Saturday, November 11, 2006

For the sake of consistency

David Frum is apparently of the view that where a larger group of people includes a subset who provide dubious excuses for some of their actions, that lack of credibility provides justification to lock up the whole and throw away the key. I can only wonder whether he'd be willing to apply that logic to a Canadian group with an equal propensity toward patently ridiculous or inconsistent explanations for its actions.

Update: Canadian Cynic has more.

As an added bonus, let's take a look at one of the excuses which Frum finds so implausible:
A former Egyptian army officer acknowledged that he had undergone training in Afghanistan at a camp run by the Kashmiri group, Lashkar-i-Taibi (LiT). However, he said, he had been listening to the BBC in February 2001 and heard an announcer describe LiT as a terrorist organization. After that, he said, he quit the group and had never had anything to do with them again. How had he supported himself in Afghanistan over the following year? He had, he said, relied on charity from his fellow Muslims.
Which seems either to be an indictment of faith-based social programs in general ("he must be lying! surely a person couldn't survive off of religious charity!"), or a slam at Muslims in particular. Your mileage may vary - but either way, this one looks to be worth highlighting.

In remembrance

For Remembrance Day, I don't have much to add that hasn't already been said by Paladiea and Chris. But let's note in addition that the wars which we remember today were fought for freedom as well as for peace - and that we should thus also respect and honour the memory of fallen soldiers past and present by fighting to preserve the liberty which some would forfeit out of fear.

No refuge

The Globe and Mail reports on a new set of controversies surrounding the Immigration and Refugee Board:
The Immigration and Refugee Board will be reopening about two dozen refugee cases following complaints of sexual misconduct against a Toronto board member who is no longer hearing cases or permitted access to its offices...

The investigation of Mr. Fournier — as well as the misconduct of two other board members — has brought more public criticism of the tribunal, which is labouring under a shortage of members and trying to overcome its reputation for patronage appointments and unqualified adjudicators.

Steve Ellis, 47, a Toronto IRB member, was suspended last month after allegations that he offered to assist a South Korean woman in her refugee claim in return for sexual favours. He has since been charged by the RCMP, and the board has ordered an internal investigation into the incident and the possible reopening of cases he heard.

Yves Bourbonnais, who was with the IRB's appellate division, was sentenced to six years in prison in June for involvement in influence-peddling rings that demanded bribes as much as $15,000 from new immigrants and asylum seekers to guarantee their stay in Canada. He pleaded guilty to 30 charges of conspiracy and obstructing justice...

The federal government has been criticized over the years for failing to implement a merit-based process to select board members. Under the Liberals, many defeated political candidates and party workers were appointed to the $100,000-a-year positions, although in 2004 a merit-based selection process was introduced.

The Conservative government has made few appointments, a cause of concern to Jean-Guy Fleury, the IRB's chairman, who recently told the standing committee on citizenship and immigration that it was unusual to have two members under suspension...

Bill Siksay, NDP MP for the British Columbia riding of Burnaby-Douglas and the party's immigration critic, said the Fournier case highlights the need for a transparent process to deal with complaints against IRB members. “It's life and death for refugees who come before the IRB and we need to ensure this process is beyond reproach. We need codes of conduct that are clear.”
It's certainly a plus that some action has been taken in response to the past cases. But it's still far from certain that the process for refugee claimants is either properly resourced, or free of patronage and corruption. And it'll only be to Canada's detriment in the long run if the effect is both to exclude deserving refugees, and to cast doubt on those who are admitted.

A united front

I'm not quite sure why it took this long for Lorne Calvert and Gary Doer to put together a common position on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board. But the two premiers have come out swinging in demanding a producer vote before any changes to wheat sales:
Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert and Manitoba Premier Gary Doer Friday called upon the federal government to hold an immediate plebiscite on the Canadian Wheat Board's single-desk marketing authority.

"There will be those who support the concept of single-desk marketing, those who do not," said Calvert at a Friday morning news conference in Saskatoon. "But surely we can resolve that; we can all support the democratic right of the producer to choose. I'm expecting the national government will do the right thing."...

