Saturday, June 30, 2007

The uselessness continues

CTV reports that while the worst suspicions about counterfeit imported toothpaste have been confirmed, the Cons' response hasn't changed for the better since the story first came forward.

Instead, Health Canada is merely following up Tony Clement's "buyer beware" message with an equally unhelpful "buyer really beware"...which can't be of much comfort to Canadians who would reasonably expect a responsible government to ensure that tainted products are taken out of circulation, rather than putting the onus on consumers to avoid them.

On dual considerations

Both CBC and Ipsos-Reid give top billing on a new opinion survey to the 39% of respondents who think that dual citizenship should be eliminated. But it's worth noting that nationally - and indeed in each province - a significant majority of Canadians are in favour of allowing dual citizenship.

From the Ipsos-Reid press release:
As Canada celebrates its birthday this Canada Day weekend, a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of the Dominion Institute finds that four in ten (39%) Canadians are against the current policy regarding dual citizenship, and believe that Canadian citizens should not be allowed to simultaneously hold citizenship of a country other than Canada. On the other hand, a majority (61%) of Canadians are in favour of the current practice, and believe that Canadians should be able to hold dual citizenship, whereby one would be allowed to simultaneously be a citizen of Canada and of another country.
In other words, the poll apparently lacked a middle or undecided option. Which means that the 39% against dual citizenship is a far less significant number than it would be if, due to other options in the poll, it ranked anywhere near the number of respondents who prefer the status quo.

Meanwhile, the regional breakdown highlighted by CBC shows that even if respondents are broken down by their province of residence, the option of maintaining dual citizenship wins out by between 14% and 34% everywhere:
Breaking it down by province, Albertans were most opposed, with 43 per cent against dual citizenship. British Columbians had the least problem, with 33 per cent.
In sum, while the number of Canadians who see Canadian citizenship as incompatible with citizenship elsewhere is perhaps higher than one would like to see, the national consensus is still strongly in favour of permitting dual citizenship. And with younger respondents preferring to continue the status quo by an even wider margin, the poll merely confirms that Canadians figure to prefer to allow dual citizenship well into the future.

Update: Of course, it could be that the Cons will want to push to abolish dual citizenship no matter how strongly the public is against them. And I fear Robert may be right in musing as to how they could seek to force through a more restricted definition.

Not getting the message

Shorter Jim Prentice in response to the Assembly of First Nations' National Day of Action:
We've heard you loud and clear. We just don't care enough to actually do anything in response.

Friday, June 29, 2007

On island offensives

The Tyee has an interesting article on the state of the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding, where Gary Lunn, who manages to stand out as exceptionally reckless on the environment even among the Cons, has managed to hold onto a riding with a seemingly strong environmental vote. But while I'll leave Lunn's continued presence for a discussion another day, there's one note worth pointing out based on the riding's history.

While the Tyee notes that Green candidate Andrew Lewis was seen as a disappointment for his loss of votes from 2004 to 2006, the party's expenditures in the riding offer what looks to be a complete explanation for Lewis' dropoff. And the story surrounding Lewis says an awful lot about both where the Greens now stand nationally, and how unlikely they are to progress much further anytime soon.

In 2004, the Greens showered Saanich-Gulf Islands with $79,731 in election spending - close to the maximum expenditure for a riding, and nearly double the $40,318 spent on NDP candidate Jennifer Burgis (who still finished five points ahead of Lewis). In contrast, in 2006 the Greens seem to have put their money elsewhere, spending only $19,061.08 on Lewis - which combined with increased investments from the NDP and the Libs explains the Greens' dropoff in votes.

Now, that decline in spending offers a reasonable excuse for Lewis' 2006 performance. But the reality from 2004 highlights the distance between the Greens and victory in even the most favourable-looking ridings across the country. After all, Lewis couldn't break out of fourth place even while spending to the maximum in what was obviously a strong target riding - and the 2006 results signal that the Greens are fighting a losing battle to try to retain any support they can win with a single-riding push.

