Saturday, February 17, 2007

Neglected dissent

Sadly, it's progress just for the National Post to have recognized that there's a serious debate to be had over the ongoing Security and Prosperity Partnership deep integration scheme. But does CanWest really have so little idea where to find Canadian voices on the issue as to feel the need to present the American far right as the only opposition to the plan?

Bending over for Canada

The CP reports that while the Cons' main softwood lumber capitulation may be over and done with, Canadian negotiators are still looking for ways to give away even more in meetings provided for under the agreement:
Canadian and U.S. government representatives will sit down in Washington next Thursday and Friday for the first meeting of the top binational committee.

The Canadians are likely to hear some grumbling about Quebec and Ontario programs aimed at helping their struggling forest industries. Officials say they're confident they can demonstrate to the Americans the programs don't subsidize lumber exports.

In turn, they want assurances the Americans will keep a promise to accept B.C. government timber pricing reforms aimed at removing the main U.S. complaint that logs from Crown lands are subsidized.
So, to sum up...

The U.S.' primary complaint over softwood lumber all along has been B.C.'s timber pricing system. (Never mind that the complaint was consistently found to be invalid, as the Cons gave away that string of wins last year.)

But under the Cons' capitulation, Canada is required to seek the U.S.' approval before making any changes to its regulatory regime on lumber pricing - including the types of changes that the U.S. was always demanding.

As a result, Canada is going into the negotiations seeking the U.S.' permission to do exactly what the U.S. has been demanding all along - with the implication that Canada may then be forced to make additional concessions in return for that permission.

It remains to be seen just how much more the Cons can give away long after the main deal was done. But it should be glaringly obvious that despite the Cons' assurances, the problems with softwood lumber are far from going away - and that Canada will be feeling the aftereffects of Harper's eager loss of sovereignty for as long as the deal remains in place.

On means of production

Reader Deanna points out this post at While the Earth Burns, highlighting a Wayne Roberts article on the emission-reduction benefits of organic farming.

Suffice it to say that the tradeoff between the farming methods discussed in the article sounds like exactly the kind of area where a functioning emissions market could be a catalyst for a significant (and low-cost) change toward more responsible use of resources. And that in turn helps to show how far off course the Cons are in refusing to work toward that market structure.

Toxic inaction

The Globe and Mail reports that the Cons' much-ballyhooed move to regulate chemicals in fact does absolutely nothing to reduce the current availability of one of the major toxic chemical groups involved:
A group of chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers that are widely used as flame retardants are so harmful Environment Canada has added them to the country's list of toxic chemicals and wants manufacturers banned from making them.

Environment Canada is proposing a ban on two formulations no longer made in North America, but it is allowing continued use of the most common type.

Despite these indications of potential harm, the most widely made type of the flame retardants, called decaPBDE, will continue to be used in Canada if it is imported in consumer products and by industry.

Although PBDEs are used in Canada, they aren't made in the country, and environmentalists say any ban on domestic manufacturing would be meaningless if the government provides a huge loophole for continued public exposure through imports...

“By not comprehensively banning all PBDEs, notably the decaPBDEs, the Harper government is regulating the status quo, essentially avoiding the most serious aspects of this problem and giving the Canadian public a mistaken impression of action,” said Kathleen Cooper, a senior researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association...

Under Environment Canada's proposal, two mixtures of the chemical will be banned from use for health and environment reasons, although this move will have almost no consequences. The major manufacturer of the mixtures, Great Lakes Chemical Corp., voluntarily agreed to phase them out in 2004 under an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The apparent excuse is that the current regulation is a "first step" toward further action. But there doesn't seem to be any factual basis for a claim that it can be considered a step of any kind. That is, except in the PR department - where the reality that Canadians will continue to be exposed to toxins thanks to the Cons' own choices seems far too likely to receive less attention than the Cons' initial claim to have clamped down.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Proportional action

Robert points out that the federal NDP, led by Catherine Bell, is bringing proportional representation to the forefront through a petition and motion in the House of Commons. Of course, it doesn't seem particularly likely that any other party now represented in Parliament will do anything but run away from the proposal - but at worst the action should bring the issue back into the public eye, and it's at least possible that the other opposition parties will realize (and care) that the most sure way to keep PMS from a majority is to put in place a system which better reflects the voting choices of Canadians.

