Saturday, March 29, 2008

For a limited time only...

The Gazette introduces the Cons' apparent candidate in Westmount-Ville-Marie. But there's little reason to think that Guy Dufort will be allowed to hold the job for long - as even his first set of media coverage seems to show far more independent thought than the Cons have ever allowed from their candidates.

Dufort on the need for more infrastructure investment:
Guy Dufort, a Montreal lawyer, said big cities "won't be convivial places to live" unless they are given more help to tackle challenges such as crumbling roads and sewers. Infrastructure will go down the drain, transportation systems will become decrepit and more people will move to the suburbs, he predicts.
The party line:
Flaherty said the Tories have already given municipalities $33 billion in a multi-year package and he has rejected pleas for more cash.
Dufort on federal transfers to cities:
Dufort said the government has made some effort to address the problem by transferring a portion of gas taxes to municipalities. But they should also have access to a portion of income taxes or sales taxes, he said.
The party line:
SEAN MALLEN: As you well know the Mayor of Toronto, Mr Miller, joined by the Premier, have been calling for one cent of the GST to be dedicated to cities. Is that idea effectively dead?
Jim Flaherty: Yes.
Jim Flaherty: Well, it was a non-starter from the beginning.
Dufort on housing:
While Westmount-Ville-Marie has a reputation of being the home to some of Quebec's wealthiest residents, Dufort said it is also home to about 8,000 homeless people, and affordable housing is a priority for him.
The party line:
The federal Conservatives have ousted their candidate for Toronto Centre, 43-year-old international-trade lawyer Mark Warner, and he says it's because he wanted to play up urban and social issues that are at odds with the master Conservative campaign strategy...

Conservative officials have been actively resisting Warner's emphasis on housing, health care and cities issues, he said, even blocking him from participating in a Star forum on poverty earlier this year and pointedly removing from his campaign literature a reference to the 2006 international conference on AIDS in Toronto – which Warner attended but Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not.
And what's more:
Dufort, who describes himself as a "pragmatist," admitted that he personally only agrees with about 80 per cent of the Conservative Party's platform.
Now, we don't know for sure what's included in the 20% that Dufort disagrees with. But one has to figure the question will be brought up more than a few times during the course of a by-election. And there's no way for Dufort to answer without either giving the appearance of having been dishonest now, suggesting that Dufort has been brainwashed by extended reprogramming at the Cons' Hall of Harper, or angering his micromanaging leader.

One way or another, the gap between Dufour's more moderate stances and the Cons' governing principles can only make it all the more clear that the Cons can't offer a viable alternative to the Libs in Westmount-Ville-Marie. Which can only leave the door wide open for the NDP to pick up another Quebec beachhead in the riding once a by-election is called.

Friday, March 28, 2008

On motivation

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that the talk of an island being named after Deceivin' Stephen looks to be little more than an ego boost for Harper. But let's look on the bright side: while the Cons obviously can't be bothered to deal seriously with climate change based merely on the environmental, social and economic costs involved, might Harper at least give the matter a bit more thought if part of his legacy is in danger of being submerged?

On imbalance

LKO points out Paul Wells' brilliant column on the Harper Coalition. But all skewering aside, the more important part of Wells' column lies in the recognition of just what Harper has done to the federal government - and what the Libs are in turn propping up:
(T)he current Harper-Dion government is presiding over astonishing changes to the shape of Canada's government. It's all in that February budget, which the Liberals all but ignored before voting against it — wink, wink — in small enough numbers to ensure its survival. The budget provides for provincial revenues to grow, while federal revenues as a share of GDP decline. "The gap has widened in recent years," the budget document says, and "will likely continue to grow over the coming years." The gap between provincial revenues and federal revenues — in the provinces' favour — has never been as great in more than 20 years. Federal transfers to the provinces, as a share of all federal spending, are half again as high as they were when Brian Mulroney took office a generation ago.

In 2000-2001, the gap between federal revenues and provincial-territorial revenues was $5 billion. This year — according to the innocuous-looking "Annex I" tucked at the back of the budget — it will be $36 billion. The Harper GST cuts, which the Liberals have done nothing serious to stop, will ensure that Ottawa can't grow its lost revenue back. Harper's growing transfers to the provinces, which Dion — true to his word — found a way not to defeat, ensure the provincial governments will be the only ones with the resources to undertake ambitious new projects.
What's particularly worth noting is that not all of the change described by Wells is attributable to the Cons. Indeed, the Libs held a majority government during the first wave of reckless federal tax cuts at the start of the period noted by Wells. Which means that their recent choice to egg the Cons on to provide more of the same - an invitation which the Cons were of course eager to take up - only represents a continuation of what the Libs were already doing.

