Saturday, November 03, 2007

No surprises

At long last, the Cons' contempt for party democracy is getting some of the widespread media attention it deserves. The Chronicle Herald is leading the way with a particularly scathing editorial, while the Citizen and the Star have joined in with prominent ex-Cons in condemning the determination of Harper and company to suppress their party's own grassroots.

What's particularly unfortunate, though, is that anybody seems to be surprised.

It may be new for the Cons to actually dismiss two candidates who had already been nominated. But it was clear as early as last summer that the Cons were going to great pains to prevent riding associations from having any choice of candidates at all. And it surely can't be seen as a particularly large step from denying a riding association any choice to begin with, to simply cancelling the results of such choices based on the whims of the party's central command.

Hopefully the latest examples won't be soon forgotten - and maybe more attention will be paid to the Cons' past actions now that the issue is getting a more widespread airing. But Canadians should know that the recent incidents are part of a general contempt for democracy rather than isolated occurrences...and that the Cons only figure to get worse as long as Harper perceives the party crackdown as helping his political cause.

Friday, November 02, 2007

On partial fixes

The Cons have unveiled a bill to re-enfranchise some of the voters who would have been unable to vote under their last Canada Elections Act amendment. But as I'd suspected, the Cons' fix is limited to the rural voters who are more likely to back Harper, while the continued disenfranchisement of transient voters is apparently seen by the Cons as a feature rather than a bug:
The Conservative government introduced a bill on Friday aimed at fixing a glitch in the Elections Act that could have prevented up to a million rural residents from voting.

In June, Parliament passed amendments to the Canada Elections Act that required each voter produce proof of identity and a residential address before being allowed to cast a ballot.

However, more than one million Canadians living in rural areas don't have an address that includes a street name and number. Many use post office boxes instead.

The problem also extends to native reserves, where a resident's address is sometimes simply the name of the reserve...

The bill introduced Friday clarifies that addresses do not need to contain a street name and number.
What also appears to be "clarified" is that proof of a current permanent address would still be required. Which means that Canadian citizens who can't provide that will continue to be deprived of their right to vote if the Cons' bill passes.

Of course, there's no guarantee that any of the opposition parties will be as compliant now as the Libs and Bloc both were when C-31 was up for consideration in the last session of Parliament. And while the track record may not be positive for either party, it's not yet too late for the Libs and Bloc to decide that this time, they'll defend the right of Canadians to vote rather than going along with the Cons' voter suppression strategy.

An open question

On further reflection, I have to wonder whether Brad Wall's attempt to change the subject by introducing new promises at the end of the campaign could turn out to be an outright disaster for the Sask Party.

After all, it seems clear from Wall's announcement that the Sask Party's platform doesn't fully set out what the party already has planned if it forms government. Which means that there's a serious need to ask what else Wall has promised that was left out of his party's public platform. And if Wall can't offer a thorough explanation as to why this would be the only surprise he has in mind, then voters have every reason to doubt that he or his platform can be taken at face value.

More non-opposition

Your Liberal Party of Canada in a nutshell: Stephen Harper's supporters are welcomed with open arms, while Harper's opponents risk being pushed out the door.

On diversions

I suppose the Saskatchewan election campaign was bound to have some late surprise. But I for one wouldn't have expected the Sask Party to take one of the least successful pages out of Paul Martin's playbook, making up new promises at the end of the campaign in an apparent attempt to shift public discussion away from topics which it doesn't want to have to discuss.

Of course, any reporting on Wall's latest diversion has been far more friendly than the media treatment of Martin's Charter pump fake. (Bob Hughes in particular is predictably salivating at being able to recycle his usual daylight savings time tirade in the lead-up to a referendum - though if the Sask Party felt a need to pander to him personally, there may be reason to think its vote in the cities is far softer than we know so far.)

Fortunately, though, it's entirely likely that Saskatchewan's voters are less gullible than the Sask Party seems to think. And if Wall's weak attempt to use a referendum on a small issue in four years to deflect attention from his own refusal to answer questions about who he would appoint to run the province's economy next week receives the attention it deserves, then the swing vote seems all the more likely to end up in the NDP's column.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


A few notes on the Insightrix poll released today.

For the NDP and the Sask Party, there's both significant opportunity and significant risk in the numbers.

