Saturday, December 16, 2006

All too likely

Why do I get the nagging feeling that it's at least as likely as not that the Cons have already commissioned a focus group to test out Andrew Coyne's modest holiday proposal?

At the top of the spin cycle

As Rex Weyler points out, any issue acknowledged to be at the forefront of public concerns (like the environment at the moment) is bound to subject to a ridiculous amount of spin by those attempting to cash in. Fortunately, Weyler is one step ahead of the game, pointing out plenty of examples of the blatant self-promotion and/or junk science currently making its way around the media in the guise of responsible environmental management. Give it a read.

The cabinet is bare

In case anybody was wondering just how weak the Cons' cabinet is, Don Martin went looking for reasons to rank up to 10 ministers as having been successful - and instead couldn't even get to 5 without lowering his standards all the way to Stockwell Day:
The bad ones are easy to find. But scout around to find the best of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Cabinet and, after a couple of obvious nominations, insiders retreat into an awkward silence marked by a furrowed brow.

That is why this isn't a Top 10 list of Cabinet stars to go with yesterday's list of underperformers. There just aren't enough above-average performers to fill it...
When the NDP released its report card for the Cons' cabinet ministers, my first question was who (if anybody) had managed to earn a relatively high mark...on the assumption that surely even the Cons couldn't manage to avoid having a single cabinet minister who ranks as anything but a disaster from a progressive perspective. But after reviewing both the NDP's comments and Martin's last couple of columns, it seems like they've managed to pull it off.

Which isn't to say that a couple of them haven't served their purpose from the Cons' angle so as to rank highly in Martin's view. But Jim Flaherty and Maxime Bernier evidently took over their respective roles with the goal of slashing and privatizing as much as possible with little regard to what's best for citizens. And while it takes some PR skill to avoid massive public blowups over those kinds of moves, the message management doesn't come close to outweighing the substantive damage.

Meanwhile, the Cons who have had an opportunity to do some good on more progressive files have nothing much to show for it. Tony Clement has not only failed to deliver on one of the Cons' top "priorities", but also completely ignored the strong movement for a national prescription drug plan. Jim Prentice may manage to rank at the top of the Cons' pile in combining relative centrism with relative competence, but his role in killing the Kelowna accord undoubtedly keeps him from being seen as a positive influence on the balance. John Baird may have managed to get an Accountability Act through Parliament, but the final bill didn't accomplish anywhere near what the Cons promised to achieve. And of course, the less that's said about Rona Ambrose, the better.

For some reason, Martin holds out hope that some of the Cons' current backbenchers or parliamentary secretaries could do better. But even if some Cons are capable of doing better than their currently-woeful lot, surely PMS deserves blame for inflicting the present bunch on Canada. And that poor central management, along with the individual incompetence and/or extreme ideology, will hopefully lead to the lot being booted out of the class before long.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Help out poor Joe

The CP reports that Stephane Dion plans to offer a specific role in the party to each of his leadership rivals - but leaves out Joe Volpe as the sole candidate without a predicted fit. So have at it: what task should Volpe be offered?

Getting in on the act

The Council of Canadians chimes in on TILMA with an issues page, featuring a model municipal resolution as well as a small (but hopefully growing) set of links. It's particularly worrisome to learn that Quebec and the Atlantic provinces are looking at a similar pact...but at the very least the C of C adds a fairly substantial group to the growing movement against the evisceration of provincial and municipal government.

No independent voice

Robert suggests snarkily that Dippers join the effort to bring Elizabeth May into the leaders' debates to show just how right-wing the Greens actually are. While I agree with May's inclusion on principle, it's worth offering a counterpoint solely from the Dippers' strategic perspective: do we really want to add yet another voice which seems devoted to misleading Canadians about the NDP?
Though she said Layton understood the urgency of climate change, she condemned him for co-operating with the Tories to get the Clean Air Act into a Commons committee for consideration. The bill, widely condemned by environment groups and the Bloc Québécois and Liberals, was effectively dead before the NDP came to Harper's aid.

"The likelihood is that Mr. Layton has given Mr. Harper an early Christmas present by rescuing the Clean Air Act," she said.
Now, I presume May is paying enough attention to know how and why the Clean Air Act actually ended up in committee:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has agreed to an NDP demand to put his Clean Air Act before a Commons committee, where the opposition will try to change it radically.

NDP Leader Jack Layton made the demand during a meeting with Harper late Tuesday, saying the minority Conservative bill was "dead in the water" because the opposition parties would vote it down...

