Saturday, August 05, 2006

Open thread

I'm headed out of town, to return tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, feel free to discuss how the Cons' purging of Environment Canada websites didn't make the mainstream media when a Blogging Dipper was gathering the evidence for months, but suddenly receives attention once a Lib MP catches on.

On plausible outcomes

Angelo Persichilli's theory on Lib self-destruction is looking more and more plausible by the day. Yesterday, word came out that only three of the least-inspiring leadership candidates had built enough resources so far to pay off their initial campaign loans. And today, that has the rest of the campaigns making excuses ranging from not understanding disclosure rules to the classic Lib claim of "we'll get to it eventually":
Taras Zalusky said the Bevilacqua campaign misunderstood Elections Canada's rules requiring quarterly disclosure and therefore never sent in any donations by the June 30 deadline.

As a result, two June fundraisers totalling more than $80,000 were not counted, he said. Had they been, Mr. Bevilacqua's numbers would have placed him in the middle of the pack with candidates such as Gerard Kennedy and Scott Brison, rather than second from the bottom ahead of Liberal MP Hedy Fry's 15 donations totalling $15,150...

Stéphane Dion, now viewed by many in the party as a top-tier contender for the leadership, reported only $32,250 in donations — but his campaign says it has raised far more now...

He said because of the time lag for the party's processing of fundraising records, even the proceeds from some late June eventswere not included in the tally, and the campaign's fundraising is only really taking off now.

“We always expected to concentrate on the fundraising campaign in the summertime and especially in the fall,” Mr. Bevan said.

Ken Dryden's campaign manager, Mark Watton, also said that campaign has now raised more than $100,000, and that fundraising efforts only intensified in late June and early July...

Ms. Fry's campaign spokesman, Doug Fry, said her totals are lower because she entered the leadership race later than most “and we've been a little slower in spending the time fundraising.” But he said they are not worried about lacking the money to go on.
The Bevilacqua campaign's failure to follow the rules has to reflect poorly on the party, particularly given that the same excuse ended up as one of the final fall-backs in the Cons' cheque-swapping scandal which should be a strong message against Harper. Which means that Bevilacqua will apparently join Dryden and Volpe on the list of candidates who can only stay in the race at the party's peril. Though perhaps unsurprisingly, nobody seems to have considered dropping out for that reason just yet.

As for the rest of today's excuse-makers, Canadians have heard the Libs put intentions ahead of actions for long enough to know better than to put much stock in any promise that a candidate was just waiting for the right time to get something done. Meanwhile, the remaining three candidates (Iggy, Rae and Volpe) can be easily painted as lacking the ability to seriously challenge Harper. Which could indeed open the door to an outside candidate - or completely torpedo the Libs' supposed effort at renewal.

Of course, there isn't yet a strong contingent of Libs themselves making those arguments. But the combination of an internal intention to use them and their sheer plausibility has to call into question whether the supposed renewal effort is already headed downhill...and whether progressive Canadians should turn their attention elsewhere.

Update: And now the Star undercuts Ignatieff in particular, as well as Rae and Dryden to a lesser extent. Could there be a better time for a push to get new blood into the race?

That notorious Con humility

Bourque points out an upcoming book by Con organizer Bob Plamondon claiming to tell the inside story of the Cons' election win. But it doesn't say much either for Plamondon's range of discussion or for the Cons' current state of self-evaluation that "death and resurrection" appears not only in the book's subtitle, but also twice in a one-paragraph Amazon summary. I only wonder how long the book itself takes to share the inside scoop about Harper's ability to walk on water.

(Edit: revised wording.)

Friday, August 04, 2006

A difficult working environment

Quebec Environment Minister Claude Bechard makes life all the harder for the federal Cons, arguing against any national standards for clean air and asking for support as Quebec pushes to reach its Kyoto target:
Quebec Environment Minister Claude Bechard says the federal government must tailor its long-awaited clean air plan to provincial priorities, including Quebec's determination to comply with the Kyoto Protocol...

Bechard said Quebec has not been consulted on the plan, but he has discussed it informally with federal Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, who has promised consultations.

