Saturday, April 07, 2007

Correct perceptions

The CP reports that a plurality of Canadians believe industry to have a bigger say in environmental regulations than any other factor, including public opinion, science and environmental groups. And sadly, John Baird continues to go out of his way to prove them right.

On poor organization

An interesting tidbit from Susan Delacourt, as the much-ballyhooed Con election machine apparently isn't yet equipped to keep track of the Cons' own candidates:
(T)his week, Harper's Conservatives invited reporters out to an industrial park in Ottawa's east end to show off the party's readiness for the ground war. The Tories have leased 17,000 square feet of space and filled it with snazzy computers, specialized "desk" units and a fully equipped TV studio.

There's one thing, though – if you ask this highly sophisticated operation for the names of Conservative candidates on the ground, you're out of luck. "Sorry, can't help," the Star was told when it asked for the names of duly nominated Tory hopefuls in about a dozen or so interesting ridings across Canada.

The Liberals, on the other hand, who are supposed to be highly disorganized and unready for a campaign, were able to supply those Conservative candidates' names in under a half an hour. Go figure.
I suppose there's an argument to be made that since individual Con candidates aren't intended to do anything more than repeat talking points from on high in any event, it doesn't matter who the candidate is for a riding. But there's no apparent reason why the Cons would want to admit that publicly.

As a result, it seems far more likely that the Cons are so focused on attacking the Libs that they've forgotten that important first step of keeping track of who's on their side. Which in turn suggests both that it may not only be Con candidates for whom intelligence and strategy are optional - and that the Cons' big-money investments haven't paid off in the slightest.

On false moderation

Stephen Maher nicely pegs why Harper's attempts to appear relatively moderate haven't put a dent in the rightful suspicions of Canadians - and aren't likely to anytime soon:
Ted Byfield, a conservative Alberta commentator who has watched Mr. Harper for years, said in 2004 that any such moves would be merely strategic.

"I don’t think he knows how to compromise," he said. "It’s not in his genes. The issue now is: how do we fool the world into thinking we’re moving to the left when we’re not?"

Since then, on virtually every important national issue, Mr. Harper has shifted left toward the traditional Canadian consensus position. He has rarely, though, enunciated reasons for the shift, perhaps because that would mean admitting he was wrong earlier, or perhaps because he does not believe he was wrong, just that the earlier position was not acceptable politically...

Some policy flip-flops are a normal byproduct of going from opposition to government, but Mr. Harper has changed his whole platform, one item at a time, embracing everything from bilingualism, which he once called "the god that failed," to the Kyoto accord, which he called "a socialist scheme."

It looks like he would change a policy, judge whether it moved him close enough to the centre, then finding it had not, sigh and change the next policy...

These changes are different from the normal broken promises of politics — like Jean Chretien’s vow to scrap the GST or Mr. Harper’s promise on income trusts — and more like a complete transformation. And since they have not been accompanied by a public explanation, it is hard for anyone to know what Mr. Harper really thinks about things.

Average Canadians, who pay little attention to politics between elections, nonetheless seem to sense this ambiguity, perhaps in the guarded look that Mr. Harper has in his eyes from time to time.
If there's anything Maher misses, it's that there's another reason for concern beyond only Harper's lack of justification for his changes in position.

Instead, the Cons' stay in government has also been marked by a distinction between their spontaneous responses and their more calculated maneuvers. Harper's grudging moves toward the centre have, as noted by Maher, largely been based on an intention to do as little as possible as late as possible in order to appear centrist.

In contrast, his party's manner of dealing with new issues which demand an immediate response (particularly with respect to foreign policy) has generally involved taking as extreme a position as possible as quickly as possible, then refusing to retreat except to the extent absolutely necessary. And since all but the largest foreign policy issues tend to be relatively quickly forgotten, that's often resulted in little (if any) movement from the Cons' initial stances.

Based on that track record, it's easy to see that the instincts of Harper and the Cons still amount to nothing more than a cynical, centralized and corporatized version of the extreme positions which they now try to claim are in the past. And with the Cons' stay in power marked by a complete absence of principle other than a desire to reinforce that power with a majority government, Canadians have every reason to think that Harper's refusal to explain his party's change in position simply reflects the fact that he's looking to reverse course at the first politically-viable opportunity.

