Friday, September 15, 2006

Light Blogging Warning

I'll be out of town for most the weekend; as a result, blogging will be somewhere between light and nonexistent in the meantime. Enjoy the weekend, and I'll be back sometime Sunday.

History repeating

The federal Libs went from a majority government to a minority to a three-ring circus by focusing on an all-negative, all-the-time strategy. Now, despite the earnest warnings of party supporters, Ontario's provincial Libs appear to be taking the first steps down the same road:
The provincial Liberals lost more than a by-election yesterday in the west-end Toronto riding of Parkdale-High Park; they also lost their innocence.

Under Dalton McGuinty's leadership for the past decade, the Liberals have generally been on the receiving end of negative campaigning and election smears...

There were, to be sure, attack ads aimed at the Conservatives in the last provincial election, including a highly effective series with the tag line: "Not this time, Ernie." But these ads were sponsored by a coalition of unions called "working families." That gave McGuinty and the Liberals plausible deniability of responsibility.

Not this time, Dalton.

In a desperation move in the final days of the Parkdale-High Park by-election campaign, the Liberals issued press releases smearing their NDP opponent — 56-year-old United Church minister Cheri DiNovo. On the basis of some old sermons, DiNovo was described as a "radical" whose judgment should be called into question.

Liberal bloggers went even further, calling DiNovo "DiNutso" and accusing her of being "a former drug dealer."

Some Liberals — including Gerard Kennedy, who held Parkdale-High Park for the Liberals before resigning the seat to run for the federal leadership — deplored these tactics.

But McGuinty himself refused to disassociate himself from the smearing of DiNovo despite repeat attempts by the media to get him to do so...

(T)he consequences are greater than the loss of just one riding. Now, if the Conservatives and New Democrats go negative in next year's province-wide campaign, which they sure will (with repeated references to broken promises by McGuinty), the Liberals will no longer be able to play the injured innocents.

Of course, there is another possible consequence of the by-election results: that the defeat will strengthen the faction within the Liberal party that detests negative campaigning and wants to take the high road to re-election by stressing the government's record.

On the other hand, the "go negative" faction was arguing last night that the tactic helped to close the gap between the Liberals and the NDP, which was even wider in internal party polling last week.
And there may well be federal Libs who believe that the "soldiers in our streets" ads against the federal Cons were all that stood in the way of a Con majority as well. But on any realistic analysis of the by-election, both the result and the tactics were a complete failure for a party which more than tripled its nearest opponent in the same riding in the previous election. And if the Libs really do see pure smearing as their best tactic for the next general election, then it'll take a wholesale move from the Libs to the NDP to keep Tory's Tories from winning power on the backs of understandably disillusioned voters.

The spite continues

The Financial Post reports that slapping "special" taxes on companies who recognize that capitulating isn't in their interest may not be enough for the Cons. Instead to really put the screws to independent thought, they may use the Competition Bureau to try to force Domtar Inc. to sign on, under penalty of having a merger rejected:
Domtar Inc.'s refusal to sign the softwood lumber agreement with the United States may put at risk its $3.3-billion merger with Weyerhaeuser Co. because the transaction requires Ottawa's approval, sources said.

According to several people familiar with the matter, Domtar is the last major forestry company to hold out against the agreement signed by Ottawa and Washington on Tuesday. It's believed Ottawa is prepared use the Competition Bureau to stall Weyerhaeuser's bid for control of 55% of the paper products company unless Domtar changes its position.

Bob Klager, a spokesman for Mr. Emerson, said the idea Ottawa would use the Competition Bureau as a lever to win support for the softwood agreement is "pure speculation." A spokesman for Domtar declined to comment.

According to one source, Ottawa has set a deadline for companies to sign onto the softwood agreement of Sept. 19, when the agreement is expected to go to a vote in Parliament.

The Conservative government has shown its willingness to use hardball tactics to wrestle support for the deal from industry.

"There's always been this issue out there of how to incent companies to come on board -- a carrot or a stick," said Mr. Quinn. "[The government] has gone the route of the big stick."
Of course, it was once "pure speculation" that the Cons would twist industry arms to force them to accept a laughable deal under penalty of losing all support from their own government - yet by the end of summer the Cons had done just that. And even Klager himself doesn't deny the possibility of using the Competition Bureau to punish Domtar; he only suggests that it lies in the future rather than in any completed action.