Unfair votes

A good catch by leftdog, as the Cons' attempt to undermine the Canadian Wheat Board is taking another step toward the ridiculous with the revelation that the ongoing barley vote is based on something short of a secret ballot:
The federal government is asking Prairie farmers if they want to change the way barley is marketed and has sent out ballots with identification numbers that match numbers on voter declaration forms.

Bill Kruzko, who farms near Maple Creek, Sask., is among those who say they're not comfortable with the system.

"They'll know exactly how every producer in Canada voted because it has the identification number at the bottom of the ballot," he said.
Given that the vote has already undergone one false start for a far less important reason (one of convenience rather than fundamental fairness), it would seem reasonable for the Cons to give it one more shot in order to address the serious problems with a system where votes could easily be tracked back to individual producers.

But as has been the case throughout the Cons' efforts to demolish the CWB, it seems far too likely that the real concerns of producers will be ignored if the Cons think it'll help their cause. Which can only highlight the need for another type of vote to make sure Strahl never gets the chance to follow through on his plans.

Reasons for support

While I'm normally a fan of Greg's analysis, it's hard to disagree much more thoroughly with the view that the Cons should be left in power to give them more time to screw up.

Now, the Libs are already on the hook for giving the Cons more time to mess up in office - to the rightful disbelief of even some of their supporters. So it might not be that much more harmful for them to once again kick Canada down the road in hopes of a more favourable political picture.

But from the NDP's standpoint, the answer couldn't be much more clear. There's little reason to think that a second year in office would provide much more evidence of the Cons' unsuitability for government than their existing track record of arbitrary spending cuts, continued neglect of environmental and social issues, hyperpartisanship and internal repression - meaning that the potential for major damage to Harper's reputation would be limited to the outside prospect of a major scandal managing to emerge from the Cons' cloak of secrecy.

In contrast, the longer the Cons are in office, the more time they'll have for photo-ops and happy-sounding spending announcements...particularly on the environment where they're currently so rightly untrusted. And that process will almost certainly help to put a friendlier and less threatening face on Harper and company as time goes by, even if it doesn't make much substantive impact.

If the content of a confidence motion proves to be worthy of support, that's another question. But the more time the Cons have to make a mess of Canada, the worse off the country is going to be. And the prospect of PMS looking bad in the process doesn't make it worth waiting to see how much more damage is done.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Harmful emissions

Shorter Peter Foster: Nicholas Stern's review on climate change must be flawed, since its downside estimates assume that we'll do nothing to deal with the problem. So let's ignore Stern and do nothing to deal with the problem.

Excessive withdrawal

For some obscure reason, the corporate press seems eager to lavish praise on Jim Flaherty on the issue of ATM fees. But the reality is that Flaherty has done nothing but indicate his refusal to take any real action.

From the Globe and Mail:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he is not satisfied with the explanation from Canada's big banks for why they charge a fee when other banks' customers use their automated teller machines -- and he has asked them to try harder...

Yesterday, Mr. Flaherty told a parliamentary finance committee that the banking association's initial reply wasn't adequate and he wanted a more "direct response."...

He said he expects a response "within a reasonable period of time, within a couple of weeks."
So, rather than taking the banks' response at face value and making a decision on that basis, Flaherty is simply looking to give them another platform to make a case for fees.

Which would be bad enough on its own. But then the National Post article includes this:
(T)he best consumers can hope for is that Mr. Flaherty's pressure will force the banks to roll back fees. That's because Ottawa does not regulate the day-today pricing of financial services products, a department spokesman said.

The Minister said as much yesterday, noting his goal in this process is to ensure "competition and choice" for Canadians.
In sum, Flaherty's action amounts to encouraging the banks to offer new excuses for continuing to charge ATM fees. Any failure to do so is then backed up by nothing more than the possibility that he'll make the same suggestion again if the next answer is no more plausible than the last one. And in the process, Flaherty makes an utterly unnecessary concession that any actual government action is off the table.