The bill will now go through the unusual step of being reviewed by an all-party committee before second reading, where it's expected to be overhauled by critics who say it doesn't do enough to slow global warming.
In other words, the NDP did nothing to "rescue" the Cons' actual plan - and the purpose and effect of the move wasn't to lend any credence to the Cons' work, as indicated by the NDP's strong responses to the initial draft. Rather, the effect was to make use of an existing statutory vehicle to enable the opposition parties to put together legislation which would actually result in sound environmental action - a move which drew the support of Environmental Defence Canada among others.

Of course, that plan hinged on the other opposition parties caring enough about the environment to seek to change the bill for the better, rather than preferring to do nothing. Unfortunately, with the Libs determined to claim nothing can get done until they take back power rather than accomplishing anything under a Con government, there may not be much chance of the hoped-for amendments happening in the near future. But surely the Libs' refusal to work toward a positive result speaks poorly of their own actions, not of the NDP's.

(It's also worth noting as an aside that if some agreement can't be reached to improve the Clean Air Act for the better, then the Cons' bill as drafted is just as thoroughly dead in the water as it was when first presented.)

Sadly, May's love-in with the Libs seems to have led her to mislead Canadians about what the NDP has done (and is doing) to improve matters on what's supposed to be her core issue. And her current parroting of Lib spin shows all too clearly that voters seeking a fresh perspective, honesty and principle from their politicians had best look elsewhere - and ensures that even if the Greens are given a spot in any debate, it all too likely won't result in any new voice being added.

On one-sided relations

As a prime example of just how ineffective the Cons have been in dealing with the U.S., Ambassador David Wilkins has confirmed that Maher Arar remains on the U.S.' border lookout system despite Arar's complete exoneration. And not only has the Cons' supposedly closer relationship given them absolutely no influence over U.S. decision-making, it didn't even earn them the ability to find the facts out for themselves:
Despite being exonerated by a federal inquiry, Maher Arar remains on a U.S. government watch list, says the U.S. ambassador to Canada.

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Ambassador David Wilkins confirmed Arar remains on the American border lookout system...

Late last week, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said he didn't know whether Arar was still on the American watch list, telling a Commons committee he had recently posed the question to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

"Their response was — I'm not saying I was totally satisfied with it — that because it was a matter of privacy that if Mr. Arar or perhaps his lawyers would contact the State Department, they can find that out," said Day.
Now, it's at least a plus that the CBC is able to find out the facts which neither Day nor anyone else associated with the government was apparently able to learn. (Though that capacity too seems unlikely to last through much more Con government.)

But there should be no doubt that the Cons' strategy for dealing with the U.S. has been an utter failure for Canada. And with the Cons neither friendly enough with the U.S. to win their trust, nor willing to push for either answers or results, it's plain that it'll take a new party in charge to properly defend Canada's interests.

Update: Layton takes the lead on the Arar situation:
Layton says Canadians have been outraged by the injustices inflicted on Arar, and he says the fact he remains on the terror watch list is evidence those injustices persist.

"This is simply not right," Layton told a news conference.

"There is no evidence that Mr. Arar's name should be on such a list. We held a whole inquiry here in Canada on this question.

"The prime minister must do everything he possibly can to correct this situation because otherwise it sends out the message that the Canadian government does not stand behind its own citizens."

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Finally made public

B.C.'s NDP reports that the Campbell government is reimbursing 1100 residents for private MRI fees. While the only really surprising part of the story is the fact that the Libs admitted any wrongdoing, it's still striking just how much wilful damage to the system has been deliberately left out of Campbell's "conversation" - and how much more willing B.C.'s current regime is to put money into rewarding privately-funded health care than to properly fund the public system. And it'll take a strong spotlight on the Libs' lack of credibility to ensure that the new admission doesn't get spun into yet another excuse for more privatization.

(h/t to LeftCoast Rant.)

Head in the sand

The Cons can claim a direct hit in their war on effective government, as Maxime Bernier has managed to contribute to the decay of Canadian research and development, surrender a hard-won market niche, and alienate a wide range of international allies in a single bone-headed move:
The federal government has turned down a request by Canada's space industry to support a contract that would have allowed the companies to build the European Space Agency's Mars surface rover, CBC News has learned.

The decision stunned the companies and has left the ESA scrambling to find a new partner, as no European firm is adequately prepared to match the technical abilities of Canadian firms to build its ExoMars rover...

