Saturday, November 25, 2006

Reaping what they sow

Having apparently decided that the Wheat Board issue isn't doing enough to lose them votes on the Prairies, the Cons' latest set of environmental cuts also pulls the rug out from efforts to turn greenhouse gas efficiencies into profits for Canadian farmers:
Five climate-change programs at Agriculture Canada will be shut down. They include:

A $5-million Model Farms program to develop estimates of how much carbon can be removed from the atmosphere through new farming practices;

A $21-million project called the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program for Canadian Agriculture, meant to involve farmers in the government's campaign to reduce greenhouse gases;

A $4-million Shelterbelts Enhancement Program that aims to reduce greenhouse gases by encouraging farmers to line their fields with trees to reduce wind and help control snow piles;

A program dealing with manure management and a fifth program dealing with the role of farmers and “future fuels.”
Given that the Cons are apparently now on side with the idea of emissions trading, it makes all the less sense to want to cut farmers out of the benefits of an emissions market. But for farmers who recognize the potential for environmental improvement to also lead to a stronger bottom line, it should be a very simple step to help take the reins away from the Cons.

A selective selloff

The Cons show that their friendliness toward business runs only along ideological lines, as the Globe and Mail reports that the same party which can't sell off Canada to the U.S. fast enough is willing to look at vetoing any investment in Canada which involves a state-owned investor. In addition to adding further tension to our already-tenuous relationship with China, the move should serve as a warning to scare off actors who might otherwise help to counterbalance U.S. domination of Canada's economy. But apparently for the Cons, any measure which indicates disapproval of government ownership is in the national interest - no matter how much worse off actual Canadians are as a result.

Politics and poverty

While the Libs' leaders look for ways to get Canada's federal government to do less, the Star asks the fair question of why multiple levels of government aren't doing more to deal with poverty:
(I)nstead of action, politicians appear immune to the mounting evidence that we are losing the battle against poverty, despite parts of Canada having enjoyed years of prosperity and personal and corporate wealth.

Just this week, that message was driven home in two major reports on poverty. The first, by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, found people living in neighbourhoods in Toronto and other major cities with higher income and education levels were far more likely to say they are in very good health than those in poorer ones. The second was the annual Campaign 2000 report card, which found the national child poverty rate stands at an unacceptably high level, with 17.7 per cent of all children in this country living in households below the poverty line.

But it was a nationwide poll of 2,000 Canadians conducted by Environics Research for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that should truly prompt politicians in Ottawa and provincial legislatures to take notice. The survey, released this week, indicated that many Canadians saw the growing rich-poor gap as a symptom of moral breakdown, with people becoming greedier and more obsessed with materialism.

Those findings are surprising, given a decade of solid economic growth, nine straight federal budget surpluses and a relatively low unemployment rate. Indeed, 76 per cent of those surveyed believe the rich-poor gap is growing — not shrinking. "There is a very strong sense this is a Canadian concern," said Armine Yalnizyan, research fellow at the centre. "It is not about winners and losers, it's about where Canadian society is headed. It is seen to be part of the bedrock of our value system."

Regrettably, those deep-rooted concerns do not seem even to be on the radar screen of politicians in Ottawa and at Queen's Park.

For example, in spite of a $7 billion surplus, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty opted this week to cut taxes and focus on debt reduction, rather than giving back to those in true need through measures such as an income supplement to Canada's 650,000 working poor.

And provincially, the Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty refuses to make up for past damage by the previous Conservative regime by raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, ensuring hard-working families can rise out of poverty. And it steadfastly refuses to stop clawing back the National Child Benefit Supplement from families on social assistance. Or to increase welfare payments to those same families...

All that is required is the political leadership to do what is right for Canada's poor. For instance, as the Campaign 2000 report card points out, the poverty gap — the amount of money needed to bring all poor families with children up to the low-income cut-off line — is about $5.7 billion, an amount that could have been covered by eliminating the GST tax cut this year. Tax cuts or reducing the poverty gap? That's a political decision.
Based on the CCPA poll, it appears plain that the problem isn't a lack of public recognition that many have been left out of Canada's growth on paper. But with the Libs having drawn the conclusion that the problem is one in need of less discussion rather than more action, it's equally clear that neither the Libs nor Cons are interested in doing anything to ensure that Canada's wealth reaches those who need it most - leaving only one party willing and able to actually deal with the problem of poverty in Canada.

