Saturday, March 11, 2006

On suppression

The AP reports on a statement from China's top environmental regulatory demanding changes in the country's disregard for the environment:
China must sharply improve environmental protection or it could face disaster following two decades of breakneck growth that have poisoned its air, water and soil, the country's top environmental official warned Saturday.

The director of the State Environmental Protection Administration said that more than half of China's 21,000 chemical companies are near the Yangtze and Yellow rivers - drinking water for tens of millions of people - and accidents could lead to "disastrous consequences."

"Facts have proved that prosperity at the expense of the environment is very superficial and very weak," Zhou Shengxian said at a news conference during the annual meeting of China's parliament. "It's only delaying disaster."
There can be little doubt that there's a desperate need for the environment to receive a lot more attention as China plans out its development policies, and the part of the article suggesting that environmental protection will receive some attention in its next development program is only the smallest of steps in the right direction.

But while the Chinese regime deserves to be questioned for its policy, it's striking to compare China's apparent attitude with respect to even discussing the environment to that in the U.S. A Chinese regime which is often (and justifiably) slammed for stifling dissent has nonetheless empowered its environmental ministry to criticize the government's shortsightedness.

Meanwhile, the supposed land of the free is working to cherry-pick the data that's already available, to pressure scientists to generate only studies in support of its political viewpoints, and to allow untrained political hacks to overrule scientists who are brazen enough to present inconvenient facts.

If a similar report to Zhou's had been generated in the U.S. at the moment, it's hard to be confident that it would have ever seen the light of day. And it's a dead certainty that Bushco's response would be to minimize it rather than to acknowledge that the data is of value.

Bushco's need to keep science subordinate to the whims of its religious-right backers is an obvious risk factor in the U.S.' effort to keep its position of global dominance. And that risk is all the greater if its main potential competitor is indeed moving toward putting facts and research ahead of ideology - even when the long-term benefits of that research have short-term political costs.

On coherence

There's been lots of attention to Jim Flaherty's declaration that the current equalization system is a "mess" which "doesn't make a lot of sense". But his late-night retraction may make for the most interesting part of the story:
Flaherty wasn't specific about the new Conservative government's long-term plans to address the equalization issue, but he did appear to leave the door open to the possibility that Ottawa's side deals with the two Atlantic provinces could be scrapped or amended.

"Right now we have two equalization formulas that the previous government is firmly committed to - both of them," he said with a chuckle. "So you start there. We can't be firmly committed to two equalization programs."

The minister issued a statement late Friday night denying that he suggested the deals could be eliminated, calling such reports "factually incorrect and misleading."

The statement notes Flaherty didn't mention Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador specifically "or use the words oil and gas" during Friday's news conference.
Now, it's always fun to see this type of hair-splitting based on a politician having spoken merely in innuendos. And it's hard to see what second equalization program Flaherty could be talking about.

But let's leave that aside, and note that the retraction may put Flaherty in an even less tenable position. Having declared that the current system is a non-sensical mess, has he now said that there's no possibility of even suggesting any changes? Does that mean that he is indeed firmly committed to preserving a two-formula system? And if so, shouldn't we be trying to replace him with a finance minister who will actually clean up a mess rather than ignoring it for political reasons?

On the most generous possible reading, I suppose one could argue that Flaherty is merely trying to say that he's said absolutely nothing about equalization. But in that case, it's hard to see why he's making so much effort to comment publicly on an issue about which he has nothing to say.

In any event, it sounds like it's time for another communications director to get the axe. But the good news is that as long as Flaherty is determined to do nothing on equalization, he should have a bit more time available to find someone to craft a vaguely logical message for him.

The warning shot

Lest anybody think that trying to posture against Iran while Iraq descends into chaos was keeping the U.S. military busy enough, the U.S. is apparently ready to fight Vietnam all over again as least, against one soldier who left the U.S. nearly 40 years ago:
On Thursday, March 9 Allen Abney, a US Marine who deserted and came to Canada in 1968, was detained by US Border officials as he crossed the border from British Columbia into Idaho. Abney, a dual Canadian/US citizen, was held in Idaho until he could be transferred to US Marine Corps custody and sent to Camp Pendleton, California, where he faces penalties under military law.