Somehow, the articles describe Flaherty as "populist-minded" and as placing "demands" on the banks based on his limp response. And unfortunately, as long as the press' commentary on Flaherty is based on even more pathetic pandering than Flaherty's toward the banks, there's little prospect of any interests besides those of the banks getting taken into consideration.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Still not to be trusted

Obviously today's announcement of charges surrounding an income-trust leak has given rise to some differing views on who owes who an apology. But on closer examination, the Libs' position today doesn't seem any more tenable than their previous claim that they could be trusted in saying nothing was amiss.

From Ralph Goodale's statement today:
The investigation has indicated no involvement in this matter by me, my staff or any other political person.
Let's compare that to the details of the individual charged:
The RCMP have concluded a 14-month investigation into the possible leak of income trust tax details by charging a senior civil servant in the Finance Department with breach of trust.

Serge Nadeau, the general director of analysis, tax policy branch, was charged Thursday, the RCMP said in a statement.
Now, it would seem to me to be a painfully weak argument to try to claim that a senior official in the department directly supervised by Goodale doesn't qualify as "staff" who should have fallen within the scope of his investigation. But even if there's a distinction between "staff" and "department", Goodale himself volunteered at the time that both were free of responsibility:
Mr. Speaker, first, let us be clear. There is no evidence of a leak. There is an allegation on this, particularly from the opposition.

The hon. gentleman asked if I inquired within my staff and within my department. Indeed I did, and I am satisfied that all requirements were met.
Of course, Goodale conveniently modified his wording today to try to pretend that his original position had been vindicated. But in reality, it appears that Goodale was, at best, flat-out wrong in so readily becoming "satisfied" that nothing worth investigating had happened within his department. Which means that if anybody's gonads are in evidence today, it's the Libs who have the nerve to ask for an apology for their own mistake.


Via Relentlessly Progressive Economics, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has released two major papers on the TILMA. One concludes (and confirms my concerns) that the negative effects of TILMA are far beyond those admitted by B.C. and Alberta so far; and the other thoroughly eviscerates the laughable (and indeed thoroughly laughed-at) Conference Board of Canada study that's been trumpeted as evidence of the alleged benefits of TILMA.

And based on scans of all my usual news sources plus a Google News search, the next mention of either study in the corporate media will be the first. Which can only offer a predictable signal that many news outlets have picked their side in the TILMA dispute - and that those of us not eager to see provinces sign away their ability to govern will have to work doubly hard to get our message heard.

On weak positions

I can understand how the Libs would want to defuse issues surrounding the Senate given PMS' posturing last fall about calling an election over upper-chamber obstruction. But there's no indication that their stated plan is going to do anything but bring one of their weakest points to the forefront:
Stephane Dion says the Liberals will back term limits of 12 to 15 years for senators, bringing the first modest step toward reforming Canada's Senate closer to reality...

"Term limit is a good idea if it's not too short," Dion said in an interview.

He said the eight-year term proposed by Harper is too short and would potentially give the prime minister "exorbitant power" to appoint every single senator in the chamber.

"That means that if all senators have a life expectancy as senators of eight years, a prime minister who would be there (in power) eight years would choose all the senators. He would renew completely the Senate after two mandates."

Dion said a term of 12 to 15 years would be preferable. A prime minister couldn't appoint all senators without winning at least three mandates. Moreover, he said such a term would be long enough to produce experienced senators but short enough to encourage the appointment of younger senators...

Dion reiterated Liberal opposition to the idea of electing senators without simultaneously opening the Constitution to reform other aspects of the upper chamber, particularly the under-representation of western provinces.
So for the sake of quibbling over a few years of a term limit, Dion has pushed one of the Cons' favourite populist issues back into the headlines and allowed Harper to keep ranting about a Lib-induced lack of democracy in the Senate.

If the Libs were willing to bring forward a stronger reform package or buy into the idea of abolition, it would have made plenty of sense to try to outflank Harper. And even an impassioned defence of the current system might have had some chance of winning over voters suspicious of the Cons' motives.

