Saturday, July 26, 2008

History repeating

In the wake of David Emerson's declaration that the Cons plan to increase the size of Canada's combat contingent in Afghanistan by another 200 troops, let's note is that this isn't the first time the exact sequence of events has played out. Indeed, the first extension to 2009 similarly involved no mention of increased troop levels, but was followed quickly by an announcement that more Canadians would be sent into combat.

Now, if the Libs wanted to, they could point out that the motion they agreed to also suggested that development work should be proportionally increased to change the balance of the mission. But it seems far too likely that they'll let the whole matter slide to avoid any reminder of just how irresponsible the Libs were to put their desire to be seen as "bipartisan" ahead of any effort to extricate Canada from Afghanistan combat.

As an aside, a quick trip in the wayback machine turns up this from the time of the first extension:
There have been suggestions Canada might play a role in an eventual international effort in the Darfur region of Sudan, but O'Connor says the military already has its hands full with Afghanistan.

He told a Senate committee that the Afghanistan operation can essentially be maintained at the present level (then 2300 troops) forever, but there's nothing to spare for any other deployments.
Does anybody else find it interesting how the Cons have stuck to the position that Canada's can't spare military resources for any other international mission, but apparently haven't had any trouble rounding up enough additional troops to expand combat operations in Afghanistan by nearly 20% in the meantime?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Material dangers

It's unfortunately inevitable that a governing party which doesn't care about competence and is outright hostile toward honest communication will see that attitude spill over into nonpartisan parts of the public sector. And today, the Globe and Mail reports on just how thoroughly Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has absorbed the Cons' governing philosophy:
Staff working for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. lost a metal part they removed from a reactor at the Bruce nuclear power station in April, and didn't tell anyone until an employee from the station found it in June when it triggered the alarm on his radiation monitor...

Critics say the incident highlights a serious loophole in Canada's nuclear regulations. AECL is a contractor at the site, refurbishing the aging Bruce 1 station, and isn't immediately required to divulge when it loses track of highly radioactive materials pulled from reactors.

The missing part - a piece of metal about 10 centimetres in size - came to light only because a worker inadvertently received a radiation dose, which is considered such a serious incident that it must be reported to regulators either "immediately" or by the end of the next business day...

The missing piece was emitting high amounts of radiation, and would have given any worker holding it the maximum yearly allowed dose of this form of energy - feared because it can cause cancer - in only a few minutes...

The regulatory report filed by Bruce on June 24 indicates that AECL "became aware on April 23" that the piece was missing, but "they failed to notify" the station's radiation protection department. "The increased hazard would have existed from that time," it said...

Dale Coffin, a spokesman for Crown-owned AECL, played down the events, saying no one was harmed over the two-month period that the piece was missing because workers weren't in the area. Once it was found, the location, in the reactor vault, was safely cordoned off. "There is no requirement on our behalf to notify the CNSC because nobody was in there working," Mr. Coffin said.
This news follows on the heels of the news this week that AECL's regulatory reporting in the wake of the Chalk River fiasco focused entirely on meaningless communications issues rather than any explanation for failing to comply with the law. And from its response to today's revelations, there's no indication that AECL's priorities are doing anything but getting worse with time.

After all, AECL's statement is based solely on trying to minimize the incident. From my standpoint, any remotely responsible entity in AECL's position should be concerned with making sure similar problems haven't happened elsewhere and won't happen in the future. But AECL's response doesn't even hint at any interest in figuring out how the part was lost in the first place.

And the communications side only looks even worse for AECL. While the Globe and Mail's article points out a regulatory loophole which theoretically doesn't require that AECL inform the CNSC about incidents such as this one, that focus seems to me to miss the point entirely.

Regardless of what type of reporting is required by current regulations, anybody responsible for managing something as potentially dangerous as nuclear technology should recognize the need to mention a potential hazard. And whether AECL was completely unaware that it had lost the part or simply suppressed the information, the effect was to needlessly jeopardize the health of workers at the plant (not to mention others if the part had managed to find its way out of the facility).

Sadly, AECL looks to be more concerned with keeping a potential problem hidden as long as possible than with ensuring that its operations don't cause potentially serious harm to others. And for Canadians who don't want to see something far more serious suppressed until it's too late, it's long past time to replace the Harper regime with a government which doesn't encourage the practice.

