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.

The other side

Lest anybody get the impression that the Vicq commission report is uncontroversial, a friend who writes for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out some problems:
First,...different tax reforms would achieve superior results at less cost than the Committee’s recommendations. Second,...the public funds raised by business taxes are needed for economic-development initiatives and other important social priorities...

Because Equalization could be important to Saskatchewan’s business taxes, the provincial government should not commit to specific reforms in its March 2006 budget. Instead, the Government of Saskatchewan should wait for the spring 2006 report of the Expert Panel on Equalization and the Government of Canada’s response to it. More fundamentally, the provincial government must question whether corporate-tax cuts, as opposed to tax credits or public programs, are the most cost-effective way to increase investment in Saskatchewan.
The entire article is worth a read, as it seems pretty clear that the Vicq committee didn't consider some important possibilities. That's particularly problematic with regard to the equalization issues when these were explicitly part of the committee's mandate.

It's easy enough to see where part of the problem lies based on the submissions heard by the Committee. On a very quick review, only CUPE seems to have addressed the possibility that social investment may be more important than tax cuts generally, and most of the submissions seem to have been to the effect of "lower taxes now!" without any significant discussion of the nuanced policy alternatives put forward by the CCPA. While more submissions from the CCPA and other organizations on the front end would obviously have helped matters, the committee itself should have been alive to some of the issues pointed out now.

So what to do now? More to come.

In questionable hands

The content of today's leaked Liberal memo discussing the lack of any hope in 45 Quebec ridings shouldn't come as any great surprise...although it should highlight the opportunities awaiting the other federal parties to make inroads in the riding the Libs have written off.

That said, can a party really be trusted to run the country when its top officials can't even handle a Blackberry?

Shady deals

Bushco and John McCain have apparently reached an agreement on torture which begs more questions than it answers:
After months of resistance, the White House has agreed to accept Senator John McCain's call for a law banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror, several congressional officials said Thursday.

Under the emerging deal, the CIA and other civilian interrogators would be given the same legal rights as currently guaranteed members of the military who are accused of breaking interrogation guidelines, these officials added. Those rules say the accused can defend themselves by arguing it was reasonable for them to believe they were obeying a legal order.
Just to set the record straight: Bushco supposedly does not torture people, and does not condone torture. So clearly nobody could reasonably conclude that the regime or its officials had authorized torture.

But just in case that wasn't so, anybody who happens to receive an order that can reasonably be interpreted as authorizing torture is free to act on that perception. And if supervisors happen to issue vague directions which lower-ranking interrogators reasonably misinterpret to allow torture, leaving nobody accountable for the activity...well, things happen, right?

The tone of the article makes it sound like the deal is a victory for McCain. But the reality appears to be just the opposite: the deal only highlights Bushco's determination to preserve at least some grey area to allow torture to occur without consequences. And Congress' willingness to go along with that tactic won't do anything to repair the U.S.' record on human rights.

Still not getting it

While Harper's now-infamous 1997 speech was the main story yesterday, there's little reason to think he's become much more tactful in the meantime in light of his impromptu scrum last night:
In the chat with the travelling media en route to Vancouver, Harper's main message was to sell the notion he would be comfortable at the helm of a minority government...

Among other things, Harper suggested most premiers "hate" Prime Minister Paul Martin, that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is untrustworthy, that stupidity caused the minority government of Joe Clark to fall in 1979 and that the Liberal campaign is playing into his hands.
It's bad enough for Harper to claim the right to speak for all Canada's premiers, and to cast judgment on both one of his predecessors (who at last notice held far more personal appeal than Harper himself ever has) and the premier of Canada's largest province. But even those gaffes pale in comparison to Harper repeating, in only slightly lesser form, his biggest mistake from 2004.

While Harper's main point seems to have been to demonstrate his willingness to work in a minority, Canadians are still likely to be awfully leery about letting Harper assume he's about to be given the PM job in any form. By claiming that the campaign so far has played right into his hands, Harper both appears to be out of touch with a mainstream perception of the campaign, and seems to be promoting the same internal sense of inevitability that forced so many voters to take a second look at just who was making plans to move into 24 Sussex last year.