Enemy of the state

Until this morning, it seemed unlikely that any prominent Lib would do more than Michael Ignatieff to hand over the rhetorical playing field to the Cons. But then the National Post got a hold of Tom Axworthy's hatchet job against the very concept of government:
On the eve of the Liberal leadership convention, the man charged with leading the party's renewal process has dropped a bombshell by questioning one of liberalism's key convictions -- that government actually works.

In a hard-hitting policy paper obtained by the National Post, Tom Axworthy, a former top advisor to Pierre Trudeau, says there is an "implementation gap" between what Liberal governments promise and what they deliver.

"Liberalism's dirty secret [and it is not so secret these days] is that government doesn't seem to work well much of the time," he says, citing such examples as the 800,000 potential immigrants waiting for their applications to be processed; massive cost overruns at the gun registry; lengthy procurement delays for military equipment; poor water quality on aboriginal reserves; and the Jean Chretien Pledge to Africa Act, which promised to produce generic drugs to help fight AIDS but has yet to export a single pill.
Now, anybody taking a close look at the issues involved should be able to see just how ludicrous Axworthy's argument is based on the examples involved.

On the immigration processing issue, the obvious problem is a lack of government capacity to handle the applications, not an excess of state involvement. The same goes for military procurement delays. And in both cases, one has to ask the question: is Axworthy seriously suggesting that the function involved (either evaluating potential immigrants or determining how to spend military dollars) is one that could be carried out in the private sector?

With respect to the gun registry, Axworthy seems to be blissfully unaware that the cost overruns happened due to the Libs' choice of private contractors, not due to anything inherent in government involvement. (In fact, a stronger government might have had the capacity to put the project together internally, thus avoiding the problem altogether.) This in turn became a scandal due to the Libs' own suppression of the costs...making the problem plainly one of Lib government specifically, not government generally.

On reserve water quality, the problem is again plainly one of management: in some cases needed investments simply haven't been made, in other equipment purchased by the government wasn't backed up with sufficient staff training to ensure that the equipment is used effectively.

And finally, the Pledge to Africa Act has thus far failed due to the failure of private drug manufacturers to either approve of the fabrication of drugs for which they hold patents, or step up to manufacture those drugs. Which makes it rather implausible that pushing government out of the picture entirely would improve matters at all.

Of course, there are some government failings involved in each of these examples. And there's undoubtedly a need for any government to actually focus its attention on areas in which it can do better than the private sector, rather than trying to be everything to everyone while never seeing anything through.

But for each of the examples cited by Axworthy, the problems lay either in the Libs' own mismanagement or in the degree and type of private involvement, not in government involvement in general. And it should be an embarrassment to the Libs that Axworthy is willing to hand ammunition to Jim Flaherty and his anti-government assault squad for use against all future government actions in order to pretend that the opposite is true.

Friday, November 24, 2006

On alternatives

It's still far from clear what exactly happened to the Greens' apparent attempt to nominate Marc-André Gadoury for the Repentigny by-election. But there's no room for doubt who Gadoury himself will support following the Greens' failure to process his nomination:
Le candidat pressenti pour le Parti vert dans l'élection partielle dans Repentigny, Marc-André Gadoury, va appuyer Réjean Bellemare du NPD.

Le Parti vert ne présente pas de candidat dans l'élection partielle dans Repentigny. Le parti, tout en ayant nommé un candidat, n'a pas déposé à temps le bulletin de candidature. M. Gadoury ne cache pas sa frustration envers l'organisation du Parti vert au Québec. Celui-ci affirme que, dans le contexte où il ne peut se présenter, il va voter pour le NPD.

« Le NPD est le parti le plus proche de mes préoccupations. Le NPD défend les valeurs environnementales que j'aurais aimé porter pendant cette élection partielle », a déclaré M. Gadoury.
For the NDP, the endorsement is surely an important one in showing that while there are differences between the two parties, their core values are similar enough that a would-be Green standard-bearer is comfortable publicly supporting the NDP's cause. And with Gadoury himself apparently disillusioned with the Greens over their failure to process his nomination, it seems entirely possible that others concerned about the Greens' current organization will put their votes and efforts behind the NDP in the by-election and beyond.

