Saturday, February 25, 2006

Blind spots

The CP reports on B.C.'s proposed legislation to protect first responders by ensuring that a person exposed to bodily fluids in the course of their profession (or as a victim of crime) is able to seek a mandatory blood test from the source of the fluid. Unfortunately, the article is dead wrong on one point:
Similar legislation has been proposed in other jurisdictions but never proclaimed.
That may come as news to Saskatchewan's legislature, which passed the Mandatory Testing and Disclosure (Bodily Substances) Act on an uncontested basis last year. The legislation was then proclaimed in force as of last October.

The article does note that a similar bill was passed but never proclaimed in Ontario, so Saskatchewan can't claim to have been the first province to come up with the idea. But regardless of where the idea originated, one would hope that the CP would investigate whether any other provinces had passed similar legislation before flatly stating otherwise. And sadly, it seems to have fallen short of that basic standard this time out.

On working toward a deal

While far too many politicians and media figures (from both the Iranian camp and the Western camp) have gone out of their way to try to escalate conflict over Iran's nuclear power program, one of the countries with a veto over any UN sanctions is still pushing toward an agreed resolution:
During a visit to Iran, Rosatom chief Sergei Kiriyenko said resolving the persistent questions about the intent of Iran's nuclear program "within the framework of the IAEA is absolutely realistic," according to Russian news agencies...

Kiriyenko, who met Saturday with Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh, stressed that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program but suggested Tehran must act to assure the world it is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

"The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable and the international community must be certain that it does not occur under any circumstances," ITAR-Tass quoted Kiriyenko as saying.

"It is no doubt possible to satisfy these two demands."
As the article notes, any resolution will require Iran to accept that enrichment occur in Russia rather than on Iranian soil. But it should be obvious that there's little reason for Iran to make that type of concession if the only apparent gain to be made is a short delay in the U.S.' rush to create a new bogeyman.

Update: And the deal is done. Will that lead to any reduction in the rhetoric? Stay tuned...

Bad publicity

Will McMartin points out that the Gordon Campbell regime is happily using B.C.'s budget to help the Liberal party rather than the province - and defying the spirit of the party's accountability legislation in the process:
(A)fter last May's general election saw the BC Liberals' legislative majority cut to a much-tighter 46 seats to the NDP's 33, Taylor has decided that the government's advertising expenditures should be jacked up to a whopping $28.1 million. That's more than 100 percent higher than last year's allocation...

Readers will recall that the BC Liberal government went dramatically over-budget in 2004-05, as Victoria's pre-election advertising expenditures totaled $18,994,161. That figure was well in excess of the budgeted $12.1 million.

By sheer coincidence, four of the government's most costly advertising initiatives were under "The Best Place on Earth" (TBPOE) initiative and produced by the same agency that, during the election campaign, unveiled similarly-themed general election ads for the BC Liberal party...

The corollary to this partisan misuse of taxpayer funds was that despite drastically exceeding the government's advertising budget, neither Premier Gordon Campbell nor any of his cabinet ministers suffered the embarrassment or financial cost of losing part of their salary as required under the much-touted Balanced Budget and Ministerial Accountability Act.

That's because the Public Affairs Bureau (PAB), the government agency responsible for all government communications, quietly sent some of the invoices for costly ad campaigns to various line ministries.
Not that Campbell and company have ever shown much propensity for taking responsibility for their own actions. But this appears to be a particularly egregious example of the B.C. Libs' standard for ethical behaviour being bare adherence to the letter of the law, rather than anything based on upholding the principles which helped win them power initially. And the only solace for British Columbians looking for better government is that with the N.D.P. strongly on the upswing, no amount put into partisan Liberal publicity seems likely to win them another term.

Well said

Louise Arbour speaks out on the risks now facing the developed world:
"A country is as much at risk by the collapse of human rights laws as by terrorism," she told about 600 people at the London School of Economics.

Human rights represent a core identity of democratic societies, she said.

"The most profound insecurity does not emanate from foreign threats, but from internal temptations to let erode the foundations upon which national identity is built. This fear may not be as immediate and palpable as that triggered by a bomb, but it is perhaps deeper."

