Saturday, February 16, 2008

On recruits

Over the last little while, the federal NDP has added plenty of interesting candidates in Quebec. But LeDroit reports on what looks to be a watershed moment in the party's candidate recruitment efforts, as former Liberal MP Francoise Boivin may soon announce her intention to run for the NDP in Gatineau.

Let's take a moment to note why the story is particularly significant. For all the NDP's success in finding star candidates in Quebec and elsewhere, those have normally consisted of new recruits into federal politics rather than former partisans from other parties (and in particular ones with a track record of electoral success) who have been persuaded to switch their affiliation.

Boivin, however, would make for a break from that pattern. In addition to having the name recognition within Gatineau that comes from having been a former MP (and having won 30+% of the vote even in defeat in 2006), she would set a precedent of a successful Lib publicly declaring that the NDP is better able to help Canada's progressive cause. And that would hopefully help to build momentum for others to similarly shift their allegiances.

We'll find out in the next week whether or not Boivin will complete the jump to the NDP. But either way, it's clear that the NDP is more than appealing enough to make at least one federal Lib standard-bearer take a serious look at joining its ranks. And that can only encourage voters to do the same when the next election comes around.

Dogmatic indeed

Shorter Robert Fulford:
If you assume based on nothing but my own well-funded ideology that governments as a rule are incapable of accomplishing anything positive, then it's a cynical ploy to claim our current government should do better.

Friday, February 15, 2008


The Gazette reports on the Cons' latest example of transparency in action, this time through a joint Canada/U.S. report on Great Lakes pollution which was only made publicly available due to a leak in the U.S.:
The suppression of a study that shows Great Lakes pollution may be a threat to the health of more than nine million people is typical of the secrecy that surrounds Canadian government environmental science, an NDP environment critic charges.

Nathan Cullen yesterday demanded in the House of Commons to know why the government has kept a recent health study on Great Lakes pollution secret...

Cullen said in an interview that the government's policy is "either to bury the research or muzzle the people involved" when it doesn't agree with scientific reports on the environment.

Cullen was referring to a story in The Gazette yesterday that revealed that the U.S. government had suppressed a study that shows there are 26 "areas of concern" around the Great Lakes where people's health is at risk from chemical and hydrocarbon pollution.

The report was prepared by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and was commissioned by the Canadian-American International Joint Commission on management of the Great Lakes.

Cullen charged that the Canadian government as a member of the IJC approved the cover-up.

The report was leaked recently to the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C., and can be found on their website at

(Cullen) claimed the government has suppressed since November a department of natural resources study on the effects of climate change.

"It paints a picture of climate change for Canada, and again the government sees that as political and not science," he said.
Fortunately, there's still enough public reporting being done to hold the Cons' feet to the fire on the environment.

Even if there's still ample data to show that the Cons have mangled the environmental file, though, it's clear that the Harper government is going out of its way to hide relevant information rather than allowing Canadians to put together a complete picture of the environmental issues facing the country. And for those of us who don't think that we're better off not knowing the facts, today's story offers just one more addition to the list of reasons to take the power to suppress information out of the Cons' hands.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Promises, promises

Shorter Con response to the Paille report:
Granted, we broke our campaign promise to stop using public money for partisan polling, and then hid the evidence as long as we could. But surely a new promise to be only slightly more wasteful than the Libs we used to decry will make it all better.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Strategic considerations

Steve V asks where the Libs' Afghanistan capitulation leaves the NDP on the issue. Let's deal with that question - but first, it's important to consider where the parties actually are on the Cons' and Libs' motions.

For all the talk that a deal on Afghanistan is as good as done, Deceivin' Stephen has been careful so far not to say any more than that he's willing to take a look at Dion's amendments, and perhaps consider a new Con motion which incorporates some of the Libs' ideas. It's far from clear that there's even any meaningful agreement as to the principles which should apply to any extension (particularly the question of whether or not to give notice that Canada will leave in 2011), let alone as to the final wording of a motion. And as I've pointed out, the Cons will probably be happy to keep the matter up in the air as long as they can.

Moreover, even if the Cons and Libs do come to a final agreement on wording, there's been no indication that the Cons will move up their planned date for a vote. So we're headed for at least another month and a half of Afghanistan in the news - and the issue will only be even more clearly undecided if the Libs finally decide they're ready to vote down the Cons in the meantime.