But the Libs' actual position manages to combine a complete disinterest in defending the status quo with a lack of will for any meaningful change - which can only bolster the Cons' portrayal of Dion as an ineffective leader. And with the Libs already in the midst of a John Kerry-like non-response to the Cons' attack ads, the last thing they can afford to do is offer yet more fodder for the Cons' message.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A meager investment

The Cons' weak excuse for funding environmentally-friendly cars shouldn't go without comment. With that in mind, can somebody remind PMS that no matter how well he seems to think it replaces substance in politics, advertising alone doesn't do anything much when it comes to the auto industry?

Criminally irresponsible

I'm glad to see that plenty of bloggers share my concern about Bill C-31 in its discriminatory effect and/or its impact on voter privacy. But after some more thought, I may have severely underestimated the dangers the bill could pose.

Initially, my reaction to the bill was based on questions about how existing political parties would use voter information. And there's enough problem with the potential flurry of advertising targeted by age, or the risk of a (presumably) rogue party operative misusing the list, to justify fighting against the bill.

But then, with a guaranteed source of such important information available, it's highly unlikely that some other groups wouldn't see fit to try to get access to it as well. And it doesn't look like there's any room in the bill for Elections Canada to withhold the information as long as a formally registered party requests it:
45. (1) By November 15 in each year, the Chief Electoral Officer shall send to the member for each electoral district and, on request, to each registered party that endorsed a candidate in the electoral district in the last election, a copy in electronic form — taken from the Register of Electors — of the lists of electors for the electoral district.
Now, it seems fairly clear that the intent of the section isn't to extend access to the information for use other than political purposes. And the Canada Elections Act provides for penalties if information is misused, as well as a PR hit where a party is under investigation - which offers at least some reassurance that the major parties won't misuse information too flagrantly.

But consider the relative costs and benefits of setting up a pseudo-party, or taking over a small party's nomination, for the sake of getting access to birthdate information.

Would an identity theft ring be willing to front a candidate's nomination fee to get access to all voters' birthdates within an electoral district? Would a relatively well-organized group of professional home burglars consider it worth the investment to nominate a candidate in exchange for a complete list of a riding's residents who are are still in a detached home at a high age? And would those groups be the least bit dissuaded by the risk of a Canada Elections Act violation?

From my vantage point, the answers are almost certainly "yes", "yes" and "no". Which means that C-31 may go beyond mere disenfranchisement and targeted advertising, but also create a virtual certainty that political structures will be misused to the danger and detriment of a wide swath of Canadian citizens.

For those who wonder whether the definition of "registered party" might offer any protection against that scenario, the sad answer is: not for a second. The requirements for a party to be considered "registered" are minimal - which is great in encouraging electoral participation, but disastrous on the question of whether they'll be able to keep effective control over sensitive data contained in voters' lists. The current list of registered parties is 15 strong, making it virtually certain that anybody looking for a nomination will be able to sneak in under one of the minor-party banners...and it wouldn't be the least bit difficult to put together a new party even if every existing party is able to screen its candidates.

I'll allow for the possibility that this is a new concern which has managed to slip past the Cons, Libs and Bloc in their enthusiasm for more information about Canada's voters, rather than blaming them for having such a warped sense of priorities as to support the bill knowing what it could do. But one way or another, there should be no doubt that the costs of C-31's voter information provisions far outweigh any benefits. And there'll be plenty of blame to cast on any party who continues to vote for the bill once the dangers are known.

A needless risk

CanWest reports that the NDP is doing all it can to slow down or stop a bill which would both give voters' personal information to political parties, and make it more difficult for Canadians to vote:
The NDP vows to filibuster legislation that would require voter photo ID for the first time in Canadian federal electoral history and the handing over vital personal information about voters to political parties and election candidates.

Ottawa New Democrat MP Paul Dewar on Tuesday described the legislation as "a big brother bill" that risks widespread identity theft if voter lists with the birth dates of electors gets in the wrong hands. Dewar and NDP House leader Libby Davies are mounting a last-ditch campaign against the bill as it heads to a final Commons vote...

The legislation would require Elections Canada to assign a lifetime identifying number for each of the more than 22 million electors and put their birth dates on the permanent list of electors, which would be updated annually and made available to the political parties and candidates in each voting district.

