Saturday, February 18, 2006

On fair-weather friends

The Cons may be doing their best to avoid promising any added money to the provinces. But Quebec's government made clear today that a cash injection just in time for a provincial election next year may be too late...apparently setting the stage the province to start making immediate demands:
Finance Minister Michel Audet said at a Liberal party general meeting here Saturday that pay increases to public-sector workers had diminished his fiscal breathing room and that he would need an extra $1.3-billion to make his next budget work...

Asked if he would raise hydroelectricity rates or increase the 8 per cent provincial sales tax to create a special fund to pay down the debt, Mr. Audet would only say that he was looking at several options and that it was too early to make any announcements.

“We have to pay our bills, that's the first thing. We have to balance our budget,” Mr. Audet said.
The article discusses a mostly internal debate as to whether the Charest government will push forward with planned tax cuts when the result would be a deficit that large. But particularly now that the federal Cons are making new demands of Quebec's provincial government, it won't be long before Charest needs to start pointing fingers to explain his province's fiscal situation. And there shouldn't be much doubt that Ottawa will be Charest's main target in the matter how friendly Charest and Harper may appear for the moment.

On the indefensible

A former adviser to several U.S. presidents has encouraged Canada to stay away from any involvement in U.S. missile defence:
A military adviser to three U.S. presidents says the cost of the missile defence plan is climbing and Canada should not get involved.

Philip Coyle, who was an adviser to presidents Jimmy Carter, George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton, says cost and reliability are two reasons to stay out.

Coyle says the U.S. has spent $100 billion US on missile defence since Ronald Reagan introduced the "Star Wars" program.
The article cites the Cons' promise to "take another look" at missile defence. But there shouldn't be any doubt that the program looks no more sensible now than it ever has...and that there's no point in Canada throwing its own money after the U.S.' based on the off chance that the program will suddenly cease to be the failure that it's been so far.

On predictable results

The CEO of Eli Lilly complains that pesky regulators have actually started doing their jobs in evaluating the side effects of new drugs:
The side effects of new drugs are receiving more attention than they deserve, said Eli Lilly & Co. Chief Executive Sidney Taurel on Thursday, unnecessarily delaying the regulatory approval process.

Asked in an interview why regulators have slowed down the approval of new drugs, Taurel told Reuters there was too much emphasis on drugs' side effects, as opposed to their benefits.
So where did that movement toward actually addressing side effects come from? One of the pharmaceutical industry's top lobbyists provides the answer:
"We've created an impression with the American public that when a drug is approved, it's perfectly safe," said Billy Tauzin, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a lobbying organization for brand-name drug companies. "We have not done a good job about educating the patients of America that all drugs come with significant side effects."

Mr. Tauzin said the industry was "beginning to make progress and turn things around." He said it was addressing its image crisis by being more careful with its advertising, by pledging more disclosure of clinical trial results and by working to make low-priced drugs available to poor and uninsured Americans.
To summarize: pharmaceutical companies admit to having wrongly created an expectation that consumers could trust that medicine on the market would be safe, based in large part on the role of regulators in granting approval. But in acknowledging that fact, the industry never expected regulators to try to give some legitimacy to the expectation. And now that actual regulation is taking place, the industry is crying foul and demanding that the balance be shifted back toward favouring approval with less consideration of side effects.

There probably is a strong case to be made for a relatively streamline system to get drugs to market - provided, of course, that approval accompanied by reason to believe that the side effects are receiving due attention at some point in the process. But since it's hard to have any confidence in that prospect for now, nobody should be able to blame regulators for approaching new drugs with caution. And that goes doubly for the pharmaceutical companies whose actions led to reasonable suspicion in the first place.

Supreme vindication

Word finally comes out as to the process that'll be applied in the selection of Canada's next Supreme Court justice. And for all Harper's bluster about the courts, there doesn't seem to be too much reason to think the new choice will be a radical shift from the current justices, as the Cons will work from the list drawn up under the Libs:
Justice Minister Vic Toews will announce on Monday that he will set up an ad hoc committee of parliamentarians and hold a public hearing by the end of the month, a source confirmed.