Last week, Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl announced a plebiscite on the CWB would take place next year for barley marketing but producers will not be asked, at least for now, if they want to continue the single-desk marketing system for wheat or be allowed to opt out and sell on the open market.

"I hear people that are absolutely supporting the single-desk system that support a vote, and I've heard people that are opposed to it wanting a vote. This is actually one principle of this debate that unites farmers," said Doer.
Particularly after a plebiscite has been announced for barley producers, there's no reason at all why wheat producers should see their marketing board undermined without having an opportunity to vote on the issue. And if the Cons really want to follow through on a plan to undermine wheat farmers without a plebiscite, then those affected will have plenty of opportunity to instead make their point in electoral votes to come.

Friday, November 10, 2006

On tilted playing fields

The London North Centre by-election offers yet another example of the media's efforts to play up a Lib/Con dichotomy, as the Con candidate's media blackout (along with the Lib's resulting criticism) is getting more attention than everything the NDP candidate, the Green leader, and the rest of the contenders have to say. Which is a shame, since if there's anything that can actually pull the Cons into a race where they should be fighting a losing battle for third place, it's that kind of horse-race mentality from both the media and the Libs.

Unintentionally appropriate

Not to take anything away from what Howard Dean has accomplished, and indeed I very much hope the NDP will follow (and is following) a Canadian equivalent of his 50-state strategy. But doesn't it speak volumes that the keynote speaker for the fractured Libs is himself facing an intra-party coup back home?

Sanity Watch

Sometimes, Democracy Watch can be an invaluable source on accountability issues. Other times, however, it can also be something else entirely:
Saying that politicians should have to undergo lie-detector tests during election campaigns, a citizen's watchdog group has filed a complaint with the federal ethics commissioner over taxing income trusts.

The Conservative government clearly broke a campaign promise when it proceeded to tax the lucrative trusts Oct. 31, Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, told a news conference today...

There should be some kind of fine for politicians who lie and failing that, Conacher suggested a more basic, if somewhat unrealistic, solution: "In future, we could switch to a lie detector for all political leaders during election campaigns."
Needless to say, Conacher's proposals are based on an unrealistic appraisal of both the campaign process, and the responsibilities of a government. There's no apparent reason why the Cons couldn't have genuinely believed their promise at the time they made it, then acquired a better appreciation of the effect of income trusts in the meantime; surely a government can't be obligated to refuse to accept or act on any new information it acquires after an election is done with. Moreover, neither the Ethics Commissioner nor a lie detector test can be infallible - and the use of either to vet campaign promises would likely drain campaigns even further of content, resulting in every candidate promising only to consider every issue before acting upon it.

Which isn't to say that one can't fairly point out cases of supposed dishonesty. But the electorate, not a machine or a parliamentary official, needs to be the final arbiter of whether a government has justified an apparent switch in policy. And Conacher would do better to focus his concerns on informing Canada's citizens directly of broken promises, rather than seeking to take power out of the hands of the voters.

Injustice in the making

The Globe and Mail reports that the Cons are right back to their efforts to pick fights with the judiciary, this time by changing the judicial appointment process without consultation:
Beverley McLachlin, Canada's Chief Justice, along with a powerful council of the country's top judges issued an unprecedented rebuke yesterday to Justice Minister Vic Toews for hatching a plan to arbitrarily change the way judges are chosen.

The Canadian Judicial Council expressed dismay that Mr. Toews is planning to introduce "significant changes to the composition and functioning of the Judicial Advisory Committees," secret groups which are set up in each region to vet candidates for the 1,100 federal judgeships across the country.

Chief Justice McLachlin, who chairs the council, urged Mr. Toews to include the judiciary and key legal bodies in any discussion of changes to the committee vetting process...

(T)he committees are typically composed of five senior members: one nominated by the federal government; one by the chief justice of the province; one from the provincial bar association or law society; one from the provincial government; and a lay member.