Abney, 56, lives in Kingsgate, BC, close to the Canada/US border, which he crossed often to go shopping, to do errands, and for other purposes.
The press release from the War Resisters Support Campaign points out the need for Canada to offer conscientious objectors to Iraq the opportunity to settle here. Unfortunately, the case also highlights the long memory of the U.S. when it comes to finding scapegoats for military failure...meaning that those who do settle in Canada (or elsewhere) as a result of Iraq will face possible punishment long after their desertion could have any impact on the U.S. military.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why am I not surprised?

Shorter Tom Velk: Never mind having a complete toolkit to build an ethical government, a sledgehammer alone should do the job.

On false choices

Members of the National Association of Friendship Centres are calling on the Cons to boost funding for Canada's off-reserve aboriginal population. But while the message is one worth listening to, the answer to the NAFC's call shouldn't be at the expense of on-reserve aboriginal Canadians:
Peter Dinsdale, executive director of the National Association of Friendship Centres, is asking the Tories to increase the $16 million a year his agency receives to disburse among 117 friendship centres across the country...

Federal funding for friendship centres was cut under the Liberals to $16 million from $19 million, Dinsdale says. The national association was also excluded from talks that led up to last fall's $5-billion Kelowna agreement to improve housing, education and health services - mostly on reserves.

Dinsdale is cautiously optimistic that the Tories will do more for frequently ignored native people in cities. Conservatives signalled during the recent election that off-reserve communities need more attention.

The Tory platform was short on specifics, however, and Dinsdale has had no luck getting details.
It's difficult to dispute the view that aboriginal Canadians need better support both on and off reserve. And the Liberals deserve nothing but criticism for cutting funding to essential off-reserve resources.

But unfortunately, it seems that the issue is now being set up as an either/or choice, rather than a matter of systematic underfunding. And that could all too likely lead to some of the planned Kelowna funding diverted toward the Cons' urban supporters regardless of the obvious on-reserve need for the resources.

The question now is whether aboriginal leaders, and particularly those who have thrown their support (or at least benefit of the doubt) to Harper, will try to fight for more resources generally, or instead turn predominantly against each other on the assumption that the pie won't be expanded. If aboriginal leaders provide political cover for a strategy which takes away from existing commitments in order to meet new ones, then the consequence will be a worse result for all First Nations than if a united voice highlights the need for increased resources in both areas.

On proportion

Environics has released its latest poll results on Canadians' views about crime. And for all the law-and-order rhetoric during the election campaign, all indications are that Canadians becoming less and less concerned about the issue over time:
Environics Research has been surveying Canadians on crime and justice for almost 30 years, and the latest data (collected last December in a national telephone survey of more than 2,000 respondents) reveal that Canadians are no more concerned about crime today than at any time in the past three decades.

Reported rates of being personally victimized remain low: Only six per cent of Canadians surveyed report having been a victim of a criminal act in the past six months, matching the lows recorded in our surveys since 1976. Since 2001, such crimes are more likely to be directed at one's property than at one's person.

One in six (15 per cent) Canadians describe crime in their neighbourhood to be a serious problem, the lowest level recorded in more than 25 years. This proportion is slightly higher in some of our major urban centres, but it is also where the decline has been most noticeable. In Toronto, the likelihood of describing one's neighbourhood crime problem as serious declined to 20 per cent from 24 per cent in 1998. In Vancouver the drop is more dramatic: down to 18 per cent from 34 per cent.

Also declining is the fear of walking in one's neighbourhood at night. Twenty-one per cent of Canadians say they ever feel such fear, down from 28 per cent in 2001, and now at the lowest level since Environics began tracking this measure in 1976.
Of course, the declining rates of concern don't suggest for a second that crime should be ignored as an issue. But they do highlight the fact that any changes to Canada's general criminal law should be relatively minor changes which will build on relative success - not a radical and costly overhaul based on a desperate need for change. And if the Cons insist on pushing for such an overhaul, they'll be left to explain to Canadians why citizens should foot the bill to move away from a system that's working.

