Saturday, May 13, 2006

On poor excuses

CTV reports that the National Arts Centre Orchestra is trying to get around any application of whistle-blower legislation by requiring its musicians to sign a confidentiality agreement:
The National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) is a Crown corporation, so its musicians fall under the proposed legislation.

But in an apparent effort to counter the Accountability Act, the organization asked its employees to swear never to talk about internal problems.
The article speculates that the reason for the confidentiality agreement is to stifle any comment on a series of controversies involving NACO's director. While that may or may not be the case, NACO's alternative explanation is less than compelling:
However, spokeswoman Jayne Watson said NACO is not trying to prevent its musicians from talking about Zukerman.

"Absolutely not. There no intention to stifle any profile or any conversation about Pinchas," she said.

Instead, Watson argued the confidentiality agreement is a practical way to keep sensitive personal information a secret.

"We have credit card information, we have personal data, and the police -- longstanding, first written in 1998 and updated in 2005 -- makes sure employees protect that confidential information," she said.
So what's wrong with that explanation? The whistleblower protection in the Accountability Act (see generally ss. 194-226) is added onto the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. Under that legislation, any disclosure may only be to a public servant's supervisor (s. 12) or the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (s. 13), except in cases of a serious offence or an imminent and substantial health or safety risk (s. 16, which itself may not apply to employee information due to s. 16(1)). And any disclosure is subject to the following:
15.1 In making a disclosure under this Act, a public servant must
(a) provide no more information than is reasonably necessary to make the disclosure...
None of these sections appears to be changed in any relevant way by the Accountability Act. As a result, there doesn't appear to be the slightest basis for concern that NACO employees' personal information could validly be made public: presumably NACO disclosures won't involve the type of urgent situations which could necessitate bypassing the Commissioner, and even then the disclosure (if permitted at all) must be limited to the information reasonably necessary to address the urgent situation...which presumably won't include credit-card information or personal data.

It's anybody's guess as to whether or not there are other reasons for NACO's action. But it appears that the current explanation is based on either a complete misinterpretation of the contents of the planned legislation, or a misrepresentation as to how the legislation could conceivably apply. And either way, NACO's attempt to silence its employees may make it look worse than any likely disclosure could have done.

(Edit: I should note that the above discussion does presume that NACO's confidentiality agreement is in response to the Accountability Act in particular, rather than an unfortunately-timed effort to secure data for other reasons.)

Playing politics

For all the talk of Harper being nothing more than a Bush puppet, let there be no doubt that he's more than willing to oppose policies supported by not only the U.S. but also every other state in the WTO and much of Harper's western long as it helps his chances in Quebec. From Randy Burton:
Last week in Geneva, the 149 countries at the table tried to reach agreement on how to deal with so-called "sensitive products."

These are products that various countries want to maintain tariffs on in order to protect their domestic farmers. For example, Japan wants to protect its beef industry, India wants to protect vegetable oil and the European Union wants to protect pork. Around the world, the most "sensitive product," -- that is, the most protected -- is chilled and frozen meat, which is Canada's second-largest export...

With one notable exception, every country agreed that tariffs (on sensitive products) should be cut and the quota expanded. This was a modest step but at least it amounted to some progress in liberalizing agricultural trade.

Horror of horrors for free traders, Canada refused to go along. Alone among 149 countries, our trade negotiators declared that we want to maintain the over-quota tariff as is...

Canada appears to have sacred cows it wants to protect behind a high tariff wall, namely dairy, poultry and eggs. Those industries do not want any reduction there because they fear increased imports from the U.S.

Angling for a majority government, the last thing Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to see is anything that might upset his electoral chances in Quebec, which of course is home to the largest concentration of dairy and egg producers in Canada, not to mention the most militant farmers in the country.
But lest there be any doubt, it isn't only interests abroad who will be frustrated by the outcome of the Cons' stubbornness, as much of Harper's rural western base appears to have been counting on greater access to markets around the world:
(If no change is made to the sensitive product rules,) Canadian exporters will be prevented from getting into foreign niche markets. For example, Canadian producers would like to sell wheat and beef to Japan, pork to Europe and a whole range of other products around the world.

