case, withdrew after Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle filed a request to have him removed.

Two days earlier, District Judge Bob Perkins was removed from the case at DeLay's request because of his contributions to Democrats...

Lawyers on both sides in DeLay's case have argued that political contributions by judges have harmed at least the appearance of impartiality.

But in a state where judges are elected and free to contribute to candidates and political parties, it could be a challenge to find a judge who meets both sides' definition of impartial.
Fortunately, nobody in the mainstream (to my knowledge at least) is talking about going quite as far as electing judges in Canada. But we should be wary of taking any steps toward a legal system where partisan affiliation is assumed to override judicial independence.

And now we wait

The Libs' offer on health care will be made "late tonight", with an NDP response to follow tomorrow. We'll find out soon whether PMPM is willing to admit that privatization is a problem. If so, then there'll be far more reason for the NDP to want to make a deal than there was earlier this week; if not, then the supposed defender of public health care may have just staked his government's future on a refusal to defend the system.

Multiple benefits

As if increasing research & development capacity wasn't a good enough end in itself, a new study shows that the spin-off developments are helping to feed more money into the university system:
According to the Survey of Intellectual Property Commercialization in the Higher Education Sector released by Statistics Canada Thursday, the number of inventions reported or disclosed by researchers to universities and hospitals increased to 1,133 from 1,105 between 2001 and 2003.

This research has led to the creation of more than 875 new businesses to date. In 2002 and 2003, 64 spin-off companies from technologies developed by their researchers alone. These spin-offs covered a wide range of industries, from computer systems design, to medical devices manufacturing.

During that time, the income from intellectual property rose $3-million, to $55.5-million from $52.5-million.

Universities share in this revenue with the inventors was 44 per cent, while 38 per cent went to inventors and co-inventors.

Now, the amount put toward research is far more than the amount recouped to universities so far, and will remain so in the long term. But it's still noteworthy to trace back the positive effect that the new developments have already had on universities, and to note that their stake in new companies could lead to far greater gains in the future.

Of all the times...

Just after a week when an exceptional amount of attention has been paid to aboriginal issues, and just before a meeting with Canada's premiers, the leading coalition pushing the First Nations cause seems to be splintering:
The Assembly of First Nations' call for a united voice going into the upcoming First Ministers' Meeting began to unravel Wednesday as the Quebec chiefs pulled out of the process...

The Quebec chiefs maintained they want to protect and preserve their treaty rights and will not come to the table with the provinces to negotiate with a province, Quebec, that is continually challenging those inherent and treaty rights in the courts.
The problem with the action of the Quebec chiefs is that a seat at the First Ministers' Meeting has long been a (reasonable) demand of the AFN. By walking away from the table, these chiefs are in effect rebuking the premiers' demonstration of respect. And that doesn't seem likely to do much other than to make their relationship with the Quebec provincial government all the more contentious. If anything, a continued presence within the negotiations would offer a chance to better highlight, and perhaps resolve, the chiefs' concerns.

It's understandable that as with any political coalition, there are bound to be some divisions within the AFN. But both the timing and the nature of the current dissent within the AFN seems all too likely to undermine the work of all parties involved.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Unresolved claims

In the wake of Kashechewan, this is definitely the time for First Nations to point out how long some of their ongoing grievances have been ignored. And based on this story, it appears that the federal and Alberta governments both have a lot to answer for with regard to the Lubicon band.

First, the federal government's neglect:
The federal government should make every effort to resume land-claim talks with a northern Alberta Cree community that has been fighting for status for almost 70 years, says a United Nations report.

The UN Human Rights Committee also says the Lubicon band continues to be compromised by logging and large-scale oil and gas extraction...

(Lubicon band counsellor Alphonse) Ominayak said he is pleased the UN committee highlighted the band's concerns about resource development.

"They can't harvest our natural resources and our forests before they settle with us," he said.

"We have never ceded our rights or given anyone any of our natural resources, including oil and gas, in our traditional territory."
Based on the lack of negotiations, it's the federal government that receives the brunt both the U.N. report and Ominayak's comments. But at least the federal government didn't go out of its way to push the band away from a table to which it was invited:
Two energy firms signed an agreement last month with the Lubicon that gives the band a veto over some oil and gas drilling on land it claims.