The prospective judge, to be named from one of the Prairie provinces, will be chosen from a short list of three contenders that was submitted to the former Liberal government just before the election was called in November.

While the new judge will be questioned by a committee, the members will not have veto power, as they do in judicial confirmation hearings in the United States.
Unfortunately, the continuation of the rest of the existing process apparently won't prevent Toews from subjecting the new nominee to partisan questioning. But at the very least, the fact that Toews will choose from the nominees already approved by both the previous Lib government and an all-party committee highlights the fact that the system already places its emphasis on merit rather than partisanship. And that fact should be kept in mind next time Harper decides to complain about the judicial check on governmental power.

Friday, February 17, 2006

More would-be equals

The Cons' task in trying to please everybody with a new equalization deal just got even tougher, as municipalities have chimed in seeking more money in the "fiscal imbalance" negotiations:
A letter addressed to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities during the campaign identifies the fiscal imbalance as a priority for Mr. Harper, who vows immediately upon being elected to "begin consultations with both the provinces and municipal representatives" with a goal of reaching a long-term agreement addressing the fiscal imbalance.

(The members of FCM's Big City Mayors Caucus) said they fully support the Prime Minister's priority. They announced an internal working group comprising the mayors of Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, London and Halifax to study the question of the fiscal imbalance as it relates to cities. The working group will report back in early June.

"Mr. Harper's focus on the fiscal imbalance is a significant development," said Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay. "The cities need modern fiscal tools to play their role fully as engines of economic growth and prosperity, while respecting the jurisdiction of all orders of government."...

"Cities were successful in achieving funding for public transit and infrastructure because we worked closely with the federal government," said Toronto Mayor David Miller. "We need to continue that partnership and we have the perfect opportunity to make it happen. We're looking forward to working with Mr. Harper to fix the fiscal imbalance so our cities' needs can be met."
Suffice it to say that given the Cons' well-known promise not to leave any province worse off than before a new round of negotiations. And with cities now also seeking a substantial piece of the pie, there's no way for the Cons to get any deal done with the pittance budgeted for the "fiscal imbalance".

Harper's choice now is between turning prominent provincial and municipal politicians against him, or blowing a massive hole in the federal budget to try to keep everybody happy. And either way, equalization looks like it's going to be a disaster for Harper's effort to portray his party as a responsible government.

The unrealistic target

The Tyee suggests that a movement to draft Louise Arbour as the next Lib leader may be afoot. And if Libs are looking to pull Arbour into the position, I can't blame them for the effort. There shouldn't be much doubt that Arbour's background would make her both the immediate favourite, and the best of all possible choices for the Libs if she were to run for the post.

But the one question the article can't answer is why Arbour would leave her current position at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to weigh herself down in Canadian politics. And the more energy the Libs put into trying to draft candidates with Arbour's credentials, the worse they'll look when the actual winner of the post is measured against the ones who got away.

A curious comparison

So let's get this straight. According to the Cons in general and Stockwell Day in particular, the gun registry is inefficient, useless, and an infringement on the privacy rights of law-abiding Canadians. But a person registry, featuring the costs (in money and privacy) of biometric imprinting, is such a great idea as to be inevitable.

More progress

The provincial government releases more good news about Saskatchewan's fiscal situation - and there's even more reason to be optimistic than there's been over the past couple of years, as the increase in revenue has a broader base:
The province's third-quarter financial report released Thursday shows another $144.5 million in revenue since mid-year, putting the government $987.9 million over its budget projections.

But a big change from the mid-term report is that the extra cash is coming not from non-renewable resource revenues but primarily from tax revenue -- with an additional $69.6 million in corporate income tax, $66.3 million in corporate capital tax, $48.6 million in personal income tax and $30 million in sales tax.

