Saturday, July 01, 2006

One Big Loophole

The CP reports on the current financial status of Canadian political parties based on their recent filings with Elections Canada. There isn't much new or unexpected from most of the parties. But it looks like the main influence of Paul Hellyer and the Canadian Action Party may be to set a precedent which leads directly to campaign funding abuses:
The Canadian Action Party showed a surplus of $19,444 after party founder Paul Hellyer forgave a stunning $829,296 loan to the organization. The party received $131,969 from Canadian donations.
Now, as long as it's only the CAP receiving such a large windfall through what was supposed to be a loan originally, it's easy to conclude that Hellyer's money hasn't had a ton of influence yet. But the problem comes if other parties follow the CAP's lead.

Keep in mind that the Lib leadership race is largely being funded by loans, primarily from personal supporters rather than financial institutions. And remember also that the other parties blocked the NDP's efforts to include a restriction on private loans to political parties within the Accountability Act. Add those factors up, and there are clear indications that some parties both want to leave the door open to leave the door wide open to private loans, and are already taking full advantage of their apparent present ability to do so.

Of course, the forgiveness of a large personal loan is a step beyond what the major parties seem to be involved in at the moment. But if a donor to the CAP is able to forgive a huge loan without being affected by personal donation caps, there doesn't seem to be any principled reason why the same wouldn't apply to donors to (or creditors of) the other parties as well.

In sum, if the CAP is able to receive what ultimately amounts to a massive personal donation simply by including a loan as a step in the process, it's hard to believe it'll take long for other parties to follow suit. Which means that if some action isn't taken to investigate the legitimacy of the forgiven loan (or provide an explanation which would ensure that other parties can't follow suit), the effect may be to completely undermine Canada's campaign financing laws.

Well said

Jim Elve takes Dalton McGuinty's government to task for its insistence in investing massive amounts of money in nuclear reactors. While I'm less opposed to uranium mining and processing than some (and indeed the same rising price of uranium which in part makes the reactors a poor investment may also help fund better safety measures at mine sites), it seems glaringly clear that Ontario's plan has been fatally flawed from the start...and Jim nicely sets out the problems.

Making a difference

Sure, the Cons' child-care plan may not be creating any more child-care spaces. But lest anybody think the Cons haven't had some impact on the availability of care, they can at least take pride in having made existing spaces more expensive.

Time to celebrate

Happy Canada Day to all. Check out the sights and sounds of the day, and remember how much we have to be proud of as a country.

Friday, June 30, 2006

More fabrications

Two days after the Cons' convention funding scandal went public, Harper and company aren't getting any more plausible in their excuses, relying now on a patently false "everybody does it" defence:
The Conservative party's legal counsel, Paul Lepsoe, said that since "time immemorial" delegate fees have only been considered donations when a convention turns a profit.

"If there is a portion that is a contribution, in other words that exceeds the cost of the event, that portion constitutes a political contribution for which a receipt should be issued," he told The Canadian Press earlier this week.

"That's longstanding practice that everyone follows, including the Conservative party."
So who does "everybody" include? Well, none of the national parties besides the Cons which have won seats in Parliament since something reasonably approximating time immemorial:
But it wasn't a longstanding practice for the NDP, Liberals or the predecessors of the Conservative party...

(F)ormer officials from both the Progressive Conservative party and the Canadian Alliance, the parties that created the Conservative party, said the common practice they followed was to disclose convention fees paid by their members as political donations.

"I'm absolutely positive we always gave out political receipts, minus the amount paid for meals, but everything else was always treated as a political donation," said Bruck Easton, former president of the Progressive Conservative party who later ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal. "That was quite frankly an important part of getting people to our convention."

His account is backed by financial records submitted to Elections Canada.

Rick Anderson, a top organizer and executive member of both the Reform Party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance, said his recollection is that both parties followed the same practice as the Liberals and NDP.

"My memory is that everybody one way or another wrote a cheque out to the party and got a receipt for it," Anderson said.
Suffice it today that today's batch of lies isn't any more believable than yesterday's. Apparently the Cons' new idea of transparent government is to try to use transparently obvious lies to defend their questionable practices. But it shouldn't take long for voters to let Harper and company know that's not quite what they had in mind when they voted for what was supposed to be a cleaner government.

Update: Somena Media has more about the Cons' deflection tactics.

