Saturday, March 15, 2008

Motion creep

As Greg has noted, it was fairly obvious before the Libs gave Deceivin' Stephen his way on the Cons' Afghanistan motion that the Cons wouldn't accept being bound by its terms. But even I didn't expect them to resile from one of its central premises this quickly.

Just a day after the motion passed, here's Peter MacKay refusing to commit to follow the terms of the motion if the extra troops required aren't provided:
Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is not yet a foregone conclusion that Canada will be at war in Afghanistan for another three years. For the extension to come into effect, NATO needs to come up with an additional 1,000 soldiers and the deployment of medium and heavy lift capacity. To date no official announcements have been made on additional troops committed to the war or planned procurement of airlift capacity.

Will the Minister of Foreign Affairs clarify today that if these conditions are not met, Canada will not extend its combat mission in Afghanistan?

Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member, no, I cannot thank the member for his support for the motion last night.

Last night the Parliament of Canada took the position that Canada would continue in Afghanistan. We would continue a whole of government approach which does include, of course, giving our men and women in uniform the necessary equipment to carry out this mission, to execute the security perimeter that will allow for greater development, and greater efforts at the humanitarian relief that is taking place in that war-torn country.

Canada should be very proud of that effort. We are looking forward, with the support of the Liberal Party, to seeing this mission continue...
Of course, the original motion was on its own terms "expressly on the condition" that additional troops would be provided. But the Cons haven't wasted any time in declaring that an extension is now a done deal - with no reference to the preconditions contained in the motion which haven't been met.

It remains to be seen whether the added troops are indeed a fait accompli based on information which has been withheld from the public. But even if not, it now looks like a distinct possibility that the Cons will be happy to claim that the motion authorizes another two years of combat in any event. And that can only offer one more indication as to the harm being done by the Libs' refusal to stand up to Deceivin' Stephen.

Friday, March 14, 2008


If we needed any more evidence that the Libs' tough talk about finally opposing the Cons in April figures to be as empty as their rhetoric since last fall, the Star provides it with a report on the Libs' disarray in Quebec:
All is not well in the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal party, which held a crisis meeting to deal with grassroots grumbling over election planning that a source described as "close to non-existent."

A group of disgruntled Quebec organizers took the unusual step of activating a clause in the party constitution to force a meeting of the executive committee to discuss their mounting grievances.

"I've never seen that happen before," said a Liberal involved in the party's inner workings for more than two decades...

Several party sources said much of the donkey work of preparing for elections – renting office space, co-ordinating local fundraising chairs, booking phone lines, printing signs – has not yet been done.

"The last time we looked like we were headed for an election, I read in the papers that the Quebec wing isn't ready. Well I don't want to be blamed for that. The executive hasn't met since December," an influential Quebec Liberal fumed before the meeting.
Naturally, the Libs' apparent failure to get the basics of a Quebec campaign in place only figures to make the current party infighting all the worse - as factions within the Libs who have nothing to do thanks to the party's lack of organization instead take out their frustrations on each other. And that in turn seems likely to drive away any star candidates who the Libs may have hoped to lure to their cause.

For now, all indications are that the battle remains an internal one. But after well over a year of Dion's misleadership, there's less and less reason for frustrated Lib supporters to continue to wait for their current party to get its act together - and all the more for them to instead turn to a progressive federalist party which is actually prepared to take on the Cons.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Material witnesses

It doesn't seem to have attracted much attention at the time, but Gilles Duceppe's question on Cadscam yesterday points out an interesting thread in James Moore's answers in Parliament:
(T)he Prime Minister, like everyone in our caucus, knew that Chuck Cadman had received an offer to rejoin our caucus, run for election and be re-elected as a Conservative.
Now, to date Deceivin' Stephen has largely succeeding in funneling all questions through himself, Moore and Peter Van Loan for their usual combination of non-answers and non sequiturs.

But Moore's answer would seem to suggest that the Cons' caucus as a whole was informed of at least some discussions about Cadman in 2005. And that would add dozens more names to the list of individuals who may also be able to shed light on at least some of the party's internal discussions about Cadman - not to mention far more likelihood than before that somebody outside Harper's most trusted cadre of advisors knows something worth bringing to light.

On counterarguments

Following up on yesterday's post about the Libs' latest set of election musings, it's possible that the talk may be aimed at the critique that there's no point in casting a by-election vote for a party whose MPs won't vote to represent their own constituents. But I have to seriously wonder whether "vote for us, we might start doing our jobs next month!" is the message the Libs are looking for in trying to defend their previous seat count.

Falling short

Shorter John Baird, responding to rightful criticism by John Gomery of the Cons' top-down government:
It's completely unfair for Gomery to judge us by his expectations and recommendations for a clean government, since I'm sure we'd look much better if the evaluation was against what we promised... or on second thought, can't you just take our word that we're accountable enough?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


A couple of quick links for those who haven't seen the posts yet...