Key parts of the deal signed by Surge Global Energy and Pan Orient Energy give the Lubicon the power to say no to the use of surface or potable water in the drilling or operation of wells. The band will also have a say in where wells or pipelines will be situated.

The agreement signed by the two companies was reached despite the objections of the province, which urged the firms not to negotiate with the band, the Lubicon say.
It's tough to conclude that the band isn't able to negotiate constructively when it's been able to reach settlements with both the province and the private companies using its historic territory. Which means that the lack of any ongoing negotiations falls squarely on the shoulders of the federal government. But both levels of government deserve blame for trying to prevent the Lubicon from exercising reasonable control over their own land.


In response to the obvious fact that the Cons can in fact take down the Liberal government with only the support of the Bloc if they see fit, Harper emerged today with the worst excuse imaginable:
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said he is ready to go to the polls any time but he also indicated again Wednesday that, because of numbers in the House of Commons, an election call depends on the rest of the opposition. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe has also suggested that he is willing to go to the polls on the issue.

"We have a number of members who for health reasons their attendance is unreliable," Mr. Harper told reporters. "We simply don't have a certainty. Frankly, it's Mr. Layton who has kept the government in office and it is Mr. Layton who has to make that decision."...

"We're willing to bring the government down but we're not willing to lose another vote."

In other words, Harper is more than willing to try to take the step of bringing down the government - as long as there's absolutely no risk involved. And this the day after Harper criticized Layton on the basis that trying to negotiate better policy isn't a good enough reason to hold off on an election.

In sum: in Harper's world, good policy comes only after punishing wrongdoing...but both are subordinate to risk aversion and personal image. And to think the Cons can't figure out why hardly anybody wants to see Harper anywhere near 24 Sussex Drive.


After a centuries-old legacy of offloading problems onto Canada's First Nations, the federal government is now funding what may be the harmful initiative yet:
David Gorman, one of the AFN's four co-ordinators for the dialogue, has been visiting reserves to let chiefs and tribal council members know that key decisions are being made about storing nuclear waste that could affect native reserves in the coming decades...

"I would just say, 'Be aware that industry might approach [your community] to build a facility on your territory and they might sweeten the deal with economic opportunities and money.' "...

The AFN's nuclear dialogue is being paid for with money from the nuclear organization and Natural Resources Canada.

Mr. Gorman would not say how much money the AFN received from the nuclear organization, but the AFN's own summary report of its dialogue reveals the funding arrangement doesn't sit well with some.
While it's obvious that much needs to be done to improve the lot of First Nations, it should be equally obvious that the answer isn't to try to strong-arm them into accepting nuclear waste on their traditional or treaty land.

Given the current funding disparities as well as the often-higher costs on reserves, it may appear tempting for some First Nations to try to make up the funding gap through a waste storage program. But if so, that only signals the utter failure of the federal government to appropriately provide for First Nations to date. And that lack of funding should be dealt with directly, rather than with nuclear strings attached.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The outside perspective

It doesn't seem to be mentioned at any big Canadian media outlets in the wake of Gomery, but CNN's top international headline is rather more alarming than anything being given much attention domestically:
One of Quebec's top politicians said Tuesday that separatists in the French-speaking province would launch a new referendum on independence from Canada after the next provincial election.

The leader of the Bloc Quebecois, the separatist party in the federal Parliament, which fields candidates only in Quebec, was speaking after an inquiry reported that senior members of the Quebec branch of the ruling federal Liberal Party had engaged in kickbacks and illegal campaign financing...

Asked if Tuesday's report would hasten the next referendum, Duceppe said: "I'm pretty sure we'll win the next federal election, the Parti Quebecois will win ... the election in Quebec, and then we'll go for a referendum."

Granted, nothing Duceppe had to say on the subject should be all that surprising. But then the same appears to go for the content of the report. And the sovereignty implications are surely more important than the speculation/name-calling over whether or not the opposition parties will force an election.

We'll see whether Duceppe's separation comments find their way into the mainstream Canadian media soon...or whether it's a subject that nobody really wants to write about at this point.

