Saturday, January 12, 2008

Time to cooperate

Last night, I noted that Deceivin' Stephen's delay tactics on the Mulroney/Schreiber inquiry were going to lead to some difficult decisions for the opposition parties. Not surprisingly, it now looks like there's some significant difference of opinion dealing with the remaining committee hearings - and the opposition may need to be able to find common ground in order to make either the hearings or the inquiry work:
The committee plans to hold hearings into late February, ending with new testimony from Mr. Schreiber and Mr. Mulroney. It would likely take months more for a yet-to-be-named inquiry commissioner to commence hearings.

"There are potentially embarrassing deadlines ahead. If they can punt this late into the spring, it opens up horizons [for them] in the event of confidence votes," New Democratic Party MP Thomas Mulcair said. "I'm not a seer, but I'm also not an ostrich."

The Bloc Québécois and NDP suggested yesterday that the committee might speed its work, but Liberals on the committee argued that the scope of the public inquiry was too narrow and therefore the committee might need to do more, not less.
It seems fairly clear that each opposition party's strategy is related at least somewhat to its preferred election timing. The NDP and the Bloc, which are eager to topple Harper ASAP, both want to see an inquiry underway in time for a spring election. In contrast, the Libs seem happy to keep the matter in committee for now in hopes that an inquiry will be in full swing by this fall.

The question based on the parties' initial reaction is then whether or not it'll be possible to agree on some common goals to make sure the committee hearings are as useful as possible.

It would seem to be in the interest of each opposition party both to make sure there's enough committee testimony to keep the Cons on their heels for the bulk of the upcoming Parliamentary session, and to make sure that the committee hearings end soon enough to force Harper to call the inquiry early this year (at a time when the opposition parties still have some kind of leverage over the Cons). And on the surface, it should be possible to do both while still gathering the evidence needed by both the committee and the inquiry.

But that will require enough cooperation between the opposition parties both to keep the hearings moving along, and to prevent the Cons from picking up any support for their efforts to derail the process. And if the committee is instead used more for grandstanding than for concerted evidence-gathering, then it's all too likely that neither the hearings nor any inquiry will get far either in further damaging the Cons, or in getting to the bottom of the Mulroney/Schreiber dealings.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Delays and denials

So far most of the criticism of Deceivin' Stephen's announcement about the impending inquiry into Mulroney/Schreiber has focused on the relatively narrow terms of reference. But I have to wonder whether the more dangerous part of Harper's announcement is the fact that the inquiry won't be convened until after the Commons ethics committee is done investigating.

The most obvious problem with linking the inquiry to the committee hearings is that it'll allow the Cons to put their dirty committee tricks handbook on full display. There's every reason to expect that the Cons will put every effort into manipulating the committee in order to ensure their preferred timing for any inquiry - and particularly if an election is looming, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see the Cons pull out every delay tactic they can in order to stop the inquiry from happening at all.

What's worse, though, Harper's announcement raises a serious risk that the Cons will find some way to shuffle Schreiber out of the country rather than facing the inquiry at all.

Remember that last year, Rob Nicholson refused either to amend the terms of Schreiber's extradition to allow him to testify, or to order Schreiber to appear before the committee. Indeed, despite public statements to the contrary from the legal counsel to the House of Commons, Nicholson claimed repeatedly that he had absolutely no authority to delay the extradition.

As a result, Schreiber had to be summoned before the ethics committee on a speaker's warrant. That had the effect of putting Schreiber in the "custody of Parliament" as long as his testimony is needed.

Schreiber then won a temporary reprieve from extradition last November. But if the Supreme Court of Canada rejects his appeal, he could well face extradition again as soon as this spring. And if that happens at a time when the speaker's warrant is no longer in effect (which it presumably wouldn't be once the committee hearings are over), then the decision whether or not to extradite Schreiber will once again fall solely into the hands of Rob Nicholson.

For those wondering, the Inquiries Act does provide for a warrant process - but only on the part of the actual commissioner. Which means that if the inquiry isn't convened until after the committee hearings end, there's bound to be at least some gap where Nicholson can decide to push Schreiber out of the country.