The project required no additional funding from Ottawa, but was contingent upon $100 million over 10 years from the existing CSA budget being redirected to the program by restructuring priorities and cancelling or postponing other projects, according to documents obtained by the CBC.

But just a few short weeks after the presentation, Industry Minister Maxime Bernier told the companies the government hadn't made up its mind about the future of Canada's space role and didn't want to go forward with the project.

The project had the approval of the United States, which also wanted Canada to continue its robotics role and had signed off on Canadian firms to design at least the robotics component on equipment and vehicles used on its planned mission to the moon in 2020.

Canada has never failed with any project it has handled for NASA, which has earned it the trust of the U.S. as it gathers international support for its space programs.
It's hard to see who stands to gain anything from the refusal to participate, as even the CSA whose budget is affected would presumably prefer to continue to be a reliable international partner rather than having its role cast into so much doubt. But then, there is one exception: namely, any Con who wants to repeat the 1950s so desperately as to be happy to re-enact Canada's worst mistakes from that era:
The rover decision has the companies threatening to take their operations south of the border, which observers fear could lead to a brain drain of Canadian designers and scientists similar to the one suffered in the wake of the abrupt cancellation of the Avro Arrow fighter-interceptor program in 1959.

After the Diefenbaker government axed the Arrow, many of the Avro Canada engineering and technical staff left Canada for the U.S. to become lead engineers, program managers and heads of engineering in NASA's manned space programs Mercury to Apollo, which led to the first man on the moon in 1969.
We'll have to hope that history doesn't repeat itself entirely. But with Canada's So-Called Government apparently willing to let high-tech industry atrophy while continuing to give needless handouts to resource extraction, it's clear that it'll take a quick change in political leadership to avoid an entirely preventable loss of talent and economic development.

Update: Just to highlight how unnecessary the loss of the project was, note as well that even if the Cons didn't want to divert other CSA funding, they could have funded the whole project by simply paying what the military's new aircraft are worth rather than paying more than double the going rate.

Edit: Might as well use PMS' own terminology to describe the Cons' regime.

A renewal opportunity

As I noted yesterday, Stephane Dion has ensured that sitting Lib MPs can't face a nomination challenge for any reason - including their demonstrated disdain for his much-touted "social justice" pillar in the form of a vote against same-sex marriage. But even if these MPs can't face any internal challenge, those who want to see renewal in their riding can accomplish the same thing by voting in a candidate who doesn't want to turn back the clock on SSM. So let's take a quick look at the current vote counts of the ridings involved:

Jim Karygiannis - Scarborough-Agincourt - 28,099 votes, to 10,634 for Con Bill Redwood and 4,943 for Dipper David Robertson.

Derek Lee - Scarborough-Rouge River - 30,281 votes, to 9,426 for Con Jerry Bance and 4,973 to Dipper Andrew Brett.

Gerry Byrne - Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte - 17,208 votes, to 10,137 for Con Cyril Pelley, Jr. and 4,847 for Dipper Holly Pike.

Tom Wappel - Scarborough Southwest - 19,930 votes, to 10,017 for Con Vincent Veerasuntharam and 9,626 for Dipper Dan Harris.

Roy Cullen – Etobicoke North - 22,195 votes, to 8,049 for Con Amanjit Khroad and 3,820 for Dipper Ali Naqvi.

Ray Bonin - Nickel Belt - 19,775 votes, to 17,668 for Dipper Claude Gravelle and 5,822 for Con Margaret Schwartzentruber.

Dan McTeague - Pickering-Scarborough East - 27,720 votes, to 16,686 for Con Tim Dobson and 6,083 for Dipper Gary Dale.

John McKay - Scarborough-Guildwood - 21,875 votes, to 11,790 for Con Pauline Browes and 5,847 for Dipper Peter Cambell.

Gurbax Malhi - Bramalea-Gore-Malton - 25,349 votes, to 16,310 for Con John Sprovieri and 6,400 for Dipper Cesar Martello.

Paul Steckle - Huron-Bruce - 21,620 votes, to 20,289 for Con Ben Lobb and 8,696 for Dipper Grant Robertson.

Alan Tonks - York South-Weston - 22,871 votes, to 8,525 for Dipper Paul Ferreira and 6,991 for Con Stephen Halicki.

Wajid Khan - Mississauga-Streetsville - 23,913 votes, to 18,121 for Con Raminder Gill and 6,929 for Dipper James Caron.