Mind you, if the Cons do plainly influence the outcome of what's supposed to be an impartial Competition Bureau process, then there would seem to be a fairly strong bias argument from Domtar's perspective. (Which may indeed explain Klager's vagueness in leaving the threat hanging while admitting to nothing.) That, however, would leave the Cons merrily forcing Domtar into yet another of the litigation processes which they claim to want to avoid - that is, if Domtar continues to be the largest holdout against PMS' self-image of infallibility.

For Domtar now as for so many other companies before, it may well be true that preserving its non-capitulation rights through successful litigation isn't worth the cost of the wrath of the Cons. But once again, that would only reflect the Con government's determination to bully its own country around - and should offer plenty of reason for anybody else who might become a future target to remove that opportunity for once and for all.

(Edit: cleaned up wording.)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Leaks and lies

Yesterday, Colin Hansen, the B.C. minister responsible for the 2010 Olympics, hinted that an Auditor General's report to be released today would show that the Olympics were set to go forward within the government's budget. Crass politics in the "self-serving leak" department to be sure, but one would think it would at least bear some resemblance to the report itself.

Today, word comes out that Hansen's claim couldn't have been much more wrong:
British Columbia taxpayers are already on the hook for more than double what their provincial government estimated for the 2010 Winter Olympics and audit reports released Thursday suggest things could get worse.

B.C. Auditor General Arn van Iersel's report indicates British Columbia has little wiggle room to meet its targets for the Games and that there are several risks that could blow the budget.

The contingency fund the province has set aside has mostly been gobbled up and what's left likely won't be enough, he concluded...

The budget, said van Iersel's report, has increased to $2.5 billion for the B.C. and federal governments. Most of that - $1.5 billion - will be covered by British Columbia.
At best, the provincial government can claim that it may stay within its cap for "direct costs of staging the Games" by creatively redefining overruns not to fall into that category. At worst, it looks like Hansen's statement may have been nothing more than a desperate attempt to pretend there's some good news in advance of a scathing report. And one way or the other, B.C.'s citizens have to hoping to have both a more honest and a more competent government in charge by the time the Olympics actually roll around.

On standards

The CP reveals what is and isn't important for a Con candidate being vetted under Harper's command:
Neither intelligence nor political acumen are vital for would-be Conservative candidates, according to a top party official — just don’t be tagged a loser.

The blunt assessment was made last fall by Doug Finley, the Tory national campaign chair, as he was embroiled in efforts to oust Alan Riddell as a candidate in the riding of Ottawa South.

Party brass figured Riddell was a sure loser — he’d lost in 2004 — and made it clear in e-mails that they wanted him out.

“Neither IQ level, nor political astuteness are prerequisites to be a candidate — just a citizen over 18 with a reasonable credit record, no serious crime sheet and a surname other than Riddell,” Finley wrote in a December e-mail to Ian Brodie, who now is chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Now, the contents of some of the Cons' seats in Parliament would have long since put to rest any question whether a lack of intelligence would serve as an obstacle to election as a Con - and indeed one could argue that it may more a negative than a positive, particularly in PMS' top-down structure. But it's still striking to see the Cons' inner circle being so explicit in being perfectly happy with warm bodies filling the back benches, rather than placing any value on the possibility of representatives capable of adequately representing their constituents.

As an added bonus from the article, note that part of the Cons' justification for wanting to oust Riddell as the candidate was concern that he would be "unpredictable". Which stands in rather stark contrast to the Cons' willingness to immunize even their most embarrassing MPs from any nomination challenge - though in fairness one could say that Anders is downright predictable in his removal from reality.

On cover-ups

Rob Wipond follows up on the Victoria Times-Colonist's firing of a reporter, Vivian Smith, who dared to encourage readers to enjoy free entertainment rather than patronizing the newspaper's advertisers. While Smith is now back with the paper, that seems to be based purely on public outcry which went beyond the reach of the paper, rather than any internal commitment to providing thorough information to readers:
Features writer Janis Ringuette and University of Victoria writing professor and regular columnist Lynne van Luven quit the Times-Colonist in protest. Then the Canadian Association of Journalists started probing, and issued a formal complaint.

When B.C. newsweekly Monday Magazine and online magazine The Tyee also started asking questions, CanWest Global vice-president David Asper stepped in and reassured everyone the company “vigilantly” protected “unencumbered” journalism in their media empire. CanWest Global president Dennis Skulsky ordered Smith's re-hiring and issued a statement saying, “We value the editorial independence of each our news outlets and under no circumstances should advertising influence the content of newspapers.”