Principle notwithstanding

There's been some discussion of Peter Wrightwater's theory that the next federal election could be precipitated by Harper seeking a mandate to use the notwithstanding clause to reinstate security certificate legislation. I'm far from sure that the issues involved are particularly strong ones for the Cons in any event. But the least likely part of the scenario to me is Peter's assumption that the Libs would be willing to let an election happen over the issue if he's correct that it would be a strong one for the Cons.

After all, Harper surely couldn't go to the voters to demand such a mandate if he enjoyed enough support in the existing Parliament for the action. The Libs have some vested interest in defending the security certificate process which they themselves originated. And based on the Afghanistan vote, it's clear both that some of the more hawkish Libs are more than willing to support Harper's claims on national security issues, and that the Libs will hold enough members back to avoid defeating a Harper action when it would hurt the party's interests.

But what about ex-PMPM's talk about never using the notwithstanding clause? That shouldn't be a tough one to get around - whether by chalking it up as a "promise in an unsuccessful election" that is then deemed to be discarded after election day, as a desperate shot in the dark by a former leader who resigned his post for a reason, or simply as a principle which has to give way to national security concerns when the PM cries "terra!" often enough.

None of this is to say that use of the notwithstanding clause would actually be justified in the circumstances. But if the Libs don't want to fight an election over security certificates, it'll be easy for them to send signals that they're willing to play along rather than forcing Harper to go to the voters.

Short-term pain for long-term...nothing

CanWest reports that as part of the details now being hammered out, the supposed "long-term" resolution of the softwood lumber dispute is set to become anything but:
U.S. negotiators in round-the-clock softwood lumber talks are seeking an opt-out clause that could see the long-standing dispute back on the table in little more than a year, CanWest News Service has learned...

(A) controversial "termination clause" which was introduced by the Americans in negotiations in the last week is becoming a source of much consternation north of the border. The clause would allow either side to opt out of the agreement after one year so long as it give 30-days notice, meaning a possible return to lawsuits, import duties and political wrangling.

"That would be an extremely expensive deal for Canada and for the industry, keeping in mind that we're leaving a billion dollars behind," said Carl Grenier, head of the Free Trade Lumber Council.

"We were told that the government used that part of our money to get peace and stability for seven or nine years. Now we're down to, in the U.S. version, 13 months, and in the Canadian version, 3 1/2 years, which is not satisfactory either."
Given Harper's strategy of selling out as many Canadian interests as necessary in order to get some kind of deal done, it shouldn't be much surprise that the negotiations are now down to determining just how long Canada's protection payments to the U.S. will be effective. But it's striking that once again, the U.S. continues to bring large new demands to the table long after the agreement-in-principle was reached.

Meanwhile, the Cons don't seem to be the least bit interested in adding any clarifying provisions which work to Canada's advantage, and they're putting up at best a half-hearted effort to minimize the effect of the U.S.' demands. And while I suppose one could make the argument that Canadians may want to see a deal sooner if continued time at the bargaining table means nothing but more concessions from our side, surely there can't be much doubt that we'll be better off walking away from the table and starting over than pretending that a one-year band-aid resolves the issue for anybody.

Update: As Greg notes, the final result was effectively a two-year truce. Only in Harper's world could this be considered "long term". But what makes that timing interesting is that if Harper does stick to his supposed plan to keep governing as long as possible in the current minority, it could potentially pop up again before Canada next goes to the polls.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Whatever the merits of the Cons' possible defences to charges under the Canada Elections Act, there can be no doubt now that the party is doing its best to obfuscate and lie its way out of the current reports:
"The public has a right to know exactly what happened in this case," chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley said in a release late Thursday.

"The chief electoral officer requests the Conservative Party of Canada to provide him with the necessary documents and supporting information to allow the public to know the law has been respected."...

After Kingsley's statement, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper would only say they were "puzzled" by the Elections Canada statement...

Political opponents said that appeared to contravene Canada's political financing laws.

The Tories said there is no such rule and claimed that Elections Canada had already audited the 2005 convention in Montreal.

"Elections Canada has not audited the books of the Conservative Party regarding this convention," said the release from Kingsley, adding Elections Canada has no legal authority to compel such an audit.
If the Cons were really interested in being an open and accountable government, it would be a simple enough matter to offer their cooperation in Kingsley's investigation and avoid pretending the matter wasn't settled. But from Harper right on down, the Cons appear to be taking the exact opposite position for the moment. And the more the Cons try to spin their way out of it now, the less credibility they'll have when it comes time for a judge to decide whether to buy their defences.