Francis Scarpaleggia - Lac-Saint-Louis - 25,588 votes, to 14,164 for Con Andrea Paine and 5,702 for Dipper Daniel Quinn.

In each riding, the Libs, Cons and NDP were the top three in vote count; I've omitted the lower-ranking parties since this post discusses what would amount to a strategic vote.

On a quick review, I'd classify three of the above as particularly close ridings: Huron-Bruce and Mississauga-Streetsville where Cons ran second, and Nickel Belt where the NDP is already within striking distance. Which means that fear of a Con pickup simply isn't a real concern in the vast majority of the ridings where paleo-Lib MPs currently reside.

And in every single one of the above ridings except Huron-Bruce, if the Lib vote were to split exactly in half between the Lib candidate and the Dipper candidate (to allow for the worst-case vote-splitting scenario), the result would be an NDP win. Which would mean both a more progressive MP now for those ridings, and a chance to replace a paleo-Lib with a new nominee for the following federal election. (And remember, a loss in a future general election is the only way a current Lib MP need ever face a nomination challenge - meaning the alternative is to be stuck with an anti-SSM incumbent in perpetuity.)

In the end, it seems plain that Lib supporters disgusted with their current anti-SSM MPs have a readily-available strategy to ensure more progressive representation both following the next election, and in the longer term. The only question is whether they'll actually take an obvious path toward that end.

Mutually assured inaction

I'm not sure we needed any more reasons to be suspicious of the TILMA. But the CP points out yet another one, as Jim Flaherty appears set to try to impose it on the provinces as the price for a slightly larger equalization payment:
Flaherty also indicated that his negotiations with the provinces will be a two-way street. They want more money from the federal government but he wants agreement on a common securities regulator, removal of interprovincial trade and labour mobility barriers and harmonization of provincial sales taxes with the federal GST.

"So, this isn't just a discussion about money flowing from Ottawa to the provinces. It's also a discussion about our obligation together to create a strong economic union in Canada."

As an inducement, Flaherty has promised to drastically limit the use of the federal spending power to intrude on areas of provincial jurisdiction. He brushed off reports that Harper is willing to enshrine such limits in the Constitution.
Now, it's possible that other, less harmful agreements (such as the labour mobility agreement already in the works) could also meet Flaherty's terms. But if Flaherty plans to impose the elimination of barriers as a precondition to funding which is expected to flow by February, then it doesn't seem likely that all provinces would be able to agree on a different structure in time - leading to the danger that the Cons could make TILMA their standard out of convenience rather than on merit.

Which would presumably be a rather happy result for Flaherty, who seems eager to make sure that other levels of government are just as unresponsive as his own. But even if many provinces want to see the federal government avoid their jurisdiction entirely (which itself seems a dubious claim given that many of the "intrusions" involved a province's agreement), it's doubtful that any of them who haven't yet signed onto the TILMA want to see the federal government tell them to avoid exercising their own jurisdiction. And it doesn't appear the least bit unlikely that some provinces, and indeed many Canadians, would ultimately reject what looks to be an ever-decreasing equalization fix, preferring a small fiscal imbalance to a Con-imposed power vacuum.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lessons unlearned

It's bad enough that the Libs have done so much to try to prevent their leaders and MPs from facing any internal review mechanisms. But it's a new low that they now seem downright proud of it:
With another federal election campaign on the horizon, the Liberal caucus must focus its efforts in serving the needs of constituents and exposing the shortcomings of this minority Conservative government, said Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.

"During the next election campaign, Liberals will provide Canadians with a framework for building a more prosperous, just and environmentally sustainable Canada," said Mr. Dion. "To succeed in defeating the Conservatives' narrow-minded vision of Canada, we need a Liberal team that is focused on election preparedness - not on fighting nomination battles back in their ridings."

The Liberal policy of securing nominations for Liberal incumbents was introduced during the minority government of former Prime Minister Paul Martin in an effort to allow MPs to better serve their constituents as Parliamentarians instead of continuously campaigning at the riding level.

Under the leadership of Mr. Dion, incumbent MPs will continue to hold secure nominations while talented new candidates will be selected for unheld seats and ridings where the incumbent Liberal candidate does not seek re-election.
Needless to say, that poses rather a large problem for those who have valid reasons to want to see some incumbents challenged. But then, the Libs' message makes clear that for all their talk of renewal, they're still more than willing to cut corners on internal accountability if they see a short-term electoral benefit to doing so. Which means that those interested in any genuine grassroots input still don't have a place in the Liberal Party - and that Canadian voters who recognize that a progressive message doesn't need to be combined with a callous hunger for power have yet one more reason to cast their vote elsewhere.