Still stalling

There shouldn't be much doubt why this news was timed so as to be buried:
Ottawa will announce today that it has no plans to introduce a refugee appeal division, a move certain to anger refugee advocates and placate critics of the system who feel there are already too many reviews for asylum seekers.

Immigration Minister Joe Volpe is expected to tell the standing committee on immigration that his department has decided not to introduce an appeal division, although Parliament recommended its creation in 2002.

I'll grant that the current process appears to be improving as stated later in the article. But even if that's the case, there's still a need for a streamlined, merit-based appeals process - particularly when contrasted against the current system of forcing refugees to apply to a painfully backlogged Federal Court process for an appeal based solely on errors of law.

Instead, Volpe has sent the message today that his department is willing to ignore the merit of refugee claims. And given the media circus surrounding Gomery, it's all too likely that the rest of the country will follow suit for the foreseeable future.

Well said

Thomas Walkom discusses Canada's international hypocrisy with regard to Syria:
Pettigrew does not intend to be consistent. If the Canadian government seriously opposed the torture of Canadian citizens, it would pull out all the stops to have Washington return teenager Omar Khadr from the Guantánamo Bay prison camp, where he is being held outside of international law and where, according to his lawyers, he has been physically abused.

If the Canadian government seriously opposed torture, it would not allow its soldiers in Afghanistan to hand over captured prisoners to U.S. forces operating outside the Geneva Conventions who, according to numerous accounts by human rights agencies, routinely abuse their charges.

Nor would it exchange information on Canadians with regimes that deliberately engage in physical abuse as an accepted form of interrogation — like Egypt, Syria and the United States.

But Ottawa is not serious. Hypocrisy has long been a staple of Canadian foreign policy. But the government's level of hypocrisy in this affair is breathtaking.

If you have a moment in the midst of Gomeryfest, give it a read.

Destabilizing influence

While CSIS isn't willing to disclose how far it's extended its mandate, some of the end results of its work are worth highlighting:
10 days ago (CSIS Director Jim) Judd said the U.S. war in Iraq was creating "long-term problems" for other countries. And testifying before the Senate committee he said Iraq provides militants with both motive and opportunity.

"It's been an issue in terms of providing individuals more of an opportunity to learn new techniques and expertise in this. And more generally, it may serve as a motivation. It's a serious concern," he said...

Judd says the main terror threat facing Canada comes from radicalized Canadians. And he says CSIS has seen Iraq cause that radicalization in real cases.

That last paragraph is particularly worthy of note: for all the U.S. criticism over Canadian immigration controls, the bigger risk doesn't involve the new arrivals to a country so much as it involves people already present in a given country who later become radicalized. And there can be little doubt which of the two countries is causing more harm in that regard.

We can only be thankful that the increased risk hasn't yet manifested itself in the form of serious attacks in Canada. But if it does, we should bear in mind that the U.S.' response to terrorism is more likely to be one of the causes than a solution.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Zero tolerance for logic

It's always worth paying attention when initiatives which are supposed to be "tough on crime" end up being just the opposite. With that in mind, kudos to Howard Hampton for pointing out the absurd results of Ontario's Safe Schools Act:
The law, introduced four years ago by the previous Conservative government, imposes automatic suspensions and expulsions for offences such as assault, drug trafficking or selling or carrying weapons or alcohol...

Hampton called the statistics "startling," noting the number of suspensions in Ontario shot up 40 per cent to 24,238 in the 2001-02 school year, the first year the law was in force.

The numbers have stayed that high ever since, even in the two years since Premier Dalton McGuinty was elected, said Hampton, who accused the governing Liberals of doing nothing to provide alternative programs for students who were suspended or expelled...

"Criminal justice has moved towards making sure only the most dangerous kids are dragged into the court system, and most other things we try to deal with in the community," McKinnon said.

"Schools are taking the opposite tack by throwing people out of their community for the most minor things."

Many of the suspensions are for offences such as swearing, she added, noting that the law leaves boards no choice but to kick students out instead of dealing with the problem within the school.
Not much to add...other than that it would be a plus if the governments implementing such an obviously-flawed policy were judged anywhere near as harshly for their actions as the children now forced out of school by the legislation.

