Saturday, October 07, 2006


The CP reports on Northern Ontario's power problems, as a region capable of producing large amounts of cheap and clean energy is instead suffering from poor distribution and post-deregulation prices:
Some 25,000 direct and indirect jobs have been lost in the past year as a result of a battered forestry industry - a crippling loss for small towns, which have seen their tax base shrink and unemployed workers move away, leaving empty homes, shops and schools.

In acknowledging a weakening industry, the government has helped lower wood fibre costs by improving forest access roads and offered loans for plants that want to expand and modernize. But the coalition says mill owners have repeatedly cited electricity as the most crippling part of doing business in Ontario.

Since the deregulation of Ontario's $10-billion electricity market in 2002, prices have jumped about 60 per cent, even as the price of generating and producing energy in northern Ontario has stayed the same - roughly $40 per megawatt-hour...

Northerners consume just 2,000 megawatts of power compared to the 25,000 swallowed up in the south, said New Democrat Leader Howard Hampton, whose Kenora-Rainy River riding depends heavily on the forest sector.

Unlike the south, where consumption and supply are the problem, the north's electricity challenge is high rates, he said. That's why a northern pricing scheme is so fundamental to the region's economic future.

"The electricity system has totally turned their world upside down," Hampton said.

"Even though they built their mills in the middle of the best wood fibre in the world and in the middle of power dams where they have a surplus...somebody turning on their air conditioner in Toronto will shut them down."...

Since the 1970s, there's been talk of beefing up the north's puny transmission lines. But the province seems more interested in buying power from Manitoba and Labrador, and spending billions on nuclear plants, he added.

"That ticks me off...We have the power right here in our own province. We're just not looking at tapping into the renewable energy up in northern Ontario."

Upgrading lines near the Parry Sound area could get 600 more megawatts flowing south at a cost of $50 to 60 million, less than the cost of a nuclear plant, he added.
It's hard to see what Ontario could possibly stand to gain from its current refusal to make better use of its northern generating potential. But it's far too clear that the McGuinty government isn't the least bit interested in investing in connections across the province. And the end result is not only that the northern part of the province is losing out on both power generation and other industries, but also that the power-hungry southern part of the province is stuck looking to unduly expensive and hazardous alternatives such as nuclear power to meet the demand that could be met further north.


So much for giving the Cons credit for dealing with Canada's northern sovereignty issues, as they're inexplicably pinching pennies on exactly the diplomatic efforts which would otherwise have stood to be strengthed by an increased Arctic presence:
Ottawa dismissed its ambassador to the world's main circumpolar council, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said, putting efforts to bolster its claims to vast Arctic territories in doubt.

Arctic Council envoy Jack Anawak was fired last month and his job was eliminated...

Anawak's duties would be assumed by senior officials at Canada's foreign affairs department, officials said.

But critics said the move undermines Canada's dealings with its Arctic neighbors on common issues, including land claims and measures to fight global warming...

The move could weaken Canada's fight over several territories claimed by other countries in the Arctic, critics said.

Canada is currently at odds with Denmark over the tiny, uninhabitable Hans Island between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, and is feuding with Russia over rights to overlapping parts of the Arctic continental shelf.

As well, Ottawa and Washington disagree over control of the famed Northwest Passage and the resource-rich Beaufort Sea, which touches both Alaska and Canada's northern territories.

The disputes have grown in importance as scientists believe that global warming could open up the Northwest Passage to year-round cargo shipping by 2050, and allow the exploitation of resources like oil and natural gas in the Arctic...

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum set up to address Inuit or Arctic people's concerns and challenges. Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the United States and Russia are members.
Considering the billions of dollars being poured into icebreakers in an attempt to assert sovereignty over Canada's northern areas, it would seem a reasonable investment to have at least one envoy dedicated to working with our northern neighbours within a well-established structure.

But for the Cons, diplomacy across the polar region and the concerns of Canada's Inuit are apparently of so little value as not to be worth dedicating a single position. Which only makes it all the more certain that the most important challenges and opportunities present in Canada's north will continue to be ignored as long as the Cons are in power.

(Via catnip.)

On misappropriation

The Cons have done their best to pretend that valid critiques of the Libs' failure to act on climate change somehow support a conclusion that it's simply not worth bothering to do anything meaningful. But at least one expert cited by Rona Ambrose is less than pleased to be cited in support of the Cons' painfully slow approach:
Daphne Wysham, a fellow from the Institute for Policy Studies, said Ambrose is using her think tank's criticism of the Clean Development Mechanism to abandon Canada's responsibility to live up to its commitment under the international agreement.

"I'm horrified by that," Wysham said in a phone interview. "I certainly don't want to see Canada pulling out, did not want to the U.S. pulling out. We want to see Kyoto strengthened."

Ambrose made reference to the think tank on Thursday during a parliamentary committee arguing that the mechanism, which allows countries to get credits for investments in developing nations to reduce emissions, had no accountability...

"There is a lot of evidence now about the lack of accountability around these kinds of products," Ambrose told the committee. "I'll tell you what a clean development expert said at the Institute for Policy Studies...(She) said 'you're creating all kinds of incentives for corruption.'"

