Saturday, April 28, 2007

On irrational fears

Jonathan Chevreau (with thoroughly one-sided sourcing from Paul DioGuardi) launches into the most shrill whine imaginable about the Canada Revenue Agency - featuring such shocking horror stories as "the CRA actually allows people to report tax evasion!" and "if you get caught criminally evading taxes, you could go to jail!"

I'd be tempted to ask just how Chevreau and DioGuardi think a tax system should work. But considering how outraged they are by the mere existence of enforcement mechanisms, it doesn't seem beyond the realm of possibility that they'd honestly see an entirely voluntary system as more practical and fair than one that actually functions.

On deflection

It's been clear for some time that the Gordon O'Connor detainee fiasco would offer one of the strongest tests of the Cons' willingness (or lack thereof) to admit mistakes and create internal lines of responsibility. And not surprisingly, the Cons have responded exactly as would be expected from a party which thinks that accountability is something that only happens to Liberals...with the latest news being that they're trying to deflect blame from O'Connor by saying others should have started doing his job sooner:
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor feels he has been left to twist in the wind by his cabinet colleagues, senior federal sources said yesterday as finger-pointing burst into the open over the government's handling of the Afghan detainee crisis.

A senior defence official, seeking to present Mr. O'Connor's views as he fights for his political life, said the Defence Minister feels he has been shouldering the blame for Canada's policies toward Afghan detainees for more than a year.

It was only after Mr. O'Connor ran into trouble in the House of Commons this week amid new reports of prisoner torture, that other cabinet ministers were brought in to defend the government.

“He didn't have any support for a year,” the official said. “This week, [other ministers] started to stand up because the Prime Minister gave the green light. He had been alone for a year. ...The minister is a team player. If his job is to take flak for everybody, he will take it.”
The problem, of course, is that the problem has come up on a file while is supposed to be within O'Connor's ministerial responsibility. Which would make for a very good reason why O'Connor should indeed be charged with answering questions as to how the matter was handled, rather than diverting that task to whichever of the Cons' other ministers or parliamentary secretaries draws the short straw on a given day.

In fact, all the Cons' new strategy does is to try to pretend that a minister's missteps can be ignored if somebody else is left to answer for them. And sorely as O'Connor deserves to be fired for bungling his job, it's an more damning sign of a government which has no interest in individual accountability to simply remove responsible parties from the spotlight in the hope that others can better obfuscate over what was done wrong.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Micromanagement run amok

The Cons have rightly been receiving almost nothing but bad press this week for a particularly egregious combination of bad government and bad politics. But Tony Clement may have managed to beat out Harper, O'Connor, Baird and all the rest in both departments...albeit with much less fanfare:
Health Minister Tony Clement was put in a tight spot yesterday at a children's health summit in Ottawa where he was a keynote speaker.

After his speech, Mr. Clement declined an invitation to sign a document called "Canada's Child Health Declaration."

Fielding questions from reporters afterwards, Mr. Clement said it was his job to collect feedback and take it from there.

"I'm the messenger. So I get to take the declaration and, of course, present it to the prime minister," he said.

The declaration, three paragraphs long, states that children's health must be a national priority.

"While Canada offers outstanding opportunities for growth and development, children in Canada face many health challenges that threaten their ability to reach their full potential. Addressing those challenges and ensuring that the children of Canada have the best possible health must be a national priority," says the declaration.

"As Child Health Champions, we share a vision that all children in Canada have access to a safe and secure environment; opportunities for optimal health and development; and access to a full range of health services and resources," it continues.

"We, the undersigned, are committed to working together to realize this vision, so that the children of Canada will be among the healthiest children in the world."
It's hard to imagine a more innocuous or easily-supported declaration. But Clement's response seems to indicate that there's a need to "collect feedback" before the government could possibly consider signing on. Which would seem to reflect an assumption on Clement's part that there's an anti-healthy-children lobby which needs to have its voice heard as well.

Of course, the complete refusal to make a decision as a government representative can be taken as simply an abundance of caution on Clement's part. But on that level, Clement's action hints at the deeper problems within the Cons' internal structure, suggesting that Harper's micromanagement has reached the point where a cabinet minister can't so much as sign a non-controversial and non-binding declaration without getting a go-ahead from the PMO. And if PMS really can't stand to allow anything to happen within his organization without personal approval, then it's long past time to return him to the type of entity where that's at least reasonably possible.