In effect, Harper's announcement suggests that no inquiry will be allowed to proceed as long as the speaker's warrant (or indeed any basis for a future warrant) exists. Which in turn removes the sole means for the opposition parties to ensure that Schreiber will be in the country to testify - leaving them at the Cons' mercy as to whether or not the most important witness will actually be available.

Of course, there is one solution to the time problem if the ethics committee hearings end before the court-ordered stay does. But the Cons would likely be entirely happy to minimize the damage Mulroney tends to to do their image within the committee. And even then, the opposition parties would have to rely on Harper's word that he'd actually call the inquiry rather than finding some excuse to do otherwise.

It remains to be seen how the hearings and inquiry will play out. But based on the Cons' track record, there's every reason for suspicion that they're looking for a way to get rid of Schreiber before he can fatally damage their godfather - and Harper's choice to delay the inquiry only makes that look all the more likely.

Outside the law

John Ivison unloads on Gary Lunn, and in the process fills in one more detail about Lunn's efforts to intimidate the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission:
Mr. Lunn, who appears to have been disengaged about all things nuclear to this point, suddenly leapt into action. In a call to Ms. Keen on Dec. 8, during which she characterized his manner as "abrupt and demanding," he pushed for the CNSC to allow the reactor to resume operation. Ms. Keen said that to do so, the law required a licence amendment, something that could only be granted after the Commission reviewed all the facts and legal requirements.

Apparently unaware that ministers should not interfere in the operation of arm's-length, quasi-judicial tribunals, Mr. Lunn continued to attempt to bully Ms. Keen with an "aggressive" questioning style and subsequently even withdrew the Department of Justice's services from the regulator on the AECL file.
Ivison doesn't make clear when exactly Lunn decreed that CNSC would no longer have access to the Department of Justice. But it appears obvious that CNSC would need immediate legal advice to deal with a number of the issues related to Chalk River, including to follow up on the license amendment process, as well as to determine the effect of both Lunn's own ministerial directive and as the legislation that eventually passed to override the CNSC.

Not surprisingly, though, Lunn doesn't seem to have been the least bit interested in allowing CNSC to obtain needed information. Instead, he apparently decided that any legal advice to CNSC would be too likely to actually analyze the law rather than echoing the Cons' public position. And that in turn could only intrude on the Cons' bad-cop, bad-cop strategy of bullying Keen both in public and in private.

Of course, the withdrawal of legal advice looks to have been one of the least of Lunn's efforts to override CNSC's independence. But it offers one more example of the Cons' belief that they are the law - and one more reason to remove the Cons from any position where they're able to act on that assumption.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

On priorities

Hot on the heels of his Canadian Idol diatribe last weekend, Brad Wall apparently had nothing better to do yesterday than to take a poor stab at football commentary. Which leads to the inevitable question: is it really too much to ask for a premier who's at least slightly interested in governing, rather than seeing the position as a soapbox for issues completely unrelated to the office?

Plus ca change...

The federal Libs under Stephane Dion may be scrambling when it comes to fund-raising, party-building and candidate recruitment. But they can still take pride in leading the pack when it comes to papering over internal divisions in the most literal sense of the word - by forcing would-be candidates to sign unenforceable documents to be waved in their faces in the event of political emergency.

And the reason we know is because Ralph Goodale himself is gleefully waving one of those documents around:
David Orchard knew full well that the federal Liberals wanted an aboriginal woman to run in a northern Saskatchewan byelection and shouldn't be surprised that one was handpicked to do so, MP Ralph Goodale suggested Wednesday.

The twice failed Tory leadership hopeful - and anyone else who expressed interest in running as a Liberal in the Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River riding for that matter - signed a paper warning that leader Stephane Dion may appoint a qualified woman candidate, such as Joan Beatty, Goodale said.

"Everyone was informed about the leaders prerogative to appoint a candidate and the leader might want to exercise that prerogative if the appropriate strong, female, northern-riding resident came forward," Goodale said in a telephone interview with The Canadian Press...

(Orchard's) campaign manager, Marjaleena Repo, called Goodale's comments "spin."

