Saturday, March 13, 2010

In which I seek to make Justice Iacobucci's job much easier

Let's note that despite the obvious problems with the Cons' efforts to box in Justice Iacobucci, they do seem to have left open one key opening for him to decide based on the proper role of Parliament despite it having been left out of terms of reference. And it might only take one sentence for Iacobucci to perform that task:

It is my view that independent of the contents of the documents requested by the House of Commons, the public interest in affirming Parliament's authority to order their disclosure exceeds any potential public interest in non-disclosure, and as such it is not necessary to consider whether the requested documents contain any "injurious information".

Of course, there should be no need to inject a "public interest" step in order to confirm the principle of parliamentary supremacy. But better that it be used as the means to inject a concept deliberately excluded from Rob Nicholson's terms of reference than for parliamentary supremacy to be ignored altogether.

Edit: fixed wording.

On insufficient terms

Impolitical has a detailed review of the Cons' finally-revealed terms of reference for Justice Iacobucci. But the quick takeaway is that it's the bad joke expected from the beginning, featuring an explicit declaration that the executive can tell Parliament what documents it should be allowed to see, a complete lack of acknowledgment that Parliamentary supremacy applies or even exists, and a filtering step where Rob Nicholson can suppress the detailed findings in favour of a sure-to-be-distorted summary for public consumption.

In sum, the only reasonable response for the opposition is to consider this a bad-faith response which justifies going ahead with a contempt motion. But sadly, the biggest question now is probably more along the lines of what excuse the Libs will find for doing otherwise.

The reviews are in

Susan Riley rightly notes that at least one federal party has actually been offering positive ideas for Canada, and notes that it's only unfounded assumptions that have led to those receiving less attention than they deserve:
A noble exception is the NDP, which continues to offer detailed, practical remedies to pressing problems: more gas tax to municipalities for green infrastructure, an extension of the home reno program for energy retrofits, enhanced public pensions.

Layton opened question period on Thursday with questions on Harper plans to open telecommunications to foreign ownership. By contrast, Ignatieff led with yet another question on detainees -- an indirect reminder that he has no urgent quarrel with the Harper economic agenda.

Unfortunately for Layton, his party (politics, generally) is mired in outdated ideological stereotypes. No matter how huge their deficits, how faulty their predictions, Conservatives are somehow the party of fiscal rectitude. No matter how savage their cuts to social programs, how huge their income tax cuts, the Liberals are slave to big spending and Big Government. And, despite the frugality and policy innovation of countless provincial NDP governments, "socialists" are dismissed as unsound.

Ideology aside, we have been led, for decades, by a succession of dull, cautious, uninspiring, almost interchangeable, governments, Liberal and Conservative. They have been inching us to the right -- nervous about new social programs, eager to hand generous tax cuts to business and the middle class, ready to shop our economic treasures to any passing stranger.
About the only problem with Riley's take is that I'm not sure one can accurately describe the shift to the right as merely inching". But it's absolutely true that Canadians deserve better than the same old warmed-over market jingoism that makes for the economic message of the Libs and Cons alike - and the more commentators recognize that the NDP can in fact pair a record of responsible fiscal management with its innovative ideas, the better Canada's chances of electing a real alternative to the Con/Lib status quo.

Deep thought

Frankly, I'm surprised the Cons haven't taken up wearing team Canada sweaters everywhere they go and using the visual effect to accuse anybody who criticizes them of hating Canada's Olympians.

No useful purpose

While I agree with Greg's assessment James Travers' odd conclusion, I'd think it's worth focusing on a couple of other aspects of Travers' concluding words:
Iacobucci's document review serves the useful purpose of putting on hold a test of wills between Parliament and the Prime Minister that could provoke an election the Opposition doesn't want now and would be foolish to ever fight on the abuse issue. But the ultimate result will be more foot-dragging if Iacobucci is kept too far from the truth to explain why ministers let generals play loose and fast with Afghan prisoners.
To my recollection, the number of tests of wills since which have resulted in anything but Harper steamrolling over the position of the majority of Canada's elected representatives, being the opposition's rejection of longtime reform bagman Gwyn Morgan as chair of the Public Appointments Commission responsible to ensure non-partisan hiring. Since then, there have been plenty of showdowns between Harper's executive and Parliament - and Harper has managed to get his way every single time by strongarming the Libs when he can (which is most times) and shutting down Parliament when he can't.

From that starting point, I'd think a couple of realities should be painfully obvious.

First, it's long past time for the opposition to actually show that Harper can't count on winning every single "test of wills" that comes up. And indeed the opposition should see value in doing that for its own sake even if the merits of an issue alone aren't decisive (which they are in the case of parliamentary supremacy in any event).

And second, even if one wants to claim some value in trying to de-escalate any fight over Afghan torture documents, it's utterly absurd to suggest that it's at all "useful" to allow Stephen Harper alone (and as Travers notes, in secret) to decide how to do that.

Simply put, pointing to a delay process set up unilaterally by one side of the dispute as a positive example of putting it "on hold" doesn't do a thing to encourage reasonable solutions. Instead, it only sends Harper the message that he can afford to keep Parliament in a state of constant brinksmanship, secure in the knowledge that he can count on the likes of Travers to bail him out by saying the opposition parties have to accept his proposed diversions in the interest of avoiding the fights that Harper has set up with his constant attacks on the role of Parliament.