A slightly adjusted diet

JimBobby is close to nailing the best analogy for the Cons' reliance on intensity targets. But it's worth noting that even he's a bit too generous, as the Cons' intensity targets won't even ensure that emissions growth slows down if industries decide they can more efficiently meet the targets through increased production.

So let's tweak JimBobby's analogy just a bit.

The Cons' plan is the equivalent of a man being told by his doctor that he's overweight, out of shape and needs to start unclogging his arteries immediately, and saying to himself: "I need to start eating healthier. So I'll count my cholesterol carefully, and make sure that I take in 20% less cholesterol as a proportion of the food that I eat."

But then, he decides that he enjoys his current diet too much to give up any of the foods he currently eats - and instead chooses to eat an extra meal a day of zero-cholesterol food. While he gets a few extra nutrients, his weight increases all the more, and his arteries continue to clog. And the end result is an even earlier grave than in JimBobby's analogy.

Again, the ultimate folly of intensity targets is in the "extra-meal" possibility - the scenario where businesses meet their targets - and perhaps even earn large quantities of credits by exceeding their targets - through ramped-up production rather than any conservation at all. Politically, it may be a smart play since it could encourage some businesses to increase production in the short term, with the need to actually reduce emissions left until far down the road. But the end result is nowhere near the diet that's needed for a healthy planet.

A limited partnership

Thanks to Peter Julian and the NDP, Canadians are in the midst of receiving a much better idea what's involved in the Security and Prosperity Partnership. But the CP reports that one of the few publicly-released details of the current discussions seems to confirm many of the worst suspicions about the process:
There's an outcry on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border over an abrupt move by American officials to drop plans to pre-clear travellers and reduce costly congestion at land crossings.

Many are viewing it as a major black mark on bilateral relations since a co-operative measure publicly championed by the White House has been unceremoniously dumped by the Homeland Security Department...

The main sticking point was Homeland's unwillingness to accept Canada's legal problem with having U.S. authorities take fingerprints of people who approach the border but decide not to cross.

Canadian law doesn't permit fingerprinting unless someone volunteers or has been charged with a crime.

Canada's assurances that it would co-operate in investigating any suspicious person who approaches the border weren't enough, said one Capitol Hill source.

"The Attorney General's office really just wants to grab as much biometric information as it can," said the source.

Canada won't consider any proposal that doesn't comply with Canadian law, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said Thursday in Ottawa.

But he's hopeful the U.S. will come back to the table.
Of course, it's for the best that Canada is publicly refusing to play along. But Day's supposed reassurance seems likely only to highlight the serious risks involved in continued discussions, rather than offering any indication that Canada will be able to maintain its sovereignty as the SPP process goes forward.

After all, it's hard to see how any government negotiating with the Bush administration could have expected anything other than a demand that Canada serve as an intelligence-gathering agency for the U.S. It's all too likely that the Harper government will eventually follow the same pattern it applied on softwood lumber, seeking to impose the U.S.' demands on Canada (by changing Canadian law to allow the demanded fingerprint collection) for the sake of getting a deal done rather than defending Canada's interests. And indeed the Cons' track record will likely provide a reason for the U.S. to think it can get away with making a firm demand of its every whim, no matter what Canadian law may say.

Needless to say, that's the kind of partnership that Canada is far better off avoiding. And hopefully the public airing of both the U.S.' current demands and the Canadian side of the story will make sure that the SPP process doesn't go any further in its current form.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On sycophants

Shorter Brian Laghi and sources:
Gosh, is Stephen Harper ever brilliant. He's so amazingly great and wonderful that I'm surprised he's losing any face over his government's incompetence and lies. Because that's not what a truly credible genius like Harper would normally do.

Not even close

If there was any doubt that the Cons' latest sad excuse for an environmental plan would remain a product of the Alliance anti-Kyoto legacy, consider this. After loudly trumpeting their belief in "Kyoto's principles" while (rightly) slamming the Libs for failing to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 8 years after signing Kyoto, the Cons are not only tearing up the treaty from Canada's end, but also planning to delay for another 18 years before even meeting Canada's first-phase Kyoto targets.

And for all the Cons' talk about the Libs failing to take action for 13 years, even the first set of weak absolute emission targets isn't supposed to come into effect until 14 years after the Cons first took office.

In sum, the Cons have loudly unveiled yet another dud. And hopefully it'll be subject to enough rightful backlash to force the Cons to work with the real emission reduction plan agreed to by the other parties in Parliament.

