Saturday, December 01, 2007

Excuses, excuses

Blogging Horse points out Stephane Dion's laughable take on the Libs' planned change in strategy to actually consider House of Commons votes on their merits. But perhaps even more telling is Dion's set of excuses for Thomas Mulcair's NDP victory in Outremont:
(P)olitical analysts and some grassroots Liberals complained that (Dion) waited too long to appoint a candidate for the September by-election in the Montreal riding of Outremont. His dithering, some said, cost the Liberals a safe seat.

He blames everyone but himself for the loss to the NDP. First, he said, there is the perception the Harper Tories have given a lot of money to the province.

“I don't think Quebec has received that much from Mr. Harper,” Mr. Dion said. “It's the perception … the sense that he was open to Quebec and that this openness was not only fancy constitutional stuff but concrete delivery.”
Now, that might be an interesting theory if the Cons had been the ones to improve their standing in Outremont - though even that would presumably speak to Lib failures in ensuring an accurate public perception of the Cons.

But then there are the actual results in the riding. And the reality is that the Cons' much-ballyhooed candidate dropped 4 points from the party's already-weak position in Outremont. Which means that Dion's first excuse - that improved public perception of the Cons caused Mulcair's win - is demonstrably wrong based on the actual Outremont results.

Mind you, Dion has one more excuse in his arsenal. And while it's perhaps a little tougher to outright disprove empirically, it speaks volumes about the Dion's state of mind (and perhaps that of his party as well):
As well, he said that many Quebeckers believed that the NDP candidate, Thomas Mulcair, a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister, was a federal Liberal.
I'm not sure how one can even pretend to believe the Libs' loss can be traced in any way to confusion about which candidate ran for which party. After all, virtually all media coverage of the byelection campaign focused explicitly on the NDP's effort to challenge the Libs' traditional dominance in the riding, including by having its entire federal caucus campaign for Mulcair. Meanwhile, there was also plenty of controversy surrounding the Libs' candidate appointment process and internal disputes. And I don't recall anybody being shy about highlighting the party affiliations involved.

Yet somehow Dion seems to think that through all that, Outremont's voters somehow didn't know who was running for which party - and if they had, they would never have voted against the Libs.

Which in turn may signal something more as well: a belief on Dion's part that the "Liberal" brand is itself invincible, such that he doesn't have to do more than remind voters who's in his party in order to romp to victory. But that belief would appear to be even more flawed than the Outremont excuses. And if Dion really figures he can count on his party's name to carry him while the NDP catches up to the Libs in the present, then there may be all the more reason to think the Libs are headed for the dustbin of history.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hide and seek

It may not make for much solace for Canadians who don't want to see their country signed on to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, particularly given the mystery surrounding what the GNEP actually entails. But at least the Harper government isn't succeeding in any effort to bury the announcement under both the Airbus scandal and other nuclear developments. Instead, the minister responsible is showing the Cons' weakness by going into hiding to avoid the questions the government presumably doesn't want to have to answer:
The Conservative government was pilloried Friday for committing Canada to a new international nuclear club without any public or political debate.

Opposition MPs demanded that Canada's participation in the U.S.-led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership be debated and voted upon in the Commons after learning by press release that Canada was joining the group.

The surprise announcement came late Thursday after months of government stone-walling and denials.

"It is great news for Canada to be part of this partnership," Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn told the Commons on Friday.

But Lunn then refused to meet with reporters to discuss the matter, staying in a private Commons lobby for more than an hour while media waited outside.

Eventually, his spokeswoman emerged to say the minister had answered all relevant questions during the daily question period and had nothing more to add.

The minister's behaviour played perfectly to the opposition critics.

"Why have Canadians been kept completely in the dark?" NDP Leader Jack Layton asked outside the House.
Needless to say, the Cons' choice to retreat from any attempt to defend themselves should only spur both the opposition and the media to attack the issue with even more vigor. And the government's combination of broken promises and poor judgment surrounding the GNEP can only help the opposition in its task of showing the Canadian public that it's long past time to make sure the Cons are in no position to do any more damage.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Promise broken

Remember back when the Cons promised to put all significant international treaties before Parliament for a vote?