They rank nominees as being very qualified, qualified or not qualified. The federal government is then free to choose from the large pools of judges who have been vetted in each region. They almost always choose someone in the qualified or very qualified category.

Mr. Toews also said the government plans to move to a simple pass or fail rating for judicial nominees. A spokesman for his office could not be reached last night.

"That is a transparent attempt to broaden his discretion and reduce the power of the committees," Mr. Addario of the criminal-lawyers group said last night. "Inevitably, you get more patronage and less qualified appointments."
In principle, the idea of police representation on the advisory committees isn't a bad one...though there's no reason at all why that couldn't be achieved through a consultative process (with due regard for other interests which may need to be represented) rather than by fiat.

But the other planned change doesn't seem to have any reasonable basis. Surely a government looking to appoint the best possible candidates to the bench should want to receive a more specific ranking on each prospective judge, rather than a mere pass or fail rating. Instead, the Cons appear to be headed further down the road toward less information and more patronage. And that can only draw the rightful ire of both the current judiciary, and Canadians in general who want competence rather than partisanship to be the guiding principle in judicial appointments.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

On failed polarization

There's been plenty of comment on the CBC/Environics poll showing Canadians' declining support for continued combat in Afghanistan. But while the near-even split in general approval for the mission and strong skepticism about the chances of success show some widespread doubt about the Cons' strategy, the complete failure of PMS' attempt at jingoism lies in the large proportional decline in strong approval for the quagmire:
The number of Canadians who "strongly approve" of military participation in Afghanistan is at its lowest level yet, according to a new CBC News survey.

In a survey of 2,005 Canadians conducted by Environics Research Group from Nov. 2 to Nov. 6, 19 per cent said they strongly approved of Canadian military participation in Afghanistan. The poll is considered accurate within 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

That represented a four percentage point drop from a similar poll in October, and the lowest level of support overall in four years. When the first survey was conducted in 2002, 38 per cent said they strongly approved of Canada's presence in Afghanistan.
In principle, the Cons likely wouldn't be unhappy with an even split for and against the mission if the effect was to motivate their base. But based on the poll, it's clear that PMS and company have failed just as miserably from a narrowcasting standpoint as in an attempt to build a consensus for an extended war.

Meanwhile, the "strongly disapprove" numbers have been relatively consistent since March, suggesting both that the Cons haven't managed to polarize much of anything over the past six months, and that anti-Con voters will be far more motivated by Afghanistan as an issue than Con supporters. Which means that it's bad news for the Cons that Afghanistan is growing in prominence as an election issue - and that despite their best efforts, it's beyond doubt that the Cons will be unable to follow the Republicans' past success (with a heavy emphasis on "past") in building a large majority through warmongering.

A predictable reversal

Instead of listening to both himself and the Canadian public, Jim Flaherty has now done a complete about-face from an argument that he made only yesterday, hinting that another round of random tax cuts is more important to him than health care, education, or any of the other programs that Canadians value. But Flaherty would be well advised to keep in mind that Canadian citizens will get the chance to pass judgment on his long-term plan before long - perhaps before another budget ever passes. And the more Flaherty ignores public demands for strengthened investments in Canada's institutions, the more likely voters will be to make sure that Canada doesn't follow his road map for long.

A popular investment

An Environics poll confirms Jim Flaherty's epiphany that Canadians want to see their government provide effective health care, and are willing to pay more in taxes if it results in better investment in medical research:
In a recent survey by Environics Research Group, 91 per cent of respondents said they want more government funding for health and medical research. The poll was commissioned by Research Canada, an umbrella organization of health researchers and hospitals.

Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 69 per cent said they'd even be willing to pay a dollar per week out of their own pocket for increased research.

Jacques Hendlisz, Director-General of Douglas Hospital in Quebec and Director of Research Canada, said the survey confirms that health research must become a government priority.