The government's projections for potash, oil and natural gas revenue actually dropped by $96.3 million since mid-term although they are still $539.1 million higher than in the budget.
In other words, there goes the usual Sask Party argument that the NDP should get no credit at all for added resource revenues: the increase is coming purely from increased economic activity. And while I don't doubt Wall's ability to complain about that as well, the whining is ringing awfully hollow these days.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


From Layton's statement on David Emerson:
What Mr. Emerson fails to realize is that the people of Vancouver Kingsway have a seat in the House of Commons as a means through which their voices will be heard, not as a means to ensure that he gets to keep his limousine driver.
I for one eagerly await Emerson's response that PMPM "left him in the lurch" by no longer having limos to offer, contrary to the promises that "dragged" Emerson into politics.

Priority #1: Train the seals

The Cons may not have yet run into a problem with their socon backbenchers piping up and ruining Harper's pretended moderation. But they're now facing a second message problem to go with last week's grassroots anger, as the Cons' anonymous spokespeople apparently haven't been properly briefed on the party's platform:
The Conservative government's spring budget will not include a major cash transfer to the provinces to fix the so-called fiscal imbalance, officials said today.

The Tories will make good on their multibillion-dollar promise only in next year's budget after reaching a deal with the provinces over the coming months.

"It won't be addressed in the first budget," one federal official said...

(The Cons) see the fiscal imbalance as an ideal re-election trampoline for both them and their federalist cousins in Quebec.

"It could help Charest. And it's one more check mark next to our five priorities," said the federal official.
Now, it would be bad enough if the Cons really were holding off on their important priorities (and indeed the ones they'd promised to implement immediately) based on the potential for political gain. But when one takes a look at the Cons' five priorities, the fiscal imbalance is nowhere to be found.

And that leaves two possible interpretations. To be generous, it could be that the federal official quoted merely has an unusual affinity for placing checkmarks next to random policy documents as a means of celebration. But it seems more likely that even the people now speaking for the Cons don't really know what the party stands for. And if that's the level of competence that the Cons are bringing to government, all the well-timed policies in the world won't keep them in power past the next election.

On bluffs

So the Liberals claim they aren't afraid to fight another election. Based on what appears to be a strong case of Lib-voter remorse, there's every reason to think the NDP will be all the more more glad to go back to the polls:
Thirty-five per cent of respondents (in a poll taken February 9 to 13) said they would vote Conservative, compared with 36 per cent who cast ballots on election day.

The poll put support for the Liberals at 25 per cent, down five percentage points from Jan. 23.

Twenty-four per cent of respondents backed the NDP, up from 17.5 per cent election day...

In Ontario, the poll suggests the three main parties would be in a virtual dead heat, with 31 per cent supporting the NDP, 30 per cent backing the Liberals, and 29 picking the Conservatives.
If those numbers hold to any meaningful degree, one has to think we'll see a lot more praise for Harper by Graham over the next little while, and a lot less threats to force another election anytime soon. And the current numbers may be only the beginning of an NDP rise if the Libs' policy and leadership processes lead more to internal dissent than to consensus.

On poor opposition

Bill Graham claims that the Libs will vigorously oppose the Cons during the next Parliament. And it's hard to argue with that sentiment given his tough response to Harper's appointment of Michael Wilson as U.S. Ambassador:
"I think I would say this is a very good choice, if that's Mr. Harper's choice. I think Mr. Wilson will bring a lot of integrity and be a great representative for Canada," said Mr. Graham, who noted that Washington is one of the foreign posts where a political appointment can be helpful.
Okay, so maybe Graham isn't exactly holding Harper to account for the choice. But could that be because Wilson speaks to the values that Graham would want reflected as an opposition leader in any event? Well, here's Wilson's position on the Iraq war:
Mr. Wilson suggested the Canadian government's position could have been: "We did our best [to achieve United Nations' support] in the Canadian tradition, but in the end we have to back our friend and the country on which we rely the most."

Although Canadians strongly supported Canada's decision not to join the war, Mr. Wilson said governments driven by polls are abrogating their leadership responsibilities.
In sum: Harper has appointed as Canada's lead envoy on U.S. relations a man whose idea of "leadership" is to do what Bushco says, even if that's contrary to both the will of Canadians and an international consensus. And in Graham's role as leader of the Official Opposition, he considers that a "great" choice.