(h/t to Jim.)

Wilful blindness

Shorter Don Martin: The real tragedy in the torture of Maher Arar and others is that something's being done in response.

Partially on topic, does anybody else have a nagging feeling that the reason Day has ordered a new inquiry is to give a fact-finder a chance to say (a) that one or more of the deportees actually did have terrorist connections, and/or (b) that any torture managed to happen without any wrongdoing on the part of Canadian officials?

Alternate strategies

Duncan Cameron suggests that the NDP put its focus on pocketbook issues going into the next federal election campaign:
The NDP needs to become election ready by building on its strengths in urban centres where people see the deterioration of the social fabric. Homelessness and begging are not just accidental occurrences; they emerge from a low wage economy where the social safety net is no guarantee of minimal subsistence. CLC economist Andrew Jackson has shown how precarious employment, stagnant wages and regional differences characterize the jobs market, despite lower unemployment.

Corporate earnings have outpaced salaries. Incomes, including the social wage (pensions, student loans, welfare, employment insurance), and jobs are the top concerns of most Canadians. The NDP must campaign on these economic security and social cohesion issues. Its ability to represent those Canadians who have issues with the way Canada has been governed for decades is how the party will be judged at the polls.

For the NDP caucus, leader Jack Layton, and party supporters across the country, the arrival of Stéphane Dion announces a new challenge. But for the Liberal leader the issue of economic justice presents a challenge as well. The Liberals have governed from the right for long enough that they have limited ability to mount a credible campaign addressing workplace, and pay-cheque issues. Stéphane Dion has no record in economic debate, or in backing working people. It will be revealing to see where he and his party stand when the House of Commons votes on anti-scab legislation.

The NDP pre-campaign should set out the economic and social issues facing most Canadians, and offer solutions. Caucus positions on setting a federal minimum wage at $10 an hour, and denouncing bank charges are a good start. In a likely minority situation, Canadians need to be able to choose something more than tax cuts or debt repayment when they vote.
Now, there are certainly some possible problems with taking Cameron's plan too far: I'd want to see some balance lest other issues such as the environment (which itself can be pointed out as the ultimate long-term pocketbook issue) get pushed too far from centre stage, and would want to see a lot more policies ready to go than the ones mentioned by Cameron. But from a contrasting perspective, it's never a bad thing to mention that the Cons seem determined only to make inequality worse, while the Libs don't seem to have any shame about the increase in wealth inequality on their watch. And if the NDP can usurp the Cons' focus on pocketbook issues by presenting ones which will actually have more of an impact on the majority of Canadian voters, then it should be in an excellent position next time Canadians go to the polls.

Vote this down

Now this is Stephen Harper's kind of democracy: a Senate plan which would set up a federally-run "consultation" vote while allowing him to ignore any results that he doesn't like. But if PMS really wants to try to use the machinery set out for a referendum to run Senate election, it's worth noting just how much of a departure that is from current law on referenda.

After all, the Referendum Act is very clear as to what types of questions can be put to voters:
5(3) A referendum question shall be so worded that each elector may express an opinion on the question by making a cross or other mark after the word “yes” or “no” on the ballot paper.
Needless to say, that type of structure couldn't be much worse suited for a choice among candidates (whether in a single-choice ballot or even a preferential one). About the only way to try to adapt it would be either to create a highly forced wording (e.g. "Do you support the appointment of X to the Senate?" for each candidate on a ballot, with no relation between a voter's answer for different candidates), or to completely rework the current Act where other procedures are likely adapted for the "yes/no" structure.

Which signals the reality that Canada's referendum legislation simply isn't intended to be used for Harper's intended purpose. And while it's possible to set up yet another federal voting format to accompany our current legislation on referenda and elections, that seems a highly artificial creation - particularly when the apparent intent is to avoid the binding outcome of an election.

Having figured out that the provinces aren't interested in funding his exercise in selective democracy, PMS has apparently decided to try to impose his will federally instead. But there's no reason to think either that such a change is desired by Canadians, or that it's the least bit logical within our current legislative structure.