"The size of the numbers surprised us," he said. "It's clear that Canadians favour (health research), and Canadians don't seem to mind spending money there."
Based on the poll numbers, it looks like a move toward further research would be both good politics and good policy for the Cons to invest more in health research. But it remains to be seen whether Flaherty will have retreated into his usual ideology by budget time rather than recognizing both the need and the support for added research funding.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Liberal, Tory, same old EI abuse

Tom Brodbeck points out that the Cons have predictably done next to nothing to change the Employment Insurance surplus that they complained about for ages:
The Employment Insurance Commission this week announced a small cut to EI premiums effective Jan. 1, 2007.

You'll save a whole seven cents per $100 of insurable earnings come the new year. That means someone earning $30,000 a year will save about $1.75 a month.

If you're an employer, the premiums you pay for your workers will fall 10 cents per $100 of insurable earnings...

What the EIC doesn't tell you, however, is that despite the small premium cut the massive EI surplus -- pegged at $48 billion last year -- is projected to grow by another $1.5 billion this year, even though the federal government claims EI is now operated on a break-even basis.

According to Human Resources Development Canada's own 2005-2006 estimates, the EI surplus is expected to grow to $49.5 billion in 2006...

And if you think the Conservative government in Ottawa is doing anything differently with this fraudulent scheme than their Liberal predecessors, think again. They haven't changed a thing...

They're following the same legislation the Liberals passed and they, too, continue to overcharge workers, including many part-time employees who are forced to pay into EI but are ineligible for benefits.
Naturally, I'd disagree with Brodbeck on a couple of points: the "fraudulent" description goes too far, and contrary to Brodbeck's apparent view there's no reason why a proper fix to EI shouldn't also include some increases in eligibility and benefits (particularly to ensure that part-time workers aren't left out in the cold).

That said, EI premiums are generally about as damaging as a government revenue source can be in specifically targeting both sides of an employment relationship and thereby providing a direct disincentive to employment. Which means that they should be anathema to virtually all shades of the political spectrum to the extent that they're not legitimately used to fund EI itself.

And with the Cons now joining the Libs in putting a convenient source of added money ahead of anything resembling principle, it's clear that new leadership is needed to ensure that EI finally resumes its proper role as an insurance program rather than a cash cow.

Weakness in victory

After last night's massive victory in the House, the Democrats sadly resumed their losing ways today, pulling out the kid gloves within hours of the electorate's sweeping rejection of Bushco:
Democrat Nancy Pelosi, set to become the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, pledged to co-operate with Republicans as "the Speaker of the House, not the Speaker of the Democrats."

Talk of impeaching Bush "is off the table," she said. But she urged him "to listen to the voice of the people" on the war.
Now, there are undoubtedly valid reasons not to actually follow through on impeaching Bush. But that doesn't mean there was any reason at all to completely take the option off the table before a single Dem-led committee has conducted a single hearing into Bushco's abuses over the past few years.

Rather than building on the Dems' electoral success, Pelosi has only strengthened Bush's hand by signalling that Bush won't face particularly severe consequences for either past crimes or future obstruction, and by giving the Republicans the ability to claim a Dem flip-flop if Bush predictably tests and exceeds the limits of Pelosi's tolerance. And it's not as if the Dems get anything out of the statement, as Bush hasn't apparently made any matching promises in return (even to avoid vetoing the Dems' 100-hour agenda which would be an entirely legitimate mandate to claim).

The Dems still have a chance to uncover and undo some of Bushco's damage to the U.S. over the next couple of years to set themselves up for 2008. But if Pelosi and company really believe they can afford to play nice with a ruthless political machine, then this year's results may only be a temporary reprieve from a longer-term decline for both the party and the U.S. as a whole.

Update: And as CC points out, it isn't Pelosi alone looking to minimize the victory.

Save this quote

Jim Flaherty surprisingly makes a point which he himself seems determined to neglect in responding to criticism over the planned tax on income trusts:
“I just think most Canadians are realistic people and they realize we have to pay taxes in this country to pay for valuable social services: health care, education and infrastructure,” he said.

