Monday, December 31, 2007

Cause and effect

Shorter Wally Oppal:
Shame on Canada's justice system for sometimes working slowly. After all, it's not as if those involved have ever had to deal with reckless budget cuts which keep cases from being resolved in a more reasonable time.

Seen and heard

Plenty of others have commented on Loyola Hearn's announcement that the Cons have "eyes and ears" within Newfoundland's provincial government. But it's worth going into a bit more detail about what the Cons' declaration means for their relations with provincial governments - and perhaps other organizations across the country as well.

Let's start by noting that while some bloggers have questioned whether or not Hearn had to break Harper's muzzle in order to make the statement, there's little reason to think it hadn't gone through the Cons' usual vetting. After all, the Cons are obviously familiar with the year-end interview process. And given their insistence on tight message control, it defies belief to suggest they wouldn't have discussed what was obviously going to be the thorniest issue in Newfoundland politics with their lone minister from the province.

So whatever inferences might be drawn from Hearn's threats can likely be attributed to the Harper government generally. But it's worth going beyond Hearn's actual admission to examine some of the questions raised by the Cons' actions.

For example, what are the odds that the federal Cons would proudly use future federal candidacies as an inducement for provincial officials to divide their loyalties in Newfoundland, but would refuse to do so elsewhere?

As far as I can tell, there's little reason to think the strategy would stop in Newfoundland. Which raises the question of where else the Cons are looking to reward provincial politicians for putting Harper's interests over those of their own government - and what kind of information is being fed to the federal Cons as a result.

(Interestingly, this may offer a rare substantive reason why voters would want to adopt a strategy of voting for provincial governments with the strongest possible ideological contrast to the federal government. After all, the danger of federal moles has to be far lower in a provincial party where nobody would likely see the federal Cons as an option, rather than a right-wing provincial government with more links to Harper's regime.)

It's also questionable that the flow of information would only be one-way. After all, how likely is it that a controlling leader such as Harper would settle for having only "eyes and ears" within a provincial government, rather than seeking to have a mouthpiece as well? Which means that the issue may extend to provincial decision-making, rather than merely the federal government's ability to try to stay "a step ahead".

Finally, there's the admitted mixing of political inducements with governmental functions. Again, Hearn himself acknowledges that the prospect of running for the federal Cons is being used as a carrot to divide the loyalties of provincial actors for the benefit of Harper's government. But is even remotely plausible that a party which refuses to draw a distinction between party and government in that direction would be above mixing the two in other ways?

Of course, the Cons aren't likely eager to divulge any more details than they already have now that they've presumably made their point to Danny Williams. But the subject seems likely to deserve far more attention - and the more Canadians learn about the subterfuge and deception which the Cons have outright bragged about, the more likely they are to apply needed scrutiny to Harper when it counts.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

No reason to brag

Shorter Loyola Hearn to Newfoundland voters:
You are powerless to stop us, for we have successfully infiltrated your provincial government. And I can't for the life of me see how that could sound the least bit sinister.

On interested parties

For those interested in seeing a bite taken out of Canada's new stenographers, recent posts by skdadl and Dave are definitely worth a look.

But as I noted in a comment on Dave's post, the problems within Canadian media goes far beyond journalistic concessions to Harper's desire to control the immediate message. Indeed, one could hardly find a better example of the contrast between merely sucking up to a particular government and an insistence on imposing a corporatist worldview than the National Post's admonition that Harper's already-reckless tax slashing has only whetted its appetite for another wholesale attack on the federal government.

Of course, that kind of message likely serves Harper's ideological interests in the long run as well. But it also serves to highlight the gap between the Cons' short-term political calculations - which have to take into account at least some of the obvious desire to provide more than just tax cuts - and the forces which can't get rid of effective government soon enough.

It's worth keeping in mind that in the long term, the media still does call the shots to a significant extent: its prominent figures are likely to occupy prominent roles far longer than most politicians, and it's able to take a longer-term view which tends to fall by the wayside in a four-year (or less) electoral cycle. Unfortunately, though, far too many of Canada's loudest voices are eager to see Harper and future governments go even further than the Cons already have in demolishing collective values.

Granted, some increased willingness to stand up to Harper would be a positive first step in moving toward a more reasonable balance in the interests represented within Canada's media. But the problem of concentrated corporate media can't be solved anywhere near that easily - and that's the battle which will have a more far-reaching impact on Canada's long-term direction.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On limits

There's been plenty of talk about the federal election spending limits lately - with the NDP joining the other national parties in Parliament in planning to spend to the national maximum, while the Libs argue that the limits themselves will help to rein in the Cons during the course of an election campaign. Let's note however that while the national limit caps the amount which can be centrally controlled, the Cons could still use their cash on hand to have a significant advantage - if they're willing to either risk a major campaign scandal, or cede some control to their riding-level campaigns.

Remember that the current system allows a party to freely transfer funds from the national party to riding associations, and to spend substantially more funds on the riding level than the national level. And while the recent talk has focused on the national limits, no party has yet come close to maximizing the amount of spending allowed on the riding level.

Mind you, the closest any party has yet come was the Cons in 2006. And they've already found themselves saddled with a scandal based on their attempt to count federally-funded, centrally-ordered ad campaigns as riding-level expenses. Which should mean that the Cons will be under heavy scrutiny as to how their federal money is used in any upcoming campaign.

Based on that background and the Cons' large amount of reserve cash, the most important funding story in any upcoming federal election may well be the Cons' decision as to how to handle their excess federal money. From what I can tell, they basically have three choices to try to use that money to influence a federal campaign:
- spend as much as they can to influence public opinion before the writ drops in order to avoid any limits altogether;
- run another Conadscam on a larger scale to try to use their permitted riding-level expenses as a conduit for their national campaign; or
- transfer money to Con riding associations without the type of strings associated with Conadscam, to give the riding campaigns an advantage over their competition while avoiding the danger of a national scandal.

It would seem that a party with any trust in its grassroots would be happy to go with option #3, which would allow for the maximum amount of campaign spending while also permitting riding campaigns to target their spending to local issues and/or tactics.

But based on the Cons' protestations that there was nothing wrong with their smaller-scale scam in 2006, I have to wonder whether Harper and Finley really have so much contempt for riding-level activity as to want to run a campaign which takes option #2 to the most extreme possible level. If so, the result would seem to be all-or-nothing strategy: the Cons would accept the risk of having a campaign focused on their own shady operations and distrust of their own grassroots in exchange for the possibility of overwhelming the political scene with their central message.

Of course, it remains to be seen which choice the Cons will make. But it's worth keeping in mind the options which are open to a party with money to burn - and reflecting on what the eventual choice says about the party.

Friday, December 28, 2007

On depth

The Star reports on the federal NDP's outlook for 2008. And while there aren't many surprises in Jack Layton's year-end message, one of the NDP's plans for early next year is worthy of note:
The federal New Democrats are planning a "leaders' summit" in early January to bring together provincial and federal party brass. The meeting, which will include former Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert, is a bid by the party to sell its governing credentials.

Layton said the party will be touting the experience of its MPs. The caucus includes former cabinet ministers from several provinces, including David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre), Penny Priddy (Surrey North) and Mulcair, as well as MPs with municipal experience, like Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina) and Denise Savoie (Victoria.)

"We have a lot of people ... who are ready to take on the responsibility," he said.

That will be followed by a caucus retreat in Montebello, Que., to plot strategy for the parliamentary session that begins Jan. 28 – "and what appears to be an increasingly likely election," Layton said.
The summit and retreat figure to offer an important side benefit, creating a reason for the national media to grant the NDP some of the coverage which is so often lacking.

But more importantly, the efforts should also send an important message both inside and outside the party: rather than relying on a single leader either to serve as its face or to micromanage the party, the federal NDP can take pride in the depth and experience of its candidate pool, and has plenty of governing experience just waiting for the opportunity on the federal scene. And the more Canadian voters become aware of that fact, the more likely the opportunity is to materialize.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Uncertain progress

There's some potentially good news today in the fight against global warming, as Gary Doer has announced that Manitoba will join Quebec in establishing emission reduction requirements for vehicles. But the promising sign also raises an important question: will Harper follow in Bushco's footsteps by overruling provincial emission standards in favour of less stringent federal rules?


