Saturday, June 02, 2007

On termination

It's a huge plus to see that Alex Atamanenko's bill to ban terminator seeds is receiving a substantial amount of grassroots support. But I have to wonder about the apparent target for the e-mail campaign:
The Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) is working hard to make sure that Terminator seeds are never field-tested or commercialized in Canada.

Step one – Send an instant email to the Prime Minister and ask him to make this bill law. Go to this website.

Step two – Ask your friends to do their part by sending them this email.
It's fair enough to note that the bill would pass most easily if it was able to win Con support. But am I missing some reason why the bill's supporters seem to be entirely overlooking the possibility of a joint opposition effort to pass the bill even if the Cons won't play along?

On pressure points

The news that Con Human Resources Minister Monte Solberg encouraged opposition criticism in order to push for change in his own department's summer jobs policy has received some attention already. But it's worth noting what Solberg's action - as well as the success it achieved - says about the way the Cons' government is run.

After all, there's no indication that the program would ever have been changed based on discussion within the Cons' caucus or cabinet - no matter how strong the reasons for change, or how (relatively) well-respected the minister concerned about the program's structure. Indeed, it doesn't look like Solberg himself - despite his title as a cabinet minister - had any ability to alter the policy without approval which could only be secured with the opposition's help.

As a result, it took a public flogging to force Harper to apparently acknowledge the "mess" and allow for any change. Which would tend to reinforce the conclusion that the Cons have such an extreme top-down structure that no Con MP other than Harper himself can credibly claim any ability to influence government decisions.

At the same time, the eventual success of the pressure should also highlight another lesson for the opposition (and indeed any Cons who haven't yet undergone a Harper-ordered lobotomy): no initial position from the Cons is ever final if it's followed by a sustained and organized outcry. And while the opposition should be wary about allowing Con MPs to decide where to use such a strategy, the summer jobs backtrack offers hope that the worst the Cons have offered so far can eventually be long as the opposition parties can avoid getting distracted.

Update: Coincidentally (I presume), this story came out on the same day as word of Solberg's actions:
Though there is no doubt who makes the final decisions, a senior staffer says the prime minister is open to persuasion by ministers who know their file.

"He's willing to be swayed," a staffer says, though ministers had better be prepared because Mr. Harper is apt to shoot holes in weak arguments.
Of course, the quote falls into the "self-serving comment by anonymous source" category - making it even less credible than a direct partisan claim would have been.

That said, it's worth wondering how Solberg's actions would relate to the claim that Deceivin' Stephen is entirely willing to be persuaded by his cabinet ministers. Were the opposition's arguments better than Solberg's? Is Solberg considered a minister who doesn't know his file? And if not, then who is (as some presumably must be for there to be any basis for distinction)?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Information at risk

CanWest reports on the lack of attention paid to consumer privacy by businesses in Canada, as many businesses still aren't even trying to meet their obligations under the governing legislation which was passed in 2001:
The majority of businesses in Canada collect personal information from customers, but many are ignoring privacy laws and might be using sensitive data illegally, putting Canadians at risk of fraud, warns new research unveiled yesterday by the federal privacy commission.

What's more, a new survey conducted for the commission reveals an overwhelming proportion of staff - about two-thirds - at Canada's small, medium and large businesses have little to no training to handle personal information and ensure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

Results of the survey were made public in conjunction with the commission's annual report, which urges the private sector to do more to protect the personal information it collects in order to prevent massive security breaches like the ones experienced earlier this year by TJX Cos., the parent company of Winners and HomeSense, as well as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's Talvest Mutual Funds...

Despite the fact that more than 60 per cent of businesses said they collect personal information from customers, about one-third aren't complying with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, which sets rules and limits on how the private sector collects, uses and discloses the personal information it collects.