He said a clean air act with legally binding air quality standards, like that in the United States, would not work in Canada...

Bechard hopes the federal measures will reinforce Quebec's Kyoto compliance plan, introduced in the spring.

"For sure we want to influence the federal plan. We would like Quebec measures to be included in the federal plan. Our plan aligns directly on Kyoto, it is based on concrete measures, simple measures.

"The objective we had in tabling our plan before the federal government and the other provinces was to show that it's possible and the demystify the struggle against greenhouse emissions."
The national standards idea which Bechard dislikes actually may not be a bad one, as long as it's coupled with measures to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and other issues rather than focusing on smog to the exclusion of all else. But Bechard's stand turning the environment into a federalism issue will not only make it all the more difficult for the Cons to sell their seeming plan, but also seems likely to raise expectations in Quebec for some movement on Kyoto. Which will once again place Harper squarely in the middle of another tug of war between his base and the voters he'd need to pick up to wins any more seats than his party holds now.

Same old story

During the election campaign, it was a good chunk of the Libs' membership in Quebec that gave Stephen Harper the organization he needed to win seats. Then David Emerson further showed the interchangeability of Libs and Cons by crossing seamlessly from one Cabinet to the other. Now, several more prominent Libs have shown their willingness to switch to the Cons at the drop of a hat:
Liberal power couple Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz have publicly broken with the Liberal Party line on the Middle East crisis and are turning to Prime Minister Stephen Harper because of his support of Israel...

Mr. Schwartz's wife, Ms. Reisman, says she is leaving the party to support the Conservatives under Stephen Harper.

Mr. Harper has expressed firm support for Israel during the Middle East war. It's not clear whether Mr. Schwartz is also leaving the Liberals for the Conservatives...

A recipient of (an e-mail from Reisman) confirmed that Ms. Reisman, who was the Liberal Party of Canada's policy chairwoman in the 1980s and who worked for Pierre Trudeau in his first election in 1965, had sent the e-mail to several friends, and that she has told others the same thing.
So remind me again - why is it that Canadians are supposed to believe that a party whose members from top to bottom are willing to switch allegiance to the Cons at the slightest inducement or policy statement can do a remotely credible job opposing the Harper agenda? And how much longer will it take for the genuine alternative to get the credit it deserves for actually and consistently opposing the Cons, rather than looking to jump ship at the first opportunity?

A man of principle

In response to the Pembina Institute's call for some government leadership in protecting against undue environmental harm linked to oilsands development, Ralph Klein is offended by the very idea of a government bothering to plan anything:
"The Pembina Institute should keep their noses out of anyone's business, especially businesses that want to take risks," Klein said Thursday.

"To have a long-range plan would be an interventionist kind of policy which says you either allow them or you don't allow them [to proceed]. The last thing we want to be is an interventionist government."...

NDP critic David Eggen, who supported the report's call for a comprehensive environmental plan, reacted strongly to Klein's comments.

"It seems pretty irresponsible for him to say that," Eggen said. "If the Tories don't want to make decisions about the future, maybe they should step aside and let the New Democrats take a shot at it."
Naturally, I'd agree with the NDP position that a government shouldn't be completely unwilling to consider the future consequences of present actions. But in fairness, Ralph at least lives up to his apparent ideal in making nonsense up as he goes along rather than planning ahead.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Weak sources

All public indications suggest that the battle lines on softwood lumber consist of Canadian producers, provinces and the opposition parties on one side, and the CFLI, the U.S. government and the Cons on the other. But David Emerson has apparently invented a new constituency to support his belief that there's reason to keep pushing the deal on the industry:
"In my corridor conversations everyone is keenly supportive of what the government has done on softwood lumber," Emerson said.
Apparently Emerson missed the efforts Harper has made to make sure that the hallways around his cabinet members are free of anybody who could possibly challenge the Con viewpoint. Which only suggests that the echo chamber seems to be doing its job in suppressing critical thought among Harper's cabinet...but also makes it all the more clear just how quickly the Cons are falling out of touch with Canadians generally (while having no idea that's the case).