Poverty, ethnic and racial hatred must all be addressed fairly and not in ways that could create more terrorist sympathizers, Arbour said. "The fight against terrorism ... will not succeed by the implementation of increasingly repressive measures."
I remain far from convinced that Arbour will join the Canadian political scene herself. But her message is one that needs to be heard more often in the public debate - and the NDP would do well to highlight Arbour's discussion next time the Libs and Cons get into an argument over just how many more intrusions Canadians should accept in the name of "security".

Friday, February 24, 2006

Coming around

The Cons have indeed reversed course from their Kyoto position of a week ago - but only in the sense that they're now planning to implement an emissions trading system as part of a Kyoto plan, and not based on any intention to dump the treaty entirely:
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is jetting to Bonn this weekend to prepare for talks on extending the Kyoto Protocol, and will soon unveil an ambitious new plan for cutting Canada's greenhouse emissions.

Although the Conservatives opposed ratification of the climate treaty while in opposition, they appear to have undergone a conversion, promising to do a better job of cutting emissions than the Liberals ever did.

“There's an action plan that we are going to move on very quickly,” Ms. Ambrose said in an interview Friday. “I'm very committed. The prime minister has given me a very strong mandate.”

She said the action plan will include an emissions-trading system for large polluters and will try to engage the public in a new way.
It remains to be seen whether the Cons will actually follow through rather than merely talking about the importance of cutting down on emissions. (And sadly the Libs' record provides a disturbingly strong example of the latter course of action.) But it's certainly a plus that there's now a political consensus on the need to complete the Kyoto process. And with all national parties now in agreement, there's even less excuse for anything less than immediate action.

On the time to speak

Scott Piatkowski offers some help to Harper, pointing out the glaring problems with trying to carry the Cons' strategy of silence from the campaign into their tenure in government:
While politicians can't forget the lessons they learned on the campaign trail, they need to move on to a new strategy once they are elected. Any political strategist — except perhaps the ones working for Stephen Harper — will tell you that what works during an election campaign doesn't always work once you're in government. Once they get off the media campaign bus and get back to Parliament Hill, reporters are not as patient with anything that smacks of manipulation. And, with all of your MPs conveniently in one location, it's far less feasible to hide any of them in imaginary meetings in the kitchen or to have them be unavailable for comment...

The “shush up” campaign strategy worked because Harper was out there every day delivering an alternative message. If he's going to avoid the media entirely, and instruct everyone in his Cabinet and his backbench to do the same, the media will find something to cover — and the coverage is not likely to be too favourable to the Conservatives. And, if the ammunition that Harper handed to them with his Cabinet choices is any indication of the acumen that he'll bring to government, they'll have plenty of topics to choose from.
It may be this same realization that's caused a few of the Cons to start announcing their plans this week. But that too has run into a problem, as the announcements have ranged from the unpopular for good reason to the utterly vague.

It's looking more and more like the Cons had only a campaign's worth of material worth presenting to the public. And if they don't come up with both a lot more material and a lot more openness in the very near future, there may be no prospect of turning around the current tide of negative press.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On further eroding credibility

For those wondering whether the U.S. judiciary had fallen in line with Bushco after last week's Arar decision, there's some reassuring news today, as the black hole that is Guantanamo Bay is being pushed a little further toward the light of public knowledge:
A U.S. federal judge ordered the Pentagon on Thursday to release the identities of hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to The Associated Press, a move which would force the government to break its secrecy and reveal the most comprehensive list yet of those who have been held at the U.S. navy base in Cuba.

Some of the hundreds of prisoners in the war on terror being held at Guantanamo have been imprisoned as long as four years. Only a handful have been officially identified...

Most of those who are known emerged from the approximately 400 civil suits filed on behalf of prisoners by lawyers who obtained their names from family or other detainees, said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which represents about 200 detainees.

“They have been very resistant to releasing the names,” Ratner said.