The bill specifically allows the parties to use the information for fundraising and soliciting electoral support.

Even though voters could be required to verify their unique identifiers and birth dates at polling stations, they would also be required to produce either government-issued photo ID or two other pieces of ID showing their names and addresses.

Liberal whip Karen Redman dismissed concern about identity theft, saying Quebec, which allows the distribution of birth dates to political parties and candidates, has not experienced major problems. But federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart lists names and dates of birth among vital pieces of personal information that should be kept from free circulation to guard against identify theft.
Given that date of birth is used fairly frequently (at least from my experience) as a check in verifying a person's identity, it would seem obvious that giving out such information to political parties could leave voters far more vulnerable to identity theft than they would be otherwise. But apparently the other parties are perfectly happy to impose that risk on Canadian citizens generally if the tradeoff is more information for them to use in targeting their messages.

Unfortunately, there may not be much the NDP can do to keep the bill from passing given that the other parties in Parliament are all eager to push it through. But hopefully the NDP's stand will at least highlight who's fighting for the interests of Canadian voters rather than seeking to put political parties first.

Splitting decisions

Having already dealt with some of the empty rhetoric on income splitting, let's quickly respond to a few of the "arguments" made as part of the cheerleading effort:

It'll encourage childbirth.
Which it apparently manages to do by utterly failing to take into account whether a family has children. And don't worry, it's not social engineering!

It's the feminist thing to do.
Because what could be more empowering than ignoring what a stay-at-home wife actually does, and defining her worth solely in terms of her husband's income?

It'll strengthen marriage.
After all, it only makes sense that the greater the income disparity, the stronger a couple's bond to each other. (In fairness, this may well be true in one direction - but so much for the non-earning spouse having much of a choice in anything...)

$100,000 for two people is $100,000 for two people, end of story.
Because when valuing a stay-at-home spouse's contribution at zero is seen to help the cause of slashing taxes, who can possibly object to that?

Screw policy, it's a good idea politically.
Not if enough Canadians appreciate the costs involved. And that's what we'll need to point out going forward to make sure the Cons can't pretend that there's nothing but support for the idea.

In closing, it's worth noting just how flatly contradictory a lot of the arguments are. Some claim income splitting is a means of valuing stay-at-home work; others say it's justified from a fairness standpoint because a couple at a given earning level is no better off with one spouse staying at home. Some want to increase the size of Canada's labour pool in order to pay for social programs; others claim it's a means of reducing the priority placed on paid employment.

Ultimately, it all amounts to a poor effort to justify a measure which would give away scads of money without filling any particular need. But the biggest question is whether Olaf is right in saying that few Canadians will bother to oppose it - or whether progressives will instead demand that the federal government's efforts get put toward resolving real issues, rather than looking for excuses to buy votes.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A burdensome request

Within today's right-wing blogburst pushing for a giveaway to one-income high-earner families (with lesser giveaways in direct proportion to a couple's earning disparity), there's been even more empty rhetoric spouted than usual about taxes being "(a) burden", "punitive" and "unhealthy". But far be it from me to let the rhetoric go unchallenged given how little basis it has in reality.

So, a two-part challenge for those so merrily parroting the Cons' talking points:

1. Define "tax burden", "punitive taxation", or "unhealthy taxation". Hint: this definition needs to have more to it than merely "the amount of tax paid", since there's no reason for loaded words to describe something which is value-neutral; and/or

2. Define the point at which taxes would cease to become "burdensome", "punitive" or "unhealthy", such that the federal government should not cut taxes further.

Still not trustworthy

About the best one can say about the Libs' proposal to give billions away in taxes on income trusts is that it seems likely to go the way of their one-time promise to repeal the GST. But with the Libs and the Cons seemingly competing to see who can give away the most tax revenue for the least possible social return, the door appears to be wide open for the NDP to set itself apart by highlighting the better uses for public money.

Reason for hope

Of all the possible criticisms of the Cons' funding announcement for provincial environmental programs, David McGuinty's may be the most surprising. But it may also hint that the Libs see the committee reviewing C-30 as far more important than they've been willing to let on:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is undermining Parliament by making environmental announcements before a special committee examining the same issues has finished its work, a Liberal MP says.