(For speculation as to just what happened with Gadoury's nomination in the first place, see this thread at Babble. While I'm not sure I buy the theory that May simply wanted to avoid having another Green candidate risking a poor showing to counter her presumptive gains in London North Centre, it definitely seems a bit sketchy that the Greens themselves and one of their blogging loyalists have purged all previous discussion about Gadoury.)

Ulterior motives

On its own, Tony Clement's intention to look into whether Canadians are overcharged for generic drugs would be a good one. But given that it was Clement himself who handed a needless $300 million giveaway to brand-name drug manufacturers just a month ago, it's hard to see the effort as anything but a slap in the face of recognized Lib supporters (as opposed to a genuine effort to make medicine more affordable).

Private calculations

CBC reports that while B.C.'s Campbell government pushes forward with its farce of a health-care "conversation", the government's own silence is enabling for-profit care to keep advancing in the meantime:
Canada's first private emergency room won't be allowed to accept patients from ambulances or let patients stay more than 24 hours when it opens next week.

The False Creek Surgical Centre, which already performs private surgeries for a fee, is slated to do a test run of emergency services on Monday and plans to be open for patients next Friday...

Godley (the centre's medical director) said he doesn't know how the centre falls under the Canada Health Act and he declined to talk about its fee structure.

Godley said the centre wrote to the provincial health minister about its plans several months ago, but received no reply and so decided to proceed.
It's certainly no secret that Campbell and company have been looking for excuses to move toward greater privatization of health care (among other government services). But the lack of any response to Godley's plan demonstrates that the B.C. Libs' commitment to destroying government is matched only by their cowardice: rather than so much as responding privately to the centre's plan, they seem to have tried to ignore the issue themselves in hopes that nobody would notice what was happening.

Sadly, to the extent the Libs' goal may have been to enable privatization by stealth, it appears they've managed to get what they wanted, as the opening of private emergency service is now a fait accompli without any public input. And no matter what the outcome of the "conversation", the real question now is whether privatized care will have spread so far as to be irreversible by the time the Libs' faults get them removed from office.

Update: B.C. Health Minister George Abbott now says it would be difficult see how the emergency room can operate legally. Funny that he couldn't be bothered to say the same when he was asked in time to influence whether it would open or not...

Poor public policy

One of the more dangerous parts of the Cons' economic plan has apparently been largely ignored - and I'd have missed it as well if not for an off-hand remark in CJME's otherwise-woeful coverage. But the Cons are apparently determined to spend public money through public-private partnerships (P3s), despite the track record of inefficiency and secrecy associated with P3s:
Some provinces are implementing P3 projects and have already started to put in place the structures that will allow them to harness the opportunities provided by P3s in helping to renew public infrastructure and improving the delivery of related public services. For example, in recent years public agencies, such as Partnerships British Columbia and L’agence des partenariats public-privé du Québec, were set up to provide expert services to public bodies in evaluating the feasibility of P3 projects and to facilitate the negotiation, conclusion and management of partnership contracts.

For its part, Canada’s New Government intends to establish a federal P3 office that will facilitate a broader use of P3s in Canadian infrastructure projects. The Government will also encourage the development and use of P3 best practices by requiring that P3s be given consideration in larger infrastructure investments that receive federal program funding.
I won't repeat for now the extensive set of problems which has already surfaced with respect to P3s in the past. But it's worth pointing out that the one government office which the Cons are happy to set up now (and presumably expand later) is one whose effect is to put the government at the mercy of private actors in delivering essential services, while also inflating costs in the long run. And while that fits well with the Cons' plan of declaring immediate gains with no attention paid to the long term, that's bound to be as much a losing strategy for the federal government as it's already proven to be in B.C. and elsewhere.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

On nationhood

Some of the strongest voices against PMS' motion to recognize Quebec as a nation have been Dipper bloggers who aren't happy with the party's willingness to support the declaration. But I'll argue against the grain on this one: in my view the NDP's stance is probably a poor one from the standpoint of maximizing seats, but is nonetheless the right one on principle.