“There are still people there who don’t have a lawyer and we don’t know who they are. They have disappeared.”
It shouldn't come as much surprise that Bushco opposed the application. But the argument made by the government as a basis to suppress the identities of those detained deserves some attention, if only for its sheer absurdity:
In his ruling last month, Rakoff rejected government arguments releasing the prisoners’ names from 558 transcripts should be kept secret to protect their privacy and their families, friends and associates from embarrassment and retaliation.
As much gall as it's taken for Bushco to push the "trust us" line, it's taking the claim several steps further to try to argue that the people forcibly removed from any contact with the world prefer being trapped in legal limbo to having anybody find out about their plight.

Fortunately, the argument to try to keep the detainees' names away from the press (like so many other arguments made by the Bush administration) has now been tossed in the dustbin. Moreover, the ruling will help at least to ensure that everybody being held is accounted for...and perhaps to allow those inmates not yet pursuing claims before the courts to start seeking some measure of review as well.

A win for the pharma team

I'm always glad to see progressive policies examined both for their economic merits as well as for their internal merits. And the National Health Coalition has done the job perfectly in its call for a national pharmacare program:
“Universal first-dollar coverage for cost-effective, safe drugs will save money and lives,” Kathleen Connors, chairwoman of the Canadian Health Coalition, said in a letter to new federal Health Minister Tony Clement.

“Canada has a big drug problem,” she said, citing the $18-billion in annual prescription drug spending and the large number of medical errors related to prescription drugs. (An estimated 12,000 deaths annually are attributed to the misuse and overprescription of drugs in Canada.)...

In its report, the Canadian Health Coalition argues that a national pharmacare plan would reduce costs for provincial health plans, but it would benefit employers even more, extending the “competitive advantage” that medicare already offers.

Currently, Canadian employers spend more than $6.7-billion annually in drug insurance premiums, but 42 per cent of workers are not covered by work-based plans, according to the report.
Of course, the CHC's logic probably isn't the type that the Cons are willing to listen to...regardless of how many lives and dollars may be at stake. But it's still vital to make sure that pharmacare receives its due attention in the lead-up to Canada's next election. And if Clement can be persuaded to classify prescription drugs as an area where even the Cons can acknowledge that government action will lead to positive results, then all the better.

On misdirection

It's already been pointed out that Lawrence Martin's bizarre comparison between Harper and Trudeau is way off base. But just in case there was any doubt, Gordon O'Connor undercuts one of Martin's key premises, ensuring that the Cons can't be plausibly seen as nationalists in any meaningful sense:
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor says he's willing to re-open the debate on ballistic missile defence.

He says the Conservatives would be ready to re-consider the issue if the Americans once again invited Canadian participation in the plan, which is designed to use a limited number of missiles to screen against small-scale attacks from terrorists or rogue states.

O'Connor says the government would have to consider the benefits to Canada of joining the program, but the final choice would be made after a debate and vote in Parliament.
It's hard to see what O'Connor thinks the Cons stand to gain by bringing up the issue again. It's been well-reported that even key American figures have said Canada is better off to stay out of the program. And there's no reasonable prospect of any of the opposition parties supporting the program.

Yet O'Connor seems determined to carry forward the wrong side of a losing issue (both in substance and in likelihood of passage). And while one can find some Trudeau-style stubbornness in the Cons' refusal to acknowledge reality, the end result is again that Harper is more than willing to take directions from Bush rather than operating by his own compass.

Moving forward

Saskatchewan's child care plan may be slowed by Harper's unwillingness to fund the federal/provincial agreements past next year. But Deb Higgins made clear yesterday that it won't be stopped:
"The last two years of lots of work by many people in Saskatchewan most definitely hasn't been a waste," Higgins said Wednesday after meeting with early learning and child-care representatives from around the province.

"Will the enhancements be there as quickly as we would like? No they won't. But the plan is there; we can continue to work with our partners, and as finances are available we can move ahead."

Higgins said the comprehensive "made-in-Saskatchewan" plan aimed to implement universal pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds, substantially increases child-care spaces and included a number of other enhancements such as training for staff...

