Saturday, February 04, 2006

On impending failure

While Harper's room to maneuver may be limited within a minority Parliament, expectations are doing nothing but growing, as two jurisdictional leaders expect the Cons to devolve more power to the provinces and territories in addition to keeping more energy revenue in its home jurisdiction:
The premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories, say they're optimistic the new federal Conservative government will give more powers to the provinces and territories...

For a long time both jurisdictions have been at odds with Ottawa over energy revenues.

Handley says Harper told him in a letter that northerners should be the main beneficiaries of their resources.

Williams heads the energy committee set up by the premiers' Council of the Federation.
The question now is whether Handley and Williams have talked yet with Bernard Lord about his opposite expectation. But it does seem clear that whatever Harper does, he'll be disappointing some people who are at least seeming to support him now - which can only make it all the tougher for Harper to get anywhere near majority territory once the expectations run into reality.

Message management

Crawford Kilian discusses the communications techniques used by one NDP riding in the federal election...and has some excellent suggestions for improvement:
(W)e should have been interacting everywhere, especially in a campaign that couldn't afford to spend much on print media. Instead, the Internet almost paralyzed the campaign. The avalanche of letters couldn't be efficiently answered. Other tasks went undone. Even when we could use the Web and email, it was only to pass along the Message Box just as Candidate Support had passed it along to us.

I can see how an online campaign might have worked better. With four or five full-time volunteers, a couple of them with good Web skills, we could have kept the candidate's website steadily updated. We could have used a blog to post answers to voters' questions. We could have worked more aggressively to get the candidate into other media through interviews and events...

(T)he Internet and traditional political campaigns are still at odds with one another. The politicians are still thinking ballistically, trying to blast a one-way message through the voters' thick skulls. The idea of an online conversation with the voters-with an unpredictable, unscripted outcome-is literally unthinkable. Better to strap down the loose cannons in every party, keep repeating The Message and hope it works.

At some point, however, we will all spend so much of our lives online that the FedEx strategy will simply not work anymore. Not in the next election, maybe not in the one after that, but some day, a party will run an improvisational, interactive online campaign.
My one area of disagreement with Kilian is in his assumption that a more interactive campaign can't happen next time out. I for one would love to see the NDP more on top of the possibilities - and there are at least some indications that the problem in North Vancouver wasn't an aberration.

Even during the campaign, the party was sporadic in releasing new content on its website, and the one visible form of user input was only a small part of the content on the party's site. And since the election, the NDP site has only been updated with one new speech. It's understandable that those in charge of the site might need a break after the campaign, but surely there has to be somebody available to make sure that the party's message doesn't disappear again until next time Canadians go to the polls.

At the same time, along with presenting its own message, the party also needs to be seen addressing the concerns of Canadians directly. No matter how much the campaign focuses on claiming that role, the party needs to be seen responding quickly and publicly to voters' issues...and sending an e-mail only a couple of days after the fact seems like a poor way to do that given the potential for instantaneous communication.

Some analysts may have taken the wrong message from Harper's "disciplined" campaign and assumed that voters respond positively to a one-way, predictable information flow. But while that stance may have differentiated the Cons from a Liberal party which couldn't even get its own message straight, there's plenty of room for a party to do better by presenting a generally unified message while also making itself more available to voters. We can only hope the NDP will work toward a fully interactive campaign model next time out in order to be able to point out a more stark difference between itself and a Con party which goes into hiding.

Mapping out our strategy

Donald Rumsfeld suggests a new twist in the war on terror:
Rumsfeld said violent extremism is a danger faced as much in Europe as in the United States, and said Islamic militants are on the move and have to be checked.

"They seek to take over governments from North Africa to Southeast Asia and to re-establish a caliphate they hope, one day, will include every continent," he said. "They have designed and distributed a map where national borders are erased and replaced by a global extremist Islamic empire."
Which clearly can't be allowed to happen: our goal should instead be to spread human rights globally. But why bother with any other measure when spreading maps is apparently enough to put the entire world at risk? Surely we can accomplish just as much with a targeted counterattack:

Of course, considering that Canadian provinces are talking about refining uranium and encouraging the use of nuclear power, I suppose the promulgation of the above map should put Canada at the top of Rumsfeld's hit list. But that's a small price to pay to show that we're dedicated to ensuring that our values prevail in the culture war that Bushco has done so much to inflame.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Failing to clear the air

Ontario's Energy Minister is laying the groundwork to back out of the province's commitment to move away from coal power within the next three years:
At least two coal-fired power plants long slated for closure by the Ontario government over pollution concerns may need to stay open a while longer to prevent electricity shortages, the province’s energy minister said Friday...