"What is this if it's not a playpen, or some sort of play process that the Prime Minister has created here to keep people busy under the guise that he's doing something constructive on the environment?" asked Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South), his party's environmental critic...

The Tories are expected to announce short-term targets for large industrial polluters before the end of the month. Such a move would "pre-empt" the work of the committee that is working through to March 30 to significantly amend the government's Clean Air Act, he said.

"Why doesn't he just come out and tell us this?" McGuinty asked of the significant revisions the government has made to its environmental agenda. "Why is he wasting our time?"
Needless to say, it may come as news to some that the Libs are of the view that nothing should be done until after the committee reports back. And the new line that the committee's work should overtake all other action on the environment seems a drastic change both from the Libs' efforts to obstruct the comittee's action, and the fire they've aimed at the NDP for giving the committee any role in the first place.

That said, it's worth watching whether McGuinty's message signals a shift in the Libs' willingness to work to rewrite C-30 to something which all the opposition parties can support. After all, it's hard to see why McGuinty would be upset about any pre-emption if the committee wasn't seen as likely to produce something worthwhile.

If the Libs have changed their tune on the importance of the committee, then it may not be out of the question that the combination of C-288, a rewritten C-30, the Cons' funding announcements and any new regulations worth keeping could result in a far more positive environmental scheme than would seem possible based on the partisan shots that continue to be fired back and forth. And if that proves to be the case this spring, then all parties involved will deserve credit - even if there may be something short of total agreement on the individual components.

Maximizing partisanship

Plenty has already been written about the Cons' move to stack judicial advisory committees with Con partisans and right-wing ideologues. What's worth remembering in addition, though, is that one of the major legal controversies about the Cons' first year in power was their refusal to appoint enough judges to fill even the number of existing vacancies within Canada's courts, let alone assess the number of judicial positions actually needed. (That point earns a brief mention in CanWest's coverage of the current issue.)

At the time, there didn't seem to be any substantial reason for that omission other than general hostility toward the judiciary. But it makes a lot more sense if the Cons wanted to leave as many judicial posts as possible open for the fruits of their one-sided committees - which can only exacerbate the problem with the new committee composition.

Monday, February 12, 2007

On comical positions

Andrew Scheer's response to the NDP's call for legislation against ATM fees would have been asinine enough on its own:
Banks aren't an arm of the federal government, countered Conservative MP Andrew Scheer, who represents the Regina-Qu'Appelle constituency.

"I think the last thing that Canadians would want to see is a government that decides to regulate every industry," he said Saturday afternoon.
One would think that Scheer has a long enough history as a political hack to have some clue that chartered banks are a highly-regulated industry within the scope of federal power. But it's particularly amusing that just after Scheer went to such pains to proclaim the Cons' do-nothing approach to the banking industry, his party's finance minister publicly criticized banks for their lack of generosity:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says he's going to bat for the widows of Canadian soldiers caught up in a mortgage-insurance fight with financial institutions...

Flaherty responded that he was "shocked" to hear about the situation and said he has already taken action.

"I made it clear to the banks today that I expect them to be generous in their treatment of all widows in this country. I await their response and I will be pleased to report to the House with respect to their response as soon as it is received."
Now, it's theoretically possible that Flaherty's call for action was backed up with nothing more than a threat to talk to the banks again. But it seems far more likely that Flaherty and most other people with at least a vague knowledge of how banking works would be aware enough not to pretend the federal government has no role in regulating the industry.

Which would mean that Scheer's silliness was completely and rightly contradicted in a matter of days by one of his party's top-ranking cabinet members. And that can only make Regina-Qu'Appelle voters wonder both just how clueless their MP is, and how quickly they can replace him with somebody with a better grasp of reality.