On pre-electioneering

It doesn't appear to have received much attention in the midst of a busy week in Canadian politics. But Pat Martin's suggestion that Elections Canada regulate political party advertising outside of election campaigns as well as within them is one which deserves plenty more discussion (note: follow second headline link for article):
The Conservatives' spring offensive TV ads and the Liberals' recent radio ads are not considered election expenses, so the sky's the limit, but Canada's Chief Electoral Officer should finally impose limits on the amount of money registered political parties can spend on pre-writ campaigning, says NDP MP Pat Martin.

Mr. Martin (Winnipeg Centre, Man.) said political parties with larger campaign war chests have an unfair advantage over those that don't.

"Financing politics in Canada is a complete free-for-all. It's like the Wild West without regulation or limits where brute force wins the day and whoever has the bigger gun dominates, at least when you're outside the writ period, which is contrary to the stated objective of getting big money out of politics to create a level playing field. So, I think the new chief electoral officer should consider a spending limit on advertising in between elections..." said Mr. Martin in an interview with The Hill Times...
In light of the flurry of advertising this spring, Martin's idea will likely resonate with Canadians who are tired of constant campaigning. At the same time, though, there's almost certainly some room for refinement of the idea based on when the ad expenditures take place.

In particular, I wonder whether it's possible to distinguish between non-election advertising generally, and that which is timed to coincide with a planned start to a campaign (so as to serve effectively as election advertising). It would seem reasonable to make an effort to account for money spent on advertising in the week or month before the writ is dropped as an election expense - as the parties will presumably have plenty of knowledge as to when the election period is likely to start, and will gain just as much within an election from spending money a day before the campaign starts as the day after. Meanwhile, a separate limit on expenses which don't fall immediately before an election period could help to reduce public fatigue with political advertising.

Of course, there's another factor at play which may be easily overlooked based on the Cons' currently holding a resource advantage in party money and pressure-group support as well as the reins of power. If additional limits are placed only on political party advertising, then that could create an artificial advantage for both the governing party (which of course can effectively win advertising for itself through program announcements), and any party with relatively coordinated outside support which could engage in favourable advertising outside the writ period.

All of which means that there's plenty more that can be done to limit the pervasiveness of political advertising - along with many factors that need to be taken into consideration in shaping such a system. But it's definitely worth considering how it's possible to both reduce the influence of money in politics, and discourage political parties from taking as large a bite out of the airwaves as they do...and hopefully Martin's suggestion will help to get that discussion going.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Don't speak

Is there any more sure sign of a party with nothing useful to say than its own MPs giving a standing ovation to the idea of its members shutting up?

Update: Towards a Just Society points out that at least one Lib evidently wasn't swayed by the pro-silence rally. And it only seems likely that Lib dissent will become even more consistently anonymous now that there's been a formal warning against speaking out.

On cooperation

So much for the Libs' false attempts to claim that it's the NDP standing in the way of progressive cooperation. Blogging Horse points out that the NDP attempted to work out an agreed opposition motion on Afghanistan, both through party-to-party negotiations and through a proposed amendment. And it's the Libs who utterly refused - preferring their ill-advised attempt to corner the NDP over any attempt to work together.

Unfortunately, it looks like the new motion forthcoming from the NDP will now be targeted toward leaving no doubt about the NDP's current position, rather than winning support from the Libs and the Bloc.

But hopefully it isn't too late for the NDP to instead put forward on its own the compromise which presumably neither the Libs nor the Bloc would dare vote against directly - i.e. "withdrawal by or before February 2009", without any explicit approval or disapproval of the mission in the meantime. Which would put the Libs in an equally tight spot politically as the apparently-planned motion - while at the same time both sending Harper a clear signal that the Kandahar mission needs to be wound down, and building the NDP's credentials as the party able to build consensus against the Cons.

On rubber stamps

Following up on this post and the comments on it, let's go into a bit more detail about what yesterday's Afghanistan vote means for the Libs (not to mention the Bloc, though I'll focus on the Libs since they were already the party responsible for the Cons' Afghanistan extension).

For all the valid criticisms that exist about the Afghanistan mission and how the Cons have handled it, the Libs have bizarrely chosen to offer their unanimous support to continuing the status quo. While the Libs looked hypocritical enough in criticizing parts of the war which started while they were in power, they'll look even more ridiculous now that they've specifically approved of how the Cons are running it. And that goes doubly since it was the Libs themselves who chose their wording, and can thus be taken to task for what they needlessly included and left out.