Although it was passed seven years ago, 15 per cent of businesses surveyed said they still haven't started putting the necessary policies in place to comply with the law, while 16 per cent said they are in the process of putting measures in place.
Of course, it's breaches in widespread actors such as Winners/HomeSense that are more likely to attract major media attention. But the potential dangers from a breach are no less severe even in a business too small to capture the public eye. And based on the significant number of businesses which haven't yet made any effort to meet their legal obligations to protect customer data, it looks like there's still a need for plenty more awareness about the responsibility of private-sector actors for personal information about their customers.

Let's avoid a deal

The governments of Canada and the U.S. seem to be in a battle as to who can take the most asinine position in order to prevent any agreement at the G8 summit on climate change. And despite yesterday's strong effort from Bush in that department, Canada seems to have retaken the lead today by demanding that Canada be considered a "special" country so as to avoid the effects of any deal:
Stephen Harper will have a climate-change message for his fellow leaders at next week's G8 summit: Canada is special when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases.

With the leaders attempting to reach a deal on climate change, the prime minister will seek recognition of the unique challenges Canada faces in tackling the problem.

Senior Canadian officials told journalists at a pre-summit briefing that any acceptable deal would need to recognize this country's growing economy, growing population, and booming oil industry.

Those factors make Canada - in the words of one official - special and unique in the G8.
It shouldn't come as much surprise that the excuses put forward by the Cons are nothing more than hollow attempts to shirk any responsibility for reducing emissions in the future.

While Canada is technically above the other G8 countries in the first two areas cited, the level of difference is relatively small (indeed negligible as compared to the U.S.). And more importantly, there's little reason to think that the current trends will be constant over the 40+ year time span that the talks are meant to cover.

As for Canada's oil production, it's entirely possible that future technological development will reduce the emission impact of the industry long before the included targets take effect. And surely a main goal of any agreement has to be to set up conditions will encourage the development of such technology, rather than giving extra credit based on its absence.

It thus seems all too clear that the Con position is based purely on a search for excuses to secure a lower reduction requirement than other G8 countries will face. And that can only encourage other countries to seek to do the same, rather than focusing on how to agree on a reasonable level of reductions all around.

Of course, the likelihood of any deal was already slim to none due to the U.S.' desire to kick any agreement down the road by over a year. But with Deceivin' Stephen playing the role of dishonest broker in an effort to further sandbag the proceedings, both Canada's reputation and global environmental goals figure to suffer.

Well named

About my only quibble with the latest suggested nickname for Stephen Harper is that the problems with Harper's stay in power go far beyond mere deception. But since it's probably impossible to encompass everything wrong with Harper in a pithy two- or three-word phrase, I'll join in the call to refer to Harper as "Deceivin' Stephen" (pending any even more apt description).

On diversions

One of the greatest dangers of an undue focus on personality politics is the substance that gets left behind. And so it is with yesterday's controversy over Stephen Harper's ludicrous attempt to pretend that Stephane Dion's lack of military service is even faintly relevant, as Harper seems to have managed to turn attention entirely away from any meaningful policy discussions - which yesterday included the NDP's follow-up push to get the amended C-30 before the House of Commons.

Hopefully the distraction will only be temporary. But for now it looks like Harper has succeeded in turning Canada's political attention toward personal insults - and it'll be up the opposition to get the spotlight back on both the Cons' failings which affect Canadians directly, and the potential to do better.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

We're also considering the feasibility of slicing bread

Shorter Bushco about-face on global warming:
We've suddenly had the brilliant idea of bringing countries to a negotiating table to try to agree on emission reduction targets. We just can't believe nobody thought of such a concept sooner!

Access to disinformation

Perhaps surprisingly given the oft-documented incompetence of the minister in charge, the Department of National Defence managed to fare reasonably well in the Information Commissioner's report card on government institutions. But the NDP reports that the DND is looking to change that mark for the worse next year if its response time (and ministeral runaround) on information about Middle East detainees is any indication:
NDP Defence critic Dawn Black (New Westminster-Coquitlam) revealed in Question Period today that the Department of National Defence is refusing to release details and records relating to the possible capture of detainees in the Indian Ocean or the Persian Gulf.