Friday, July 25, 2008

On starting points

For all the talk about the upcoming federal byelections, I'm surprised that one piece of information from earlier reports hasn't received more attention as an indication of what the race in Westmount-Ville Marie will look like:
Although Westmount has been an unshakable Liberal bastion for decades, deputy NDP leader and Outremont victor Thomas Mulcair said his party's polling suggests that Garneau enjoys a meagre four-point lead over NDP candidate Anne Legace Dowson, a well-known CBC radio personality.

"Anne's numbers are the same as mine were" at the start of the Outremont campaign, Mulcair said in an interview. "We think it's takeable."
Let's leave aside the actual number for now. What seems most significant about the current state of Westmount-Ville Marie is that the NDP is already in what seems to be as strong a position as it was at the start of the Outremont campaign despite a couple of points of distinction which would seemingly give the Libs a far better starting point in Westmount-Ville Marie.

First off, Lib apologists looking to minimize the Outremont outcome have generally done so by suggesting that it was a one-time event based primarily on Thomas Mulcair's personal popularity and name recognition. If that were true, then one would expect the starting position of any non-Mulcair candidate in Westmount-Ville Marie to be far worse, rather than substantially the same.

Instead, all indications are that Lagacé-Dowson is doing at least as well as Mulcair out of the gate. And while that can be interpreted in a couple of ways (either that Lagacé-Dowson is no less strong than Mulcair as a candidate, or that the NDP has built up its standing such that she doesn't need to carry the party brand as far), it's hard to see how either can be reassuring for the Libs.

And the problems for the Libs are particularly obvious given the organizational differences between Outremont and Westmount-Ville Marie. Remember that another of the Libs' main excuses for their Outremont loss was that Dion appointed Jocelyn Coulon as the party's candidate relatively shortly before the by-election call, allowing Mulcair to build up his presence in the area and leaving the Libs to play catch-up.

In Westmount-Ville Marie, the dynamic is just the opposite. The Libs announced last fall that Marc Garneau would carry their banner, seemingly giving him plenty of time to get the jump on any of his competitors. Meanwhile, Lagacé-Dowson's candidacy was just announced earlier this month, which in principle would leave her with a significant deficit to make up.

Instead, Garneau doesn't appear to have been able to put any distance between himself and Lagacé-Dowson even with nearly a year's head start. And while it's arguable that some work during that time might still give Garneau some advantages at the ballot box which wouldn't show up in the polls (particularly if he's been able to spend more time on voter identification and organization-building), one still has to figure that if Garneau hasn't yet had any success in solidifying Westmount-Ville Marie for the Libs, he'll have an awfully tough time improving matters during the campaign.

On empty announcements

The Cons' announced infrastructure deal with the province of Ontario seems to be primarily a poor attempt to change the subject from Conadscam. But let's take a moment to look at why the latest photo op in fact means far less than meets the eye.

First, the money announced yesterday isn't new.

In fact, all of the federal money for which the Cons are once again trying to take credit was already part of the Cons' 2007 budget. What's worse, at that time the amount of investment was already insufficient to meet Canada's infrastructure needs, and largely reflected nothing more than an extension of existing programs with a slight twist to favour privatized projects.

Second, the money isn't primarily intended to be used on the projects most needed to improve infrastructure.

Instead, the Cons established their own Department of Pork last year to make sure that money is funnelled into "strategic" ridings. And while (as noted below) that effort apparently didn't succeed in getting things moving any faster, it reflects the reality that the main intention behind the funding is political rather than having any basis in intelligent federal planning.

Finally, yesterday's announcement wasn't necessary for money to flow.

Instead, it's the Cons themselves who imposed a requirement that provinces sign on to the type of "framework agreement" announced yesterday. And after establishing that requirement, it's the Cons who didn't bother to actually work out agreements with the provinces until this June or later (or otherwise convert their previous set of photo-ops into actual results) - with the result that not a penny of promised municipal funding had been paid out more than a year after the Cons started bragging about their dedication to infrastructure renewal.

While the Cons bleat about how infrastructure spending is overdue, the sad fact is that it's their negligence that has delayed the funding for the last couple of years. And that only ends up inflating the costs to other levels of government who have had to put projects on hold while waiting for the Cons to get their act together - ensuring that the already-meager level of federal investment puts even less of a dent in Canada's actual infrastructure deficit.