From the NDP's standpoint, the downside obviously comes in the surprising regional breakdowns which show the Sask Party with a narrow lead in the NDP's city strongholds. While it would be shocking if those results were replicated on election day, it looks like a few more of the NDP's urban seats will be in play than would have been expected earlier in the campaign.

The good news, though, is that the high number of undecided voters across the province suggests that Wall is far from having earned the trust of enough voters to be assured of forming government. Which means that if the NDP controls the message for the last week of the campaign(as seems likely so far), there's easily enough of a swing left to push the final result into the NDP's column.

Of course, the Sask Party will have the converse reaction to the results. And it'll be interesting to see if Wall is forced to come out of hiding to try to win over some of the large number of undecided voters, or whether he'll gamble that enough leaners will break his way without his doing anything to overcome the NDP's push.

As for the Libs...well, this may be my last mention of them for the campaign, as it's now looking like their 10% result from the previous SWNA poll (which I charitably figured to be an outlier) was in fact accurate, if not generous.

To put the Libs' 9% standing among decided voters in context, take a look at the historic Saskatchewan polling data from Environics. The only time in the past decade when the Libs' support had ever dropped into the single-digit range was in October 1999 - immediately after a significant chunk of its party had left to form the Sask Party, and the rest of its remaining caucus had joined a coalition with the NDP.

Yet two polls in a row have now put the Libs in that territory. And this is before both Karwacki's bizarre debate performance, and what figures to be another strong late-campaign push from the NDP to stop the Sask Party.

In sum, the campaign's endgame is (not surprisingly) down to an NDP vs. Sask Party contest for Saskatchewan's undecided voters. And it'll be interesting to see whether Calvert can replicate his closing ability from 2003 in order to keep Saskatchewan on a progressive path.

On storylines

A couple of new developments have surfaced in this morning's reporting on the Saskatchewan election. And from all indications, both the NDP's policy vision and its campaign message look to be getting some long-overdue attention just as the campaign enters its home stretch.

First, the Saskatchewan News Network reports on expert opinions about the NDP's universal prescription drug plan. And not surprisingly, the reviews from those who have studied the impact of making prescription drugs more affordable are almost entirely positive:
Health-care academics and experts from across Canada are praising the NDP's big ticket campaign promise of a universal drug plan...

Ken Fyke, whose 2001 study on the future of Saskatchewan's health-care system stopped short of recommending universal drug coverage, now believes it's the right thing to do.

"I have no problem with it being universal if the expansion is tied to other quality measures. I believe in pharmacare," Fyke said in an interview from his British Columbia home.

"I think it's a good idea. I believe in a strong public role for health care," said Paul Grootendorst, associate professor in the Leslie Dan faculty of pharmacy at the University of Toronto...

Professor Jeremiah Hurley of the Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis at McMaster University said pharmacare is one of the most pressing issues for the health system.

He said universal drug coverage is generally a "good thing," particularly because of the bulk purchasing power emphasized by Grootendorst and others, such as Steve Morgan of the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at the University of British Columbia.

"In principal (sic), this idea is one of the best ways to spend health-care dollars. In the long run, it could be a cost savings," Morgan said.

Morgan and others cite the example of New Zealand, which introduced universal drug coverage. Drug costs had been spiralling there, but under the universal plan annual increases have been curbed to just two per cent.
While the article notes a couple of dissenting views, it's obvious that there's plenty of support among the experts who have studied the issue most closely. And the prospect that a universal program could in fact save money is one which makes the plan look all the more desirable - particularly when the Sask Party's platform uses basically the same nominal amount of money for a purpose as frivolous as favouring a small number of used-car purchases.

Second, hidden within Murray Mandryk's column today is this tidbit about what Brad Wall can expect the rest of the campaign:
Wall, also claiming momentum, addressed a small but enthusiastic group of supporters at his party's Regina-Qu'Appelle Valley campaign office. The Sask. Party leader was pressured by reporters to reveal more on how Enterprise Saskatchewan would function, how many jobs in the Industry and Resources Department it would displace and whether he would reveal the makeup of the Sask. Party's transition team.
Needless to say, those questions are ones that desperately need to be answered. And it looks like the media has recognized Wall's poor dodges from the debate, and will keep pushing for a meaningful response.