From sludge to steaming sludge

While Vancouver never stopped dumping partially-treated waste along its shoreline, Toronto may soon have to start doing the same into Lake Ontario:
City lawyers appeared in Ontario Superior Court yesterday seeking an injunction to compel Republic Services to continue processing Toronto's sludge for the next 90 days. The company stopped handling the treated human waste at Carleton Farms, a Detroit-area landfill, on Aug. 1.

While a pair of contracts signed last week will divert half of the 160,000 tonnes of sludge produced by the city annually to new sites, lawyer Frank Newbould said the city could still be facing a crisis if Republic does not reopen its gates.

"There is no guarantee the city will be successful in signing additional contracts," Mr. Newbould said. "The only alternative is to dump it into Lake Ontario or put it on the land near Ashbridge's Bay [water-treatment centre]."

Under the deals signed last week, the city will send 50,000 tonnes this year to GSI Environment Inc. and 20,000 tonnes to Ferti-val Inc. Mayor David Miller and Shelley Carroll, the works committee chairwoman, have both told reporters that those deals bought Toronto six months to find a home for its remaining sludge...

He argued the city is attempting to save itself at the expense of Michigan, adding it would be politically unwise for a Canadian court to order waste be shipped to the United States.

"What [Mr. Newbould] is asking you to do is foist this environmental disaster on Michigan instead of Toronto," Mr. Rickett said.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ordered Republic to stop accepting sludge at Carleton Farms following numerous complaints. Toronto argues the material should now be sent to Brent Run, another landfill operated by Republic in Michigan.
While one has to hope for Toronto to at least win an injunction to have its current contract carried out, the case nicely illustrates the dangers in allowing waste management and other key services to fall far beyond the reach of Canadian authorities who have an incentive to ensure a balance of interests. Hopefully Toronto and other Canadian municipalities will take the current precarious situation as a wake-up call, and start working to develop management solutions on their own rather than putting themselves at the mercy of contractors and foreign regulators.

Update: Toronto has lost its case in the Ontario Superior Court. Which should only strengthen the possible lessons if the city is willing to learn.

On alternatives

Now that even the Cons can't keep a straight face while claiming that the softwood lumber capitulation is in any meaningful way a good deal for Canada, they've switched to a different tactic, putting the forestry industry on notice of their intention do everything in their power to make sure that any alternatives are worse than signing on:
Industry players say they expect the Tory government is setting up an exit strategy — in case the deal flops — that entails blaming Canadian timber companies for rejecting the deal, which the Conservatives have argued is the best agreement possible...

Despite the agreement's stipulation that Canadians companies must drop softwood-related lawsuits, the Tories insist that the deal will not be held hostage by a minority of companies...

“If industry rejects this deal, everyone walks away and absolutely nothing about previous Liberal government's costly stopgap approach to the deal is guaranteed.”...

Appearing before a House of Commons committee Monday, Mr. Emerson cautioned that things would turn “ugly” if Canada rejected the softwood deal, because the U.S. timber lobby would launch fresh trade campaigns against this country and drive up timber-duty rates.

“I am here to tell you I think the litigation cycle would be coming our way, and it would be ugly, there would be job losses, there would be company failures, communities would be in very difficult situations,” he told MPs.

Mr. Emerson also warned that negotiations would be “gone as an option for a minimum of three years” if the industry rejects the present deal.
Of course, there's some temptation to see if Canadians can get in writing the Cons' assurances that they won't subject Canada to another negotiation process as laughable as this one. But sadly, it seems all too likely that even if softwood lumber never comes up again, Harper will be looking for other areas in which to sell out Canada in exchange for a checkmark on his own list of things accomplished - and it's hard to see why Bush would refuse him the opportunity.

Meanwhile, the rest of the threat amounts to the most clear statement yet that Canada's government has no interest in supporting Canadian industry against foreign extortion, no matter how many jobs are lost in the process. Which should come as a warning not only to the forestry industry, but also to any other Canadian businesses who might expect their government to be on their side.