Shorter Jim Flaherty:
Tough times are coming soon. Which means that everybody in Canada needs to pitch in to further benefit those who already have the most.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On deflection

Jeff covers Deceivin' Stephen's direct insult to Canadians in his interview on Afghanistan. But it's worth pointing out as well Harper's equally obvious indirect insult to the intelligence of the CP and its readers, as his answer to allegations that the Liebermanley panel's report is a foregone conclusion conspicuously fails to answer the actual concern:
Some critics have argued that Mr. Harper could have found no more hawkish a Liberal than Mr. Manley to lead the non-partisan panel. They suggest the panel has been rigged to give the Conservatives the answers they want to hear.

The Prime Minister bluntly dismissed the notion.

“We will get the report and look at it.”

He said he hopes Mr. Manley comes forward with a clear, immediate recommendation for the future of the mission. Beyond that, Mr. Harper wants to see a sense from the panel of where it sees Afghanistan going in general, regardless of the length of the Canadian deployment.
Not surprisingly, I have yet to see a single commentator express the slightest concern that the Cons wouldn't want to read Liebermanley's report or follow its recommendations. The problem which has been pointed out all along - and which has caused some of the leading critics of Canada's current role to decline to participate - is that the panel itself is obviously biased toward Harper's own position, meaning that the end product is meaningless from the standpoint of actually providing a thorough or balanced outlook on Canada's future role.

It seems highly unlikely that Harper is so clueless as to fail to recognize the distinction. Which means that his poor attempt to change the subject only highlights the fact that even he can't pretend to defend his cherry-picking of panel members - and offers yet another reason why Canadians have no reason to take seriously either the panel or the government which appointed it.

On familiar tunes

Shorter Peter MacKay:
I always like to celebrate this season of peace and goodwill in song. All together now: "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb-bomb Iran..."

For more substantive commentary, pretty shaved ape and Dave have it covered.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Take your pick

Are the Cons playing their base for suckers by bashing the CBC in their latest fund-raising appeal while planning to do nothing to change it? Or are they playing the rest of the country for fools by avoiding more direct interference in the CBC only as long as they're in the minority?

Access restrictions

Canada's Information Commissioner Robert Marleau has weighed in on the Cons' pattern of withholding access to information. And it seems clear that the problem starts at the top:
Public requests for documents are being slowed by lengthy reviews in the central department that reports to the prime minister, the Information Commissioner says.

While Stephen Harper's Conservatives campaigned on opening up the access-to-information system, Information Commissioner Robert Marleau said the government's own statistics show that responses to the public's requests for information are slowing down "across the board."

Access-to-Information and Privacy co-ordinators in federal departments are grumbling that efforts to answer requests are being delayed by lengthy consultations with other departments, and especially the Privy Council Office, which serves the prime minister...

The number of complaints from the public has shot up dramatically in 2007, doubling since April 1 over the same period last year, he said. There were 1,257 complaints to the commissioner's office in 2006-2007...

Almost two years later...the Conservative government has failed to table the bill they promised to reform the access system.

And the Conservatives are now using the same excuse for refusing to release documents that they railed against in opposition: the assertion that a minister's office, including the Prime Minister's Office, is not covered by the access law. Mr. Marleau's predecessor, John Reid, took the previous Liberal government to court to contest that claim, and Mr. Marleau is continuing the case.
It's particularly interesting that for all the Cons' efforts to paint the federal civil service as opaque, the co-ordinators responsible for departmental compliance with access to information laws are themselves unhappy with the PCO for preventing them from doing their jobs. As a result, it's clear that the problem is neither a lack of resources to properly respond to public requests, nor any unwillingness on the part of federal departments to have their work properly made public.

Instead, it's the Cons who have chosen to control and delay the process. Which leaves only the question of whether the Cons will end up facing the scrutiny they deserve for that type of choice.

For now, matters only figure to get worse: based on both the increased complaints and the slowing flow of information, it looks like the Cons are cracking down all the more on any escaping truth as time goes by. But enough attention to the Cons' choice to suppress information could well help to highlight the difference between actual leadership and the Cons' brand of toxic unaccountability - which is exactly the kind of information which can help to ensure that Deceivin' Stephen isn't in power any longer than can be avoided.

Update: Once again Steve V tackles the same topic, while James Laxer documents the lack of information he's received in response to multiple access requests.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pop Quiz

A quick test of your knowledge about the upcoming Toronto Centre by-election - and how it compares to the national media covering the contest.

1. Which federal party was the Libs' closest competition in the riding in 2006, and in three of the past four general elections?

2. Which federal party has had a highly-qualified candidate in place for months, rather than recently appointing a dubious second-choice candidate because its original nominee was too concerned with issues affecting the riding?

3. Based on your answers to 1 and 2, which federal party would logically be mentioned as the main competition to the Liberal candidate in the March by-election?

If you answered "NDP", "NDP" and "Conservative", respectively, then you'd fit right in at both the CP and CanWest.

(Edit: typo.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On misappropriation

I'll leave aside for the moment John Ivison's willingness to play stenographer for Con spin to the effect that their tax-slashing rampage will rule out any meaningful federal spending in the future. But the background to Ivison's column reveals plenty more about where the Cons' priorities lie in government - and what Canadians should think of the information which Harper chooses to feed to the media:
However, an internal government analysis of Mr. Dion's spending plans, obtained by the National Post, suggests that when Canadians take a closer look at what the Liberals are proposing, they may decide the country can ill afford to be run by a man one of his Liberal leadership rivals once confided "couldn't balance a cheque book."...

(T)he analysis of the Liberal poverty plan calculated that increased funding for the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB), improved child benefits and a richer Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors would cost upward of $5-billion a year.

"As an illustrative example, very preliminary estimates suggest that a WITB investment of $3-billion per year (current funding envelope is $550-million annually) could lift somewhere in the neighbourhood of 350,000 individuals above the LICO, including 100,000 children. These impacts alone would fall well short of those required to meet the 30-50 plan targets (one million individuals and 400,000 children respectively)," the analysis says.
Now, it seems fairly clear that the Cons don't have the slightest interest in actually implementing an anti-poverty strategy of any sort. Which means that the analysis itself looks to have been based on a direction that public resources be used solely to discredit the Libs rather than for the purposes of actually formulating policy.

And the problem is all the more obvious when the Cons' apparent eagerness to leak a report which could be used for their own political gain is compared with their consistent pattern of stifling the flow of information which could actually lead to meaningful accountability for the Cons' actions in office. (For the latest catalogue of examples, see Stephen Maher's column today.)

Once again, the Cons have left little room for doubt that they consider themselves entitled to use Canada's public resources for partisan purposes, and to reveal only information which they think helps their political cause. And it can only make matters worse if Ivison and others keep encouraging them - both by parroting Con spin, and by refusing to consider the motives behind the creation and leaking of the information.

Update: Steve V has more.

Friday, December 21, 2007

On conflict resolution

As suspected, Deceivin' Stephen is now musing about using the nuclear isotope shortage as an excuse to sell off Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. But thanks to Harper's appointee Michael Burns, that isn't even the least sensible "solution" to go public so far:
Mr. Burns said the system could be improved by the establishment of a mediator who could intervene when the AECL and the CNSC reach an impasse. “There is no other way to resolve that conflict if both parties dig in.”
Now, there are probably many types of relationships where mediation is underused. But this plainly isn't one of them.

After all, remember what parties are involved here. AECL is an entity bound by Canada's laws respecting nuclear safety, while the CNSC is the body responsible for determining and enforcing AECL's obligations. Which means that if there's a "conflict", the question resolves into a simple issue of whether or not AECL is willing to follow the law. And it can hardly be the CNSC's fault if AECL "digs in" by insisting that it doesn't have to do so.

Put another way, Burns' request is roughly the equivalent of suggesting that before going through the "conflict" of arresting somebody engaged in ongoing criminal activity, the police should have to go to mediation to see if there's any way the wrongdoer can be left alone.