McKenzie then assured his T-C staff in an email that “we do not allow advertisers to influence the content of this newspaper”, and admitted his “error in judgment” in firing Smith. Both van Luven and Ringuette were also invited back; all of them with promises their writings would only be constrained by whether they were newsworthy and “fair and accurate.” ...

(S)o far no CanWest Global media outlets, let alone the T-C itself, have yet covered the events or even included comments about them in opinion-editorials. Meanwhile, front-page T-C stories over the last several weeks have included a gushing welcome to a visiting U.S. battleship's sailor-tourists, extensive glowing coverage of Victoria's “Symphony Splash” tourist attraction, and a damning attack on panhandlers for hurting tourism.

But the Smith story was a natural choice for van Luven. Her commentaries for the T-C have regularly explored social and economic issues surrounding Canadian books, media and writers. Van Luven also felt it was crucial that loyal T-C readers, the people for whom the events were most relevant, should hear about them.

“I think it's important for T-C readers because they need to have a sense that they're being respected as readers, and that if there is a controversy, if it's in the paper's management of news and public affairs, that they know about it,” she explained to rabble.

But editor-in-chief Lucinda Chodan said she would not be allowed to discuss the story in her column. And much like in the Smith firing, Chodan uncharacteristically did not provide any reasonable editorial reasons...

So why is the T-C resolutely refusing to let its journalists cover or discuss the story?

Chodan notably did not take the opportunity to suggest to rabble that there were any legitimate concerns about newsworthiness, reader interest, editorial space or fairness and accuracy involved in the decision. “I have no comment,” she said. “It's an internal matter.”
It shouldn't be too much surprise to see CanWest apparently prioritizing advertiser relations over either the reporting of real news, or general principles of journalistic integrity. But as noted by Wipond, the bigger question is the degree to which similar policies have spread throughout the CanWest chains - and what important stories might be under wraps for similarly arbitrary reasons. And unfortunately, there's no way for the public to find out just what its large media outlets are trying to suppress for their own gain.

A revealing comparison

CanWest reports that David Emerson is trying to justify the "special tax" against lumber producers who haven't yet been brow-beaten into accepting the Cons' capitulation with the argument that the agreement is like a "labour contract".

Naturally, that comparison from Emerson only gives rise to more questions about the Cons' handling of the deal. For example, why did the Cons choose to imitate most extreme possible caricature of a corrupt and ineffective union in reaching the agreement? Since when does a union get to establish private and arbitrary standards for support rather than conducting fair and confidential voting processes? And more importantly, where can the producers go to challenge the Cons' clear failure to meet any duty of fair representation?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Environmentally-damaging recycling

The National Post reports on the underwhelming emissions-reduction strategies from the Cons' planned environmental legislation:
In the short term, the government will rebrand a Liberal program to retrofit homes, which was killed after the Auditor-General's department criticized it for failing to justify its hefty price tags with effective results.

The Conservatives have also indicated previously that money will be directed toward new clean technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which experts suggest could mitigate climate change by trapping carbon dioxide instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. The technology for capturing CO2 is already commercially available, but storage remains a relatively untested concept. Some estimates suggest up to 90% of CO2 emissions could be reduced by applying carbon capture and storage to a conventional power plant.

But while the government will maintain its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the longer term, it is likely to be attacked for having no short-term plan. The Climate Action Network, a coalition of 40 environmental groups, reiterated its call yesterday for the government to regulate carbon pollution under Canada's existing environmental protection law.
It's worth noting that the Cons' plans are even less original than suggested by the article. In addition to the retrofitting idea being nothing more than a repackaged program which was slashed earlier this year, the Cons were also completely dismissive of previous plans to study carbon capture this spring.

If the Cons wanted to take credit for another party's ideas to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, they didn't have to look far for a plan which would actually make a dent in the problem. Instead, it looks like they're salvaging only a small portion of the Libs' patchwork plan which itself fell fall short of meeting Canada's obligations. Which means that any attacks on the Cons' shortsightedness, whether from the Climate Action Network or elsewhere, will be well-deserved.

A show of contempt

While the Cons may be looking to fill the Information Commissioner's job with somebody who by their own estimation is likely to turn toward making information less available, let's at least grant that they care enough about the position to be taking steps to find a replacement. Which is apparently more than can be said about their commitment to the environment.