Wysham admitted she criticized the mechanism, but explained that she was urging countries to develop alternatives to make more effective progress in the fight to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that cause climate change...

"In the meantime, Canada should absolutely be shooting for their emission targets reduction at home," Wysham said. "It's no excuse if you're saying we can't trust the system abroad. Let's see you put your money where your mouth is at home."
Needless to say, it doesn't look likely that the Cons will want to highlight Wysham's actual position anytime soon. But in the absence of anybody more credible than Tim Ball willing to back their refusal to take broad-based action, it's only a matter of time before the Cons once again try to base their argument on sources who abhor the Cons' actual philosophy. And hopefully Canadians will pay enough attention to that pattern to recognize that the Cons simply lack any honest rationale for their continued neglect.


Linwood Barclay brings some high-quality snark on the Cons' literacy cuts. Give it a read.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Compromising positions

The CP reports on yet another broken softwood lumber deadline...and the possibility that the Cons' latest workaround to avoid industry dissent may involve a forcible end to the efforts of Canadian producers to challenge the U.S.' initial illegal duties:
Late Friday, International Trade Minister David Emerson said the two countries "have found a satisfactory resolution to the outstanding legal and administrative issues."

Emerson was unavailable for comment but his communications director, Bob Klager, said the two governments found a similar method for terminating the litigation.

"Under this new process only a limited number of cases will need to be terminated in order for the revocation of the duty orders," he said. "I think by virtue of the fact we've developed with them this simpler process, it satisfies the interests of both countries."

But an opponent of the deal said the "simpler process" involves unilaterally quashing the cases.

NDP trade critic Peter Julian said lawyers for the Canadian and U.S. governments filed a status report in the U.S. Court of International Trade on Friday that tramples on the legal rights of Canadian opponents of the lumber duties.

The brief says that on Friday the Canadian and U.S. governments tentatively agreed to amendments in the July 1 softwood deal that, if implemented, would affect one of the cases the New York-based court was hearing.

"The litigation aspects of the agreement are currently under review by officials of the United States with the authority to approve the compromise of the claims in litigation," the document says.

"On the day that the agreement enters into force, the governments of Canada and the United States will stipulate to a dismissal of all claims raised by the Government of Canada (in one softwood case)...and the United States Department of Commerce will revoke in their entirety the underlying anti-dumping and countervailing duty orders on softwood lumber from Canada."
The article notes that there's some controversy as to the precise effect of the deal. But the difference seems to be more in form than in substance: even if the deal doesn't lead to any outright legislative bars to continued litigation, forced implementation could well put a stop to the ongoing cases if they're found to be moot. Which means that at best the Cons' most recent move to reopen the supposedly-closed deal may have "won" some uncertainty as to whether or not the claims will be allowed to continue - and at worst they've won nothing whatsoever.

Moreover, it seems glaringly clear that the latter interpretation will be pushed by the Cons themselves: surely neither government would have gone to the trouble of submitting a joint brief to the effect that their actions would "compromise" the claims at stake in the litigation. Which means that while the Cons may be trying to have it both ways in their words, their actions once again reflect a clear stand against Canadian interests.

Meanwhile, if you're searching for coverage which completely ignores the issue of ongoing litigation in favour of undiluted right-wing spin, ConWest has what you're looking for.

No help at all

Tony Clement has predictably refused to do anything to deal with the obvious problems with a wait-times plan that narrowly focuses on only a few procedures, suggesting that provinces seek to improve wait times across the board but offering neither funding nor ideas to get there:
Clement said the task of reducing wait times shouldn’t stop (with the five procedures), and he would be willing to look at reducing emergency room wait times, given recent problems some Ontario ERs have been experiencing...

However, he says the federal government won’t be doling out more money to the provinces to lessen wait times.

Clement said his government is adequately funding health care, including $5.5 billion over several years earmarked for reducing wait times.

“It must be a question of management,” he said.

“That’s my only conclusion, because it certainly isn’t a lack of resources.”
Needless to say, Clement's apparent view is wrong on more than a few levels. On the question of whether the issue is a lack of resources, the steady correlation between increased inputs and better results should suggest that there's plenty of reason to believe that a lack of money is indeed the issue. And to the extent that management issues are in play, the disproportionate focus on the Cons' five procedures to the exclusion of reducing waiting lists across the board is a far more obvious source of resource misallocation than anything Clement seems prepared to point out.

Of course, Clement can't really be expected to deviate from the Cons' general view that any government funding is too much. But it's clear that he sorely lacks anything resembling a prescription to improve the condition of Canada's health care system. And both the provinces and Canadians generally should rightly be seeking a second opinion as to what can cure the system's current ailments.

Content and connections

Steve Anderson questions whether corporate ownership of citizen media outlets may hurt participatory media in the long run:
Current TV is far from the only corporation in the participatory media game. Fox Interactive Media recently spent $580 million to acquire Google, a large and ever more powerful media corporation, owns one of the most popular blog platforms: Furthermore, YouTube — the most popular online video site on the Internet — has now partnered with Time/Warner/AOL (the largest media company in the world), and is seeking other such partnerships (YouTube is also a private corporation).