In the article on Wilson's past positions, Jack Layton is cited as the only leader looking to get some answers from Wilson before he's sent to represent Canada. And judging from the Liberal response, Graham has no less explaining to do than Harper as to why Wilson is supposed to be a "very good" choice to defend Canada's interests.


It'll be awhile before we know what precisely the Cons plan to do when it comes to the environment. But Rona Ambrose sent an interesting signal yesterday, rejecting emissions credit trading while at the same time staying mum on Kyoto as a whole:
Canada's new environment minister says she won't support trading emissions credits with other nations or any other international deal that does not have a "direct environmental benefit to Canadians."

Rona Ambrose said she does not see the trading of emissions credits with other countries as being a high priority in her mandate of "cleaning up the air Canadians breathe."...

"On Kyoto, I will say that our government will not be shipping hot air credits overseas. Our focus is on a domestic solution," Ambrose told reporters Wednesday following a one-hour meeting with Alberta Environment Minister Guy Boutilier...

But Ambrose refused to discuss specifics of what will happen to the Kyoto accord or whether the Conservative government will scrap the deal to reduce Canada's emissions.
I won't wade too far into the middle of the emissions credits debate. But based on Ambrose's position so far, as well as her apparent mandate, it doesn't appear entirely out of the question that the Cons could keep Canada within Kyoto while ensuring that all emissions cuts are made domestically. And if the Cons were to follow that route, the political benefits to the Cons could match the environmental benefits to Canadians, as Harper would be seen taking a surprising direction toward David Cameron's "green politics" strategy that's worked so well in the UK.

Not that I ultimately expect the Cons to go that way, as it's tough to see them implementing a tough set of industrial regulations that's likely the only other means of achieving the Kyoto-mandated cuts. But if even the party which wouldn't answer Greenpeace's questionnaire during the campaign is making an effort to meet Canada's Kyoto commitments rather than rejecting the global action off hand, then there may be a strong opportunity for serious environmental progress during the upcoming Parliament.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On topics best avoided

Others have wondered why David Emerson won't shut up about the floor-crossing issue when he'd apparently be better off personally to let the matter die. But I have to wonder whether it's simply a matter of Emerson (and other politicians) needing to let out some politically counterproductive, "off-message" thoughts after the election. And if so, it looks like Emerson has been joined in that pastime by the man who recruited him:
Paul Martin has broken his post-election silence to blast former Liberal star recruit David Emerson for defecting to the Conservatives...

"To date, neither has been willing to subject themselves to an appropriate level of scrutiny on this matter - a decision that I believe robs Canadians and the people of Vancouver Kingsway of a deserved explanation," Martin said Wednesday in a statement from Europe, where he is on vacation.

Martin said he was "astonished" when Emerson - the man he personally recruited and named to cabinet - showed up Feb. 6 to be sworn in as the new Tory trade minister just two weeks after being elected as a Liberal.

"As we have seen, members do switch political parties when they feel their values are no longer welcome in the party they ran in. My government was the beneficiary of that phenomenon on a couple of high-profile occasions. But this situation is without precedent."
Now, I'm not entirely sure how Emerson's constant presence in the media falls short of any standard for scrutiny...and even if Emerson weren't going to the media at every opportunity, there can be little doubt that his constituents aren't about to let the issue die. But surely Martin and his party would also be best served if the Emerson controversy were to die down. And that's not only due to Martin's action in recruiting Emerson to begin with and in his apparent failure as a leader to keep his caucus and cabinet prepared for the possibility of defeat, but also in the fact that Emerson's defection helped prove that the Libs' entire campaign strategy was based on a false portayal of the Liberal party.

Mind you, I certainly won't complain about Martin keeping Emerson in the news. (And with any luck Martin's outburst will lead Emerson to continue a sniping match between the two in the press.) But it's hard to see how he or his party stands to gain anything by highlighting either Martin's poor leadership or the willingness of star Liberals to break ranks.