Friday, April 06, 2007

For those looking to act

While Olivia Chow's YouTube call for regulation of pet food has received plenty of attention, the media coverage hasn't gone so far as to mention what can be done to support Chow's drive. But for those interested, Chow has a petition available from her Take Action page, along with other suggested ways of passing along the message that Canada should join the U.S. and E.U. in making sure that pet food is kept safe.

Comparing bills

As a follow-up to this post, a commenter over at Closet Liberal tries to claim that the Veterans' Bill of Rights put into force by the Cons meaningfully resembles what veterans themselves wanted. So let's take a look at the Bill of Rights which the Royal Canadian Legion proposed a year ago, presumably in response to the Cons' promise to implement such a bill:
Canadian veterans, who have committed their lives and “service” for the freedoms Canadians enjoy today are special citizens. They deserve recognition, benefits and services to maintain an appropriate quality of life during all stages of their lives. Their special status should be recognized in all jurisdictions, federal, provincial and municipal.

Veterans have a right to be treated with courtesy, with respect and in a timely fashion in all their contacts with Veterans Affairs Canada at all levels of the Department. This respect, courtesy and timeliness of service must also be demonstrated to their families and dependants.

Veterans have a right to be fully informed of all programs and benefits to which they are eligible. In that respect, Veterans Affairs Canada has a responsibility to inform not only their current clients; it also has a responsibility to reach out in providing information to potential clients.

Veterans have a right to be provided with equal benefits in any part of the country in which they or their dependants reside. Geographical location should not determine the quality or level of service provided. Confidentiality of information must be preserved.

Veterans have a right to receive fair and equal treatment, irrespective of rank, position, or status. They should be treated with tact, comprehension and understanding. They should be involved in the decisions affecting their care and the formulation of programs and benefits.

Veterans have a right to receive referral and representational assistance in presenting their claims for benefits and services in the official language of their choice. This assistance should be broad based, and should not be restricted to governmental agencies.
In other words, the Royal Canadian Legion's original request for a bill of rights provided all the substance that the Cons' final draft doesn't: it contained substantive rights beyond those which already existed by statute, and placed a direct onus on the government to ensure that veterans were made aware of the benefits available to them (rather than merely saying that the government would pay those benefits as required). Indeed, a comparison between the two only highlights just how empty the Cons' final draft was.

Of course, it's fair enough to point out that the Royal Canadian Legion's official line is that the Cons' bill represents some progress. But that should surely come with acknowledgement that some veterans have also criticized the bill's flaws:
"It's far too vague, it's far too wishy-washy to give veterans what they really deserve," said Sean Bruyea, an ex-captain in the intelligence corps.
Meanwhile, it's also worth noting that the Cons are refusing to act on yet another reasonable request from veterans - this one for hearing aids to help veterans who may have suffered hearing loss in combat. Which adds one more reason to think the Cons' commitment to Canada's veterans doesn't extend any further than the bare minimum to provide them with an immediate political benefit.

Science and politics

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which brings into even sharper focus the potential effects of climate change, has been approved - but only after some of most significant dangers were cut out or minimized as politics were put ahead of science:
An international global warming conference approved a report on climate change Friday, chairman Rajendra Pachauri said, after a contentious marathon session that saw angry exchanges between diplomats and scientists who drafted the report...

“The authors lost,” said one participant. “A lot of authors are not going to engage in the IPCC process any more. I have had it with them,” he said on condition of anonymity because the proceedings were supposed to remain confidential. An Associated Press reporter, however, witnessed part of the final meeting.

The climax of five days of negotiations was reached when the delegates removed parts of a key chart highlighting devastating effects of climate change that kick in with every rise of 1 degree Celsius, and in a tussle over the level of confidence attached to key statements.

The United States, China and Saudi Arabia raised the most objections to the phrasing, most often seeking to tone the certainty of some of the more dire projections.

The final report is the clearest and most comprehensive scientific statement to date on the impact of global warming mainly caused by man-induced carbon dioxide pollution.

It predicts that up to 30 per cent of species face an increase (sic) risk of extinction if global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius above the average in the 1980s and 90s.
In other words, never mind privatizing the "highway to extinction"; instead, the U.S. and others apparently managed to have that route removed from the map entirely. Which only means that there'll be less way to determine where'll we end up if the anti-environment faction manages to keep us on that road.