The fact is that because these corporations are operating to make a profit, they simply want to have a popular website and then sell our eyeballs to advertisers and marketers. As Wired magazine put it, “Rupert Murdoch is betting he can transform a free social network into a colossal marketing machine.” It's no wonder that going to the homepage of many of these corporate participatory communities often slams an ad, trailer or product placement in your face.

The more these sites bow to advertisers the less exposure users will have. This flies in the face of everything these websites are supposed to be about: an open space for citizens to communicate and share media. The basic openness of these sites is now the bait with which these corporations have caught a large audience.

These sites are starting to feel like newspapers that have front pages filled with ads, with the opinion section way in the back. Citizen produced media is often buried, their voices largely unheard, while paid content enjoys everyone's attention. How far can this process go before citizens move on and create a new place to openly communicate?
Anderson's commentary does appear to miss some of the benefits of the commercial site in providing a simple content-delivery system whose users can then link up elsewhere. While sites such as Blogging Dippers and Progressive Bloggers may be required in addition to a corporate site to facilitate connections among people of similar interests, it's equally clear that the amount of content available for linking would be far lower if Blogspot didn't enable users to put up their own content at no cost and with little requirement for technical knowledge.

Of course, ownership may matter to some extent, particularly where corporate media interests may seek to limit the content accessible through their sites. But thanks to the ease with which connecting sites can be set up, the issue of "front" or "back" is essentially irrelevant as long as content is still available. Which means that while the participatory sites mentioned by Anderson are likely worth a look as well, we're still a long ways away from having reason to think that corporate ownership is significantly curtailing individual participation.

Entirely expected

The Globe and Mail reports that a narrow focus on a few types of wait times may be leading to increased waiting lists for other types of surgery not included in the Cons' proposed guarantee:
Doctors across Canada who perform hysterectomies, colonoscopies and gallbladder surgeries say the operations are being delayed as politicians channel resources into the five waiting-time priorities established in a federal-provincial deal crafted two years ago.

Specialists who do not provide cancer care, heart operations, cataract removal, hip and knee replacement, and diagnostic imaging — the five priorities spelled out in the 2004 accord — say they watch resources flow to those areas while their own patient queues grow longer. The situation, which calls into question the strategy adopted by successive federal governments in their effort to cut lineups, is of such concern that it was raised at a meeting of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons two weeks ago.

And because there is so much anecdotal evidence to support the complaints but no hard data, the problem is a major focus of an on-line study launched this week by the Canadian Medical Association...

The original proposition was that the provinces would begin by targeting the five high-visibility areas and then gradually increase the number of procedures that must be treated within clinically acceptable time frames. But that hasn't happened, said Andrew Padmos, chief executive officer of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“The funds made available and the process to deal with them has not been able to address all of the backlog in those specialty areas that were selected and it's certainly made things worse for the other areas in general,” Dr. Padmos said.

More than that, because hospitals and health districts are given money for volume in the five target areas, there is justification and encouragement to shift resources — such as operating rooms, anesthetists and operating-room nurses — in those directions because it will bring in new and additional funding.

“So it's a bit of a double whammy because everything else is seen as a cost whereas these five areas can be construed as revenue producing,” Dr. Padmos said.
It's not clear yet whether the problem is truly a national one, or whether some provinces or regions have properly prioritized general patient care over the Cons' arbitrary targets. But there's now at least anecdotal evidence showing an effect even before any guarantee has been formally implemented, and it may not be long before more substantive data is available as well.

Mind you, Tony Clement has never been one to accept the prospect that evidence should trump his party's plans. But now that the predictable (and predicted) effects of a narrow focus are already materializing, it may not be long before the wait-times guarantee not only drops out of the Cons' main priorities, but drops off the radar entirely in favour of more thorough coverage.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Cooperative efforts

CBC reports that while it took awhile to materialize, a new coalition has come together to defend the Canadian Wheat Board against the Cons' intended attack:
A newly formed coalition of Prairie farm groups is trying to put the brakes on moves to end the Canadian Wheat Board's grain-marketing monopoly.

It's called the Prairie Producer Coalition and includes the National Farmers Union (NFU), the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM), the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, Keystone Agricultural Producers and Wild Rose Agricultural Producers...

The coalition, which met for the first time in Winnipeg on Wednesday, plans to examine the issue and then release a report which they plan to make available to farmers...

NFU president Stewart Wells said farmers have to regain control over the wheat board.

"Over the last couple of months, the federal government has given every indication that it has no respect whatsoever for the Canadian Wheat Board Act and the actual laws of the country," he said.
As I've noted before, the movement may be starting off on a questionable legal footing to the extent that it seems to view a plebiscite as a required step in the CWB's destruction. But the coordinated effort should force the Cons to come to terms with just how much of their rural base stands to lose out if the Cons force the change on Western Canada. And that effect will be particularly strong since the inclusion of SARM means that the fight to preserve the CWB goes beyond producers alone - which means the Cons may have no choice but to pay attention to the fact that their apparent disdain for the interests of the rural Prairies may easily be repaid in kind at the polls.