Black says Minister O’Conner is risking another firestorm because of his refusal to answer questions about sea-based detainees. On October 12, 2006 the minister of national defence signed a policy for the handling of detainees who were taken at sea as part of HMCS Ottawa’s participation in the Bush administration’s Operation Enduring Freedom.

“The suppression of these documents is troubling,” said Black. “Canadians expect Minister O’Connor to be forthcoming with information concerning Canada’s role in detainee transfers even if that means visiting the filing cabinets personally to retrieve the records.”

Black is frustrated with the unreasonable delay put forward by the Department of National Defence of 150 days to release the requested documents pertaining to “all detainees” the department admits to possess.
It's worth wondering just what's currently being hidden, as the request would seem to be an extremely easy one to answer if there haven't been any detainees handed over under the agreement. Though in fairness, there's always the distinct possibility that the Harper Cons would cover something up just for the sake of covering up.

One way or the other, though, the unwillingness of O'Connor's department to even remotely approach its legal obligations to answer a fairly simple access request appears all too consistent with both O'Connor's cluelessness as a minister and the Cons' governing philosophy of suppression. And the more public scrutiny the Cons face for those trends, the more likely we'll be to put them in the rear-view mirror.

Writing off the junket heap

I'd be dubious enough about the Globe and Mail's knee-jerk reaction to Parliamentary travel at the best of times. But in case there was any doubt just how far Daniel Leblanc and Jane Taber stretch in trying to stir up outrage over MPs travelling anywhere, take a look at this entry on their list of "junkets":
NDP MP Olivia Chow
Where: Montreal
Stated goal: Guest commentator for CTV at Liberal convention
From what I can tell, no Lib or Con is criticized for any travel within Canada (one mention is made of travel to Edmonton by a Bloc MP, though then only as a follow-up presentation on a trip overseas). Which could suggest either that the authors had to relax its standards for a "junket" severely to find anything to pin on the NDP, or that they were rather less than thorough in testing out what might actually fit the supposed criteria.

But for all the problems with the article generally, the attempt to criticize Chow stands out for sheer chutzpah on Taber's part. Not only was Chow's travel substantially shorter in distance and duration than any of the other examples cited, but it was only to a convention which Taber attended herself attended for similar reasons - i.e. to provide coverage and commentary on the race as it unfolded. As a result, any criticism that could possibly be levelled at Chow for accepting a "perk" would apply equally to Taber.

Of course, the individual story figures to die away fairly quickly. But it's worth pointing out how such double standards serve only to build even more cynicism than is warranted surrounding Canada's political figures.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On the record

Judging from yesterday's news headlines, I'd figured it must have been a fairly quiet day in the House of Commons. But surprisingly, the are a few seemingly significant news items which managed to go unreported - so let's take a few minutes to see what escaped public notice:

- The NDP's motion to have the amended C-30 brought back before the House of Commons was voted on and passed. While that's well and good, I have to wonder why neither the media nor the opposition parties seem to be putting much focus on what should be an important source of pressure on the Cons to move C-30 forward.

- It's a plus to see that at least one Lib MP - in this case Bonnie Brown - is questioning where the Security and Prosperity Partnership figures to lead Canada. That said, it might be a nice touch to at least recognize the Libs' primary role in inflicting the SPP on the country.

- To his relative credit, Mario Silva has indeed put forward a new anti-scab bill to replace the one the Libs undermined earlier this year. But can anybody explain why the bill missed its chance to receive second reading yesterday for lack of a needed report?

Foul polls

Kady O'Malley's survey of recent federal opinion polls and focus groups is worth a look in general. But one study in particular demands some more discussion:
Participants were also asked to imagine the new government as a person and "flesh out the description" by discussing his personality, lifestyle and character traits. "Remarks varied from “healthy and strong” to “looks trim but might belie a heart condition” to “soft around the middle” to “not in the greatest shape” or “overweight." The new government was also described as "wealthy but miserly," "richer than they let on" and "Walmart shoppers." Asked what kind of neighbour it would be, one participant said he or she would “trust them so long as I had a good alarm system on my house."
Needless to say, the latter comment is particularly brilliant in what it leaves unsaid: rather than reflecting trust that the Cons will act as good neighbours of any merit of their own, it signals only that they likely won't be able to get past a reasonable set of defences to inflict much harm. And while it's perhaps not surprising that the Cons' top priority seems to be to try to disarm the alarm system presented by the opposition parties in Parliament, the participant is probably right that any "good" system is going to be beyond the Cons' ability to override.