Beyond the boundaries

I'm not quite sure what's worse: CSIS' apparent history of acting outside the scope of its statutory powers, or the Liberals defending the practice only after the fact:
As part of the listing process, CSIS prepares a security intelligence report on possible additions to the terrorist roster. The Public Safety minister then makes a recommendation to cabinet as to whether the group should be included.

The review committee said this kind of activity is not accounted for in the CSIS Act, the law governing the spy agency...

A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan said the government rejects the argument that CSIS's involvement in the listing process unduly expands the service's scope of activity.
The article also indicates that CSIS hasn't been providing full reports to its watchdog agency (as it used to in the past).

It's bad enough to have a government agency tacitly approving of the use of torture as CSIS appears to have done. But even if that weren't a problem, there's no reason at all for an expansion of CSIS' powers based at best on a 14-year-old ministerial directive, and at worst on nothing but the bare assertion that the powers are needed for reasons which can't even be shared with CSIS' supervising agency.

If the Liberals truly feel that policy needs to be changed in order to meet national security goals, then that should be dealt with in Parliament...or at the very least through new public announcements or regulations. And that policy should at least be subject to a full review from the agency charged with the task.

Instead, the Libs' reluctance to present and defend CSIS' expanded powers publicly makes it seem all too likely that there isn't much defence to be mounted at all. And that has to leave Canadians wondering just how much hidden authority CSIS may hold.

Diplomacy at work

The AP reports on the new UN resolution on Syria demanding cooperation with the investigation into the Hariri assassination:
The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday demanding Syria's full co-operation with a investigation into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister and warning of possible “further action” if it doesn't...

The three co-sponsors agreed to drop a direct threat of sanctions against Syria in order to get support from Russia and China, which opposed sanctions while the investigation is still under way. Nonetheless, the resolution was adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is militarily enforceable.

The resolution requires Syria to detain anyone the UN investigators consider a suspect and let investigators determine the location and conditions under which the individual would be questioned. It also would freeze assets and impose a travel ban on anyone identified as a suspect by the commission.

There's a lot to like about the final resolution as compared to earlier drafts. While recent press focused on the dispute as to whether or not sanctions would be explicitly mentioned (and they aren't), the issue of greater concern was the U.S.' initial demand that the resolution also condemn Syria for actions along the border with Iraq. The application of Chapter VII seems potentially problematic, but at the very least any sanctions would require a new Security Council resolution, and one presumes those would be applied before any military action would be taken.

Unfortunately, the agreement on today's resolution will probably give rise to future disagreements on its meaning. But as long as "future action" isn't given the same ridiculous scope once applied to "serious consequences", today's resolution should help show the world's desire to deal with Syria's non-cooperation on the Hariri investigation firmly but peacefully.

The opening offer

Word comes out that the Liberals are willing to tighten one loophole in the health care system - but it looks like there's ample reason for the NDP to continue to hold out for more:
Ujjal Dosanjh will meet today with NDP health critic Jean Crowder. He is expected to say he is amenable to tightening regulations that restrict for-profit health care.

Mr. Dosanjh intends to make it clear the provinces will not be permitted to turn over federal cash transfers to doctors who deliver the same services in both the insured public system and in the private sector for higher fees, a senior adviser to the Department of Health said yesterday.

While it is not a widespread phenomenon, Health Canada has been concerned in recent years that some physicians are in effect "double-dipping" by offering some patients faster, more expensive treatment in private facilities than they do in the public system, the adviser said.

Now, it's always a plus to make a dent in one problem that's been ignored to date. But the bigger problem all along has been that of entirely private clinics which make no pretense of involvement in the public system. Dosanjh's proposed reform would merely have the effect of legitimizing the spread of such clinics, and would apparently allow "double-dipping" in any event as long as the private fees matched the public ones.

That said, Dosanjh's offer is at least a useful starting point as long as some of the NDP's already-stated positions can be worked into the picture. A combination of the tightened regulation with the NDP's proposed ban on new private operations would go a long way toward preventing further privatization, even if it doesn't do much to undo past damage.