Off the mark

The Tyee's Donald Gutstein points out that the much-discussed Senate report from last week which centred on the CBC was supposed to have a different focus entirely:
In February 2005, the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications visited Vancouver as part of its cross-country study of the Canadian news media. It heard nearly a dozen presentations bemoaning the fact that one company -- CanWest Global Communications -- has a near stranglehold on Vancouver news media. And it heard nearly a dozen complaints that this unprecedented concentration limits the diversity of sources and opinions available to Vancouver news consumers. "Frighteningly powerful" and "debilitating for voices" were how two presenters framed the situation...

The committee wrote that the "core" of its work concerns the "influence on news and information of media ownership in Canada." The senators began looking at the industry after CanWest acquired most of Canada's major dailies and Bell Globemedia took control of the CTV television network and the Globe and Mail.

But the study's release was framed around the alleged failings of Canada's public broadcaster.

The senators did a classic bait-and-switch ploy: say you're going to do one thing and then do something else to take attention away from your original goal. And in this case, their original goal was to examine media concentration...

Volume Two of the report contains 135 pages of testimony from witnesses and additional studies prepared by the committee. About 10 pages are devoted to CanWest's hold on the Vancouver market. Yet not one word of this background made it into Volume One, which contains the report's essential analysis and recommendations. CanWest gets off scot-free.

Instead, the report talks about future mergers and take-overs. It recommends a review of a proposed merger if one company reaches 35 per cent of a particular audience. There are precedents for this figure. It is a limit used by Canada's Competition Bureau in triggering a review of a merger or acquisition. It is also a cap imposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Canadian Press estimates CanWest's control of the Vancouver market at 70 percent, twice the proposed limit. But the Senate Committee suggests no remedy for the long-suffering Vancouver audience. It merely documents the history of how this sad state of affairs came to pass.
I'll grant that the CBC issues were important ones as well, and certainly worth the time spent commenting on them by the committe and others. But tinkering with the funding structure or programming goals of Canada's public broadcaster is bound to have far less impact on the country's media scene than the continuing expansion of an already-powerful media empire which already controls huge swaths of the market, and which is increasingly willing to avoid any semblance of fair coverage.

While the Senate committee was far too willing to get sidetracked from its core mandate, it's not too late to start discussion of what needs to be done to ensure some semblance of media diversity. But as Gutstein points out, that could easily change...and judging from the lack of any major media attention to the committee's real purpose, the point of no return may not be too far away.

Continued progress

The Saskatchewan Surgical Care Network has released its statistics for 2005-06...and while there's still work to be done in reducing waitlists, there's no doubt that reinvestment in the public health-care system is leading to substantially improved results:
The Department of Health entity that monitors wait times released numbers Wednesday on its Web site ( revealing that Regina Qu'Appelle and Saskatoon Health Regions combined to complete about 2,000 more surgeries in 2005-06 than the previous year.

The statistics also showed a 1,600-patient reduction on those waiting for surgeries...

The median wait time for all surgeries in the seven major districts is 4.4 weeks, although it's 12.9 weeks for some procedures like ophthalmology. However, for non-emergency surgeries it's 7.4 weeks with orthopedic surgeries still taking an average 18 weeks.

Weiler said in an interview that the success story in the numbers is the new tools that are helping fine-tune the management of Saskatchewan's surgical care system so that less people have to wait for so long.
Of course there's still a need to keep an eye out for ways to further improve care management...and of course the current management is still working its way through the existing waitlists. But there can be no doubt that the current strategy is making huge strides in the right direction. Which makes now the time to keep going in that direction - not to assume that the public sector can't take health care any further than it has.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Cleaning up nothing

Robert got to the story about the Cons' apparent mass violation of the Canada Elections Act before I could, but let's add a couple of elements to what's contained in the CP's coverage so far.

First, remember that the Cons' faulty analysis continued well into this spring, as the Cons apparently didn't know that their own Accountability Act would affect the Lib leadership convention:
A spokesperson for Conservative House Leader Rob Nicholson, who is shepherding the act through the Commons, dismissed the Liberals' fears of the bill's impact on their convention.

Genevieve Breton said delegate fees are meant to cover the actual costs of staging a convention. Thus, they are not considered a donation and are not subject to the donation limit.

"Basically, they were just wrong in what they thought," she said of the Liberals.

But Elections Canada, which implements and enforces political financing rules, backed up the Liberals' interpretation.
Rather than re-examining that conclusion for themselves even when there was substantial public debate about the effect of their policy, the Cons didn't bother questioning their wrongful assumption while the Accountability Act was still up for discussion in the House of Commons. Which could give the Senate a serious excuse not to go along with the bill, and certainly makes the Cons look like something less than a competent governing party.