Without progress on tariff reduction, most of those markets will remain effectively closed to Canada. In other words, Canada is shooting a lot of its own farmers in the foot. They are demanding answers, but to no avail.
In a sense it's fortunate that the trade issues have become public before Harper passed some of his other "market-based" reforms such as dismantling the Wheat Board. If there was ever any doubt in the minds of western Canadians, it should be all the more obvious that the Cons' plans in government are based strictly on political gain. And if struggling farmers who have formed a large part of the Cons' historical support get tossed under the bus, that's an acceptable loss to Harper in order to win over protectionist votes in Quebec.

Of course, those same farmers will have an opportunity soon to decide whether they want their interests represented by someone so willing to turn his back on them. And with any luck, disillusionment with the realities of Con government will do far more to undermine Harper's quest for a majority than his pandering to Quebec will do to move it forward.

On failures of leadership

The CP reports that with the federal government apparently doing as little as possible to deal with the U.S.' impending passport requirement, Canadian premiers and U.S. governors are once again having to try to bring public attention to the issue:
Premiers from Eastern Canada and governors from New England are urging the United States Congress to delay new border security measures, including mandatory passport use for anyone entering the U.S.

State and provincial officials - worried creating a "hassle factor" for people crossing the border will devastate tourism and trade - passed a resolution at a meeting in Newport, R.I...

The new measures are scheduled to take effect at the end of this year for all air and sea travel, and at the end of 2007 for all land border crossings.
Now, it's somewhat understandable for the Cons not to want to resume their earlier flip-flopping on the possibility of an ID card as the solution. But with the U.S. statutory deadline in place, there's a desperate need for action on the issue before it's too late to make our case. And at the same time, there's also a readily-available opportunity to coordinate Canada's message with that of Americans who share our interests.

Unfortunately, as has already happened on softwood lumber, the Cons don't seem the least bit interested in assembling Canada's allies to try to push for anything better than a worst-case outcome. And come January 1, 2008, both sides of the border stand to pay the price for the Cons' continued ineffectiveness.

Emotion over action

Thomas Walkom explores the less-discussed side of George Smitherman's revelation of past drug use, as Smitherman's personal life seems to have been put in the public eye as a substitute for action on policy issues:
Faithful readers will remember that the last time Smitherman made a personal revelation, back in 2003, was in response to a Star series on the problems of nursing homes.

At the time, a tearful Smitherman said nursing homes would be his top priority. He said his mother faced the prospect of going into a nursing home and that this was what moved him so much...

Indeed, the government did increase regulation in nursing homes. But it didn't give them enough new money to pay for the staff needed to make these reforms work.

As a result, many long-term care residents — particularly those who are bedridden — are now worse off than they were before.

Similarly, in this instance, it might be more useful if Smitherman spent less time on his personal life and more on the current problem of drug addiction in Ontario.

As the Star has reported, the Liberal government is busy closing detox centres in Toronto to save money — even as the minister waxes eloquent about his misspent past.
It's tough to disagree that it would be far more meaningful for Smitherman to ensure proper funding to enable other Ontarians to beat their own addictions, rather than simply to place his own past addiction in the public eye. Unfortunately, it looks like Smitherman's misspent past is merely being matched by a misspent present...only now it's the Ontarians who have seen their services cut, and not Smitherman himself, who are paying the greatest price for his mistakes.

Friday, May 12, 2006


If the Cons were so concerned about their credibility under the Kyoto Protocol, wouldn't it be a good idea to avoid undermining Kyoto's core principles?

But it's different when we do it...

Jason Kenney last winter, when there was suspicion that income trust information may have leaked out via the Liberal government:
"So far, Mr. Goodale has been dismissive of these very troubling questions of insider information having been leaked from his office, refusing to answer questions," Kenney told reporters at the hastily-convened press briefing.

He asked Goodale whether anyone in his office knew of the policy change before it was announced, and whether anyone spoke to Bay Street traders. Kenney went on to demand that Goodale ask the RCMP to investigate the matter.
Jason Kenney now, when it's glaringly clear that information about the gun registry leaked out via the Conservative government:
Conservative MP Jason Kenney says the Tories want to find out if the leak came from the government, and then take any necessary action.

"An internal investigation has been launched to see if this information was leaked from a government source," Kenney told the Commons...

Later outside the Commons, Kenney said he did not believe the leak is a criminal matter.