Granted, some element of confidence is a plus during the course of the campaign. But Harper seems to be once again crossing the line from confidence into a sense of entitlement. And that's not likely to have any better effect now than it did last year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Another star Dipper

The NDP is set to announce a surprising candidacy:
In what may be a political first in the British Commonwealth, former governor general Edward Schreyer will announce his candidacy Thursday as a New Democrat Party candidate in Winnipeg...

It's not the first time Schreyer has established political firsts. The former premier of Manitoba was the youngest member of the Manitoba Legislature when he was first elected in 1958 at 22, and he later became Canada's youngest governor general and commander-in-chief when he took the post at 43. He held the Rideau Hall position from 1979 until 1984...

Schreyer has been a strong environmental advocate throughout much of his career. As Manitoba premier his government produced legislation on sustainable energy and the environment, and he is said to still hold those issues close to his heart.
Needless to say, Schreyer's superb track record as a legislator and diplomat is one that the NDP will want to highlight at every opportunity. And the message sent on the issues is even better: the fact that a man appointed by Trudeau to be Canada's head of state is running under the NDP banner out of frustration with Martin's government should nicely highlight the rightward drift of the Liberals since the time when Schreyer last stood for election, and Schreyer's record as an environmental advocate will help cement the NDP's role as the party best equipped to stand up for the environment.

Kudos to Schreyer in getting into the race...and hopefully he'll be rewarded with a key role in an expanded NDP caucus for his efforts.


The Globe and Mail offers the explanation as to why the NDP doesn't have an official party blog:
While some NDP candidates have blogs, the party opted against a general election blog, because it didn't want something that didn't look sincere, said party spokesman Brad Lavigne.

"The Web world is a particularly savvy one and I think visitors can smell bogus blogs a mile away," Mr. Lavigne said.
Which is fair enough to a point, particularly given the entirely justified criticism of the Cons' list of talking points masquerading as a blog. But then, there was no need to make a blog insincere in the first place. And it's a shame that it's the Libs who picked up on that fact first.

On white flags

CBC's coverage focuses on the withdrawal of the Green candidate from the Labrador riding. But more interesting to me is the lack of NDP and Con candidates so far - especially considering the significance the same riding was supposed to hold just a few months ago:
Labrador City Mayor Graham Letto represented the Tories in this byelection. With 3,415 votes, or 32 per cent of the total vote, Letto had the best showing by a Conservative candidate in more than two decades.

Calgary West MP Rob Anders, who was campaigning in Labrador last night, says a strong Tory showing in a safe Liberal seat can be interpreted as a sign of things to come.

"I think this means that what were formerly safe seats for the Liberals are up for grabs," Anders says.
From an NDP standpoint, it's disappointing not to see a candidate ready yet (especially given that there should seemingly be some structure left over from the by-election). But the utter lack of interest is a particularly huge change for the Cons.

Just last year, Harper and MacKay converged on Labrador based on the significance of the seat within a minority Parliament. And the result was a seemingly strong showing for the Cons, which one would think they'd want to build on. But now that there's a full election campaign, the Cons apparently can't be bothered to so much as nominate a candidate for a seat that they considered to be "up for grabs".

Not the intended message

According to one of the more amusing polls so far this campaign, it isn't just the ad execs who are less than fond of the Cons' TV spots:
A survey of 1,350 undecided voters who saw the Tory television ads were asked last week to pass judgment. Fifty-nine per cent said the ads would have no impact on their vote.

But 19 per cent said the spots made them more likely to vote Liberal, and nine per cent said the ads pushed them toward the NDP. In other words, more than a quarter said they were inclined to do the opposite of what the ads intended.

Only 12 per cent said the ads made them more likely to vote for the party that actually paid for them, raising questions about whether the Tory campaign has backfired.
Unfortunately, the article only lists results surrounding the Con and Lib ads, so we don't know just yet whether the NDP's boot is as popular among the general public as it is in the blogosphere. But if nothing else, the NDP's standing as a real alternative to PMPM has to look better when the Cons' own ads are pushing them further behind in the race.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Opening up

While far too many sites have moved toward requiring registration at least (if not payment) before making their content available, the Star takes a step in the right direction:
Visitors to the Toronto Star website will no longer have to register to peek inside, publisher Michael Goldbloom announced yesterday.

"Our online readers have told us that registration is an inconvenience," Goldbloom said.

