Saturday, July 14, 2007

On disinterest

In the comments to this morning's post, Celeste points out an article on the results from the Greens' nomination meeting in Saanich-Gulf Islands. But while Andrew Lewis has been nominated as the Greens' candidate once again, tonight's results suggest that Lewis is seriously lacking for support within the riding:
After a heated meeting and lively debate, Green party members in the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding voted today to run a candidate in the next federal election.

An e-mail urging Green Party members to vote "none of the above" rather than select Andrew Lewis as riding representative was sent out by a small group of dissenters Thursday.

The signees don't think a Green party candidate could win the riding and wants members to vote for Liberal candidate Briony Penn or NDP candidate Julian West, both former Green Party of B.C. members, instead of running one of their own in order to unseat Conservative MP Gary Lunn...

After the two hour meeting, 84 per cent of the 21 members in attendance voted to have Lewis represent the party.
Now, ordinarily a turnout of 21 people to acclaim a repeat candidate might not be cause for too much concern. But with the "none of the above" option receiving national media coverage in the days before the meeting, I'd have to figure that Lewis would have tried to rally his troops to solidify the nomination rather than risking having his candidacy torpedoed by even a modicum of organization on the "none of the above" side. And the Greens can't be happy that their investment of nearly $100,000 in Lewis over the past two federal elections translated into a meager 17 members who showed up to vote for him.

Of course, the "none of the above" camp proved to be even weaker at only 4 votes, meaning that Lewis will get the Green nomination again. But based on Lewis' tepid support and the public airing of the possibility of not contesting the riding, it looks entirely possible that the next federal election will continue Lewis' pattern of losing votes as time goes by - ensuring that a former target riding gets further out of reach for the Greens.

Update: A different set of numbers from another blog forced me to check my off-the-cuff math - but the result suggests that the Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens have their own results wrong. 17 votes out of 21 would have led to a result of 81%, while 18 would have led to a result of 86%: there's simply no way for a whole number of votes over a denominator of 21 to lead to a result of 84%.

It is possible that the result could have been something along the lines of 16 for Lewis, 3 for "none of the above" and 2 spoiled ballots - which would result in 21 members eligible to vote, while 84% of the actual votes went to Lewis. But that would only reduce Lewis' level of support even further...and hint at another set of potential voters who weren't willing to actually support him.

Calling a hack a hack

The Ottawa Citizen starts off an editorial on First Nations issues by praising Con MP Rod Bruinooge for his supposed candour and honesty. But in the interest of furthering an open and honest discussion, let's take a look at just how far the Citizen has to stretch the facts to try to make the Cons look good.

Here's what the Citizen had to say about Bruinooge:
Conservative Manitoba MP Rod Bruinooge says that he's the kind of guy who calls a spade a spade. Judging by his comments about the Kelowna Accord, his penchant for candour is refreshing.

Mr. Bruinooge, in a scrum with reporters after his speech to the annual meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, called the Kelowna Accord an "expensive press release."
So just how candid was Bruinooge's message? Why, it's so honest and personal that it's taken word for word from his boss:
Fontaine was responding to a comment by parliamentary secretary Rod Bruinooge who, when asked by reporters why the government shelved the accord, said the arrangement was a mere public relations exercise by the Liberals before the last federal election. "The previous government made an election promise at the last hour," Bruinooge said. "This was later dubbed the Kelowna accord. ... There was no agreement. It was a press release."

The comments echo those made by Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Jim Prentice who recently referred to the accord as a "very expensive press release."
Needless to say, Deceivin' Stephen will be glad to know that at least one significant media outlet is so gullible as to accept Con talking points as "candour". But for those looking to evaluate the Citizen's credibility in assessing Bruinooge in particular and the issue of First Nations funding in general, the only available conclusion is that the Citizen isn't about to let the facts get in the way of its Con-friendly spin.