On selective sovereignty

The Cons did their best to pretend to stand up to the U.S. when it came to talking tough about the Arctic. But when it comes to Canada's southern border, they apparently don't have the slightest problem with the U.S. doing as it pleases on Canadian territory.

The Lieberman Party strikes again

There's plenty not to like in the Senate defence committee's recent report. But perhaps the most inexplicable part of the report (which is highlighted by the CP) is the call for PMS to take over the public airwaves to launch another jingoistic "defence" of combat in Afghanistan:
The government has to do a better job of explaining Canada's mission in Afghanistan, a Senate committee said Thursday...

Senator Colin Kenny, the committee chairman, said two successive governments left the explanations to Gen. Rick Hillier, the chief of the defence staff.

"This was not his job."

Kenny said Prime Minister Stephen Harper should speak to the country on TV, explaining the rationale of the mission.

"We think there needs to be a very clear statement about what the government expects to get for putting the lives at risk and spending all of that money," he said. "It's up to the government to make that case and we think if the case is made well, there will be a significant amount of public support for it."
In fairness, the Senate's call is officially for some real content in response to many of the questions which have gone unanswered about the mission. But there's no reason why the answers should have to come in one particular forum as opposed to another - and indeed the Libs in the Senate (not to mention those in the House) have plenty of opportunity to ask for the same information from their Con counterparts.

Instead, the report adds nothing to the frequent calls for some real justification for the Afghanistan mission. And it shouldn't take much of a prognosticator to predict that PMS is politically canny enough take the invitation to free air time without meeting the Senate's request for actual information.

It's easy to see why the Cons in the Senate want to give Harper more air time and spread blame across the past two governments. But for the Senate's Libs, the willingness to hand a platform and political cover to Harper shows only exactly the same type of naivete that's kept the U.S.' Democrats from being a remotely effective opposition party over the past few years. Fortunately, Canada's voters (unlike their counterparts to the south) do have a real option which is able to speak out for what Canadians want rather than being caught up in insider politics...and the sooner that choice is able to win power, the better.

(Edit: typo.)


A new Natural Resources Canada report suggests that current Canadian petroleum reserves are substantially less than usually assumed - but that even at a lower production level than projected by the industry, petroleum production will singlehandedly cause a major increase in greenhouse gas emissions:
Canada's natural gas exports to the United States will fall by nearly two-thirds by 2020 as new unconventional sources fail to offset declining production in Alberta and rising domestic demand, a new study from Natural Resources Canada suggests.

Meanwhile, the country will have to rely on expensive and heavily polluting oil sand projects to provide as much as 80 per cent of its oil production, up from 40 per cent currently, according to a department report, entitled Canada's Energy Outlook, which was released yesterday...

The government analysts have projected that Canada's natural gas production will peak at 6.6 trillion cubic feet a year by 2011, and then it will decrease, although they expect the decline will be partly offset by the production of coal-bed methane and gas from the Mackenzie Delta.

Still, with rising domestic demand, the energy outlook says net exports of natural gas will drop to 1.3 trillion cubic feet in 2020 from 3.7 tcf this year...

The analysts are also less bullish on oil sands production than is CAPP, which forecasts that capacity to reach four million barrels a day by 2020.

The NRCan report says it will be 2.9 million barrels, which would still represent 80 per cent of total Canadian oil output...

Under the NRCan scenario, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions would climb to 828 megatonnes in 2010 -- 253 megatonnes above the country's Kyoto commitments -- and would rise to 897 megatonnes in 2020. Nearly 60 per cent of that increase is expected to occur in the oil sector, primarily from producing and refining the bitumen from the oil sands.
It's worth noting that the article (and by association the report) doesn't seem to tackle the question of whether Canada will even be able to reduce natural gas exports under NAFTA. But one way or the other, it seems rather plain that some of Canada's resource industries aren't far away from dying out.

The only rational response would be to recognize the need to use what's left of our dwindling oil resources to help fund a move to more sustainable energy sources. The question now is whether the Cons will ignore the report (and perhaps declare research to be beyond the mandate of NRC), or take seriously the likelihood that the oil industry is less sustainable both economically and environmentally than its proponents would like to admit.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Neglect by any other name

It isn't often that a party that's both as image-conscious and as loose with the truth as the Cons acknowledges the need to correct itself, especially on a matter of form. Which makes it noteworthy that the Cons have the party's admitted that their environmental policy falls short of anything that can be called a "plan":
After months of promising a comprehensive "Made-in-Canada" environment plan, word from the federal Conservative government is there won't be a formal plan after all.

A senior official in the office of Environment Minister Rona Ambrose said the word "plan" is no longer being used. It's now an "approach."...

Since being elected last winter, the Conservatives have deferred most questions about environmental issues by referring to the coming plan.

Environmentalists say they're not surprised at the shift in terminology.

"We've known for month's (sic) there's no plan," said Louise Comeau of the Sage Climate Project. "What they're planning is a series of announcements."
Now, it's understandable that the Cons may have recognized how empty their own set of disconnected ideas looked in comparison to an actual plan. But the sudden lowering of the Cons' target only emphasizes just how far they're out of touch with a Canadian public which already recognizes the need for far more action than the Cons have any intention of delivering.