Second, here's a quick look at the consequences of the Cons' ignorance under the Canada Elections Act. Among the provisions which it appears may have been violated are the following. First, for individuals whose delegate fee took them over the yearly contribution limit:
405. (1) No individual shall make contributions that exceed
(a) $5,000 in total in any calendar year to a particular registered party and its registered associations, nomination contestants and candidates;...

Second, for the Conservative Party and its agents:
405.2(3) No person who is permitted to accept contributions under this Act shall knowingly accept a contribution that exceeds a limit under this Act...

405.4 If a registered party, a registered association, a candidate, a leadership contestant or a nomination contestant receives a contribution made in contravention of subsection 405(1), 405.2(4) or 405.3(1), the chief agent of the registered party, the financial agent of the registered association, the official agent of the candidate or the financial agent of the leadership contestant or nomination contestant, as the case may be, shall, within 30 days of becoming aware of the contravention, return the contribution unused to the contributor, or, if that is not possible, pay the amount of it or, in the case of a non-monetary contribution, an amount of money equal to its commercial value, to the Chief Electoral Officer who shall forward that amount to the Receiver General...

427. No chief agent of a registered party shall provide the Chief Electoral Officer with a financial transactions return that
(a) the chief agent knows or ought reasonably to know contains a materially false or misleading statement
Emphasis added to show that a lack of knowledge isn't necessarily an excuse if the Cons have submitted inaccurate records without a reasonable explanation. And then the punchline, the applicable offence provisions:
497(1) Every person is guilty of an offence who...
(i.7) being a person authorized under this Act to accept contributions, contravenes section 405.4 (failure to return or pay amount of contribution);...

(3) Every person is guilty of an offence who...
(f.13) being an individual, wilfully contravenes subsection 405(1) (exceeding contribution limit);
(f.16) being a person entitled to accept contributions under this Act, contravenes subsection 405.2(3) (knowingly accepting excessive contribution);
(f.19) being a person authorized under this Act to accept contributions, wilfully contravenes section 405.4 (failure to return or pay amount of contribution);
(k) being a chief agent, contravenes paragraph 427( a) (providing financial transactions return containing false or misleading statement);...

500. (1) Every person who is guilty of an offence under any of (subsection)...497(1) liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $1,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than three months, or to both.

(5) Every person who is guilty of an offence under (subsection)...497(3) liable
(a) on summary conviction, to a fine of not more than $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than one year, or to both; or
(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine of not more than $5,000 or to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years, or to both.
In other words, there are potentially serious violations at play for the Conservative Party, for its chief agent, and for many of those who attended its convention. And that's sticking to formal legal charges, rather than what should be plenty of public outrage at the possibility that money wrongly collected by the Cons may have helped to put them over the top in a close election.

In sum, while the key events may have happened before the Cons took office, this looks like the first major scandal of Harper's reign in government. And this could be a fatal blow to the majority hopes of a party which campaigned on cleaning up politics and listed its Accountability Act as the main accomplishment of its first session in Parliament.


I'll post in more detail later about just how far some Lib supporters have drifted from reality in trying to blame Jack Layton for their own failures both in the last election, and in the spring session of Parliament. In the meantime, take a look at Babble poster Vansterdam Kid's analysis of the NDP's targets in Question Period to see just who the NDP has been opposing.

Encouraging disclosure

Ontario's privacy commissioner has called for a first step in ensuring that citizens are informed when their personal information may be at risk:
To fight identity theft, Ontario should pass a law forcing companies and organizations to inform customers if their personal information has been compromised, says the provincial privacy commissioner.

"Right now, if there's a breach in Ontario, nobody has to be notified unless it's health information," Ann Cavoukian said yesterday after releasing her latest annual report.

California has such a law, which requires immediate notification of privacy breaches so consumers can be on guard for signs their identities have been stolen, such as credit cards issued in their names to strangers...

Advocates say so-called "breach notification" laws make it impossible for companies, embarrassed by leaks of confidential information, to deal with them quietly, leaving customers at the mercy of unscrupulous identity thieves.
If anything, the "embarrassment" idea seems to me to overstate the case. But it should be clear that individuals need the opportunity to themselves take precautions when their personal data has been compromised - and when organizations are able to cover up breaches, that option isn't available.