Out of an abundance of fairness to Lewis, I'll point out as well that his 2004 showing doesn't appear to reflect the most wasteful per-vote spending in the riding's history; that honour goes to the Canadian Action Party's Valerie Rampone, who managed to spend $4,335 on 234 votes in 1997 in a losing bid to finish ahead of the Natural Law Party. But especially with extremely strong environmental candidates running for the NDP and Libs, it looks like the Greens have already peaked in what was once their best hope for a seat - and aside from the media spotlight on Elizabeth May in her effort to leap past both the Cons and NDP in Central Nova, they'll likely have to hope to catch the other parties napping to seriously challenge anywhere else.

Amplifying the problem

The Cons have received loads of criticism for pushing forward with an office-building sell-off without any meaningful public discussion or debate about the costs and (alleged) benefits involved. Which has naturally led the Cons to try to address those concerns about poor resource management and opaque spending millions of dollars on a report which won't be made public:
The federal government is hiring Deutsche Bank to provide independent advice on the financial wisdom of a controversial plan to sell nine big office buildings and lease them back from private owners.

Government sources have told The Globe and Mail the plan is a gamble that could cost taxpayers up to $600-million over 25 years if it fails, but might also produce savings of $250-million...

Deutsche Bank will be paid $1.9-million for the work, and then is precluded by conflict-of-interest rules from playing a financial role in any sale-leaseback deal if it goes ahead...

(I)f the analysis shows costs outweigh benefits, the property sales will not go through, Mr. McGrath said during a conference call. If cabinet decides the plan is solid, final sales could be concluded in three to six months.

The government does not plan to make the Deutsche Bank report public before officials send it to cabinet ministers with a recommendation, Mr. McGrath said.
Of course, it seems entirely likely that the Cons' current plan is to defer any discussion pending completion of the report, then claim that the report says something that it doesn't in order to try to support their own poor policy choices - as they've already been known to do. And as long as the report is suppressed, there will be no way for Canadians to know either how its outcome was shaped through biased terms of reference, and whether the Cons' public spin is anywhere close to accurate.

Regardless of what happens now that the report has been commissioned, though, there should be even less doubt now that the Cons remain willing and eager to sacrifice public money on the altar of privatization. And whatever the outcome of the selloff process, that's a fact which should be held against them at every available opportunity.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


It may be tough to believe that Canada could do worse than Deceivin' Stephen as the country's most powerful political figure. But Harper's second-in-command is apparently going out of his way to show that the nearest Cons successor might be up to the task, as Lawrence Cannon's Transportation Department is claiming that political control over Canada's no-fly list and an ID requirement for 12-year-old passengers are "safeguards" rather than clear indications of a terribly-designed scheme.

On signals

The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy may once have seemed to be a useful diversion for the Cons on the environment file. But thanks to the Roundtable's preliminary report on greenhouse gas emissions, the Cons may be facing more heat than they'd expected this summer:
The Conservative government needs to slap a price-tag on greenhouse gas emissions very soon if it hopes to achieve its promised reductions by 2050, says a group of federally appointed advisers.

And the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy said Wednesday that the government would save Canadian businesses more money if it signed up to international carbon trading markets, rather than going it alone.

The round table's interim report, commissioned by the government, was yet another voice among a chorus of economists and environmentalists who say the only way to address greenhouse gas emissions is to make it costly to pollute. Top thinkers at financial institutions and Canadian universities have underlined that the market needs a strong price signal if industries and consumers are to truly change their behaviour...

The round table's interim report ran a number of scenarios on the impact to the economy, given certain policy choices. It found that acting quickly to achieve the target of 65 per cent below 2003 emissions levels by 2050 would have a milder impact on the economy and result in an ultimately lower price per tonne of carbon than proceeding slowly.
It shouldn't come as much surprise that Baird is responding by trying to spin a report that calls for immediate action and strong price signals as somehow supporting the Cons' intention to avoid both. But while the Cons predictably can't be bothered to acknowledge the substance of the Roundtable's report, it nonetheless figures to cause major problems for the Cons' attempts to muddy the environmental waters.

In particular, the Cons' usual claim that Canada can't afford to take real action now (if ever) will seem all the less plausible now that their own advisory body has made it clear that the greater economic danger lies in waiting too long. And the more Canadians realize that both the environment and the economy are at risk due to the Cons' inaction, the less patient they figure to be when Harper finally faces another trip to the polls.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Time to let it go

Shorter Barbara Kay:
And while I'm trying desperately to reignite past political battles, what kind of anti-troop terrorist-hugger would stand for the idea of "not necessarily conscription"?