On access to information

The Cons have already gone from claiming to want to open up access to information, to narrowing access as best they can. Now, they're apparently doing an about-face from their initial call for the civil service to change its culture to follow the spirit of the Access to Information Act, setting requirements for the next Information Commissioner with a heavy emphasis on recruiting a candidate from the culture the Cons claimed to want to change:
The fix may be in for a candidate to replace Canada's information ombudsman, warns the man who currently holds the job.

John Reid, the outgoing information commissioner of Canada, raised the alarm Tuesday, saying a recently posted job notice strongly suggests the Conservative government wants to fill the coming vacancy with a senior bureaucrat rather than someone more independent...

Reid, who's scheduled to end his term Sept. 29, noted the Privy Council Office posted the job vacancy on an obscure government website on the Friday before the Labour Day weekend, and allowed just seven days for interested citizens to deliver their applications. The web posting has since been removed.

"The notice of vacancy was not published in the Canada Gazette, nor was it published in the national press," said Reid, who has frequently clashed with prime ministers and civil servants bent on withholding information.

The job description also appeared to be tailored to the most senior levels of the federal bureaucracy, he said later in an interview.

"It's basically for a deputy minister," he said. "I can't think of anyone who would come from the private sector."
It shouldn't take an access-to-information request for potential candidates to know about the opportunity to seek a role as Information Commissioner. But for the Cons, even the office most focused on ensuring public access to information is apparently one to be hidden out of sight.

As noted by the article, it remains to be seen whether the Cons are actually hiring out of the hidden process, or whether they'll at least backtrack enough to make the position openly available. But the mere attempt to suppress any information about the opening should serve as an indictment of the Cons' commitment (or lack thereof) to transparent government - and however the next commissioner is hired, that attitude will present a major challenge.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


The Cons' report on how to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board has gone beyond the expected plan to remove its single-desk position in the West, to include cutting the Board off from public funds as well. Now if only anybody had seen this one coming...

The independent thought tax

The CP reports that the Cons will impose a 19% "special tax" on softwood lumber companies who dare to recognize that they can do better in litigation than under the Cons' capitulation:
The federal government plans to levy a 19 per cent special tax on lumber companies that withhold their co-operation with the newly signed softwood lumber deal with the United States, The Canadian Press has learned.

A federal official confirmed Tuesday the tax will be imposed in a way that penalizes lumber exporters who refuse to sign a waiver that allows Ottawa to leave about US$1 billion in lumber duties in American hands after the agreement comes into force...

The deal requires companies that are due refunds to sign waivers allowing Ottawa to kick money back to the Americans because otherwise they would be entitled to a 100 per cent refund...

A posting on International Trade’s softwood website says the special charge will be included in legislation needed to implement the agreement.

Klager said enabling legislation will likely be introduced next week when Parliament resumes sitting but could not say what percentage of companies due duty refunds had formally signed onto the agreement.
The tax is supposedly required to prevent "free riders" from obtaining their refunds without paying their share of the extortion. But on a cursory look, any payment from Export Development Canada under the agreement is limited to companies who complete a set of form documentation which sounds likely to include a commitment to drop all litigation. (I'd confirm that fact, except that the Cons have hidden the actual documents behind a registration wall with access open only to lumber exporters themselves. Openness and accountability, anyone?)

And if a company doesn't sign up for the EDC refund process? Well, one choice would be to try to recoup its partial share of the duties through a two-year-long US Customs process, which would itself presumably require agreement to drop all litigation. And the other choice is not to pursue payment under the capitulation agreement - which means having to pay the "special tax" on top of an exporter's bottom line without receiving anything back.

In sum, the agreements without the tax already ensured that there would be no risk of free riding. Unless, that is, the mere privilege of operating in a country governed by His Big Daddyness is construed as a "benefit" worth imposing some cost to match.

But that doesn't seem to be enough for PMS and company. Instead, the tax turns the Con government into a free rider on the backs of companies who want to continue with litigation, ensuring that those companies pay their proportional cost of the protection money, plus the export tax imposed under the agreement, while receiving nothing back but the Cons' eternal scorn for having the nerve to continue with successful litigation rather than an utter failure of a deal. And in the Cons' world, this apparently counts as "fairness and equity".