Update: Lest anybody think the forestry industry would take Emerson's admonitions lying down, the backlash started today:
Softwood producers reacted angrily Thursday to Ottawa's threat that it will offer them no further help if they reject the Canada-U.S. timber truce, with one person warning that some CEOs might boycott next week's summit with International Trade Minister David Emerson...

“I am not sure CEOs are going to feel like it's a good use of their time to fly to Toronto just to have the riot act read to them,” said Jamie Lim, president of the Ontario Forest Industries Association.

An irate British Columbia lumber industry executive warned that some CEOs might skip next Wednesday's meeting if Ottawa doesn't abandon its hardball tone...

The threat drew a sarcastic response from a Manitoba forestry executive who says the five-year-old dispute has forced him to lay off one-third of his employees.

“I think that's a fantastic idea,” said Brock Cordes, the chief executive officer of North of Fifty, a Winnipeg-based lumber remanufacturer. “You wash your hands of Canada's second-largest industry, at a time when it is being devastated by the actions of a U.S. lumber [lobby],” he said, referring to the hard-line Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports that triggered the trade battle with Canada.
It'll be interesting to see whether Emerson tries to back out of next week's meeting first if it's clear that a large number of the would-be attendees aren't interested in being on the wrong end of a lecture. But it's obvious that the Cons now face an uphill battle trying to push the deal on anybody - and may well need to shift completely into blame-deflecting mode rather than putting much more effort into salvaging their excuse for an accomplishment.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Private attention to public wrongs

The CP reports that the Sierra Legal Defence Fund has launched a private prosecution against both the Greater Vancouver Regional District and the province of B.C. over a sewage plant which has apparently been operating in contravention of the Fisheries Act for over a decade:
The Sierra Legal Defence Fund said it laid a charge before a North Vancouver justice of the peace Wednesday on behalf of the Georgia Strait Alliance, T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation and the United Fishermen and Allied Workers Union.

It claims the regional district and the B.C. Environment Ministry have done nothing to keep toxic chemicals out of sewage from the Lions Gate primary treatment plant in West Vancouver...

Sierra Legal's investigator, Doug Chapman, said the group's review of provincial, federal and regional district records showed Lions Gate has regularly failed its monthly toxicity tests since the mid-1990s, violating the federal Fisheries Act.

Environment Canada went into the district's sewage plants six times in 2001-02 and conducted its own tests, which the Lions Gate facility also failed, he said.

"They sent them a warning and said if they continue to do it there may be enforcement action," Chapman said in an interview.

"Of course, nothing has happened to this day. They continue to fail them."...

Chapman said the Environment Ministry did not put a high priority on (the possibility of adding secondary treatment) when it approved the regional district's liquid management plan.

"The province gives them until the year 2030 before they have to put in secondary treatment, so that's why we charged the province," he said.
The Sierra Legal Defence Fund deserves credit for bringing the issue to light, even if it does seem all too likely that the action will once again be stayed by the Crown. But in any event, it shouldn't fall to private actors to make sure that laws for the benefit of the public are enforced. And from the sound of it all three levels of government appear to deserve blame for their combined unwillingness to either actually improve the facility's operations, or enforce the rules that would require that improvement.

They reap what they sow

While the Cons have tried to loudly declare their support for farmers since taking power, any actual funding apparently hasn't made it onto the priority list. And today, farmers showed their unhappiness with the lack of real backing:
Frustrated farmers blocked traffic at the foot of the Seaway International Bridge early Wednesday.

Twenty tractors slowed traffic to a crawl on the city's main traffic roundabout, which leads to the international bridge. The protest was meant to coincide with the Conservative government's caucus meeting in the city this week...

(Farmer John) Vanderspank said farmers are only now receiving the last bit of $755 million in aid from the previous Liberal government but have yet to see any new money from the Tories.

Despite promises of $750 million in new assistance, Vanderspank said the Tories have yet to hand over any new money to farmers who are struggling to keep pace with subsidized American and European farm imports.

