Saturday, April 12, 2008

A bit of a break

Expect light to no blogging from this space over the next week as I'll be on holiday. In the meantime, though, here's a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking to consider.

For all the (misdirected) flak the NDP has taken for not simply echoing the Libs' position on Cadscam and other issues, I do have to wonder whether the NDP missed some significant opportunities in trying to turn attention to other issues altogether.

In particular, now that the Cons are more interested in patronage than populism, my recollection is that the NDP is the only party in Parliament calling for a restriction on floor-crossing. And while Cadman's situation might not have fallen within the scope of floor-crossing as such, the proposed justice committee hearings would seem to offer a great opportunity to discuss both the possibility of limiting transfer of MPs into a federal party through means other than Criminal Code provisions, and the plight of independent MPs under our current election financing laws.

Of course, the likely result would be to provoke the Cons and Libs into a pie fight as to why their past gain/loss of Brison/Stronach/Turner is entirely different from the other party's gain/loss of Emerson/Khan/Comuzzi. But that would seem to serve all the better to paint the Cons and Libs as indistinguishable from each other - making the NDP's position stand out as a populist alternative, rather than being buried as the same one shared by other actors.

So, should the NDP have taken up the Cadman story as a means to talk about empowering individual MPs rather than parties? And is it too late to do so now?

Friday, April 11, 2008

A matter of opinion

For all the examples of the consistent gap between the Cons' fantasy world and reality, there may be none better than how Deceivin' Stephen and company have treated publicly-funded opinion polling. And this week - with surprisingly little public attention - the Cons added yet another indication of their utter distaste for the factual.

Remember that before the Cons took power, one of their frequent (and not entirely unjustified) slams against the Libs involved the amount of public money spent on opinion research.

Of course, once they took power, the Cons immediately increased polling to a record level - which only became public when a report designed to embarrass the Libs instead blew up in the Cons' face. In response, the Cons promised to cut polling expenses by $10 million per year - being over 30% of the amount previously being spent across the federal government.

Which brings us to this from Thursday's Hansard:
Mr. Chris Warkentin (Peace River, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, for years the former Liberal government wasted huge amounts of money on public opinion research with little or no oversight. Liberal-friendly firms conducted hundreds of unnecessary surveys and polls at the expense of Canadian taxpayers.

Recently, the government made a strong commitment to bring the free spending Liberal ways of the past to an end and ensure that public opinion research is used in an effective way.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works please update the House as to what progress has been made up to this date and what Canadians can expect moving forward?

Mr. James Moore (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services and for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to answer this question from my good friend from Peace River and I will answer this question very clearly.

We recently announced reforms in order to change the public opinion research regime that is in place in different departments. I am pleased to report to the House and to taxpayers that we have reduced public opinion research and polling by departments by 20% over last years, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
That's right: the Cons have now failed to meet the target which they promised on a percentage basis, even when they've conspicuously limited that percentage to "departments" rather than including entities which wouldn't fit under that classification (which seems worded to exclude the Privy Council in particular). And what cuts the Cons have made only appear have put spending back at the same level which they used to criticize coming from the Libs.

Now, this surely wouldn't be the first time the Cons have fallen short of their own supposed standards, or taken up the kind of behaviour they used to decry while in opposition.

But then there's the Cons' response - which may be the only part of the whole story which actually does set them apart. Rather than seeing their track record of feigning outrage then breaking promises as cause for the slightest bit of embarrassment, the Cons are apparently sufficiently proud to want to highlight it for themselves - and even to claim that it somehow sets them above the party which used to earn their vitriol for doing the exact same thing.

All of which suggests that the first and most profound obstacle to holding the Cons accountable for their actions is that they're either dim enough not to recognize their own shortcomings, or detached enough from reality not to care. And it's hard to see those attributes polling well under any circumstances.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On categorization

Greg highlights one point which deserves more discussion about the latest machinations around the Cons' plan to centralize control over immigration in Diane Finley's hands. But there's one other aspect of the story which seems to have been largely lost in the shuffle - particularly in the Libs' messaging.

The Libs seem to be focusing their current critique on the possibility that the Cons would value economic immigrants (particularly the temporary workers who they're already trumpeting to mask a decline in permanent immigration) rather than any other type. Which is reasonable enough as a point of dispute, but falls far short of telling the whole story.

Remember that as part of the Cons' ethnic targeting strategy, they've already written off "one-fifth of all ethnic groups" as unlikely to vote for the Cons under any circumstances. By assigning to the minister the ability to set up "categories" by fiat, the Cons would be able to conveniently exclude applications from those communities who wouldn't figure to help their electoral cause.

And the potential for abuse only gets worse when considering how the other 80% of ethnic communities would be treated. Particularly if the Cons do plan on paying more attention to economic immigrants than other types, there figures to be a limited number of spots available in other categories - making a position at the top of any category list essential for any community which wants to be able to bring new members across the border in the future. Which would enable the Cons to force different communities to compete as to who does the most to help out their partisan cause, and give top priority to whoever answers the call.

Of course, any categorization would be subject to the Charter and to other applicable law. But it wouldn't figure to be all that difficult to find non-partisan excuses for a set of choices which would have serious partisan effects. And the Cons have done nothing to suggest that this would be an exception to their general rule of governing in their party's interests rather than those of the country as a whole.