Making adversaries

Plenty of coverage from the last week has suggested that Harper's current strategy is to isolate Dalton McGuinty as a holdout in equalization talks. But the Leader-Post notes that McGuinty isn't the only premier holding Harper's feet to the fire on his campaign promises, as Lorne Calvert is pushing Harper to get something done for Saskatchewan. First, on equalization and other issues:
Premier Lorne Calvert still has big concerns about Prime Minister Stephen Harper's stance on equalization changes even as another point of contention arose Wednesday between the provincial NDP and the new Conservative federal government.

The province said there was no money in last week's federal budget for the labour market agreement signed by the former Liberal federal government last fall to bring $109-million in federal funding to Saskatchewan over six years...

The provincial NDP isn't happy about the Conservative intent to scrap the child-care agreements signed by the previous government with the province, the cutting of federal funding to the Saskatchewan Forest Centre, the softwood lumber deal with the United States, the scrapping of the deal to sell grain hopper rail cars to a farmer's coalition and ongoing uncertainty over whether future agricultural programs will continue to be split 60:40 per cent between the federal and provincial governments.

It also appears to be losing out on the $109 million from the labour market agreement, money which was to be used primarily for basic education and skills training for aboriginals, immigrants and people who are underemployed.
Harper evidently has some work to do just to make up for the damage on all the above issues. And then if Harper can be pushed to reverse the effects of the Cons' actions so far, there's also the minor matter of the promise of a billion or so dollars per year through the removal of non-renewable resources from the equalization formula.

And if that list of problem areas wasn't enough, Saskatchewan's provincial government is also having to push the Cons to get anything done on biofuels:
(Deputy Premier Clay) Serby and an industry delegation have been lobbying the new Conservative government to establish a national mandate on the use of biofuels made from grains such as wheat and canola in gasoline and diesel blends.

Serby warned that producers are growing desperate and can't wait much longer.
Now, it's possible that Harper will manage to get enough done over the next year to win Calvert as an ally. But for now, Calvert and his party are rightly demanding results from a federal government which was supposed to be better equipped to understand Saskatchewan's needs. And unless Harper can start checking off his positive promises toward Saskatchewan in a hurry, he may find two of Canada's three "have"-province premiers lined up against him in the court of public opinion.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The cost of inaction

The Cons have made much of the supposedly unjustifiable costs of cutting emissions to meet our Kyoto commitments. But what could we end up spending to make up for a failure to deal with climate change? Environment Canada has one possible answer:
Canada's bridges, sewers, roads and buildings are at risk of failure because of climate change over the next 50 years, says a new study by Environment Canada.

Infrastructure worth $5 trillion is designed on the assumption that past extremes will represent future conditions, but this assumption is no longer valid, says the study released Thursday...

"Changing weather extremes and weathering processes...are expected to effectively shorten the lifespan of existing structures in many regions."

The study suggests disasters like the 1998 ice storm may become more frequent in Canada as storm tracks shift northward, producing more freezing-rain events.
The report does note that it's too late to avoid at least some of the effects of climate change, and certainly current conditions would support that conclusion. But knowing that much of the infrastructure currently underlying Canada's strong economy is already at risk due to climate change, it must be all the more irresponsible not to at least make a reasonable effort to prevent matters from getting even worse.

Unfortunately, the Cons are too busy concocting their idea of a doomsday scenario, suggesting that even the once-modest Kyoto goals can't be met except by shutting down the country. And the longer that kind of inaction is the status quo in Ottawa, the more damage will get done to Canada's already-endangered infrastructure in the long run.

On whistleblower enablement

One would expect the current public service integrity officer to have a handle on what needs to be done to ensure accountability within the public sector. Which makes Edward Keyserlingk's comments today a useful guide to what's missing from the Accountability Act...and what doesn't need to be included.

On the Cons' plan to offer small cash rewards to whistleblowers, the response was less than enthusiastic:
Edward Keyserlingk told a parliamentary committee studying the massive bill that cash shouldn't be the main incentive for doing what's right.

"You will hopefully see it as your duty to report wrongdoing rather than doing it because of a reward," he testified Thursday.

"It's a kind of motivation I would hope we don't have to appeal to."
Meanwhile, Keyserlingk did note a need for whistleblower protection in a few areas of the government which could be ripe for abuse:
(Keyserlingk) said his jurisdiction should be extended to include protection for whistleblowers within the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Security and Information Service (CSIS), and the Communications and Security Establishment.