With the United States heading into fall elections, Vanderspank said farmers aren't holding out hope on a breakthrough in trade talks that would ease subsidies.
Naturally, the protest doesn't appear likely to change much in the Cons' pattern of putting form over substance. But the contrast between the Cons' inaction on funding and their determination to prevent farmers from helping themselves shouldn't be soon forgotten - either by the protesters themselves, or by others who may have wrongly expected the Cons to care at least somewhat about their rural base.

Making matters worse

Apparently the Cons' idea of eliminating cronyism is to give its national council a veto over candidates who have run and lost twice before:
The federal Conservatives have moved to restrict two-time losers from seeking further nominations as party candidates.

Tories who have run unsuccessfully in the past two elections will have to seek special dispensation from the Conservative national council before running again as the party's nominee in their riding...

The Conservatives have long boasted about their democratic nomination system. So it was with chagrin that some previous candidates who have made two failed electoral bids reacted to the news that they will have to get the council's permission to take a third kick at the can.

About 35 former Conservative candidates across the country are in that position. Two who spoke to The Globe and Mail this week on condition of anonymity -- both feared that public complaints may sink any chance they have of obtaining permission to try again -- say they believe the standard nomination process is the most democratic way of deciding who will run.

But the party says it is trying to prevent cronyism as it increases its odds of taking more seats.
Of course, this only ensures that any candidates who want to run again need to be cronies of both the national council and the riding association, rather than just the latter - exacerbating exactly the problem the policy claims to try to address. As if we needed another reason to fear what the Cons will try to sell as a "Clear Air Act"...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Handing ammo to the enemy

I can't blame the Canadian Wheat Board for seeing a need to get creative in response to its position on the wrong end of Chuck Strahl's wrecking ball. But its proposal to become privatized rather than losing its monopoly position sales seems only too likely to give the Cons ideas as to how to further undermine the CWB:
The Canadian Wheat Board, fighting for its survival, has proposed that Ottawa cut it loose to operate in the private sector instead of dismantling its monopoly power.

The board unveiled a plan to snip the apron strings to Ottawa but retain control over marketing wheat and barley for 85,000 Western Canadian farmers...

The quasi-government agency hopes the overhaul it offered serves as a compromise for the federal Conservative government, which wants to erode its market power by letting Western Canadian farmers sell their own wheat and barley...

The board is seeking $1.5-billion from Ottawa to set up a capital fund that would make up for the loss of government-guaranteed payments to farmers as well as lending and borrowing guarantees.

It also wants Ottawa to rewrite legislation so it can own assets and partner with other players in the global food industry. The federal government would also lose its power to appoint directors to the board, most of whom would be elected by farmers instead.
Predictably, Strahl doesn't seem the least bit interested in the proposal as a trade-off. But when it comes time to work out the details of the Cons' plan, it doesn't seem the least bit unlikely that the ideas of privatizing the CWB and removing its loan guarantees will be seized on by the Cons and their anti-CWB allies. And with Strahl now able to claim that the ideas come from the CWB itself, it'll be far tougher for the CWB to even contain the damage at merely losing its current market position.

Filling the void

With the Cons apprently doing their best to develop a made-in-backrooms environmental plan, the Climate Action Network is stepping into the breach to get the public involved in creating environmental policy:
Frustrated by a lack of consultation on the government's "made-in-Canada" environment plan, activists plan meetings across the country to get public views on what should be done.

The Climate Action Network says it will hold workshops in 18 cities, including centres in every province and Yukon and the Northwest Territories...

Federal officials insist they are seeking views from outside government, but many environmental groups say they've been shut out.

"The reality is that the public has not been consulted at all," said Ann Coxworth of the Saskatchewan Environmental Society, one of the groups in the Climate Action Network.
Full credit goes to the Climate Action Network for stepping up to ensure public participation in environmental policymaking. But their willingness to fill the gap doesn't excuse the Cons for once again having absolutely no interest in hearing from either the general public or some of the most knowledgeable groups on a topic. Sadly, it doesn't seem like the Cons have yet learned anything from their previous experience in trying to impose policies without meaningful consultation...and it may take a more clear lesson at the polls to finally penetrate Harper's echo chamber.