For example, there's plenty of need to worry about whether Gordon O'Connor has anywhere near the basic honesty and competence that should be demanded of anyone responsible for the lives of Canadian troops. But the Libs have voted in favour of leaving the mission in his hands - and they've done so unanimously.

There's a genuine need for concern that Canadian troops may bear responsibility for war crimes or torture thanks to the Cons' neglect and/or incompetence. But the Libs have voted in principle to continue the situation which leads to those concerns - and they've done so without any safeguards.

And the Libs have talked for quite some time about the need to rebalance the mission. But they've now voted for two more years without an iota of change on the military side of the ledger - and they've done so of their own motion.

All this is bad enough for the Libs now. But even to the extent they think they've won cheap political points against the NDP in the short term, any gains are virtually certain to be wiped out in the very near future.

After all, does anybody think we'll get through the next two years without another motion going before the House of Commons which corrects everything the Libs ignored in theirs? It's virtually certain that a motion will indeed pass to end the mission (presumably with wording to the effect of "withdrawal no later than February 2009") - while the Libs will be on the hook, without exception, as having voted for whatever Harper does over the next two years.

Which means that every time there's a casualty in Southern Afghanistan, whether among Canadian troops or Afghan civilians...and every time the effect of the Cons' incompetence is to breach international law or make new enemies for Canada...the Libs have offered their endorsement - unanimously, without safeguards, and of their own motion.

And if the Libs really think they're better off ceding all that ground in order to argue over how far down the road to keep allowing the carnage, then there's just one more reason to doubt their judgment on Afghanistan and in general.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Just a thought

The Libs (or at least their blogging proxies) seem to think they've accomplished a lot by directing today's Afghanistan vote at trying to paint the NDP into a corner rather than doing anything to oppose the Cons. But how proud will they be when the NDP can point out for the next two years that the Libs' support for continued Con lies and mismanagement in Afghanistan is now unanimous?

Privatizing the border

Just in case the Cons weren't looking for enough ways to transfer money gratuitously from government coffers to big business, Stockwell Day suggests that one of the changes he plans to make in Canada's security policy is to try to funnel yet more business to Halliburton and other private security contractors. And the first area Day would like to privatize is the Canada/U.S. border:
Canada is considering greater use of public-private partnerships to help bolster security both in Afghanistan and here at home, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day told a counterterrorism conference Tuesday.

Already Canadian troops in Afghanistan are housed at the Kandahar Airfield base run by Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, the company U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney used to run.

Halliburton has been awarded close to US$10-billion in contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Asked what partnerships the Conservative government is considering in Canada, Mr. Day said the controversial formula, granting turn-key contracts to private-sector companies, could be used for Canada’s border security.
Now, there may be some perverse logic to such a move as long as Bushco remains in power, as the current U.S. administration will presumably be far more willing to overlook any security issues as long as its favoured corporate partners are making money out of the deal.

But from the standpoint of both security and effective use of resources, it's difficult to imagine a more shortsighted and counterproductive move than to take Canada's border out of Canada's government's hands. Which offers just one more area where the Cons' interests seem to be directly opposed to those of Canadians - and one more reason not to leave them in power any longer than can be avoided.

Tales of the unexplained

Shorter Con position in their surprising vote on the Bloc's motion calling for the urgent implementation of absolute greenhouse gas emission targets:
Please ignore everything we've ever said about emission targets. In fact, make that pretty please.

(Mind you, I presume the Cons plan on claiming there's an out, perhaps by saying the absolute targets themselves don't have to be immediate. But the vote still seems to be in stark contradiction to the position the Cons have staked out ever since they took power.)

Continuing progress

Denise Savoie and Olivia Chow highlight what figures to remain one of the NDP's top priorities for the rest of the current session of Parliament, as the Early Learning and Child Care Act is set to go to committee:
Having passed second reading last fall, the NDP Early Learning and Child Care Act (C-303) will be studied by the Human Resources and Social Development committee beginning this week...

Over the next 3 weeks Savoie and Chow will champion the bill before the HRSD committee in hopes that the bill will receive speedy passage through the committee to return to Parliament for third reading.