He also would like whistleblowers in the private sector to be protected from reprisals if they expose wrongdoing, specifically those who are on contract with the government or are receiving grants from Ottawa.
Surely any corruption or waste would be even more egregious in the defense and national security sectors than anywhere else in government - and it speaks volumes about the Cons' motives that they didn't see fit to include whistleblower protection for those departments in their initial legislation. But with the issue made public, it'll be all the tougher for the Cons to justify keeping their pet sector for investment immune from the conscience of employees who want to ensure proper management of government money.

A needed prescription

The Canadian Institute for Health Information reports on the costs of prescription drugs in Canada. And for all the complaints about the increasing costs of health care, it's worth noting that the costs are skyrocketing most in an area with relatively little public funding:
Canadian spending on medical drugs rose to almost $25-billion last year, up 11 per cent over the previous year, in a trend that critics say can't be sustained.

Drugs — mainly prescription drugs — continue to be the fastest-growing category of health spending as they have been for years, says the Canadian Institute for Health Information...

Drug spending reached 17.5 per cent of total health spending, double the figure for 1985. But Canada remains below the median of 13 OECD countries in the amount of drug spending covered by governments.

Total per capita spending was estimated at $770 last year, but there were big variations across the country. Public-sector spending on prescribed drugs ranged from $194 per capita in Prince Edward Island to $341 in Quebec.
The article isn't without at least one viable solution to some of the problems in drug costs...though it's anybody's guess as to how long it'll take the Cons to become interested in dealing with the issue:
Manitoba Health Minister Tim Sale is pushing for progress on a national pharmacare program that first ministers promised in their 2004 health accord.

“Part of the whole discussion about fiscal imbalance is compounded by the fact that the feds approve these drugs, and in the case of patented pharmaceuticals, they set the price,” he said in an interview.

“We think they should then have part of the delivery responsibility.”...

Advocates of a national pharmacare program say it would help control costs by uniting the buying power of the provinces and by ensuring that only cost-effective drugs are used.
With the pharmacare idea having already formed part of an agreement among all provinces, there wouldn't be too much concern about intrusion into provincial jurisdiction...and there obviously isn't much of a case for the status quo from the standpoint of cost-effectiveness. But the previous agreement notwithstanding, it'll take some strong leadership from the federal level to get the needed program in place.

That presents an opportunity for the Cons to be seen as a viable government capable of improving Canada's health system....assuming they're willing to take a lead role, and acknowledge the positive contribution a federal government can make to health care. The question now is whether the Cons want to make that kind of improvement a priority.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

From bad to no better

I'm not sure when a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease became a job requirement for the chair of the aboriginal affairs committee. But Stephen Harper's second choice after Maurice Vellacott is one of the few MPs who may be even better known for his embarrassing comments, even as a rookie in Parliament:
Rookie Tory MP Colin Mayes, who recently advocated jailing reporters who write stories the government doesn't like, was named as the Conservatives' pick to succeed Vellacott as the committee chairman.
But for those wondering whether anybody more qualified showed interest in being appointed instead, at least Harper can't be faulted on that front:
As for inserting Mayes in the hot seat, Hill said the B.C. MP is the only Tory on the aboriginal affairs committee who wanted the post.
In a sense, it's surprising that Harper hasn't done more to cover his weak spots by ensuring that he'd have at least one relatively well-reputed MP to take the lead on a committee where his party was bound to draw fire. And it of course speaks very poorly for the party's interest in aboriginal issues that nobody else seems to want to take the lead.

But with neither Harper nor his party having put any apparent thought into the committee, it'll at least be amusing to see whether Mayes can manage to talk his way out of the job even faster than Vellacott did.

Mission indefinite

Based on Peter MacKay's comments today, maybe Gordon O'Connor's "forever" time frame for Canada's involvement in Afghanistan isn't all that far off. And that goes doubly if the mission's goal still isn't any more specific than "(r)estoring democracy and a semblance of normal life".

On bad deals

The story may not get much attention since both the Libs and Cons will surely want to pretend it isn't happening. But Paul Dewar points out how both recent governments are moving Canada toward an appallingly bad deal for the new RCMP headquarters:
The Conservative government is set to ink a botched building deal that will cost taxpayers twenty times its value, according to an NDP MP.

Ottawa MP Paul Dewar said the Public Works department is ready to sign a 10-year lease worth $624 million for a building the last Liberal government could have purchased outright for $30 million.