Needless to say, neither a system based on politics rather than genuine merit nor a system skewed in the Cons' favour would figure to be anything but a disaster for Canada in the long run. And that - not the contrast between economic and other types of new arrival - looks to be the aspect of the Cons' bill that needs to be highlighted to show what's most wrong with the Harper government.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The fix is in

It looks like we can now add one more item to the list of ways in which the Libs have given the Cons an effective majority: the Libs' signal that they won't defeat the Harper government on anything has given the Cons the effective ability to choose the timing of the next federal election by relying on its own dirty tricks manual to say that House of Commons committees are dysfunctional. And matters only get worse from there when one looks at what the Cons can do with the ability to choose their own election date.

As I've noted before, the main reason why the fixed election date in 2009 offers an advantage to the Cons is the prospect that they could save their war chest for the summer, then take advantage of the lack of pre-writ spending limits to run an advertising blitz which the other parties would be unable to counteract just in time to set themselves up for a fall campaign. But that at least carries some downside in that the Cons won't be able to say for sure what the political conditions will be like next year.

With the Libs being just stubborn enough in committees to set up some argument that an election should be called without showing the backbone to vote down the Cons on any matter of substance, though, the Cons may now get the best of both worlds. They're now able to launch into a pre-writ ad campaign at any time, secure in the knowledge that they can make a relatively plausible claim to demand an immediate election before the opposition can generate much of a response. (And if the Libs can only avoid that by capitulating to every demand the Cons can think of in order to avoid claims of gridlock, I doubt Harper would complain about that result.)

For all the Libs' talk about keeping control over when an election will happen, it looks like their delay tactics have only handed that power over to Deceivin' Stephen. Which means that just when it seemed like the Libs couldn't be any less effective at keeping the Cons in check, they've managed to sink to yet another new low.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

On limitations

One of the main Con talking points surrounding Tom Lukiwski's anti-gay remarks has been to ask whether any "statute of limitations" should apply in determining the appropriate response to the video. With that in mind, I'll take a moment to point out a couple of the principles behind actual statutes of limitations - and why neither the Lukiwski example nor other examples of seemingly old news about Con actions would give rise to a legitimate limitations defence.

First off, it's worth noting that virtually all statutes of limitations are subject to the principle of discoverability. In weighing the relative interests of a defendant who wants to be able to move on from past actions and a plaintiff who deserves the opportunity to seek redress for a wrong, courts have understandably concluded that most limitation periods won't operate where the plaintiff couldn't reasonably determine that any claim existed.

Needless to say, if the discoverability principle were applied to Lukiwski's comments, there would be no basis for a limitation defence. Indeed, nobody could possibly have known that a wrong was committed without either crashing the Devine Cons' after-debate party, or breaking into the opposition offices at the legislature to track down the videotape. Which means that a fresh limitation period would apply from the time the tape could have been (and was) found.

Mind you, a recent development in limitations law has provided for "ultimate limitation periods" which may bar a claim which has not yet been discovered after what's determined to be a sufficiently large amount of time - normally in the range of 15-20 years. But even then, a defendant can't take advantage of the ultimate limitation period to the extent the defendant deliberately conceals the fact that there's any claim to be made.

In Lukiwski's case, it's far from clear that such a principle would be in play. (Though the great unanswered questions so far include just who knew the tape existed, and what if anything was done with it after the post-debate party.)

But it's worth turning to the Cons' general practices in government while keeping in mind the rules which apply in a civil context. Greg Weston notes today that the Cons have made a habit of concealing information requested by the public, with the result that it's awfully difficult to determine just what Deceivin' Stephen and his gang have been up to. And Weston expressed concern that by the time any potentially damaging news comes out, it's seen as old enough to be of little value.

I'd argue that as in the case of limitation periods, the mere passage of time doesn't make grievances about the Cons' hidden actions any less legitimate. If anything, the fact that the Cons have managed to keep something under wraps only amplifies the wrong: not only is there the initial action to criticize, but also the subsequent cover-up. And as in the case of a civil actor who successfully hides the existence of a claim, it should be clear that stories about the Cons' actions in office are just as newsworthy and relevant when they actually come out as they would have been when they should have been disclosed in the first place.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Poor excuses

Shorter John Moore:
Shouldn't we at least consider the possibility that Tom Lukiwski launched into his anti-gay diatribe because he cared too much?

Compare and contrast

When Deceivin' Stephen threatens a lawsuit, it's to try to stop the opposition from doing its job by holding him accountable.

When the Libs go to court, it's to try to stop the media from doing its job by reporting news about them.

When the NDP plans legal action, it's to require the government to do its job of reviewing a foreign sale of publicly-funded assets in accordance with the law.

Based on the above, can there be much doubt which party has the best judgment as to what does (and doesn't) deserve to be dealt with by the judicial system?

Sunday, April 06, 2008


The Cons have already done plenty to twist language beyond belief where it suits their political purposes, in particular by extending the definition of "misspeak" to include a false statement of fact which is later exposed.

But Jay Hill's appearance on Question Period (see link to video from here) looks to be taking the redefinition a couple of steps further. As far as the Cons' talking points go, a statement made deliberately and interpreted in precisely the manner intended is also a matter of "misspeaking" when it later proves to be embarrassing.

As a result, it looks like the Cons' definition needs to be rewritten again to include absolutely any statement which hurts their political cause. Which only makes it all the more clear why Hill has been sent out to argue that the proper response is to begin ignoring any "misspoken" statement as quickly as possible - rather than to take a closer look at why the statement was made in the first place.

Wishful thinking

Shorter Scott Tribe:
Sure, the Libs have already driven away one former MP and thoroughly irritated other would-be candidates by refusing to confirm nominations in hope that a Miracle Star Candidate will come along. But if we up the ante by holding out for the Greatest Miracle Star Candidate Ever, I'm sure it'll all work out.