Feet to the fire

Taking the helm as the true opposition to the Cons, the NDP reminds Stephen Harper of one of his opposition commitments:
NDP Leader Jack Layton is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to show his commitment to more foreign aid by setting specific goals in legislation.

Layton says Harper has previously supported setting aside 0.42 per cent of the value of the GDP by 2010 and should increase that goal to 0.70 per cent by 2015.

NDP foreign affairs critic Alexa McDonough says increasing foreign aid would be Harper's opportunity to show how different he is from former prime minister Paul Martin.
Sadly, there's not much reason to think Harper wants to differentiate himself too much from Martin given his immediate turn toward Liberal-style cronyism. But at the very least, it's a plus to highlight the gap between the Cons' opposition rhetoric and their actions in government. And if raising the issue of foreign aid leads the Cons to at least pay some attention to Canada's low current contributions when it comes to creating their first budget, then all the better.

The benefit analysis

The Caledon Institute for Social Policy makes its case to have the Cons look at boosting the Child Tax Benefit rather than trying to implement its "child-card program" as planned:
The (Cons') proposed child-care allowance favours one-earner couples over single parents and two-earner couples. One-earner couples do well at higher income levels, and better than modest- and middle-income single parents and two-earner couples.

But families with modest incomes, in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, are especially penalized by the taxback on other benefits. Only at very low income levels do all types of families get close to the advertised $1,200...

Luckily, there is a straightforward solution: Ottawa should deliver the allowance through the tried and true Canada Child Tax Benefit (CCTB).

The maximum CCTB for a young child will reach $3,426 this July. Adding $1,200 to the CCTB would boost this amount to $4,626 - close to the $5,000 target for an adequate child benefit. The full amount of the allowance would really go to all families -- single parents and one-earner and two-earner couples -- with incomes less than $100,000, with gradually diminishing payments above that level...

The child-care allowance will never be a substitute for a solid, high-quality, child-care system, but it can at least be transformed into a sensible and equitable child benefit that will reduce child poverty and help families meet the costs of raising their children. Delivering the allowance through the Canada Child Tax Benefit will be more faithful to the Conservatives' promise of $1,200 a child under 6 than stealthily taxing much of it away for the families who need it most.
It's tough to argue with the article's reasoning, and for that reason one would think that a public debate on child care would tend toward the CCTB as a compromise measure. But there may be only one way to get to that result from the status quo...and it'll depend on Harper's government making the first move.

The problem is that given the Cons' insistence that their plan is really a child-care measure rather than a tax cut, both national opposition parties have plenty of reason to criticize the absence of any new child-care spaces (or reasonable expectation thereof). And in turn, if either of them took the step of publicly proposing a plan based solely on the CCTB, the other would get plenty of mileage criticizing the failure to propose any answer to actual child care needs. Supporting a perceived compromise may be another story, but neither opposition party can afford to stick its neck out if a deal is anything short of certain...lest that party be left subject to attack from both sides.

That leaves the possibility of the Cons making the first move toward a CCTB-based benefit. And it's here that we'll really see to what extent the Cons are determined to engage in social engineering by offering disproportionate benefits to families with stay-at-home parents.

It's not unrealistic to think that one of the opposition parties (most likely the Libs given the NDP's public commitment to introducing federal child care legislation in Parliament) could play along with a CCTB-based benefit once the Cons take the first step. But it'll be up to Harper to demonstrate first that he's willing to work toward better policy even if his socon supporters don't approve. And if he won't, then the result will either be a benefit which is wide open for justified criticism during the next election, or a failure to pass any child-care measure at all.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Win some, lose some

The good news: the content of the NDP's announcement as to the party's new shadow cabinet.

The bad news: choosing to make the announcement on Valentine's Day. I'm not sure whether the party sees room for growth among the "Unmarried. Unattached. No commitments" demographic, or whether it's banking on a lot of candlelit conversations turning to what Jack and Olivia are up to now...but those are the best explanations I can come up with for choosing to make a political splash on a day when there's even less interest in politics than usual.