And it shouldn't be unrealistic to get at least that concession out of the government for now. The Liberals may need a deal on the issue in order to preserve PMPM's (however comical) claim to be the defender of public health care. And that should give the NDP a strong bargaining position to demand changes which will actually do something to preserve the system.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Democracy in need of support

The AP reports on a political showdown in the Ivory Coast:
Ivory Coast's president vowed to stay in power for another year Sunday as security forces fired into the air and hurled tear gas at opposition militants protesting a bitterly disputed, UN-backed extension of his mandate.

Laurent Gbagbo also said he would name a new prime minister within days to ensure presidential elections are held within 12 months. Late Sunday, rebels issued a statement proclaiming rebel leader Guillaume Soro the new premier, although they have no legal authority to do so. The move was sure to increase tensions in the West African country...

The rebels issued a statement after the speech declaring Gbagbo's mandate over and saying they would no longer recognize him as head of state. The statement said Soro would set up a "government of national reconciliation" but did not say how.

Half a dozen cabinet ministers also have said they won't recognize Gbagbo's authority after Sunday and claim he no longer has the right to command the army, which has remained loyal so far.
The truly sad part of the current situation is that the major parties agree both that elections need to take place, and that the Ivory Coast isn't ready to hold them just yet. But the question of who's going to run the country in the meantime seems contentious enough that it could derail the entire process.

A dispute along these lines (internal actors with relatively common interests) is exactly the type where diplomatic involvement should be able to result in a deal. But it doesn't look like anything of the sort has been in the works just yet...and it'll take quick action now to get a deal done before the dispute turns all the more ugly.

Making a bad idea worse

The CP reports on a proposal to fund the federal government's new wiretap requirements through property seized as the proceeds of crime:
Money forfeited through the federal proceeds-of-crime program should help pay for the new eavesdropping initiatives, says the ad-hoc coalition of police chiefs and communications companies.

The idea, spelled out in a recent confidential letter to the Public Safety Department, is intended to avoid a public outcry from phone and Internet subscribers, who might otherwise be stuck with the tab...

Under the federal proposals, service providers would be required, when upgrading their systems, to build in the technical capabilities needed by police and intelligence agencies, such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, to easily tap communications.

The controversy revolves around the ongoing costs of looking up phone numbers, hooking up to networks and relaying communications from one city to another - individual services that may cost anywhere from pocket change to thousands of dollars.
Now, I'll readily agree with the coalition to the extent that individual users of communications technology shouldn't be stuck with the bill for wiretaps.

But the article indicates that in most recent years, the proceeds-of-crime program has actually run a deficit rather than a surplus. And we surely don't want to see police work diverted in any way toward trying to hunt down proceeds of crime (as opposed to, say, perpetrators) solely because that's the only way to keep programs funded.

If the wiretap technology is necessary for the government's use (and I'm not sure that's anywhere close to being proven), then it should be general government revenues that pay the bill. Maybe the government will be lucky enough to see the proceeds of crime pay the entire cost. But neither the implementation of the program, nor the conduct of police, should be altered based on whether or not that happens to be true.

Preparing for the worst

Much has been made of the potential effects of a flu pandemic, and I don't have much to add to the great work done at the flu wiki in an effort to prepare communities for the potential harms. But CTV has a useful commentary on how the effects of a pandemic could cut far into our economic well-being - and how few businesses are prepared for the problem:
Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns in Toronto, said a flu pandemic could potentially result in a 25 to 35 per cent absentee rate at workplaces across the country...

As a virus spreads, Cooper predicts travel could be restricted, as the flow of goods and products across borders becomes limited. And manufacturing plants that rely on a global supply chain could be forced to cut back...

The challenge facing companies during a pandemic would be to keep operating. But Jason Myers, a senior economist with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said most operations just don't have the capacity to carry on through a crisis.

"I think for the majority of businesses in Canada, it's not on the radar," said Myers.
In fairness, it's difficult for a given business to divert resources away from its ongoing operations in order to perpare for what's only a possible outcome. But the lack of private-sector preparation should highlight the fact that governments can't count on other actors being ready in the all-too-foreseeable event that a pandemic does hit...and they thus need to be all the more prepared themselves.

Still empty words

It's official. PMPM has used his first radio address, and the associated cost to his party, to say absolutely nothing. Is anybody surprised?