With the Bloc already having committed to voting for the Cons' sellout, it seems all too likely that this additional thumb in the eye to the softwood lumber industry will also manage to pass. But the tax should also highlight the Cons' utter spite against anybody who doesn't want to play along with their every whim - and should ensure that all Canadians in danger of facing similar tactics in the future do everything in their power to remove the Cons' opportunity to do any more damage to Canada.

The price of attention

One can't accuse Elizabeth May of failing to generate attention as leader of the Greens, and May makes the news again today with her effort to recruiting sitting Senators to her party. But the move appears far too likely to undermine what seems to be an important Green goal of seeking institutional change in Ottawa:
The new leader of the Green Party said yesterday she is talking with "more than one" senator about joining her party.

"I am talking to a couple of friends who are in the Senate to find ways that they may be able to help the party, including whether they can become Green Party senators," Elizabeth May said in a telephone interview.

Ms. May, a career environmentalist who was elected Green Party Leader last month, also said she is solidly in favour of the present unelected Senate even though that is "not yet" Green Party policy...

Senators count in the funding formula used for caucus research money, but it is unclear whether Green senators would qualify as a caucus without a presence in the House of Commons.

Ms. May said she hopes that having Green Party senators would allow her to take part in the daily scrums with reporters outside the House of Commons.
Aside from the benefits mentioned in the article, it's not hard to see how the Greens would otherwise stand to benefit by recruiting a Senator or two. A switch would offer an opportunity for the Greens to participate in at least one formal Question Period, and the seat in the Senate might well offer a close enough approximation to a seat in the Commons to bolster the Greens' claim to appear in televised debates.

But then there's the problem of the principles involved. While the Greens don't appear to have taken a formal position on the Senate in their last platform, at least a few of the party's statements regarding democratic reform suggest some distaste for the chamber. For example, the Greens promised to:
- Create a Government Accountability Act to ensure that all those who monitor government are selected at arms length from those they monitor, and to guarantee transparency and openness for all government activities...

- Reform the appointments system to discourage patronage.
Needless to say, the Senate as currently structured couldn't be much more antithetical to avoiding patronage and ensuring arm's-length selection processes for overseeing bodies. But the bigger problem isn't so much in the Greens' past positions, as in their presumably-continuing commitment to PR in the House of Commons. After all, how credible can a party be in claiming to want to improve the electoral accountability of the chamber which at least faces regular elections in some form, while defending the ability of completely-unaccountable partisan appointees to wield equal power?

It is possible for a party to stick to its principles even when offered the chance for a slightly larger platform. Unfortunately, May's action today indicates that she isn't the least bit interested in doing so...which can only lead to the impression that the Greens are looking less to reform Ottawa's power structures than merely to carve out the largest possible chunk for themselves. And if that perception takes hold, the damage to the Greens as a party supposedly dedicated to doing politics differently will be far greater than the potential benefit of a bit more of the spotlight now.

Ever more power

The Star reports that the Ontario Power Authority's controversial plan to pour $40 billion into new and refurbished nuclear reactors is effectively based on both a massive increase in small-appliance purchases, and an assumption that no government policy will operate to make those appliances (or any other energy consumer) more efficient:
A "load forecast" discussion paper released by the Ontario Power Authority estimates that minor appliances — everything from plasma screen TVs and DVD players to toaster ovens and iPod chargers — will be the single largest contributor to residential energy growth between now and 2025.

"Minor appliances include quite a few things," said Vipin Prasad, director of power system planning with the Ontario Power Authority. "In the old days, there was one TV (in a home); now there are at least two TVs. It's the same for computers, and that is all reflected here."...

As a load forecast, it takes into account voluntary conservation, changes in the economy that might reduce energy intensity of homes and businesses, and the replacement of old equipment with newer, more energy-efficient versions.

It excludes the impact of new laws, regulation and incentives designed to boost conservation and energy efficiency — for example, amendments to the provincial building code that go into effect next year...

"It's a fair chunk of consumption," said Mark Winfield, director of environmental governance at the Pembina Institute.

But Winfield disputes the assumptions being made about growth. He said the fact most minor consumer appliances and electronic devices have a short life cycle means they will likely be replaced with more energy-efficient versions every few years, unlike major appliances such as dishwashers.

"Essentially they assume there will be no improvements beyond the current commercially available technologies," Winfield said. "Given the current pace of technological development, this seems a very conservative assumption."...

José Etcheverry, a climate change analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said the power authority's projections ignore recent historical trends that suggest annual growth in electricity consumption is well below 1 per cent.