So where does that leave the NDP? From what I can tell, there are a number of strategic options - which at least seem likely to result in political gains, and may a real chance of altering the course of discussions.

First, since the discussion of the motions is taking place in public, the NDP can obviously critique and influence some of the ideas being discussed.

In particular, with the Cons looking likely to refuse a firm 2011 end date, the NDP should be eager to amplify the Libs' concern about the possibility of an endless mission, and turn that language against the Libs if (as seems all too probable) they eventually signal an intention to give in to a Con demand to leave the end date open.

Second, the NDP can work with any relatively doveish Lib supporters to push back against the strongarm tactics being used to impose an elite consensus on a party which just weeks ago was taking a strong stand against what it's now agreeing to.

At best, maybe Dion would respond by trying to take back some or all of the ground he's conceded to Harper. And at worst, it'll serve at least to highlight the failure of Dion as a leader who was supposed to reflect the Libs' progressive grassroots, and perhaps help to shift centre-left swing votes in the NDP's favour.

Finally, the NDP can highlight the position it's held all along to the effect that an unjustified mission isn't worth sticking to just because of a previously-determined end date. Recently, this hasn't been a particularly prominent feature of the NDP's message - likely due to the relatively small gap between the time when withdrawal could practically take place and the presumptive 2009 end date.

But if it looks like an extension to 2011 or beyond is in the works, then the costs of staying to that date look a lot more severe. Which should offer the NDP an opening to ramp up its critique of Canada's role in Kandahar generally, rather than being tied up in a dispute as to end dates.

It's worth noting that for all the potential benefits to the NDP in the above options, I'd still prefer if Dion had stuck to his supposed principles in order to put an end to the current mission structure. But the NDP certainly isn't lacking for ways to respond to the changed situation - and Layton and company should only be better off in the next election for once again being the only national party in Parliament to stand up to the Cons.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

On unhappy endings

The Libs haven't even yet officially unveiled their amendments to the Cons' Afghanistan motion, and I can already hear at least part of Deceivin' Stephen's response:

"Oh please, Brer Stephane, don't force us to issue regular reports on the mission!"

It was bad enough the first time the Libs decided to push the mistaken position that asking the Cons to generate a report could serve any productive purpose. But this time, it looks all the more clear that the Cons will welcome the opportunity to regularly put their party's Afghanistan position in the news, while crowing that they're acting transparently enough to meet the Libs' demands - no matter how much inconvenient information they suppress in the process.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Liar liar

Shorter Peter MacKay:
I for one can't imagine the slightest reason to think we'd be anything other than completely honest and forthcoming about Afghan detainees. So please feel free to ignore the issue until we tell you otherwise.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just wondering...

I've generally avoided wading into the Levant/Martin attempt to remove speech issues from the Canadian Human Rights Act. But let's test just how serious that position is.

Since I haven't yet seen anybody argue that the CHRA should be wiped out altogether, it seems there's some recognition that the Canadian Human Rights Commission is needed to ensure that federally-regulated businesses don't discriminate based on prohibited grounds. Or practically speaking, if a federally-regulated business puts up a notice on its website saying "we don't serve (insert group name here)", everybody seems to agree that's deserving of investigation and, if necessary, sanction.

Can anybody then explain why a similar notice on the same site which merely removes the "we" should be such a radically different issue as to be removed completely from the Human Rights Commission's jurisdiction?

Selective framing

Stephen Maher blurts out the assumption which seems to underlie most current treatment of Afghanistan :
We are in for a long, difficult struggle between the Tories and the Liberals to control the frame of the debate over Afghanistan, with the NDP and the Bloc on the sidelines, since they are both calling for the mission to end.
Needless to say, neither Maher nor many others looking for a Lib/Con agreement to give Deceivin' Stephen everything he wants seem all that interested in speaking to the sixty-odd per cent of Canadians who don't want to see an extension past 2009. But fortunately, there's little indication that any of the NDP, the Bloc, or the majority of Canadians intends to put up with being arbitrarily sidelined - and it's far from too late to push the frame back to what Canadians actually want to see done, rather than accepting Harper's efforts to manipulate elite opinion as defining the boundaries of the debate.