Mr. Flaherty said he believes Canadians feel that “if corporations aren't paying their fair share then somebody else is going to pay, and that it's going to be them — and that it's the government's duty to act on that.”
It's hard to see what reasonable person would disagree with the sentiment. But then, Flaherty and his gang of merry government-hackers are usually the first to try to pretend that any tax is an abomination rather than a reasonable price for needed and valuable services. And while it's all too likely that the Cons will return to that position around budget time (if not sooner), now Flaherty will be left arguing against himself in addition to the bulk of Canadians when he reverts to form.

Stifling conversation

In case there was any doubt whether Gordon Campbell and PMS were generally working from the same playbook, NUPGE notes that Campbell's laughable "conversation" on health care will deliberately segregate health-care workers from the main discussion:
The Liberal government of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell should reverse its plan to exclude health care providers from the 16 regional public forums that are the centerpiece of the $10-million Conversation on Health, say unions representing more than 100,000 B.C. health care workers...

Citizens who register to be one of the 100 participants randomly selected for the 16 regional forums – but identify themselves as health care professionals – will be segregated from the public meetings.

The unions say health care providers should be able to engage in the public forums on the same basis as other citizens who live, work and access health care in their communities. Citizens also have the right to hear from those who deliver health care services directly to their families, they argue.
Reversing the decision as to who's allowed to participate would solve part of the problem. But the larger issue is the obvious predetermination of the final outcome in favour of privatization - which presumably won't be affected no matter how the process is improved. Which should make it all the more clear that the only really important conversation surrounding health care in British Columbia is one as to how to remove Campbell from power.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Lessons unlearned

Apparently Bev Oda and Maxime Bernier are merrily repeating the mistakes that got Sarmite Bulte booted from the House of Commons last election - and Oda is apparently proud that the Accountability Act leaves open loopholes which allow her to accept large-scale fundraising help from the industry she's charged with regulating. Which leaves only the question whether Bernier and Oda will face the same punishment for the same crime against ethical government.

Update: Now after her weak attempt to defend the fund-raiser, it turns out that Oda won't be attending after all - which the CP attempts to link to a pattern of the Cons having "acted quickly in response to accusations of ethical breaches". But surely the more important message is that the Cons seem entirely willing to engage in questionable practices until they're loudly called out on them...meaning that there's no reason at all to believe the Cons' supposed interest in ethics is anything more than a PR exercise.

Inroads and outroads

Politique Vert takes note of the Greens' problems in the Repentigny by-election (and perhaps more importantly with what looks like a cover-up of what may have happened). But with both the Greens and the Libs now sitting out the by-election, the end result in the riding could be tremendously positive both for the NDP in particular, and for those opposed to Harper's Cons generally.

Keep in mind that in the 2006 federal election, Repentigny was one of the ridings where a large number of disaffected Libs appear to have switched their votes to the Cons. This may conceivably have the Cons believing they can mount a by-election challenge to the Bloc, particularly with the Libs out of the picture entirely. But it also means that Repentigny's voters may provide answers for two key questions.

First, there's the question of how the Cons' term in office has affected their public perception in Quebec. This should be fairly easily answered by the Cons' absolute percentage: if they fail to add to their general election percentage of 18% (or better yet manage to lose absolute support) with no challenge from the Libs and with the Bloc having lost a popular MP, then there can be no doubt that the Cons will be in all the more trouble facing the voters when they don't have such advantages on their side.

Second, there's the relative position of the NDP and the Cons - which is where the battle may be particularly interesting. Obviously the Cons will start from a stronger position, with both a 10% lead from the last federal election and the ability to pour money into the riding to try to win votes. But if the NDP can narrow the Cons' advantage (or better yet overtake their total), then not only will the brakes be put on PMS' inroads into Quebec, but the NDP will also pull itself into the thick of the battle to represent Quebec federalists.

Of course, there's only so much that a single by-election can say about the strength of the parties involved. But for a government plainly in decline in Quebec and an opposition party looking to get a toehold, any momentum from Repentigny could have a huge effect on perceived momentum going into the next general election campaign. It only remains to be seen whether the NDP will be able to take advantage of the opportunity, and whether the Cons have any plan to stop their bleeding in Quebec.