“It is really is outrageous. The government will spend over $620 million for this property by the time it finally owns it — 20 times more than the original purchase price,” he asked in the House of Commons today. “Is this the minister’s notion of a good deal for taxpayers? If that is the case, he has really spent way too much time in the Senate.”
Naturally, the Cons' response for now is to point the finger at the Libs for failing to purchase the property for its actual value - and certainly some blame lies there as well. But there's no way that a government supposedly committed to reining in federal spending should be signing on to a deal which results in Canada paying many times more than a property is worth. And if the Cons really would prefer to cut costs on the backs of programs which actually accomplish things rather than by eliminating such obvious waste, then it may not take long for Canadians to conclude that the most important cost-cutting measure possible is to remove that attitude from any position of power.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Not giving up

The Cons had to be hoping that their decision not to let farmers take an ownership stake in the rail cars which get their products to market would be taken lying down. But fortunately, the Farmer Rail Car Coalition isn't playing along:
A farmers' group that planned to buy 12,000 rail cars from Ottawa is calling on farmers to contact their MPs about the government's decision to cancel the deal.

Handing control of the cars back to the railways means they will be able "to hold Western farmers to ransom in the future," Sinclair Harrison, president of the Farmer Rail Car Coalition, said Tuesday...

Harrison said (the Cons' plan to reduce current maintenance fees instead is) not a good deal for farmers.

"There might be a small decrease to freight rates in the short term, but significant increases in the future," he told a news conference in Regina.

Harrison urged people to phone or write their MPs. He said it wasn't right that Ottawa made the announcement right when farmers are in the middle of seeding.
Even among those who might support the Cons' decision, it's hard not to agree with Harrison that it's problematic for the decision to have been made at the time when those most affected by it would be too busy to respond. But the Cons' strategy could easily backfire if resentment toward Harper - both among Coalition members themselves, and among Canadians who think our farmers deserve better - has time to build before the next federal election.

Shady business

The Tyee reports on how B.C.'s "open and accountable" right-wing government is working out these days:
Last week, Bill 23 was introduced, which would allow government to keep secret the final reports of public inquiries. Now, we face Bill 30, which could seal information about nearly ANY of government's financial arrangements with the private sector...

As Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer noted "(Bill 30) is intended to erect a legislative framework around the Liberal experiments in having private companies assume contractual responsibility for providing government services," that is, the so-called P3s.

The government can designate a "joint solution project" that the added secrecy level is applied to, but one problem is that the term is not defined. It is not clear which projects the government would apply the JSP status to, or why, but it grants itself the complete discretion to do so. Many believe that JSP and another term "procurement project" are so vague they could be applied to nearly ANY financial arrangement with a third party. "The definition leaves it wide open to designation," (Liberal MLA Blair) Lekstrom lamented...

Not only is the bill a great danger to our democratic system to cloak government projects in secrecy, it can also create immense financial consequences for taxpayers. This legislation creates a potential breeding ground for waste, fraud and mismanagement. A B.C. provincial equivalent of the entire Quebec sponsorship program could have been marked as a "joint service project," meaning all information "jointly developed" (such as advertising contracts and plans) could be sealed. It was FOI requests by the media that first exposed the Quebec scandal and led to the Gomery Inquiry - but in B.C., this might not be possible now.
Even with a minority government which can't force legislation through Parliament, Campbell's federal counterpart has been noted to have included provisions to isolate the inner legislative circle from scrutiny. And with Campbell apparently setting the precedent, it isn't hard to see where federal law might go if the Cons were to win a majority. After all, the Bill 30 example would fit nicely with both the Cons' ideological desire to create disincentives to public-sector projects in favour of P3s, and Harper's apparent insistence on personal control over information.

Given that Campbell's party obviously isn't in line on this issue just yet, there may be time to stop the B.C. legislation. But even if the current bill can be stopped, the example of Bill 30 - and the potential for exactly the kind of abuse so often criticized by the Cons - should be kept in mind next time Harper demands the trust of Canadians at the polls.

(Edit: typo.)

Update: Good news for now, as both of the controversial B.C. bills have been "deferred" for this session of the Legislature.

Hypocrisy at its most obvious

The Ottawa Citizen reports that despite years of criticizing the Libs for accepting business perks while in office, the Cons have (to nobody's surprise) continued the practice for their own benefit:
Accepting gifts, including free Ottawa Senators playoff tickets in luxury corporate boxes, continue to be acceptable for Conservative MPs in Stephen Harper's government, despite criticism of the practice when the Tories were in opposition.