Let's start with why the move is a bad one politically. I've argued for quite some time, and still believe to be true, that the Western populist vote (along with other protest votes in general) forms probably the NDP's greatest chance of expanding its vote to push its way to a top-two position. And with PMS flip-flopping to move the "nation" resolution forward, the NDP could have gone a long way toward winning some of that vote by positioning itself as the only federal party not willing to grant a perceived special status to Quebec.

Sure, there might be some votes to be lost that way as well. But there's probably a lot more potential for the NDP to pick up seats elsewhere than in Quebec...and the usual lack of NDP coverage in the media means the Dippers could have managed to avoid taking much flak from the Ottawa powers that be (which I'd take to be lined up in support of the resolution given the Cons' and Libs' agreement). Which would have made opposing the resolution a relatively low-risk, high-reward action.

In contrast, by supporting the resolution, the NDP does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself from the Libs and the Cons, and indeed makes leading figures in both of those parties appear to be setting the agenda. And in the process it's clearly alienated at least some supporters.

But then, there's the question of principle. And contrary to the concerns that the move does damage to the country and/or the party, the NDP's stance is consistent both with the party's historical position on Quebec, and more importantly its rightful recognition that should-be nations which lack state status either in Canada or abroad shouldn't have their collective status ignored based on that lack of political power. Indeed, it's hard to see how the NDP could seek to improve the real autonomy of First Nations in Canada, or Palestinians in the Middle East, while arguing to deny even a symbolic title in this case.

Which isn't to say that Harper's language couldn't stand to be improved - e.g. by recognizing French-Canadians rather than "Quebecois" as more accurately bearing the sociological definition of "nation". But nonetheless, the NDP's support should be seen as opening the door for proper recognition of underrepresented national groups in general, not merely a one-off step to pander to Quebec. And that should be kept in mind by those tempted to simply lump the NDP in with the other parties whose position is more plainly based on politics.

Update: I'll take a moment to deal also with the criticism of the NDP for supporting the concept of nationhood whether or not it's with Harper's caveat. It's hard to imagine a less logically based critique: if Quebec is indeed a nation, can that possibly be any more or less true based on the status of Canada as a whole?

If anything, it seems to me unreasonable to vote differently between the two competing motions - particularly in the direction planned by the Libs and Cons, since the motion they'll be voting against is effectively included in the motion they'll be voting for. But then, that's based on consistency of reasoning, rather than a desire to form a "united front" regardless of whether that front makes any sense.

On imbalance

Jim Flaherty's long-range economic plan won't disappoint that segment of the Canadian population which wants nothing more than for government to put itself out of business. But for the rest of the country, the plan seems very likely to backfire on the Cons:
In an economic statement delivered to the House of Commons finance committee, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the government will continue to cut income taxes and will reduce the GST by another percentage point, to five per cent, not later than 2011.

The finance minister said the added tax relief — which he said could amount to $22 billion over the next six years — would be in addition to the $20 billion in personal tax breaks unveiled in his May 2006 budget...

Flaherty also set a goal of eliminating the "total government net debt" by 2021. But that prompted criticism from Liberal finance critic John McCallum, who said it was a term "only a handful of economists in the OECD have ever heard of."
Now, I have to figure Flaherty went with the 15-year projection in order to be able to find some time frame over which he could claim to want to pay off Canada's debt (however dubious the argument that "total government net debt" measures much of anything). But that choice looks like a dangerous one for a minority government - particularly one which has been so one-sided with its focus so far.

The most obvious problem with the long-term framework is its presumptuousness. It's far from clear that the Cons will ever be able to implement a single one of their announcements - let alone hold power for any substantial portion of the longer term projected. But the Cons' apparent desire to write themselves a multi-decade tenancy in power could push anybody who might have been willing to put up with a Con minority into other camps.

And the possibility of long-term Con government only looks worse due to the content of Flaherty's announcements today. While tax cuts are understandably popular to a point, Canadians will surely ask themselves whether they want a government which looks for excuses to hack another $20 billion away from its bottom line every time it updates its finances, or one which thinks there may be more to life than tax cuts.