Just thought it might be worth a reminder now that the Cons have eagerly trashed that assurance (along with any other opportunity for debate about the GNEP).


The CP's report from today's Environment Committee meeting offers yet another example of the Cons' complete lack of credibility and honesty when it comes to the environment:
NDP environment critic Nathan Cullen pressed Baird to name a single group that has supported the plan, or a single regulation that he has placed on industry.

"I'm confused as to why this government is trying to seek credibility on the world stage...yet has not one validator that we're aware of that has taken a look at your plan and said it will actually meet your targets," said Cullen. "It does not pass test – why would you think the international community would think any different?"

Baird said it is too early to properly assess the government's regulatory framework, since it is still in the process of consulting with industry on what limits the various sectors will be handed.
Baird's response is significant for a couple of reasons. First, it highlights just how far the Cons are from having any support at all when it comes to their environmental non-strategy: given the proliferation of astroturf groups on virtually all major public issues (including the environment), it's downright stunning that the Cons can't even find one of those to provide some semblance of cover for their neglect.

But more important is the gap between the Cons' assessment of themselves, and their attitude toward anybody else trying to assess their efforts. Take a look through any recent Hansard, or indeed the Cons' own website, and you'll find a steady stream of claims that the Cons have already taken definitive action to regulate industry and otherwise deal with climate change.

Yet suddenly when the question is asked whether anybody else agrees, the Cons can only whine that it's too early to draw any conclusions at all. Which, if accepted as true, would make their own self-promotion equally premature.

Of course, the reality is that it's far from too early to evaluate the Cons' record. And the fact that the Cons can't name a single outside source of support for their continued excuses not to act on climate change should help to emphasize just how far out of touch the Harper regime is with the public desire for action to fight global warming.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Assessment needed

The NDP is rightly criticizing the Cons and Libs for voting down an NDP motion on free trade with Colombia. But the most important part of the story may not be the corporate parties' unsurprising determination to push ahead with more free trade deals, but rather the complete unwillingness of either the Cons or Libs to even see human rights issues assessed as part of Canada's analysis of trading partners:
An NDP motion from International Trade Critic Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster) has been defeated by the combined decisions of the Liberal and Conservative parties in the Standing Committee on International Trade.

“It’s unfortunate that the Liberals and Conservatives failed to recognize and support Canada’s leadership in affirming the supremacy of human rights over any other consideration. The people of Colombia were hoping that Canada would use its influence to help them in their struggle for human rights,” said Julian.

The motion recommended that bilateral trade negotiations between Canada and Colombia be halted in light of the continuous abuse of human rights by the government of Colombia, and stressed the importance of developing a framework for a Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) for future bilateral trade negotiations with Colombia and other nations.
Remember that the main justification for pushing ahead with Colombia free trade - which Harper himself has parroted - is a claim that doing so will ultimately improve human rights in the longer term. If that were the case, though, one would expect the Cons to be glad to see a thorough appraisal of those expected positive effects in order to bolster the deal.

Instead, the vote to avoid any meaningful assessment of human rights makes sense only if an actual report would likely undercut the premise that free trade will do anything to help Colombia's human rights situation.

Unfortunately, the Cons and Libs have once again demonstrated their determination to ensure that human rights issues don't get in the way of the continued spread of free trade. And that should offer just one more reason to doubt their commitment to human rights either in Canada or abroad.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Room for growth

All too predictably, the CMA's narrow focus on wait times has received far more media attention. But Bruce Campbell and Greg Marchildon's call to improve the existing scope of public health care in Canada deserves mention as a reminder that there's plenty to work toward beyond merely preserving the system we have now:
Claims that Medicare is fiscally and economically unsustainable are unfounded, but they are used to persuade a reluctant public that there is no choice but to accept privatized health care. According to Canada's leading health care economist, Robert Evans, the wolf at the door of the Canadian Medicare system is not an economic wolf but rather "a political wolf dressed in phony economic clothing to deceive the sheep."