The practice means a double standard regarding the acceptance of gifts still exists between politicians, such as government whip Jay Hill who attended last Friday's Senators playoff game, and federal rank-and-file bureaucrats who continue to be prohibited by rules overseeing their conduct...

On the apparent double standard with bureaucrats and her party's critical comments while in opposition, (Harper spokeswoman Sandra) Buckler declined comment, saying she was not familiar enough with the issue since she was not in opposition at the time...

Conservative MP John Williams has been very critical of freebies, saying that attending free hockey games with clients "is influence-peddling at its most obvious" and should be outlawed for "all decision-makers," including politicians. Contacted Monday, Williams said he still feels there is a double standard, but that the new government's Federal Accountability Act is a step in the right direction in placing restrictions on freebies. He said the act will require lobbyists to register any freebies they give out.
It's hard to see what principled reason could exist for holding politicians to a substantially lower standard than public servants. But even if there is a principled argument to be made, the Cons don't seem the least bit interested in bothering to make it.

Instead, the Cons seem satisfied with the conclusion that whatever they do themselves can't be wrong...even if it's precisely the same behaviour which used to inspire fits of rage when done by the Libs. And even those Cons who are still willing to acknowledge a double standard are hiding behind increased obligations on lobbyists (not on MPs themselves) as an excuse for preferential treatment for the Cons now that they hold power.

Once again, the Cons' only problem with the Libs' culture of entitlement seems to have been the fact that it wasn't the Cons who reaped the benefits. Fortunately, though, the opposition parties have the means to use the Accountability Act to force the Cons to live up to their own opposition rhetoric. And hopefully they'll be able to work together long enough to ensure that accountability applies to Harper's inner circle as well as to the rest of Canada's government apparatus.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A wasted opportunity

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is currently reviewing Canada's human rights record since 1998. And during a time period dominated by a Liberal majority government with relatively few fiscal concerns, the country seems to have conspicuously failed to move in the right direction:
A United Nations watchdog group has harshly criticized Canada for its failure to live up to its commitments under an international treaty that protects people's economic, social and cultural rights.

In a tough assessment, one of the committee's 18 independent experts noted that “some situations (in Canada) had actually got worse” since Canada's record was last scrutinized in 1998...

“Many of the issues our committee raised in 1993 and 1998 are unfortunately still live issues today,” said Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, an expert from Mauritius. “Years later, the situation appears to be unchanged, and in some respects worse.”

“There is continuing homelessness and reliance on food banks, security of tenure is still not enjoyed by tenants, child tax benefits are still clawed back.”

“The situation of Aboriginal peoples, migrants and people with disabilities doesn't seem to be improving,” Mr. Pillay said.
About the best one can say for federal policy in the meantime is that a few of the problem areas are provincial rather than federal responsibilities...meaning that the blame extends beyond the federal government alone. But a few of the problems were plainly the Libs' responsibility, and were neglected during the time period when Chretien and Martin had the most fiscal flexibility. And based on the U.N.'s review, it's glaringly clear why Canadians shouldn't be satisfied with a repeat of the Libs' record.

On deterrents

Rafe Mair points out what the Cons would do if their goal was really to reduce crime in Canada rather than to be seen as "tough":
Putting more people behind bars for longer terms will have one obvious consequence: we will spend a hell of lot more money, over $80,000 a year per prisoner in federal prisons. And we'll need more capital to build more prisons...

What happens if we take the money the Tories' new policy will cost and make a better parole system? A system which is strictly enforced so that there really will be a deterrent to the parolee who knows that any breach of his parole will see him back behind bars.

This will require a better and thus more expensive parole system, but wouldn't that be a better way to spend our tax dollars than more jails and longer sentences?
Assuming that there's a need to make any massive changes to a system which has already produced a declining crime rate for the past 15 years, the short answer is "yes". But as Mair points out, the Cons aren't the least bit interested in asking the question to begin with.

That said, it's worth noting that even using the language of "deterrence", Mair's plan makes a lot more sense than anything the Cons are proposing. After all, it's not as if any of the crimes included in the Cons' proposed reforms are subject to a low maximum sentence...meaning that resources to improve the "risk of detection" element of deterrence are likely to produce far more bang for the buck than incremental increases in length of sentence. And the potential return on investment is all the larger with respect to parole, given that the nature of parole requirements is to keep offenders moving in the right direction at the very point where they'll have the choice whether to reintegrate, or to continue down the criminal path.