Now, it's hardly news that some Cons may see themselves and their cronies as being above the law - or at least entitled to rely on their own opinion of what the law should be. But it's something else entirely to attempt to tie the hands of regulators themselves to prevent them from carrying out their jobs. And the rightful blame falling on the Cons over the Chalk River fiasco has to include their responsibility for putting AECL in the hands of a chair whose top priority was apparently to pick a fight with the very concept of regulation.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Biased foresight

Shorter Michael Burns, former Con-appointed chair of AECL:
Of course the federal government didn't have to push aside the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission temporarily in response to last month's nuclear isotope shortage. In fact, it could have avoided the problem entirely if it had followed my advice to gut the CNSC permanently and long ago.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Today's announcement that provincial leader David Karwacki will step down is a bad enough sign for the state of the Libs in Saskatchewan (if due to the perception of further defeat rather than Karwacki's own stature). But it looks like matters may only get worse, as the two leading figures within the federal party are on a collision course over the impending Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River by-election:
Stéphane Dion's hope of appointing a provincial NDP politician as the Liberal candidate for an expected federal by-election in Saskatchewan is angering supporters of one of his key leadership organizers, David Orchard.

The battle over who will carry the Liberal banner in a vast northern Saskatchewan riding has developed into a power struggle pitting MP Ralph Goodale, the party's strong man in the province, against Mr. Orchard, the prominent farm activist who twice ran for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives.

Mr. Orchard has been campaigning heavily for the Liberal nomination in the riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River, but Mr. Dion is seriously considering overriding the nomination race to appoint NDP MLA Joan Beatty as the candidate, Liberal sources said.

However, Ms. Beatty said yesterday that she has not decided whether she will run in the by-election, and even if she does, she hasn't yet chosen between the Liberals and the NDP.

"I've been approached to run federally for the northern riding by both the Liberals and the NDP. I have some decisions I have to make," she said in a telephone interview...

Mr. Dion's Saskatchewan leadership campaign was essentially the Orchard machine, and Mr. Orchard's organization also delivered delegates in rural Ontario and Alberta, as well as raising funds for the cash-poor campaign. That played a key role in placing Mr. Dion within striking distance on the first ballot at last December's Liberal leadership convention.

Mr. Orchard's senior organizers say they refuse to believe that Mr. Dion will appoint a candidate.

"It would be a colossal mistake on so many different levels," said Marjaleena Repo, an organizer for Mr. Orchard who also served as Saskatchewan co-chair for Mr. Dion's leadership campaign. "It would be very, very offensive."

"I would be anti-democratic and against every understanding and agreement - being asked to run there, and encouraged to run, and doing his damnedest to do a good job, and then somebody appointed over him? It would be just insane."
Now, I'm not entirely sure what party Orchard's organizers think they've joined if they "refuse to believe" that Dion would appoint a candidate rather than allowing riding association democracy to run its course. But this does offer yet another example of the inevitable frustration when a leader does impose candidates by fiat. And it's worth noting that the fracture within the Libs may well affect more than just the party's current members - particularly if a battle does go public before Beatty has made up her mind.

After all, the article notes that Beatty isn't yet tipping her hand as to which federal party she'd prefer to run for. And if the Libs are indeed in the midst of yet another round of internal turmoil which affects the very organization which would be needed to win the seat, then the NDP can only look all the better in comparison.

It remains to be seen whether the Libs will manage to create a perfect storm for themselves by outright driving Orchard and his followers out of the party entirely just in time to have Beatty turn them down as well. But one way or another, it looks entirely possible that the Libs may be left with nothing but yet another self-inflicted wound to show for Dion's musings about appointing Beatty.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Partners in crime

It's hard to disagree with JimBobby's suspicion that there's far more going on at AECL than the Cons have made public to this point. But let's add one more point to the mix which doesn't seem to have received much attention.

In announcing the new chair of AECL, the Cons seem to have gone out of their way to label Glenna Carr as a "a former civil servant in the Ontario government" rather than going into any more detail about her background. But let's take a closer look at her area of specialty.

Prior to her appointment by the McGuinty government, Carr was a consultant specializing in large part in public-private partnerships. And while working as a consultant, she received a National Award from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships - in part based on the following background:
She championed the formation of PPP's as a Deputy Minister in the Ontario Government, establishing the Board of the Ontario Training Corporation and the Board and agreement for Teranet Land Information Services Ltd. As Vice President of Laidlaw Inc. (1992 – 95), she participated in environmental and community transportation partnerships in North America. She was a founding Board Director and Chair of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority and served on the Board of CCPPP from 1993-2000 and later as President between 1996 and 1998.
Of course, her recent appointment to work for Dalton McGuinty may avoid any particular partisan stench. But from an ideological standpoint, the Cons look to have picked as strong an advocate for privatization (with enough "partnership" to leave the risk in the public sector) as they could possibly have found. Which can only give one more reason to worry that the fix has been in for a cut-rate sale of AECL all along.

No coincidence

The Globe and Mail's story about the Cons' partisanship-over-competence hiring strategy at AECL is definitely worth a read. But there's another point which the Globe apparently misses, as Tony Clement's explanation for the departure of Michael Burns as AECL's chair seems to have changed entirely over the course of a day.

It was only Sunday that Clement claimed that there was no link at all between the isotope shortage and Burns' departure:
Clement said Burns had been hired as a part-time chairman and that his resignation was just an "interesting coincidence.

"Some times coincidences happen in politics," Clement said. "There was some indication that this might be coming up down the road."
But after realizing that this explanation didn't pass a laugh test, Clement entirely reversed course without even acknowledging the change in rationales:
Health Minister Tony Clement said in a television interview Monday the departure was related to the shutdown of an AECL reactor that created a worldwide shortage of medical isotopes.

“I think it's fair to say it confirmed our impression that there has to be new management, there has to be better management, at AECL,” Mr. Clement said.
It remains to be seen whether Clement's sudden change in explanations will be pointed out on a wider scale. But the incident offers just one more indication that the Cons don't see themselves as constrained by reality in trying to put a partisan spin on every situation. And as those examples pile up, there's less and less reason for Canadians to take the Cons' word for anything.

Monday, December 17, 2007

On long-range plans

The Globe and Mail reports that corporate Canada is rightly recognizing the need to do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now that the Cons have been shamed into signing onto the Bali agreement:
Canadian corporations can expect growing pressure in the coming years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions beyond what the federal government has already pledged after Ottawa reluctantly accepted new targets at an international climate change conference in Bali...

"Business can expect new demands to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ... There are still a lot of people who thought they could negotiate their way out of the impending regime, but that is clearly not on" (said Christine Schuh, director of sustainable business practices for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP).

Recent surveys of Canadian companies indicate relatively few have allocated budgets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, or had senior management focus on how the climate change issue will affect their business.

Companies say they are waiting for clarity from the federal government in terms of the new climate change regulations.

However, Julia Langer, of World Wildlife Federation, said it is unlikely the current government plan will be the last word...

Ms. Langer said the Conservative policy is unlikely to achieve the government's own targets of reducing emissions by 20 per cent from current levels by 2020.

But the pressure to cut deeper will only grow, she said, particularly if the United States embraces climate change action under a new administration after the 2008 elections.

"Bali is meant to get us to the next round, but we haven't even caught up to the first round" under Kyoto, she said.

Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters association, agreed the government's current proposals are unlikely to achieve its target for reductions in 2020.
Now, it's certainly good news if Canadian industry is indeed becoming aware of the need for actual emission reductions - and not counting on negotiating its way out of having to do anything at all. But the gap between signing on initially and actually working to meet the Bali target looms large.

After all, we've been down this road before, as investment in greenhouse gas emissions declined when it became clear that the Libs weren't going to make a serious attempt to meet Canada's Kyoto targets. And with the Cons doing everything in their power to claim that their non-targets are more important than the global agreement, it looks far too likely that industry will once again conclude that Canada's follow-up won't match its initial commitment.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On messages

There's been some discussion of the NDP's decision to pull two of its previously-nominated Quebec candidates. But while the most public criticism of the NDP seems to be misplaced, I do have to wonder about the message sent by the removals:
A lawyer from Quebec City says she was dumped as a federal New Democratic Party candidate because she is transgendered.

Micheline Montreuil alleges she was told by an NDP official that her sexuality hindered party attempts to woo new Quebec candidates into the fold...

In a letter, the party told her she lost the candidacy for statements she made in media interviews, her difficulty maintaining support in the local riding association and for not working in a team, she said.

Ms. Montreuil, nominated last spring to carry the party banner in the provincial capital riding of Quebec, disagrees with the allegations in the letter...

Raymond Guardia, co-chair of the party's Quebec election planning committee, said Ms. Montreuil's removal has nothing to do with her sexuality.

“It is simply not true,” he said Saturday.

“If that was an issue in our party, then she wouldn't have been nominated in the first place.”