In the longer term, we'll have to hope that the scientists who are now rightfully frustrated with having their work rewritten by political hacks will decide not to abandon the IPCC as a result - lest the same type of anti-science hack write the next set of reports from the beginning.

For now, though, the report should show that even the most irresponsible countries are no longer willing to pretend that climate change is anything but a serious problem which demands immediate action. And if the report helps to spur that kind of action forward, then its specific wording may be secondary to the good it can do to shape the political scene.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A fairly serious problem

I couldn't disagree much more thoroughly with Aaron Wherry's attack on the use of "fairer" and "fairness" as viable political themes. And the difference goes to both semantics and substance: I'd think most people would acknowledge that fairness can be evaluated on a spectrum rather than an all-or-nothing concept as suggested by Wherry, and there's plenty of room for Canada's public policy to reflect a far higher standard of fairness.

But in using the Libs' recent framing as an excuse to try to push "fairness" language outside the political sphere, Wherry does hint at one of the biggest problems with the Libs' current strategy. By trying to use the language of fairness so regularly to refer to both their own personal slights and to larger social issues (with a heavy emphasis on the former), the Libs are only draining the message of meaning and encouraging Canadians to ask just why it should matter what Dion labels as "unfair".

Unfortunately, if Dion and company can't get their message on track in a hurry by sorting out just what they mean by fairness and how it actually matters to Canadians in general, the resulting harms may extend far beyond the Libs' own prospects. What's at stake may be the likelihood of making real fairness (as in genuine equality of opportunity) a goal seen as worth pursuing in Canada's political discussion over the short to medium term, rather than a butt of jokes for the likes of Wherry. And it can only be unfair to Canadians who would benefit from nothing more than fair treatment if the Libs' confused message helps to push such a goal beyond their grasp.

A false bill of sale

Remarkably, the Cons' "declare victory and leave" strategy on wait times may not even have made for their most embarrassingly empty piece of electioneering this week. It was sad enough when Harper announced a Veterans' Bill of Rights without having even the slightest clue what was supposed to be included. But judging from what appears to be the actual document, the Cons have scrupulously avoided providing anything of substance to veterans.

The entire list of "rights" set out by the Cons is as follows:
You have the right to:
o Be treated with respect, dignity, fairness and courtesy.
o Take part in discussions that involve you and your family.
o Have someone with you for support when you deal with Veterans Affairs.
o Receive clear, easy-to-understand information about our programs and services, in English or French, as set out in the Official Languages Act.
o Have your privacy protected as set out in the Privacy Act.
o Receive benefits and services as set out in our published service standards and to know your appeal rights.
o You have the right to make a complaint and have the matter looked into if you feel that any of your rights have not been upheld.
In other words, the most substantive of the supposedly new "rights" granted to Canadian veterans consist of nothing more than a restatement of what already exists under other laws. And indeed, the specific references to the Official Languages Act, Privacy Act and "published service standards" strongly imply that if the Cons are able to change these for the worse, then veterans will explicitly share in the loss of that benefit.

Meanwhile, the Cons themselves have voted against actual improvements to the benefits available to veterans' widows. But then, "honest government" doesn't appear either in the bill of rights, or in the Cons' general vocabulary.

Unfortunately, it doesn't get any better from there. Most of the remaining "rights" are nothing more than basic principles of natural justice, which should likewise apply to all Canadians. (Unless the Cons think that only veterans should be able to take part in discussions which affect their interests, to bring another person for support in dealing with government entities, or to make complaints.)

Which means that we're now down to the first clause - which would itself easily be lumped into the category of "things that should be reasonably expected by anybody dealing with the government" if it weren't too vague to be even remotely enforceable.

In sum, the Cons' much-publicized announcement effectively amounts to nothing more than a declaration that the law which applies to Canadians generally also applies to veterans. And that lack of honesty in what the Cons have presented - not to mention their broken promise on widows' benefits - can only be seen as antithetical to the respect the Cons pretend to hold for those who have fought for Canada.