Questionable politics

More fun with David Emerson, as the ex-Lib, newly-minted Con blames ex-PMPM for causing his party switch:
Under mounting fire for defecting to the Conservatives, Trade Minister David Emerson is suggesting that Paul Martin forced him to run in the election and then left him in the lurch when the Liberals lost.

"Paul Martin dragged me in to work for him on a series of economic issues. I was loyal to him to the very end. He left," Emerson said of the former Liberal prime minister, who has said he will not lead his party into the next election.
Emerson's new excuse leads to a few questions.

For example, is Emerson right to place the responsibility on Martin for stepping down when he did? Or was PMPM right to make his announcement immediately, leaving the blame for Emerson's party switch with the man who suddenly lost his enmity for Stephen Harper when the right job came along?

How many other current "Libs" (whether in Parliament or not) are really only PMPM loyalists who would gladly switch to the Cons if offered a suitable reward for doing so? Would they too be justified since their loyalty is purely to the power promised by PMPM, rather than to any principle?

Will the outflow of Martin loyalists match the inflow of Chretien loyalists who lent their support to the Cons this time out to seek retribution against Martin?

And most importantly...why would any voter who's actually concerned with progressive values want to support a party whose actions give rise to these kinds of questions?

Fighting the power

The Ontario Power Authority may have gone out of its way to avoid heading anything but the message it wants to hear...but even its negligible amount of public consultation has been enough to produce little doubt as to what Ontarians think about increased reliance on nuclear power:
A plan that recommends $40 billion worth of new nuclear power for Ontario was slammed at public hearings last night in Toronto and Mississauga.

At the Toronto meeting more than 250 people appeared just as angry about what they described as a sham three-day consultation process that continues today and tomorrow across the province...

Jeff Leal, parliamentary assistant to Energy Minister Donna Cansfield, however, suggested last night that the plan's hostile reception might delay a final decision.

Speaker after speaker last night argued nuclear power is expensive, unreliable and dangerous to the environment and human health.
It's a shame that the case against nuclear power apparently isn't one that had received much previous attention from the Authority. But one night's worth of public backlash has apparently had some impact. And if the continued consultations are along the same lines, then maybe there will be some hope for Ontario to make a move toward more positive energy sources, rather than relying on highly dubious assumptions as to the efficiency of continued nuclear development.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What's allowed and what's right

Another amusing turn in the Emerson saga, as Emerson himself now says that he's willing to vote to prevent MPs from crossing the floor without a by-election if the issue comes up:
A defiant David Emerson said Monday he would support legislation forcing MPs who switch parties to run in a byelection.

But without a law, the Vancouver MP said he's not willing to face voters in his riding who are upset he defected from the Liberal party to become international trade minister in Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet.

Angry residents of his blue-collar Vancouver-Kingsway riding, where no Conservative has won since 1958, turned up at two weekend protests organized by the NDP and have been signing a petition demanding he step down and run in a byelection.

But Emerson said he sees no reason to resign without a law.

"I'm not opposed to a byelection," he said during an appearance on radio station CKNW's Bill Good open-line show. "All I'm saying is let's have a set of rules that applies to everyone.
Now, it's well and good that Emerson would respect a by-election law if it was passed. But based on today's comment, Emerson isn't even sure that what he did should be legal. And particularly in light of a campaign that was based on largely on questions of ethics in government, voters should be able to expect something more from the new government than the bare minimum of behaviour that isn't yet prohibited by law.

Emerson's complete refusal to hold himself above the letter of the law is in stark contrast to the the NDP's willingness to hold itself to a higher standard of accountability in the political realm than the other federal parties. And if there's going to be any hope of having a cleaner Canadian political system in the future, that's going to have to be based on voters rewarding those who are determined to set a genuinely positive example - not those who believe that when it comes to politics, anything above the letter of the law is good enough.

The false economy

After years of Liberal bragging over how great the Canadian economy is allegedly running, it's not too surprising that the Cons have started claiming the same now that they're in power. But while the weaknesses in Canada's economy may not be evident from anything the two main national parties have to say, more evidence comes out today that Canada's "strong economy" has created a precarious situation for most Canadians:
One thin dime isn't much but it's how little the real hourly earnings of Canadians have increased over the past decade and a half, suggests a new report that warns cash-strapped and deeply indebted families had better tighten their belts...