What remains to be seen is whether Canadians will take the opportunity to stop the demolition of Canada's federal government before it really is too late. But it should be clear that both in government and in opposition, the Libs and Cons have consistently pushed further in that direction - and the current coalition is only the latest example rather than a particularly radical new development.

Excuses, excuses

Not surprisingly, the Cons are now having to retract their false claim that it was NATO (and not Deceivin' Stephen) who decided to uninvite opposition defence critics from the upcoming Bucharest summit. But the new explanation only invites more questions about what the Cons' strategy was to begin with:
The Star reported yesterday that Defence Minister Peter MacKay's office had invited opposition critics to go to Bucharest April 2-4, then rescinded the offer 24 hours later, saying, "NATO officials reduced the number of Canadian officials that ... will be allowed to accompany our minister."

Following inquiries to MacKay's office, director of operations Paul J. Throop sent another note to opposition parties "to clarify" why defence critics had been uninvited.

"I wanted to convey to you our directive on the NATO meeting that we do not require pairing, not that it was a NATO directive. Sorry for the confusion," Throop wrote in an email Wednesday.

Pairing is the parliamentary custom of matching a travelling government MP to an opposition member so that no one party is disadvantaged in the event of a vote in the House of Commons.
Now, it's embarrassing enough that the Cons seem to consider being caught in a lie as "confusion". But consider what the Cons' current message suggests about their reason for inviting the opposition parties.

After all, there's no particular reason why a pairing arrangement requires that opposition MPs be flown out of the country. Indeed, the same process is frequently followed by agreement between the parties when MPs aren't able to attend a vote.

But if one takes the Cons at face value, then they were originally willing to offer opposition critics a place in the Bucharest delegation - at public expense - solely for the purpose of getting them out of the House of Commons. And that's only made all the worse by the Cons now reversing course after apparently deciding they don't want any inconvenient reality coming from the Canadian delegation.

Needless to say, it doesn't look like the latest excuse will be the last one. But regardless of what explanation the Cons eventually settle on, the ultimate question once again is how anybody - whether reporter, pundit or mere observer - could justify believing a word from the Cons in the face of yet another set of contradictory and nonsensical excuses in the making.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

For the sake of consistency...

I'll grant that don't see this column as evidence of much more than a need for John Ivison to recalibrate his personal laugh test. But shouldn't those who used supposed positive reinforcement from Deceivin' Stephen as an excuse to bash Jack Layton be attacking Stephane Dion with even more ferocity in the face of a story that the Cons are plotting their strategy to ensure he remains the Libs' leader?

Kicking and screaming

One of the less-reported stories surrounding this year's federal budget was the lack of meaningful investment in environmental programs: most media reports seemed to pick up on the one project funded by the Cons (being a small contribution to a clean coal plant in Estevan) and assume that this would somehow make up for nationwide neglect. But now, Deceivin' Stephen is complaining about doing even that much:
Cutting Canada's greenhouse gas emissions will mean cost increases in the short term for consumers and businesses alike but such costs are manageable, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

But Harper also said he would not commit the federal government to covering potential cost overruns beyond its $240-million share of the recently announced $1.4-billion clean coal project at nearby Boundary Dam.

"All the cost pressures on energy, including admittedly cost pressures of environmental regulation, are likely to lead to upward pressure on power prices across this country in years to come," Harper said when asked about what impact the clean coal project might have on consumers.

The Conservative prime minister said the federal government is trying to help spur on the development of new technology from which energy-producing provinces such as Saskatchewan can benefit over time.

"But there would be no kidding you ... that in the short term enhancing environmental protection, reducing greenhouse gases will cost consumers money, will cost business money. That's just the reality," he said...

SaskPower is putting an additional $758 million into the project, in which industry will also participate. The carbon dioxide stored underground will be used in enhanced oil recovery.

When fully up and running, the project is expected to produce 100 megawatts of power with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. It would reduce SaskPower's emissions by one megatonne a year.
Mind you, it's not as if the Cons didn't have other choices as to what to fund. The article itself notes a valid critique of the Cons' choice to put their money toward a project which is primarily aimed at continuing the use of fossil fuels. And of course it would be been equally possible to encourage not only cleaner forms of energy, but also conservation measures which would reduce consumer costs.