Nicely done

It takes some effort to come up with a suitable amount of derision for PMS' announcement that the Cons have kept their wait-times promise through their laughable budget announcement and subsequent one-procedure agreements. So kudos to Scott Feschuk for doing the job.

A needed push

It's been a couple of days since IP praised Nathan Cullen for his message on the need to work with other parties. But with Parliament out of session at the moment, Cullen is going out of his way to work with more than just his political friends and rivals.

Babbler Ken S sets out the big picture:
Nathan Cullen is on a national speaking tour right now encouraging environmentalists to speak up so that the government feels the pressure. I saw him in Halifax today.

That's a measure of his personal commitment. Nathan is by no means assured of re-election and this parliamentary break is prime time for incumbents to be pressing the flesh at home.
And for a more local perspective, Northern Life wrote about his stop in Sudbury earlier this week:
NDP Environment Critic Nathan Cullen is on a five-day Canada-wide tour that stops in Sudbury Tuesday to hear from ordinary Canadians about their environmental concerns and learn more about local sustainability initiatives.

Cullen will also be informing Canadians of the NDP’s victory in achieving real progress on climate change by engineering the complete revision of the Conservatives’ failed Clean Air Act...

Cullen’s Sudbury visit will include meetings with local environmental organizations, a meeting with Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez, and a visit to local campuses that are engaging in sustainability research.
Credit certainly goes to Cullen for his willingness to make a cross-country push to pass the amended C-30 his top priority over what's increasingly looking like a pre-campaign period.

But the biggest question is whether the tour is likely to make a difference in the Cons' thinking. And while it hasn't been particularly well reported, the NDP's track record of forcing results is an impressive one, as past coordinated efforts within the community have forced the Cons to follow through on investments contained in the Libs' previous budget, as well as to move forward with needed funding for housing on multiple occasions.

Of course, Bill C-30 may run into a far more entrenched Con position. But enough of a push from the environmental movement may well be the factor which makes the Cons choose not to be seen as the party which held up sorely-needed progress. And hopefully Cullen's tour will help to make sure that the Cons get the message.

A top five unemployed political mind

Shorter Gerry Nichols:
Will make Stephen Harper look like a Marxist revolutionary for food.

(Edit: fixed label.)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


As promised, let's look in a bit more detail at Andrew Coyne's suggestion that the three opposition parties work together to form a governing coalition in the event that Harper requests a trip to the polls. While I'd welcome the possibility of such a coalition, there are two serious obstacles to it managing to emerge.

The first is simply a matter of timing. I presume that it's most likely that on the Cons demanding an election, Michaelle Jean wouldn't likely call on another party to take power unless she had already received some indication that a stable coalition would be possible. Which means that the opposition parties would have to put vital resources into hammering out at least the broad terms of any coalition ahead of time, then signal their intentions publicly before Harper brought his own government down.

And that presents some significant downside risk based on the uncertainty as to the Governor General's reaction. If Jean were to choose to accept Harper's request for an election rather than offering an opportunity for other parties to form government, then each party which was willing to participate in the coalition would then be easily painted as having accepted the faults of every other coalition party, with no opportunity to make up for that perception with a stay in power. Or to be more precise, the NDP and Libs would each face all the downside of a formal electoral coalition, without the benefit of having a better chance of any single seat.

While that problem is one which would be in place no matter how badly each opposition party wanted to form a coalition, the second goes to the question of whether a coalition can be formed at all. With the Bloc having supported the Cons' budget based entirely on the amount of money provided to Quebec, there's not likely any way they could then turn around and accept a budget which offered less. Meanwhile, at last notice the Libs were still sticking to the position that the amount provided was intended as a resolution to a phony problem to begin with.

The obvious solution would be for the Libs to find a reason to justify supporting the same amount of funding in a coalition budget, if perhaps not based on "fiscal imbalance" language. While that might require some fancy footwork and a bit of backtracking from Dion, it could also be used as evidence that the Libs' new leader is no less politically astute than Harper if it succeeds in keeping the Cons from choosing the timing of an election.

One other way around the budget problem would be for the opposition parties to simply surprise the Cons by failing to oppose the budget such that it passed automatically (and this time intentionally!), then launching their coalition afterward to govern within the Cons' fiscal framework. Once again, a daring maneuver - but also likely one that would work wonders in shattering the myth that Harper is fully in control of Canada's political scene.