Ontario’s Liberal government promised in its 2003 election campaign to close all of the province’s coal facilities by 2007, claiming their emissions are a health hazard.

That plan was altered last June when the province said the Nanticoke plant by Lake Erie won’t be closed until 2009.
The government's backtracking is bad enough to begin with. But what's worse, the opposition parties are criticizing the government for making the promise in the first place rather than for failing to stick to it:
But critics insist the government needs to direct OPG to enter into more long-term contracts for coal now to avoid paying substantially higher costs down the road on the more expensive spot market — extra costs that ultimately might have to be covered by ratepayers.

“You can’t just go to Loblaws and buy a boatload of coal,” said Conservative energy critic John Yakabuski...

New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton said the government’s refusal to budge from its coal-closure promise will prove costly and put Ontario’s electricity supply at great risk.

“Anybody who has looked at this has said you need to keep the coal plants there because you don’t have a plan to replace the power,” he said.
Now, it's certainly fair to criticize the government for failing to plan sufficiently to allow the coal plants to shut down. But that's a problem of execution, not reason to see the plan to reduce coal dependency as bad in principle.

It's a particular disappointment that Hampton has taken such a short-sighted position on the value of greener energy. While last year's smog-covered summer may be a fairly distant memory by now, surely Ontarians and their leaders haven't forgotten the recent results of past environmental neglect. And matters won't get any better if the province's current planning energy is dedicated to lengthening the life-spans of coal plants, rather than building the foundation to move toward cleaner energy sources.


Lorne Calvert announces the newly-appointed Saskatchewan cabinet. A few notes on the announcements:

- Those theorizing that Andrew Thomson is set to succeed Calvert at the helm of the provincial party get a serious boost, as Thomson takes over the Finance portfolio among others.

- It's great to see Glenn Hagel back in Cabinet with a vengeance, as Government House Leader in addition to taking on a couple more roles.

- The one disappointment: of the 41 different Cabinet or governmental roles announced today, Calvert apparently couldn't find one for Warren McCall.

There's been some coverage from CBC and the Leader-Post already. More commentary here as more media voices emerge, but it looks like Calvert has done well in combining new blood with experience.

Trust issues

Murray Mandryk goes into detail about the Saskatchewan PC trust fund issue - and it looks like the fun is just beginning for the Saskatchewan Party:
(O)nce you get past personalities and whatever personal animosities may exist, Swenson and Schmidt actually make a very compelling case.

- The agreement that put the Progressive Conservatives into hiatus was specifically for two consecutive elections. We have had two consecutive elections, so Swenson and Schmidt do have an obligation to be doing what they are doing.

- Three of five trust fund trustees are extremely active in the Saskatchewan Party, including trust spokesman Doug Emsley, who helps run the Saskatchewan Party's communication firm...

- The decision of the trust to cut off funding to the dormant Progressive Conservative party (it last provided them $35,000 in March 2005 to run an office and continue some form of existence) suspiciously comes only after talk of revitalizing the party. If the trust fund was so concerned about how this paltry sum of money was being spent (less than half the amount the fund earns in annual interest, Swenson said) why didn't it cut off funding years ago?
Mandryk notes that any PC revival would coincide with the Weyburn-Big Muddy byelection...which makes it in the Saskatchewan Party's clear interest to try to bury both the issue and the revitalization efforts as best they can. That apparently puts the PC fund trustees who have since shifted their alliances in an obvious conflict of interest. And if that's a situation that the Saskatchewan Party is willing to ignore in opposition, then voters will have all the more reason to make sure the Sask Party never gets the chance to govern.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

On feigning powerlessness

It's a plus to see Ontario taking somewhat of a stand with regard to the incoming Copeman clinics. But beneath the headline there's at best bad reporting, and at worst unquestioned acceptance of inaccurate spin about what can be done:
Abbott has given the firm until the end of February to comply with both federal and provincial health laws or face action by the province.

