Saturday, February 02, 2008

On enablers

As JimBobby and others in the progressive blogosphere have suspected for months, the Cons and their minions are floating trial balloons about privatization at AECL. But while it's no great shock to see the Cons pushing for a selloff, it's disturbing to see that the Libs don't seem the least bit interested in challenging the idea:
(Harper-appointed former AECL chair) Mike Burns says the Crown corporation that he used to oversee is losing money in the isotope business and is having problems bringing the new Maple reactors online. He says the solution lies with private industry.

"Nobody is happy. Government is not happy about putting the money in, Canadians aren't happy about having to pay. We've got out of the airline business, we've got out of the petroleum business ... That's what we should be focusing on," Burns sold Sun Media...

"Isotopes are a little business in which we lose a lot of money," said Burns.

"(AECL) needs more private sector content in the company to make it work," he said, explaining that Crown corporations cannot borrow money to invest.

Burns said an ideal solution would be to follow the model of the French nuclear company Areva which is a publicly traded company in which the French government owns 90% of the shares but the corporation is free to borrow funds against future profits.

Omar Alghabra, the Liberal Natural Resources critic, said a public-private partnership was a possible solution to the current atomic crisis.

"There are certainly good arguments for privatization but a decision like that should not be taken lightly," he said.
So what's wrong with Alghabra's response? First and most obviously, he looks entirely happy to play along with the Cons' assertion that their mismanagement should be classified as an "atomic crisis" which requires some drastic action.

But even if one assumes something needs to be done, it's worth noting the utter disconnect between the supposed problem and the proposed solution. After all, if isotope production is indeed a money-losing enterprise, then it stands to reason that a focus on turning a profit will only ensure that it becomes less of a priority. In contrast, a public decision to make needed funding a priority would be the only practical way to ensure that isotopes are actually available in the future.

Of course, the Cons can be expected to present "solutions" which funnel money into corporate hands without actually solving anything. But if the Libs are willing to accept the Cons' reasons for doing so while (at best) quibbling over implementation issues, then it'll be all the more difficult for progressives to ensure that Harper isn't able to decimate the public sector.

A day in the life

Illegal, untendered contracts out of the Finance Minister's office to a Mike Harris crony? Check.

An unexplained firing of a respected civil servant on what looks to be ideological grounds? Check.

Axing an advisor whose role is to take a long-term view of scientific issues in favour of an industry-dominated panel mandated to emphasize short-term profit? Check.

For some governments, this might make for a particularly scandal-ridden month. For the Cons, it's called "Saturday".

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A chance for leadership

When Deceivin' Stephen first cherry-picked his Afghanistan panel, he couldn't have asked for a more favourable - or less reality-based - media response than what the report has received this week. It's bad enough that Harper has somehow been portrayed as statesmanlike and humble even as he declared that anybody who disagrees with him isn't fit to govern. But press coverage of Stephane Dion's reaction looks to have been carefully crafted to push Dion into caving on one of the few bright lines he's drawn during the course of his leadership...leaving Dion with a choice between actually showing leadership, or winning media praise for a failure to do so.

From what I've seen this week, at no point has Dion wavered from his party's stance that Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan should end in 2009. But much of the media coverage since Monday has inexplicably focused on the idea that what should be a simple matter of holding that stance should instead be treated as a difficult decision for Dion. (Note that the Cons themselves have used the exact same phrase in trying to force Dion's hand.)

And some columnists have gone further in trying to invent reasons for Dion to cave in order to give Harper an extension. For example, John Ivison first went looking for reason for Dion to change his party's position, then claimed (without any apparent evidence) that Dion is already planning for a way to give Harper what he wants.

Based on the media reaction, it doesn't seem at all unlikely that Dion will conclude that it isn't worth his time to fend off the elite attachment to an Afghanistan extension. But it should be obvious that the easy answer in giving in to the Cons will only make matters worse for Dion in the long run.