“In this minority government, the three opposition parties have an opportunity to finally pass a child care act that will shape the future of early learning and development of Canadian children,” said Chow. “It’s long overdue.“
What's most interesting in tracking the bill's progress is that the NDP seems to have successfully navigated its way around what I'd assumed to be the greatest obstacle to implementation. While there was no doubt that the Cons would oppose any effort to ensure effectiveness and accountability for federal child care funds, the Bloc has apparently been brought onside thanks to an exemption for Quebec. And while that result is far from perfect in the bill as a whole, it looks likely to ensure that the legislation will find its way through the present Parliament (barring any snap elections before the summer).

Of course, it'll take another step entirely to replace the Cons with a government willing to provide enough funding to make the bill effective in ensuring the creation of sorely-needed spaces. But it's still a huge plus to see that a framework for such a program appears likely to pass into law before long.

On non-renewal

Remember back when a new leader, accompanied by a flurry of retiring MPs, was supposed to allow the Libs to modernize themselves by replacing the old guard (including the most notorious paleo-Libs) with more progressive candidates?

Suffice it to say that the plan doesn't appear to be working out. And in light of Dion's current stand on nomination immunity, Huron-Bruce Libs and other progressives will be stuck with Steckle-Lite indefinitely if they make the mistake of voting the Libs' new nominee into office.

Fortunately, there is some good news, as the NDP looks to have at least one far more progressive challenger at the ready. And hopefully a strong NDP campaign will both result in a Dipper breakthrough, and force the Libs to themselves demand something better than another wave of the same old reactionaries.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Authoritarians in waiting

Lately there's been no lack of Lib and Green bloggers trying to vilify Jack Layton and the NDP at every turn - and reality be damned in the effort. But the Blogging Tories have offered a couple of reminders that they're still without equal when it comes to fact-free demonization.

Last weekend, the outrage du jour was that the NDP's reporting of publicly-available documents allegedly constituted "sabotage". And today, the festivities included an attempt to classify Jack Layton's work to build alliances with international leaders as "illegal", "sedition" and "treasonous" - notwithstanding the fact that other opposition politicians, including Stephen Harper in his time on opposition benches, have (quite properly) engaged in similar efforts.

Of course, such overheated rhetoric is usually a sign that a party is doing something right. And indeed the NDP deserves full credit both for holding the Cons accountable, and working to build more effective links abroad. But it's still remarkable how many Con supporters would seem entirely happy to make "existing while NDP" (or presumably any other party which was managing to successfully oppose the Cons) into a capital offence.

A direct challenge

Since John Baird clearly hadn't created enough confusion about what the Cons have or haven't decided to do with Bill C-30, CanWest reports that Baird is trying to claim no final decision has been made while rejecting one of the amendments out of hand. But while Baird engages in the Cons' usual combination of delay and misdirection, Thomas Mulcair is taking the issue of climate change directly to the Cons:
Former Quebec environment minister Thomas Mulcair, who announced last week he would run for the New Democrats, said he was astonished Baird still hasn’t proposed any alternatives to make real reductions in pollution.

“I’m so tired of hearing the Tories complain that it’s the Liberals’ fault and that they can’t be held to account for that,” said Mulcair. “Well to a certain extent, they can be held to account for a part of it because they fought tooth and nail against every measure that the Liberals try to bring in.”
While it's certainly worth remembering the Libs' failures, the Cons remain (as their predecessors were earlier) the party going to the greatest lengths to avoid any action. And it's particularly important to keep that fact front and centre when the Cons now try to justify letting their own bill die on the order paper in order to keep the consensus climate change plan from passing.

On interpretation gaps

Others have noted what appears to be a backtrack from John Baird's position on C-30 as stated to environmental groups last week. But it could be that the problem was simply a difference in interpretation: the environmental groups in question may have assumed that Baird's words spoken behind closed doors had some meaning, forgetting that nothing that comes out of a Harper cabinet minister's mouth counts in the eyes of the Cons unless it's spoken in front of a duly authorized backdrop.

Of course, the Cons' theory does lead to some problems. And my suspicion is that the reason for Baird's delay on C-30 isn't that his mind isn't made up, but instead that there was an error in the backdrop design which is keeping him from going in front of the cameras.

Based on the Cons' track record of avoiding partisanship within their publicly-funded materials, I'm guessing the planned background is something along these lines:
Liberals Want You To
Freeze In The Dark
Suppose, though, that the last word were to contain a typo and come back as "dork". The Cons might, in the single most environmentally-responsible move of their tenure in power, decide to reuse the last line as their effort to brand Dion during the course of the next campaign. But the actual C-30 announcement couldn't be made until the background was fixed.