(Edit: typo.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

On getting things done

Macleans discusses former Canadian ambassador to the U.S.A. Allan Gotleib and his eminently sensible strategy on how to actually get things done in the States:
Gotlieb also pressed for using U.S. business groups to lobby lawmakers, a practice that has been crucial to managing the border issue: "No one cares a farthing if a foreign country comes whining at the door," he says. "They do worry, however, if their own special interests whine. So to fight uranium import controls, alert the power utilities who will have to pay higher prices and urge them to lobby. To fight duties on subway cars, get the municipalities to squeal. To fight gas import controls, get the consumers to complain. They are worth 10 ambassadorial calls."
Needless to say, Gotleib's strategy couldn't be any further from that adopted by the Cons on the two key issues with the U.S. to date. Instead, PMS' desire to cede control to nobody besides Bush himself has led Harper to ignore the possibilities for cooperation on softwood lumber and border security - in the latter case even with a ready-made coalition seeking the same result.

Fortunately, Canada will soon have a chance to match the U.S.' recent decision to put the relative grown-ups in charge. Which should signal a return to U.S. relations based on interests shared on both sides of the border, rather than Harper's determination to go it alone.

(Edit: typo.)

Beyond belief

Rona Ambrose was rightly slammed when she claimed Canada would meet all its Kyoto commitments except the emissions targets which form the central part of the agreement. But apparently even that was too much for the Cons to abide, as Ambrose has now decided to declare that Canada's financial commitments under the Kyoto process also don't count rather than admitting an obvious error.

Mind you, even if one were to buy today's explanation, it wouldn't actually explain Ambrose's testimony yesterday in any event. After all, there's a difference between stating that money has actually been paid as Ambrose apparently did yesterday, and claiming that no money was ever owed to begin with. But then, Ambrose has shown quite clearly just how credible her public statements tend to be - leaving only the question of whether the Libs still want to see just how much more damage she can do.

A problematic sales pitch

CTV reports on Martha Hall Findlay's plan to sell her Big Red Bus on eBay. But in doing so, one of the reformist Lib leadership candidates is sending out some worrisome signals:
Martha Hall Findlay, the first Liberal leadership candidate knocked out of voting at the recent convention, is selling her tour bus on eBay.

"The bus has done a great job, so we do it with heavy heart," Hall Findlay told CTV's Mike Duffy Live. "But financially, it's served its purpose and now we need to say goodbye to it."

Hall Findlay has yet to figure out an appropriate opening bid for the "Big Red Bus," but said it cost her roughly $100,000...

A Globe and Mail report suggested that by early November, Hall Findlay had a debt of about $130,000.

"It was in fact frugality that gave us the reason for the bus in the first place," she said.

"It was an incredibly efficient way to travel across the country, a great way to travel, and it allowed us to visit communities we simply wouldn't be able to visit by jet. But it was the frugal aspect that was really important. You can't lease these. So we actually had to buy the bus and finance it, and that's why we need to sell it. If we can sell it for a bit more than we paid for ... and raise the money for the campaign debt, then that would be fantastic."
It's certainly understandable that Hall Findlay would hope to recoup her investment to the greatest extent possible, and perhaps put a dent in the remaining debt. But assuming that she paid fair market value for the bus to begin with, any additional price fetched now beyond what Hall Findlay paid initially would seem to be little more than a donation from the purchaser to Hall Findlay. Which is particularly problematic when Hall Findlay appears to expect to pay off debt in an amount seven times the individual donation limit beyond the value of the bus itself.

Now, the above isn't to say that Hall Findlay has anything but the best of intentions, particularly in using a public process to sell the bus. But a loophole allowing parties or candidates to raise large sums of money through the purchase and sale of capital assets could entirely undermine Canada's election-financing laws - no matter how much (or how little) of a gain Hall Findlay actually stands to make with the sale of her bus. And given such a readily foreseeable problem, we can only hope Hall Findlay will avoid setting that precedent.

Stockboy Writes a Letter

And to think this is Stockwell Day with PMS' muzzle on:
Maybe all my constituents living high up on the West Bench, or Lakeview Heights, or the hills of Logan Lake will soon be sitting on lakeside property as one of the many benefits of global warming...

I guess what the treaty signers should have done was to stage a fist fight at the signing ceremony. At least they would have got a headline for all their labours...

Mexico’s democracy is really just coming of age since they have been ruled for almost 70 years by a pseudo-democratic regime.

As with any loss of position the previous power brokers have been furiously trying to whip up mass protests in the streets to topple the new government.
Toss in Day's complete lack of an eye for even the most basic of details (unless Steven Harper really did meet with Felipe Calderone), and it's plain just what intellect and insight we can expect from our Minister of Public Safety. But if there's any plus side, it's the possibility that maybe Day will dedicate himself full-time to a rambling letter-writing campaign rather than inflicting his lack of knowledge on Ottawa any longer.