Higgins said the province will continue to urge the Tory government to keep the five-year funding deal in place. But regardless of what happens with the federal government, the province is still on track to meet its 2003 pledge to have developed 1,200 new child-care spaces over four years, and will continue with the previously announced wage increases for child-care workers, she said.
While it would still be far better to see the federal government take the lead in developing a national program, there shouldn't be any doubt that provinces still have the option of improving access on their own. And once there are a few more examples of how effective a provincial scheme can be, it'll be all the tougher to justify any future failure to make similar programs available to all Canadians.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cut down to size

The Sierra Legal Defence Fund has released a report card on forestry management in Canada...and neither the five provinces studied nor the federal government have much to be proud of:
The group studied conservation laws in the provinces with the highest levels of commercial forestry - New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia - and found little to cheer.

"The analysis found that forest conservation laws and policies in all five provincial jurisdictions is pathetic," says the report, which gives Quebec the highest mark at 43 per cent, and Alberta the lowest at 24 per cent.

The marks are based on 21 criteria relating to land-use planning, parks and protected areas, endangered species, use of pesticides and respect for aboriginal rights...

The federal government got a passing mark of 54 per cent because its endangered species legislation is stronger than that of any province, she said. But only a small portion of Canada's forests are under federal jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, a study by Environmental Defence Canada and others focusing on endangered species in Ontario produced similar results:
Polar bears, barn owls, monarch butterflies and other endangered animals and plants and are in an alarming state of decline in Ontario, yet outdated provincial legislation is doing little to reverse the trend, according to an environmental study released today.
In fact, the analysis indicates more than three-quarters of species identified as endangered receive no legal protection in the province, while the law barely protects even those that it expressly acknowledges need help.
Environmental groups have rightly shown concern over the Cons' success in the federal election. But it's worth remembering how many environmental issues are under provincial jurisdiction - and noticing how poorly the provinces are doing. After all, it'll take serious improvement on both levels to start reversing the damage pointed out today.

Northern exposure

The Auditor General points out yet another element of DIAND's responsibility that's been mismanaged recently:
Nunavut continually violated federal and its own territorial laws by spending money that wasn't approved by the legislative assembly, says Ottawa's auditor general.

The territory has failed to put basic financial controls in place, making it vulnerable to mistakes, bad decisions and fraud, Sheila Fraser says in a report tabled on Tuesday.

The Nunavut government has more than 2,300 employees and $1 billion in assets, and spends more than $1 billion a year. Most of its funding comes from the federal government.

Yet some of the territory's accounting is done by hand rather than on a computer, said the report.
It's fair enough that Nunavut thus far doesn't have many professionals (including accountants) to make sure that its accounts are up to the standards expected in the rest of the country. But even so, it speaks poorly of Ottawa's management of an area within its responsibility that there hasn't been any support in place to help pick up the slack. And now that the weaknesses are publicly known, there's all the more urgency to fix the problems before the system gets misused.

On foot removal

The Cons go through another damaging rite of passage earlier on than one would expect, as Peter MacKay has apologized to the families of the Canadian hostages in Iraq:
MacKay told reporters on Monday he was confident the hostages were alive and would be released soon, and that he believed they had been moved several times.

The next day, he told reporters he had no new information since a video was released three weeks ago that indicated they were alive and well.

MacKay was criticized for speculating publicly about their welfare in a way that could raise the hopes of relatives of the hostages, and for making comments that might further endanger the hostages.
It may be the first time a Harper cabinet minister has had to apologize for simultaneously raising hopes and mismanaging a file...but there's plenty of reason to think it won't be the last. And enough gaffes are piling up early in Harper's tenure to suggest that the Con government may be be stuck with a lasting (and well-deserved) reputation for incompetence even before they face their first day in Parliament.

On distinguishing features

Gregory at democraticSPACE has an interesting discussion of what the NDP needs to do in order to be able to compete nationally, suggesting that the main way for the party to stand out is through process rather than through centrally-determined policy:
To be sure, the NDP suffers from the injustices of an electoral system that necessitates concentrations of support over broad-based support, and surely the NDP must continue to fight for electoral reform to redress how votes are translated into seats. Yet the NDP executive must also re-examine its own institutional structure and ask itself whether a more decentralized, regional, issue-targeted and bottom-up organization wouldn’t be more effective at electing members to fight for progressive values. In other words, the current top-down structure — where policies are set by a central executive (and voted upon by the chosen few delegates who are allowed to attend the party convention) — represents a significant departure from the grassroots movement that gave birth to the Party...