Leading nowhere

We'll find out before long whether or not the Greens will follow the advice of some activists in declining to nominate a candidate for Saanich-Gulf Islands. But whatever the outcome of today's nomination meeting, Elizabeth May's reaction to the possibility of a "none of the above" vote raises some serious questions about her leadership:
Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said yesterday she does not know what will happen if her party chooses not to run a candidate in Saanich-Gulf Islands at a contentious nomination meeting scheduled for this afternoon.

"I'm just trying to respect the will of local members at this point," Ms. May said yesterday, refusing to speculate on what might happen...

There is general confusion over what will happen if Mr. Lewis does not win today. Mr. Lewis said that if the majority of the vote goes to "none of the above," the riding association will hold another nomination race, and he will run again. Mr. Horter said such a vote would send a strong message to the national party that there is a will not to run a Green Party candidate. Ms. May said she was unsure what will happen if Mr. Lewis is not nominated.

"I've been leader since August and I'm still trying to figure out what policies are in place," she said, explaining she doesn't know if the party's federal council has the right to appoint a candidate or if they would do so even if they had that right.

The party passed a motion in 2003 calling on it to have a candidate in every riding. However, that may not be valid in its newly passed constitution, Ms. May said.
It's well and good that in this case, May claims that she'll at least listen to what local members have to say. But it would surely make sense then to have some understanding of how to give effect to the will of the riding association - and May seems to be sorely lacking in that department.

Remember that the Greens have already faced a similar issue in St. Catharines, where former party leadership candidate Jim Fannon proposed that the Greens bow out of the riding (albeit through a slightly different process).

Given that the potential for the Greens to bow out of ridings has already received substantial media discussion, it's remarkable that May doesn't seem to have either any knowledge of the immediate effect of a "none of the above" nomination vote, or a sense of what the party's national council could or would do in response. And if May can't be bothered to keep track of either the rules or the prevailing sentiment within her own party, there's all the more reason to think she'd be similarly ineffective in dealing with national issues in Parliament.

Friday, July 13, 2007

On pattern recognition

The Globe and Mail reports that Canada's Neo-Con Government has received its quarterly reminder that mimicking Bushco word for word doesn't go over well with the public. But it surely says plenty about the Cons' mindset that they so consistently fall into the habit until a focus group study jolts them back to reality.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Still behind closed doors

There's been plenty of discussion of the news that the RCMP and the U.S. Army have stepped in to prevent a Council of Canadians meeting based on the apparent conclusion that Maude Barlow should be treated as a security threat, as well as at least one great suggestion in response to boost public awareness of the SPP.

Let's note, though, that it isn't only the anti-SPP side that sees a serious problem with the secrecy and exclusivity of the process. After all, a month ago even a leading (if unusually principled) SPP advocate was demanding greater public input and participation - suggesting that perhaps more interaction would be allowed and encouraged, if only toward the goal of softening opposition.

But this week's move demonstrates that the forces actually pushing the SPP aren't any more interested in suggestions of openness and public involvement coming from their side than coming from those of us concerned about the possible effects of the SPP. And that can only lead people to be all the more rightfully concerned about what's to come from behind the security perimeter.

Ending the denial

Pat Martin and the NDP now have a strong new ally in their ongoing efforts to ban the manufacture and use of asbestos, as the Canadian Cancer Society is set to slam federal policy which has both encouraged continued asbestos manufacturing, and blocked international efforts to reduce its use:
The Canadian Cancer Society will announce as early as today that it endorses a ban on the export of asbestos and believes the federal government should stop blocking international efforts to curb the trade in the dangerous mineral.

Although asbestos is internationally recognized as one of the worst cancer-causing materials ever to have been in widespread use, the society's decision was controversial because it undermines Ottawa's long-standing contention asbestos can be used safely and should be promoted.

Most industrialized countries, including Canada, no longer use much asbestos because of health concerns and worries over legal liabilities...

In recognition that calling for a ban is politically sensitive, the society is expected to say instead that it believes the use of asbestos should be eliminated, which is tantamount to a call for a ban...

Despite the well-known health risks, the federal government has been a strong backer of asbestos.