No wonder Wall is apparently limiting his number of public appearances - as it presumably beats either having to give non-answers even more often, or actually saying something and risking an unwanted dose of honesty. But even that strategy is far from a sure one.

After all, it's been noted many times that the media will tend to look for the most interesting narrative possible in reporting on a campaign. And since neither "Wall: ..." nor "Karwacki: 120% of Edmontonians Die in Fiery Wrecks Every Year! We Need Paralegals In Our Motels!" figures to sustain much of a storyline, that leaves the NDP's progressive policy vision and legitimate questions about the Sask Party's plans as the stories which figure to dominate the last week of the campaign.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

On non-opposition

Blogging Horse points out one piece of news from today's mini-budget vote that deserves far more attention than it's received, as Stephane Dion apparently threatened Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Bélanger with expulsion from the Lib caucus if he dared to oppose Harper's government:
Meanwhile, CBC News has learned that Ottawa-Vanier Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger wanted to stand up and vote against the economic statement.

But Bélanger was informed that he would be expelled from the Liberal caucus if he voted against the motion instead of abstaining, sources told CBC News.

Although Bélanger was in the House for question period, he was not present for the vote.
What's particularly interesting is to note the contrast between and the Libs' initial strategy on the throne speech. After all, one of Dion's closest confidants within the party publicly floated the trial balloon of having only the Libs' front benches vote against the speech for show, while back-benchers would abstain to avoid actually bringing down the Cons' government:
Wilfert's proposed tactic to avoid defeating the government would have Dion and other front-bench Liberals vote against the throne speech while the majority of the 96-member Liberal caucus remain in their seats, abstaining from a vote.
There's no apparent reason why the Libs couldn't have looked for a way to make a similar strategy work on the fiscal update. While the Libs' sole excuse for failing to oppose the Cons in full is rooted in a desire to avoid an election, that doesn't offer any justification for Dion's threat to Bélanger. After all, Bélanger - and potentially dozens of other MPs who wanted to be on the record standing up to Harper (assuming any others can be found in the Libs' caucus) - could easily have voted their conscience while avoiding an election using the partial abstention strategy which Dion's braintrust had already contemplated.

But when it came down to the question of whether MPs could vote against the Cons based on an honest belief that Harper is steering the country in the wrong direction, Dion not only wasn't willing to listen to Bélanger in the least, but apparently saw a direct threat as the best means of dealing with the situation.

Of course, Dion's action can only make it all the more clear to Bélanger and any other Libs who genuinely want to oppose Harper that their principles have no place within the party. And it doesn't figure to be long before Canadian voters start asking themselves the point in having an official opposition where actually opposing the government is seen as a dismissal-worthy offence.

On medical waste

With the federal political scene this week featuring a scathing auditor-general's report, a scathing environmental commissioner's report and a transparent attempt to deflect attention from both, it's not surprising that it's been difficult for other issues to make their way onto the scene. But lost in shuffle has been yet another addition to Tony Clement's list of asinine statements on the health care file.

Keep in mind Clement's track record for making handouts to Big Pharma his top priority in dealing with prescription drugs. Then take a look at this exchange from Tuesday's question period on the need for a national pharmacare program:
Ms. Judy Wasylycia-Leis (Winnipeg North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, we have reasonable recommendations from the Competition Bureau and from the pharmacists of the country, yet when it comes to helping families pay less for their drugs, the government is going in the wrong direction. There are some very reasonable things it could do.

It could start with catastrophic drug coverage for all families, move on a national pharmaceutical strategy, help the provinces and territories coordinate bulk buying, and stop extended patents on brand name drugs. Why is the government ignoring these reasonable ways to help Canadians save money on the drugs they need but cannot afford?

Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Health and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, CPC):
As the hon. member well knows, Mr. Speaker, first and foremost these are issues that are of the provincial and territorial governments, but I would say to the hon. member that the federal government can be part of the solution. Typically for the NDP, its only solution is to tax Canadians more, spend more of their hard-earned money and not work on the innovative solutions that are there, in place, and can be done.

We are for innovation. We are for better health care. We are not for wasting the taxpayers' money.
As best I can tell, that makes Clement's position roughly the following:

Inflating prescription drug costs by gratuitously extending patents isn't "wasting the taxpayers' money".

