Saturday, February 23, 2008

Every man for himself

Shorter Con message to Canadians on disaster preparedness:
As far as we're concerned, Brownie did a heckuva job. Govern yourselves accordingly.

Update: Dave has more, with a focus on the gender implications of the message.

Set up

It may only be a minor piece of the wider issues surrounding the Cons' efforts to gut the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. But the Globe and Mail's report on what Gary Lunn knew when about the Chalk River fiasco looks to have trapped Lunn in a claim which is itching to be soundly refuted - raising the question of whether the apparent evidence will surface:
Minister of Natural Resources Gary Lunn was sent information about the impasse between Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and Canada's nuclear regulator at least two days before the afternoon he says he learned about the problem, a source alleges.

Mr. Lunn has testified before a parliamentary committee that his staff first alerted him on Dec. 3 to the fact that the nuclear reactor that produces more than half of the world's medical isotopes had been shut down indefinitely due to an ongoing, month-old dispute between the Crown-owned AECL and its regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

However, a highly placed source close to Atomic Energy told The Globe and Mail that an e-mail was sent to Mr. Lunn before the Dec. 1 weekend underscoring the need for him to turn his attention to the mounting problem.

"I sent an e-mail on Nov. 29 or 30 ... which said this is serious, we need to get on this," the source said.

Mr. Lunn took a break from skiing in British Columbia on Dec. 1 to respond to the e-mail, the source said, adding that Mr. Lunn confirmed he "knew it was a situation he needed to work on."...

In an interview with The Globe this week, Mr. Lunn denied communicating with the source.

"I don't know. I didn't see an e-mail," Mr. Lunn said, adding, "But it's not uncommon in this age ... my computer, I won't turn it on for three or more days, so you know ..." he said, trailing off. "I'm telling you, I don't recall any conversation. In fact, you know ... there was no contact ... those are the facts," Mr. Lunn said.

"Whether he's thinking of something else or a conversation we had another time, I don't know."
Now, Lunn's response itself seems bizarre enough to raise some questions. Considering that he's already faced public grilling over what he knew and when, there's no apparent reason why he would have to tell stories about what's "not uncommon" rather than having some idea what he did and didn't do at the time.

But it should be an extremely simple matter for the source's story to be resolved based on Lunn's denial of any knowledge or involvement at the time. If Lunn did indeed send an e-mail on December 1, then a copy of that e-mail would seem to put the whole matter to rest - leaving only the question of how the Cons would try to change the subject from yet another attempt to mislead the public.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Nearly a week after the Cons released their blatantly misleading (and possibly copyright-violating) attack video, the Libs are still trying to figure out how to respond. And it looks like they still have a long way to go.

Just look at their latest threat, offered up today by David McGuinty:
McGuinty said if the ad is aired, he will ask Advertising Standards Canada for an independent opinion of whether it violates Canadian ad standards.

"Although political parties are not legally bound to comply with the code, Canadians are entitled to expect that political advertising, and election advertising, will respect the standards articulated in the code," he said.
It's comical enough that the Libs are only threatening to do more than gripe if the ad is aired elsewhere, given that the Cons have already managed to make it one of the dominant political stories in Canada for the past week.

But even the seeming threat if the Cons do decide to pay for what they're now getting for free looks to be completely useless. After all, the Cons have made clear that they don't have the least bit of shame being caught violating Canadian elections law, and indeed consider themselves entitled to continue doing the same. In light of that background, could anybody paying the slightest bit of attention think the Cons would blink based on the prospect that the Libs might seek an opinion about whether the ad meets standards that don't even apply?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

On diversions

We hardly needed any more examples of the Cons' notorious accountability at work. But a couple more particularly juicy ones today can't pass without comment.

After getting caught using a copyrighted song without permission in their most recent attempt to distract from their own woeful governing record, the Cons' defence was to quibble that a promotional video isn't technically an "ad" if they haven't paid to run it. And all while the Cons contemplate whether or not they dare to impose draconian copyright protections on Canadian consumers to better serve big media.

Meanwhile, after the burgeoning Friends of Science scandal heated up thanks to news that one of the Cons' spokesmen coordinated a seemingly illegal ad buy on behalf of the anti-Kyoto group which employed him, the Cons' idea of a response change the subject to whether the party paid the spokesman anything.

As usual, the main question on a wider scale is whether or not the Cons will pay an appropriate price for their complete refusal to discuss anything approaching reality when they're caught doing something wrong. But for those paying close attention, the Cons continue to offer up regular examples of why they don't deserve to be taken seriously.

Controlled access

Yesterday, Robert pointed out the Cons' selective tastes in publicly-funded lobbying by noting the money flowing from federal coffers to the Conference of Defense Associations. Today, CBC reports that Harper's publicly-funded lobbyists are also getting privileged access to Deceivin' Stephen:
The news comes as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a rare speech Thursday to the Conference of Defence Associations general meeting, is expected to lay out his plan to extend the mission and what his government is doing to meet those conditions.

While it's traditional for defence ministers and senior commanders to address the group, a prime minister hasn't appeared before the influential organization since the 1970s.