In sum, the Cons' established history shows that their spending announcements at best can't be taken at face value, and at worst may be worse than useless. And no matter how many times the Cons seek to take credit for the same proposed funding or proclaim their commitment to projects which they're holding up, their track record on infrastructure actually provides one of the best examples of just how unfit the Harper government is for office.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

When in doubt, make it up

The CP's report on funding for social development offers another prime example of the Cons simply making up self-aggrandizing claims without any idea whether or not they're true. And this time, the offender is one of the few cabinet ministers who was once considered a relatively candid source of information in a time before the Cons took power:
Social Development Minister Monte Solberg says Ottawa is doing its share to address homelessness, despite claims by anti-poverty activists that more and more people are living on the streets while affordable housing disappears...

Solberg reiterated a claim that his Conservative government is spending more money on affordable housing than any government in Canadian history, but the Social Development department couldn’t provide data comparing spending with previous governments.
Of course, the "more money than ever before" is itself essentially meaningless given that the cost of accomplishing any particular task will itself have generally risen due to inflation. But in Solberg's case, even that facade isn't apparently backed up by the minimal amount of research required to assess its accuracy.

Meanwhile, let's not forget that while the Cons fabricate trivialities, the housing issue like so many others has real-world consequences for a large number of Canadians:
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities called earlier this year for a national, 10-year strategy to eliminate homelessness.

The federation estimated such a strategy would cost $3.35 billion a year, shared by all levels of government.

A federal program, called the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, is providing $270 million over two years, ending next March.

In B.C., a Simon Fraser University report released earlier this year pegged the provincewide homeless population at 12,000 — compared with less than 8,000 shelter beds.

And another count of Greater Vancouver’s homeless population by volunteers in the spring found nearly 2,600 homeless people — a 19 per cent increase over 2003 figures.

That count was conducted by the Greater Vancouver Regional Steering Committee on Homelessness, a group that represents dozens of agencies in the Lower Mainland and makes funding recommendations for the federal spending.

The group’s co-chair, Alice Sundberg, told Wednesday’s news conference that it received requests for more than $39 million to fund local projects, but could only hand out $12 million in federal money.
And Solberg's response to that need?
"We’re doing a lot in terms of providing resources, but I think there’s more that needs to be done. Part of the answer is expanding the number of partners," such as businesses and donations from the public.
That's right: while trying to trumpet his government's self-professed generosity (without any factual basis for doing so), Solberg is also actively trying to reduce its role in addressing housing issues. And that combination should make it clear just how little interest the Cons have in actually addressing the housing issues that have already worsened on their watch.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On spent forces

The Pundits' Guide offers a breakdown of party and candidate spending in last year's set of byelections. And the contrast between the parties which appear to have maxed out their potential and those which have room to grow may offer some important signs as to who has the best chance to improve its standing in future elections:
Only Conservative Party candidates spent > 75% of the candidate spending limits in each of the 3 ridings, and in total its candidates spent some 95% of the limit.

The Bloc spent >75% in 2 of the 3 ridings (total spending of 86% of the candidate limits), while the Liberals and NDP clearly concentrated on Outremont.

In addition to the $254,876 that could be spent by candidates across the 3 ridings, a registered party fielding 3 candidates in that set of by-elections could itself spend an additional $171,997 in support of those campaigns. The amounts spent are reported in Part 3a of the Registered Parties annual returns (you can find the details here, at the Elections Canada site, for the 2007 By-Elections; select the party you're interested in from their drop-down list once you get there).

Again, the Conservative Party spent 92% of its party by-election spending limit. However, interestingly it split the spending mainly between Roberval – Lac-Saint-Jean and Saint-Hyacinthe – Bagot, the two seats where they wound up being more competitive.

The Liberal Party spent just under half (46%) of its party by-election spending limit; and all but $3800 or so of that was put into Outremont.

The NDP spent 12% of its by-election spending limit, split equally between the three ridings.

Neither the Bloc nor the Green Party reporting (sic) any party-level spending on the three by-election campaigns.
So what do those numbers say about the parties' positions in Quebec? First off, it's worth noting that the Cons' reasonably strong performances in the two ridings previously held by the Bloc were both based on pouring in significantly more money than the Bloc did. And in Outremont, the Cons managed to see a drop in their share of the vote despite spending nearly as much as the other main parties. Which suggests that the Cons may have relatively little room for growth - particularly in a general election setting where the Bloc is better able to balance out the expenditures involved.