The wrong reform

William Neville tears into the Cons for focusing their democratic-reform efforts on tweaking Canada's less-relevant house of Parliament while ignoring the chamber where meaningful change is actually possible:
If democratization is a serious concern, it makes far more sense to look at democratic legitimacy in the House of Commons. Consider some recent general election results. In the federal election of 1997, the Liberals, with 49.5 per cent of the popular vote, won 99 per cent of Ontario’s 103 seats; in 2004, with 51.5 per cent of the vote, they won 100 per cent of those seats. Similarly, in 2004 the Conservatives with 61.7 per cent of the votes in Alberta won 92 per cent of the seats and in 2006, with 65 per cent of the vote won 100 per cent of the seats. If one is truly interested in democratic legitimacy, shouldn’t one be concerned that large numbers of voters are systematically under-represented — or completely unrepresented — in the House of Commons?

If Harper were genuinely interested in promoting Canadian democracy, he would be seizing the moment in this minority Parliament to introduce some measure of electoral reform for parliamentary elections. Don’t hold your breath. Yet, is it not fascinating how Bush preaches democracy for Iraq and Harper preaches it for the Senate, but neither shows any interest in the undemocratic features of the House of Representatives there and the House of Commons here? And Harper has less excuse because the Parliament of which he is a member can reform itself.
As Neville notes (and many of us have pointed out), there's little reason to think the Cons actually will want to change the Commons system since it offers them the prospect of imposing their ideology on Canada based on the votes of scarcely over a third of all those who go to the polls.

But while the Cons' current direction certainly makes sense from the standpoint of their party's interests, it couldn't be much further from a stance genuinely intended to reflect the expressed will of Canadian citizens. And the more voters become aware of that fact, the less likely PMS is to ever win the majority that would let him test just how undemocratic a Canadian government can become.

Back to the starting point

The Cons' announcement of some funding for provincial environmental programs is certainly better than nothing. But it speaks volumes about PMS' lack of leadership on the environment that the Cons' largest action to date is a fund under which the provinces will deal with greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution for themselves, rather than anything approaching a federal strategy or plan.

Moreover, it doesn't even seem certain that the funding will do anything more than replace the previous federal-provincial arrangements which the Cons proudly eliminated last year while whining that the provinces should be left to deal with the environment themselves. Which means that like so many of the supposed signs of Con environmental progress, today's announcement seems like nothing more than an attempt by the Cons to receive credit for undoing their own damage.

More reasons for action

Susan Riley points out both the lack of any good reason for Canada's past inaction on greenhouse gas emissions, and one added consequence of failing to make meaningful progress now:
Fact is, we are already legally bound to meet our Kyoto commitment, which is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012 -- in other words, by about 30 per cent. Former prime minister Jean Chretien ratified the accord in 2002; Russia signed on in 2005, pushing the treaty over a crucial threshold and giving it legal force.

It was originally signed in 1997; it was first seriously contemplated in 1982. The Kyoto accord and its targets should be not be a surprise to anyone, nor should the details be a matter for debate. We have dithered so long we may not get to our target in time for the end of the first period, 2008-2012. (Not at this rate, for sure.) That just means a tougher climb in the second post-2012 phase, since the accord penalizes countries that don't meet their goals by adding 30 per cent to their second-term targets. It works the way library fines used to: the longer you delay, the steeper the debt...

It is tempting to tune out this noise (over Kyoto) and focus on what we can do as individuals, or what we can force our politicians to do, to lower emissions. But the strength of Kyoto, too, is that it is a compromise, hard-won in a divided and distracted world. It isn't perfect; it hasn't been very effective so far. But it's what we have.

So stop bickering and tell us what it will take to get close, at least, to those daunting targets.
The fact that a lack of reductions now will only lead to more stringent standards in the next phase of Kyoto should offer yet another strong reason to make a serious push now, rather than buying into either the Libs' or Cons' reasons to try to push the issue down the road. (Though of course given the Cons' distaste for international agreements, it's unlikely that they'd want to bother trying to meet the next phase's targets either.)