(Edit: typo.)

Forcing consensus

While I couldn't disagree much more with the tone of Andrew Coyne's column on Deceivin' Stephen's Afghanistan plan, he figures to be right on the mark in substance. Contrary to how Thomas Walkom, Lawrence Martin and others have painted Harper's "consensus" comment, there's little reason to think that the Cons are really interested in allowing the views of other parties to influence any plan to extend Canada's combat role any more than they can avoid.

Instead, Harper's goal seems to be to try to develop the type of elite consensus that now dominates the U.S., where the pro-withdrawal message supported by a majority of the population is consistently dismissed as a "fringe" position. And what better way to marginalize the majority than by conflating flowery-sounding talk of a "consensus" with the oft-heard talking point that anybody who would even consider pulling out is against freedom, democracy, the troops and Canada as a whole?

If there's any good news, it's that the misreading from Walkom and Martin suggests that such a plan has backfired. Rather than strongarming anybody into supporting indefinite combat, Harper may only have made a 2009 pullout from Kandahar appear to be the default option.

But as Coyne notes, that could still be dangerous to the extent that the pro-pullout side may let its guard down. Which means that there's no less need now than ever to make sure that Harper can't pretend that his desired "consensus" in any way reflects the views of either most MPs or most Canadians.

A tenuous Link

Shorter Link Byfield:
It turns out that putting a bunch of Reformers in power won't necessarily result in the federal government catering to my every whim. So it's time for plan B: starting my own government and seeing who follows me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On corrective action

While Bill C-31 was improved significantly by the Senate's refusal to jeopardize Canadians' privacy for the convenience of political parties, it still left plenty to be desired in the area of voter access to the polls. But the Globe and Mail reports that a Charter challenge could well undo the damage in that department as well:
Mr. Wright plans to be a witness in a constitutional challenge by B.C. lawyer Jim Quail, who argues that the measures intended to stop voter fraud will instead disenfranchise the poor and transient.

"You've got whole categories of people who don't have identification with an address - they don't drive vehicles, they don't have passports, they've just moved, they just got robbed," said Mr. Quail, a staff lawyer at the non-profit B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

"You get turned away - and you've just lost your right to vote."...

A spokesman for Elections Canada said he couldn't comment on the debate around the law. But in testimony before the Commons standing committee on procedure and House affairs in December, former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley said about 3.3 million people - 15 per cent of Canada's population - don't have driver's licences, and many don't have a current address on the card.

Canadian passports do not show addresses, nor does the citizenship card, he said. In fact, there are only five pieces of federal government ID that have a name and address - the federal fishing licence, certain Quebec trades cards and cards issued by Quebec's Centre local de services communautaires, certain hospital cards, and the card issued by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind - none of which show citizenship, he said.

"Some groups of electors are much less likely to have a driver's licence - in other words, they are targeted by this absence," said Mr. Kingsley, adding that this includes homeless, disadvantaged, seniors and youth.

The law is expected to change voting dynamics where there are many transients, such as ridings with a lot of university students, as in Mr. Owen's riding, and poorer neighbourhoods such as Vancouver's urban slum, the Downtown Eastside.

Because a vote of no-confidence could easily topple Canada's minority government, Mr. Quail said he will file his challenge, under Section 3 of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as soon as he can. He has already prepared affidavits, lined up witnesses such as Mr. Wright and has begun to draft his challenge.

"We want to be in a position to move pretty quickly so we can get [the new law] struck down before the next election happens," he said.
While I'm ordinarily fairly pessimistic about the chances of constitutional challenges, this looks to be a relatively solid case. Under the provisions of C-31, Canadians could plainly be prevented from exercising their right to vote based on matters beyond their reasonable control. Indeed, the main question in Quail's challenge in particular may be whether a court would wait for actual damage from an election before addressing Quail's argument, or look at striking the law down ahead of time to prevent an anticipated breach of Charter rights.