In contrast, the returns offer up what strikes me as a surprising fact about Thomas Mulcair's win in Outremont, as it was apparently achieved even at a financial disadvantage against his main competition. While Mulcair spent slightly more than Jocelyn Coulon at the candidate level, the Libs managed to outspend the NDP by tens of thousands of dollars of party money even while losing what was supposed to be a safe riding.

And that may be particularly significant based on the imminent by-election in neighbouring Westmount-Ville Marie. While the NDP once again faces the challenge of attacking a former Lib stronghold, the expense numbers suggest that the NDP actually has room to improve somewhat on its relative performance in Outremont - either if the NDP increases its own expenditures to match the Libs' level of spending, or if the Libs themselves can't afford to spend the kind of money they did in an effort to stop Mulcair.

Profiles in cowardice

Shorter Con communication policy on a Health Canada study discussing the harmful effects of climate change which was supposed to have been released this spring:
Suppress harder, dammit!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Here's one more tidbit from the latest news about the form Conadscam took in Quebec which figures to take the Cons' defence from merely implausible to the point of being something that most people couldn't try to claim with a straight face:
Ms. O'Grady confirmed that Mr. Paradis was initially billed just under $30,000 for his share of the advertising by the party's ad-buying contractor, Retail Media, but the Conservative Party sent him a credit note deducting $10,000 on election day.

Mr. Nadeau, meanwhile, received an invoice for an additional $10,000.
Again, remember that the Cons' national defence relies on their claim that the Conadscam ad buys consisted of contracts solely between individual candidates and Retail Media. If that were so, then how precisely would the Cons' national party have been in a position to provide a "credit" capable of changing the amounts paid and owed at the riding level?


The CP reports on the latest developments in the Chalk River reactor shutdown. And it looks like Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. responded to the situation by buying entirely into the Cons' philosophy of valuing message management over substance - even when it comes to nuclear safety:
Canada's nuclear safety watchdog rejected a preliminary report into last year's reactor shutdown that sparked a critical shortage of medical isotopes, say newly released documents.

In the wake of the medical isotope controversy, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. was supposed to explain why key safety measures were not in place at its research reactor in Chalk River, Ont.

But the federal Crown corporation's January report instead focused on the communications breakdown between AECL and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, say documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

"CNSC staff had indicated to AECL that the scope statement for the root cause assessment that was submitted on Jan. 7, 2008 was unacceptable," says a review of the report.

"CNSC staff is not sure why AECL changed its scope statement to focus entirely on communications."

The nuclear safety regulator wanted AECL to explain why an earthquake-resistant emergency power supply wasn't connected to the aging National Research Universal reactor's two most crucial heavy water pumps...

The scope of AECL's January report was agreed on in an email exchange last December, according to a briefing note for the then-interim head of the nuclear regulator.

But AECL broadened the report's scope without telling the nuclear safety regulator, the Jan. 24, 2008, briefing note says, and instead focused on communications problems.

"CNSC has done an initial review of this report and found it to be lacking in details and the scope was different than what was expected," it says...

AECL officials told the nuclear safety regulator at a public meeting held two days after the report was delivered that a second, more detailed analysis was forthcoming, Coffin said.

"As we started to do our root cause analysis, we started to identify new areas that we hadn't anticipated that should have been part of the scope. We broadened the investigation to include a phase two," he said...

However, AECL's second report, which recently appeared in media reports, doesn't seem much different than the first one. It also appears to dwell on the communications meltdown between AECL and the nuclear safety regulator.
Given that the core question that needed to be answered was that of why AECL had never complied with the terms of its license, it's hard to see how communications issues could be even faintly relevant. And it's thus hard to fault CNSC for rejecting the first report.

If anything, CNSC may in hindsight have been too generous in allowing AECL to divide its response into two reports rather than following through originally. But then the AECL/Con argument at the time about a need for increased cooperation would have offered some reason both to take a less confrontational stance, and to expect some reciprocation from AECL in actually delivering what it promised.