On inconsistent messages

There couldn't be much doubt that there are plenty of credibility issues surrounding the Con government at the moment. But it's a new low for even a cabinet minister's own spokesperson to have to argue that the minister's words should be ignored:
The possibility of using emissions trading to cut greenhouse emissions is under study and no decisions have been made, Rob Klager said in an interview Monday.

"The media reports suggesting that our government has confirmed a climate exchange system or where it might be located, are speculation," said Klager.

The speculation came straight from the mouth of the minister.

In an interview published in Montreal's Le Devoir on Monday, Ambrose spoke very favourably about the idea of emissions trading, suggesting that the government was actively working to set up an exchange.

"We need regulation to put in place a market, and that's what we're going to do," she told the newspaper. "We are moving in that direction rapidly."

Ambrose told Le Devoir that federal officials have had several discussions with the Montreal Exchange, but none with the Toronto Exchange, which is also interested in hosting a carbon market.

"Let's say that they (Montreal) have very good chances," she told Le Devoir.

Klager said this comment should not be construed as confirmation an exchange will be established in Montreal.

"This remains in the consultative stage, and minister Ambrose has merely acknowledged the interest of the Montreal Exchange and confirmed discussions are ongoing."
Needless to say, there's no reasonable explanation for the backtracking. If the Cons really are planning on setting up an exchange in Montreal, then Klager's knee-jerk response will only make him look detached from what's really going on. And if not, then Ambrose will look completely out to lunch for claiming to be moving "rapidly" toward that end - regardless of what Klager does or doesn't say after the fact.

One way or the other, it's obvious that the Cons are once again doing nothing but casting doubt on their own credibility. And it should come as no surprise if Canadian voters pick up the cue by ignoring the Cons' new set of claims come election time.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Profiles in Cowardice

The CP reminds us that the Cons are hardly the only recent federal government to have thrown Canadian interests out the window out of fear of doing anything which could meet with U.S. disapproval:
Fears that the White House would retaliate against the Liberals drove the Chretien government to take on British Columbia over a controversial weapons range, says the author of a new book.

Military historian John Clearwater used documents obtained under the Access to Information Act to trace this and other incidents where Ottawa appeared to bend to Washington's will over weapons testing...

The book alleges that the Chretien government worried that the American response to B.C.'s threatened closure of the Nanoose ocean range in the spring of 1997 could be "out of proportion," and lead to punishing trade sanctions, similar to what New Zealand faced in the 1980s for similar defiance.

"Rumours began to circulate of a covert attempt to undermine the government," Clearwater writes.

Nowhere does Clearwater present evidence the U.S. made direct threats, but he paints a picture of an almost paranoid reaction among Canadian officials and decision-makers.

The book also chronicles the 1970s testing of the U.S. artillery shell that was meant to carry the neutron bomb, as well as tests involving cruise missiles and the B-2 stealth bomber.
It's worth noting that there's no apparent reason to believe the conclusion held any basis in reality. And indeed the New Zealand comparison doesn't appear to have been based on a particularly solid foundation - due to both the difference in U.S. regimes and attitudes toward free trade at the time of the respective disputes, and what would seemingly be a massive difference in the policies involved (surely denying ships access to public harbours has to be considered a far more antagonistic act than merely ending a single lease).

Mind you, Clearwater apparently thinks that the combination of the Libs' fears and John Diefenbaker's legacy of paranoia somehow proves otherwise. But both the Libs (on missile defence) and the Cons (on Arctic disputes) have occasionally shown a spine when it suits them politically - which makes it clear that Canada can afford to do more than merely act as a yes-man to the U.S. And it's long past time for a federal government which doesn't insult both Canadian influence and American rationality by pretending that as a general principle, Canada can't afford to say "no" to our southern neighbour.