For some, the Cons' pattern (along with Flaherty's track record) will serve as reason to doubt that any debt repayment will ever take place under the Cons; for others, the problem will be with the complete lack of commitment to programs of any non-military kind. But one way or the other, the vast majority of Canadians expect far more balanced decision-making than the Cons seem willing to carry out - particularly over the long term. There are very few Canadians (presumably limited to the membership of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation) who are likely to buy an argument that tax cuts should be prioritized to the exclusion of everything else, and that's the only group which is going to like the Cons' big-picture planning.

In fairness, there are some good ideas in the Cons' plan which hopefully won't get lost in the shuffle. In addition to debt repayment as a general principle, the EI tax cut and the working income tax benefit are certainly worth supporting. But even these reflect the Cons' lack of willingness to solve any problem through anything but a tax cut. And now that the Cons have gladly given that impression, it doesn't seem likely the Cons can successfully present themselves as a party capable of making balanced decisions in the long run.

Update: Relentlessly Progressive Economics has more.

On baseless distinctions

The Cons apparently do have an answer to the criticism that they're using this year's fiscal update for the purpose of electioneering just as Ralph Goodale did with last year's. But it should come as no surprise that the answer is purely a matter of form rather than substance:
The Tory government is poised to unveil its fall fiscal update on Thursday, along with an economic wish-list expected to include much talked-about tax cuts.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's office is adamant the document about to be released isn't a mini-budget.

"It's not the same thing that (former finance minister) Ralph Goodale came out last year with," Flaherty spokesperson Eric Richer told The Canadian Press.

"That was basically a platform to launch the election. We're not doing that."...

Sources told CP that a separate document, known in Finance Department circles as "the plan," will be a Tory blueprint for spending and tax cuts over the next 10 years.

"It's a road map for government policy for the Canadian economy," one official told CP. "The plan will outline the Conservative government's economic priorities for the next 10 years, at least."
In other words, the only difference is that the Cons are using two documents rather than one to release a long-term platform on the same day and in the same forum as the fiscal update. Which could at best offer a minor technical variation from Goodale's all-in-one document last year.

But that irrelevant point of distinction certainly doesn't counter the substantive problem of a minority government loudly trumpeting a long-term plan which it can't reasonably claim to be able to implement in whole or in part. And it may not be long before the Cons' continued eagerness to copy that which they decried in opposition leads to exactly the same fate that befell the Libs.

A narrow focus

Greg Weston discusses an open-ended poll on Canadians' views of the Libs. While the results are interesting (particularly the degree to which concerns about scandal and corruption resonate even with Lib voters), I have to wonder what the results would be for a similar poll about the Cons, NDP and Greens - and whether Sun Media is only feeding into the Libs' own "natural governing party" pose by singling them out for the poll.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On setups

Peter MacKay says that Pakistan and Afghanistan need to do more to control their common border. Which presumably makes it Stephen Harper's turn to make up a story (based on old information) about how Canada has convinced them to do just that.

Same old story, fiscal update edition

November 2005: The Cons criticize the Libs for electioneering in the guise of a mid-year fiscal update which a precarious minority government couldn't possibly implement.

November 2006: To nobody's surprise...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The costs of arrogance

So just how effective was PMS' brand of Big Daddy Knows Best foreign relations? Let's leave it to the recipient of one of his lectures and a Canadian business figure to give the answer:
Beijing's top diplomat in Canada suggested Prime Minister Stephen Harper is taking a condescending tone with China on human rights, "pointing fingers" when he should be keeping the direct lines of communication open.

"Acknowledging (the) diversity of the world we share, and learning from each other with tolerance and respect, will prove far more productive for common progress and prosperity than standing aloof and pointing fingers at each other," Ambassador Lu Shumin told a business luncheon...

The Chinese ambassador had suggested that relations between the two countries had been better under previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments, because the lines of communication had been kept open.

That policy of pressure via engagement is what Canadian business leaders are seeking again.