That comment aside, it's worth highlighting the nature of the poll in general. Remember from the last Con polling scandal the rules which limit the government's ability to poll with public money:
Government guidelines only specifically prohibit polling subject matter such as voting intentions and perceptions about party leaders. Departments routinely do polls to gauge public reaction and knowledge as they move forward with their policies.

However, the auditor general reported early this year that there are still problems with departments failing to provide a rationale for the research they commission.
Presumably the Cons think they're again managing to get around the guidelines by slightly rephrasing the prohibited questions - in this case by asking about the perception of the government as a whole rather than Harper alone.

But it's hard to see how asking participants to "flesh out (a) description" of the Cons - completely detached from any policy issue - can be considered a legitimate purpose for public money, regardless of whether the current rules aren't yet tight enough to specifically prohibit such spending. And if the Cons are wasting as many resources as seems likely from what's been begrudgingly disclosed so far, it may not be long before they're on the wrong side of more polling scandals than the Libs.

Do as we say...

It's been comical enough to see Con whip Jay Hill making the media rounds this week claiming to want the current Parliament to be more congenial and less partisan. But the Globe and Mail's followup on the official languages committee helps to highlight Hill's central role in the gridlock which he claims to abhor, as it was Hill himself who pushed for confrontation when even the former Con chair wanted to resign in order to keep the committee running:
After the opposition ousted official languages committee chair Guy Lauzon two weeks ago, the Conservatives barred their MPs from running to replace him - effectively shutting down the committee.

Yesterday, the Tories met with opposition whips and agreed to reopen the committee. Mr. Lauzon resigned from the committee, so a new chair can be chosen from the Conservative MPs...

Mr. Lauzon said he offered to resign when he was voted out by the opposition two weeks ago, but Conservative whip Jay Hill persuaded him not to.
It's certainly for the best that the committee is now being allowed to get back to work. But it remains to be seen whether the supposed attempt to work with other parties will be limited to allowing Lauzon himself to resign, only to be replaced by another chair with equally little interest in allowing real debate.

And the news on that count doesn't appear to be getting better. Any lingering doubt as to whether the Cons' constant standoffishness was primarily based on individual committee chairs or a product of top-down party discipline now seems to have disappeared - and it'll be essential to make sure that the blame for any continued contempt for democratic process is placed directly at the top where it belongs.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Authoritarianism in action

Apparently the Cons aren't satisfied with merely arresting civil servants and stalling access to information. Now, one of their MPs is going several steps further, claiming that Canadians (or at least opposition MPs) should be punished for repeating what they've read in the newspapers:
Tory MP Scott Reid suggested that New Democrat Pat Martin may have broken the law by giving committee members copies of secret documents in which information that was to be blacked out for public consumption could be read. Even though the supposedly secret excerpts were first published in two newspapers, Reid asked Parliament's law clerk to rule on whether Martin was "guilty of an offence" under the Security of Information Act.
Just when one thinks the Cons can't get any lower, one of their MPs always seems to be waiting with a shovel to dig down even further. Which leaves only the question of whether they'll be duly recognized for how far they've sunk when Canadians next have the chance to permanently remove them from power.

Cultivating secrecy

CanWest reports on the first annual report from new Information Commissioner Robert Marleau. And while there's plenty of reason for concern in a number of areas, it's the Privy Council Office that's leading the way for unresponsiveness and arbitrariness:
Marleau's study includes a report card that grades the performance of 17 government institutions in respecting the freedom of information legislation. The Privy Council Office - essentially the hub of government operations and decision-making - was one of five departments to receive a failing grade. The assessment is based on the percentage of access requests that are answered late. The Privy Council Office, the Canadian Border Services Agency, Health Canada, the Justice Department, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police all received an "F."