Initially, Quebec party members applauded her arrival, but they soon realized she was not a team player, he said.

“The mandate of the planning committee is to prepare for the election and ensure that the team we're putting forward is the best team in the interests of the party and its objectives,” Mr. Guardia said.

“What we have witnessed since her nomination is that she has been a bit of a lone player, and as we get ready for an election, we need candidates who aren't playing alone.”

Guardia said Riviere-des-Milles-Iles NDP candidate Francis Chartrand was also recently removed from his post.

He said Chartrand's nomination was revoked for statements he made that did not coincide with the “goals and objectives of the New Democratic Party.”
Now, I don't see how there's much room for dispute that Montreuil's claim to gender identity discrimination is on shaky ground. There's simply no plausible reason to think the NDP's view of transgendered individuals has taken a complete about-face, such that the party would go from trumpeting Montreuil's candidacy last year to ending it now. In contrast, Montreuil's actions as the party's candidate would obviously make for new information that would explain her dismissal.

But there's another important question as to the circumstances in which the NDP is willing to remove its own candidates. It appears clear that both Montreuil and Chartrand met the NDP's basic requirements for candidates - and that in both cases it was their actions while campaigning, including some concern about their choice of message, that led to their dismissal.

For Montreuil, the greatest concern seems to have been primarily on the question of being a "team player", with some discussion as well about a choice of message which doesn't fit with that of the wider party.

I'll deal more with the question of message below, but a focus on being a "team player" strikes me as a particularly dangerous ground to dismiss individual candidates. While it appears from other sources that Montreuil didn't get along with the existing riding association, it was presumably that riding association which chose to duly nominate her in the first place.

Of course, there have to be some limits where a candidate is so far out of touch with the "team" as to justify removal. But I'd tend to think that should be limited to cases where the party's machinery is deliberately hijacked for an end inconsistent with the party's broader philosophical view, not merely based on personality and strategy conflicts in the push toward the same goal. And it's hard to find much in Montreuil's publicized actions which falls into the former category.

Meanwhile, Chartrand's dismissal was apparently the result of concern about personal statements (which to my knowledge haven't been reported anywhere). Again, that could well be a valid basis for dismissing a candidate in some circumstances - i.e. where the candidate's actual principles are substantially contrary to those of the party.

But at the same time, I tend toward the view that Canada's political scene is already tilted far too much toward "gotcha" politics. In keeping with the Cons' need to muzzle candidates to avoid letting Canadians know just what lurks in the minds of its government members, the current conventional wisdom seems to be that a perfect party campaign is one where no candidate, organizer or volunteer says anything that isn't taken verbatim from the party's campaign materials.

That said, I'm far from convinced that the NDP's best course of action - either on principle or as a matter of political outcomes - is to engage in a similar muzzling strategy. In the Cons' case, it's precisely the attempt to keep the party's message air-tight that makes it news when a representative goes off message: every controversial statement can validly be prefaced with "even with Harper trying to keep the lid on his party", and the very need for the Cons' media-avoidance strategy can be traced to justifiable concerns about what would be exposed through more public appearances.

In contrast, the NDP's message of diversity and inclusivity should lend itself to the view that stifling differing opinions is a sign of weakness rather than strength. And that starting point would present a natural platform to criticize both Harper's general micromanagement, and the leaks which escape despite the Cons' efforts at message control.

And as an added bonus, an explicit policy of candidate independence could ultimately help to inoculate the NDP against "gotchas" of its own. Rather than having to explain a breakdown in message control, it would be able to point to a record of encouraging candidate independence to avoid having controversial statements reflect on anybody but the speaker.

But that kind of argument only makes sense if the NDP encourages and supports its own candidates in expressing their own messages. Instead, it seems to have gone so far as to remove candidates for refusing to stick to a centralized message and communications strategy - which would leave little principled basis left to criticize Harper for his own muzzling campaign.

Again, in each case there are indeed lines which a candidate shouldn't be permitted to cross - and it may well be that Montreuil and Chartrand indeed crossed those lines such as to justify their removal. But it looks like a worrisome sign that in the wake of a week of unjustified media criticism for an NDP MP's effort to take some individual initiative, the party is apparently signalling that message discipline is paramount. And the NDP will be worse off both at the polls and within its party structure if it winds up driving away strong individual voices as a result.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Burnsy, you're doing a heckuva job

CanWest sheds a bit more light on Stephen Harper's appointments related to nuclear energy and regulation. And in case anybody held out hope that merit might even enter into the equation...
Harper announced Friday evening that he had accepted the resignation of AECL's chairman, Michael Burns, effective Dec. 31. Glenna Carr will take over as chair, while Hugh MacDiarmid will become CEO...

Burns, who was appointed in October 2006, was once chief fundraiser for the Canadian Alliance and chairman of the Canadian Alliance Fund. The Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservatives in 2003 to form the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, cabinet records show that the Harper government named a defeated New Brunswick provincial election candidate to the Nuclear Safety Commission just days before Harper alleged partisan connections between Keen and the Liberal party.

Cabinet approved the appointment of former Tory candidate Ronald Barriault only eight days before Harper made his controversial comments about Keen being a Liberal appointee. Keen has denied any political affiliation.
Now, it might make sense to a point that Harper might acquire some tunnel vision from within a party which doesn't see government as anything more than a patronage machine. And that would explain his apparent assumption that other parties would have just as little interest in merit-based appointments as his own.

But the damage arising out of AECL's poor planning should highlight the dangers of assuming that the ability to wring money out of the Cons' base makes for sufficient qualification to oversee a major industrial organization. And making matters worse, it seems clear from Harper's attitude toward past and present appointees to the CNSC that the Cons aren't any more aware of the need to put actual knowledge ahead of partisan interests when it comes to the regulator responsible for nuclear safety in Canada. Which can only offer one more indication that it's long past time to remove Harper from any position where he's able to decide who'll be responsible for keeping Canadians safe.

I'd like to thank the Academy...

Regular readers of this blog will hopefully know that I'm not big on self-promotion, and may be aware that I involve myself less in blogosphere meta-discussions than a lot of regular bloggers. But I'll take a moment to point out the results of this year's Unofficial Blogging Dipper Awards, where Accidental Deliberations was honoured as the Best Overall Blog - if nothing else to add a bit of context which I hope won't be overlooked.

While the awards may have focused slightly more attention than usual on the nominees, the more important story is that of the evolution of the Blogging Dippers as a whole. Robert, Devin, Ravi and Paladiea have put in the effort to develop the blogroll to where it is today. And roughly 100 separate blogs (some of those featuring multiple contributors) make up the content which keeps readers going to the Blogging Dippers site.

Within that collective, it can never hurt to encourage discussion about readers' favourites - both to place a bit more focus on the Blogging Dippers as a group, and to help each of us to see what readers enjoy within our blogs. And many thanks go to Uncorrected Proofs for putting together the year-end contest to enable that to happen.

But at the same time, the awards only matter to the extent that readers recognize that there's plenty of worthwhile content coming from the Blogging Dippers as a whole such as to justify talking about favourites.

As a result, I'll close off this post by encouraging all readers to take the time to look up some blogs off the Dipper blogroll which may not yet be familiar. And with any luck, the efforts of the Blogging Dippers will help to make sure the NDP as a whole is able to keep up - and indeed pull ahead - as Canadian political parties work to make their presence felt within the blogosphere.

Friday, December 14, 2007

No assurances

Just so we're clear: AECL - under now-former CEO Michael Burns - gave assurances that the Chalk River nuclear reactor could safely operate in violation of safety regulations. And it was those claims which apparently encouraged the Harper government to overrule the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and put the plant back into operation.

But AECL's promise was delivered just before Burns himself resigned - presumably over his own lack of foresight which put the plant on the wrong side of the law in the first place.

If there's anything that could make AECL's self-serving statement less reassuring, it's the fact that the promise was delivered under the authority of a CEO whose previous planning led to his dismissal - which also leads to a complete lack of accountability if the new assurance proves to be wrong. And while there may well have been understandable reasons to get Chalk River running again, there looks to be ever more reason for concern that the cure for a shortage of medical isotopes may prove more damaging than the disease.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Taking a stand

It unfortunately seems to have been buried on a day dominated by Brian Mulroney, the DMCA and other headline stories. But as I'd hoped, Thomas Mulcair appeared before the Bouchard-Taylor commission today to present a strong defence of multiculturalism on behalf of the federal NDP:
The reaction of some of Quebec's political leaders to anxieties about immigration has smacked of dishonesty and gutlessness, says the NDP lone's MP from the province.