Average household incomes are now about $55,000 a year, roughly the same as at the start of the decade and up only one per cent, or about $500, from 1990.

In contrast, average household debt now stands at about $70,920, up 16 per cent from 2000, and 40 per cent from 1990.
And as bad as the debt situation appears for Canadians generally, Macleans points out that it's all the worse among young adults:
Time, they say, is on their side. They have years to start saving for marriage, kids and mortgages, let alone retirement. They have low inflation and interest rates to enjoy, and the federal surplus means that even if they aren't saving, the government is -- which economists say gives them a sense of security. They are better educated than previous generations and will earn more at a younger age than their parents did. Maybe most importantly, they can take advantage of easy access to credit. "Today, it's not the Gretzky model -- work hard as a child, play hard as an adult," surmises Pedro Antunes, director of national forecasting at the Conference Board of Canada. The "celebutante" lifestyle of Paris Hilton prevails: live like a young heir, whether or not you are one...

While all Canadians are feeling the pinch of rising debt levels, young people are being squeezed hardest. A recent report by the Vanier Institute for the Family shows that average net worth (assets minus debt) for those under the age of 25 dropped by an astonishing 95 per cent between 1984 and 1999. And consumer borrowing has only accelerated since.
It's particularly worrisome to think that more responsible government is considered a cause of less responsible consumer behaviour. While I'd be surprised if there is a direct connection between the two, it does seem clear that the example set by a good number of governments is one that far too many Canadians (especially younger ones) have ignored.

Meanwhile, it should be noted that Canada's economic growth on paper can itself be traced in part to the influx of debt-fueled spending. Yet even with consumers spending at unsustainable rates, that hasn't been enough to allow the benefits of economic growth to make their way down to Canadian workers.

In other words, Canada's economy is a lot less strong than the two main federal parties want to claim. And matters are only going to get worse if that fact isn't noticed and dealt with before consumer debt becomes completely unmanageable.

On allowing for exceptions

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association suggests a more flexible alternative to strict minimum sentences:
Canada's premier civil liberties group is urging Justice Minister Vic Toews to reconsider plans to expand the use of mandatory minimum sentences, calling them "dangerously simplistic" solutions bound to produce "grave injustice."

(I)n its letter, the association urges Toews to consider instead "presumptive" minimum sentences, now in use in Britain. Under such an option, judges would be expected to impose a prescribed minimum punishment, but would retain the power to deviate from the minimum in exceptional circumstances.
It's difficult to see how there could be much of an argument against the CCLA's proposal on principle. But unfortunately, it looks like politics will easily trump policy when it comes time for the House of Commons to make its choices on the issue.

After all, there's little reason to think that Toews will be swayed by the harsh consequences which result from mandatory minimums. And in light of the consensus that formed around strict minimums in the past election, any opposition party which takes up the CCLA's call is bound to face calls of being soft on crime.

As a result, we're all too likely headed toward mandatory minimums for at least a few more criminal offences. And it'll probably take a fresh example of a minimum-sentencing regime in action, rather than a hypothetical application to past events, to change both public opinion and party lines on the issue.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

On lose-lose situations

The problems surrounding the results of Haiti's election shouldn't be much of a surprise given the months of delays and suspicions that preceded the vote. But however the results of the first round of voting turn out, there'll be plenty of reason for many Haitians to be suspicious about the results:
A member of Haiti's electoral council said results of the presidential elections were being manipulated, echoing complaints by throngs of supporters of Rene Preval, who poured into the streets Sunday with angry allegations of fraud...

"According to me, there's a certain level of manipulation," Pierre Duchemin, an electoral council member, told The Associated Press, adding that "there is an effort to stop people from asking questions" about the counting process...

Suspicion has risen among many Haitians that the results were being manipulated in the five days since voters turned out in droves to elect a new government. It will replace an interim government installed after then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a bloody rebellion two years ago.