The Ontario government can't do anything until the clinics open, but Premier Dalton McGuinty promised there would be consequences if the company breaks the law.
Of course, the problem is that it's far from clear that the government is powerless to act when Copeman is actively soliciting customers. Or at least, that's what Sack Goldblatt Mitchell's legal opinion said earlier this week:
In our view, the Company's promotional materials represent an offer proscribed by s. 17(1)(c), namely to sell preferential access to insured health services, and therefore constitute an offence for which it is liable to a fine of $25,000. In this regard, the Minister (of Health) need not wait until the Copeman clinics are in operation in order to proceed. Moreover, as soon as the company accepts payments from any "client" both the client and the company would, in our view, likely be committing an offence under s. 17(1)(1) and (b) of the Act respectively.
I could understand if the reporting on today's statement had mentioned the legal opinion as only one potential interpretation of the law. But surely there's no good reason to claim that the province "can't do anything" without any qualification. And if the distortion is one that McGuinty's government has done anything to encourage, then there's all the more reason to doubt its sincerity in addressing the spread of for-profit matter how much tough talk it directs Copeman's way.

On foreseeing the possible

The Tyee reports on both the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment itself, and the corporate media's failure to pay attention to what should be important news:
The report's basic premise is that healthy ecosystems provide humans with a range of "services" -- things like food, clean water, clean air, buffers from natural disasters and even spiritual renewal. To the extent that these "ecosystem services" are degraded, so is the quality of human life.

And without serious behavior modification, we're headed for a bad run, Reid said. "We've badly mismanaged our ecosystems," he said. "As long as we regard ecosystem services as free and limitless, we will continue to use them in a way that does not make sense." Reid enumerated the main findings of the study he directed, which concluded that 60 percent of the planet's ecosystem services are being run down or used up faster than they can replenish themselves...

But the presenters last week were resolutely optimistic. "It's a good news message," Carpenter said. "We can make a very positive difference in ecosystem services by 2050. The caveat is that fundamental changes would have to be undertaken."
The article expresses concern that out of four plausible scenarios pointed out by some of the presenters, each presents at least some downside. But that acknowledgement of trade-offs should be the first step to ensuring that ecosystem preservation is given its due consideration. The contrast in the scenarios merely highlights the reality that local ecological management may not be sufficient to address global environmental issues, or that increasing international connectivity may reduce the force of community traditions. And it's better to recognize the inevitability of some trade-offs than to refuse any change which could possibly have any perceived negative effects.

The truly disturbing part of the scenarios is the degree to which the world's leading power seems bent on pushing the "Order from Strength" scenario, which by almost all accounts appears to be the worst future outcome (featuring some ecological deterioration and ever-increasing wealth gaps). But by the same token, once all the options are set out next to each other, there seems little reason to think that this particular scenario would win long as the other options receive genuine consideration.

Which returns to the article's initial concern at the lack of attention paid to the MA in North America. Whatever the outcome of a discussion of our future path based on the realistic options, the end result has to be better than one which simply fails to acknowledge the possibilities. And hopefully the Tyee's attention will be a small step toward ensuring that Canada makes its future plans based on a more thorough appraisal of what can be done.

Reason to be suspicious

Saskatchewan's PCs surface in the news again - and this time it may actually cause some damage to the Saskatchewan Party:
What remains of the provincial Progressive Conservative party is pulling up stakes today, saying it can no longer pay the rent because it's being starved of funding in a dispute over the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan Trust Fund...

Swenson has said the trustees of the fund cut off its annual funding of the party last year because they objected to the PC executive committee's plans to sell memberships and hold an annual general meeting to determine whether the party should be revived.

Swenson has alleged that trustees are being influenced by their connection to the Saskatchewan Party.
We'll see if there's another explanation for the trustees' actions, as the PCs are apparently prepared to go to court to seek the use of the remaining trust fund. But if individuals tied to the Saskatchewan Party are in fact abusing their positions as trustees by preventing the PCs from making any use of the trust fund, then Saskatchewanians have wonder all the more what the Sask Party would do given the opportunity to exercise power over the province's finances.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On travel plans

I didn't think any CBC commentaries this week would manage to be more painful to read than Larry Zolf's "defence" of Buzz Hargrove. (Shorter Zolf: I like labour, therefore we should ignore everything everybody else involved in labour has to say and put our faith in Buzz Hargrove.) But Tom Velk goes several steps beyond in setting out his road map for the Con government.