First, IP points out the Greens' remarkable lack of any apparent comment on the prospect of bringing down the Cons over their environmental negligence. I'll add only that even if there isn't an official larger deal between the Greens and Libs, it could be that May has simply decided that it's easier to say nothing about the party's signature issue than to risk having to answer questions about how she can justify cutting back-room deals premised on the need to remove Deceivin' Stephen from power when the other party involved is itself refusing to do just that.

Second, Alison highlights the contrast between the Cons' talk about the importance of Radarsat-2 to Canada's sovereignty, and their apparent intention to facilitate the sale of the satellite to an American arms manufacturer. If anything, this story would seem to be the one that deserves more focus from the opposition parties - as the gap between the Cons' rhetoric and their desire to auction off Canadian interests has seldom been quite this stark.

On timing

It's tough to disagree with the near-universal skepticism which has greeted the Libs' declaration that they're seriously considering growing a spine over the course of the next month. But let's note that even if the Libs are finally recognizing that continuing to prop up Deceivin' Stephen is a bad idea, their continued strategy of telegraphing their every possible move can only help the Cons.

After all, as Lib strategists note in Don Martin's column (the third link above), an election campaign will put the national parties on an equal footing when it comes to spending money - while during the period before the writ drops, the Cons' apparent advantage in cash on hand gives them the ability to pour as much money as they like into unregulated pre-campaign advertising.

Now, this is one reason why it would be pure folly for the Libs to delay an election until the fixed election date in the fall of 2009. If the Cons know in advance that the election won't take place until then (or that general time period), then they'll be free to pour millions of extra dollars into an ad blitz over the summer which will still be prominent in voters' minds for the campaign. And it's hard to imagine a starting point more likely to lead to a Con majority than that.

For the same reason, though, any smart Lib strategy to bring down the Cons would involve holding their cards to their vest to prevent the Cons from putting together a pre-campaign ad blitz sooner - rather than hinting a month in advance that they might be willing to oppose Harper.

If the Libs had shown any particular political shrewdness under Dion, I'd wonder if the current sabre-rattling is in fact an indication that they're not willing to force an election. After, if the plan was to wait until fall, it might well be in their interest to provoke the Cons into throwing money into a panicked pre-campaign which won't ultimately accomplish anything.

But based on how the Libs have given advance notice of their every move so far, it seems more likely that they're merely doing the same once again. And if there's anything the Libs have done far too much of already, it's going out of their way to make Stephen Harper's life easier.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sucking and blowing

Time for today's dose of Con consistency. According to the Cons, this unbudgeted, billion-dollar federal expense isn't even worth discussing. But this unbudgeted, billion-dollar federal expense stands to be solely responsible for pushing federal finances into a deficit.

How far they've come...

Greg Weston puts forward his theory as to what the Cons may have offered Chuck Cadman for his vote. And if he's right, then the scam may have represented the Cons' ultimate repudiation of the movement that gave rise to Harper's party in its current form:
At the risk of inciting mass-protests from the federal pension department, here is a rough estimate of what might have been in the offing for Cadman.

At the time of Cadman's meeting with the two Conservative operatives, he was 57 years old and had been a sitting MP for just over eight years.

As such, he was entitled to an MP's pension, or "retiring allowance" as it is known, regardless if there were an election.

That retiring allowance, based on Cadman's eight years of service, would have been about $29,000 a year.

When he died two months after the mystery meeting, his widow would have been entitled to 60% of that amount, or just over $17,000 a year for the rest of her life, while each of his children would get 10% annually, or just under $3,000.

But a provision in the Commons pension plan allows an MP to "buy" more years of service, either by paying a lump-sum, or through increased monthly premiums over any period up to 20 years.

If Cadman bought an extra 10 years of service, it would have increased the pension to his widow by something in the order of $30,000 a year, and to his children by over $3,000 apiece.

If she lived another 30 years, her dying husband would have effectively provided his family with additional pension benefits worth about $1 million -- something Cadman might well have considered a "$1-million life-insurance policy."
For now, I don't have time to take a detailed look at the law surrounding that kind of scheme: while a party contribution to a candidate is indeed excepted from some of the provisions of the Canada Elections Act, it's hard to see how a loan on special terms wouldn't be seen as a "compensation" under the Parliament of Canada Act. And it's possible that the Cons may have been asking Cadman to take much of the legal risk if money was put into his campaign coffers which wasn't intended to be used for valid electoral purposes.

That said, regardless of the ultimate legal analysis, it would seem deliciously ironic if the heirs to the Reform legacy of protesting "gold-plated MP pensions" attempted to buy their way into power by purchasing a vote with nearly a million dollars from the current MP pension system. And that might explain why Harper would be afraid to admit the facts even if the scheme narrowly managed to stay on the right side of the law.

Monday, March 10, 2008

On targets

It's no secret that there's plenty of reason to doubt the Cons' assumptions when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. But let's note that even from the Cons' choice of starting points, the effect of their apparent plan is to dictate that oil sands development - which already coughs up 18% of all Canadian greenhouse gas emissions - will be the lone industry in the country which is permitted to increase its absolute emissions between now and 2010.