Appearing Thursday before a government commission on the reasonable accommodation of immigrants, Thomas Mulcair made thinly veiled attacks against what he described as the opportunism of Quebec's opposition parties as well as the Bloc Quebecois.

"Quebec has always been a welcoming society, a model in the world," Mulcair said. "There are people who are playing with the sentiments of certain sectors of the population, putting fuel on a fire that doesn't need any."

The NDP is among the last groups to present a brief before the commission wraps up on Friday.

Their position, which prescribes a multicultural solution to the question of accommodating minorities, encapsulates one side of a debate that has been rehashed incessantly in recent months.

"Living in society requires accommodation every day from every one of us, that's part of the definition of living in society," Mulcair said...

Political parties, both federal and provincial, have been given a chance during the final week of hearings to present their own positions to the commission.

Both the federal Conservatives and Stephane Dion's Liberals opted not to take part.
The CP article appears to have focused mostly on Mulcair's (justifiable) shots at the provincial politicians whose intolerance led to the commission's appointment rather than the NDP's substantive suggestions. For those interested in the latter, though, the NDP's memorandum to the commission offers both needed criticism of the current federal and provincial actions which have served to attack the position of minorities, as well as examples of the types of policies which would help to reverse the trend.

It remains to be seen whether Mulcair's message will manage to attract any further media attention to help influence the wider debate. (And it's worth wondering both whether a Lib response would have received more attention, and whether their apparent decision to take a pass will hurt the cause of multiculturalism.)

But whether or not the NDP's submission receives the media attention it deserves, it's still worth highlighting that at least one federal party was ready and willing to stand up for diversity. And hopefully that courage won't go unrewarded.

On battlegrounds

The Gazette reports that Lucienne Robillard is resigning as of January 25, potentially opening up another of the NDP's prime Quebec targets for a by-election contest if a general election doesn't happen soon:
Voters in the riding of Westmount-Ville Marie could be going to the polls sooner than they had expected after Liberal MP Lucienne Robillard abruptly announced yesterday she will is resigning effective Jan. 25.

The announcement, made shortly after question period, took many of her own colleagues by surprise. While Robillard had announced months ago that she wouldn't run in the next election and former astronaut Marc Garneau had been named as the next Liberal candidate, Robillard had said that she didn't want to trigger a by-election.

Bidding an emotional adieu to the House of Commons, her usually confident voice trembling a bit, Robillard did not explain her decision to step aside earlier than she had planned and refused requests for interviews...

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton praised Robillard but made no secret of his party's plan to make a strong run at her seat.
It remains to be seen whether Westmount Ville-Marie will simply be added to the ever-lengthening list of ridings where Harper refuses to announce a by-election out of fear that his party's own lack of support will be highlighted.

But if it does come up for grabs, then it figures to offer the next test as to the NDP's ability to convert its broader progress into Quebec seats. And if the NDP can indeed take a second Lib stronghold - this time with a candidate not named Mulcair - that momentum would figure to translate into a boost in national polls and commentary before long.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Strategic considerations

With the Libs' recent suggestion that they may consider opposing the Cons in the new year, not to mention some small signs of life in opposing Harper even now, it seems clear that an election could be in the making in the new year. But I'm surprised there hasn't been more attention drawn to the potential impact of the NDP's stand against the Cons' tax-slashing bill in setting up a confidence vote:
Apparently frustrated by the continuing debate over the measure, mostly headed by the NDP, the finance minister told reporters after question period that the Jan. 1 date for cutting the GST from six per cent to five per cent was in jeopardy.

"I said yesterday the bill was moving ahead and was likely to get through the House and Senate before Christmas, now we have the NDP blocking progress of the bill right in the House of Commons," he said...

NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair called the finance minister's statement ''baloney,'' saying any tax measure can be implemented with the adoption of a ways and means motion. Flaherty's GST cut was announced in conjunction with a series of other tax reductions on Oct 30 and a ways and means motion was adopted in the House on Nov. 1.

Mulcair said his party will continue to oppose the tax implementation bill, even if it means the legislation will not be approved this year.

"Our objection is less with the one per cent GST cut than the across-the-board tax cut for corporations, which we think is going to be more destabilizing for our economy," he said, arguing that the tax cut will mostly benefit the oil patch.
So why does it matter if the tax-cutting bill is dealt with in the new year rather than now? Remember that two of the main concerns in voting down the Cons in the new year are the danger that this year's tax cuts might limit the money available for election spending promises, and the risk that a goodie-laden Con budget might help Harper's position going into an election.

But both of those problems are based on the tax implementation bill actually passing before the new year. If it doesn't, then there's a ready-made confidence vote awaiting the opposition long before the budget will come up for discussion. And if the Cons' efforts to drain the federal treasury don't come to fruition through the implementation bill, then there will be far more room for a campaign debate as to how best to apply federal resources while there are still some left to use.

Now, it may be that the Libs will be cowed into voting for the tax bill anyway, particularly given their unwillingness to stand up to it before. But at the very least, the NDP looks to have thought a couple of steps ahead of the Cons on the tax implementation bill, giving the opposition parties a needed chance to bring down Harper quickly in the new year. Which leaves only the question of whether they'll take that opening - or whether the Libs will once again play dead in the face of the Cons' agenda.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A measured agreement

A couple of weeks back, Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest announced a plan to negotiate some regulatory harmonization which received comment here and elsewhere. The apparent consensus then was that the deal had the potential to turn into either a TILMA-style disaster, or a relatively reasonable means of addressing the ever-overblown issue of internal trade barriers.

Today, the Financial Post's Patrick Grady offers up the anti-government view on the talks. And from his reaction, it looks somewhat more likely that the McGuinty/Charest deal will fall into the latter category - if much to the chagrin of pro-corporate ideologues across the country.

Here's Grady's attempt to criticize the Ontario/Quebec announcement:
The TILMA between British Columbia and Alberta, the new gold standard for trade deals, addressed the two key generally recognized defects of the AIT, namely its lack of coverage and its ineffective dispute-settlement mechanism. The TILMA, unlike the AIT, includes all measures that restrict or impair the movement of goods, services and labour between the two provinces unless they are specifically excluded, and not just those specifically included. The TILMA also introduced a binding dispute-settlement mechanism, with easier access for private parties and significant monetary penalties (up to $5-million). Spurred by the TILMA, the Committee on Internal Trade is now also considering introducing monetary penalties to make the AIT dispute-settlement mechanism more effective. What exactly is Ontario and Quebec proposing to do to address these deficiencies in the AIT as it affects trade between them?...

(I)n contrast with the TILMA, which tackles regulatory barriers head on, the Ontario and Quebec governments only talk of eliminating "unnecessary" barriers and express their belief that "eliminating such barriers and restrictions can and must occur simultaneously with maintaining and enhancing governments' policies for labour, environmental and consumer protection standards, health, education, culture and regional economic development." This isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the need to eliminate regulatory barriers and really isn't any more ambitious than the existing AIT.
Now, it speaks volumes about Grady's dedication to the anti-regulation cause that he's willing to criticize the Charest/McGuinty deal both for recognizing that there's a difference between necessary and unnecessary regulations, and for highlighting the continued need for provincial governments to be able to govern. And the fact that Grady simultaneously describes the TILMA as his "gold standard" should offer a strong hint that the TILMA itself does nothing of the sort.

Fortunately, it seems fairly likely from Grady's commentary that Canada's most populous provinces have indeed decided that an attack on the very concept of provincial regulation isn't in the cards. And if they end up sticking to that position, then the Harper Cons will be hard-pressed to try to force the TILMA onto the two provinces most crucial to their drive for a majority.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On mushiness

Just over a year ago, the Libs went through a convention which was supposed to offer a chance for party renewal. So let's take a look at just what kind of inspiring new vision they've managed to develop under their new leader. From David McGuinty in the Hill Times:
"When Mr. Dion kicks off the campaign, in due course, whenever that happens, I'm confident that he will present to the Canadian people the same kind of scenario and that is if you want to stop a right-wing Republican-like party, which is embedded in its Alliance Reform DNA, then you have to make the choice. You either have to vote for the Liberal Party of Canada who can form the government or you'll have to vote directly or indirectly to support the Conservative Party of Canada," said Mr. McGuinty.