Velk starts off with his policy suggestions, which (for a professor who supposedly has some legal training) demonstrate a surprising lack of knowledge of constitutional law even for a Bush/Harper apologist:
Harper should permanently diminish the centralizing and homogenizing power of the PM's office. Let Ottawa shed social power as well as giving up tax dollars. Give provinces and even municipalities authority over "values" legislation concerning marital status, gun ownership and social mores. Gay marriage might be OK in Quebec, but not in Alberta.
Now, there are enough problems with this suggestion from a policy standpoint. But is Velk completely unfamiliar with The Constitution Act, 1867? Last I checked, Canada's Constitution wasn't susceptible to amendment by Parliament alone, and there's no real doubt that federal government has the responsibility for the definition of marriage in particular (s. 91(26)) and "social mores" generally (which have generally been included under the criminal law power, s. 91(27)). Whatever Harper's strategy in power, surely focussing on things which can't be done isn't a winning course of action.

But then, it doesn't take long for Velk to manage to underestimate the well-established powers of the PM's office as well:
(D)on't fear an early election. Stable deals can be made. Not all sovereigntists are socialists. There are enough independent votes in Parliament to pass gun-crime laws, ethics in government rules, and to devise de facto Senate elections, for those provinces that want it.
Now, technically the power to make Senate appointments lies with the Governor General, but it shouldn't be news that it's the Prime Minister who already nominates Senators. So why would Velk see any need for Harper to seek out "independent votes" to enable him to do what's already within his authority?

Sadly, Velk's wishful thinking doesn't stop at the nature of Canada's division of powers. While his "hard followup issues" are apparently supposed to present a set of difficult challenges, they really sound far more like Bushco's fondest wish:
Mr. Harper has already said he will not support the Hamas government unless it renounces terrorism and withdraws its threat to destroy Israel. It's a beginning, but an easy one. Consider some hard followup issues: Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the leader of Israel, eliminates Iran's nuclear equipment, and then looks for help in fighting off increased terror attacks.

Surgically invaded, its atom plants bombed out, Iran cuts oil production, and Canada is asked to meet North American energy needs at below market prices. Terrorists pass through soft Canadian security on their way to a successful attack on a major U.S. target. The Americans threaten border closures if we don't raise our standards.

These and other international challenges will occupy the world's headlines for the next couple of years.
Needless to say, Velk's solution to these "challenges" is for Harper to "co-operate" with the U.S...which in context, apparently means granting a request to have Canada subsidize oil exports to the U.S. while allowing Bush to dictate our defence policy. I'll grant that Velk is right that the opposition parties would be awfully tempted to force an election at that point...but that action would be based purely on a rational response to the lack of any competence in power which Harper would show by following Velk's path, and not on some "short-sighted" political calculation.

In sum, Velk's road map suggests that the big question for some on the right is whether Harper can do no more than run into brick walls, or whether global events will allow him to go off a cliff. We can only hope that those making decisions in Harper's regime have a somewhat more realistic idea about the terrain that we're actually faced with.

On nonexistent threats

Bushco crosses yet another line that should never have been approached, as supporting American troops is now officially illegal. And no, that doesn't refer to Cindy Sheehan:
The wife of (Republican) Rep. C.W. Bill Young said she was ejected during President Bush's State of the Union address for wearing a T-shirt that said, "Support the Troops Defending Our Freedom," a newspaper reported Wednesday.

Beverly Young said she was sitting in the front row of the House gallery Tuesday night when she was approached by someone who told her she needed to leave...

"They said I was protesting," she said in a telephone interview with the newspaper Tuesday. "I said, 'Read my shirt, it is not a protest.' They said, 'We consider that a protest.' I said, 'Then you are an idiot.'"
Tough to argue with Young's take...but we all know far too well that that fact won't stop Bush's apologists from trying.

Money well spent

The Globe reported this morning on the Conference Board of Canada's comparison of provinces. But while B.C. emerged on top for health indicators alone, there can be little doubt that Saskatchewan is getting more bang for its buck than any other province.