Of all government departments, it is the prime minister's that should be leading the way and setting an example for the rest, Marleau said.

"It is particularly important, as a matter of leadership example to all other government institutions, that the prime minister's department and the department of the minister who is responsible for the Access to Information Act (Justice Canada) succeed in getting an A,'" wrote Marleau.

"The chronic inability of PCO to answer a modest workload of access to information requests (less than 600 per year) has much to do with a burdensome and unusual approval process," he said.

The information commissioner said the Privy Council Office applies a top-heavy approach to handling access requests, which slows the process, and that senior officials have no special training or expertise with respect to their obligations under the act.

Marleau's review found numerous instances where files contained no documentation as to whether any "pro" and "con" factors for disclosure were considered in the decisions.
Given their lack of shame over the PCO's shoddy record, it's a wonder the Cons bothered to exclude the PMO and ministerial offices from access to information under the Accountability Act - rather than simply ignoring the new requirements as they've done to numerous reporting and response obligations.

Note also that the Privy Council Office's record of delays can't apparently be explained by any degree of thoroughness in processing and responding to requests. Instead, the current strategy appears to be to delay doing anything as long as possible, follow Harper's pattern of micromanagement once a request is eventually dealt with, and avoid documenting any explanation once something is finally decided.

With that kind of attitude prevailing in the government's central base of operations, it shouldn't be much surprise when other departments follow suit. And Canadians should rightly be concerned by both the complete distaste for accountability among the Cons' decision-makers, and the likelihood of that culture spreading even further.

Off the rails

CTV reports that the Canada Safety Council has joined the NDP's call for real regulation of Canadian railways (rather than the current system of self-regulation), warning that the recent history of derailments may only hint at the potential for disaster:
The Canada Safety Council is calling Canada's rail system a disaster waiting to happen, and it blames deregulation for the mess.

The council's Emile Therien told CTV News that one possible result could be the "major evacuation of a major urban area ... and all the attendant cost that goes along with that."

To ward that off, "CSC strongly urges the government to reinstitute the authority of Transport Canada," said the council's report, obtained Monday by CTV News...

B.C. New Democrat MP Peter Julian added his voice to the criticism.

"Since self-managed safety was put into place, it has been a disaster for Canadians. Lives have been lost; we've seen environmental devastation," he said.
Of course, a mere reasonable call for action has never been enough to sway the Cons. And all indications are that Lawrence Cannon's department will plan to wait until 2008 to even conduct a review of rail safety.

But it's still worth highlighting how wanton deregulation has made Canadians less safe, for the sake of slowing the progress of similar efforts if nothing else. And hopefully it won't be too late to reverse nearly a decade's worth of damage to rail safety before a large-scale disaster does take place.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bills unpaid

In case David MacLean hadn't had a bad enough day already, he's also managed to embarrass himself under his own name again with his stance on the Cons' latest gimmick.

From the CP's coverage, here's what MacLean is applauding:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Revenue Minister Carol Skelton said Monday the ombudsman will operate as an independent adviser to the government and will deal with complaints from taxpayers about the department's handling of their cases.

The ombudsman will be appointed later this year and is to be operating this fall with 40 offices across the country, Skelton said.

The minister could not say what the new bureaucracy would cost, other than to say its expenses would be absorbed by the current budget of the Canada Revenue Agency...

The 15-point bill of taxpayer rights - expanding on a 1985 declaration by the former Mulroney government - includes a promise of professional, courteous and fair dealings, as well as the right to an explanation after a complaint and "relief from penalties and interest under tax legislation because of extraordinary circumstances."
In case there's any doubt, the current budget of the Canada Revenue Agency is the same one which was already so short of resources that $18 billion in back taxes stood uncollected. Yet in the Cons' view, that gross amount of outstanding tax revenue was somehow evidence that the CRA needed to be distracted from even the amount of collection that it's able to carry out now.