"They should be asking how to bring demand down to 0.5 per cent and not assuming that it will go up 1 per cent," he said. "Their estimates are high and represent a self-fulfilling prophecy approach."
Etcheverry's point nicely highlights the most important problem with the OPA's assumptions. If large amounts of money are put into creating enough generating capacity to allow for stagnant design standards (both in manufactured goods and in building construction), then the result will be a disincentive toward any increased efficiency.

It may be understandable that the OPA needs to keep in mind a potential worst-case scenario for increased power consumption. But surely that type of scenario would lead to exactly the kind of regulatory and legislative measures that the OPA has instead assumed away - that is, unless the province has already spent a bundle to enable and encourage the increased use.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Well said

While I'd like to have been able to make it to this weekend's NDP convention, Idealistic Pragmatist's recap sounds like about the next best thing to having been there. Give it a read if you haven't already.

Update: Or for less thorough and insightful coverage, you know where to look. I'd worry about the last couple of paragraphs in the context of Zolf's consistent wrongness, but they can probably be written off as a CYA strategy, allowing Zolf to claim prescience if the NDP does keep up its positive momentum.

Back for more

Having been thoroughly beaten back in her attempt earlier this year to move toward private health insurance under Ralph Klein, Iris Evans is now at it again, suggesting a coordinated national movement to "review" (and presumably gut) regulations which prohibit private insurance - regardless of the lack of support for increased privatization either in terms of its apparent effectiveness, or public opinion about the issue.

Evans' apparent spur to action is a lawsuit filed by an Alberta resident seeking payment for the cost of a hip replacement. But rather than responding in any way to the immediate cause (either by talking to the plaintiff directly or by using some of the province's overflowing coffers to eliminate the age restrictions which gave rise to the suit), Evans once again seems to be looking for excuses to weaken health care across the country. Needless to say, the response should be no less forceful this time than before - and if there's going to be a coordinated movement, it needs to be to bolster public health care in the wake of Chaoulli, not to look for reasons to demolish it.

Mission Creep II: Send In the Tanks

The Globe and Mail reports that the final numbers are in on the current "internal reassessment" in Afghanistan, with the result being another 5% jump in the number of troops in the line of fire:
The Canadian Forces' main tank unit is racing to prepare 120 troops and 15 Leopard tanks to send to Afghanistan as early as next week, in what would be a major boost in Canadian military capability there, according to a military expert who observed them.

The Lord Strathcona's Horse unit has been asked to ready a tank squadron so they could be shipped out by Sept. 19, the end of a current training exercise, and possibly sooner, said Bob Bergen, a military expert with the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary...

Mr. Bergen said the preparations have reached a hectic pace, including a scramble to centralize all of Canada's tanks at CFB Wainright, so that future rotations of the tank squadron could be trained there. Canadian troops are sent abroad for six-month rotations and return home for at least a year before they are sent again...

The Lord Strathconas are essentially Canada's major tank unit. But it has only 330 soldiers, enough for two rotations, but not three.
It's particularly noteworthy that the likely deployment is one that's unsustainable on its face in light of the number of troops within the squadron. Which means that in order to keep the planned numbers abroad past the one-year mark, Canada will have to either follow the U.S.' pattern of extended stays overseas, or rush to try to train replacements - neither of which will provide much comfort to those who'll be in combat outside the usual timelines or training routines.

But then, the Cons have always been more interested in shows of bravado than in sustainable plans, and this latest consultation-free increase in troops in Afghanistan certainly fits that bill. The question now is whether the House of Commons will withdraw its symbolic acquiescence in PMS' militarization...or whether the Cons will be allowed to "reassess" Afghanistan into yet another entirely new mission, whether or not Canada's military is equipped to handle it.

Update: It turns out that the actual increase in the number of troops is 450, including an additional 125-150 soldiers beyond those needed to operate the tanks.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

On credibility gaps

While the Libs' Quebec leadership debate appears to have descended into farce, the more lasting harm to the party today may come from a report from its own ethics panel which sounds in part like something taken directly from the most blunt of PMS attacks:
The federal Liberals have almost no credibility left with the Canadian public and will have to arm themselves with an exhaustive code of conduct in order to regain that trust, says a report by a panel of ethicists.

The Liberals will also have to take steps to ensure ethical behaviour among their candidates, parliamentarians and employees, says the report commissioned by the party.