In particular, based on the chart at the bottom of the article, Saskatchewan ranked 7th in per-capita health spending in 2004, yet placed 3rd in health indicators - a gap matched only by Quebec (9th and 5th respectively). So the money spent by Saskatchewan on health care has resulted in remarkably good outcomes.

But it gets better. Consider which other provinces managed to achieve high rankings in health outcomes. Saskatchewan was the lone smaller-population province to join B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec in the top 5 for overall health performance...and it managed to make its way to the middle of that group despite being outspent by most provinces.

In other words, Saskatchewan alone has managed its resources efficiently enough to overcome both the economies of scale held by provinces with more population to support, and the additional funding put into health care by other provinces.

Obviously there's still a ways for Saskatchewan to go in strengthening health care (as there is for every other province). But Calvert, Nilson and company deserve credit for setting an example that other provinces should be eager to follow.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

On unfortunate timing

David Wilkins figures Canada's relationship with the U.S. is strong and getting stronger. And it's tough to argue with that sentiment. After all, nothing says "strong relationship" like three shots to an ambassador's engine block.

(Edit: typo.)

Fruit of the poisoned tree

David Orchard's settlement with the Conservative Party has finally been judicially ordered...and the Con position suggests that the party is going to great lengths to prevent any new details about the Alliance/PC merger from coming to light:
Orchard was in a Toronto courtroom to resolve the final details of a December 2004 court settlement awarding him nearly $70,000 in campaign funds. The money was raised in 2003 as he sought to lead the Progressive Conservative Party...

While the judge imposed a release on both parties stating Orchard would not seek further litigation against the Conservatives regarding the disputed funds, it does not prevent Orchard from making other claims on other parties, such as MacKay.

Orchard's lawyer argued for a simple declaration that cleared the party of future claims regarding the disputed money.

But lawyers for the Conservative Party wanted assurances that no one associated with the party could face a claim for anything done in the past, even aside from the disputed funds.
Now, I don't doubt that it's generally in the Cons' interest to seek out the widest enforceable release possible. But surely a general release related to the money recovered by Orchard should have been enough to take care of most of the party's concerns. And if there is anything more worth trying to bring to light now, the Cons' rejected position will only encourage Orchard to keep up his devoted opposition to the party...and to see what else can be dragged up about the merger.

On getting the full picture

There's been plenty of talk about how Harper will be able to maintain power by proceeding issue-by-issue, putting forward only small proposals which will win certain support from at least one opposition party and thereby implementing much of the Con platform. For those wondering how far the Cons could get with that strategy, Jack Layton makes it clear that the NDP for one won't play along with such fragmented policy when it comes to the budget:
NDP Leader Jack Layton said Tuesday he wants to see the incoming Conservatives' full budget plan before deciding whether to back a Tory plan to cut the GST.

“We'll see what the proposal is with the budget,” he told reporters before heading into his party's caucus meeting in Ottawa...

Mr. Layton told reporters Tuesday that the NDP will now “consider all of the proposals in the context of the whole of the budget.”
Layton's move should be an effective one in forcing the Cons to put some more of their cards on the table. After all, why wouldn't the governing party be willing to at least set out a full fiscal plan rather than merely passing a GST cut immediately and leaving the rest of the country's finances for later?

Granted, there is one readily apparent reason to refuse...namely, if the Cons don't think that the budget as a whole can survive if all three opposition parties see it in its full context. But even if that seems likely, surely Harper would rather take his criticism through negotiations than through a non-confidence vote. And public discussion of the problems in a proposed budget could work wonders to force Harper into a more moderate arrangement.

Layton's move today should help both ensure a more open process for budget negotiations, and maybe play a role in influencing the content as well. And given Layton's proven track record of being able to make deals that work out for all concerned, Harper would do well to take the cue and ensure that the GST cut is packaged with a budget that won't drive the opposition away from the table.