On backroom deals

Mitchell Anderson reminds us why the federal Libs have been strangely absent from the debate over the Cons' apparent intention to do as little as possible about greenhouse gas emissions originating from the oil industry:
The Environment Commissioner warned last week that the federal government must do "something drastic" to begin to deal meaningfully with climate change. But don't count on anything more than hot air when Harper releases his long awaited "Made in Canada" climate policy sometime this month.

The reason dates back to a deal quietly penned between Ottawa and Canadian oil industry in 2002 that essentially killed any chance Canada had to meet our obligations under Kyoto agreement.

It seems that the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers was concerned that the newly ratified accord to limit emissions of greenhouse gases would limit their profitability. Apparently, Ottawa was only too happy to accommodate.

Calling these documents a "deal" is a bit of a misnomer, since the Canadian public got essentially nothing in return. Incredibly, this sellout was almost completely ignored by the mainstream press.

Among other things, Ottawa committed to the fossil fuel sector that they would "set emission intensity targets for the oil and gas sector at no more than 15 per cent below the projected business-as-usual levels for 2010."

"Large final emitters" like the oil sector account for fully 50 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. In order to comply with Kyoto, the rest of the Canadian economy -- namely you and me -- would have to cut our emissions by more than 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has cheerfully increased their emissions by 47 per cent since 1990, and they are set to double again in the next decade.
Of course, it's now clear that the Libs' plan at the time was never on track to reach Canada's Kyoto commitments - meaning that the lack of action was across the board, not only with respect to industrial emitters. But then, Canadians in general didn't demand or receive a signed agreement as to how much (or how little) the federal government would do to regulate emissions.

As Anderson notes, there's little reason to think the Cons will demand more from their own supporters than the Libs were willing to from industrial polluters generally. Which means that this deal is one of the few signed by the Libs that the Cons may actually follow, and that another change in government is a prerequisite to any real action toward dealing with emissions.

Anderson may be wrong in suggesting that Canada's doesn't have any realistic means of meeting its Kyoto obligations. But the chances of reaching the goal are diminishing by the day thanks in large part to the Libs' choices. And Canadians will have every reason to doubt any claim of environmental commitment by a party which was so willing to sign away any effective action.

Excuses for bigotry

The big news today is the federal Cons' apparent decision to bring forward a bigotry bill to enshrine gay-bashing as a statutory entitlement. But as offensive as the idea is generally, it's even more striking to see the lengths the Cons are going to in trying to invent problems to justify the bill:
Justice officials have also been told to search for ways to protect the rights of individuals to criticize homosexual activity because it contravenes religious teachings, or to refuse to do business with organizations whose purposes he or she disagrees with, without being brought before a human-rights tribunal.
In other words, the intention of the bill isn't even to deal with what the Cons perceive as current limitations on the ability of gay-bashers to go about their prejudice. The plan is to first look for every conceivable area where it's possible to insult gays, and then introduce the bill as a pre-emptive strike to cover all such contingencies.

It's worth noting also that the timing of the bill appears intended to make sure that courts don't have an opportunity to actually balance the interests involved. (Which, as pointed out by Vues d'ici, fits nicely with the Cons' elimination of the court challenges programs) Instead, the Cons' intention is to conclusively resolve any dispute against the rights of gays - effectively denying that there could be any competing rights worthy of court protection.

Needless to say, the proposed bill shouldn't stand a chance of making it through the current Parliament. And indeed the news of the bigotry bill may only encourage opposition members to vote against reopning the gay marriage issue. But it's still striking to see the Cons going this far out of their way in favour of discrimination while holding onto a tenuous minority government - and the move should only highlight just how much more damage the Cons' reactionaries would do given a chance at a majority.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On non-apologies

The CP claims that Rona Ambrose has apologized for dismissing Quebeckers' concerns about the environment. But if it's possible to apologize more disingenuously or disrespectfully, I'm not sure how:
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose apologized Tuesday for saying that "Quebec is not really a concern to me" in developing plans to combat climate change.

"I'm very sorry if my remarks have been misintepreted," Ambrose told the Commons in response to a complaint from Liberal MP Lucienne Robillard. "I know Quebecers love their environment."
Naturally, Ambrose starts with the classic non-apology trick of implying that the fault lies with others misinterpreting her remarks. But just to go that extra mile in showing her disrespect for Quebeckers, Ambrose's comment goes on to turn their concern about the environment into a stereotype to be dismissed glibly, rather than anything worth taking seriously.

If there's any good news in Ambrose's apparent contempt for both Quebec and the environment, it's that it shouldn't be long before voters have a chance to pass judgment on Ambrose and her party. And Ambrose can't expect too many apologies if the Cons' dismissiveness now leads to their electoral downfall later.