It has spent about $19.2-million from 1984 to 2007, including regular funding of the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute, to promote asbestos use.

Although many countries have banned asbestos, Canada continues to allow it in children's toys and building materials, among other products.

The cancer society will also recommend that the federal government stop trying to block efforts by the Rotterdam Convention, a UN-organized body, at its meeting in 2008, to place the variety of asbestos mined in Canada on the list of the world's most dangerous substances.
Unfortunately, the NDP has so far been the lone party willing to take any steps to reduce asbestos use and production. And it's to the discredit of all other parties that they seem to have valued the protection of the asbestos mining industry more than the workers and consumers who stand to suffer from the continued use of a toxic substance.

But the Cancer Society's announcement should both bring the issue back into the public eye, and highlight the fact that the question of asbestos use is intricately linked to major health concerns. And that kind of attention should go a long way toward the kind of political change needed to put an end to asbestos production.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Choosing campaigns

It's undoubtedly for the best that Deceivin' Stephen is at least claiming to understand that Canada's combat role in Afghanistan ends in 2009. But even if Harper is in fact willing to act on the consensus against an extension, isn't there a distinct possibility that Harper's motive may be to have more of Canada's military at home to hide behind in time for an election that fall?

On breakthrough possibilities

Steve has covered the Montreal portion of today's newly-released Environics leadership poll. But while Jack Layton's standing as the top choice for Prime Minister may be limited to Montreal for now, the national numbers may hold even more promise for the NDP and its leader:
While Harper's approval rating has slipped across the country to 48 per cent, it's lowest level since his election and the first time Environics has seen it below 50 per cent, Dion hasn't been able to capitalize. Only 16 per cent of Canadians see him as the best choice for PM, compared with 36 per cent for Harper and 20 per cent for Layton.
That standing makes Layton the sole leader to gain ground in the "best PM" numbers, as Harper lost a point and Dion was stagnant.

But perhaps even more significantly for possible future moves, Layton has emerged for the first time as the clear leader in public approval. Indeed, based on the full Environics poll reults, Layton alone managed to improve his standing with the Canadian public in June, pushing back toward approval levels which he last held consistently shortly after the 2006 election at 56%.

Meanwhile, every other leader saw a significant drop. Gilles Duceppe had already started dropping from his historical levels before his abortive departure, and fell 3 points to 53%; as noted by the article, Deceivin' Stephen is below 50% for the first time after plummeting 6 points; and more modest losses now place Elizabeth May and Stephane Dion at 42% and 38% respectively.

Of course, Layton's strong numbers will surely make him a target over the course of the summer. But they also suggest that Canadians are likely to be highly receptive to what he has to say - and if the public continues to grow ever more wary of the other federal leaders, then it may not be long before Layton ranks as the top choice for PM across far more territory than Montreal alone.

An impending battle

Chantal Hebert notes that while the Cons' stay in office so far has been relatively quiet on the health-care front, they likely won't be able to avoid the issue much longer:
Ask seasoned political veterans to name the big issue lurking around the next corner in Canada and chances are the answer will be none of the topics that are currently consuming Parliament.

While global warming and Canada's fighting role in Afghanistan have taken centre stage on Parliament Hill since the last election, it is the inevitability of the resurgence of the debate on the future of medicare that is increasingly creeping into leading-edge public policy thinking...

Watching Parliament these days, it is hard to believe that a provincial challenge to the Canada Health Act could be only a few months away. Health care has no profile in the current House of Commons; it has fallen off the official opposition radar. If an election had taken place this spring, it would not have been a major issue. But that could change quickly.

The Prime Minister knows first-hand about the perils of looking the other way when it comes to files that are not the forte of his Conservative party. Harper, who came to power prepared to treat the environment as a third-tier issue, is still paying for his hit-and-miss approach to climate change in the polls. As the minority government looks to the challenges of a longer-than-expected first mandate this summer, it is bound to be picking up rumblings on the medicare front.