Moreover, it may well be that the proposed law could turn out to be a plus for the affected organizations as well. While there might be some cost (both in reputation and in resources) to informing customers of any breaches, that downside would surely be outweighed by the danger that an attempted cover-up would leave an organization liable for negligent management of its data, with the potential for greater damages where individuals don't receive the opportunity to protect against the effects. But it may take a statute to highlight the dangers of trying to suppress any breaches.

In sum, the proposed law would only spur organizations toward a sound policy. Hopefully the Ontario government will shift from its current lack of responsiveness, and other provinces will also take a small step to ensure that data breaches have as few harmful consequences as possible.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Still not showing up

Apparently the Libs' reaction to having their poor Parliamentary attendance record pointed out last week was to continue the weak record at a fairly conspicuous time:
A Richmond, B.C., man says he feels slighted that many Liberal MPs left the House of Commons last week before the prime minister formally apologized for the Chinese head tax.

Howe Chan, whose father paid $500 to come to Canada, says he had taken his seat in the visitors' gallery, looking forward to hearing Stephen Harper's historic speech.

But Chan told CBC News his "eyes filled with tears" when he saw the empty Liberal seats as Harper made his speech...

(Liberal whip Karen) Redman says many Liberal members were not on house duty that day, and were already back in their ridings...

Chan says the ceremony itself was meaningful, but he remains embarrased by the lack of Liberals, especially since he's a member of the party.
It would have been problematic in any event for a large number of Libs to skip town just in time for the apology. But it's all the worse for it to happen at a time when the Libs were obviously aware that their erratic presence in Parliament hadn't gone unnoticed. And the end result is that even Lib members are left embarrassed by the party's MPs' disinterest in showing up to their elected seats.

Internal pressure

It isn't only the opposition calling for the Cons to follow through on extending access to information to include government itself, as several Con caucus members have called on the Cons to keep their promise:
In a letter obtained by Sun Media, Burlington MP Mike Wallace wrote to Justice Minister Vic Toews late last week asking he draft an update to Canada’s Access to Information Act. The request came as the Conservative government’s centrepiece accountability legislation was passed on to the Senate for its scrutiny before it’s expected to become law this fall.

In his letter, Wallace said he consulted his fellow government members of the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee (including Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary Jason Kenney) and would like to see a new bill that could be sent to the House of Commons...

Toews left opposition members frustrated last week when he appeared before the committee with a discussion paper around access to information reform rather than a proposed bill. Among the important issues left out of the Federal Accountability Act is a provision requiring government officials keep a paper trail of decisions.
While Harper seems happy to ignore dissenting views most of the time, he'll now have to answer the question of whether he's prepared to argue against both his caucus and his campaign promises in order to preserve an accountability-free cabinet. And even if Harper won't play along, the opposition parties and the Con backbenchers between them will have more than enough numbers to push through a change if he and Toews continue to try to avoid the access-to-information issue.

Good advice that they just didn't take

In case anybody was under the delusion that the Cons' moves to scrap existing environmental programs were based on a sound review of the programs' effect, word comes out that they ignored the good advice of the Environment Department when they gutted the One Tonne Challenge and Energuide programs:
The briefing book for (Rona Ambrose), prepared by departmental officials and obtained by CanWest News Service, contains strong warnings against reversing a number of key decisions taken by the previous Liberal government. In many cases, Rona Ambrose ignored the advice and has faced criticism from environmental organizations and opposition politicians.

Those decisions include scrapping the high-profile One-Tonne Challenge and the federal government's EnerGuide program, both of which are aimed at getting individuals to cut their emissions output in the home...

Departmental officials advising Ambrose described the two high-profile programs as "the cornerstones for engaging consumers."

"The day-to-day decisions of Canadians affect 28 per cent of Canada's emissions," the briefing books says, adding that each Canadian generates more than five tonnes of GHG's each year.

"The engagement of Canadian citizens is as much a fundamental component of addressing climate change for the long-term as engagement of industry."
But faced with that advice among other departmental information that didn't fit with the Cons' plans, Harper appears to have drawn on an oft-repeated tactic from his ideological soulmate to the south:
On May 5, three months into the Conservative government's term, Harper officially relieved Samy Watson of his role as deputy environment minister, the top departmental bureaucrat.
While it may be helpful from Harper's standpoint to be culling departmental employees who won't buy into the Cons' misinformation, it's undoubtedly a problem for those of us who want to see policy aimed at addressing problems rather than sheer political calculation. And if the Cons won't accept dissenting (though correct) views from within the departments under their control, it'll fall to outside pressure to point out when the Cons are headed for future missteps.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Good to know

Thanks to an extra push offered by the Bush-appointed judges, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it official: in the States, "when in doubt, kill" is a legitimate policy choice.