On obsolescence

The Tyee's James Glave interviews author Giles Slade on the spread of planned obsolescence, and the resulting environmental problems:
How do obsolescence and disposability interrelate? And did the initial architects of disposability foresee the issue of waste?

Disposability was first created with paper clothing products, like paper shirt-fronts, collars and cuffs. You'd take off your shirt collar at the end of the day and stick it in the stove, and it was gone. It was only later that metal watches and Gillette razor blades started going into landfills. Once disposability was invented, then planned obsolescence could occur. We had invented mass production, and we had to feed the machine -- we had to get people to buy new stuff -- and obsolescence emerged as the answer. Waste was simply the after-phenomenon...

Which one single invention stands out in your mind as the killer app of obsolescence -- the one product that prompted or compelled us to chuck its predecessor, with grim consequences?

It hasn't happened yet but it's just about to. By 2009, the FCC [the U.S. Federal Communications Commission] will have mandated the complete change from analog to digital television. All the older TVs have cathode-ray tubes that contain maybe five to 10 pounds of lead. Television enjoys a 95 per cent market penetration in the United States, which would mean that, conservatively, there are about 300 million of them out there in living rooms and dens and basements. And they are about to be chucked. The sheer amount of toxic lead that is about to enter the waste stream is simply going to overwhelm it -- there are not enough container ships to send these obsolete televisions off to Asia where they can be broken up safely. This is a massive biohazard that is about to enter America's groundwater. And it is going to happen because electronic manufacturers lobbied the FCC to mandate digital TV. The problem for them was, there is not enough obsolescence in the television market; they are built to last five to seven years. That was too long...

Are we to blame, or is industry?

A lot of it is simply greedy IT manufacturers. In Europe, they have passed laws that make sure that electronic manufacturers can't use toxic substances in devices when they manufacture new things. They have to pay to back the old ones and disassemble them and reuse them.

Governments and companies would do the same thing here if we demanded it. But we don't. Why not?

We have become creatures of conscious self-display. You are what you drive or wear. You are the model Blackberry that you use. Life used to be better when things weren't that reductive. There is a sense of entitlement that we suffer under that doesn't exist in other cultures -- one that really makes us weaker. I am the last person who wants to give up my car, and I don't want my kids to go without food. But we are doing all this on credit, and I don't think it is going to last.
All too often lost in the rhetoric surrounding economic growth and/or productivity is any analysis of how growth is obtained - both in determining which products are actually needed to support a standard of living, and which ones could be built to support a higher standard in the long term. Unfortunately, it's hard to be optimistic that North America will follow Europe's lead anytime soon in giving any weight to the value of sustainable resource management as compared to the impulse to sell another wave of new, soon-to-be-obsolete products.

The implosion begins

Maybe the Libs' reported plan for self-destruction isn't so far-fetched after all, as Ken Dryden has publicly announced that he's laying off campaign staff and suggested that other campaigns are facing the same financial difficulties:
In a significant belt-tightening move, Toronto MP Ken Dryden's campaign for the federal Liberal leadership has had to lay off paid staffers.

"Well, the campaign is not out of money but we did have some layoffs last week," Dryden, considered one of the most progressive candidates in the field, told the Toronto Star last night.

"It's the kind of experience that all of us (leadership candidates) are going through."

The former Canadiens goaltender and Maple Leaf executive, who was the minister responsible for child-care in the Paul Martin government, is the first to admit having problems.

But there have been rumours all summer that raising money has been tough for the 11 candidates vying to replace Martin.

Over a two-day period last Thursday and Friday, senior Dryden official Mark Watton gave the bulk of the paid staff the bad news at the campaign's Ottawa headquarters. Dryden said last night he didn't have the exact number of layoffs but it was fewer than 12.
While the article is quick to attribute the problems to the novelty of donation limits, it can't speak well for Dryden or for any of the other candidates to have failed to anticipate the effect of the caps.

