Saturday, January 26, 2008

Accountability at work

More accurate (if perhaps not shorter) Peter Van Loan:
If every federal Conservative who blatantly misled the public had to face the music for doing so...well, let's just say we're lucky Stephen Harper would never let that happen.

Lacking confidence

The Globe and Mail adds yet another example of the suppress first, hope nobody asks any questions later strategy the Cons have encouraged in dealing with information requests:
The Defence Department has been ignoring federal access to information policy in an attempt to avoid releasing large chunks of material related to individuals detained during Canada's Afghanistan mission.

Last year, The Globe and Mail submitted several requests under the access to information law for material sent by the Department of National Defence regarding detainees captured by Canadian Forces in Afghanistan during 2006.

The department responded in May that almost all such documents could not be released because they constituted cabinet confidences, a special designation that means requested material is outside the access act...

Long-standing Treasury Board policy requires any department to obtain approval from the Privy Council Office before invoking the cabinet-confidence provision to withhold information. The Globe complained to Robert Marleau, the Information Commissioner. According to an investigation report sent to The Globe, “PCO was not consulted by National Defence.”

Only after intervention by the Information Commissioner did the department process the material correctly. PCO reviewed the records and confirmed they did not constitute cabinet confidences.
What we don't know yet is where the policy actually originated. And while the blame currently seems likely to fall on National Defence, there's reason for concern that the issue goes far higher.

After all, this is far from the first time that the Cons have been caught trying to suppress documents based on a blanket policy rather than allowing the Department of Defence to meet its obligations under the Access to Information Act by actually considering what should be disclosed. And given the Cons' history of spuriously claiming national security as a reason to avoid any embarrassing truths, it wouldn't be at all surprising if they similarly tried to authorize National Defence to use the cabinet confidence designation even where it obviously doesn't apply.

More importantly, it's also far from clear just where else other similar policies might be in place. In the case of National Defence, the information embargo only emerged as an obvious response to the Cons' embarrassment on the Afghan detainee issue. But it's worth wondering if the Cons have managed to pre-emptively cover their tracks elsewhere - as well as asking why Canadians should settle for a government which raises such serious concerns about what's going on behind closed doors.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A consistent pattern

Just so we're clear on the federal Cons' attitude toward federal/provincial environmental responsibilities, as far as the Harper government is concerned...

Any province which tries to do anything more than the Cons' pathetic excuse for a greenhouse gas reduction plan is irresponsibly complicating the environmental picture.

But if a province wants to announce standards even more lax than what the federal government has planned, that only complements what the Cons want to accomplish.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Their lips are sealed

After last night's revelation that the Cons hid their long-demanded decision to stop transferring Afghan detainees, the Cons are apparently taking their information embargo to the point of self-parody:
Dimitri Soudas, deputy press secretary for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, declined comment Thursday on the government's communication strategy.

He instead offered comments given Wednesday by Mr. Harper's communications director, Sandra Buckler, who wouldn't speak about the prisoner transfers since they are “operational matters.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Excessive secrecy

CTV reports that the Con government's obsession with secrecy has reached the point where it won't even let the public know when it makes a rare reasonable decision:
The Canadian government halted the transfer of Afghan detainees last November after a "credible allegation" that a prisoner had been tortured by local authorities, but didn't reveal the decision until this week.

Officials acted after a prisoner told Canadian diplomats he had allegedly been beaten with electrical cables and a rubber hose by Afghan secret police in Kandahar...

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice sent a letter to the (B.C. Civil Liberties Association's) lawyers, saying that soldiers had temporarily halted the transfers.

"Canadian authorities were informed on November 5, 2007, by Canada's monitoring team, of a credible allegation of mistreatment pertaining to one Canadian-transferred detainee held in an Afghan detention facility," wrote senior counsel J. Sanderson Graham. "As a consequence there have been no transfers of detainees to Afghan authorities since that date. The allegation is under investigation by the Afghan authorities. Canada will resume transferring detainees when it believes it can do so in accordance with its international legal obligations.

Amnesty International said Wednesday that the government had kept the decision to halt transfers a "secret," and revealed the move only because of legal action by the groups.
Of course, the change in policy does call into question the previous transfers of detainees - not to mention the ones which the Con government apparently plans to carry out in the future if the single allegation they're now bothering to investigate doesn't lead to any definitive conclusions.