Harper is also expected to signal how he will respond to the Liberal amendment on his government's Afghan motion. That response is expected to be tabled later Thursday.
Between today's story and the recent news that the Cons sold access to Jim Flaherty to give contributors a look at his "plans for our financial future" in advance of the federal budget, the Cons seem to be getting ever more shameless in their attempt to pretend the Canadian political scene extends only as far as their own supporters and preferred causes. Which means that it's long past time for a reminder that it's voters who ultimately get to determine our poltical landscape - and that those voters expect better than a government which only looks out for its own.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On microcosms

CanWest reports that Francoise Boivin's jump to the NDP is all but concluded. With that in mind, let's take a look at what it likely means for the parties in Gatineau - and what it may reflect in the wider Canadian political scene.

Contrary to the concerns of one commenter to this post, there's little apparent reason for concern that Boivin's move will lead to a three-way race which gives an advantage to the Bloc. After all, every indication is that the Libs' leadership had refused to confirm Boivin's candidacy on their behalf only because they were pinning their hopes on luring a star candidate to contest the riding - and refused to give up even after failing utterly in that task for over two years.

Needless to say, the Libs don't figure to have an easier time recruiting that hoped-for star now that the NDP has a top candidate in the race as well. Which means that the contest should instead become a two-party tilt between the NDP and the Bloc. And with Bloc MP Richard Nadeau unable to campaign against the Libs' record as he did in 2006, the seat looks to have a strong chance of changing hands.

What's perhaps more interesting than the Gatineau race itself, though, is the mirror image between Dion's treatment of Boivin personally, and the Libs' treatment of left-wing voices generally within their ranks.

The past couple of days have seen a flurry of progressive Libs slamming their party for doing much the same thing on a national scale: dithering and delaying in hope that some external force will push them into a winning situation, while half-heartedly stringing along their supporters who want to get something done within the current political reality. And while none of them have yet joined Boivin in actually switching allegiances as a result, it wouldn't be much of a surprise for some to conclude that they're better off supporting a party whose ability to push the progressive cause isn't limited by "nervous nellies" and institutional inertia.

Of course, it could be that the Libs will offer just enough hope to keep their current members in the fold awhile longer. But it's equally possible that Boivin will be just the first of many to realize that the Libs aren't worth waiting for. And the sooner others start to lose patience as well, the better the chances that the NDP will be in a position to stop Harper once the Libs can't avoid a trip to the polls.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I'm not quite sure which is more worrisome in the wake of the Castonguay report today: the lack of attention paid to those who have rightly criticized the twin recommendations of user fees and increased privatization, or the fact that the lone objection of Quebec's Lib government is apparently to the idea of additional funding through a sales tax increase. (It seems particularly odd that the Charest government seems to think a "health tax" will be better received than a sales tax increase - is there any indication that the former is likely to be more popular, particularly when most people would figure to pay more to raise the same amount of money?)

What remains to be seen, though, is whether or not the debate will finally gain some traction on the federal scene. Naturally the Cons are entirely happy to see health care privatized without too much commotion - but while the NDP is once again highlighting the urgent need for federal action to boost public health care across the country, the other opposition parties seem more concerned with avoiding any commentary which could possibly be seen as affecting Quebec's government's actions.

Mind you, the release of today's report would seem to offer a perfect opportunity for any party looking to win some attention as a strong defender of public health care across the country. But all indications for now are that the Libs will sit this one out as well - raising again the question of what (if anything) they're ultimately willing to stand for.

No mistake

At least one blogger wonders whether Stephane Dion has made a mistake in ruminating publicly about Kosovo independence. But it's worth wondering just what end Dion was pursuing with his remarks - and from what I can tell, they far more sense as a bare political ploy rather than a strong declaration of principle.

After all, having once again retreated from any willingness to oppose the Cons' agenda - and in the face of a new set of (however dishonest) Con attacks, Dion is in obvious need of something to change the current subjects of discussion. And the Libs' efforts at renewal have resulted in remarkably few new ideas, leaving them with no other apparent options to try to take any control over Canada's political agenda.

In that context, it only makes sense that they'd take a ready-made opportunity to go back to what was once their bread and butter: reigniting the Quebec separation debate in hopes that the Libs could regain their position as the federalist side of a two-party battle with the Bloc.

Whether that choice is a responsible one for Canada as a whole - or even likely to succeed for Dion in the longer term - is another story entirely. But I don't think it's an accident that Dion might want to use Kosovo to move back to his more comfortable rhetorical territory and try to remind Canadians of his more-positive image from a decade ago.

Monday, February 18, 2008

On obstruction

Once again the Cons and their allies are demonstrating their belief that accountability applies to everybody but themselves - this time through two stories about potentially illicit activities which may have helped them to take power in the first place.