Of course, any benefit to the image of any opposition party would be based on such maneuvers succeeding in creating a stable government. As a result, if there's any doubt about whether all parties could be trusted to keep working together (and likely in the face of a series of Con opposition motions/bills designed to split them), it may oddly be a safer course of action to simply go to the polls and see what happens.

That said, I'd still like to see at least some effort by the Libs and NDP to see if a coalition can be put together. But it's worth recognizing now what the downsides are, to ensure that they can be minimized if things don't work out as hoped.


Shorter Jason Cherniak:
I'd rather see a Harper majority than a Dipper in cabinet.

(More about Andrew Coyne's coalition suggestion later.)

Update: I've discussed before the difference between a partisan (which I'd consider myself), and a hyperpartisan - see the comments to this post for one distinction between the two. But I'd might as well point out a prime example based on Cherniak's view that he doesn't want to see a coalition government lest the NDP's credibility improve as a result of its members successfully holding federal cabinet positions:

A partisan wants to keep power out of his/her opponents' hands to avoid the risk that they'll use it badly; a hyperpartisan wants to keep power out of his/her opponents' hands to avoid the risk that they'll use it well.

Con/Lib Inc.

So much for all the talk about the Libs supposedly moving to the left to offer an alternative to the Cons, as those parties' respective members of the International Trade Committee couldn't agree more in wanting to divert federal resources toward more free-trade agreements and U.S. integration:
A Commons committee is urging the federal government to invest a lot more money and effort into securing bilateral trade and investment deals around the world.

The international trade committee calls for a 50 per cent increase in federal spending on trade and investment promotion, including more trips abroad by Canadian officials and MPs.

However, NDP and Bloc Quebecois MPs on the committee warn some of the 22 recommendations in the report tabled late last week pose an economic, social or political threat...

The NDP dissenting report is especially critical of recommendations urging greater integration of the Canadian economy into the U.S. dominated North American economy...

“Generally, the report is based on the assumption that fast-tracking deregulation and blind faith in bilateral free trade will create sustainable and positive prosperity and employment,” the NDP says in its dissenting report...

“This report, based on an ideology that was popular in the 1980s and 1990s and according to which market openness has no harmful secondary effects and no need for safeguards, is now completely outmoded and unsuited to Quebec’s economic reality,” the Bloc report stated.
Of course, both the Libs and Cons are fighting each other for the backing of corporate Canada (which presumably has much to do with the "natural governing party" status that each wants to claim). Which means that it's not entirely surprising that neither wants to go on record pointing out the real concerns about yet another round of deregulation and integration.

But then, the Libs' calls for effective government are bound to ring hollow one it's pointed out that they're eager to restrain government action as long as it's matched by a similar commitment in another country. And one would think that the official opposition would at least be willing to point out some issues with the Security and Prosperity Partnership to at least shape where future talks end up going, rather than simply choosing not to deal with it (or worse yet providing what sounds like unconditional supprt).

As usual, it's worth clarifying that expanding trade is indeed a worthy effort, and the recommendation to increase and improve Canada's presence abroad should be followed. But there's no reason why such an effort has to be accompanied by agreements to tie down Canada's governments. And ultimately, Canadians who want effective governments at both the provincial and federal levels should be just as concerned about the Libs' willingness to limit our scope of action through agreement as they are about the Cons' plan to dismantle the state from within.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


The Cons demonstrate another example of their belief that accountability doesn't apply to money sent to the provinces, as word comes out that the Harper government isn't bothering to check up on how provinces have spent the money provided under the federal/provincial health-care accord despite the provinces' agreement that they'd submit data as to how the money was spent:
(T)he federal and provincial governments have quietly abandoned one of the key elements of the 2003 first ministers' health accord, which was the requirement for accountability in the spending of billions of federal health dollars.

Jeanne Besner, interim chair of the Health Council of Canada, reported earlier this year that it is impossible to know where the federal money is going because provinces have not provided the necessary data.

"We are unable to say where the provinces and territories are investing funds from the federal health-care agreements because no financial breakdowns are provided," she said in her 2007 report.