But it still seems remarkable that the Cons preferred to be seen as utterly refusing to do anything about detainee transfers if it meant giving less press to the issue, rather than pointing out a response which may well have eased some doubts about their handling of the problem. And that policy of simply pretending that any area which might carry negative political ramifications doesn't exist - rather than defending even reasonable choices on the merits - may be far more dangerous than any single decision the Cons could otherwise have to justify.

Race to the bottom

Shorter Con foreign policy:
Of course the U.N.'s anti-racism conference is beneath us. After all, it's not as if we have any issues of racial inequality worth talking about internationally.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

On exit strategies

Following up on the Liebermanley Report, it's worth noting that contrary to some coverage, the report's recommendations don't really appear to call for an extension that's either indefinite or unconditional.

What's odd about the report, though, is the complete disconnect between its overall themes and its specific recommendation. As expected, the report is rife with "stay the course" language, implying that any type of withdrawal would be "premature" and would have catastrophic consequences both for Canada and for Afghanistan.

But that background couldn't conflict more starkly with the specific recommendation to end Canada's Kandahar rotation if another country doesn't contribute an extra battalion to the effort. In effect, the report concludes that withdrawal is entirely justified if the status quo can't be changed fairly drastically - without explaining how that recommendation fits with its broader analysis.

Now, Adam Radwanski may be right in theorizing that the goal is to push another country into giving in to the demand. But contrary to what the report seems to assume, there's little particular reason to think that Canada has the clout to succeed in that effort - at least unless Liebermanley knows something the general public doesn't about the intention of other NATO countries.

In the meantime, the status of other countries' involvement figures to become a hot topic in Canada - and if nobody meets the demand, then the voices for withdrawal from within Canada may only become louder as a result of the report. Which means that Harper's attempt to rig the panel result may well have backfired, sowing the seeds only for exactly the result the group was hand-picked to avoid.

History repeating

Shorter final Liebermanley report:

(Edit: typo. In a five-word post. Ouch.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Unity North

Following up on last night's post, it's worth noting that while the Dithers wing obviously remains in charge of the Libs, the Lieberman faction looks to be filling in part of the party's message in the absence of any decisions from the top. From the CP's article:
Toronto-area MP Maurizio Bevilacqua agrees economic uncertainty has raised the stakes on the budget vote.

"If the budget is like so far out, if the budget is in no way a reflection of Canadians' priorities, then we have no choice but to pull the plug," he says.

Nevertheless, he would ideally like to see the Liberals try to work in a spirit of "bipartisanship" with the Tories to produce a budget that meets the economic challenges ahead. If Prime Minister Stephen Harper would go along with the idea, Bevilacqua says Dion could promise no election until 2009, giving the country "a sense of stability."
Note that Bevilacqua doesn't seem to have much idea what kind of measures actually would "meet the economic challenges ahead". Instead, one of the Libs' recent leadership contenders seems to be of the view that bipartisanship is an end goal in and of itself, even if the result is to leave the Harper patronage machine in power longer than can be avoided. (And Bevilacqua's apparent theory that the Libs could then draw a contrast between "Lib times" and "Tory times" after fully supporting the latter only makes the whole idea seem all the more sad.)

Of course, it's doubtful that the Cons would have any interest in going along with Bevilacqua's suggestion. Instead, they'd be more likely to use the Libs' stated points of agreement to try to pressure Dion into backing an even more right-wing budget than they might have presented otherwise. And there's little indication that the Libs have thought through their own strategy well enough to counter that kind of move other than by giving in yet again.

It remains to be seen whether the Libs' musings about finding ways to keep propping up Harper are only trial balloons. But the Libs' obvious reluctance to present any meaningful resistance to the Cons' hard-right agenda has to raise serious questions about them even if they finally are pushed to start opposing again.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dithers II: Non-Opposition

The CP reports that the Libs once again seem to be considering whether or not they actually prefer to leave the Cons in power - with the default position once again being to keep Deceivin' Stephen in charge in hopes that a recession or other external factors will give the Libs an artificial boost. At this rate, it's a good thing a fixed election date will guarantee another trip to the polls in the fall of 2009, as left to their own devices Dion and company might well prefer indefinite Con government to the trouble of acting like an opposition.