A study in contrasts

The CP's coverage of the Cons' plan to regulate auto emissions lumps together the responses of Buzz Hargrove and Jack Layton into a general category of "criticizing the plan". But a closer look at the statements shows a stark difference between a pseudo-progressive who allows narrow interests to outweigh any concept of the greater good, and a vision based on a shared commitment to environmental progress.

Hargrove's position is essentially based on a view that any regulation whatsoever is an unfair imposition on the car industry:
Hargrove said in an interview the proposed standards would force billions of dollars worth of changes to the way North American automakers manufacture cars, at a time when they’re already “on their knees.”

“The timing is ludicrous,” Hargrove said. “The industry has made major strides on emissions reductions, and a more appropriate way to handle this would be to introduce incentives for people who have older vehicles to trade them in for newer vehicles that are much more fuel efficient.”
Never mind that the regulations would only match planned standards in the U.S. - or that they'd only come into effect on four years' warning, which should offer a significant amount of lead time for the industry to adjust. For Hargrove, any solution which results in possible limitations on the car industry must be unfair. And in turn, the only solution which could be applied to the auto industry is to base an environmental strategy entirely on subsidizing new car purchases.

Granted, it's understandable that Hargrove wants to boost the fortunes of his own members above all else. But the result is a criticism of the Cons which completely misses the point, demanding an even less effective and more narrowly-focused means of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions than the one the Cons are proposing. And that position leaves the Cons able to take the side of defending the need for environmental action despite their own woeful record on the issue.

In contrast, Layton's position doesn't oppose the regulation at all, but rightly recognizes that it should form only a small part of a wider solution:
NDP Leader Jack Layton said the car industry should also be supported in embracing new technologies, and consumers should be given incentives for buying more efficient vehicles.

“It should be a package, a full approach toward a green auto strategy that allows us to get past that old contradiction between jobs and the environment,” Layton said.
In other words, the regulation may form part of a viable solution. But the next question is how to do more than the Cons are proposing, not how to justify doing less. And that places the onus on the Cons to explain both their embrace of joke standards for the oil industry and their lack of support to assist in the auto industry's transition to a lower-emission regime, rather than suggesting that it's simply an either-or question as to which out of the oil industry and the auto industry should face meaningful regulations.

Considering Hargrove's past efforts to undermine the NDP in the name of stopping PMS, one might expect him to pay more attention to what will achieve more progressive results and put the Cons on the defensive. Instead, he's shown only how narrow his interests really are when push comes to shove. And that should in turn cement Layton's position as the strongest national voice for progressive Canadians.


The Sun reports that the RCMP has paid out a settlement in excess of $2.2 million for malicious prosecution - but that the Canadian public will have no way to find out why:
The RCMP has made a secret $2.2-million settlement for "malicious prosecution," but Canadian taxpayers footing the bill are in the dark over details of the case.

According to the federal government's recently released public accounts documents, the name of the victim is being withheld "in accordance with terms of settlement."

NDP MP Joe Comartin said such confidentiality clauses are common when a government agency has wronged a citizen, but slammed the hush clause as contrary to public accountability.

"It's a simple way of them covering up misconduct on the part of members of the force," he said.

Comartin, a lawyer, said the right to request privacy should rest only with the victim -- not the government agency guilty of wrongdoing.

In the interest of public accountability, the Tory government should set new policy that prohibits a confidentiality clause unless the victim insists on it, he said.

Osgoode Hall Law School Prof. Alan Young, who runs the Innocence Project to help the wrongfully accused, said the massive $2.2-million settlement suggests an "egregious" violation of the plaintiff's rights. The victim deserves to expose details of his experience and the public deserves to know more in the interests of accountability, he said. "Because there's a public interest here, and police serve the public, and because the award is paid out of taxpayers' money, one could make a very compelling argument that this is contrary to public interest to allow these confidential settlements," he said.
If anything, Comartin's suggestion should be taken a step further: even where requested by the plaintiff, any confidentiality clause should be limited to the information which would tend to identify that individual, so as to ensure that Canadians are able to find out as much as possible about the incident without causing further harm to the plaintiff.

Sadly, that type of accountability appears to be a long way off from the current practice. And without any public information as to what happened in the specific case, there's no way for Canadians to be confident that there's any incentive for the RCMP to avoid similar abuses in the future.

On questionable accounting

Will McMartin continues his demolition of Carole Taylor's attempt to pretend that health care is unsustainable, highlighting double-counting and implausible assumptions which make Taylor stand out even among previous questionable financial practices in the province:
In the current fiscal year, B.C.'s Legislative Assembly approved a health expenditure increase of just $446 million. That's all.

But Gordon Campbell's government presents three-year spending plans with each annual budget. So this spring, while the budget for the current year lifts health spending by $446 million, it also outlines an increase of $237 million next year (2007-08), plus another $138 million in the year after that (2008-09).

The latter two increases have not been approved by the legislature, and they may never occur. But that hasn't stopped the BC Liberals from claiming credit for them.

Moreover, where most people -- you know, taxpayers, and other simple, honest folk -- would calculate the three-year increase at $821 million ($446 million + $237 million + $138 million), the Campbell government adds up those same numbers and arrives at $1,950 million. (See pp. 11 and 20 of Budget and Fiscal Plan, 2006/07-2008/09, here.)