Jean-Henoc Faroul, the president of an electoral district with 400,000 voters northeast of the capital, accused the electoral commission of trying to force a run-off, saying tally sheets from Preval strongholds have vanished...

Preval was leading 33 candidates with 49.1 per cent of the vote, short of the 50 per cent plus one vote he needs to avoid a March 19 run-off with the runner-up. Leslie Manigat, also a former president, was second with 11.7 per cent of the vote.
There's already been ample reason to wonder whether the "caretaker" regime would ever cede effective control over the country, particularly given its efforts to set irreversible policies before Haitians received another chance to vote. And the contrast between an unaccountable, foreign-imposed regime and a democratic leader is all the more stark now that an official from the temporary regime seems to hold unilateral control over the question of when any transition takes place.

But then, it would be tough to describe a late shift toward Preval as a particularly positive outcome either. Even if a late shift does occur based on a genuine vote count, opposition forces may well claim that it was the post-vote rallies that pressured the electoral authorities into that outcome. And the rivals of Haiti's democratically-elected leaders haven't shown much of a history of respecting even results that were beyond doubt.

Unfortunately, every outcome now looks far worse than the result had the countries currently involved in Haiti (Canada included) used their influence to allow the last democratically-elected Haitian leader to complete his term of office. And whatever the outcome of the election, it's clear that there's an awfully long way to go in trying to build a stable Haitian democracy.

A change would do you good

A strong majority of Canadian voters went into the past election looking for change. Unfortunately, it looks like the attempt has failed on two fronts. It should be no secret that Stephen Harper is all too happy to continue with entitlement politics as usual. But today, we find out that rather than taking some lessons from the past election, key Liberals are determined not to learn a thing after being removed from power:
Liberal officials are being urged to hasten the selection of a new leader so that the party can be ready as soon as possible for an election.

"We are, I would say, reinvigorated and energized," interim Liberal leader Bill Graham said in an interview at the end of Harper's controversy-plagued inaugural week...

"That's the shortest honeymoon of any government in Canadian history," chortled former deputy prime minister John Manley in brief remarks to the assembled aides.

"David Emerson really is a great Liberal. In one move, he united the Liberals and divided the Tories."

Manley joked that "every once in a while we have to let the Tories take over so that Canadians remember just how good a Liberal government is."
Indeed, the Libs are so unconcerned with the shenanigans of Harper's first week that it took the NDP to organize a rally where Emerson's voters could show their frustration with being lied to over the course of the campaign. The Liberal riding association got into the act somewhat, but the national party has been happy to largely accept Emerson's betrayal as politics as usual - as long as that leads to positive results for the Libs in the end.

In fairness, the Libs' power structure has at least shown more consistency than those who have tried to find differences between the respective defections of Emerson and Stronach. But that consistency puts the Libs squarely on the wrong side of a Canadian public which wants to see a country run with more ethics and less cynicism. And the more both the Libs and the Cons go out of their way to show that they couldn't care less about respecting the voters, the more opportunity there'll be for the one party which has consistently advocated for keeping MPs accountable.

Keeping up the message

I mentioned last weekend that it's disappointing not to see the NDP keeping up more of an online presence on its main site in the time since the election. With that said, let's give due credit to Paul Summerville, who's kept his site updated with a steady stream of interesting news items. If the NDP is going to position itself in creating an interactive model in dealing with voters, Summerville looks like he'll be leading the charge.

Getting rid of that annoying Buzz

It's now official that the Ontario NDP has revoked Buzz Hargrove's party membership. But lest anybody think the party unduly dumped Buzz without any opportunity to make amends, the NDP offered Hargrove a fairly simple term to regain his association with the party:
(Hargrove) can regain his membership if he writes a letter indicating he would not endorse candidates for other parties again. But in a Toronto Star interview, Hargrove said "that won't happen."
That's at least one more added chance than Hargrove deserved after his actions in the last campaign. But fortunately, even the requirement that he not undermine the party in the future was too much of a constraint for Hargrove's ego.