She said Orchard, who delivered key delegates to Dion during the Liberal leadership race, was told that the party was looking for an aboriginal woman to run. But when they couldn't find one, she said Dion encouraged Orchard to put his name forward.

Orchard has already sold more than 500 Liberal memberships to supporters in the riding, Repo said.
To the extent there is a dispute about whether or not Orchard was aware about the possibility of an appointment, it's hard to disagree with Goodale's side. As I noted when the Beatty appointment was first suggested, anybody who's paid the slightest attention to the Libs' internal workings would be aware that both Dion personally and the party in general have plenty of history of imposing candidates from on high.

But that history is equally obvious whether or not a candidate had signed a waiver acknowledging it. And it seems striking that the Libs still have little enough internal trust - in both their own potential candidates, and the ability of their central story to hold up to scrutiny - to be going out of their way to get written evidence to be used against their own members.

Update: And now Orchard is outright denying that such a paper exists. It's hard to see either side avoiding some reputation damage: taking Goodale's case at his highest he's still bragging about an asinine process, while even if Orchard's right he can only seem painfully naive about the inner workings of the Libs. But it looks like either Goodale or Orchard is headed for some serious egg on his face.

Edit: fixed wording.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Trading up

Shorter Jacqueline Thorpe:
Barack Obama might radically change U.S. foreign policy by ensuring that some non-corporate interests get taken into account every now and then. And who could possibly want that?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Unjust cause

Shorter Gary Lunn to Linda Keen, who in her role as a nuclear safety regulator dared to insist that Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. live up to the terms of its license to run the Chalk River reactor:
As far as we're concerned, doing your job is a dismissal-worthy offence.

Monday, January 07, 2008

On probabilities

Joan Beatty's appointment as the Libs' candidate in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River has obviously set off a couple of reactions: one of frustration among grassroots Libs, and one of feigned indignation from the Sask Party. But I haven't seen anybody look at what figures to be the most important question: namely, what kind of support will Beatty bring along with her as part of the jump, and what chance does she have to actually win the riding?

The answer about Beatty's individual impact can likely be taken from her track record. Here's the NDP share of vote in Cumberland over the last three provincial elections:

Year - Candidate - Vote
1999 - Keith Goulet - 69%
2003 - Joan Beatty - 69%
2007 - Joan Beatty - 66%

A quick look around online didn't turn up any more historical percentages of the vote. But given that the seat has stayed solidly NDP since 1975, it would seem reasonable to figure that Beatty's totals reflect the NDP's usual level for the riding. And while a typically strong candidate is likely one of the factors contributing to the NDP's historical success, there's little reason to think that Beatty herself added much to the standard party vote in the riding which now makes up half of the territory she'll have to cover.

What's more, Beatty's wins in Cumberland both came with just over 3000 votes. Which means that even if Beatty can bring some organization to the table, it still figures to fall far short of what's needed to actually make her competitive in the federal riding (where both the Libs and Cons received over 10,000 votes in 2007).

Speaking of in Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River itself, all indications are that it took a combination of a high-profile candidate in Gary Merasty and a fairly pricy campaign for the Libs to to pull something close to the their peak vote in the riding in 2007 (just slightly below Rick Laliberte's 2000 percentage). And that was barely enough to give Merasty a narrow win over Jeremy Harrison.

Now, it's possible that Beatty will indeed carry a strong enough profile across northern Saskatchewan to eke out a Merasty-style win. But with the Cons figuring to make the seat a strong priority and at least some miffed Libs putting their support behind the NDP, it looks most likely that Beatty will only be added to Dion's list of losing appointments.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

On choosing one's battles

Not surprisingly, Brad Wall's "new relationship" with the Harper government apparently means that Wall won't say a word about equalization without Harper's approval. Which means that at best, Saskatchewan can look forward to a smaller amount of federal funding than promised, and with the federal Cons' pro-privatization strings attached.

But for those worried that Wall was refusing to make any decisions for himself, he does seem entirely prepared to take a stand on the vital political issue that is Canadian Idol. That is, at least until Harper instructs him otherwise.