"We listened to our readers, and we've removed mandatory registration from our site."
Particularly around election time with so many people looking for all the information they can get, it's a great sign to see one of Canada's top media outlets making theirs more accessible than it was before.

The impossible precondition

It's amazing to see a Liberal promise that's even emptier than most, but PMPM is apparently in favour of an elected Senate...just as soon as he can get the necessary constitutional agreement to change the current allocation of seats.

Of course, there's usually an implied "when pigs fly" after any Liberal campaign plank...but it's a first to make it an official part of the policy.

Healthy move

The NDP's health care plan shouldn't surprise anybody, but it will nicely point out the contrast against the Libs' refusal to take serious action against privatization:
The NDP will defend public health care in the next parliament by:
- Refusing to permit the dismantling of Canada’s single-payer medicare system;
- Prohibiting the use of federal transfers, directly or indirectly, to subsidize a new, profit-making private insurance system covering medically-necessary services;
- Ensuring that no federal money be used to cover the salaries or costs of doctors and any other medical personnel involved in a new, separate, profit-making private insurance system; and
- Tough monitoring and enforcement of these rules.
About the only problem with the plan is that since the existing rules have been so poorly enforced, it may be too late to keep private medicine from taking a larger role even if better rules are more thoroughly enforced in the future. But then, that's more a problem with the Libs' record than it is with the NDP's policy...and it's certainly not a basis for preferring the complete neglect of the other two parties.

Great accomplishment

Kudos to the leaders of Ontario, Quebec and eight U.S. states for reaching agreement on a deal to protect the Great Lakes:
Political leaders from Ontario, Quebec and eight U.S. states will sign a new deal Tuesday aimed at banning large-scale water diversion projects from the Great Lakes...

The agreement is also expected to call for new measures to prevent invasive species from entering the lakes, and reducing the levels of PCBs, dioxin, mercury, pesticides and other toxins.
I'm not sure how much authority the states have to make such agreements binding on themselves. But at the very least the deal shows a strong intention on both sides of the border to ensure that the Great Lakes will be safe for the foreseeable future - and all involved deserve credit for that.

A poor approximation

Saskatchewan officials point out the problem with the newly-announced federal health benchmarks:
Dr. Mark Ogrady, head of the surgery department for the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region and chair of the sub-committee on surgical services for the Saskatchewan Surgical Care Network, which tracks wait times in the province, said any attention on wait lists is a good thing but the national framework should have been focused on more than just a few areas of care.

"The minute you target five things, what happens to the rest of them?" he said...

Saskatchewan's plan breaks down every area of care like the national plan does for heart bypasses and has resulted in wait time reductions already.

Health Minister John Nilson said the province's plan will be to meet its own goals but they'll also be comparing wait times with national standards.

"With what's set out nationally, you only work in narrow little bands. And what we've tried to do in Saskatchewan is say, 'Every person that requires surgery should have some ability to be compared to everybody else,' "he said.
Note that Saskatchewan's current numbers already reflect what seems a fairly sensible prioritization. The province is well ahead of the benchmark for bypass surgeries, and well behind for knee and hip replacements...and that relative priority level seems a far more accurate reflection of the urgency involved than prioritizing both equally as the federal benchmark appears to do.

Of course, it's still necessary to try to improve in those areas where a province is currently behind, and Saskatchewan's plan should enable it to meet all the benchmarks by 2007. But the numbers set in yesterday's agreement shouldn't override common sense in managing health priorities...and the obvious gap between the two has to lead to questions as to how useful the benchmarks really are.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The fun continues

While Canada's challenges to the U.S. completely fail to change anything in the longer term, UPS is arguing its own challenge which could result in major changes at Canada Post:
UPS, the world's largest package delivery firm, first filed a claim for $160 million US against the Canadian government in April 2000 under the North American Free Trade Agreement. A decision from the tribunal could take more than a year once the hearings end.

Other American firms have successfully challenged Canadian policy decisions.

But the UPS case represents the first time Ottawa is being pressured to withdraw from an established government program or service, said Joseph Zebrowski, spokesman for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, representing 56,000 people...

One of the great questions in the operation of NAFTA has always been how far the tribunals would go in limiting the freedom of action of Canada's Crowns. And while those results haven't been too harmful so far, the UPS action could both undermine Canada Post's current financial standing, and open the door to future claims any time a Crown doesn't go out of its way to avoid making use of the efficiencies available to it.