In other words, this may represent just one more cost of trying to operate a government on the Cons' plane of surreality, rather than one in which words and actions bear their usual meanings. But hopefully the extra time bought by the printing error will allow for another of the Cons' specialties, as they take one more grudging step toward the Canadian mainstream by deciding to let C-30 proceed.

Conservative vs. consensus

The CP reports that John Baird has told environmental groups that his government doesn't plan to do anything to try to move the amended Bill C-30 (the climate change bill) through Parliament. But it's worth pointing out that Baird is again trying to frame the issue as one solely between the Libs and the Cons - and that any opposition party wanting to actually pressure the Cons to act on the bill should be quick to correct the record:
Environmentalists say Environment Minister John Baird told them in a private meeting that he will abandon the bill because he can't accept sweeping amendments put forward by the opposition.

The clean air act was the centrepiece of the Conservative environmental agenda but the opposition parties drastically changed it during committee study to incorporate the targets of the Kyoto Protocol.

In Friday's meeting, Baird reportedly described the rewritten legislation as a Liberal bill and said he would never bring it forward, said John Bennett of ClimateforChange.
Now, there's every reason why the Cons would want to claim that the amendments were merely a Lib creation - both to help them pretend the amended bill has less support than it does, and to allow them to frame the issue in terms of perceived Lib weaknesses rather than the content of the legislation itself.

But Baird's attempt to portray the other side as consisting of the Libs alone, like so many of the Cons' claims, simply doesn't stand up to reality.

All three opposition parties - who of course represent far more combined votes and seats than the Cons - contributed to the final bill both by offering amendments, and by teaming up to provide the votes necessary to adopt those amendments over the Cons' protestations. For good measure, the Greens endorsed the final product as well. And based on yesterday's Earth Day rallies, it's clear that a good chunk of the Canadian public is also voicing a direct demand for the kind of real action toward Kyoto that the amended bill represents - rather than still more attempts by the Cons to pass off intensity targets as progress.

In other words, the amended C-30 is far more than just a "Liberal bill". And it's by calling attention to the fact that it's the Cons who are alone and isolated in their stubborn refusal to act on C-30 that other parties (and the environmental movement generally) have their best chance of getting a real climate change plan put in place in the foreseeable future.

Still unresponsive

During the 2006 campaign, Greenpeace surveyed Canada's political parties to give voters some idea where they stood on key environmental issues. While the other parties offered detailed responses, the Cons couldn't be bothered to submit any answer at all, and were rightly criticized for that failure.

One might think that with the emergence of the environment as the leading issue in Canadian politics, the Cons and their leaders would at least have changed their mindset enough to be willing to answer a few simple questions - this time about their own personal environmental practices. But based on Sun Media's efforts, one would be wrong.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A long way from reform

It's some progress that, in contrast to the immediate aftermath of the formation of the Axis of Ego, Stephane Dion is now talking publicly about electoral reform as a possibility. But there's still an awfully long way from his current position to anything that could be construed as support for any change:
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion has agreed to explore reforms to Canada’s electoral system as part of his non-compete agreement with Green Leader Elizabeth May.

However, it’s unlikely Liberals, who’ve long benefited from the first-past-the-post system, will endorse the kind of proportional representation championed by many Greens as a means of finally gaining a toehold in Parliament.

“Our party is open to discuss electoral reform. We’re not sure where it will lead us, but we agree that the current system has some shortcomings,” Dion said in an interview.

But he added: “It’s very unlikely that we will conclude that pure PR makes sense, because pure PR is only applied in Israel, not necessarily with good results.”

He said there is “a panoply” of other possibilities.
Note in particular that Dion doesn't bother to name a single possibility out of that "panoply" that he'd consider worthy of his support or even specific attention. Instead, he appears to have specifically discussed only the most extreme possible form of PR which (to my knowledge) hasn't been seriously demanded by anybody - which serves to present a distorted view of what PR options exist and what pro-PR parties might want.

It'll certainly be for the best if Dion is planning to advance the issue of electoral reform. But a move from silence to largely negative lip service doesn't advance the cause any...and too much spin accepting this as success can only help let Dion off the hook for a failure to push for real change.