The 2003 accord required that provinces provide comparable health indicators but they have not done so, and the federal-provincial committee overseeing the work has been disbanded, Besner said.
Of course, some of the blame has to lie with the previous Lib regime for also failing to follow through on securing the required data. But unlike the Cons, they at least left the structures in place which would have enabled the federal government to figure out where the money was spent.

In the face of today's news, the largest question going forward is how the provinces will react to the Cons' abandonment of the reporting requirement. For now, they figure to be happy to have no obligations associated with a large pile of money. But it seems all the more likely that the Cons are merely hinting at their long-term disinterest in health care, child care and other priorities by refusing to make sure money is spent wisely in those areas now. And if the provinces react with short-sighted approval which provides a boost to Harper, they stand to lose out more than anybody in the long run as the Cons' antipathy for effective social programs gets reflected in non-minority budgets.

On goalposts

Gordon O'Connor offers his take on how long he plans to keep Canada's military in Afghanistan - and suggests once again that as long as the Cons are in power, they don't care how much reason there may be to bring our troops home:
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor says Canada will stay in Afghanistan until the progress that's been made becomes irreversible by the extremists who still threaten the country.
Remarkably, O'Connor doesn't even seem to suggest that a NATO or U.S. pullout would be enough for him to want to bring Canadian troops home. Instead, he wants to keep Canada's military in Afghanistan it succeeds where both the Soviet Union and the U.S. have failed.

And if that weren't bad enough, the standard chosen by O'Connor is one that simply can't reasonably be reached. After all, it's hard to see how any change could possibly become "irreversible" in the mind of anybody with even the slightest grasp on reality. Though of course the standard may leave the door open for a "declare victory then leave" strategy which few Con supporters would question.

If there's any solace in O'Connor's latest statement, it's that there's no particular reason to think that he has any more idea what he's talking about now than he normally does. But that offers precious little relief as long as O'Connor - or anybody else suffering from the same detachment from reality - remains in a position to dictate (or at least parrot) Canada's military policy.

Shocking and awful

There have been a few comments on yesterday's media tour of the Cons' campaign headquarters. But even this seemingly innocuous paragraph helps to hint at the serious problems behind the Cons' facade:
There were no employees toiling in the headquarters during Monday's visit -- but in a main room that holds about 100 brand-new desks, the computers were plugged in and running.
Keep in mind that the forthcoming election will be one where every other party is going out of its way to be environmentally friendly: the Libs and Greens have stated their intention to pay for emission credits to counter the effects of the campaign, while the NDP is looking for ways to reduce its emissions in the first place.

Against that backdrop, the Cons have firmly established themselves as the party of conspicuous and wasteful consumption, running a room full of computers even with no staff present for the sake of impressing the media.

Of course, there may be one other reason for the Cons to see a need to turn the computers on for the benefit of the press. With their track record of playing fast and loose with the facts, it could well be that anything short of completely visible screens would have led the Cons' guests to wonder what might only have been a prop:

"While Baird claimed to be walking us through a room full of computers, the furthest two rows or more could easily have been made out of Lego. And I could swear I saw a few TS 1000s mixed in."

Either way, though, the Cons can only be seen as irresponsible - whether based on a callous tendency toward overconsumption, or on their facing a chronic credibility deficit of their own making. And if voters catch on to those problems, all the spotlights and TelePrompters in the world won't be able to help the Cons stay in power.

Monday, April 02, 2007


In case there was any risk of the Cons' "child-care funding" to the provinces actually producing demonstrable results, Monte Solberg makes it absolutely clear that the Cons don't have the attention span or interest in the subject to bother following up on how the money is spent:
The federal Conservative government has little appetite for imposing strict rules on how provinces and territories spend the $250-million it will transfer to them this fiscal year to create up to 25,000 promised child-care spaces, according to the minister responsible for the file.

Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg also says unlike the nascent child-care plan of the former Liberal government, the Conservative government will not establish national child-care standards...

Solberg said he has put his provincial-and-territorial counterparts "on notice" the federal government expects them to use their share of the $250-million to build on their child-care systems...

Solberg also said he expects the public in each province and territory to play the key role of holding their respective governments' feet to the fire on how the money is spent.