It may well choose to ignore an issue that has largely defeated the previous generation of federal and provincial leaders. But if some of the country's top public policy practitioners are to be believed, Canadian politicians can run but they will not be able to hide for long from a no-holds-barred debate on medicare.
It seems fairly clear that it won't be long before the usual federal reluctance to question anything that happens in Quebec has to give way to the importance of the issues being debated - and Harper surely can't be looking forward to facing that reality. But it's worth noting that it isn't only the Cons who risk being caught behind the curve when it comes to health care.

While Hebert is right to note that the "official opposition" has been asleep at the switch so far, there's good reason for her to limit the statement to that effect. Even in the face of other, more publicized debates surrounding the environment and Afghanistan, the NDP has continued to make health care a signature issue by pointing out where the Cons' negligence has undermined the Canada Health Act, pushing for ways to strengthen the public system as it stands, and indeed taking its place on the front lines of the upcoming Quebec debate. And there could be little better opening for the NDP than for Jack Layton to be the most prominent national voice on the side of single-payer health care as the issue moves to the front of the line in public discussions.

It probably isn't too late now for the Libs to use their relative strength in seat numbers and connections to take a significant opposition role to preserve the Canada Health Act. But the debate will go on whether or not the Libs bother to participate...and they'll be the ones who face the risk of being seen as irrelevant if they attempt to appease their Quebec cousins by sitting out such an important discussion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

On hidden viewpoints

While John Ibbitson's pro-SPP hack job yesterday was prominently featured on aggregator sites, Linda McQuaig's column on the SPP today seems to have been largely buried. Which is a shame, since McQuaig tells much of the story which has been all too often neglected, with a particular focus on the secrecy of the SPP process to date:
It's a great irony that, while the United States has probably never been less popular among Canadians than in the era of George W. Bush, plans to integrate Canada more deeply into the U.S. have been proceeding at a brisk clip.

The threat of Canada being absorbed into the U.S. has traditionally provoked strong reactions here, as the pitched electoral battles over the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1980s and '90s attest.

But the issue seems to have largely disappeared in recent years, leaving the impression that the push for deeper integration has stopped or that Canadians no longer care about it. Neither is true.

Rather, what's happened is that those pushing for deeper Canada-U.S. integration – principally members of the corporate elite on both sides of the border – have become more sophisticated in their strategy. Rather than loudly trumpeting their agenda, they've made their push largely invisible.

Their latest vehicle is the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). Since it was officially launched by the leaders of the U.S., Canada and Mexico in March 2005, it's operated largely under the radar, even though it deals with some of the most important issues a nation faces – national security and energy, as well as trade.

Given the centrality of these issues, one would have thought that any changes – especially changes that would make Canada more like the U.S. – should involve wide consultation with the Canadian people.

But exactly the opposite is happening. The public has been completely shut out of the SPP process...

Regulatory harmonization is just one small area that the SPP is working on. I'll deal with the more contentious issues – security and energy – in a later column, all in the interest of setting the stage for next month, when Bush arrives in Montebello, Que., for what he, Stephen Harper and Mexican president Felipe Calderon are no doubt hoping will be an opportunity to quietly discuss the SPP and weigh the advice of their business council.

No public consultations have been planned for Montebello. Indeed, security measures will ensure the leaders hear as little as possible from the people.
While the leaders will be doing their best to avoid hearing from anybody but business interests, it's voices like McQuaig's who can help to make sure that serious issues surrounding the SPP aren't ignored in coverage of the upcoming convention. And hopefully the combination of this spring's Parliamentary hearings and coverage surrounding the convention can force the SPP and its backers to face the type of public scrutiny that they've scrupulously avoided so far.

Building on successes

The NDP has already won plenty of positive press for its stance on Afghanistan - with Barbara Yaffe's column today making for the most recent example. But based on a new push today, it looks like the NDP's strategy to date has only been the start of a serious challenge to the Cons' message about Canada's combat role.

Let's start with the highlights from Yaffe:
New Democrats, crowded on the political left by Liberals and Greens, are distinguishing themselves with a bold, common-sense position on Canada's Afghanistan mission...