Based on the article, Canada seems confident about its position in the UPS claim. We can only hope that confidence is justified...since if it isn't, the same agreement that's so often failed to secure our access to the U.S. market could do serious damage to our own institutions.

More fun with NAFTA

Softwood lumber isn't the only area where the U.S. has gone out of its way to acknowledge its being completely wrong. Just look at the record on the Canadian Wheat Board, which secured another victory today:
The Canadian Wheat Board says it has won a final decision from a NAFTA panel which will allow the free movement of spring wheat into the United States.

According to the wheat board, the North American Free Trade Agreement decision amounts to the last hurdle in removing a tariff that has virtually closed the border to Canadian spring wheat exports since 2003...

An official with the wheat board says the Americans have launched 14 challenges to Canadian wheat imports since 1991.

So far, none have been successful.
Just one more example of how NAFTA eventually protects Canada's trade interests a couple of years too late, and only until the next frivolous American claim to shut down the border.

Astute observation

No comment necessary. Though a comments section attached to the original would be nice for content that would fit so readily on a blog.

A beacon of something

Dubya earlier this year:
America's mission in Iraq is to defeat an enemy and give strength to a friend -- a free, representative government that is an ally in the war on terror, and a beacon of hope in a part of the world that is desperate for reform.
Syria today:
Ask everyday Syrians where their country is headed and you immediately sense the bleakness of the moment. The most hopeful answer is "nowhere." The alternatives, they say, are worse. Catastrophically worse...

However much Syrians despise the bare-knuckle corruption that passes for national leadership, it is clear that fear of becoming the next Iraq trumps all. They will suffer onward in lockstep, offering Pavlovian support for their defiant young President Bashar Assad, even if it means enduring UN sanctions. Because really, what choice do they have?

"It sounds sick to say it aloud, but Syrians would rather die of hunger than from civil war or conflict. They want reform, but if reform means Iraq, count them out."

One-sided information

Armine Yalnizyan points out that the same network which considers the Tommy Douglas Story too political to air during an election campaign has aired a show cheerleading for private health care during the same time frame:
When I first read about the CBC decision not to air the Tommy Douglas documentary, I could see a certain logic to that position, though I didn't agree with it.

But the CBC's subsequent decision to run Medicare Schmedicare is worse than irrational and incoherent. It is an utter repudiation of its very reason for existence: a voice for the public interest, across the whole country, and for the majority of the public.
Obviously, nobody expects the CBC (or any other news source) to completely avoid providing content which may take a side on a given issue. But there needs to be some balance to ensure that all sides of the story are told...and unfortunately, it looks like the CBC is willing to tell only the wrong side of the Medicare issue.

Best of both worlds

It figures that the NDP's child care policy announcement is apparently getting buried under this weekend's polling numbers - especially when the NDP's policy so neatly combines the best both the Cons and the Libs had to offer:
The NDP plan to improve child care and fight child poverty has three main elements:

- A Child Care Act to ensure that federal funding for child care is targeted at licensed, high-quality, non-profit child care.
- $1.8 billion invested in child care next year, with annual increases of $250 million for the next three years. This would create 200,000 additional spaces in the first year, with another 25,000 spaces annually after that.
- An increase in the federal child tax credit of $1,000 phased in over four years in order to help lower-income families cover child care costs and meet other essential expenses.
In other words, the NDP is not only joining the Libs in promising a public child-care system, but it's also taking the radical step of offering enough funding to make that system viable. At the same time, the bump in the child tax credit offers effectively the same added opportunity to make other choices (whether based on a parent staying home, on paying for private child care, or on other priorities) as that promised by the Cons.

That leaves both parts of the dichotomy the choice of either explaining why parents don't deserve the range of choices offered by the NDP, or trying to ignore the question entirely. It's a shame that the latter strategy seems to have worked so far, but hopefully that will change when Layton gets his chance to make his case within the debates.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Poor protection

It's a plus to see Canada finally considering some available options to try to protect Canadians' privacy against the terms of the Patriot Act. But there's a problem that receives far too little attention in the story:
A federal proposal would allow government departments to immediately cancel a contract with an American firm if it hands personal information about Canadians to U.S. anti-terrorism investigators...