The money for spaces is less than one-third of what the former Liberal government had promised over the next few years to help finance a national system of early learning and child care. Under the plan, which the Conservatives cancelled, money was supposed to flow only to centres providing quality spaces at affordable prices that also offered an educational component.
Unfortunately, it's probably not too likely that the Bloc would go along with the possibility that the Cons' funding for this year can be directed into a statutory framework to actually produce demonstrable results. Which means that there may not be much more we can do for now than to point out the Cons' irresponsibility.

But that's still deserving of some serious attention. After all, it's a downright remarkable announcement to declare that the criteria of "quality", "affordable" and "education" are apparently judged by the Cons as far too restrictive. (I for one would be very interested in finding out which regions of the country the Cons see as not wanting to bother with those outcomes for their children - but it remains to be seen whether Solberg will be called on the statement.)

Ultimately, Solberg's announcement offers yet another example of the Cons spending only for the sake of spending - without enough interest to follow up on where the money goes. Which only goes to show just how little commitment the Cons have both to the programs which they're nominally funding, and to the accountability which they once claimed to value.

Governing priorities

Robert points out another example of the Cons recognizing no difference between their party apparatus and the Government of Canada. But it's worth noting that the issue could go beyond just a bit of unseemliness, and rise to the level of wilful non-enforcement of a law for the Cons' partisan benefit.

Take a look at this section of the Trade-marks Act:
9. (1) No person shall adopt in connection with a business, as a trade-mark or otherwise, any mark consisting of, or so nearly resembling as to be likely to be mistaken for,...

(d) any word or symbol likely to lead to the belief that the wares or services in association with which it is used have received, or are produced, sold or performed under, royal, vice-regal or governmental patronage, approval or authority;
It's probably debatable whether Flaherty's drive for re-election falls into the definition of "a business" under this section. (Though I would hope political parties' and candidates' activities would be included in the definition, lest a campaign turn into a battle of duelling government endorsements.) But aside from that question, it seems that it would be a violation of the Trade-marks Act to pretend that the Cons' own press releases should be considered the "Government of Canada News Updates".

The problem is that however appropriate it would be to test the reach of the provision, it's highly unlikely that we'll ever get to find out whether Flaherty is indeed in violation. After all, the Cons are in control of the means to decide whether or not to pursue anybody for violating the government's rights under the Trade-marks Act. Which conveniently means that as long as they're in power and have no scruples about what they label as belonging to the "Government of Canada", they can hijack the phrase with impunity to their partisan activities. (And it'll be worth keeping an eye out to see whether Con-friendly corporate groups also get similar favourable treatment.)

Of course, it shouldn't be any surprise for the Cons to put partisan ends ahead of the integrity of Canadian government. But this could be only the tip of the iceberg of how the Cons may be willing to selectively enforce the law for their own benefit...and it'll be important to uncover as much of that iceberg as possible before Canada next goes to the polls.

Choosing one's sources

A particularly interesting tidbit from the Globe and Mail's followup story on the Cons' stillborn (for now) Defence of Religions Act, as one e-mail which kicked off the drafting process gives us a strong indication as to what the Cons consider to be a credible source of information:
Lisa Hitch, the Justice Department's senior counsel, held a meeting last September to discuss the existing protections for religious freedoms contained in the Civil Marriage Act passed in 2005 under the Liberals.

She also sent e-mails to her colleagues titled "Possible amendment to the Criminal Code."

Ms. Hitch's reference materials included a private member's bill on religious freedom, since defeated in the Alberta legislature, from Conservative MPP Ted Morton, with links to socially conservative websites such as;; and a website that does not currently work called ""
Given what amounts to an endorsement of these sites from a senior government official, it should make for an interesting project to show just what can be found among the Cons' "reference materials". And a thorough examination of what the Cons consider to be a reliable source should work wonders to ensure that a party better grounded in reality replaces Harper's band of merry so-cons before too long.

On real consultations

Others have noted that the TILMA had officially taken effect in Alberta and B.C. But it's still a wide open question as to how much further the anti-government pact will spread - and an upcoming set of consultations in Saskatchewan may lead to a significant turning point one way or the other:
The NDP government plans to hold public consultations on the controversial Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) between Alberta and British Columbia, Government Relations Minister Harry Van Mulligen said this week.

Van Mulligen hopes the provincial cabinet will make a decision on whether Saskatchewan should join TILMA in about three months, he said...