New Democrats, alone, have drawn a line in the sand, insisting the mission, as it's being carried out, is deeply flawed and that Canadian troops should come home. (Google: "Commons, standing committee, defence, Afghanistan.")

The party details a logical, realistic position in an 11-page dissenting opinion to a June 18 report on the deployment by the Commons committee. It followed several months of hearings...

The NDP report notes that many other NATO countries have expressed a reluctance to partake militarily.

Without any clear objectives being debated and a consensus emerging as to what is to be achieved, "Canada has wandered into an international conflict in the middle of Central Asia with little control over the direction of the mission, or with much influence on its strategy."

The NDP's blunt conclusion is one that is mighty hard to refute.
While that kind of positive press is well and good, it can never hurt to provide some added support for one's position. And Jack Layton is pushing for Canada to both point out the civilian casualties which have resulted from combat in Afghanistan, and encourage a strategy to reduce the harm now being done to Afghan civilians:
Jack Layton, the federal NDP leader, will call on Stephen Harper today to demand that U.S. and NATO forces cease air strikes in Afghanistan...

Afghan elders and villagers in two regions, in western and northeastern Afghanistan, claimed on Saturday that 133 civilians were killed in recent air strikes. "Canada should lead the way in demanding a halt to these air strikes," Layton told the Star...

Layton plans to speak with Harper today, asking him to instruct Canada's representatives on NATO's North Atlantic Council, which manages NATO's day-to-day operations and meets two or three times a week at NATO headquarters in Brussels, to call for an end to NATO and U.S. aerial bombing.

"The increasing death toll of Afghan civilians is something Canadians don't accept," Layton said. "Across the country people have told me spontaneously that destruction of villages was not what they expected to be part of the Afghan mission in which we're participating."
Now, it doesn't seem particularly likely that the Cons will bother acting on Layton's request. But any failure to do so will call attention to a couple of factors which the Cons likely don't want brought into the public eye.

First, it seems obvious that the Canadian public's level of support for continued combat depends in large part on the particular angle being discussed. And it's hard to imagine an issue which would result in a stronger backlash against the Cons' position than their giving tacit (or worse yet, public) approval to avoidable civilian casualties.

Second, the Cons have staked their entire foreign policy on the premise that Canada should be willing to sacrifice diversity of interaction and multilateralism in exchange for what's supposed to be increased influence with the U.S. and other like-minded countries and entities. But there's a conspicuous lack of evidence that Harper's efforts to echo or even outdo his southern soulmate have actually given Canada the slightest bit of ability to influence the actions of the U.S. or anybody else.

And Layton's call will bring that fact to the forefront. After all, even if the Cons aren't the least bit willing to challenge the status quo, any discussion about whether Canada should attempt to bring up the issue leads naturally to the question of "would they listen even if we asked?"

It may well be that even the Cons would answer "no" in order to avoid pressure to follow Layton's lead. But that answer in particular, in addition to the question in general, can only highlight the implausibility behind the Cons' worldview. And the more attention Layton can direct toward the Cons' own self-delusions, the less likely we'll be to have a Con government in power too much longer.

Monday, July 09, 2007

On alternate realities

The federal Cons seldom seem to lack for useful hints to anybody looking to run a top-down, reality-averse government. But while it isn't always possible to highlight all the examples, let's look a few handy tips from today's news:

- Want to take credit for being the first in the world to do something when you're not - in this case an air quality index which already existed in Canada in pilot form? Just ignore everybody else who's done it first, and let others try to correct your claim.

- Need to break a promise without calling it that? No problem - just claim you've "modified" it, as the Cons did today in deciding to replace their campaign promise to buy icebreakers with an alternate strategy of not buying icebreakers.

- And want to get your message about a massive public event, in this case the Calgary Stampede, to the media without any risk of pieings or other messy realities that tend to come with the general public? Just plan to take the media on a field trip from the event site rather than allowing anybody to know where your announcement is happening. And for an added bonus, you can always refuse to offer a ride back to anybody who doesn't project your desired message.