While the federal guidelines will be helpful, they might not be watertight, Lawson (executive director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic) suggested.

The contract cancellation proposal could leave American firms with the choice of respecting either U.S. or Canadian statutes, she said.

"They're going to have to break one law or the other. And I'm sure there are going to be cases where the business decides it's least costly to them to comply with the American law and breach the Canadian law."
It would be a serious enough problem if firms faced a mere choice between prosecution in either the U.S. or Canada. But keep in mind that under the terms of the Patriot Act, not only would an American firm with control of data be required to disclose it, but it would also be required not to inform anybody (including the government department in question) that a request had been made:
`(a)(1) The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director...may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities...

`(d) No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.
Under the proposed contract structure, a firm's choice would be between:

(a) violating Canadian law, secure in the knowledge that any person who disclosed that violation would be subject to U.S. prosecution, or
(b) violating U.S. law, with absolutely no chance of avoiding prosecution since any refusal to comply would itself be a contempt of court.

Needless to say, there isn't much reason to be confident that any firm would choose to protect Canadian information under those matter what the contract contains.

The article fairly points out that risk under the Patriot Act is a relatively minor issue...and that's particularly so compared to other privacy concerns of the Liberals' own making. But the proposed contractual changes are at best an incremental change in incentives. And that small change isn't likely to keep any information from being disclosed.

(Edit: cleaned up wording of last paragraph.)

The forgotten

Just in case it looked like Iraq couldn't get any worse, the Star features a story covering the flow of destitute Iraqis into an overwhelmed Syria:
Abdelhamid El Ouali, the Damascus representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), says the plight of displaced Iraqis is deepening as they use up their meagre savings.

"We are beginning to see prostitution and child labour," he says. "But when nobody is turning the camera on the situation, nobody reacts. So, what we have is a silent exodus."

When Syria and Iraq are mentioned in the same sentence, the message almost always pertains to the flow of Iraq-bound militants that officials of the U.S.-led coalition cite as a continuing source of new insurgents.

But El Ouali estimates that the flow goes overwhelmingly in the opposite direction.

What's worse, some of the flow is due to explicit threats based on some groups have apparently decided that ethnic cleansing is perfectly acceptable as long as they're the dominant group:
Raisan Musayer Abdullah, 43, was a lawyer in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk until the spring of 2004, when he came home to find a chilling message sprayed on his front door: "Leave now or we will kidnap your daughters."

A Sunni Arab, Abdullah says the warning came from Kurdish peshmerga militiamen determined to cleanse Arabs from the oil-rich city.

"They think every Arab was with Saddam and you cannot argue. All you can do is give up your house and go." Abdullah made for Damascus with his wife and five children.
As a result of next week's election, most of the news out of Iraq has involved attempts to prevent anybody from travelling from Syria to Iraq. As pointed out in the Star's article, that could have the effect of preventing some refugees from being able to renew their entry stampts to Syria, which puts them at added risk of abuse by Syrian authorities. And it doesn't look like even those who have a current entry stamp have any real hope of building lives for themselves in Syria.

It's bad enough that thousands of already-dead Iraqi civilians have apparently been considered acceptable collateral damage in the war. But it's all the worse that thousands more refugees can't even be counted (let alone taken care of) due to their apparent irrelevance to Bushco's vision for the Middle East. And it's utterly inexcusable that ethnic cleansing has now become an acceptable technique as long as it's a U.S. ally carrying out the process.

It's not yet too late for the wilful ignorance of both the ethnic cleansing and the plight of the refugees to change. But if they don't, the region will be all the more impoverished and all the less stable as a result.

Taking the lead

Layton becomes the first federal leader to sign on to the Workers' Bill of Rights, which states the following:
All workers have the right to form unions for the promotion and defence of their interests without interference by employer or government. This basic human right goes together with freedom of association and freedom of expression. It is the basis of democratic representation and governance.

All workers have the right to a legal framework that recognizes collective bargaining as the means of determining their wages, working conditions and terms of employment.
Layton's signing on to the Bill first reflects the principle that the NDP alone among the major federal parties is willing to lead the way on workers' rights. While the other leaders may sign on eventually (particularly given how general the Bill is), the best workers can hope for from the other federal parties is for them to follow in the Dippers' footsteps.