The ethics of obstruction

The Globe and Mail reports on the likely status of the Cons' proposes accountability legislation - and while the Libs seem determined to gum up the works, the NDP isn't going to undermine needed legislation simply to try to make Harper look all the worse:
"It would seem to me now that we've seen Mr. Harper's position with respect to Dr. Shapiro that the accountability package is going to be much more controversial than originally anticipated," Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said yesterday...

The section promising to strengthen the role of the Ethics Commissioner could bog down debate in the House.

The section would prevent the Prime Minister from overruling the commissioner, something the opposition says Mr. Harper has essentially done in refusing to co-operate with Mr. Shapiro's investigation of David Emerson's cabinet appointment.

NDP ethics critic Pat Martin dismissed Mr. Goodale's comments, saying the NDP was likely to support most of the Tory provisions, including pledges to strengthen the commissioner's office.

"We're not interested in playing games with this bill," Mr. Martin said. "We genuinely and sincerely want to see these reforms take place."
The combination of seemingly scoring political points and facing a lesser degree of accountability next time they win office again may well cause the Libs to try to fight against the legislation. But for those of us primarily interested in making sure that Canada's government works, the best course of action is to make sure the bill passes and is backed up with proper enforcement mechanisms - not to claim that the current PM's failure to adhere to the terms of the bill somehow makes accountability a bad thing.

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Scott Piatkowski, who happens to be one of the members of the Ontario NDP Executive, offers his take on the expulsion of Buzz Hargrove:
When people join the New Democratic Party, they sign a statement acknowledging that they are “not a member or a supporter of any other political party.” Every year that Buzz Hargrove signed his membership card, he agreed to that condition again.

But, Hargrove clearly couldn't (or wouldn't) adhere to that fairly simple condition and, in doing so, he effectively renounced his party membership. What the Executive did in suspending his membership simply confirmed the divorce — while giving him the opportunity to admit his error and to promise that he wouldn't repeat it. The fact that he's stated that he will not agree to the conditions set by the Executive (exactly the same conditions he had promised to meet when he first signed up and every year thereafter) only confirms that he does not belong in the party.
None of the reasoning is much of a surprise in light of the discussion at the time. But if there was every any doubt, Piatkowski's comment makes it absolutely clear that the issue was never one of policing thoughts or ideas, but instead a matter of ensuring that Hargrove would live up to a minimal standard of loyalty (i.e. not openly acting to the deliberate detriment of the party) to which he'd agreed in the past. And given Hargrove's stated intention not to live up to his end of the bargain, it would have been a sign of foolishness for the party to conclude that it should continue to offer Hargrove the benefits of membership.

More lessons from abroad

Heh. Gordon Campbell's trip to the UK looked bad enough based on what was already publicly known about the failure of P3s there...but the Tyee reports that Campbell arrived just in time to see the UK's top health administrator resign suddenly, apparently over an annual deficit that could run into ten figures:
Yesterday the system’s chief executive, Sir Nigel Crisp, unexpectedly tendered his resignation. Angry the UK say that years of privatization have balkanized the NHS into a chaotic and inefficient patchwork of hospitals, trusts and specialized clinics pitted against each other in a needlessly elaborate scheme of internal markets and price competition.

An anonymous government source identified as a “senior Blairite” told the Guardian that NHS trusts would have to “swallow their own smoke next year” and cut services in response to the funding crisis.

The current crisis, which has British papers like the Guardian and the Independent predicting that the year-end deficit for the NHS could run as high as $1.6 billion dollars (Cdn.), is viewed as a political quagmire for the Blair government. Labour has poured record sums of money into the NHS during Crisp’s five-year term in power.
Unfortunately, even with Campbell trying to point to the UK as an example for the system he wants British Columbia to follow, the British fiasco likely won't receive anywhere near as much attention in Canada as the CIHI's conclusion that Canada's health care system has seen mixed results over the past few years. But given the evidence from the UK that privatization merely ensures a similar rise in costs combined with an outright decline in services, there's no reason to all to think that privatization will cure any of what's currently ailing our health-care system.

The inevitable response

It didn't take long for Harper's Bush-lite rhetoric to be met with a similar response to the one received in the U.S., as CBC reports on relatives of Canadian casualties from Afghanistan who want to see the mission properly debated:
Cpl. Jamie Murphy died in a suicide bomb attack near Kabul in January 2004. Two years later, Murphy's mother says his death still haunts her...