Update: The CP details just how wrong Day was in his passage about Mexican politics.

Update II: And for those wondering whether Day has any more of a clue it comes to matters at the core of his ministerial responsibilities, the answer is "no".

Monday, December 11, 2006

Misplaced non-confidence

Based on Stephane Dion's reaction, it doesn't look like the Bloc's plan for a non-confidence motion on Afghanistan will manage to pass in any event. But given that the Cons not only didn't treat the last major vote on Afghanistan as a confidence vote but stated their intention to extend the combat mission regardless of the result, is there any reason to think they'd be willing to accept a confidence motion on the mission now?

On work environments

In case there was any doubt which set of parties would make for the more likely deal on the environment, Rona Ambrose has now declared that she's more interested in having the Auditor General take some cuts at the Libs' previous plans than in coming up with better ones:
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose wants the auditor general to review all federal climate programs to determine whether the public is getting value for its money - but it's not clear whether that audit will include the Conservatives' own programs...

Liberal environment critic John Godfrey said the timing of the audit is absurd, since most of the climate programs of the previous government have already been cancelled.

"To audit willy-nilly, after cancelling climate programs that you already cancelled without an audit...seems crazy," said Godfrey...

NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen said any audit should include the Conservatives' own initiatives in the name of climate change, such as making transit passes tax deductible.

"The first program they rolled out is the transit pass, which has got to be one of the most expensive ways to reduce any emissions. I hope she's going to audit her own plans."
While the article also hints at some new willingness on Ambrose's part to consider funding emissions cuts globally, it seems to indicate that the Cons are still more interested in trying to fight past battles than in cooperating toward real progress. Which should provide plenty of incentive for the Libs to actually work with the other opposition parties on a common environmental strategy - both to highlight the Cons' disinterest in getting anything done, and to move the debate past their previous record.

Update: Darren points out another fun tidbit from the extended story:
Ambrose ran into trouble when asked whether Canada has paid $1.5 million pledged last year in support of the Clean Development Mechanism, a key feature of the Kyoto Protocol.

She replied emphatically that the money had been paid.

But when she turned to her officials to verify this, Assistant Deputy Minister David McGovern said it had not.

"The department has prepared a proposal for the minister but it's still under consideration, it haven't actually reached the minister's desk yet," he said.
No wonder Ambrose wants as little attention as possible to be paid to what she's doing. But this brings up yet another problem with the NDP trying to pursue a deal with the Cons: would anybody trust Ambrose not to mistakenly pass her latest press release instead of an agreed bill?

Voted down

Others have already discussed the recent Canadian Wheat Board director elections as a reflection. But the most significant sign that the Cons are in danger of losing their rural base may be the fact that even the one anti-monopoly director who Strahl managed to place on the board doesn't appreciate the Cons' tactics:
In District 1, Henry Vos, who farms near Fairview, Alta., unseated incumbent Arthur Macklin by roughly 200 votes. But Macklin, who supports the board's monopoly, said the vote result may have been tainted by an unexpected change to the voting rules.

Macklin said Strahl decided during the election period to change the eligibility for voting, excluding farmers who had not delivered grain to the wheat board in the previous 15 months. The defeated director says that eliminated nearly half the votes in his district.

"I guess he felt that if those voters were eliminated from the list, it would maybe make a difference in the results of the election," Macklin said Sunday in an interview. "In fact, he misled the House of Commons and misled the public in terms of the wheat board supporting this change when it didn't."

Vos also said he's not happy with the way the federal minister intervened during the election campaign, although he'd like to see changes in the board's marketing policies.

"It really took attention away from what I thought the issues should be," Vos said in a telephone interview. "It kept focusing (the campaign) on the agenda of the federal government, which was quite a distraction."
Again, with another district actually flipping toward a pro-CWB director, Strahl's attempts to alter the election process didn't manage to undo the pro-CWB majority. And with Strahl's meddling apparently earning him only varying degrees of enmity from the new directors rather than any new friends, it looks more and more likely that the Cons are only sealing their own electoral fate by trying to manipulate the CWB's internal workings.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Battles best not fought

Greg Weston points out that after promising to end the Libs' record of delaying any compensation for past military exposure to Agent Orange, the Cons have instead followed the existing pattern of neglect:
After more than 40 years of government lying and coverups, most of the sad parade of witnesses who gathered in the Commons hearing room last year simply could not believe the Liberal scheme was anything more than another stalling tactic, another attempt to avoid compensating victims until they are all dead.