Refusing to coordinate drug purchases to drive down bulk prices isn't "wasting the taxpayers' money".

Encouraging provinces to push the use of more expensive brand-name drugs to punish the generic drug industry isn't "wasting the taxpayers' money".

But actually making prescription drugs more affordable to Canadians? Now there's the kind of waste Canada can't afford.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


A quick post-mortem on the Saskatchewan leaders' debate.

For Calvert and Wall, the debate seems to have gone pretty much exactly as planned. Calvert was on the attack for most of the debate, and succeeded in pointing a few of the tough questions that need to be asked about the Sask Party while emphasizing a commitment to sharing Saskatchewan's wealth - though a few of his good points seem to have been lost in the open-time shouting match. Meanwhile, Wall showed signs of being a star pupil at the Stephen Harper School of Content-Free Politics, scrupulously avoiding any meaningful answers when challenged by Calvert while generally sticking to the Sask Party's script.

Which isn't to say that one of the leaders didn't manage to make an impact. But it's probably not the one that the Libs' leader was aiming for.

After starting off by managing to avoid answering a softball first question, Karwacki mostly made his presence felt as an obstacle to any meaningful discussion - remarkably managing to outdistance the other two by far in his unwillingness to allow the others to speak in what was undoubtedly a poorly-designed format. And along the way, he also managed strategic errors such as giving the NDP the opportunity to speak up for its efforts in saving jobs in Prince Albert and Meadow Lake, and taking an inexplicable stance against rural highway improvement.

At this rate, if Karwacki's still around by the next election, the Saskatchewan Libs will be begging to be excluded from the leaders' debate.

For now, though, his main impact in the campaign seems to have been to add momentum to his party's slide in the polls. Which means that if an NDP/Lib swing really is the decisive factor in Saskatchewan politics at the moment, then the Sask Party figures to be celebrating far too soon.

Politics & principles

Yesterday, I discussed how the Sask Party's platform on Crown corporations would lead to negative consequences for both the Crowns and the province even if Wall and company stuck to their word. But let's discuss why there's serious reason to doubt the Sask Party's commitment to keeping the Crowns public at all.

Part of the problem lies in the Sask Party's obvious ideological distaste for public-sector economic activity, which is readily visible both in their members' past statements on the subject, and in their desire to eliminate any Crown functions which could seemingly impact the private sector. And that undertone has been the main focus of the NDP's attacks so far.

That said, my suspicion is that the biggest problem is a lack of principle rather than an excess of it.

While Wall's answers may be getting even more abrupt within the campaign, the Sask Party's general comments on keeping Crowns public have been notable for their lack of a principled explanation. Instead of developing any particular reasoning as to the value of public ownership in the limited scope contemplated by their platform, the Sask Party has at best offered vague wording about how Crowns "work for Saskatchewan", and more frequently merely offered a flat denial in order to change the subject.

All of this signals that when it comes to the Crowns, the Sask Party has decided that politics will trump principle. Which seems well and good to the extent that it means denying any intent to privatize the Crowns in order to appear acceptable to voters.

But what happens to that political calculation if the Sask Party then forms government?

It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Starship Enterprise Saskatchewan would chart a course to privatize what no man has privatized before. And if the Sask Party sees a track record of losing in 2003 in a Crown-based election and winning in 2007 only by changing the subject, then it surely won't want to seek an electoral mandate for privatization (or have to defend the group's conclusions) in 2011.

Moreover, as I noted yesterday, even the Sask Party's existing platform figures to substantially weaken the Crowns. And if a lot of Crown employees recognize that the Sask Party's chains are likely to lead to future decay and job losses, then the issue will once again figure to be a serious source of trouble for Wall down the road.

Faced with those choices, the Sask Party's political nerve centre figures to see at least one more option. Namely, they could privatize as much as they can as quickly as they can, accept the "broken promises" tag that comes with that action (and which will likely attach itself to a new government in any event), shatter one of the NDP's most reliable voting blocs, and hope that by 2011 the issue is far enough in the past to avoid any further harm to the Sask Party.