On predictable patterns

While the U.S. has received plenty of attention for its trouble trying to attract enough recruits to keep its military going, it's not the only country facing such problems. And one top Australian official has now gone where nobody in the U.S. has dared, suggesting that Australia will need a draft to maintain its forces:
Admiral Chris Barrie, who retired in 2002 after 41 years' military service, the final four as chief of the defence force, said Australia's young work force would substantially shrink in the decades ahead due to lower birth rates. "In such a climate, we will not be able to attract the number of people we need, even if we attempted the usual financial incentives schemes," Barrie told a conference...

The military has warned that if a current downturn in recruitment continues, ranks will decrease from 52,000 personnel to 48,500 by 2010 - well below the 55,000 target the government has set.

Australia's military is reconsidering its ban on recruits who are overweight, have poor eyesight or suffer asthma as it battles to maintain troop numbers and is also examining expanding the roles of women in the ranks.

The country currently has thousands of troops on overseas deployments in countries including Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obviously the demographic problem makes the projections all the worse. But that future shift will only be exacerbated to the extent that today's potential recruits avoid enlisting due to their desire not to be pushed into action in Iraq (or Afghanistan).

Which leaves Australia in much the same lose-lose position as the U.S.: it can either concede defeat and reduce the size of its army, or it can take ever-more-desperate measures to try to hold its current structure. And no matter which option it chooses, the end result will be a weaker force in the long run.

Monday, January 30, 2006

On keeping one's commitments

The legal opinion related to the legality of Copeman Healthcare's planned Ontario clinics is interesting enough in pointing out the myriad of laws that would be violated by a fully-functioning clinic. But for those who would wonder whether there's anything that can be done before the clinic goes into operation, the opinion suggests that even Copeman's marketing campaign may violate Ontario law:
(U)nder section 17(1)(c) (of the ) Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act it is an offence for the clinic and its prospective patient to offer to make or receive the payments proscribed by this section.

Failure to comply with these an offence under s. 19 of the Act and is punishable by a fine that ranges from $1,000 to $25,000...

In our view, the Company's promotional materials represent an offer proscribed by s. 17(1)(c), namely to sell preferential access to insured health services, and therefore constitute an offence for which it is liable to a fine of $25,000. In this regard, the Minister (of Health) need not wait until the Copeman clinics are in operation in order to proceed. Moreover, as soon as the company accepts payments from any "client" both the client and the company would, in our view, likely be committing an offence under s. 17(1)(1) and (b) of the Act respectively.
The good news in the opinion is that it confirms that there's no need to play "wait and see" as the province of Ontario now seems inclined to do. The Commitment to the Future of Medicare Act has given Ontario's government the means to defend single-payer health care before privately-funded clinics become an inevitability.

Of course, there is a downside, as the current plan to do nothing becomes all the more negligent if it's occurring in the face of readily-available remedies against what's already happening. If provincial authorities don't bother to enforce the provisions which are already being flouted by Copeman, there's little reason to have any confidence that action will be taken once the clinics are in operation.

Obviously McGuinty knows that single-payer health care is important enough that he wants to be seen defending it. The question now is whether the public can force the province to make use of the tools at its disposal.

Party on

Rather than forcing the provincial NDP to win a by-election to maintain its official party status, Dalton McGuinty has announced that the party won't be at risk of losing that status until at least after the 2007 election. Whether or not (as speculated in the article) McGuinty's move is based primarily on a desire to keep the NDP from appealing to keep its party status in the byelection campaigns, it's a plus to have a bit more security behind the party. And if the Dippers can indeed win a byelection or two in the meantime, then all the better.

Of friends and threats

Michael Byers covers the history and current status of the Northwest Passage in plenty of detail:
The changing ice conditions offer a sea route between Europe and Asia that is 7,000 kilometres shorter than the route through the Panama Canal. The Northwest Passage could also accommodate supertankers and container ships that are too large for the canal. International shipping companies are eyeing the fuel, time and canal-passage fees that could be saved; some are already building ice-strengthened vessels.

The cruise ship industry is also looking north; the Kapitan Khlebnikovi, a Russian-flagged converted ice-breaker, already offers luxury voyages through the Northwest Passage-at US $10,000 per person. The melting ice will facilitate access to Alaskan and northern Canada's vast stocks of oil, gas, diamonds and precious metals.

Also, Canada's Arctic waters could eventually become a valuable fishery as reduced ice cover and warmer waters enable plankton and fish species from more temperate latitudes to move north. Indeed, Pacific salmon and Atlantic cod are already invading Arctic waters, with likely dire consequences for smaller, slower-growing indigenous species.