On chains of command

The Globe and Mail reports on a new Department of National Defence policy under which information about Afghan detainees is being systematically suppressed from public release. But while the policy is highly dubious on its own, what's even more interesting is what the announcement says about the relative positions of the two people most directly responsible for the decision:
The office of General Rick Hillier, Canada's top soldier, has halted the release of any documents relating to detainees captured in Afghanistan under the federal Access to Information Act, claiming that disclosure of any such information could endanger Canadian troops.

According to documents made available to The Globe and Mail, the Strategic Joint Staff, a newly created group that advises Gen. Hillier, has been reviewing all Access to Information requests about detainees since March, shortly after the detainee controversy first erupted.

The Strategic Joint Staff has given strict guidance to National Defence's director of Access to Information, Julie Jansen, on what documents should be withheld. The result is that the flow of documents about detainees has virtually dried up and the department has summarily rejected requests for the same kind of documents it released earlier.

In recent letters responding to requests filed on behalf of The Globe and Mail, Ms. Jansen has “exempted in its entirety” the disclosure of detainee transfer logs, medical records, witness statements and other processing forms. The department said the information could not be disclosed for national security reasons...

Asked if there was any evidence that soldiers' safety had been compromised because of earlier disclosure of detainee information, DND spokesman Marc Raider responded that “the information cannot be provided for operational security reasons.”

It was on the basis of successful access requests by The Globe and by Professor Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa that Canadians first learned of allegations that three Afghan detainees were abused while in Canadian custody. Those allegations have led to three separate investigations by the Canadian military and the Military Police Complaints Commission, which have yet to be completed.
On the substantive side, the policy looks like one that's ripe for challenge. As a general rule under Access to Information legislation, a blanket policy of withholding a specific class of documents tends to be seen as an improper failure to consider whether documents are in fact subject to disclosure. And the use of a specially-chosen group of reviewers to produce the desired outcome doesn't seem likely to make such a policy look any more legitimate.

Unfortunately, though, such a challenge may take years to work its way through the Information Commissioner and the courts. But we won't need to wait that long for today's news to speak volumes about a complete breakdown in the appropriate chain of accountability within National Defence.

Under Canada's Access to Information Act, the "head" of each government department is generally responsible for compliance with the appropriate access rules. Of course, those functions can be and are frequently delegated - but ultimately it's the minister who properly holds responsibility for his department's decisions. And presumably the minister would be responsible both to approve any blanket policies...and to defend those policies publicly.

So who's the minister responsible for National Defence? Not surprisingly, that would be the perpetually-embattled Gordon O'Connor, who happens to have demonstrated his utter incompetence most clearly in his attempts to respond to the previously-disclosed documents about detainees.

Now, it's not at all surprising that O'Connor himself apparently isn't defending, or even addressing, his department's new policy - both because the perception that he's merely covering up his own tracks would be inescapable, and because there's always the danger that he'll blurt out that the Red Cross is fully responsible to make sure that National Defence complies with the Access to Information Act.

But with O'Connor so plainly shirking both his ministerial responsibility to make sure that his department properly reviews documents for disclosure and allowing his his delegate Hillier to take the public fire for that fact, today's article ultimately offers one more strong piece of evidence that O'Connor simply isn't doing his job. And that in turn provides yet another reason why O'Connor shouldn't be allowed to remain responsible for anything.

Update: Jeff has more to much the same effect, while several other posts have also covered the suppression of information.

It's all about perspective

Shorter John Ibbitson, trying to defend the Security and Prosperity Partnership:
The greater goal of the parties involved in the SPP is "big-bang harmonization of regulatory regimes, or the creation of a common external tariff". But Maude Barlow is a lunatic conspiracy theorist for saying the same thing disapprovingly.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

On coziness

Steve has a thorough discussion of the CP's bizarre decision to voluntarily publish an article whose sole purpose seems to be to test a Con talking point that environmental groups are "too cosy" with the Libs. But let's fill in a couple of additional gaps.