After all, it should be fairly clear that the Cons' efforts to defuse Afghanistan as an issue and give the Libs a stake in the outcome are based on their recognition that it's a losing one for them. And even if there's any truth to the reports of any substantial disagreement within the Libs, it's hard to imagine what response would more clearly paint Dion as unable to stand up for himself than to give in on the Libs' opposition to a combat extension.

And if Dion stands up to Harper? It's still not clear that the result will be the election which the Libs have tried so hard to avoid (depending whether or not Harper makes any Afghanistan vote a matter of confidence). But the flip side to both of the above considerations would apply: the Cons alone would wear both the deception and the dissatisfaction associated with the combat mission as it stands, and Dion's internal competitors would be forced to acknowledge who's in charge.

Of course, part of the problem with Dion's position is that the 2009 date is indeed an artificial one - making it difficult to rationalize a strong stance to stay in combat only until then. But the more important question at stake is whether or not Harper will be given license to commit Canada to combat indefinitely. And if Dion is really prepared to cave to that demand contrary to his own firm position, then there's little reason to think he'll ever show the strength to lead either his party or the country anywhere worth going.

Reality's bias

Shorter Paul at Celestial Junk:
If every major Republican presidential candidate has a losing track record, that must be the media's fault.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Differential treatment

Lib MP Paul Szabo pointed out yet another example of the Cons' hyperpartisanship, as even requests to non-political parts of the federal civil service are apparently being filtered by party affiliation:
(D)uring our break period, a constituent came to my office. I was there. The constituent asked about the serious issue of the policy of the government related to the importation of goods from countries such as China where there has been some problem in terms of health and safety.

We immediately contacted Service Canada to find out if it had the documentation on this issue that is very prevalent. It told us that we had to talk to Health Canada product safety.

My staff did contact Health Canada product safety and they were advised by Health Canada product safety that it would have to get back to them on that matter because there was some process to go through.

A phone call was received back from a different number totally. I have the name and phone number of the individual and I have personally talked to the person subsequently.

The question that was posed to my staff and subsequently to me was: “Is your member of Parliament a member of the opposition?” The Health Canada product safety representative was asking, with regard to my query, whether or not the member was a member of the opposition.

When I learned of this communication from my staff, I immediately contacted this person. I had an extensive conversation with the individual. I was told that there was a requirement for Health Canada product safety to fill out an MP response form which it receives from Ottawa. It must fill it out including quotations and extracts from the conversation with the member of Parliament or the member of Parliament's staff.

This matter goes to Ottawa so that Ottawa, wherever this little black hole may be in this government, it appears decides what can be told to a member of Parliament.
It remains to be seen how the matter will be handled as a question of Parliamentary privilege (which is where Szabo raised the issue).

But while it's possible that the action might not attack Szabo himself directly enough to make for a violation of privilege, there can be little doubt that it reflects yet another example of the Cons' determination to use the entire federal government apparatus for its own partisan purposes. And it shouldn't take long for Canadians from across the political spectrum to realize that the end result can only be worse results for the country as a whole.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An accident waiting to happen

The Star Phoenix reports on Brad Wall's latest foray onto the national political scene. And in case there was any danger that Wall would deal with issues which most of Saskatchewan actually wants to see addressed, his focus is instead on lowering nuclear safety standards to speed up uranium mining:
The Saskatchewan Party government is concerned the length of time it takes for new nuclear power projects to come on-line in Canada could close the "window of opportunity" it sees opening for the province's uranium supply.

Since taking office last November, Premier Brad Wall has been touting Saskatchewan uranium as an important tool to cut the greenhouse-gas emissions, caused by burning fossil fuels, which are driving climate change.

Now he's calling for a "new national approach" on licensing for nuclear reactors, saying that the actual deployment of new nuclear power sources could take decades under Canada's current regulatory regime.
As the article notes, the current timeline to in Canada is pretty much the same as anywhere else in the developed world. Which means that Wall's message ultimately amounts to a declaration that he wants to see Canada start a race to the bottom in terms of nuclear standards - and all in what can best be described as a faint hope that his government will benefit from increased uranium mining as a result.