Meanwhile, the so-called "Taxpayers Bill of Rights" does nothing more than add the Harper Cons' distinctive brand of fluff language to a document that's already existed since 1985.

Of course, the CTF may well be happy in the short term if tax avoidance becomes easier - particularly if it spreads far enough to end the "overtaxation" (in the form of surpluses) that MacLean and his ilk seem to despise so much. But it should be obvious that perhaps the most important of the ideals which the Cons are supposedly pursuing - namely consistent application of the law - will only become all the more distant due to the Cons' latest stunt. And nobody who's actually concerned with fairness for the Canadian taxpaying public should be happy with that outcome.

Surprising support

There are few columnists that I'd have thought less likely to back one of the NDP's most progressive policy planks than Lorrie Goldstein. But Goldstein takes a surprising break from his steady stream of Kyoto-bashing to support Jack Layton's call for a national prescription drug plan.

Of course, Goldstein's column alone is far from enough to give the issue of drug costs the attention it deserves. But if there's any substantial number of right-wing commentators who share his view, then a sustained push for access to prescription drugs may face far less opposition than I'd have figured - and could have a real chance of succeeding in the near future as a result.

Accountability at its finest

Shorter Jean-Pierre Blackburn responding to the latest revelations about his office's dubious contracting pattern:
If I broke the rules, then the rules are wrong.

Speaking of coalitions

CanWest reports that Con Whip Jay Hill is putting on a public face of cooperation with the opposition parties. But it's worth noting that the Cons are sticking to an interesting message in trying to cast blame for their own attempts to shut down Commons committees:
Conservative government Whip Jay Hill has called his counterparts from all three federal parties to a special meeting this morning to attempt to make peace and strike some sort of compromise that will allow the work of Parliament to continue.

"We can just sit down and hopefully calmly discuss some of these challenges that we're facing," Mr. Hill said in an interview. "I think the end goal is to lower the temperature a little bit and to work together."...

"What we saw in the last few weeks was really a further breakdown of communication between the Opposition parties and the government and a power struggle, not only in the chamber, but in the committees," Mr. Hill said. "The Opposition has increasingly been behaving more like a coalition government in Parliament than a constructive Opposition, in my opinion."
The "coalition government" line is one that Hill himself has been using for quite some time. But it's worth asking why the Cons seem to consider the phrase a slur rather than something which Canadians would actually like to see.

Presumably the bulk of the Cons' strategy in using the phrase lies in the idea that the failings of Parliament in general are likely to be more strongly associated with the government than the opposition - a point made in Abbas Rana's article in today's Hill Times. But the Cons' odds of successfully deflecting blame are long at best given their constant attempts to make use of the "new government" brand. And any additional benefits such as the possibility of creating a siege mentality in the Cons' base appear minimal.

Meanwhile, the phrase has several effects that the Cons would presumably be smart enough to want to avoid. For one, it completely undercuts the Cons' attempt to present themselves as a "natural governing party", suggesting that a group of parties with far more seats and votes than the Cons is willing and able to act in concert. In addition, the phrase helps to link Stephane Dion into the forefront of a supposed governing structure - which can only undermine the Cons' "not a leader" claim later on.

Finally, and most importantly, the Cons' repetition of the phrase can only bring even further into the mainstream the prospect that a real coalition government could be elected - and get people talking about the likely effects of inter-party cooperation. Which figures both to offer yet another benefit to the "yes" side in Ontario's MMP referendum this fall, and to encourage the opposition parties to cooperate all the more in an effort to show that Canadians aren't stuck with government by Harper fiat.

Ultimately, if a diverse set of opposition parties is finding common ground in so many situations, that can only reflect the Cons' own failures as a government. And if the Cons want to raise questions as to whether Canadians would prefer to see absolute power in Harper's hands rather than a system which encourages cooperation and punishes blind partisanship, they don't figure to enjoy finding out the answers.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


The CP reports that Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn's office has again been caught trying to pretend that it isn't subject to federal contracting rules:
Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn granted a $25,000 contract to a staffer in his riding office who was already a full-time employee on the federal payroll, documents show.