That's because they figure that the $446 million will be spent this year, and then it will be spent again next year along with the $237 million. And in the final year, the $446 million and $237 million will form a base for the $138 million. You add it up like this: $446 million + $446 million + 237 million + $446 million + $237 million + $138 million.

Got that? The new, improved total is $1.95 billion.

Just like that -- presto! -- a rather modest funding lift of $446 million has been transformed into a gargantuan boost of "almost $2 billion."

(Do not try this at home. If you measured the growth of your children in this fashion, they'd be over 20 feet tall by the time they left home, and your grocery bills would be huge!)
We can only hope that McMartin will be a strong enough factor in B.C.'s health-care "conversation" to shout down the government's obfuscation. But there should be no doubt that however many voices may be worth considering in the discussion, the Campbell administration lacks anything approaching enough credibility to be taken seriously when it speaks about the need to demolish public health care.

Foreseeable dangers

CanWest reports that simultaneous drops in automotive sales and housing markets will likely combine to wreak havoc on Canada's economy. Which means that contrary to his hopes, Jim Flaherty looks likely to get pegged as "Canada's slowdown-inducing finance minister" - especially if he does stick with his current direction toward random tax cuts rather than looking at ways to counter the looming economic storm.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hiding the evidence

A great catch by both leftdog and 1337hax0r, as the Cons are arguing against releasing documents related to Rob Anders' coronation on the basis that the truth could cause "irreparable harm" to the party.

As noted in the Sun's coverage, it doesn't look too likely that the Cons will succeed in the argument in any event since the matter could be made moot by any real delay. But it says plenty about a party when it genuinely believes that the truth about its internal decision-making is too damaging to be allowed anywhere near public eyes - or has a low enough regard for the court system that it's willing to launch sketchy applications solely to try to avoid having the matter heard. And if there's anything damning enough in the materials that could form part of the review, then it may be worth keeping a lookout for any PMS brinksmanship to provoke an election before the matter can be heard.

A window of opportunity

Today offers yet another indication of just how bad the softwood lumber capitulation is for Canadian industry in the longer term, as the CP reports that Canadian producers are scrambling to ship as much lumber south as they can before the deal goes into effect:
A delay in implementing the Canada-U.S. Softwood Lumber Agreement is angering American lumber producers.

The Washington-based Coalition for Fair Lumber Imports said Monday that Canadian exporters are taking advantage of the delay to flood the U.S. market with lumber before export taxes kick in under the agreement...

The federal government announced late Friday that the planned Oct. 1 implementation would be delayed until Nov. 1 to give more time to work out technical problems, especially related to the withdrawal of dozens of legal cases connected with U.S. lumber duties.

The American duties totalling 10.8 per cent are supposed to be replaced by a Canadian export tax of about 15 per cent, based on current lumber prices.

A spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office would not comment on the coalition's complaints except to say it wants the agreement to come into force as soon as possible...

Vancouver lumber analyst Kevin Mason said that while statistics aren't available yet, his discussions with U.S. buyers and lumber brokers suggests the coalition is right.

“Definitely the Canadians are shipping every stick of wood they can because effectively you're operating on a duty-free mindset,” he said...

Canadian companies must sign waivers agreeing to accept about 80 per cent of their refunds — in a program administered by the Export Development Corp. — to satisfy that clause in the deal.

But Mr. Mason, a partner in Equity Research Associates, said once the U.S. payment is accounted for, exporters will get back 100 per cent of their duties, which makes it attractive to ship lumber now instead of waiting for the higher Canadian export tax to kick in.
While I naturally wouldn't be one to take CFLI's word for much, it appears that a neutral analysis also suggests a surge in current exports in an effort to avoid the Cons' export tax.

Of course, the increase only goes to show how much better off Canada's producers would be in the absence of the U.S.' wrongfully-imposed duties. Which should make it all the more appalling that PMS has managed to lock the industry into even higher levies in the long term...but should also offer the producers still pushing ahead with litigation a glimpse of what the market could look like if they follow through. After all, given the choice between actual free access and a deal so bad that its only positive effect lies in the fact that it hasn't been implemented yet, it shouldn't be hard to tell which will actually lead to a sustainable industry.

Unsafe at any height

The Cons may have given up on their first attempt to make air travel more dangerous by reducing the number of flight attendants on Canadian flights. But that appears to have been only the first battle in an inexplicable war on aviation safety, as the Cons are now planning to eliminate a requirement that pilots know First Aid:
The federal government may lift a regulation requiring air transport pilots to learn first aid, saying the move will save the aviation industry $93 million over 15 years and help bring aviation labour safety standards in line with Canada's Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.

The proposed change would exempt all cockpit crew members aboard passenger aircraft from having to receive first-aid training "due to their critical involvement in the safe and effective operation of an aircraft."...