If the NDP is to differentiate itself from the other main parties, it will not be on the basis of policy; rather, it will be on the way that policies and strategies are formed. In this, the NDP has the power to control its destiny. A return to grassroots through a charrette process of policy formation and political organization will send a message of real change, creating a platform that is not only for the people, but crafted by the people.
What Gregory doesn't discuss, but also a point worth repeating, is that there are now easier ways to engage in a far deeper degree of consultation with all interested Canadians than there would have been when the party first formed. The NDP thus isn't limited to trying to match its historical structure, but has the opportunity to blaze new trails in creating effectively a publicly-accessible policy-development process.

The only question is whether the party is willing to take the chance involved in deviating from conventional wisdom. And given the NDP's historical and current role as the party most willing to hold itself to a higher standard, it's hard to see much reason not to set the trend.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A message worth repeating

While the Globe and Mail gave its front page to the continued demands of CEOs, Conservative Senator Hugh Segal delivered a message which far more Canadians need to hear...and which the NDP would do well to pick up for itself:
"The most important issue I think Canadians have to come to grips with is that two million of our fellow citizens in rural Canada are living in poverty," Segal told reporters following his presentation to the third annual Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy luncheon in Regina.

These men, women and children, he said, are living without adequate shelter, access to needed medical and social services, and sufficient or wholesome food, and have little or no hope of finding meaningful employment without leaving their homes, their histories, their families and their communities.

"They don't have enough money for any kind of quality of life and there is no quality of opportunity," Segal said.
And Segal's statement wasn't limited to complaints without suggestions:
Segal suggests governments look at a cohesive national strategy aimed at decentralizing services to rural areas of the country to anchor rural communities and provide much-needed job opportunities.

"It is about an integrated policy focus that looks at and considers innovation, financing, tax, environmental and energy challenges in a co-ordinated and integrated way with an agricultural perspective," he said.

Segal also proposes the creation of a basic income floor that would ensure people living in poverty would receive sufficient income support to live with a measure of self-respect and dignity.
Now, some tradeoffs need to be made between a decentralization strategy and the efficiencies that may come from more centralized services. But in general, Segal's priorities reflect a worthy attempt to deal with issues which have been largely ignored in the public sphere over the past few election cycles - and which deserve far more attention than they've received.

I'm not optimistic that Segal's party leader will do anything to follow through on Segal's suggestions. But that doesn't mean there's no chance of making progress - provided that the NDP co-opts the message. A party message dedicated to fighting poverty in both rural and urban areas could potentially offer scope to cooperate with the Cons if Harper's willing to play ball...or more likely would offer a stark contrast against what seems likely to be a lack of focus on rural issues given Harper's apparent focus on appealing to bigger cities. And that could be just the ticket for the NDP to start winning back federal seats closer to its roots.

On promises

From CBC's headline, it would sound as if Jim Prentice had made a strong personal commitment to take action to improve water safety on First Nations reserves. But Prentice's own words appear to say something else entirely:
"I've had meetings with our officials," Prentice said. "I've indicated what I wanted to see – that I want the communities at risk identified. I've indicated that I want a proactive plan in place for each of those communities."
The problem is that Prentice's position doesn't do anything to specify who's supposed to do the planning...and there's at best an implied commitment to provide any financial support for the task. As a result, barring any further comment from Prentice, it appears all too likely that DIAND is merely imposing another obligation on First Nations without any resources to go with it.

In light of the poor results from past investments, it's tough to argue with the need for better planning as to how to spend money to improve on-reserve conditions. But that planning itself comes at a price...and if the Cons won't even meet that cost, it's difficult to expect any positive change.