Note that this third option doesn't even have to be based on a principled dislike of the Crowns (though the Sask Party's stronger ideologues would surely be happy with it). Instead, it only seems logical that a party which treats the Crowns as a damaging issue to be dealt with based on political convenience will want to take a serious look at how to take that issue out of play. And there's certainly no reason to believe that anybody in the Sask Party holds any strong principles which would stop that course of action.

Of course, there's always the chance that a Sask Party government would retreat from the issue. But it seems beyond question that the party's stance on Crowns will continue to be based on what's best for the party's interests, not on any principled view of what's best for the province. And there's serious reason to doubt that the Crowns will survive the Sask Party's calculations.

Credit where due

It's a long way from making up for their refusal to oppose the Cons on their throne speech. But contrary to the bizarre media effort to minimize Conadscam, the federal Libs deserve credit for properly keeping focused on a serious issue for which the Cons have yet to provide anything resembling a reasonable answer.

Of course, the Cons seem particularly determined to keep stonewalling and deflecting - now by trying to claim that a scheme which plainly originated from the Cons' central command is less indicative of a party's commitment to following the law than a single dubious Lib MP - rather than providing any meaningful response.

But the last message the Cons should be sent at this point is that they can make a scandal go away by implausibly pretending they don't know what they did wrong. And if (as seems likely) the ongoing investigation concludes that the Cons indeed violated their national spending limit as a result of Conadscam, then the Cons' stubborn refusal to recognize their own fault should be the final nail in the coffin of the Cons' self-proclaimed commitment to accountability.

Monday, October 29, 2007

On price signals

It's laughable enough for Tony Clement to pretend to be concerned about prescription drug prices based on his gratuitous nine-figure giveaway to brand-name drug companies. But his latest gem gives the most clear indication yet that the Cons are eager to hand those companies all the extra income they can, regardless of the resulting effect on health-care costs:
According to Health Canada documents obtained by PoliticsWatch under the Access to Information Act, one of the ideas the NPS is considering is action to influence "the prescribing behaviour of health care professionals."

When asked by PoliticsWatch if such a system should recommend doctors not prescribe generic drugs when the price is too high, Clement said, "if the provinces and territories want to do that, I encourage it."

"I don't have a direct relationship with medical professionals. That's not my job as federal minister of health."
One would hope that Clement has at least enough knowledge about the health-care system to recognize that generic drugs are inevitably cheaper than the brand-name alternative - after all, there's no reason why a generic manufacturer would bother producing a drug otherwise. Which means that his comment amounts to encouragement for the provinces to deliberately inflate costs further in an effort to punish generic drug manufacturers.

Of course, there's a serious need for reduced drug costs in both the generic and brand-name departments. But it should be obvious that neither is likely to improve if health care professionals are pressured to prescribe the more expensive kind of drug. And from Clement's position, it's all too clear that he's more interested in looking for excuses to funnel even more money toward Big Pharma than in actually reducing prescription drug costs.

On public investments

So far in the Saskatchewan election campaign, most discussion of the role of Crown corporations (see e.g. the comments here) has been met at least in part with a question from Sask Party supporters as to why Crowns should be allowed to do anything more than carry out their "core" operations, mirroring the comments of Sask Party MLA Dan D'Autremont. I'll take a moment now to answer that question, and set the stage for the wider issue about the Sask Party's view on Crowns.

Let's start with the usual example, being SaskTel's place in offering home security services.

Now, one of the usual core principles of free-market supporters is that competition is good. And it seems fairly clear that as a general rule, the more suppliers there are pursuing the same dollars in the same area, the better the results will be for consumers.

So what happens when SaskTel offers a security service alongside its other operations? Simply put, the effect is to provide one more option in the marketplace.

Now, it may be that SaskTel has better connections to suppliers based on its existing knowledge base, as well as greater cost efficiencies due to the fact that its core operations already include a presence in most Saskatchewan homes. In that case, consumers benefit from receiving a better option than they would from private-sector competitors, and the province benefits a second time from SaskTel's profits in providing that more efficient service.

Or it may be that SaskTel isn't able to provide more efficient service. In that case, their private-sector competitors don't figure to have anything to worry about - though they may still be forced to meet better standards of price and service based on the existence of another option.

Either way, Saskatchewan residents benefit from the added competition provided by SaskTel. And in the best-case scenario, the province as a whole receives an added benefit, as any profits earned by SaskTel result in improved core services, lower rates, and/or dividends to the province.