The government paid Daniel Giguere $24,804 over a six-month contract as a speech writer while Giguere was employed as an adviser with an annual salary of $35,000, according to the documents obtained by The Canadian Press.

Giguere, a defeated Liberal candidate, left his job at Hydro-Quebec to become an adviser in Blackburn's riding in the winter of 2006. He remained on the job until last April.

Giguere received an annual salary of $35,000 for his work in Blackburn's Quebec riding of Jonquiere, according to Blackburn's spokeswoman.

Documents show the government also paid him $24,804 to edit speeches "on a contractual basis" at the request of the minister.

Federal law clearly forbids granting contracts to people who are already on the federal payroll, as in Giguere's case...

Giguere delivered about 10 speeches for events such as local chamber of commerce dinners and parish breakfasts.

The speeches cost between $1,750 and $3,000 under the contract but many of them contained striking similarities.

The minister described the evolving economy of Quebec and the programs of the federal Canada Economic Development agency for Quebec regions in identical sentences.

It's not the first time Blackburn's human resources management has been called into question.

Last October, Blackburn was criticized for giving a $24,000 contract to an adviser who was then hired to work in his office.

Blackburn also made headlines recently after The Canadian Press revealed that he failed to account under his name for air travel totalling $150,000.

NDP MP Pat Martin says it shows Conservative negligence in managing public finances, even as they brag about transparency and accountability.

"These are small things that can bring down a minister," Martin said.
Surprisingly, the Libs' response from Marcel Proulx has been to claim that the issue is simply one of Giguere's expertise or contribution in return for the extra money. But that reaction fails to take into account that there are two independent problems at play - and it's hard to see what defence the Cons could possibly mount against either.

After all, if the italicized statement quoted above is right, then Blackburn couldn't legally hire Giguere on a contract regardless of his level of expertise or his contribution. Yet even if Proulx were right in claiming that the issue was one of Giguere's contribution, it would then defy belief that any real value could have been added in re-editing the same speech 10 times over.

Any one of the seemingly questionable activities emanating from Blackburn's office could perhaps be minimized on its own. But the developing pattern should only raise many more questions: both about Blackburn's office itself, and about how many of the activities are known to higher-ups in a notoriously micro-managed government. And the fact that this much of a sense of entitlement to public money appears to be building up even in a shaky minority government would offer a stark warning about how public finances would be handled if the Cons were to reach majority status.

Principles for thee, but not for me

Shorter Marjory LeBreton:
It would be an unspeakable horror for an unelected, unaccountable majority in the Senate to even consider slowing the progress of a budget which has been passed by the House of Commons. And it would be an equally unspeakable horror to question the entitlement of an unelected, unaccountable minority in the Senate to completely block environmental legislation which has also passed in the House of Commons.

On problem-solving

There's plenty of frustration among Canadian workers with the continued crisis in the manufacturing sector, as evidenced by a series of well-attended protests this weekend. But only one federal leader appears to both recognize the problem and have some idea how to fix it - and the London Free Press covered Jack Layton's prescription for Canadian manufacturing:
Job cuts in the manufacturing industry won't be stopped unless the federal government does more to push for fair trade and production of green products, NDP Leader Jack Layton said last night at a stop in London...

The federal government must enact strategies to ensure Canadian products are traded fairly on an international market, he said.

"If Korea wants to sell cars here, they need to take ours."

A push toward producing environmentally friendly products is also needed to keep jobs here, Layton said.

"We need a green car strategy," the federal NDP leader said.
Of course, there's plenty more to be said about the issue than the Free Press covered. And indeed, the NDP has largely said it before.

But it's still important to highlight the gap between merely recognizing a problem, and actually having some solution to offer. And the more clear it becomes that the NDP stands out in the latter category, the better the chances of the NDP's proposals actually becoming public policy.