Instead, thanks to the combination of AECL's delay tactics and the Cons' war against the civil service, the main question surrounding the Chalk River shutdown still hasn't been answered. And the success of the diversion only makes it seem all the more likely that the lack of a backup power supply won't be the last serious substantive issue to be hidden from either the CNSC or the public.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Junk policy

The Libs aren't the only ones running into seemingly unintended consequences due to poorly thought-out policies, as Michael Geist points out that the Cons' anti-consumer copyright legislation could also do plenty of environmental damage:
Canadians trash an estimated 184,000 tonnes of old computers, cellphones, and printer cartridges each year, with many of containing potentially hazardous materials such as mercury and lead. In response, the Ontario government recently proposed a new electronic waste fee to encourage recycling of older devices.

Despite attempts to reduce e-waste, Bill C-61 establishes new barriers to the reuse of electronics. If enacted into law, it would prohibit the unlocking of cellphones, forcing many consumers to junk their phones when they switch carriers (there are an estimated 500 million unused cellphones in the United States alone).

Similarly, the U.S. version of Bill C-61 has resulted in lawsuits over the legality of companies that offer to recycle printer ink cartridges. In one lawsuit, Lexmark sued a company that offered recycled cartridge and though it ultimately lost the case, the lawsuit created a strong chill for companies set to enter that marketplace.

Bill C-61 also creates new barriers in the race toward network-based computing, which forms part of the ICT industry's response to the fact that it accounts for more carbon emissions than the airline industry.

Network-based computing – often referred to as "cloud computing" – benefits from the efficiencies provided by large computer server farms that are often situated in proximity to clean energy sources. Network experts argue that Canada could parlay its high-speed optical networks and environmental advantages in the north to become a global cloud computing leader with zero carbon emissions, yet the new copyright bill now stands in the way.

The bill prohibits companies from taking advantage of cloud computing to offer network-based video recording services (as are offered by some U.S. based providers). It also stops consumers from shifting their music, videos, and other content to network-based computers, limiting these new rights to devices physically owned by the consumer. In fact, the bill even blocks consumers from using network-based computer backup since multiple copies of purchased songs or videos is forbidden.
Of course, having concluded that the drive for support from corporate media distributors outweighs the interests of Canadians at large, the Cons don't figure to let a few thousand tons of needless waste change their minds. But the prospect of easily-preventable environmental harm figures to offer yet another reason to rally against a bill which already isn't lacking for opponents. And if the public outcry continues to grow, then it shouldn't be long before it's C-61 that ultimately gets scrapped.


Today's CP story about the latest developments in Conadscam may seem like a relatively minor one based on the wider scope of the Cons' electoral manipulations. But it may prove to be an extremely important one to the extent it may force the Cons' national party and their star Quebec candidates to make mutually contradictory arguments to try to avoid prosecution:
The Conservative party shifted thousands of dollars in advertising expenses from two of its top Quebec candidates to other Quebec candidates who had more spending room in their 2006 election campaigns, the lawyer for Elections Canada has suggested.

A former financial officer for the party confirmed last month in a court examination that expenses incurred by Public Works Minister Christian Paradis and former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier were assigned to other candidates...

(F)ormer chief financial officer Ann O'Grady said the expenses were "pro-rated" to the other candidates because the firm that placed the television and radio ads billed Paradis and Bernier for higher amounts than their campaign agents originally committed.

Elections Canada lawyer Barbara McIsaac probed O'Grady over records involving an eventual claim for $20,000 in radio and TV advertising by Paradis and $5,000 in advertising claimed by Bernier...

In the case of Paradis, O'Grady conceded the candidate had originally committed his campaign to a media buy totalling $30,000, was eventually invoiced $29,766 and subsequently received a "credit note" of $10,000 that was reallocated to another candidate, Marc Nadeau.

"Now, again, the reason for this was that Mr. Paradis had reached his limit with respect to spending as well, is that correct?" asked McIsaac. "He had to allocate some of his money to Mr. Nadeau, did he not, because he was close to his limit?"

"I would not know that," replied O'Grady, who replaced former Tory chief financial agent Susan Kehoe several months after the election.

McIsaac also questioned O'Grady over the fact that Bernier paid no production costs for his share of the advertising. Paradis paid only $233.93 for his share, even though McIsaac said other candidates paid $4,500 each for production costs.
So why does today's story matter? Remember that the Cons' defence on a national level is based on two arguments: first, that the it's the content of advertising rather than the process by which the advertising is purchased that determines whether that advertising is national or local; and second, that a candidate tagline is determinative as the type of content which establishes that advertising was in fact local.

There's plenty of reason for doubt that the Cons are correct on either of those points. But if they are, then today's revelations leave no room for doubt that both Paradis and Bernier must have violated the Canada Elections Act.