Canadians should be alarmed.
Most of the article is simply a solid presentation of history and international law, and it's definitely worth a read. BUt the conclusion demands some further comment:
The uniqueness of the situation may help to explain why, in November 2004, then-US ambassador Paul Cellucci admitted that U.S. national security might actually be enhanced if Washington were to recognize Ottawa's claim. "We are looking at everything through the terrorism prism," he said. "Our top priority is to stop the terrorists. So perhaps when this is brought to the table again, we may have to take another look." Invitations to negotiate do not come any clearer than that. It is time to show that Canada is willing and able to police its Arctic waters; to make the case-not just with words-that Canadian sovereignty can work for America too.
While I'd like to think that the U.S. would indeed be willing to talk, I have difficulty believing that Cellucci's comment (or the U.S.' general interest in dealing with terrorism) presents much of an opportunity for a resolution on favourable terms for Canada.

More likely, the talk of terrorists instead would be taken as reason for the U.S. to demand control over northern regions. After all, many in the the U.S. have been all to eager to ignore the facts in order to blame Canada for exposing the U.S. to terrorism, and there's no reason to think that a Canadian Arctic surveillance program would be viewed with any more trust.

Besides which, the U.S.' clear track record is one of using terrorism as a justification to seek other ends rather than one showing a history of taking the path most likely to end terrorism. And there's again no reason to grant the benefit of the doubt that the Northwest Passage will be treated any differently.

I'll readily agree with Byers that Canada needs to take immediate action to defend the Arctic. But in light of both the U.S.' history of trying to set precedents to drag the Northwest Passage into the international strait category, and David Wilkins' reminder that the Bushco doesn't want to listen to Canadian claims of sovereignty, any responsible position on Arctic defence has to recognize that the U.S. is part of the problem, not the solution.

On contrasting details

Kudos to Babylon Project for providing a thorough rundown of current news from Haiti. If only commercial media sources such as the Star were willing to discuss any of the facts surrounding Canada's involvement...rather than discussing Canada's current involvement with pablum like this:
Right now, Canada's largest commitment in the Latin American-Caribbean region is in Haiti, which hopes to go to the polls next month.

Canada has spent $180 million over two years for reconstruction and development in Haiti, has committed 100 civilian police officers to a United Nations stabilization force and plans to send 300 observers to oversee elections in that country.
Apparently in the Star's view, any acknowledgement of the darker side of Canada's "soft power" involvement would be out of place in determining what role Harper should pursue within the hemisphere. Unfortunately, with that position apparently reflecting a consensus among far too much of Canada's media, it seems all too likely that Harper will be able to get away with maintaining Canada's status as an accomplice to the suppression still occurring in Haiti.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Reading list

A few of today's posts that deserve a bit more attention:

Mike from Rational Reasons sets out the case against privately-funded health care.

Idealistic Pragmatist takes on the challenge of trying to explain the federal Liberals.

And Chad from Random Thoughts discusses possible funding options for Saskatchewan's municipalities - pointing out both Pat Fiacco's temper tantrum over current funding levels, and the fact that there'd be little concern over funding if not for a persistent pattern of corporate subsidies.

(Edit: typo.)

Target practice

While there's been recent talk about the Cons quietly allowing the gun registry to continue to operate, one longtime opponent of the registry is determined to dismantle it - regardless of what the police have to say:
Ewatski (the chief of the Winnipeg Police Service) said statistics show police officers electronically query the registry about 2,000 times a day, which can, for instance, help them determine whether guns are in a house they are about to enter.

"We take the approach in policing that information is the lifeblood of our work," he said. "And the more information our front-line officers have on the streets to do their job, the better prepared they are to deal with situations of public safety as well as officer safety."

Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz, a vociferous critic of the registry, questions the notion that thousands of police benefit from it daily.

Breitkreuz argues many of those officers are actually looking for other information -- not firearms data -- when they log onto the computerized banks.

He insists the firearms registry, which lists more than seven million guns, is not a cost-effective tool.

"It's of no use to the police right now," Breitkreuz said.
The Cons have generally been trying to keep expectations low and humility high since winning power. But Breitkreuz' claim that he can tell police how they should do their jobs and what information they need shows that the mask is slipping.