Dog bites man

The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has released a typical call for the federal government to eliminate itself The report features such deep reasoning as "the amount of GST collected by the federal government looks sort of like the amount of money transferred to the provinces". Interestingly enough, the report doesn't seem to consider the Cons' campaign promise to cut the GST, particularly as the report alternatively recommends an official link between the GST and the transfers.

The report does get one point right in saying that it would take a brave government to implement the recommendations. But it misses the point that the government would also have to be blind to the reality that Canadians value their public social institutions far more than do the CEOs who want to privatize them. The CCCE has offered a choice between the corporate agenda and that of Canadian voters - and if Harper chooses in favour of the former, his misguided bravery will be cold comfort when the latter group sends him packing.

Monday, February 20, 2006

On trouble communicating

That certainly didn't take long, as the Harper administration has its first casualty:
William Stairs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications, has been replaced about two weeks into the new government's mandate, CTV News has learned.

"Only a couple of weeks into the job and he is leaving already," CTV's Rosemary Thompson reported on Monday evening.

It's not clear whether Stairs has been terminated or whether he left of his own will.
It'll be interesting to find out the precise reasons for Stairs' departure. But it certainly doesn't speak well to the Cons' planning that they're already losing key figures just a couple of weeks into their reign - and that message is equally strong no matter who's delivering it.

Another Bush success story

Sadly, the truly interesting part of this story is buried under Bush's usual self-aggrandizement. But anybody avoiding the article as a result is missing a fine example of Bushco in action:
During his visit to Johnson Controls' new hybrid battery laboratory, Bush checked out two Ford Escapes; one with a nickel-metal-hybrid battery, the kind that powers most hybrid-electric vehicles, and one with a lithium-ion battery, which Johnson Controls believes are the wave of the future. The lithium-ion battery was about half the size of the older-model battery. In 2004, Johnson Controls received a government contract to develop the lithium-ion batteries.

While Bush is highlighting his budget proposals to help wean America from foreign oil, the lab he visited is meeting a $28 million US shortfall by cutting its staff by 32 people, including eight researchers.
That's right: the Bush machine is running so poorly that it can't find a single example of environmentally-responsible industry which isn't shedding jobs. No wonder the Bush true believers are calling to extend Bush's bubble of yes-men from sea to shining sea.

A culture of indifference

It was surprising enough when Bernard Lord chose to go on the offensive over Michael Malley's departure from the NB Cons rather than doing his best to ignore the story. But Lord's sudden, public response seems all the more out of character in light of the conclusions from New Brunswick's ombudsman about Lord's government:
"Although it is my hope that our recommendations will be taken seriously by the government, based on last year's experience, I am not optimistic," Bernard Richard writes in the 2004-2005 report, released on Monday.

"We practically had to plead with departments to provide us with responses to last year's recommendations and, when some finally did send us their comments, they were, to say the least, disappointing, or to put it more mildly, perfunctory."...

"In the case of our right to information recommendations and our attempt to obtain all relevant information from the Department of Family and Community Services when investigating complaints there, no one bothered to respond."
Predictably enough, Lord hadn't yet responded to Richard's report by the time CBC wrote its story.

It's hard to blame Richard for his skepticism as to whether or not the province's Cons will break their pattern of unresponsiveness. If only Richard had the ability to directly shift the balance of power in the Legislature, maybe he'd at least be able to push Lord into an angry attempt to justify the government's lack of action.

Rights and wrongs

The Star reports that a government is planning to limit the scope of human rights investigations. It may sound like a Con effort to try to roll back federal human rights gains...but in fact, the culprit is Ontario's provincial government:
The provincial Liberal government will announce sweeping reforms to the Ontario Human Rights Commission as early as today, sources told the Toronto Star.

Among the changes expected are curbs on the rights body's role as a gatekeeper by limiting the need for it to conduct its own investigations. That would streamline the process and enable complainants to bring their cases directly to a tribunal...

Attorney General Michael Bryant, who was not available for comment yesterday, has been hankering to revamp the commission so complainants would have the same speedy access to a human rights hearing that they do at the labour relations board, small-claims court and other such tribunals.

Bryant's proposals will almost certainly be met with suspicion.