If we can sell it, it isn't endangered

CanWest reports on a new study which suggests that both Lib and Con federal governments have based decisions about proposed endangered species classifications on how profitable a type of animal may be, rather than the risk actually faced by the species:
SFU Biologist Arne Mooers and his colleagues at the Vancouver based university looked at 30 species rejected for endangered-species protection by the federal government from 2003-2006, and compared them to 156 species listed as endangered.

"Listings under the current law seem to discriminate against the fuzzier, tastier endangered species," Mooers said. "The decisions make it look as if Canadians value milk snakes and dromedary jumping slugs more than they value polar bears, beluga whales and coho salmon. That's hard to believe."

While all 12 endangered birds and all 26 at-risk reptiles and amphibians received protection under the Species at Risk Act, only one of 11 imperiled marine fish and 12 of 30 mammals were listed, the scientists said...

The reason for the "bias" against mammals and marine fish comes down to human use, said Mooers' colleague, University of B.C. biologist Laura Prugh.

"What I saw as the most striking difference between the protected and unprotected species was whether or not they're harvested," Prugh said. "Economic reasons are often cited."

Protection of harvested species would require restrictions on hunting and fishing, she noted.

Federal authorities appeared keen to grant protection to species already protected by provincial authorities, Prugh said.

"It seems as though if listing the species was going to require new effort to actually protect them, it would be denied," Prugh said...

The federal government did not list the northern cod, despite a 99 per cent population decline, or the porbeagle shark, which has suffered a 90 per cent decline, Mooers and his colleagues wrote in the international journal Conservation Biology. Listing the shark may have led to the loss of eight jobs, the article said. Keeping it off the endangered list, according to Mooers and the other scientists, reflects "an implicit policy not to list any marine fish perceived to be of economic value, no matter how small."
It shouldn't come as much surprise that both of the past two governments have disproportionately favoured short-term economic considerations over longer-term environmental issues. (And let's be clear that even the longer-term economics presumably favour a management regime which helps to replenish the affected species, rather than one which preserves incentives for continuing to harvest species which are genuinely endangered.)

But it's still striking that the result of current practices is to exclude from Canada's endangered-species management both the species most often put forward as mascots for environmental considerations, and the ones whose population decline has already had the most measurable impact on the lives of Canadians. And that can only have the effect of minimizing the positive impact of the Species at Risk Act, as well as the public's familiarity and sympathy with the need for protection.

Money talking

Good to see I'm not the only one taking an interest in the financing behind Canadian politics, as Greg Weston discusses the parties' current funding levels (including details on the parties' 2006 individual donations):
Preliminary fundraising figures for the past last year at least help to explain why the Conservatives can afford to blow a fortune on Stephane Dion attack ads with no election in sight.

According to information filed with Elections Canada, the Conservatives last year raised more than $19 million from 160,000-plus relatively small personal donations...

The figures for 2006 show the Liberals raised $11.2 million from roughly 38,000 individual donations, a bit more than half the Conservatives’ tin-cup take.

But there’s a hitch: sources tell us over half of the Grit total was to support the Liberal leadership candidates, and to pay the bills of their December convention that crowned Dion.

Take the leadership accounting out of the equation and the Conservatives are raking in roughly three times what the Liberals have been collecting...

Finally, the New Democrats aren’t exactly rolling in dough, but never have been.

Last year, even without the unions, the party collected about $4.5 million in donations from over 50,000 contributors...
It's particularly interesting to note that even the Libs' leadership campaign, which presumably brought a reasonably large number of people into contact with the party who hadn't been there before, couldn't bring the Libs' total number of individual donors up to the NDP's level. Though presumably the Libs aren't complaining about their donors seemingly having plenty more money to offer on average than those from the other two main federal parties.

While the party donations certainly make for interesting reading, it's worth noting that Weston largely goes off course in pretending that the Cons' advantage in cash on hand figures to give them a substantial advantage in any election campaign. Indeed, it's only in the absence of a writ period that the disparity means anything.

After all, based on the combination of federal election reimbursements and per-vote funding, both the Libs and NDP should be sure to raise close to the amount they plan on spending over the life of a new Parliament. Which in turn means that it should be a fairly easy matter for each to take out loans (if preferably commercial ones) to fund an election campaign at or near the maximum.

Of course, each would presumably prefer to have ridiculous amounts of cash on hand as the Cons apparently do. But while the other parties may not have the same amount of mad money to spend on gratuitous ads or show off war machines in the absence of an election campaign, the spending limits will ensure that the Cons can't outspend their rivals to any meaningful degree once the writ is dropped.