At this point, the other candidates would seem to have a choice whether to tacitly agree with Dryden, or to run him out of the race both for planning poorly himself, and calling the planning of the other candidates into question as well. And if the other candidates don't have either the guts or the plausibility to take out a sentimental favourite over his poor organization, then the door will be wide open for either a new candidate or a new party to step into the breach.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Strategery run amok

To follow up on the Hill Times report that Frank McKenna might yet win the Lib leadership race by acclamation, it's worth noting that at least a few of the Lib sources cited seem entirely willing to hand Harper a majority if it'll help them to draft their preferred leader:
First, the said Liberals want to create a vacuum around all 11 candidates, in terms of support, financing and policy, in an effort to asphyxiate them. This is not hard: in the last few weeks, the only mention of the Liberal leadership race in the media has been about Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis.

It would seem many are on holidays.

There are rumours about the lack of financial support in many campaign organizations. Some are saying that many have problems meeting the payrolls for their organizers. The only candidates who have no problems in financing their organizations are those who have no organizations.

Second step: spread rumours among the grassroots that none of the present candidates has the ability to defeat Stephen Harper in the next election. Even this concept, considering what we've seen up until now, is not hard to sell.

At this point, what you need are rumours that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is about to provoke a snap election in the fall and if that message succeeds, then you've hit the jackpot, meaning there is panic among the Liberals...

(T)his master plan might work with one condition: Mr. Harper could dissolve the House. In fact, this might be more a Liberal aspiration than a Harper plan. Many Liberals are already convinced that Harper will win a majority in the next federal election, so why wait another two or three years before he starts his second term?
I'll grant that it isn't clear from the article how much of the "plan" is simply conjecture from Persichilli. But from the text the idea does appear to have been drawn from "Liberal strategists". Which means that people from inside the party supposedly dedicated to stopping Harper are not only planning to hand him unchecked power, but expressing a willingness to weaken the hand of their own party in order to get it done as quickly as possible.

Of course, one could make the argument that such a plan could ultimately improve the Libs' standing in the long run by increasing the likelihood of a polarized electorate and thereby undercutting the NDP - which is presumably how the "strategists" involved earned their title. But the flip side is that a sudden, self-induced collapse by the Libs could turn the NDP into the preferred alternative to Harper sooner rather than later...particularly if McKenna or any other would-be leadership appointee decides that a party which is actively trumpeting its own lack of resources and competence may not be the best place to build one's legacy.

Mind you, the potential ascension of the NDP may take awhile to make up for the damage that would be done by a Harper majority. But at least in that scenario Canada's acknowledged progressive alternative would be free of the self-destructive impulse that seems to be the current Lib modus operandi.

Effective pressure

It hasn't taken long for the meetings of the Standing Committee on International Trade to bear fruit, as David Emerson has apparently stated that the Cons won't force a vote on their softwood lumber capitulation if the industry and the provinces stay relatively united against it:
Trade Minister David Emerson says the Canada-U.S. softwood deal might not make it to a vote in the Commons.

Emerson says that if the provinces and lumber businesses don't agree with the deal, it won't go to MPs for a vote...

The deal to end the longstanding trade dispute on softwood lumber has faced widespread criticism from industry and provincial governments.
While the article cites Emerson as "defending" the agreement, it's clear from his sudden willingness to listen to those most affected by the treaty that the Cons are (rightly) looking for a way out at this point. We can only hope that the supposed conversion isn't simply a matter of political convenience to be followed by more attempts to strong-arm the parties involved into accepting the deal...but there should be no doubt now that the Cons lack the leverage to force anybody to their point of view.

Update: Not surprisingly, Peter Julian is leading the way in putting the screws to Emerson:
“What we saw today was a display by the Minister of his government’s utter helplessness in the face of US interests," said Julian. "Canada was in the final stages of decisive litigation with the US – cases we were going to win – and this government suspended that litigation for quick political gain and a photo-op with George Bush.

“This deal is bad for the Canadian industry who want the return of the full $5.3 billion in illegal tariffs that have been taken by the US, it’s bad for those lumber communities that have collapsed without help or loan guarantees from this federal government, and it’s bad for Canadian lumber and mill workers for whom it will mean the end to any sort of economic security or growth for their communities because as Minister Emerson himself admits, the Americans can bail on this deal at any time.”