The proposal is part of a package drafted by an industry and government working group aiming to incorporate new technology and industry standards and ensure aviation's occupational health-and-safety code gives airborne workers protection similar to that found in other sectors.
The rest of the package of changes does appear to be more reasonable. But it seems fairly obvious that pilots trained in first aid could potentially be a crucial factor both in helping to avoid aerial accidents in the first place, and in addressing the aftermath of any accident after it occurs. And that the fallout from a lack of such first aid could easily do far more damage to the airline industry than even what sounds like a highly-inflated cost estimate.

But for the Cons, such trivialities as safety are once again secondary to the desire to let industry write its own rules. And even if this trial balloon gets burst as quickly as the last one, Canadians have to wonder how long they want to leave a government in power which shows such a consistent desire to increase the risks to its citizens.

Demanding solutions

CanWest reports on yet another poll showing the Cons opposing the majority of Canadians, this time with respect to global warming:
Nearly two-thirds of Canadians believe the Conservative government will fail to take adequate steps to fight global warming, and blame the oil and gas industry for making matters worse.

And a similar number 63 per cent are "desperately concerned" that the "world may not last much longer than another couple of generations" if drastic action isn't taken immediately.

Those findings from a recent Ipsos Reid survey of 1,296 adult Canadians are released as the Tories prepare to unveil their long-awaited green plan within weeks.
But this being CanWest, there has to be some pro-Con spin to be had. And sure enough:
The Ipsos survey conducted for CanWest found only 35 per cent of Canadians trusted that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government would "take the right and most reasonable steps to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions to protect against global warming."

The low expectations could be good news for the Conservatives, who only need to take small steps on the environment to improve their popularity, said John Wright, senior vice-president at Ipsos Reid. "The expectation of the public is that they will not deliver a program which really goes very far," said Wright. "But if they are focused, and can get some positive spin on a made-in-Canada solution, they may exceed expectations and get some political mileage."
If anything, even the current level of expectation seems to leave some room for disappointment. But it's still hard to see how Canada's belief that the Cons won't do much can reflect positively on a government which has been going out of its way to selectively leak details of its plan for months now.

Moreover, all indications now are that the Cons' plan will end up being based on U.S.-inspired junk science rather than any real reduction in greenhouse gas emissions or anything "made in Canada" to begin with. Which should give the two-thirds of Canadians who already don't trust the Cons on the issue all the more reason to ensure the Cons don't stay in power any longer than can be avoided.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More arrogant than thou

I didn't catch it at the time, but CTV's coverage of the Lib race today suggests that Michael Ignatieff's campaign is now undisputably based on nothing but a sense of complete entitlement - both to the Lib mantle at the end of the leadership race, and in elections beyond:
On Saturday, after jumping out to an early lead, Ignatieff said he expected to stay in front through the three days of voting.

"Our team is happy with where I am right now, and we believe that where I am right now is where we'll be at the end of the weekend," he said.

Ignatieff even went so far recently as to declare that Rae -- his former college roommate -- would be a member of his cabinet.
If anything can help to crystallize an anybody-but-Iggy movement, this should be it: a clear declaration that Ignatieff sees no need to earn either the leadership, or power in future elections. But it looks far too likely that Ignatieff's bravado actually will fool a Lib party which should know better after ex-PMPM. And if Ignatieff succeeds in persuading the Libs that it's not too soon to start handing out cabinet positions, that could do more than anything to ensure they don't actually win back power anytime soon.

Proudly showing weakness

It isn't often that I manage to overestimate the good sense of the Cons. But even I would have taken Stockwell Day to have enough political instinct to avoid increased attention to his pitiful response to the U.S. in the wake of the Arar inquiry report, rather than looking for new opportunities to confirm his weak excuse for action:
Critics have asked the government to issue a formal complaint to the U.S. for the deportation. But Day told CTV's Question Period on Sunday that he wrote to U.S. officials soon after the report's release, asking them to clear Arar's name.

"It was a pretty clear letter. It was saying that Justice O'Connor had found that there had been inaccurate information passed on," said Day. "And that following the inaccurate information, there had been accurate information and that we had, within 24 hours of seeing the report, removed all the so-called 'look-outs' on our security systems about Mr. Arar and his family, who went through this very unfortunate time.

"I also shared in that letter with (Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff) that as we had taken that particular step, I would sure appreciate if they would do the same."
One would think the Cons would be willing to point out the failures of the U.S. government where they're intricately linked to the Lib regime's failure to have any idea what was going on during its watch. But instead, the Cons have apparently concluded that they'd rather discuss their feeble suggestions to the U.S. regarding current security lists than the possibility of a legitimate complaint. Which only highlights the lengths the Cons seem willing to go to in order to curry Bush's favour - and the complete abandonment of Canadian interests in that process.

Not that the Lib response is at all credible given their utter failure to defend Arar's rights at the time. But Day's willingness to try to address the Arar fiasco with nothing more than a single letter oriented toward papering over the U.S.' contribution to Arar's torture suggests strongly that the Cons will be even weaker if similar situations arise in the future.

Security issues

CanWest reports that Jack Layton is stepping up in the foreign affairs department, planning a visit to Afghanistan on the invitation of Hamid Karzai to get a view from on the ground. Which means we can likely expect a fresh new wave of security concerns as PMS seeks to keep anybody but his party from being seen with Canada's troops.