Of course, it would be for the best if a court challenge wasn't needed to put such arbitrary restrictions under the microscope. But there figures to be at least some chance to avoid the needless exclusion of voters from the next federal election - and Quail deserves credit for helping to make sure the issue gets dealt with.

Hurry up and wait

The CP reports that not only have the Cons failed to address actual health wait times, but their negligence in dealing with the provinces has ensured that we still don't even have useful data to compare provincial wait times and outcomes:
Ottawa set up a $5.5-billion Wait Times Reduction Fund in 2004 as part of a 10-year plan to strengthen health care, and in return each jurisdiction agreed to establish comparable indicators of access to health care professionals, diagnostic and treatment procedures.

The idea was to provide the public with a national picture in which provincial laggards and leaders could be readily identified by their citizens. But it never happened, says (a Health Council of Canada report).

"The information needed to paint a cross-Canada picture - information that allows Canadians to see changes over time and to compare wait times data from different parts of the country - is not available from all jurisdictions, despite widespread recognition that it should be."

Provinces were supposed to establish pan-Canadian benchmarks for five priority areas of health care by Dec. 31, 2005, but they have not done so, says the report. Instead, each province has declared benchmarks for different procedures.

"Without comparable data - information that is based on similar ways of measuring change - it is not possible to determine on a national level whether meaningful reductions in wait times have been achieved, or how many people receive their care within the time frames (benchmarks) agreed to," says the report.
The Health Council of Canada rightly notes the problems with an overly narrow focus on wait times to begin with. But whether or not it makes sense to divert health resources to a small and arbitrary list of procedures, it could only be a plus to have an accurate reading on how long patients actually have to wait in as many areas as possible.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Cons' accountability-free philosophy in dealing with the provinces, there's little prospect that the situation will improve as long as Harper holds power. And Canadians already waiting for health care surely can't be happy having to wait for a change in government before they'll have any idea where they stand.

Monday, June 25, 2007

None too bright

In case we needed yet another painful reminder that the Cons' party management is even less competent than their government, York Region unintentionally highlights a comedy of errors between a new Con candidate and the screening committee who apparently approved him:
One of the things Paul Calandra was obliged to do before becoming a candidate for the Oak Ridges-Markham Conservatives was disclose he is embroiled in a lawsuit.

While Mr. Calandra insists he told the local Tories he’s being sued by his sisters over their mother’s estate, a party official can’t confirm if such a disclosure was made.

Documents filed at the Newmarket court office show plaintiffs Milva Gehring and Concetta Calandra claim seven months before their mother died in August 2005, she revoked Mr. Calandra’s power-of-attorney.

In the statement of claim, the sisters further state their brother used the power of attorney to take out a $240,000 mortgage on their mother’s Ballantrae farm, wrote a $25,000 cheque to himself and charged a total of $7,800 on one of their mother’s charge cards without her knowledge or consent...

In the run-up to the Conservative nomination, Mr. Calandra answered the party’s 35-page candidate-search questionnaire and was interviewed by a three-member candidate-search committee.

“I told them about the suit,” Mr. Calandra said. “The nominating (search) committee knew about it and the party knew.”

Committee chairperson Solette Gelberg told the newspaper, she had “no knowledge of a lawsuit”.

One day later, after calling the candidate, the King Township resident called the newspaper and said Mr. Calandra “may have mentioned” the legal matter, stressing three potential candidates were each interviewed for two hours.

Mr. Calandra’s campaign website states he opened and successfully operated two businesses “after completing university”.

What it doesn’t say is Mr. Calandra did not graduate from Carleton University. Initially, he told the York Region Media Group he had a university degree and then after persistent questioning, he said he did not graduate because he was short credits required for a degree.

After being informed of what Mr. Calandra’s website states, Ms Gelberg suggested Mr. Calandra “fix” the education information.

A day later, she told the newspaper Mr. Calandra informed her he has enough credits for a university degree.