Thus, the challenge is to defend Medicare against the forces seeking to dismantle it. We can best do this by completing Tommy's original vision for Medicare. Building on the proven administrative efficiencies of the single-payer systems administered by the provinces, we can expand Medicare well beyond doctors and hospitals into pharmacare, home care and dental care; to re-orient public health care around primary health care and community care, and tackle head on the social determinants of health.

In some areas change is beginning to happen. There are many examples of successful innovations, which have dramatically reduced wait times, improved access to quality care and reduced costs. Dr. Michael Rachlis, a physician and health policy advisor, has performed an important service for all Canadians by cataloging the most promising innovations in our public system. But missing is the political leadership on the part of provincial and federal governments to ensure the systematic dissemination and application of these solutions throughout the system.

Whether Medicare moves forward, or becomes progressively eroded by encroaching privatization, will depend on which vision of health care prevails. Will it be one based on the premise that health care is a commodity and that ability to pay should determine who gets what care and how? Or will it be the one actually desired by most Canadians? That is a 21st century Medicare, but one still based on the principle that every Canadian should have access to health care on the same terms and conditions.
Of course, there are far too many indications recently that we are indeed moving backward - ranging from the missed opportunity for universal prescription drug coverage in Saskatchewan to the federal Cons' determination to limit the flow of information about best practices. But it's worth keeping in mind that there's plenty of room for improvement in the system we have now, and working to push the system in the right direction rather than merely trying to hold the existing ground.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On regulatory measures

The CP reports that Ontario and Quebec have reached an agreement to negotiate regulatory harmonization. And it'll be interesting to see whether the move by Canada's most populous provinces sounds a death knell for the spread of the TILMA, or instead signals that the Charest government is giving in on the fight to preserve provincial autonomy:
Quebec and Ontario signed an agreement Monday to start talks to remove interprovincial trade barriers in an effort to help businesses - especially the struggling manufacturing sector - but the federal government needs to do "its share," said Premier Jean Charest.

Charest and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty agreed to begin negotiating an accord to strengthen the economies of both provinces by eliminating red tape and unnecessary regulations, saying provinces need to work together to meet global challenges...

Under the new deal, negotiators will look at harmonizing regulations that govern everything from the weight of trucks to health-care professions to find ways of making it easier for companies to operate in both Quebec and Ontario in hopes of increasing the $70 billion a year in trade between the two provinces.
Now, two major caveats are in order with the announcement. First, the issue of "internal trade barriers" doesn't deserve even a small fraction of the attention it's received over the past year and a half. And second, the last agreement which was announced to involve negotiation as to harmonized standards turned out to have far more damaging effects.

Indeed, there's some dangerous language even in the article: the contemplated "accord" could well signal that the intention is to negotiation a TILMA-type agreement rather than the actual standards in question. And it remains to be seen whether the public announcement is as deceptive as the one regarding the TILMA was last year.

That said, there's some reason to think today's announcement could nonetheless offer reasonably good news.

After all, the concept of harmonizing regulations makes plenty of sense as long as it's carried out with the goal of ensuring mutually effective standards - not the goal of gutting regulation entirely as is implicit in the TILMA. And the willingness of Ontario and Quebec to at least alert the public to their plans makes for far more transparency than the TILMA signatories ever offered.

Moreover, the federal Cons have made clear that they're willing to impose drastic measures on the provinces to try to ensure that trade takes precedence over all else. And while giving in to Harper's wishes to any extent is seldom an effective strategy for long, it may be that the willingness of Quebec in particular to negotiate some regulatory standards later will help to avoid the Cons going nuclear while the Libs don't dare to oppose them.

Update: Erin has more.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On leadership

Shorter Stephen Harper:
If others fail to meet their commitment to a goal which they claim to share in common, it's your own fault for trying to reach it.