She said memories of her son's death are revived whenever she hears of new casualties.

"It is really hard to know that there's other guys and families in the same situation that we're in, and we are still in it, and it will never go away. Never."...

Skeffington's son, Dale Newbury, is a military mechanic who served in Afghanistan last year and is scheduled to head back to Kandahar in August.

More than 2,000 Canadians will be deployed near Kandahar this year, but Skeffington thinks Canada should instead be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan...

"They did go at first for peace and now it's war. I really don't agree with them being there. It's our sons and daughters."
In keeping with the U.S. experience, I suppose this is the cue for Harper and his apologists to claim they have a much better idea what's best Canadian military personnel than would some mere close relative of troops currently in Afghanistan. The question now is whether we'll pay more attention to the people closest to the issue, or whether our own coverage (like that in the U.S.) will be dominated by claims that war is good, and questioning the war bad, for those who fight it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The ethical voice

Harper's apparent first choice as a replacement Ethics Commissioner rightly criticizes the PM for his treatment of the current occupant of the office:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's heavy-handed "boycott" of an ethics investigation has made the resignation of Parliament's much-maligned ethics commissioner all but impossible, says former MP Ed Broadbent...

"The prime minister put him in a position that he can't resign now. You can quote me on that," Broadbent said in an interview today.

"It will look like he was hounded out of office and then it will make it difficult for anyone coming in to look like other than someone who is going to be totally acceptable to the prime minister."
And that rebuke comes despite Broadbent's apparent agreement with Harper on the substance of the matter:
"For what it's worth, Mr. Harper is right in implying that the ethics code doesn't apply," said Broadbent.

But it is not for the prime minister to make such a judgment in his own case, he added. Moreover, by refusing to co-operate with the investigation, Harper is breaking an explicit provision of the conflict code.
The latter point, which is one that Mark noted a couple of days back, nicely drives a wedge between Harper and anybody who expected any improvement in prime ministerial ethics...and it appears that whatever grounds Shapiro may have lacked to investigate Harper before, he now has a slam-dunk case on (yet another) refusal to cooperate.

Broadbent closes by suggesting an eminently sensible resolution whereby Harper cooperates with this investigation, then Shapiro resigns once the immediate investigation is complete. It's up to Harper whether he wants to take the advice of the man whose message he tried so hard to co-opt...or whether he'd rather be known all the more for discarding any sense of ethics once he tasted the slightest bit of power.

Broadcast news

It seems all too likely that the Cons have utterly abandoned any sense of accountability now that they're in power. But just in case there's any interest in pushing toward more accountability, the NDP is pushing to have some applied to the CBC's governance among other changes to Canada's broadcasting system:
(T)he NDP has released a four-point plan that will serve as a road map for pushing cultural issues through the 39th Parliament.

The “Four Point Plan for Broadcast Sovereignty” includes the following priorities:
- Change the Governance Structure of CBC Board of Directors -- ending the patronage appointment process and giving the Board the power to hire or fire the CEO.
- Ensure stable long term funding to expand regional programming.
- Maintain clear limits on foreign ownership of Canadian airwaves.
- Restore the obligation of Canadian broadcasters to promote home-grown drama.
Granted, the Cons seem more likely to see the CBC as an enemy rather than an institution worth supporting - no matter how clearly it's shown that the CBC's coverage is fair on the whole. But surely even the most rabid right-wing ideologue can recognize the value in at least improving the CBC's governance processes. And at best, there may yet be a chance that the Cons could be willing to combine that effort with the preservation of some semblance of Canadian control over our own media.

A growing movement

A number of women's groups are marking International Women's Day by calling on Harper to remove one of the barriers to equal employment by ensuring that child care is made available:
"While families welcome financial support, it is not child care," said Monica Lysack of the Canadian Child Care Advocacy Association.

"Child care is the ramp to equality and a right that women have been fighting for for decades," said Nancy Peckford of the Feminist Alliance for International Action.

"For working women, child care is all about equality," said Barbara Byers, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress.
Of course, there's little reason to think that Harper himself will pay attention to the opposing viewpoint. But if nothing else, it's always a plus to point out the contrast between the Cons' claim to represent the interests of families, and the position taken by the women most affected by a lack of sufficient child care. And even if this government won't listen, the next one may be more likely to put its full weight behind child care once it recognizes the strength of the pro-care movement.