"There is irritation between the two sides, we would have liked from business to see the prime minister visit China on his way to Hanoi, as his predecessors have done before," said Neil Tait of BMO Financial Group.
Needless to say, based on this response it looks ever less likely that anything positive actually came out of PMS' much-touted one-on-one APEC sessions - no matter what fairy tale Peter MacKay is going around telling now.

Which isn't to say that Canada shouldn't be pressuring China and other countries on human rights issues, particularly ones as glaring as those pointed out in the article. But if PMS really believes that he can take that discussion into the media (with his usual self-righteous pose) without suffering a severe loss of cooperation as a consequence, then...well, that would make him just as clueless about the realities of diplomacy as his idol to the south. And since Canada (unlike the U.S.) lacks the global hegemon status needed to force other countries to hold their noses and play along, Canadian voters will rightly have to consider whether they're prepared to pay a massive diplomatic price for Harper's grandstanding.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Uncritical analysis

If there's anything more painful to read than Larry Zolf at his worst (or anywhere near it), it's a columnist who should seemingly know better repeating Zolf's blatherings without considering the lack of logic. Which brings us to Martin O'Malley:
Harper and his Conservatives are expected to call a federal election next year, probably in the spring if the political breezes are right. Harper should win at least another minority government and remain prime minister another two or three years. If he parlays this into a majority, Harper could be prime minister another six or seven years, at which time Ignatieff and Rae will be senior citizens, pushing 70.

As Larry Zolf said here a week ago, Harper is looking good, even after breaking a major campaign promise not to impose a tax on income trusts. As Zolf explained, "despite the controversy, the Tories will retain their social conservative base. The Christian evangelicals have nowhere else to go. They know the oil and gas will keep on flowing in Alberta. They know that many in the oil patch will continue to support their views on gay marriage and abortion."
So the logic is apparently that by keeping the socon base, PMS will somehow manage to win another minority government, or maybe even a majority a couple of years hence. Which is a nice little theory, with just one glaring hole.

After all, the socon vote has been fairly thoroughly unified behind Reform, the Alliance and the Cons for the past decade and a half, with nothing even vaguely resembling a majority government resulting. Instead, 2006 was the first time the Cons have managed to couple the hard-right vote with enough more moderate support to win even a historically tenuous minority. And it's precisely that moderate support (based largely on discontent with the Libs) which has virtually no reason to stay with the Cons now - and indeed has been bleeding back even before the Libs figure out who's going to be leading them.

Now, I'm sure Harper's plans weren't for things to work out that way. But surely O'Malley has been paying enough attention to know that the Cons have tried to govern from the far right in a hostile Parliament for the very purpose of securing their base...and that the result has been a distinct failure to win over more than a handful of Canadians who haven't already cast a ballot for the Cons (and indeed a precipitous drop in Quebec which all but rules out a Con majority on its own).

Which means that barring a surprising turnaround (which would seem to demand a shift in strategy which the Cons have shown no indication of implementing) or complete implosions by both the Libs and the NDP, the Cons can't realistically hope for more than a minority government anytime in the foreseeable future. And no matter what line Zolf and O'Malley seem to want to push, it'll take a lot more than the socon base to move them in that direction.

No value added

A day after declaring that he couldn't discuss in detail his one-on-one talks with foreign leaders at the APEC conference, PMS is now bragging about those sessions:
(T)he Prime Minister said the "most valuable" work was done on the sidelines in one-on-one meetings, including a very brief encounter he had with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Harper said his meetings "advanced Canadian interests" and said he did raise the case of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen jailed in China.
Now, at best this would seem to be a ridiculously self-serving statement from PMS. But fortunately, when it comes to at least one of the one-on-one sessions, we can measure Harper's opinion of whether he did "valuable" work against the view of the other side. And the plain indication is that PMS accomplished absolutely nothing new or useful:
China disagreed that human rights were raised, and was unbowed by what Harper described as his "very frank" intervention that China clearly wasn't "used to" hearing from previous Canadian governments.

Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said the subject of Celil was "touched upon" and both sides reiterated their positions.

China's view of Celil is clear, said Liu. "We call him ... (by his) Chinese name, and we think that he is a Chinese national." As such, Beijing regards the matter as an internal criminal case, plain and simple.