Breitkreuz suggests also that there's no reason at all for the Cons not to follow through on a longtime policy promise. Which will leave Harper with the choice betwen abandoning one of the policies that's done a lot to win over rural Western Canada, and trying to maintain a "tough on crime" line while taking away existing tools for the police to better protect and serve. Either way, the Cons have plenty to lose and very little to gain from the gun registry getting attention...but there's also little reason to think Breitkreuz and his ilk will let the issue die.

Credit where credit is due

One would expect a politician to do everything possible to claim positive attention where it's offered. But rather than taking all the accolades for the NDP's well-received economic platform, Paul Summerville instead sets the record straight as to who deserves the credit:
I am very flattered that I am being given so much credit for such an excellent document.

However, I did not write or craft the platform...

(T)he truth must be known, Jack (Layton) is the one that pitched the tent big enough for me to come in, not to mention hundreds of thousands of other Canadians.
The NDP's economic message certainly helped to boost the party's fortunes in the election, and Summerville's contributions to that message haven't gone (and won't go) unrewarded. But it takes a substantial amount of honesty and humility to decline credit for initiatives which the media assumed to be related to Summerville's arrival.

Kudos to Summerville for making sure that credit goes where deserved. And hopefully he'll be rewarded with a seat in Parliament - and the chance to contribute to a government as well as a party platform - next time Canada goes to the polls.

On choosing one's demise

Kenneth Kidd apparently thinks highly of the Cons' ability to manage the next Parliament so as to win a majority in the next election. But is the confidence in Harper all that well-deserved?
To get Conservative legislation through the House of Commons, Harper knows he'll need to play a kind of Parliamentary Twister — touching the different NDP, Bloc Québécois and Liberal spots for support at various times. And, like the parlour game, this one will end when such contortions prove elusive.

But here's the thing about the parliamentary version: It will undoubtedly be Harper himself who manufactures a Conservative defeat in the House of Commons, the one that heralds the next federal election.

"Harper will introduce something that will sound popular but will go against the principles of all the other parties," says Nelson Wiseman, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. "He will engineer his own defeat."

The parallel: 1972 to 1974, when Pierre Trudeau (with just two seats more than the Progressive Conservatives) led a precarious minority government with the support of a strong NDP contingent. The question facing Trudeau was how and when to pull the plug.
The article nicely covers Harper's ideal scenario as to how the Cons could manage the next Parliament. But unlike Kidd, I'm far from sure that Harper will get to choose positive terms for his party as the start of the next election.

Granted, there's likely going to be some sort of grace period, particularly as the Libs try to get their house back in order - and there'll be some opportunity for the Cons to build a record in government while that's going on. But particularly if an election is going to be a year-plus down the road, it's hard to see how Harper can win a majority by precipitating an election.

After all, given the range of ideology within the opposition parties, virtually any genuinely popular policy would find at least some support in one of the other parties. Which means that if the Cons are going to engineer their own defeat, it'll be based on either a wrong calculation as to what issues really are popular, or at best based on an issue where Harper's being on the wrong side is counterbalanced by a likely split in the opposition vote. And neither of those sounds like a recipe to add to the Cons' current support.

Indeed, Harper's best chance may be instead to make the minority last as long as he can. That way, Canadians may get accustomed to the idea of Harper being able to build consensus, and figure that a Con majority would operate on the same terms. But picking a divisive issue to force a campaign can only highlight some differences that Harper needs to try to suppress in order to succeed.

Mind you, there is an even worse-case scenario for the Cons than reminding Canadians of the divisions between themselves and the rest of the parties. Contrary to Kidd's view that the Cons will get to engineer their own defeat, it's not hard to envisage a situation where a moment of Con mismanagement could make all three other parties see an opportunity to improve their electoral lot. And that's not the kind of the momentum that a government wants to face going into an election: see Martin, PMP.

There's some opportunity for a Trudeau-type leap next time out. But that'll have to be based on the other parties failing utterly in a campaign, not based on Harper choosing to go to the polls based on an issue where Canadians back his party. And the more Harper appears to be calculating the next election rather than running the country in the meantime, the easier it'll be for the other parties to make sure that majority never materializes.