So what's the Sask Party's take on that set of possibilities? It's eager to legislate away the Crown competition and see consumers pay higher prices for less if it means avoiding the risk that the profit might go into public hands rather than private ones.

Now, I'm sure some Sask Party apologist will start the usual rant about how additional competitors are driven away where SaskTel is already in the marketplace. Needless to say, I'm not buying that one: anybody capable of offering a better deal than SaskTel would still have every reason to enter the market, and consumers are obviously worse off if SaskTel vacates the market to make way for someone offering a worse option.

So it's clear that consumers benefit from Crowns which do more than just the bare minimum. But what about the Crowns themselves?

It should be obvious that in carrying out core operations, a Crown will acquire some resources which can be put to more than just one use - be they business connections, technological resources, physical space, or anything else. And by taking advantage of the opportunities created by those resources, a Crown can better carry out its core function of providing the basic services to the province as a whole for the lowest possible price.

In contrast, a Crown prevented from doing anything to make use of its additional resources will wind up having more difficulty carrying out its core services as a result. And a purge of non-core operations which represent an efficient use of public resources would be a natural first step in trying to paint the Crowns as stodgy, inefficient and ripe for a private-sector takeover. Which in all likelihood would lead to a new private-sector owner doing exactly what the Crowns are doing now - only with the profits flowing into private hands instead of public ones.

For reasons I'll get into in my next post on the subject, I'm not convinced that the Sask Party would wait before moving into whole-sale privatization in any event. But even if one takes at face value their claim that they'll only cut down the Crowns to avoid competition with private-sector actors, the end result is still to make the Crowns - and the province - far worse off in the long run.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


The CP's Bruce Cheadle notes that the Cons' information suppression is reaching new lows, as even official government talking points are now being withheld from access to information requests:
The Canadian Press made a request under the Access to Information Act last January seeking government briefing materials on the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

Among the 139 heavily censored pages produced last week by the Department of Foreign Affairs are a number of old documents that end with "talking points."

In every instance, some of the points previously prepared for public consumption (but never publicly delivered) have been blacked out.

"Canada is very pleased with bilateral consultations with Australia on uranium and nuclear issues in Canberra on Nov. 20 (2006)," begins one set of talking points, dated Feb. 20, 2007.

"Our officials agreed to seek a trilateral meeting with U.S. officials . . . ," begins the next point, before blacking out the rest of the line.

The entire next "talking point" is black.

A document dated Feb. 10, 2006, cites five talking points and two "Responsive Only" points, prepared in case of specific questions from media. The responsive points are blacked out.

Following an April 12, 2006, meeting on the GNEP between Canadian and American officials, 11 talking points were prepared by Foreign Affairs officials. A year and half later, eight of those points are blacked out.

The latest release of documents to The Canadian Press arrived last week, the same day that the Globe and Mail detailed statistics showing that the public release of government information is being choked off under the Conservative government.
Now, there's already enough reason for suspicion about the GNEP - particularly given that Deceivin' Stephen is currently instructing his cabinet to keep Canadians in the dark about ongoing negotiations.

But from the information embargo, it appears that the Cons are also unwilling to allow Canadians to find out even what they were eager to make public previously. Which should be a sure sign of both an issue that Harper is afraid to answer for, and one that's in dire need of some serious digging to get at what the Cons are hiding.

On meaningless inputs

The CP reports that the Liebermanley Group is now pretending to care at least slightly about public input in the wake of last week's news that only the group's own hand-picked "experts" would actually get to address the panel. But not surprisingly, there's little reason to think that input will change the predetermined outcome:
John Manley's Afghanistan panel is setting up a website to take written submissions from the public, the head of a Canadian development group said Saturday.

The panel has said it had no plans for public hearings, but Gerry Barr, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said the website will allow for public input.

Barr and representatives of about a dozen other Canadian aid groups met Manley and his panel on Saturday. They were told an Internet site will be running soon and will accept comments and recommendations.
Obviously, it's better for the panel to at least have some theoretical access to submissions from the public. But it's hard to see a public website as anything but a fig leaf to try to deflect attention from the obvious problems with the panel's composition - as well as to provide an opportunity to cite any public submissions which happen to support the panel's foregone conclusion.