One of the more vocal skeptics in the room was Conservative MP Greg Thompson from New Brunswick, now the minister of veterans affairs responsible for the Agent Orange file.

“I am absolutely convinced (the study) is nothing more than a public relations exercise for the Government of Canada,” he said last year while still in his opposition days. “There will never be compensation.”

Two months after that, in the midst of the last federal election, Stephen Harper promised to do better, vowing his Conservative government would “stand up for full compensation for persons exposed to defoliant spraying from 1956 to 1984.”

But first there would be more studies.

Indeed, it has now been almost a year since Harper made his promise, and nothing much has changed but the party in power, and the death toll of Gagetown grads...

New Zealand joins the U.S. and Australia as governments that have finally come to their senses and taken the only responsible and humane decision to help the victims of this horrible health tragedy.

All three countries realized they could go on forever studying the effects of Agent Orange, and forcing sick vets and their families to try to prove the impossible — namely, that their medical condition today was caused by chemical spraying 40 years ago.

Instead, they recognized a tragedy and offered compensation to all vets exposed to the deadly herbicides...

At last year’s Commons committee hearing, the now Veterans Affairs Minister Thompson claimed the Liberals’ study of the Agent Orange issue was “simply an exercise to get the government through to the next election without offering these people compensation.”

It still is.
Unfortunately, this government predictably hasn't proven any more willing than the last one to offer any reprieve to the bulk of veterans exposed to toxic chemicals by their own country. And the Cons' inaction not only makes matters yet more difficult for the survivors of Agent Orange, but also hints at a future unwillingness to acknowledge any harms being inflicted on Canada's current troops. Which should leave even less doubt as to whether or not the Cons are interested in supporting Canada's troops when it counts.

The path forward

The latest poll numbers have to be disappointing for the NDP. But while Stephane Dion's ascent to the Lib leadership may have caused some poor results in the short term, it also offers an opportunity for the NDP to improve its standing by taking the lead on an issue where it has long pointed in the direction now travelled by the Libs.

After all, Dion staked his leadership campaign on the importance of the environment. But his plan at the moment is apparently to complain about the Cons' actions in the short term while waiting until after some future election to make any changes. Which seems to be rather a waste of time when a majority of MPs in the House of Commons appear to agree on the need for added environmental action.

Under those circumstances, it only makes sense for the NDP to centre its core message in the next few weeks around a public call to the Libs (as well as the Bloc, the Greens and environmental groups, not to mention the Cons if they wanted to participate) to agree on, and then team up to pass, a package of legislative changes on greenhouse gas emissions (and other agreed environmental issues). Obviously the NDP's own Kyoto plan would be a great place to start, but the call should include a willingness to listen to and incorporate any other idea which would help toward the end goal.

It's worth noting that such a plan likely wouldn't leave any party without a means of campaigning on the environment. Since the opposition parties wouldn't be able to pass a money bill, all spending measures would have to receive the assent of a willing government - likely leaving Dion with his prized incentives policy as a campaign issue for the next federal election. And if by some chance the Cons were willing to sign on to a full package, surely any environmentally responsible politician would prefer that outcome to waiting until a future trip to the polls.

Of course, it's always possible that the Libs would scuttle the possibility by refusing to join in. But if so, that would only cast doubt on the reputation for putting principle over power that Dion has managed to cultivate. Which, contrasted against the NDP's continued willingness to cooperate, would at least seem likely to pull a good chunk of the centre-left swing vote back toward the NDP.

It's within the reach of Canada's opposition parties to pass a set of statutory emissions targets as well as other positive environmental legislation. And the NDP can only help both its own standing and Canada's environmental policy by putting forward a public push toward that end.

Update: Chantal Hebert speculates that it may instead be the NDP and Cons alone who manage to work out a deal. Which could also lead to good results, assuming the Cons are willing to actually make a push to reach Canada's Kyoto commitment rather than preserving their own strategy of delaying any real targets. But there's still no benefit to leaving the other parties out of the discussions to start with.


The Cons' proud legacy of evading questions continued this week, with two key officials refusing to appear before the Public Safety Committee based on a lack of time. One has to wonder whether the Cons will be sure to assign a yet-larger workload to the officials involved before the next set of committee meetings, or merely decide to create some convenient scheduling conflicts.