Asked later about the Chinese version of what was discussed, Harper replied, "I think that depends on the definition of human rights. From time to time China doesn't consider certain issues human rights issues."
In other words, PMS' definition of "valuable" discussion is to make a position statement which the recipient has heard before (contrary to PMS' claim that no previous Canadian government would ever have raised such issues), and which utterly fails to result in any agreement or movement on either side. And if one accepts PMS' assessment, the joint work done at the conference somehow managed to be even less valuable than the one-on-one reiteration of entrenched positions.

Needless to say, the actual outcome of the summit should properly be seen as a failure for Canada. And while PMS may indeed be convinced that anything is "valuable" as long as it comes from him, there's enough public evidence to the contrary to make Canadian voters take a much closer look at whether they want Harper's voice of self-promotion speaking for them abroad.

Update: According to the CP, Peter MacKay is now saying that China has agreed not to pursue the death penalty in the Celil case. Which, in fairness, would be a valuable concession if true and secured by PMS - but is there any good reason why Harper would cover it up until after the conference?

Further update: Or maybe MacKay was only making things up, and Harper really did accomplish absolutely nothing. With this bunch, you just can't tell where the incompetence ends and the lying begins.

On those left out

The CCPA discusses the consequences of our spend first, ask questions later culture, as despite reported economic growth nearly half of Canadians see themselves as within a couple of paycheques of poverty:
"These are the good days, man, they're as good as it gets, and to have half of Canadians say they were one or two pay cheques away from poverty, that was an astonishing number," said Armine Yalnizyan, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"To put it in context, we've had 10 years of the hottest economy in the G8, we've had the lowest interest rates of 40 years and the lowest unemployment rate for about 35 years."

The polling firm Environics conducted the telephone poll of 2,021 Canadians for the policy alternatives centre, a left-leaning think tank. The survey is to be released today but an advance copy was given to CanWest News Service.

The survey, which reports that 49 per cent of Canadians either strongly or somewhat believe they'd be poverty stricken if they missed one or two pay cheques, underscores past studies showing that Canada has gone from a nation of savers to spenders, with a record level of personal and household debt, said Yalnizyan.

Adding to the insecurity is that there has been an enormous growth in contract and casual workers who do not have permanent jobs, she said.

Sixty-five per cent of those surveyed also said that most of the benefit from the country's recent economic growth has gone to the well-off rather than average Canadians.
Of course, growing inequality and a precarious won't stop Canada's leading right-wing ideologues from trying to dismantle our social supports entirely.

But from the CCPA's survey, there can be no doubt that a large number of Canadians see themselves as left out of the reported economic boom. And if any substantial number from that group actually winds up facing the anticipated effects of a downturn, then there may be a stronger public outcry in favour of reasonable redistribution of wealth than Canada has seen for a long time.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pushing for progress

The movement toward real action on global warming is winning praise from highly unexpected sources, as even Shell Canada is hinting that it would like to see greenhouse gas emission limits to create an incentive toward the development of carbon capture technology. It's still not clear whether the Cons are really listening to anybody when it comes to the environment, or just adopting the pretense as an excuse for further inaction. But when even the oil patch is warning about the dangers of missing opportunities by consulting the issue to death, one has to figure even the least receptive government would have to take notice...and maybe even see the need to take action.

On healthier legislation

Jack Layton has unveiled the NDP's plan to turn the Cons' Clean Air Act into legislation which actually improves air quality and fights climate change. Which will allow us to find out just where the other parties stand when it comes to real action on the environment:
The NDP-proposed amendments include the following:
- To rename the act the Healthy Air and Climate Act, indicating that Kyoto Protocol targets, which were absent from the original bill, would become a key priority of the revised act;
- To set targets that Canada must meet, such as the Kyoto Protocol 2008 to 2012 targets, an (sic) 80 per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels, by 2050;
- To set interim targets at five year intervals between 2015 and 2050;
- To give new authority to the environment minister that would allow him or her to designate significant areas under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act;
- And a "just-transition fund" to help the automobile (industry) move from voluntary to mandatory targets...