Now, it remains to be seen whether the federal Cons will take up the call. Tthe current AECL/CNSC controversy could cut both ways: while they might try to exploit the current state of flux surrounding the nuclear industry to further attack the CNSC, it could also be that the Cons will focus on privatizing AECL rather than hacking into nuclear regulation for the moment.

But however the federal government chooses to respond, Saskatchewan residents have to wonder why their government is focusing on reducing the effectiveness of a regulator which oversees as serious an industry as nuclear energy. And if the same philosophy ends up being put in place provincially, then there's all the more reason to worry that safety will get lost in the Sask Party's push for a quick buck.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The sound of silence

Shorter Stonewall Steve, once again looking for specious reasons not to answer opposition questions on Afghanistan:
Some people say our failure to communicate is a problem. We prefer not to talk about that.

On understandings

Joe at Owls and Roosters points out the hypocrisy involved in the Sask Party's decision to take the axe to non-partisan career civil servants to make way for their own cronies after a decade of decrying any trace of partisanship in the civil service. But it's worth noting that deputy premier Ken Krawetz has already offered a truly pathetic explanation for the about-face:
When asked about the Sask. Party's criticism in Opposition of politically connected hiring, (Krawetz) said, "I have been made aware of many things I have said over the last 12 years that may have changed slightly as I have matured, as I have come to understand politics."
Of course, the real story looks to be just the first of many issues where the Sask Party's public stance for the past few years couldn't be further from its actual intentions. But the more the truth comes out about Saskatchewan's Rapidly Aging Government, the more likely Saskatchewan voters are to want to be able to change their own minds about putting the Sask Party in charge.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On enablers

The most significant issue arising out of the latest Con detainee scandal may be the Harper government's continued refusal to allow anybody in its inner circle to bear responsibility for misleading the Canadian public. But another facet to the story - being the media's reaction to obvious Con falsehoods - doesn't seem to have received the attention it deserves.

Indeed, contrary to what Greg posted yesterday, it seems to me that the Cons did indeed get a free pass initially: not because a significant portion of Canada's media didn't see through Buckler's falsehoods, but because it declined or refused to report on the inaccuracy.

Here's what the Globe had to say in yesterday's followup article:
Ms. Buckler was quoted in news reports this week saying the military had kept the government in the dark about a halt in the transfer of prisoners to Afghan jails last November.

The transfers were halted amid mounting evidence of abuse by Afghan officials, which would place the Afghans and the Canadians who turned them over in possible violation of the Geneva conventions against torture.

When asked why the government withheld information from the public, from Parliament, and from the blue-ribbon panel hired to chart Canada's future policy in Afghanistan, Ms. Buckler said the Canadian Forces had kept it secret.

Ms. Buckler's statement provoked outrage within her own government and particularly infuriated military officials.

Some news organizations gave little prominence to her remarks because they simply assumed them to be untrue. But at least one newspaper — the Globe and Mail — quoted her in a front-page news story.
Now, the Globe itself may not have included quite as much scrutiny as would have been ideal when it reported Buckler's comments. But at least it served to keep the issue alive, and allowed for some sorely-needed corrections from other parties.

In contrast, consider what the other news organizations mentioned in the Globe's article seem to have done. Having heard an inflammatory and inaccurate comment from the federal government's official spokesperson on a major national policy issue, it looks like several major sources of Canadian news decided that the best course of action was to look the other way. On a quick review, plenty of articles from the middle of last week included Buckler's comments at best as a throwaway conclusion to what was reported. And none even hint at any conclusion that what Buckler said was untrue.

Fortunately, in this case one media organization did put enough emphasis on Buckler's comment for the truth to emerge. But there's plenty of reason for concern if any substantial amount of the Canadian media is actually so cowed by the Harper government that it doesn't consider Con lies to be worth reporting.