Van Mulligen said Thursday the government had completed an "exhaustive internal examination" of the deal.

That includes an economic impact study done by the Conference Board of Canada as well as a review of the effects it will have on the government and public policy.

"We now want to set the stage for a public dialogue on TILMA and, generally, internal trade. But we have not yet concluded the structure for that dialogue.

I expect this will be something that will be sorted out in the next week or so," he said.

Possible actions include public hearings and invitations for submissions.

It's somewhat disappointing for the provincial government to be backtracking from Calvert's previous concern about the TILMA. But the question now is whether Saskatchewan's public will be able to mount a strong enough case against the TILMA to outweigh the fact-free rantings in favour of the agreement.

And lest we forget, there have been loads of those. Here's a quick review of the most-often-heard spin so far:

- "The TILMA requires harmonization to the higher standard, so nobody's regulations will be weakened." (It doesn't. In fact, it encourages zero regulation across the board in the long term, and doesn't say how current regulations should be reconciled in the meantime.)

- It'll bring about untold billions in benefits. (If one isn't too concerned with actually evaluating its effects plausibly.)

- "If we don't like what it says, we can just stack arbitration panels to pretend it says something else". (Seriously.)

- "The TILMA will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% while creating 14,000 new jobs. The TILMA supports our troops. The TILMA is love." (We haven't heard it yet, but can it be far behind?)

If there's a bright side to the sheer absurdity of the arguments made in favour of the TILMA so far, it's that they should be easily knocked down by the municipalities, unions, and other citizens who want Saskatchewan to maintain its ability to act in the public interest. And with any luck - and plenty of effort to try to counterbalance the TILMA's place in the province's right-wing noise machine - that'll be the end result three months from now.

Update: How silly of me to forget the claim that Canada's future well-being will be defined by the colour of margarine in Quebec. But Stephen Taylor is sure to bring it up as part of Macleans' predictable pro-TILMA love-in. Can somebody please wake up Maude Barlow?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007


The CP reports that while it's not yet clear how Quebec's political parties will cooperate following last week's election, one possible point of agreement may be a push toward proportional representation, as key figures from each major provincial party are trying to move the province toward PR:
Several high-profile political figures in Quebec are calling for sweeping changes to the province's electoral laws.

They want Quebec to adopt a system of proportional representation in time for the next provincial election...

Among those calling for changes are former Liberal MP Liza Frulla, ex-Parti Quebecois cabinet ministers Jean-Pierre Charbonneau and Louise Beaudoin, as well as the Action democratique du Quebec's first leader, Jean Allaire.
It's particularly interesting to note the stark difference between Quebec's history of majority governments, and the new recognition of the better representation that could result from PR.

While the move is positive enough for Quebec alone, the timing also couldn't be much better on a national scale. After all, given the tendency for other parts of Canada to look to Quebec to send signals as to political trends, any all-party agreement as to the value of more fair representation can only turn up the heat on the federal Cons to at least give PR a fair hearing, rather seeking to bury it through a stacked consultation process. And even if the Cons prefer to try to fight a Quebec consensus, the federal opposition could see this as another fruitful area for cooperation to effectively ensure that Harper won't come out of the next federal election with a majority.

Of course, any progress on the federal level will likely only come after Quebec takes some strong action first. But today's (however unfortunately timed) announcement looks to be a big step in the right direction.

Classified disinformation

Surely this part of Wajid Khan's Question Period appearance has to be the worst April Fool's joke of all:
Khan was unwilling to give a clear answer, however, when asked about whether he would be submitting a report about that trip.

"I would not want to jeopardize the security of our troops. I would not want to compromise national security," Khan said.
About the most charitable possible interpretation is that Khan simply didn't bother listening to the question before spouting off the Cons' usual spin to justify not sharing any findings with anybody besides PMS.

But is it possible that Khan honestly believes that even saying whether or not he will be submitting a report would result in a threat to national security? And if so, why was he so willing to endanger our security last year with his clear (if inaccurate) answer to exactly the same question?

A heavy toll

The AP discusses a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report mapping the "highway to extinction" as temperatures increase. No word yet as to the federal Cons' response to the draft report, but the smart money is on a plan to privatize the highway.