Already, labour leaders privately warn the Liberals are hell-bent on gutting the commission.
Now, it's fair enough to say that it's a plus to resolve human rights complaints more quickly. But that can readily be done by committing enough resources to ensure that the Human Rights Commission is able to investigate files with something less than the current 11-month turnaround period.

Instead, Ontario's government plans to turn human rights complaints into a do-it-yourself process - taking the responsibility associated with investigating claims away from the commission, and instead putting that burden onto the complainant. And while the effect may indeed be a reduced backlog, it's not a positive outcome if the waiting list is cut down due to the perceived futility of trying to stand up for one's rights.

On repopulation

Last year I noted that some towns in the American midwest have implemented programs where houses are effectively given away to potential residents. Now Yorkton mayor Phil DeVos is suggesting that the same be done in Saskatchewan:
The mayor of Yorkton and vice-president of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association wants to see young families move out of the inner cities and fill up the empty two- and three-bedroom bungalows in small rural towns surrounding Yorkton...

"We have an abundance of little towns around us," he said. "So, we started doing an analysis of how many houses they had for sale. We have an abundance of nice little three-bedroom bungalows, 900 square feet, and nice little communities. These houses sell from $1,000 to $5,000.

"So, our idea is let's just say that we have 100 houses and let's say it is $1,000 for each house. For $100,000 we can go and buy all these houses. The plan is to go out to some of these areas around the world ... and resell these houses to people with families for a toonie.

"For $2, we aren't going to make any money off the houses. The reality is that you don't make the money off the houses. You don't make money off of property taxes. You sustain yourself. Where the money comes in is when you put somebody in the house, they get a job, and they pay your property taxes. They continue to contribute to your economy and then you get more taxes off the businesses."
I'd noted earlier that the idea may well be one worth pursuing here, and it appears that at least some people in a position to make the idea happen have caught on. As DeVos acknowledges, it'll also take added employment opportunities to entice a large number of people to move toward rural areas...but another step to make rural Saskatchewan all the more affordable has to be a plus in the effort.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

On unwanted imports

Dave at The Galloping Beaver points out that fundamentalist Christian lobbying is apparently turning into a growth industry now that Harper's in power. And Dave nicely pegs the political ramifications:
Canadians need to be aware that there will be an effort on the part of these groups to suborn the federal government to their cause. Once that effort is underway the Conservatives need to be reminded that any involvement with these groups is flirting with political suicide. Should a dalliance with the religious conservative right become obvious, this current crop of Conservatives should be dispatched from office quickly and permanently.

Harper would be well advised to tell these groups publicly that he is not beholden to them and never will be.
Mind you, there are dangers for Harper on both sides, as any overly strong statement against the religious right could well force the movement behind the Christian Heritage Party. And if the Cons go into the next election losing those votes along with genuine reformist Reformers, there may not be enough centrist votes left for the taking to give Harper his desired majority.

That said, the lesser of the evils is indeed for Harper to make clear that the fundamentalist groups won't get to set policy for his government. And if he won't, then his government will likely be extremely short-lived.

On silver linings

It was certainly disappointing that Maher Arar's action against the American officials responsible for his rendition was dismissed last week, and I do hope that the decision will be appealed. But lest anybody think Judge Trager's ruling completely insulates Bushco from liability, a few passages from the decision are worth pointing out.