After all, consider the consequences if one assumes that candidate taglines that definitively determine responsibility for advertising. If so, then Paradis and Bernier - having applied their taglines to the Quebec advertising in question - must have been responsible for both the content and the cost of the ads. And that means that they must have been required to bear their share of production costs for the advertising done in their names.

To the extent Bernier paid nothing and Paradis paid far less than a prorated share of the production costs, then, they can only be seen as having falsely reported the amount actually spent in their names.

Conversely, the best defence for Bernier and Paradis to argue that one can't be so simplistic as to assume that the tagline alone tells the whole story, such that the intention of the agents who placed the ads has to be taken into account. But that would directly contradict the national argument, and provide implicit approval to Elections Canada's investigation of the intention behind the national scheme.

As a result, about the only consistent defence left for the Cons and their Quebec stars is to try to argue that they're entitled to spend what they like and report it (or not) as they see fit, with Elections Canada's role limited to paying the money the Cons claim to be entitled to. But while that may accurately reflect the Cons' view of the law, it doesn't figure to get them far either with Elections Canada or with the courts who figure to eventually rule on their behaviour.

(Edit: added labels.)

Shifty business

It's remarkable how virtually every Lib attempt to explain away a problem with their carbon tax plan either contradicts an argument being made to try to sell the tax to a different audience, or implies an even greater unintended consequence which the Libs apparently haven't considered. And so it goes with Ralph Goodale's explanation as to why Saskatchewan and Alberta shouldn't be concerned about the effect of the carbon tax on their oil and gas industry:
"A significant portion of our oil and gas production in this province will end up being exempt from a carbon tax because it is largely put into a pipeline and exported right out of the country without ever being burned on the Canadian side, so there are no emissions on the Canadian side and therefore about two thirds of our oil and gas industry would be exempt from a carbon tax proposal" Goodale said.
Which is well and good in terms of avoiding the effect of the carbon tax. But let's consider the implications of the Libs' plan if Goodale is right.

Remember that under NAFTA, Canada is prohibited from taking any steps to reduce the proportion of its oil and gas exported to the U.S. even in the event of an energy shortage at home. As a result, Canada is currently bound to make 63 percent of its production available to the U.S., up from 49 percent when NAFTA was signed. And the floor only rises as the proportion of Canadian production diverted to the U.S. market increases.

So what happens if a carbon tax is put in place? The effect would be to increase the price of oil and gas in Canada, but not in the U.S. - giving U.S. buyers a comparative advantage in buying oil and gas produced in Canada. That in turn would serve only to further drive up the percentage of Canadian oil and gas which gets exported - pushing the floor for U.S.-dedicated production even higher, and leaving Canada even more vulnerable to domestic energy shortages.

And to add insult to injury, the plan would do nothing to actually reduce emissions from the Canadian oil and gas industry to the extent it could avoid the effect of the tax by sending its production elsewhere.

As a result, if Goodale's statement can be taken at face value, then the Libs' carbon tax looks to do far more to harm Canada's energy security than it would do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And if not, then there will be simply one more reason to disbelieve the Libs in general as they try to sell their carbon tax scheme.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

No justification

For the most part, the Montreal Gazette's editorial board is on target in discussing the secrecy surrounding the Cons' food safety sellout. But it's worth pointing out how part of the column seems to offer more cover than the Cons deserve based on their track record of cover-ups:
The plan, drawn up by the federal agriculture department and approved by the Treasury Board last November, has been held back owing to what the department calls "significant communications risks," which in bureaucratese means it is likely to incite a furious uproar.

The document spelling out the plan fell into the hands of Canwest News Service. The immediate reaction from food-safety experts fully justified the government's hesitation in releasing it. "A really dangerous thing," said Michael Hansen, a leading authority on BSE. "Unfathomable and potentially disastrous," said another academic expert, though on condition of anonymity. The general line of argument against the proposal is that it is the equivalent of putting foxes in charge of maintaining the nation's henhouses.
At best, one could say that italicized phrase merely reflects an inelegant choice of words rather than a form of direct approval of the Cons' information suppression. But in the face of a federal government so bent on obsessive secrecy, there's a need to be particularly careful about wording which could give the impression that a government can ever be "fully justified" either in enacting policy which can't withstand public scrutiny, or in hiding that policy to avoid deserved criticism.