Sadly, it's doubtful that Toews and company are interested in considering the possibility of putting their money toward something more effective. Instead, the Cons' plan is to cultivate public outrage rather than rationally evaluating which action will best prevent crime in the future. And if the of a system which focuses less effort on reintegrating offenders into society is to produce yet more crime for the Cons to be "tough" on in the future, then so much the better.

Vellacott in the act

Both CBC News and the Dan Report have noted the latest nonsense spewing from the mouth of Maurice Vellacott. But a couple of important points seem to have been missed in the discussion.

First, both sources seem to give Vellacott too much credit in his response when called on his inaccuracy:
"As I'm not a member of the cabinet, I obviously do not speak for the government of Canada on these matters," he said in a statement Sunday.

"For my part, I appreciate the important role judges play in our justice system in ruling on the written laws and constitution of Canada. I respect the independence of our judges as a fundamental aspect of a free and democratic society."
CBC's headline considers this to reflect Vellacott "eating crow", while Dan describes it as Vellacott "swallowing his pride". But while the answer clearly reflects Vellacott being put in his place to some extent, it doesn't actually admit any error in the words Vellacott put in Chief Justice McLachlin's mouth. Instead, Vellacott merely tries to change the subject by talking about judges generally rather than about his original claim. And of course, Vellacott also tries to argue that any error on his part shouldn't reflect on his party.

Which leads nicely into the second problem with the coverage. In light of Vellacott's assertion that he doesn't "speak for the government", it's worth keeping in mind that Vellacott was hand-picked by Harper for his committee chairmanship. And having given such direct approval to Vellacott, Harper must also be taken to at least be willing to overlook Vellacott's wilful disregard for reality.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

On worthwhile missions

Politicians from all parts of the political spectrum (and both in Canada and internationally) have decried the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Which will make it difficult for anybody to criticize the NDP's recommendation that Canada make Darfur its top international priority:
The federal NDP says Canada should take a lead role in any UN mission to stop the bloodshed in Darfur, even if that means scaling back its commitment in Afghanistan...

He says an intervention in Sudan's Darfur province, where hundreds of thousands have died and millions are refugees because of a bitter civil war, is more like the traditional peacekeeping mission Canadians support...

NDP defence critic Dawn Black says it's unlikely the armed forces can make the necessary commitment to a Darfur mission and still maintain its forces in Afghanistan at current levels.

She says once Canada fulfils its Afghan commitment in February, it should look at returning to a more traditional peacekeeping role in a place like Darfur.
We'll find out soon whether the Libs and Cons who have claimed to be interested in stopping genocide and securing peace in Darfur care enough about the issue to commit Canada's troops. It seems all too likely that the talk by the other parties isn't intended to turn into action. But thanks to the NDP's willingness to point out how much good can and should be done by Canada's military in Darfur, the other parties will have to answer for any gap between their rhetoric and their ultimate position when the issue gets dealt with in Parliament.

Update: Gordon O'Connor responds to the idea by saying that due to Afghanistan, Canada can't spare troops for any other deployments:
There have been suggestions Canada might play a role in an eventual international effort in the Darfur region of Sudan, but O'Connor says the military already has its hands full with Afghanistan.

He told a Senate committee that the Afghanistan operation can essentially be maintained at the present level forever, but there's nothing to spare for any other deployments.
Left unanswered is the question of whether Canadians want to be locked into the Afghanistan mission "forever", especially if it leaves Canada unable to assist anywhere else in the world.

Your weekend must-read

Idealistic Pragmatist dissects the Libs' arguments to try to blame Jack Layton for all that is wrong with the world.

On poor advice

Shorter Frank Luntz: Never mind governing effectively, the key for the Cons is to keep bashing past Lib administrations.

It'll be interesting to see a couple of the consequences of Harper taking such advice. First, if he does, he'll open himself up all the more to claims that it's Bush's allies that really pull the strings in Harper's administration...which seems likely to turn into a liability which far outweighs any benefits to Harper in continued public anger at a past Lib regime.

Second, Luntz' advice essentially amounts to demanding that Harper resume auditioning for an opposition role. And with the Libs equally entrenched in bashing others rather than proposing solutions, the playing field could open up completely for another party which is willing to act more like a future government.