Necessary implications

Others have already noted the Cons' attempt to get citizen-funded constituency staff to participate in the ongoing byelections. But let's take a look at the implications if Doug Finley's attempted defence is actually believed:
One of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's most senior political operatives is urging taxpayer-funded staff in the Parliament Hill offices of Conservative MPs to get involved in two federal byelection campaigns....

In the memo, Finley encourages MPs to get involved in the byelections slated for Nov. 27 in the Ontario riding of London-North-Centre and the Quebec constituency of Repentigny by penning letters of endorsement for the local Conservative candidates.

Finley then goes on to tell MPs to "encourage your Hill staff to participate in persuasion calling, which will be co-ordinated by the party's political operations team."...

Finley defended the memo Sunday as "a simple call for volunteers" to help in the byelections.

"There was no need for reminders re Treasury rules," he said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press. "This was addressed to people who already know the rules for staff."
Let's assume for a moment that Finley is right in claiming:
- that constituency staff are well aware of the rules regarding the use of citizen-funded offices and time, and
- that there's no need to include in a message any matters which should be familiar to the recipient.

If one accepts these assumptions as true, then the inescapable conclusion is that in Finley's view, Con MPs are utterly clueless about the existence of the by-elections, and/or the familiar ways in which an MP or any individual can get involved. After all, if the MPs "already knew" what was going on and how to participate, then by Finley's own standard there would have been no need to send out the memo in the first place.

Needless to say, such an explanation almost completely defies belief - even after making necessary allowances for the Cons' well-established policy of demanding neither intelligence nor political knowledge on the part of their candidates. But whether or not Finley's defence is the least bit believable, his memo can only be taken as highlighting corruption and/or stupidity in the Con ranks. And no number of MP endorsements or "persuasion calls" should be able to override that deadly combination on the part of the Con government.

Another bluff called

PMS has refused the NDP's offer to pair an MP to allow him to attend a climate change summit with EU leaders without affecting the Cons' standing in Parliament. But with his false excuse for declining to attend now laid bare, one has to figure PMS will end up wishing he'd travelled as far away as possible from the House of Commons.

(Edit: typo.)

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Not to be trusted

Having missed the announcement last week, I'll take a moment to comment on the Cons' move to tax income trusts. It's certainly a pleasant surprise to see a glaring tax loophole closed, and Flaherty deserves due credit for that. But then, with the Cons there are few unmixed blessings...and it's not hard to see how the income trust announcement could be twisted later on to suit the Cons' purposes in dealing with other governments.

Domestically, it's been noted that the income trust move will also result in increased tax collection by the provinces. In and of itself, this would be a plus. But with a resolution to federal/provincial funding among the next items on the Cons' agenda, it seems entirely likely that the move will be twisted to avoid increased funding for the lower levels of government, as the Cons attempt to credit the increased provincial revenue as a contribution to resolving the fiscal imbalance while ignoring the greater boost to federal coffers. Which would leave more money in Flaherty's pocket to be contributed to the Cons' vote-buying efforts, and potentially undermine any good that could come from interjurisdictional rebalancing.

Mind you, a united provincial effort would be able to counter such a claim very easily. But since the provinces haven't yet shown any sign of being able to come to any consensus, the Cons could well manage to toss a coat of paint on equalization, claim to have added taxing power to the provinces, and declare the fiscal imbalance to be over and done with.

And that's just the potential domestic fallout. While the income trust move was a necessary one to avoid creating incentives toward tax loopholes generally, it undoubtedly caused some negative short-term economic effects. Hopefully the apparent rebound will continue - but if not, then the Cons may be able to use any ongoing decline as an excuse to claim that further integration with the U.S. is needed to try to boost Canada's economic fortunes.

Which, conveniently enough, would be a lot easier for the Cons to work out following the elimination of a gaping loophole which the IRS had long since rejected south of the border.

In fairness, the above concerns are largely speculative, in contrast to the immediate good of Flaherty's announcement. But it's still worth keeping an eye out to ensure that the Cons aren't able to use a single sensible tax policy as an opening to make matters worse on other fronts. And based on the Cons' stay in power so far, there's little apparent reason to believe that they have any other intention.