On refusing to lead

Yesterday, it looked like Peter MacKay was in danger of taking a strong principled stand in favour of democratic self-expression. Today, however, MacKay sets the record straight, declaring that Canada will place an onus on the new Palestinian government to try to justify any continued aid:
Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay tried to get Ottawa's Middle Eastern policy back in sync yesterday with a clarification saying Canadian aid to the Palestinian Authority is still under review and is subject to conditions set by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last month.

His written statement was issued one day after the new Conservative minister said "some Canadian aid will continue" to the Palestinian Authority on the basis of third-party assurances from Russia that the money would not be diverted for military purposes or to finance terrorism by Hamas.
Canada's aid represents a small amount of money compared to what's needed to keep the Palestinian Authority functioning, and indeed MacKay's statement yesterday implied that some of that would also be withdrawn to the extent that third-party controls couldn't be put in place. But at the very least, a strong commitment to ensure that Palestinians wouldn't be completely cut off from aid as a consequence of their electoral choices would have made it difficult for other countries to justify completely starving the PA of funds.

Instead, all of Canada's funding (like that of most states) now seems to be in limbo, meaning that the Palestinian Authority faces the prospect of trying to win the support of its citizens for long-term peace arrangements while its budget to provide for those citizens (not to mention to try to maintain order) is based solely on emergency funding. And it's hard to see what anybody has to gain when the one of the necessary parties in any peace talks is left wondering whether it will face financial ruin at any moment.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A worthy export

It may be a rather futile effort in the context of the U.S.' skewed public discourse, but a website pioneered by Frank McKenna is doing its best to make sure Americans at least have access to the truth about Canada.
(A)ccording to the website, there are a lot of myths that still need busting. Among them:
— That 90 per cent of Canadian marijuana is smuggled into the United States. It was actually about 2 per cent in 2003.
— That Canada has a lot of illegal immigrants. Actual estimates range from 60,000 to 200,000 compared with 12 million in the U.S.
— Canada caused the electricity blackout of Aug. 14, 2003. It began in Ohio.
— Homicide rates are as high in Canada as in the U.S. They are three times lower.
Of course, the bad news is that our new PM seems eager to import a rather large dose of Bush-style senseless militarism. But at the very least the flow of information isn't entirely one-sided at this point - either in its direction, or in its accuracy (or lack thereof).

On providing excuses

Sadly, the CP seems to be buying into Con spin on the status of the Kelowna Accord. The CP's headline to its article on Phil Fontaine's attempt to ensure that the Accord is upheld:
Top aboriginal leader says Tories must live up to Liberal commitments
What Fontaine actually said:
These commitments - especially the Kelowna Accord intended to eradicate aboriginal poverty - were made with Canada, not any one political party, Fontaine told a meeting of the B.C. First Nations Summit.

"That wasn't done with the Liberal party," he said. "It was an agreement with the country. This government has to honour these very important commitments."
Whoever wrote the headline seems very much prepared to paint the Kelowna Accord as purely a Liberal creation, implying that there's unfairness in expecting the Cons to live up to it. But Harper himself has made clear that Liberal commitments to put Canadian troops in harm's way are apparently sacrosanct and beyond review - even where our actual commitment is only for a fairly short span of time. And if Canada has an obligation to extend its military commitments without debate, then surely it also bears some obligation to place a historic deal with First Nations beyond partisan retraction.