Unnecessary secrecy

CanWest reports that the Cons have followed through on their earlier plan to hand responsibility for collecting student debt to the Canada Revenue Agency. But while the transfer itself doesn't come as too much of a surprise, it's clear that the decision is just one in a line of many where the Cons have done virtually everything possible to avoid any public attention to their actions:
The shift in debt-collection responsibility, and the transfer of some 450 debt collectors at Human Resources to the 4,000 already at the tax department, was made without any public announcement.

"We didn't hide it," said Guy Proulx, assistant commissioner with Revenue Canada's debt-collection service.

However, it wasn't publicized either, and documents obtained through the Access to Information Act reveal that the plan was to keep the communication of the move "low-key."
Much like the previous story this weekend about pay raises for high-ranking civil servants, the issue isn't as much with the content of the moves (though in both cases there's still some cause for skepticism) as with the pattern of trying to limit public knowledge of the changes. After all, if the Cons are looking to restrict public attention even to relatively small decisions such as these, one can only speculate about how much secrecy would surround anything truly controversial. Which may mean that the Cons' current attempts to deflect attention will ultimately give rise to another valid wave of concern about what they're keeping hidden.

Update: Stageleft has more.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Our trash is better than yours

The CP reports on the imminent deadlines on any future disposal of Canadian waste in the U.S. But while there's not much surprise to hear the usual implausible claims of security problems, it's rather more so to see that Macomb County would rather take on a greater quantity of American waste than take in Canada's waste at its current rate:
Michigan municipality Macomb County has struck a deal with its landfill operator Waste Management Inc., that limits the amount of Canadian trash at the landfill to no more than 25 per cent of its total waste each year. In return, the company can expand its landfill and extend its lifespan by 20 years.

The plan needs the approval of two-thirds of the county's cities and towns. Macomb County receives more than 40 per cent of the Canadian trash shipped to Michigan each year.
The long-term effect for Canada actually may not be such a bad one to the extent that it may push Ontario to better manage its own waste. But in the meantime, it's hard to imagine a more pointless exercise in nationalism than this.

Natural results

The CP reports that Canadians aren't yet taking advantage of many of their opportunities to conserve electricity. But can there be much doubt that the all-too-common (and utterly incorrect) refrain that "conservation is futile" feeds into the failure of conservation efforts?

On measuring sticks

While there seems to be much consternation among the Libs about the media's determination to compare the party's leadership candidates to Trudeau, can one really blame the press for following the party's cues?
It's as if the last 13 years of Liberal governance never happened. Everyone looks back to Trudeaumania with longing. I examine my notes from the June leaders' debate at the University of Manitoba and see my scrawled words, "Where's Martin? Chrétien? How strange."

Their names seemed verboten among the hopefuls on stage, as if they'd never existed. Did nothing happen after Trudeau stepped down in 1984, leading to the calamitous summer sojourn of John "Chick" Turner at 24 Sussex? It was clangingly obvious: nobody dared mention those lost years, and successive Liberal governments, from Jean Chrétien's 1993 electoral victory to Paul Martin's loss to Harper in 2006, simply evaporated. Candidate Hedy Fry, for one, a physician and MP for Vancouver Centre, talked about Canada's place in the world evolving from the dreams of Lester B. Pearson and Trudeau...

From the day acclaimed academic Ignatieff was coaxed back to Canada from the directorship of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, his supporters ("the party gentry," as they're dubbed) have likened him to a 21st-century Trudeau. It was very smart, calculated (though there are regrets among some who cringe at P.E.T.'s name), and kept appearing in the media.
Of course, as has already been pointed out, the problem with speaking constantly about a Trudeau or someone who could be a true modern equivalent is that the actual field is bound to look weak in comparison. And with the Libs now apparently engaged in an effort to reenact a convention which took place 40 years ago, the opportunity is all the more open for an alternative to the mediocre lot of Libs to emerge as Canada's leading voice to counteract Harper's conservatism.

Update: Of course, part of the problem may simply be a weak field to begin with, as suggested by the fact that even thoroughly mediocre alternatives are apparently getting some Libs excited compared to the current crop.

(Edit: typo.)