"Industries need to know that if they pollute a lot they're going to pay, but if they clean up their act and bring in more energy efficiency and renewable energy, and then there will be financial help. And that's what the carbon trading system is all about and we want to legislate that so that we get going and follow the path that's been set out by Europe where they're meeting their targets and in some cases exceeding them," he said.

"It's time to get Canada on track on this whole question of cleaner air and climate change and that's what our amendments propose to do while helping industry to make that transition."

Layton said he hopes the Conservatives will closely consider the amendments the NDP has put forward, and said Canadians want action, and "they're going to call on all members of parliament from all parties to get moving."
The article speculates as to whether or not the Cons will back the amendments as a trade-off for getting legislation passed. But that seems to be about the least likely possible scenario: it would force the Cons to admit their own failures as a government and implicitly accept Layton's criticisms of the existing legislation as "not honest", which doesn't seem a likely reaction from a party so obsessed with appearances. Instead, the Cons will presumably only vote for the amendments and/or the amended bill if all other parties are onside, such that they could otherwise face the danger of being the only party opposed to their own putative legislation (and the resulting environmental benefits).

The more obvious question for the moment is that of how the other two opposition parties will handle the proposed amendments. From the Bloc's standpoint, it seems like a slam dunk to support the amendments: they would help bolster the party's self-image as one in favour of environmental progress, and would provide a strong wedge issue if the Libs and/or Cons fail to do the same. And it doesn't look like anything in the amendments would interfere in provincial affairs, meaning the Bloc's usual excuse when it rejects progressive stances won't come into play.

And then there's the Libs, whose decision looks to be the most interesting of all. There would certainly be some costs in supporting the amendment: it would serve as a tacit acknowledgement that the Libs didn't do all they could and should have while in government, and would likely constrain the actions of any future Lib government (which the party already appears to be planning for).

But then, the costs of opposing the amendments appear to be far higher. Instead of having to level the bulk of its criticism at a previous government which is receding from the public's memory, the NDP (and Bloc as well) would be able to slam the current Lib caucus as having taken a concrete stand against environmental action. Meanwhile, there wouldn't likely be any concurrent benefit to the Libs on their right flank, since the Cons would almost certainly feel free to oppose the amendments as well.

Naturally, the best result (both for the NDP and from a policy standpoint) would be all-party agreement that the NDP's amendments be adopted, or at least form the basis for a consensus plan for healthier air. Whatever the outcome, though, the NDP's planned amendments can only ensure that both the environment as an issue and the NDP as a party receive their due attention in the campaign-within-a-minority-Parliament set to begin in earnest next weekend.

Update: More details about the plan from the NDP's website.

Accountability at work

The PM elected on a platform of accountability has issued his most direct statement yet to the effect that he not only doesn't see that principle applying to him, but is proud to be less accessible than most APEC leaders:
It was the Korean government that told Canadian reporters about the visit of a Canadian diplomat to North Korea.

And the news of his discussion with the Chinese president came by e-mail to reporters travelling with him 14 hours after the fact. It was the Chinese foreign ministry official who gave the Canadian media the first substantive description of the meeting.

Mr. Harper's staff also blocked Canadian journalists from attending all but the first of Mr. Harper's public activities, even while foreign media were present or invited.

“I think if you're going to have frank discussions with other leaders, then you know, except obviously for the broad objectives you're trying to pursue, I think the details of those discussions have to be private,” Mr. Harper said. “If you run out of private discussions every 10 minutes and give a play-by-play of everything that was said, nobody will have a frank discussion with you.”
Or, to be more concise: "If the public knows what I'm doing most of the time, they won't let me get away with it. So they shouldn't know anything. No more questions."

Mind you, it's clear that other countries and their media delegations aren't playing by such restricted rules. In fact, even China's government is showing more openness to the media than Canada's - which must surely serve to both embarrass PMS and deflate his argument when he tries to lecture Chinese leaders on the closed elements of their own society.

Unfortunately, PMS is probably only being encouraged by the continuing presence of reporters who should know better than to waste their time looking for any substantial comment from Canada's Secretive New Government. Which means that it's long past time for the media to take the Cons' hint and start spending more time looking for what's being hidden, rather than trying to press for official word from a PM who isn't interested in providing it.