"They [NDP] fear what they know is coming, which is ultimately a two-way race in Canadian society to decide whether they want a centrist party possibly even a centrist-left party, i.e., the Liberal Party of Canada, or do they want a right-wing party."
Now, the gap between words and actions is reason enough not to take the Libs seriously. After all, the same party which now plans to sell itself as devoted to "stopping" the Cons is also the one which has been deliberately propping up the Harper government since this fall's throne speech. And an opposition party trying to position itself as the comparatively left-wing option presumably shouldn't be egging a right-wing government on toward even more gratuitous corporate tax cuts than it already had planned.

But perhaps more interesting is McGuinty's choice to portray the Lib/Con dichotomy as centre-against-right - with "possibly even centre-left" seemingly tossed out as McGuinty's idea of a carrot for progressive voters.

From what I can tell, McGuinty is operating under the assumption that left-wing Canadians will be entirely happy to see a continued shift of Canada's political centre toward the right as left-of-centre ideas receive - at best - some "possible" role within the Libs. And of course, that effect can only be amplified by both the Libs' track record of shifting to the right in government, and their unwillingness to stand up to the Cons while in opposition.

Fortunately, voters aren't stuck taking McGuinty's word as to what options they'll have at the polls. And with the Libs having shown no sign of new ideas or new principles after their effort at internal renewal, a wholesale electoral shift to the NDP offers the best opportunity for a real countervailing force against the Cons - and the only option for a strong left-wing voice on the federal political scene.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On misdirection

It's been no secret that the Harper Cons developed a sudden allergy to accountability as soon as it could be aimed in their direction. But the last week offers two particularly blatant examples of the Cons' efforts to deceive their way out of trouble.

First, there was the story surrounding a climate change report which the Cons seem to have conveniently misplaced:
The federal government isn't secretly plotting to cover up its studies about the impacts of global warming across the country, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

"The government is not hiding any particular reports," Harper said in the Commons during question period. "This government is more than aware of the problem of climate change and this government has laid out in the throne speech the very precise actions and positions we are going to take to combat climate change, both here and internationally ... There's no conspiracy here."

Harper made the comments in response to revelations this week about internal government research from the Foreign Affairs Department along with a major Natural Resources Canada report that warned the government about regional impacts of climate change in the country and the importance of setting policies to avoid crossing a tipping point of irreversible damage to the earth's ecosystems. While the first research paper was obtained through an access to information request, the government has delayed the release of the second report that was expected to be made public last month...

Despite Harper's assurances, the government was unable to explain what happened to the second report.

"I have not seen the report, I only learned about it this morning," Environment Minister John Baird told a parliamentary committee. "It's a report commissioned by another department. The Department of Natural Resources, and I encourage you to put that question to the minister of natural resources."

Baird's comments came one day after Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn refused to answer questions about the study.

"I've seen it," Lunn said after question period on Monday. "But talk to John (Baird). He's our lead spokesman going into Bali, and he's aware of all those issues."
After such a blatant attempt at deflection, I'd think the Cons would at least be relatively hesitant to use the same strategy again. But it took a matter of only days before the Prime Minister's office itself was actively directing inquiries to a minister who had no intention of speaking about an issue - this time on the Cons' polling controversy:
Last Tuesday, following reports the government spent a record $31 million in 2006-07, Public Works Minister Michael Fortier stated in the Senate that the government, "effective today, will ask all its departments to refrain from using public funds for polls until further notice."

Hours later, his spokesman Jacques Gagnon clarified that a moratorium was merely under consideration.

Within 24 hours, Gagnon had a different story for the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, or MRIA, which represents Canada's polling industry.

In an advisory to its corporate membership obtained by The Canadian Press, the association reported it had been in contact with Gagnon as well as Laurent Marcoux, the director general of the government's Public Opinion Research Directorate.

Gagnon told the MRIA's government lobbyist on Wednesday that the Tories "had no intention of proceeding with a moratorium on public opinion research," said the advisory from Brendan Wycks, association executive director.

And on Thursday, Wycks himself was informed by Marcoux that "Prime Minister Harper and Minister Fortier had decided the government definitely would not be placing a moratorium on public opinion research."...

Asked to clarify matters, Harper's spokeswoman directed inquries to Fortier, who declined to be interviewed. His spokesman also would not speak to The Canadian Press by phone.
It's not clear whether the Cons are deliberately pointing the media toward known dead ends, or whether it's simply a matter of internal policy to deflect questions to another department in order to buy time.

But one way or another, it's clear yet again that the media's time would be far better spent challenging Con suggestions and directions rather than accepting them. And the more obvious it becomes that the Cons are trying to play their media questioners for suckers, the more reason those same questioners will have to cast the Cons' honesty into doubt when public opinion matters most.


John Baird's latest excuse excuse for deferring to Bushco's refusal to accept any emission reduction targets is that an "environmental Armageddon" could result if a deal doesn't rein in emissions for the U.S.

The statement will be worth tucking away for the next time the Cons try to pretend that global warming isn't really a problem worth dealing with at all. But if taken at face value, it only highlights the dishonesty of the Cons' bargaining position.

After all, how could Baird's own dire prediction possibly be averted by Canada's refusal to allow a deal to happen at all? And if global emission reductions are indeed needed to avoid "Armageddon", why would Canada have any hesitation in agreeing to reductions of its own?

Update: More from Steve V on the incoherence of Baird's position.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

On hot air

Shorter Lorne Gunter:
This just in: if climate change can be combated through common-sense means like managing driving patterns and eliminating unnecessary appliances, then it isn't worth bothering with at all. Now back to our regularly-scheduled rhetorical program, "WE CAN'T REDUCE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS WITHOUT DESTROYING OUR WAY OF LIFE!"

Promises, promises

What a relief that the Cons promised a non-partisan public appointments commission to keep watch over federal hirings. Without it, they'd surely be in the midst of a veritable orgy of patronage by now.

Speaking of which, is anybody else curious as to what kind of instructions the new appointees might be receiving before taking over their roles?

After all, it seems clear that the Cons' governing strategy relies heavily on both politicization and patronage. And it wouldn't be the least bit surprising if the same party which wrote the book on turning every available forum into a partisan battlefield would have similar tactics in mind when it comes to its patronage appointments - even if they might not be subject to the same internal party sanctions.

Friday, December 07, 2007

On dishonesty

I'm at least a little bit surprised that Murray Mandryk seems to have been taken off guard by the Sask Party's speed in throwing its campaign promises out the window. But based on Mandryk's latest column, it appears safe to say that Brad Wall's electoral honeymoon is over:
The oath and affirmation that Saskatchewan Party government MLAs swore to on Tuesday required them to bear true allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors.

Unfortunately, it didn't specify that they were required to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is an oversight perhaps in need of addressing.

Ironically, the day government members' swore the above oath happened to be the same day that we caught the government in its first two blatant incongruities:

Contrary to the Saskatchewan Party's Prince Albert Carlton candidate's election commitment that "a vote for a Darryl Hicke is vote to keep the mill open" we listened to Hicke's rationalization of how the cancellation of the $100-million Domtar memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the former NDP government to try and reopen the mill has virtually no relationship to that commitment.

And we also heard from none other than Premier Brad Wall that the government would impose some form of essential services legislation -- this despite repeated assurances from Elwin Hermanson and Don McMorris (the latter a mere 10 days before the election call) and Wall himself that the Saskatchewan Party saw no reason to legislate essential services and that the unions and governments could work this out at contract time...

(T)here is a bigger principle at work here -- a principle about as simple and basic as principles come in politics: You have to be honest and forthright with the voters.

Wall, McMorris, Hickey and now Advanced Education and Labour Minister Rob Norris simply aren't being honest with the voters on these two issues.
While I don't agree with Mandryk's analysis of the actual policies at stake, it's still important to note how little the Sask Party's word has meant so far during its stay in government. And hopefully Mandryk and others will take the latest reversals as a cue that - as the NDP has warned all along - there's little reason to take Wall's assurances at face value.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hey, Adam Radwanski...

James Moore's Parliamentary indiscretions have already received plenty of attention. But perhaps more remarkable than Moore's actions is the shoot-the-messenger reaction from Adam Radwanski:
Hey, Jack Layton...

Do you think maybe it's time to have a little talk with your MPs?