“The Liberal party must bring order to its own affairs if it wants the public to one day confer another mandate to govern,” concluded the panel which included Michael Bloomfield, a Victoria-based biologist and ethicist, and Penny Collenette, spouse of former Liberal minister David Collenette.

“Many estimate that, on just about every issue, the party has absolutely no credibility in the eyes of the public,” said the recently released report, a frank analysis of the Liberals’ behaviour during the federal sponsorship scandal...

Liberal scandals have given rise to cynicism among the public when it comes to politics, the panel found.

“During the commission (of Judge John) Gomery, no minister or bureaucrat took responsibility with regard to the program or its failures,” said the report.

One member of the panel noted that “it’s the party that gives rise to politicians and that completely missed the opportunity to reprimand them for their unacceptable behaviour.”
The report dovetails nicely with the NDP's appeal to replace the Cons with a credible government as soon as possible, rather than letting the Cons continue to damage the country while the Libs decide who to put at the head of the same institution which lost the trust of Canadians to begin with. "One day" may eventually come for the Libs...but in the meantime, Canada needs and deserves better than PMS.

On trade-offs

The Cons' long list of commitments broken grows by one, as PMS' inexplicable hostility toward any greenhouse gas emission trading has led them to cancel promised funding for the clean development mechanism under Kyoto:
The federal Conservatives are cancelling a $1.5-million pledge by the previous Liberal government to help developing countries cut greenhouse emissions under the rules of the Kyoto Protocol.

Abandoning the pledge made at a United Nations conference in Montreal last December is another blow to the teetering climate treaty which the Conservative government still claims to support.

The money would have gone to the treaty's clean development mechanism (CDM), which allows industrialized countries to earn credits by investing in emissions-cutting projects in the Third World.

“Taxpayers' dollars will not be spent on international credits,” said Ryan Sparrow, spokesman for Environment Minister Rona Ambrose, in an interview.

“That's what our government's position has been since taking office.”
Needless to say, there's a significant difference between declaring an intention not to use a particular mechanism as Canada's means of reducing its emissions (i.e. purchasing credits as the Cons have indeed planned not to do), and reneging on a commitment to actually create such a mechanism in the first place. And indeed the more sound approach would be to make a genuine commitment to meeting the Kyoto targets based on domestic emission reductions, while also helping to build the institutions which can help other countries to reduce their emissions through the market mechanism.

But once again, the Cons aren't the least bit interested in seeing anything associated with Kyoto succeed. And if that means taking an action which may ensure that developing countries have far less reason to reduce their emissions than they would under a functioning CDM, then so be it - no matter how much that flies in the face of the Cons' constant criticism of Kyoto in failing to reduce emissions from those same developing countries.

Thanks to their hostility toward Kyoto in particular and any global perspective on environmental management in general, the Cons have gone out of their way to avoid even a relatively minimal amount of funding which could pay off many times over in its effect on greenhouse gas emissions. Now, Canada instead stands to pay an awfully high price in the future due to the costs of dealing with global warming. And it'll take a quick change to a government which actually recognizes the risks and rewards involved to reverse that current path.

Planting seeds

You wouldn't know it from the CP's coverage, but Layton's keynote address from the NDP policy convention included plenty of material for discussion beyond Afghanistan - including what amounts to a dare to the Libs to choose Stephane Dion as their leader:
And then there's a son of this city -- Stephane Dion.

A man with whom I have fundamental disagreements about how Canada should build and renew itself.

But also a man who is, if I may say so across the partisan divide, distinct from his principal opponents in being a committed Canadian and a man of principle and conviction.

And therefore almost certain not to be elected leader of the Liberal party.
It'll be interesting to see how (or whether) the Libs respond. Presumably Dion won't want to echo Layton's words based on their being a bit too aggressive toward the other frontrunners. But it seems entirely possible that Layton's statement could get wielded against Dion by another candidate seeking to portray Dion as too far left to win the leadership. And if that type of strategy succeeds (whether or not making reference to Layton in particular), the NDP should be nicely positioned to pick up votes of Quebeckers whose current preference might be a Dion-led Lib party.

A vote of confidence

The second-largest NDP convention ever has set a new standard for leadership support, with 92% of delegates endorsing Jack Layton as leader. While the larger question is whether the NDP can expand its reach, it certainly helps to have a united party working toward that end. And with what's already a disparate group of NDP delegates having this much confidence in Layton, it may not be long before voters who haven't before put their support behind the NDP start to do the same.