On damaged goods

Many Libs blamed the income-trust fiasco for torpedoing their campaign. Now the issue has surfaced again, and this time it may shift some momentum in the Lib leadership race:
The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has turned over an e-mail received from Liberal MP Scott Brison to police and regulators as part of a probe into the income-trust controversy that dogged the Liberals in the recent election campaign, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Sources said the former public works minister, a potential contender for the Liberal leadership, sent an e-mail to one of CIBC's employees the day before Ottawa announced its much-anticipated policy on income trusts last November, in which he suggested the recipient would likely be pleased by the decision.
The speculation would be bad enough on its own. But Brison's personal response only makes matters worse: at best he seems to have forgotten how to answer tough questions, and at worst he seems to be making up inconsistent claims in his own defence, moving from a firm denial to a claim of ignorance when asked if he might have sent such a message:
When asked later whether he personally had a communication in which he might have speculated on the outcome without firm knowledge, Mr. Brison said "No," adding, "You're asking me something in terms of communication that I don't remember. I don't recall anything."
We'll see whether or not the story on Brison's possible involvement stays in the public eye long enough to have much of an impact. But for a party that seems to learn only the bare minimum from its mistakes, it doesn't seem unlikely that a good number of Libs will conclude that the lesson from Campaign 2006 is that anything to do with income trusts should be kept as far out of the spotlight as possible. And if that includes a top leadership candidate, then so be it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

On negative examples

Continuing the theme of Americans spending beyond their means, Bushco isn't exactly setting a positive example for its citizens:
Treasury Secretary John Snow notified Congress on Monday that the administration has now taken "all prudent and legal actions," including tapping certain government retirement funds, to keep from hitting the $8.2 trillion US national debt limit...

Snow in his letter notified legislators that Treasury would begin tapping the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, which Treasury officials said would provide a "few billion" dollars in extra borrowing ability.

Treasury officials also announced that on Friday they had used the $15 billion in the Exchange Stabilization Fund, a reserve that the Treasury secretary has that is normally used to smooth out volatile movements in the value of the dollar in currency markets.

Treasury has also been taking investments out of a $65.3 billion government pension fund known as the G-fund.
Sad though the parallel is, it's all the more unbelievable that the (comparative) brains of the administration whichis currently gutting pension funds in an attempt to fund absurdly large tax cuts and wars of choice feels entitled to lecture individual Americans on their lack of savings. Hypocrisy, thine name is Bushco.

On lessons from abroad

As so often seems to be the case, the Tyee has the best coverage of the problems with P3s...this time pointing out that Gordon Campbell's European models for health care have done nothing but raise costs while harming care:
Dr. Pollock is deeply skeptical of claims made for PFIs as instruments for building and operating hospitals. Her 2002 paper in the British Medical Journal titled "Private Finance and 'value for money' in NHS hospitals: a policy in search of a rationale?" suggests that PFIs have been a financial and service delivery disaster for the public, creating large amounts of long-term debt, while sharply reducing service delivery.

The toll: a 30 percent loss in bed capacity and 20 percent reductions in staff in the hospitals and their areas served studied after PFIs were implemented.

Those cuts, Pollock says, failed to deliver any of the cost reductions and efficiency improvements promised by proponents. Further, she and her co-author argue that the fiscal case for the public-private-partnership structures depends upon deceptive accounting procedures that fail to stand up to critical review...

Some prominent British doctors have spoken out, warning Canadians not to let similar damage be done to our system. In 2005, the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland came out strongly against private sector involvement in the National Health Service. Dr. Jacky Davis, a senior British radiologist writing in The Guardian, said "We see hospitals closing wards and operating theatres. We see huge profits already going to PFI companies. We are not deceived by the rhetoric about patient choice and predict that patients may lose the one choice that is important- a good comprehensive local hospital."
The article speculates that Campbell's trip to Europe may have been largely an attempt to divert attention from the likelihood that any privatization would follow a model closer to that applied in the U.S. And it's not hard to see why Campbell would desperately want to avoid any link between his desired reforms and the U.S.' expensive, ineffective system.

But even using Campbell's preferred comparators, the P3 model has led at best to false economies and worse patient care. And with so many readily-available examples from abroad, there's no reason for Canadian patients (and citizens) to suffer in order to prove that point yet again.

On vacancies

The Star reports that the new Con government still has a long way to go in filling some of its essential positions:
They are usually highly coveted, influential backroom jobs but as the Tories mark their first month since gaining office, many of the seats of power remain unoccupied.

Of the 27 cabinet ministers, three have yet to hire chiefs-of-staff — several key ministries, like defence and finance, named theirs in the last week — and more than half don't have communications directors or parliamentary affairs advisers...