For example, Judge Trager made it clear at p. 23-24 that contrary to the defendants' arguments, a person who aided or abetted in torture rather than actually committing it cannot avoid liability on that basis:
The Torture Victim Protection Act does not specifically grant a right of action against those who aid or abet, or conspire with, primary violators. Noting this, defendants argue that only primary, not secondary, violators are liable. But every court construing this question has reached the contrary outcome, holding that the TVPA can be interpreted to allow claims for secondary liability.
At p. 47, Judge Trager refused to accept the defendants' argument that the action was barred since it arose out of a removal process which does not allow for judicial review:
(The statutory provisions in question were) intended to help restore order to the administrative process by preventing multiple lawsuits over claims arising from action involving the removal of an alien – not to foreclose bona fide legal and constitutional questions unrelated to the removal order by barring all federal court review.
At p. 58, Judge Trager rejected the defendants' claim that post-WWII precedents could be invoked to deprive Arar of any due process - and indeed hinted that some form of fair process must be available:
The Eisentrager petitioners had a trial pursuant to the laws of war. Although that trial might not have afforded them the panoply of rights provided in the civilian context, one cannot say that the petitioners had no fair process...Arar, by contrast, was held virtually incommunicado - moreover, on U.S. soil - and denied access to counsel and process of any kind.
This was followed at p. 79 by Judge Trager's flat rejection of the argument that Arar held no due process rights:
Arar's rights in the U.S. are by no means nonexistent. Although the federal courts have not fully fleshed out the contours an excludable alien's due process rights, certain developments since Mezei warrant mention...As already noted, Correa and Mezei are of questionable relevance to the case at bar because Arar was not attempting to effect entry to the United States. Regardless, the deprivations Arar alleges with respect to his treatment while in U.S. custody potentially concern the type of "gross physical abuse" that could trigger a due process violation.
And Judge Trager made clear at p. 84 that "gross physical abuse" will never be subject to the qualified immunity defence pled by the defendants:
Excluding the rendition aspect of the claim, the alleged "gross physical abuse" in the United States in Count 4 involved deprivations that would appear to violate clearly established rights. Such treatment, if true, may well violate the basic standards for a detainee in any context – civil, criminal, immigration, or otherwise – and possibly constitute conduct that a defendant could reasonably foresee giving rise to liability for damages.
Naturally, there are also many disappointing elements to the ruling as well - particularly Judge Trager's willingness to grant the benefit of the doubt to the defendants on national-security and foreign-policy concerns even on a motion where the facts as pled by Arar were presumed to be true. But even within a decision that foreclosed some grounds of relief, Judge Trager both left Arar with some means to bring the case back before the court, and made clear that that torture victims and foreigners on American soil have more rights than the defendants tried to claim.

All of which is to say that unlike Congress, the American judiciary at least hasn't completely given up its role overseeing the activities of the U.S. government. And hopefully both Arar and others will be able to use the openings left in Trager's decision to shed more light on Bushco's darkest secrets.

On neglect

The coroner's jury reviewing the death of Sherry Charlie joins the chorus pointing out the problems with Gordon Campbell's slashing of government:
An inquest into a toddler's death has recommended that B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell reinstate the office of the children's commissioner, which his government abolished in 2002.

The coroner's jury issued the recommendation and 18 others shortly before midnight Friday in Port Alberni after a 10-day inquest into the death of Sherry Charlie.
And even the current minister responsible isn't so much defending the current system as trying to deflect blame:
The minister of children and family development, Stan Hagen, said on Saturday that he had read the inquest's recommendations. But he said he wasn't going to decide what actions to take until he receives several other reports into the Charlie case, which he expects by June.

"It is important to note that we have made a lot of changes in practice in the ministry over the last four years."
Of course, part of the problem was based on the Campbell government's original unnecessary changes...which results in plenty of reason to be suspicious about Hagen's claim that matters have improved in the last few years. But whatever has been done since, the example of the Campbell government's neglect should be a warning sign to Harper as he contemplates how much of the federal government to axe in order to meet his own tax-cutting he surely doesn't want to be on the wrong end of similar judgments in the future.

On clear opportunities

Radio Shack CEO David Edmondson is in trouble for misrepresenting his credentials. But there may be good news as well:
Earlier this week, Edmondson admitted that he "clearly" misstated his academic record and that his resume was wrong. While he originally said he received a Bachelor of Science degree, he now says he believes he received a ThG diploma, awarded for completing a three-year degree in theology, but adds that he cannot document that.
Not there's anything positive for Radio Shack as a company in the news. But Deutsch personally may have timed his embarrassment just right, as at last notice NASA had a vacancy for someone whose job is to blur the difference between theology and science.

A natural progression

John Tory wants to send Ontarians an invoice for the cost of all health-care services. Can a bill be far behind?