In nationally televised committee hearings, one of them has become the poster-boy for overtly partisan, self-aggrandizing and generally embarrassing attempts to question Karlheinz Schreiber. Now, in the House of Commons, another is behaving roughly 50 years less than her age - tattle-taling on one of Parliament's more likeable MPs for supposedly looking at a "scantily clad" woman on his laptop.
So what's wrong with Radwanski's take? From my standpoint, there are two obviously-flawed assumptions which are necessary to his conclusion.

First, in order to minimize Moore's action, Radwanski shows an utter lack of awareness about sexual harassment issues. It would seem to be relatively common knowledge that displaying an offensive picture may give rise to concerns about sexual harassment - and indeed the federal Treasury Board says the same thing.

But as far as Radwanski is concerned, MPs in Parliament are to be held to a lower standard than workers in any other Canadian workplace rather than a higher one. And indeed, behaviour which could give rise to a sexual harassment complaint in any other workplace is seen to be above reproach when it's done by a "likeable" Con MP.

Second, there's Radwanski's concurrent portrayal of Mathyssen as a "tattle-tale" engaged in childish conduct for calling Moore on his behaviour.

Again, it would seem that if there's ever a place where one person should be expected not to let another's questionable actions go without challenge, it's when the opposition holds the government to account in the House of Commons. Instead, though, Radwanski is apparently of the view that the NDP's job is to look the other way and merely let Cons be Cons.

Which would certainly serve Harper's purposes in this and other areas. But it would also make for a glaring dereliction of the NDP's duty to Canadian voters.

Needless to say, there's no reason for Layton to want to take Radwanski's advice. And on the list of those who deserve to be taken less seriously as a result of the incident, Radwanski isn't far behind Moore.

Update: Unfortunately, it looks like Mathyssen is now going to apologize for even bringing up the subject based on Moore's declaration that the pictures were "of a friend" or of his girlfriend (depending on the explanation one listens to). That may well make the pictures less offensive than some other possibilities - but it still it doesn't offer any reason for Mathyssen to apologize for pointing out what she saw.

Update II: Oddly enough, Moore is now denying that he was looking at any image fitting Mathyssen's description to begin with. This after it was Moore who told David Akin that "the pictures were of his girlfriend" (see the CTV link above), which would seem to suggest that Moore knew what pictures were involved and recognized enough similarity to Mathyssen's claim to warrant explanation. File this under the Cons' habit of serial denial...

Undue influence

Shorter Brian Day:

If I've repeatedly abused what's supposed to be a universal-access public health care system, that's the system's fault rather than mine.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sustained pressure

Shorter Fraser Institute on health care costs:

If Saskatchewan's government does absolutely nothing to make the province's health care system more efficient in the meantime, it could end up spending half of its revenues on health costs thirty years down the road.
Or if it follows our advice on tax slashing, it can get there by the middle of next week.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Battle tested

A few quick questions for the Libs who are planning to turn the next federal election into "an ideological battle" against the Cons.

Wouldn't anybody who actually favours a national prescription drug plan prefer to support a party which didn't proclaim that health care had been fixed for a generation without one?

Wouldn't anybody who's concerned about financial support for seniors look first at the party which is already fighting for just that?

And wouldn't anybody who wants to see action against poverty have to take at least some look at the previous Lib government's failure to make it a priority?

Of course, it's a plus that the Libs are once again co-opting the federal NDP's longtime issues. But when it comes time for a vote, surely Canadians are better off with a party which actually believes in the cause leading the charge for a more progressive country.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Declining investment

I'm surprised that this hasn't received more notice when Kyoto and Bali have both been receiving ample attention. But as NDP MP Nathan Cullen pointed out in Thursday's Question Period, the "strategy" of both the Libs and the Cons since Canada ratified Kyoto seems to have been a miserable failure.

Here's what Cullen had to say about investment in emission reductions by Canadian industry:
Statistics Canada reports that spending by industry on capital investments to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions actually dropped by 35%. Oil and gas slashed its investments by 46%, while the power industry cut its investments by 96%. The government ensures that Canada will fall further and further behind.
Now, it's worth noting that the numbers in question are from 2002-2004 - meaning that they pre-date the Cons' stay in power. But it's not hard to draw a link between factors which likely led to the decline, and ones the Cons are seeking to entrench as a long-term policy.

Remember that in 2002 Canada actually ratified Kyoto, signalling an apparent commitment to international reduction targets, with a concurrent intention to require substantial emission reductions from industry. And it only makes sense that Canadian businesses would have sought to get the jump on their likely obligations when there was some prospect that the required reductions would actually be enforced.

After 2002, however, the Libs chose not to take their own government's commitment seriously. By 2004, Canadian industry seems to have figured out that the Libs weren't going to actually put any teeth behind the targets - and naturally reduced its investment accordingly.

At the same time, though, it seems clear that the earlier commitment to an internationally-enforceable target did serve to drive investment in emission reductions. And the Cons' current stance of holding out for the lowest common denominator can only send an equally strong signal in the opposite direction: when Canada's government is looking to avoid any real commitment to emission reductions, there's no reason for industry to bother investing in reductions of its own.

It remains to be seen whether the current cycle of neglect can be reversed. But it appears plain that with Canadian industry plainly taking its cues from the federal government, neither Lib-style dithering nor the Cons' state of denial is going to lead to any progress in the fight against climate change.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Excuses, excuses

Blogging Horse points out Stephane Dion's laughable take on the Libs' planned change in strategy to actually consider House of Commons votes on their merits. But perhaps even more telling is Dion's set of excuses for Thomas Mulcair's NDP victory in Outremont:
(P)olitical analysts and some grassroots Liberals complained that (Dion) waited too long to appoint a candidate for the September by-election in the Montreal riding of Outremont. His dithering, some said, cost the Liberals a safe seat.

He blames everyone but himself for the loss to the NDP. First, he said, there is the perception the Harper Tories have given a lot of money to the province.

“I don't think Quebec has received that much from Mr. Harper,” Mr. Dion said. “It's the perception … the sense that he was open to Quebec and that this openness was not only fancy constitutional stuff but concrete delivery.”
Now, that might be an interesting theory if the Cons had been the ones to improve their standing in Outremont - though even that would presumably speak to Lib failures in ensuring an accurate public perception of the Cons.

But then there are the actual results in the riding. And the reality is that the Cons' much-ballyhooed candidate dropped 4 points from the party's already-weak position in Outremont. Which means that Dion's first excuse - that improved public perception of the Cons caused Mulcair's win - is demonstrably wrong based on the actual Outremont results.

Mind you, Dion has one more excuse in his arsenal. And while it's perhaps a little tougher to outright disprove empirically, it speaks volumes about the Dion's state of mind (and perhaps that of his party as well):
As well, he said that many Quebeckers believed that the NDP candidate, Thomas Mulcair, a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister, was a federal Liberal.
I'm not sure how one can even pretend to believe the Libs' loss can be traced in any way to confusion about which candidate ran for which party. After all, virtually all media coverage of the byelection campaign focused explicitly on the NDP's effort to challenge the Libs' traditional dominance in the riding, including by having its entire federal caucus campaign for Mulcair. Meanwhile, there was also plenty of controversy surrounding the Libs' candidate appointment process and internal disputes. And I don't recall anybody being shy about highlighting the party affiliations involved.

Yet somehow Dion seems to think that through all that, Outremont's voters somehow didn't know who was running for which party - and if they had, they would never have voted against the Libs.

Which in turn may signal something more as well: a belief on Dion's part that the "Liberal" brand is itself invincible, such that he doesn't have to do more than remind voters who's in his party in order to romp to victory. But that belief would appear to be even more flawed than the Outremont excuses. And if Dion really figures he can count on his party's name to carry him while the NDP catches up to the Libs in the present, then there may be all the more reason to think the Libs are headed for the dustbin of history.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hide and seek

It may not make for much solace for Canadians who don't want to see their country signed on to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, particularly given the mystery surrounding what the GNEP actually entails. But at least the Harper government isn't succeeding in any effort to bury the announcement under both the Airbus scandal and other nuclear developments. Instead, the minister responsible is showing the Cons' weakness by going into hiding to avoid the questions the government presumably doesn't want to have to answer:
The Conservative government was pilloried Friday for committing Canada to a new international nuclear club without any public or political debate.

Opposition MPs demanded that Canada's participation in the U.S.-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership be debated and voted upon in the Commons after learning by press release that Canada was joining the group.