First, it's no secret that environmental groups have also been involved in helping to formulate both policy and strategy for other parties who care enough to include them in their discussions. It's been publicly noted that the NDP enlisted the input of environmental groups both in developing some of their past policies, and in the course of this spring's Parliamentary negotiations - and it would be shocking if the Greens and Bloc weren't making some effort to interact with the environmental movement as well.

And as Steve notes, that's not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, it's simply a matter of parties seeking the input of groups who know the issue best - and it's the Cons who deserve scorn for refusing to engage with such groups, not the other parties for listening to them.

Second, let's note that while the efforts of the other parties can be far more plausibly seen as merely talking to groups known for both a genuine interest and knowledge of a key issue, the Cons themselves have a far more dubious link to a group which seems to want to present itself as "environmental" despite being plainly a self-interested creation.

After all, the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association has taken on a far higher profile than ever before, featuring numerous co-announcements with the Cons, ever since Deceivin' Stephen took office. And its cooperation with the government has without a doubt been based in large part on its Con connections, including its head (former Reform and Con insider Kory Tenycke) and a registered lobbyist (Harper confidant Ken Boessenkool).

Of course, the Cons probably would assume that the rules which they seek to apply to everybody else have no application to some of their own. But the CP has no excuse for neglecting to mention both the fact that the Cons are the ones isolated in their refusal to speak substantively to environmental groups, and the fact that the Cons have far more problematic links to other interest groups who have obviously had the government's ear.

On selective listening

The Tyee reports on the B.C. government's "conversation" on health care, where the public regional events have just come to an end. But as anticipated all along, while the talk from actual B.C. residents appears to have been largely in favour of strengthening public health care, there are indications that the Campbell government is looking to claim that it heard something else entirely:
"What we are hearing from those who participated in the Conversation regional events is a strong consensus in favor of protecting publicly funded health care in B.C." Leslie Dickout, a BC Health Coalition campaigner, told The Tyee...

"I was quite impressed with the Conversation on Health itself," said Leahy. "People could say what they liked, and of all the 35 people who spoke, there was not one voice for private health care. We all believe the system is sustainable if managed right."...

"I was amazed at how much preparation people had done," said Ducharme, who is the regional chair for the Thompson North Okanagan region of the BC Nurses Union, and who will join Dickout, Leahy and Murray in speaking at today's Health Coalition press conference.

In the audience of more than 100 people, she said, "I only noted two advocates for private enterprise medicine. They were very vocal, but they certainly were in the minority."

Ducharme said she is worried the government "won't listen to what we had to say. It's not a conversation if the other side isn't listening." She visited the Conversation on Health web page and didn't see the mood in the room reflected in the summaries posted...

"We have heard a lot of messages from the Conversations, including one theme that says we shouldn't increase privatization," Minister Abbott told The Tyee. "But I haven't formed any conclusions yet, although I do think that prevention and primary care may well be areas where we'll want to see innovation."
It remains to be seen what kind of legislation Abbott winds up pushing following the consultations. But when the government's perception of the meetings seems to be at odds with what the actual attendees actually heard, there's all the more reason to think that the B.C. Libs had no intention of actually listening no matter how many B.C. residents spoke up for an improved health care system. Which leaves only the question of how supporters of public health care can send a message which even Campbell and company won't be able to ignore.

Boot camp

Uncorrected Proofs points out one utterly bizarre priority on the Young Liberals' "Take Back Canada" website. But something else about their choice of phrasing jumps out at me even more.

The main theme of the site is "Give Harper the Boot". Which would be well and good on its own - but does nobody in the Young Libs remember that the "give...the boot" phrase was at the centre of an effective ad campaign against their own party in the last federal election?

I suppose this could be an effort to get today's Young Libs into the party's longtime habit of poaching ideas from the NDP...or perhaps the 2006 election experience has led somebody to conclude that it's simply an effective phrase. But I'd still think that the Libs would be bright enough not to remind Canadians of the election where voters decided to remove their party from power.