Contrasting coverage

About the only even vaguely plausible justification for the near-total lack of media attention to the NDP's environmental plan was the argument that the coverage would likely come once the plan had come together, rather than during the release of each component. Sadly, the full NDP plan to meet Canada's Kyoto obligations on a cost-neutral basis came and went with little notice besides some blog attention.

But now that it's time for the Cons to hand out military pork (some of which was already in the works before Harper took power), suddenly both the overall scheme and each daily announcement are being treated as top-headline news.

Update: In the comments, Pete points out another blog post on the NDP's plan. While I certainly don't agree entirely with Andrew's analysis, full credit to him for evaluating the NDP's plan on his view of the merits. Meanwhile, full discredit to CBC and CTV for giving top billing to the Cons' second daily announcement. (Interestingly, neither the Globe and Mail, the National Post nor the Star has yet followed suit with a story on the truck announcement.)

(Edit: typo and wording.)

On poor representation

Remember back when Harper claimed that he had appointed David Emerson and Michael Fortier to cabinet in order to ensure that larger cities were represented within his inner circle? It turns out that "representation" apparently means nothing more than the opportunity to get in on the Cons' cabinet photo ops, as Harper still lacks any clue about the problems facing Canada's urban areas.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

On shaping memories

The White House appears to be trying to make the lame Bush impersonation act into the better-remembered part of this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner. Enjoy a laugh again from Stephen Colbert, who oddly enough doesn't seem to have been invited to join Bush again.

On maintaining links

The CP reports that the Canadian government is determining whether or not to allow Canadian residents to run in foreign elections. As best I can tell, to the extent that another country allows its citizens living abroad to vote or run for office while living abroad, it would be a far greater interference in that country's politics for Canada to try to restrict participation than to stay out of the say nothing of the impact on an individual whose candidacy might be affected by Canada's refusal to cooperate. But it remains to be seen whether those interests will win out over what appear to be suspicions about foreign political divides replicating themselves in Canada.

The dangers of lowered expectations

In the aftermath of the spring session of Parliament, much of the commentary has focused on the view that the Harper government has boosted its reputation by keeping promises and exceeding expectations. Now, I don't agree that the Harper government has managed to do either. But I can see why there's at least some plausibility to such opinions...and it'll take a reshaped opposition, either in the Libs' strategy or in the voting choices of Canadians, to avoid continuing such a low standard that the Cons can barely help but to exceed it.

The problem seems to lie largely in the "fear Harper" message which has dominated the last couple of Lib campaigns, and in turn plenty of media coverage in the meantime. With the previous government having done its best to paint the Cons as a horrifying dictatorship-in-waiting, it hasn't been hard at all for Harper to exceed the anticipated level of competence and honesty in government - even while the Cons have broken promises from day one, and gutted several programs which deserved at least some continued evaluation before hitting the chopping block. "Hidden agenda" talk is a great way to play to fears during a campaign, but it also means that once in power, any action by the party subject to that accusation which falls short of a voter's deepest fears becomes somewhat of a pleasant surprise. And that in turn helps that party to boost its support enough to make the public's worst fears come true.

Consider instead how the Cons' parliamentary session would have looked based the NDP's implied standard of "wrong on the issues but (relatively) honest". Once the expectation of some bare minimum of honesty is added to the mix, the Emerson, Fortier and Clement fiascoes become serious problems rather than a continuation of politics as usual. And given their all-out assault on child care and the environment, the Cons certainly can't be seen to have exceeded expectations on the "wrong on the issues" front. Meaning that if the NDP's campaign message about the Cons had been set as the public's expectation all along, Harper would be on the defensive, trying to cling to power as long as he could rather than in a position to make a run at a majority.

In sum, Harper's first session in power should have been seen as a negative one by any reasonable standard. If the Cons are being held to such a low standard that poor policy and dishonest government are seen as better than expected, Canadian voters should ask themselves both who's set such a low bar for those holding public office...and whether they're more likely to get rid of Harper in the long run by setting reasonable expectations that the Cons will probably fall short of, or by shrieking that the end is nigh in hopes that it'll come true.

(Edit: typos.)

Lacking the ring of truth

Dalton McGuinty is trying to soften opposition to his government's plan to invest massive amounts of money in new nuclear power facilities, claiming that while he himself isn't a fan of nuclear energy, he doesn't have any choice in the matter. Now where have we heard that kind of message before?