A high-ranking ministerial official, who, like others interviewed, didn't wish to be named, said there is still a lot of indecision, and the slow pace of hiring means ministers are sometimes finding it hard to accomplish even basic tasks, like setting up meetings with colleagues to align departmental priorities.
In other words, the Cons don't appear to be any better organized behind the scenes than they've looked in public so far. And if the chaos lasts much longer, Harper's job may itself go back up for grabs sooner than he's anticipating.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Setting the agenda

For those wondering what the NDP's "bottom lines" will be in seeing what deals can be made with the Cons, Jack Layton's comments today should give a pretty good hint:
Layton told reporters following his speech that medicare and child care should be high on Harper's agenda.

"Mr. Harper has to decide on these fundamental issues like keeping our public health care system public under a direct attack from Mr. Klein and ensuring that we have more child care spaces in this country," Layton told reporters following his peech.

"He's got to decide if he's going to work in the context of a minority parliament and work with other parties. If going to barrel off on his own, then clearly it's a Parliament that's going to struggle."
We'll see soon how Harper responds. But it should be very clear that the NDP will ensure that Harper either provides at least some resources for key social programs, or face the voters to justify any refusal to do so.

The unhappy medium

Paul Summerville links to this Washington Post article on the precarious financial situation of the average American family. While Summerville focuses on the numbers, it's the advice from financial planners consulted for the article that may be the most damning:
Speros and the other planners said, if the average family walked into their offices, they would sit them down and give them some tough talk. Time to pare back expenses, the financial advisers would say, in order to build a cash reserve big enough to get everyone through a layoff or other unforeseen adversity. And the family would get an earful about saving more aggressively for retirement, so members could have some hope of retiring at a reasonable age and maintaining the standard of living they and their family are accustomed to.
The closest the article can find to a positive spin is that the situation for most families is "not hopeless". But there's not much reason for hope as long as it's the norm for people to spend this far beyond their means...and indeed with the average family itself having little to no financial security it's clear that plenty of individual Americans are in far more dire straits.

Even the best-case scenario (i.e. one in which Americans follow the advice of the planners cited in the article) would have some major downsides, as the reduction in spending would itself lead to somewhat of an economic downturn. But if Americans don't start taking such steps in large numbers soon, there may be no chance to avoid a serious economic crash.

A refusal to reevaluate

The Cons are willing to talk about Canada's role in Afghanistan...but only as long as that talk can't possibly lead to action:
MacKay said Canada has pledged its support to NATO's work in Afghanistan, and intends to follow through with it. He also said that questioning the decision now could be devastating to Canadian troops who are risking their lives in the field...

MacKay said the government is considering opening the issue for discussion, but not likely to a binding debate or vote. He said it may have been more helpful to have debated the issue before the decision was made by the previous government.
Note that the Cons' refusal to have a binding vote seems to extend not only to Canada's current plans, but also to the prospect of being mired in Afghanistan past the existing nine-month commitment - even as MacKay claimed only to be avoiding reconsideration of the past decision to get involved.

MacKay's willingness to confuse those two issues speaks rather poorly to the Cons' willingness to make sure that Canada will reevaluate where its troops may be best used in the future. The Cons seem prepared to blindly assume that as long as Canadian troops are present somewhere, there's no role for Parliament to play in determining how long that presence should be extended. Which can't be particularly comforting either for Canadians who want to ensure that our foreign policy is based on current needs rather than past decisions...nor for Canadian troops who might prefer to know that there's some present reason for their deployment abroad.

On strong messages

CBC reports on an effort to test whether or not voters want to see David Emerson face a by-election...and the results shouldn't come as much surprise:
Voters in David Emerson's riding are putting more pressure on him to resign following his defection to the Conservatives after being elected as a Liberal in the Jan. 23 federal election.

More than 900 people in his Vancouver-Kingsway riding voted in a mock election on Saturday. Nearly 95 per cent said they want Emerson to resign and run in a byelection.

Kate Vanmeermass, spokesperson for the People's Byelection, said the vote gave the public a chance "to express how they're feeling about his sudden crossover."
Of course, the voters in the mock election were more likely to be those who were most upset with Emerson's defection. But even so, the poll reflects over 850 voters in Vancouver-Kingsway making the effort to let Emerson know they want to see him face the public again. And with that many people in his riding still refusing to let the floor-crossing pass, there's all the less reason to think that Emerson will be able to put his actions behind him anytime soon.