First, the Hill Times reports on the Cons' efforts to hold the Procedure and House Affairs Committee hostage over for the past six months to prevent it from investigating Conadscam. And it looks like the Cons' latest excuse is to try to pretend that the mandate of a House of Commons committee is limited to whatever the government wants to see discussed:
Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski (Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, Sask.), Parliamentary secretary to the government House leader, told The Hill Times last week that the government brought a motion forward at the committee to move on to a study of Bill C-6, the Visual Identification of Voters Bill, after weeks of filibustering the opposition´s motion to study the Conservative Party´s election advertising finances. Bill C-6 has been at the Procedure and House Affairs Committee since November 2007. Mr. Lukiwski said the committee is "still at a bit of an impasse," however, because the opposition is not agreeing to study legislation.

"We would like to start studying C-6. We would like to start studying legislation. That´s the mandate of our committee. Until the opposition agrees to that, I guess we won´t."...

(Lib MP Karen) Redman said the opposition has tried to come to a compromise on many occasions and the government has simply filibustered any attempt to move on. She said the opposition has proposed focusing on the "in and out" scheme one day a week, while focusing on legislation the other day, or increasing the meeting days to study both. "We have dealt with legislation and we have shown willingness to accommodate the legislative agenda," she said. "There´s been no compromise, no middle ground. The government is trying to prevent this at all costs, not just for embarrassment because they may intend to use this in a future election. Timing is of the utmost importance given we have a government that´s determined to defeat itself."...

(NDP MP Yvon) Godin disputed Mr. Lukiwski´s claim, however, saying if the government stopped filibustering the motion to study the "in and out" scheme, it would´ve been over with since last fall and they would have moved onto legislation months ago...

Mr. Godin said the fight is on (sic) one of principle now because the Conservatives have been filibustering for too long and the opposition believes they´re simply doing so because they want to use the same election advertising financing practices in the next election, potentially a few weeks from now. "They´re not going to dictate to us that we´re not going to deal with a big issue that they´ve created with this in and out...(W)hat they want to do is dictate to us because they don´t have a majority, they are a minority government, how we will do the work and we´re not just going to let them do it. They´re not going to get away with this, and I hope Canadians see what they´re trying to do. As I said last week, what do they have to hide?"
Meanwhile, one of Deceivin' Stephen's closest allies is also in trouble with Elections Canada over a scheme which looks to have combined questionable funnelling of charitable donations with illegal third-party election advertising. And unlike Harper's minions when it came to Conadscam, Barry Cooper isn't even willing to try to defend his side of the story for fear that he'll let some of the truth slip out:
Cooper, who also writes a political column for the Calgary Herald, refused to say whether he knew the university account was used to buy the radio ads.

"I'm not answering those kinds of questions because there's a lot of ambiguity (on what the radio ads were) and I'm not going to clarify them for you," Cooper said in an interview. "These are facts that may be at issue in some kind of legal case, and that's why I'm being evasive."
It remains to be seen whether any of the investigations will result in any firm outcome before Canada's next trip to the polls. For now, all evidence suggests that Harper and company will continue to put as many roadblocks in the way of the truth as they possibly can - and even if the Libs continue their pattern of delaying any election in hopes of a Con implosion, there's no particular reason to think the Cons will suddenly develop a conscience about suppressing information before 2009.

But whether or not the Cons succeed in avoiding having to answer directly for their wrongs, their consistent pattern of concealing the facts about their own actions should offer plenty of reason not to trust either their claims to believe in accountability, or their protestations of innocence. And the more dishonest the Cons show themselves to be, the less likely Canadians are to believe a word they have to say when the next election rolls around.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

On risk management

The CP reports on what looks to be a clear example of an underfunded federal regulator, as the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program - responsible for ensuring that shellfish are free of toxins which have turned up several times in the past - doesn't have enough money or staff to carry out the program's mandate. But have no fear: when it's not denying that there's any problem contrary to all available evidence, the Con government is on the case with their usual solution:
Green also said the aquaculture sector may be asked to do more self-policing.
Because if there's anything you can count on, it's the willingness of industry to present the public with an unbiased report on dangers related to its products in the absence of a regulatory backstop. And that goes doubly when a previous scare based on the toxins which are now going untested resulted in billions of dollars in losses to the seafood industry in general.

Mind you, the Cons' solution might well help to ensure there's no public panic about any future outbreak, as a self-policing industry would have every incentive to avoid keeping any problem under wraps. For those who think it's reasonable to expect that their government will keep track of food safety, though, the Cons are once again going out of their way to disagree rather than enabling a regulator to do its job.


Apparently the Cons' latest attack ad is so far beyond belief can't help commenting. And the door looks to be wide open for the Cons to finally face their comeuppance based on the strategy they're actively endorsing:
Industry Minister Jim Prentice used his Question Period appearance to give a preview of some ads that would attack Liberal spending promises...

A television ad shows Dion making a number of spending commitments. At least one clip about where Dion talked about "megatonnes of money" was actually from a speech where he was saying how much money could be made by shifting to a lower-carbon economy.
Needless to say, this is a favour worth returning. And with the Cons having gone out of their way to be as inflammatory as possible in portraying opposition positions, there should be plenty of material for ads in which prominent Cons express their unqualified support for massive deficits, corrupt government, environmental devastation and the complete elimination of public services - with no less basis in reality than a message they're actively promoting.