“He just hasn’t applied (for the degree),” Ms Gelberg said. “His website says he completed university. For him, he was finished.”
For those keeping track:
- The search committee doing due diligence on Con candidates doesn't seem to blink at an ongoing lawsuit which includes accusations of financial mismanagement.
- Meanwhile, the candidate approved by the committee can't keep track of his own education - but figures it's not a problem to err on the high side and let others correct him.
- And with both sides having so little idea what they're talking about, it's tough to tell whether the candidate also covered up his outstanding lawsuit originally, or whether the search committee was simply paying little enough attention to miss it entirely.

I suppose this is the result when a party applies an intelligence-optional standard - which may well make Calandra a cabinet candidate down the road if he proves himself as an effective trained seal through another Con election win. But it's hard to imagine that Canadian voters would want to see the Cons' foibles occupying government benches any longer than can be avoided. And it may take nothing more than the "persistent questioning" that forced Calandra to admit his exaggerations to make sure the Cons can't hide their weaknesses past another trip to the polls.

No reason to brag

Deceivin' Stephen is proudly claiming that he hasn't yet damaged federal/provincial relations to the point where no premier will take federal money. But give him time...

A shorter Monday morning

Shorter Con environmental policy:
Silly civil servants - of course it's a good deal to pay $4.5 million to avoid making homes more efficient!

Shorter Con building sell-off policy:
Silly civil servants - it's a steal to pay $600 million to get rid of government assets!

Shorter Deceivin' Stephen:
I'd get along just fine with the civil service - if only those heathens would stop casting doubt on our governmental infallibility.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On standard communications

The Cons' content-free media strategy seemed to work relatively well for as long as the press was willing to put up with nonexistent answers. But now, the Cons' stonewalling has led to a rightful response pointing out the Cons' lack of substance - and even CanWest's news coverage gets into the act in its report on future military spending:
The release of the (Cons' anticipated defence strategy paper), crafted by the military to meet the Conservative's defence vision, is at least a year late. Officials with Mr. O'Connor's office stated last year the strategy would be ready in the summer of 2006. They then changed that to the fall and then later said the strategy would come out by the end of 2006.

In an e-mail sent Thursday, Mr. O'Connor's office stated: "When we are ready to announce more on this, we will do so."

That same mailed sentence is the standard communication line from Mr. O'Connor's office used to answer questions on a variety of issues, ranging from the defence strategy to when a compensation package might be ready for Canadian veterans exposed to nuclear fallout during the Cold War.
Now, the Cons would presumably be unhappy enough to have their delays pointed out publicly by the media chain which is normally most friendly to the party.

But with the Cons' attempts to deflect the press becoming an object of ridicule in and of themselves, Harper and company face a choice of either allowing their "brand" to become synonymous with blanket refusals to say anything meaningful, or loosening the reins and risking the virtual certainty that the Cons' none-too-bright public faces will embarrass the party. And the opposition has to be looking forward to seeing either of those scenarios play out.

Credit not due

From the CP's headline, "Harper to go North as government moves ahead with deep-sea port, icebreakers", I'd almost thought for a second that Deceivin' Stephen might have reversed course again to actually keep his party's campaign commitments on those issues.

But sadly, the article makes it clear that the Cons are instead pushing forward with pale imitations of their original plans. And what's worse, with a false headline atop a rare article about Arctic issues, the Cons will have an easier time avoiding any public accountability for another set of broken promises.

In a nutshell

John Ivison's column on the Cons' inability to succeed even in their narrow task of advertising and campaigning while in office is worth a read. But let's highlight a couple of vignettes which sum up the Con government about as well as can be done.

First, there's the tendency toward hiding away from any public accountability...with Sandra Buckler not surprisingly leading the way:
The plan in crisis situations has been to avoid the media. One MP said the only advice the Prime Minister's communications director, Sandra Buckler, was able to offer to caucus was the location of the back door.
Then, there's the combination of top-down messaging and incompetence in managing even that - leading to frustration among trained seals who aren't quite sure how they're expected to clap on a given day:
On detainees, one strategist recalls asking for talking points from the PMO before going on a televised discussion panel. "I was told to read the previous day's Question Period, which was no help because we had three different positions," he said.
Fortunately, the Cons are properly facing criticism for both their inability to distinguish between governing and campaigning, and their incompetence even in the focus they've chosen for themselves. And the more Canadians become aware of both of those problems, the less likely the Cons will be to hold office much longer.