But rather than taking more positive steps, Harper seems determined to do as little as possible, while grumbling about being forced to do anything at all. And Harper's choice to push the downside of his own government's environmental plan offers yet another indication of the Cons' insincerity in tackling environmental issues.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

On astroturf

Shorter Ryan Sparrow:
Sure, Con supporters are utterly incapable of thinking and speaking for themselves. But we believe they're much happier that way.

On missed opportunities

If there was ever any doubt that the Libs took the wrong side in choosing not to vote non-confidence over the Cons' environmental mismanagement, a new survey reported by CanWest should put that to rest:
Four of five Canadians disagree with the Harper government's approach to protect economic growth in Alberta's oilsands sector while allowing its annual global warming-causing emissions to triple over the next decade, a new survey has revealed...

Overall, 79% of Canadians and 81% of Albertans said that greenhouse gas emissions from the sector should be "capped at current levels and then reduced" because of the impact on global warming, according to the McAllister Opinion Research poll. Only 12% of respondents, both in the province and in the country as a whole, said that emissions from the oilsands sector should be "allowed to exceed current levels" so as to encourage economic growth...

(W)hen asked about new projects, 52% of Canadians said they should not be approved until "environmental management issues are resolved," versus 32% who said they should be "permitted so as not to curb economic growth." In Quebec, 59% wanted to suspend new projects to resolve environmental issues versus 24% who said they should be allowed to continue to protect economic growth.

The numbers were closer in Alberta where 48% supported a suspension of new projects versus 40% who did not...

Meanwhile, Canadians are not worried about increasing tensions between the federal government and Alberta because of new regulations, according to the poll. Seventy-two% of respondents said that they supported a "more active role" in managing the environmental impacts of the Alberta oilsands versus 17% who did not.
Based on the survey's results, it seems clear that the Cons have failed miserably in their effort to defuse the environment as an issue. Not only did the survey's respondents disagree with the Cons' choice of targets by an overwhelming majority, but even faced with a tradeoff between environmental protection and oilsands growth the Cons are plainly on the wrong side of public opinion.

Unfortunately, though, the Libs still appear determined to prevent the Cons from answering for their unpopular choices. Which is why on the environment - as well as far too many other issues - the Cons don't apparently see any danger in pushing forward with plans disapproved of by most Canadians.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A consistent philosophy

Shorter Jim Flaherty:
Sure, to the untrained eye it might seem like unrealistic posturing to demand wholesale changes to a provincial budget just a day before it's set to be released. But who really wants to bother consulting or examining the consequences before handing out corporate giveaways or pork-barrel spending?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A failed coalition

Let's grant the Red Green alliance this much: they at least save their opponents time by rebutting their own core premises. Here's Elizabeth May's idea of helpful advice for the NDP:
The recent byelection results show the NDP should end its feud with the Green Party and start figuring out how to work together to topple the minority Conservative government, says Green Leader Elizabeth May...

"My advice to (NDP Leader Jack) Layton which is open and really in the spirit of co-operation -- rethink the policy of constantly denigrating the Greens and acting hostile towards us."
Now, one would think that May would then be careful to make sure to put her money where her mouth is by not putting her primary efforts toward ridings where she can actually topple the Cons. But aside from May's decision to personally attack a riding where a strong NDP candidate was already on the verge of knocking off Peter MacKay, here's May's idea of an additional target riding for her party:
May noted her party doesn't have a regional base like the Conservatives or Bloc Quebecois, but she thinks they do have pockets of support.

She named Vancouver Centre as a possible breakthrough riding in the next general election.
That's right, May plans to stop Harper by listing as her party's second-best prospect in the country a riding where the Libs and the NDP already run 1st and 2nd respectively.

Meanwhile, it would indeed be nice to see a reduction in opposition denigration. But while May's complaint against the NDP doesn't have any particular basis in fact, an obvious example of an actual insult toward the Greens (along with the NDP) comes from Red Green's other wing in the same article:
(Said Bob Rae), "(t)he NDP and the Greens can't replace Mr. Harper. They can snap at his heels, they can bark at his car, but they can't actually get in the car and drive it.
Needless to say, there's nothing like comparing one's opponents to dogs to help raise the tone of Canada's political dialogue.

Of course, May will all too likely be happy to overlook a real slight from the Libs in order to continue whining about imagined ones from the NDP. But all indications are that neither May nor her coalition partner is the least bit interested in actually living up to the purposes which May's backroom deal was supposed to further.

And based on the obvious bad faith on display from both May and her Lib allies, there's no reason at all for the NDP to allow themselves to be dragged down into the same hypocritical morass as well.


Shorter Angelo Persichilli:
And in further bad news for the NDP, allow me to speculate that Ed Broadbent might run for the Bloc in Outremont.