While Riley is right to be concerned about both the Libs' and Cons' take to date, at least one of those parties will have to put the environment ahead of politics for any real progress to be made in this Parliament. And hopefully more attention to the good reasons for acting - and the costs of not doing so - will help push toward the needed action, rather than facilitating more of the current partisan volleying.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A winning environment

After a disappointing disappearance last year, The Filter is back with a new collection of underreported progressive articles including this one on practical tips for the environmental movement from Wayne Roberts:
Make no mistake, we have what it takes to do the turnaround in time for the first Kyoto deadline of 2010. We just need our enviro champions to be strategic. Here's my short list of movement to-dos and to-don'ts:

1. Don't bite off more than you can chew, as we did during (the '80s and '90s) by taking on entrenched interests that can swat head-on assaults like mosquitoes. I'm thinking here of campaigns like that against PVCs or persistent organic pollutants, both of which I championed back then. There's wisdom in separating immediate deliverables from tomorrow's issues...

2. We need quick starts and a steady accumulation of victories. There may be lots of green talk these days, but...actual doables are scarce on any politicians or lobby group's radar...

3. The general point is to embed eco habits in the economy of daily life, rather than protecting green by isolating or regulating it. In earlier eco movements, for example, pols made a big deal of protecting parks and wildlife areas and then proceeded to allow the defiling of everything up to their boundaries. And what's with establishing segregated environment ministries that are then sidelined and separated from the powerful departments of finance, agriculture, transportation and industry that they're supposed to clean up after?

4. Worse than wasting energy, don't waste your life and reputation in Darth Vader corporations. Find a job that makes green possible and profitable, making it easy for people to go green – join in the biggest business trend of the next century. There's room for thousands of new occupations and businesses: organic landscapers, healthy home renovators, bicycle delivery systems, enviro lawyers, health workers, health food street vendors and hundreds more.
While I don't necessary agree with all the concerns about the political system or see some of the suggestions as realistic for all who would like to help, the ideas are definitely ones which can help focus the environmental movement on turning the public's current interest in the issue into lasting results. And in particular, given the need for emission reductions across most sectors and walks of life in order to reach Canada's Kyoto targets, the next couple of years may offer a unique opportunity to embed principles of responsibility and sustainability throughout Canada's policy-making structure rather than largely severing them off into a single ministry.

Of course, that'll require a governing party which doesn't try to equate small, single-sector actions with meaningful environmental programs. But whether it's a Con government embarrassed into action, a Lib one seeking to reverse its previous track record, or even an NDP surprise as the party's consistent advocacy on the issue comes to the forefront, that outcome appears at least somewhat plausible in the relatively near future. Which means that compared to the previous surges of environmentalism, this wave may be able to have a much longer-lasting effect.

Just curious...

What's the going rate to secure top billing for a "Pierre Bourque: Toxic Monster?" headline on Canada's leading pay-per-news site?

The right response

In what appears to be the Saskatchewan NDP's first strong public statement on the TILMA, Lorne Calvert is hinting that unlike the provinces to the west, Saskatchewan isn't eager to see its hands tied:
The NDP government says it will soon decide whether Saskatchewan will sign on to the controversial Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) between British Columbia and Alberta.

But for Premier Lorne Calvert, TILMA appears to have little appeal.

"Clearly from the beginning, I've wanted to see the work that we're doing at the national level. While we have an important relationship with Alberta and British Columbia, we also trade as much the other way -- significantly with Ontario, for instance, and a fair bit of trade with Manitoba. So, from our point of view, I'm looking for an agreement that achieves goals that are attached to real issues.

"TILMA is a broad, broad agreement, with not, in my view, clearly stated problems. So my point is, let's get to what the real problems are and let's build a real agreement. Maybe there are some things in TILMA we can learn from," he said in an interview this week, following a conference call among premiers where internal trade was a major topic of discussion.
Unfortunately, there are some problems in the general coverage within the article, as it continues the false claim that the agreement would require harmonization to the higher standard rather than harmonization period. And it's a bit worrisome that Calvert has apparently commissioned the Conference Board of Canada to do a study of economic effects given the laughable study they did to justify the agreement from B.C.'s standpoint.

But then, neither the media nor the Conference Board of Canada will ultimately get to decide the issue. With Calvert becoming (to my knowledge) the first prominent politician to point out that there's no reason for provinces to be bullied into signing the TILMA, the door is now wide open for others across the country to join the anti-TILMA crowd. And hopefully the end result will be an agreement which deals with existing labour mobility issues without needlessly preventing governments from serving their citizens.