On mismanagement

This weekend's news about Deceivin' Stephen's gaffe on sales tax harmonization is an important enough story in showing that the Cons are sorely lacking in managerial competence. But the picture gets even worse when one looks at the Cons' subsequent "apology".

Here's the main part of the story so far:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Office has apologized to the government of Prince Edward Island for praising the Island for considering harmonizing its provincial sales tax with the GST.

Mr. Harper gave the speech Friday during a luncheon of the Economic Club of Toronto.

But provincial officials called off negotiations two weeks ago, saying they could not reach a deal with Ottawa that was acceptable to the Island government.

It appears nobody told the Prime Minister that negotiations had ended.

"I'm pleased to see Prince Edward Island looking at harmonizing its sales tax with the GST," Mr. Harper said in the speech...

Erin Mitchell, director of communications for Premier Robert Ghiz, said she was at a loss to explain Mr. Harper's comments.

But late Friday night, she said the Island government received a call from the Prime Minister's Office apologizing for the inaccuracy.

"The PMO is now aware that negotiations regarding HST have concluded with the province," she said.
In sum, the Cons tried to push harmonization on PEI, which said it wasn't interested and cut off negotiations. And the Cons were forced to apologize after claiming credit for continued negotiations long after the province had indicated it wasn't interested in what the Cons had to offer.

Which leads to the Cons' public statement for the article:
Carolyn Stewart Olsen, a spokeswoman for Mr. Harper, said they had set aside money in the budget to woo Prince Edward Island into joining the harmonized sales tax.

"We have been in talks," she said. "There is no agreement to date. But we remain hopeful."

She later said that the Prime Minister was told discussions had taken place, but that "we understand there are no discussions at the present time."
In other words, even while trying to explain their own failure to recognize that PEI wasn't interested in harmonization, the Cons still couldn't take "no" for an answer. Instead, they seem to want to use their own gaffe to pressure PEI back to the table for more of the negotiations which the Cons wrongfully pretended were going on already. And even the Cons' subsequent correction to their first explanation would only admit that nothing was going on "at the present time".

Not that it should be much of a surprise that the Cons are once again practicing their distinct brand of strong-arm federalism. But it's still remarkable that Harper can't even acknowledge a mistake without using it as an excuse to try to impose his party's will on an unwilling province. And both the initial mismanagement and the Cons' subsequent spin offer even more reasons why the provinces should be eagerly anticipating the end of the Cons' stay in power.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The new ethical standard

Shorter Rick Fuschi, who is apparently more than ethical enough for Harper's Cons after running for them in 2004 and 2006:
As far as I'm concerned, the real criminal is anybody who won't take our bribe money.

On missions

I'm not sure exactly how "wry" the NDP strategist cited by Greg Weston was in providing quotes for Weston's article. But let's take a moment to note how problematic it would be if some of the NDP's braintrust is indeed narrowly focused on avoiding "anything that would give the Liberals a chance to score points" - as the result could only be a failure of both principle and strategy.

The principle point should be a fairly obvious one. But the question of what strategy is most likely to lead to success for the NDP deserves a bit more of an explanation.

In order to establish itself as a governing alternative, the NDP needs to convince a substantial number of voters of the answers to two questions: whether the Cons deserve to stay in power, and which party deserves to take their place if not. Given the need to get both of those questions answered in the NDP's favour, it makes little sense to concentrate only on the second one - and even less to focus solely on whether a particular action might potentially assist the Libs rather than on whether it can be turned to the NDP's favour.

Moreover, even to the extent the NDP needs to capitalize on Lib weakness now, it won't do that successfully by letting the Libs land more effective blows to Harper when it comes to Con scandals. If the Libs are given a chance to balance their ineffectiveness in opposing the Cons on policy with a relative advantage in challenging the Cons' ethics, then the NDP is far less likely to persuade historic Lib voters that they're a more effective contrast to a government which is wrong on both.

Which means that the NDP needs to keep the Cons' feet to the fire. And while it can validly do so by reaching different conclusions than the Libs as to which scandals and ethical issues need to be brought to light (e.g. choosing a different target for its punches), it can't get anywhere by pulling punches altogether - as the strategist's position would suggest.

Fortunately, the NDP's actions are far more in keeping with what the party should be doing than with what the strategist says it's doing. As I've pointed out, the NDP has in fact made repeated efforts to bring together the opposition to Harper's Cons. Meanwhile, it's the Libs who have refused entreaties to do so, ensuring that they appear as petty in opposition as they are ineffective.

And contrary to what Weston implies in the rest of his article, the NDP has indeed kept challenging the Cons on ethics as well as policy - helping to ensure that the Canadian public does reach the right answer as to whether or not it can afford to leave Harper in power. Which means that as long as the NDP's actions continue where they're headed rather than where the strategist suggests they're aimed, Layton and company should remain on the best possible path for both party and country.