The surprise announcement came late Thursday after months of government stone-walling and denials.

"It is great news for Canada to be part of this partnership," Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn told the Commons on Friday.

But Lunn then refused to meet with reporters to discuss the matter, staying in a private Commons lobby for more than an hour while media waited outside.

Eventually, his spokeswoman emerged to say the minister had answered all relevant questions during the daily question period and had nothing more to add.

The minister's behaviour played perfectly to the opposition critics.

"Why have Canadians been kept completely in the dark?" NDP Leader Jack Layton asked outside the House.
Needless to say, the Cons' choice to retreat from any attempt to defend themselves should only spur both the opposition and the media to attack the issue with even more vigor. And the government's combination of broken promises and poor judgment surrounding the GNEP can only help the opposition in its task of showing the Canadian public that it's long past time to make sure the Cons are in no position to do any more damage.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Promise broken

Remember back when the Cons promised to put all significant international treaties before Parliament for a vote?

Just thought it might be worth a reminder now that the Cons have eagerly trashed that assurance (along with any other opportunity for debate about the GNEP).


The CP's report from today's Environment Committee meeting offers yet another example of the Cons' complete lack of credibility and honesty when it comes to the environment:
NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen pressed Baird to name a single group that has supported the plan, or a single regulation that he has placed on industry.

"I'm confused as to why this government is trying to seek credibility on the world stage...yet has not one validator that we're aware of that has taken a look at your plan and said it will actually meet your targets," said Cullen. "It does not pass test – why would you think the international community would think any different?"

Baird said it is too early to properly assess the government's regulatory framework, since it is still in the process of consulting with industry on what limits the various sectors will be handed.
Baird's response is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it highlights just how far the Cons are from having any support at all when it comes to their environmental non-strategy: given the proliferation of astroturf groups on virtually all major public issues (including the environment), it's downright stunning that the Cons can't even find one of those to provide some semblance of cover for their neglect.

But more important is the gap between the Cons' assessment of themselves, and their attitude toward anybody else trying to assess their efforts. Take a look through any recent Hansard, or indeed the Cons' own website, and you'll find a steady stream of claims that the Cons have already taken definitive action to regulate industry and otherwise deal with climate change.

Yet suddenly when the question is asked whether anybody else agrees, the Cons can only whine that it's too early to draw any conclusions at all. Which, if accepted as true, would make their own self-promotion equally premature.

Of course, the reality is that it's far from too early to evaluate the Cons' record. And the fact that the Cons can't name a single outside source of support for their continued excuses not to act on climate change should help to emphasize just how far out of touch the Harper regime is with the public desire for action to fight global warming.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Assessment needed

The NDP is rightly criticizing the Cons and Libs for voting down an NDP motion on free trade with Colombia. But the most important part of the story may not be the corporate parties' unsurprising determination to push ahead with more free trade deals, but rather the complete unwillingness of either the Cons or Libs to even see human rights issues assessed as part of Canada's analysis of trading partners:
An NDP motion from International Trade Critic Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster) has been defeated by the combined decisions of the Liberal and Conservative parties in the Standing Committee on International Trade.

“It’s unfortunate that the Liberals and Conservatives failed to recognize and support Canada’s leadership in affirming the supremacy of human rights over any other consideration. The people of Colombia were hoping that Canada would use its influence to help them in their struggle for human rights,” said Julian.

The motion recommended that bilateral trade negotiations between Canada and Colombia be halted in light of the continuous abuse of human rights by the government of Colombia, and stressed the importance of developing a framework for a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) for future bilateral trade negotiations with Colombia and other nations.
Remember that the main justification for pushing ahead with Colombia free trade - which Harper himself has parroted - is a claim that doing so will ultimately improve human rights in the longer term. If that were the case, though, one would expect the Cons to be glad to see a thorough appraisal of those expected positive effects in order to bolster the deal.

Instead, the vote to avoid any meaningful assessment of human rights makes sense only if an actual report would likely undercut the premise that free trade will do anything to help Colombia's human rights situation.

Unfortunately, the Cons and Libs have once again demonstrated their determination to ensure that human rights issues don't get in the way of the continued spread of free trade. And that should offer just one more reason to doubt their commitment to human rights either in Canada or abroad.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Room for growth

All too predictably, the CMA's narrow focus on wait times has received far more media attention. But Bruce Campbell and Greg Marchildon's call to improve the existing scope of public health care in Canada deserves mention as a reminder that there's plenty to work toward beyond merely preserving the system we have now:
Claims that Medicare is fiscally and economically unsustainable are unfounded, but they are used to persuade a reluctant public that there is no choice but to accept privatized health care. According to Canada's leading health care economist, Robert Evans, the wolf at the door of the Canadian Medicare system is not an economic wolf but rather "a political wolf dressed in phony economic clothing to deceive the sheep."

Thus, the challenge is to defend Medicare against the forces seeking to dismantle it. We can best do this by completing Tommy's original vision for Medicare. Building on the proven administrative efficiencies of the single-payer systems administered by the provinces, we can expand Medicare well beyond doctors and hospitals into pharmacare, home care and dental care; to re-orient public health care around primary health care and community care, and tackle head on the social determinants of health.

In some areas change is beginning to happen. There are many examples of successful innovations, which have dramatically reduced wait times, improved access to quality care and reduced costs. Dr. Michael Rachlis, a physician and health policy advisor, has performed an important service for all Canadians by cataloging the most promising innovations in our public system. But missing is the political leadership on the part of provincial and federal governments to ensure the systematic dissemination and application of these solutions throughout the system.

Whether Medicare moves forward, or becomes progressively eroded by encroaching privatization, will depend on which vision of health care prevails. Will it be one based on the premise that health care is a commodity and that ability to pay should determine who gets what care and how? Or will it be the one actually desired by most Canadians? That is a 21st century Medicare, but one still based on the principle that every Canadian should have access to health care on the same terms and conditions.
Of course, there are far too many indications recently that we are indeed moving backward - ranging from the missed opportunity for universal prescription drug coverage in Saskatchewan to the federal Cons' determination to limit the flow of information about best practices. But it's worth keeping in mind that there's plenty of room for improvement in the system we have now, and working to push the system in the right direction rather than merely trying to hold the existing ground.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On regulatory measures

The CP reports that Ontario and Quebec have reached an agreement to negotiate regulatory harmonization. And it'll be interesting to see whether the move by Canada's most populous provinces sounds a death knell for the spread of the TILMA, or instead signals that the Charest government is giving in on the fight to preserve provincial autonomy:
Quebec and Ontario signed an agreement Monday to start talks to remove interprovincial trade barriers in an effort to help businesses - especially the struggling manufacturing sector - but the federal government needs to do "its share," said Premier Jean Charest.

Charest and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty agreed to begin negotiating an accord to strengthen the economies of both provinces by eliminating red tape and unnecessary regulations, saying provinces need to work together to meet global challenges...

Under the new deal, negotiators will look at harmonizing regulations that govern everything from the weight of trucks to health-care professions to find ways of making it easier for companies to operate in both Quebec and Ontario in hopes of increasing the $70 billion a year in trade between the two provinces.
Now, two major caveats are in order with the announcement. First, the issue of "internal trade barriers" doesn't deserve even a small fraction of the attention it's received over the past year and a half. And second, the last agreement which was announced to involve negotiation as to harmonized standards turned out to have far more damaging effects.

Indeed, there's some dangerous language even in the article: the contemplated "accord" could well signal that the intention is to negotiation a TILMA-type agreement rather than the actual standards in question. And it remains to be seen whether the public announcement is as deceptive as the one regarding the TILMA was last year.

That said, there's some reason to think today's announcement could nonetheless offer reasonably good news.

After all, the concept of harmonizing regulations makes plenty of sense as long as it's carried out with the goal of ensuring mutually effective standards - not the goal of gutting regulation entirely as is implicit in the TILMA. And the willingness of Ontario and Quebec to at least alert the public to their plans makes for far more transparency than the TILMA signatories ever offered.

Moreover, the federal Cons have made clear that they're willing to impose drastic measures on the provinces to try to ensure that trade takes precedence over all else. And while giving in to Harper's wishes to any extent is seldom an effective strategy for long, it may be that the willingness of Quebec in particular to negotiate some regulatory standards later will help to avoid the Cons going nuclear while the Libs don't dare to oppose them.

Update: Erin has more.