Mind you, Travers seems to be off base in suggesting that an election would be in the offing in any event. Thus far the opposition has been careful to emphasize that it doesn't see its oversight role as a confidence test - and absent media figures like Travers needlessly muddying the waters, it should be glaringly clear that any decision to precipitate an election over the Cons' torture coverup would be solely in Harper's hands.

But whether or not an election might result, there's absolutely no reason for the Libs or any other opposition party to accept the idea of compromising on the Cons' secret terms solely in order to once again give them a fig leaf to back down. And if Harper once again bullies the opposition into getting his way this time, we'll surely end up in exactly the same place on another issue in a matter of months.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Musical interlude

Orbital - Halcyon and On and On

Deep thought

I know a large-C Conservative pollster's survey for an all-caps HYPERCONSERVATIVE propaganda tank is the first place I'd look for accurate information about Canadian public opinion.

On unanswered questions

CBC's reporting on the use of Youtube live-streaming for Stephen Harper's reply to the throne speech alone (while Google was telling the NDP that such technology was both unavailable and to eventually be offered only for a price) is both simple and damning on its face:

Google gives preferential treatment to the Cons while lobbying them on copyright and telecommunications issues.
CBC reports the story.
The Cons attack CBC for daring to report on their perks.

But while there's apparently a request out to Google as to whether they "checked the lobby registry", it seems to me that the current direction largely misses the most important point. Isn't the bigger issue regarding Google the lack of an explanation for the difference in how Canadian parties' requests were treated? And shouldn't there be some question as to when the Cons first made contact to discuss the live-streaming, and how that might have affected Google's treatment of other parties?

On bad taste

Leftdog has the definitive roundup of U.S. reaction to the Saskatchewan Party's exploitation of 9/11 for its own fund-raising purposes. But one quote in particular deserves to be highlighted as showing both the view of those closest to the issue, and the gap between the Sask Party's standards and those of effectively everybody else who's commented:
The FDNY (Fire Department of New York) hopes that no one ever forgets what happened on September 11th. However, we do think that the use of images of the attacks for political or monetary gain, like the image on this poster, is in bad taste.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On useful constraints

While I'm skeptical of a few of the "basics" that he thinks the Libs should take up (which not coincidentally are probably exactly the ones most likely to surface in a Lib platform), Gordon Gibson certainly has some useful ideas to add on the Harper-proofing front:
Electoral reform. Promise to bring in an element of proportionality so that the public view is honestly represented in Parliament. Propose the changes before the next election with a promise to implement them if the voters approve.
Constrain prime ministerial power. We need strong leaders, but we don't need dictators. There are ways to do this:

* Get rid of the “confidence” rule on most issues, the main tool of prime ministerial power. (Details some other time, but it is fundamental.)
* Give parliamentary committees guaranteed continuity of membership and professional policy staff. Amazingly, this does not now exist. Committees, which should be quests for the truth and good policy, have become ignorant partisan jousting grounds.
* Above all, promise a truly muscular Freedom of Information Act. When I worked in the PMO, my job was to read all cabinet and other secret documents. I knew then and I am certain now that 90 per cent of everything in these very useful analyses could be and should be published on the front page of this newspaper every morning. Secrecy is for the convenience of the governing party, not the people, but we have paid for these analyses and we deserve to know them. Information is at the centre of a functioning democracy.
* One last thing: Provide for the direct-democracy tools of the initiative and recall for when politicians really screw up. Don't make it easy, but give these nuclear options to the voters in extremis.

An early contender for quote of the year

From Con MP Laurie Hawn, a line whose possible interpretation ranges from an affront to the Cons' supposed belief in openness and accountability to much, much worse:
Oh, and Hawn wants to clarify something -- he did, in fact, make an offer to the vice-chair "behind the curtains, on his side of the House" to meet during the break, and he didn't appreciate being accused of "lying" on national television during the subsequent boycott. The chair reminds everyone, rather desperately, that this is a new year, and can't we leave all that unpleasantness in the past? No, not without Wilfert rather snippily reminding Hawn that he isn't actually the clerk of the committee -- he doesn't organize meetings, via teleconference or anything else, so none of the foregoing actually occurred. The chair adjourns the meeting in mid-discussion, but Hawn carries on from across the floor, repeating that "the offer was made behind the curtains."

Just a thought...

...but might this be somewhat connected to this (which I presume is equally prevalent in Saskatoon as in Regina)?

When the province's politicians and media spend months on end using their work time to hype concerts and other events, surely it can't come as much shock when others in the community figure that they can get away with a day. And if we want to conclude that it's inappropriate for workers generally to put their jobs on hold for Beyonce (which is an entirely fair point to make), then shouldn't we set the same standard for our political-level public servants?

On positive discussions

Anybody who's been keeping tabs primarily on the Sask Party's actions over the past little while may be wondering if there's anything at all positive happening in Saskatchewan politics. Fortunately, the answer is "yes", as the Saskatchewan NDP's policy renewal process got underway last weekend - and for those who couldn't make it, there's plenty of information available about the proceeedings.

In particular, Kent has blogged about his impressions of the event, while the NDP itself has posted videos and slideshows from the forum. And even better, the party is facilitating the generation of new ideas by anybody interested in sharing them.

Of course, the most important part of the policy review will be working with those ideas to shape the NDP's vision - and that's the one part of the Moose Jaw proceedings which isn't yet being made public. But at the very least, Saskatchewan citizens can take heart that at least one party is working to encourage discussion and debate about where the province is headed - and hopefully we'll see many more people involved as the process continues.

The costs of fake engagement

Suddenly the runaway spending in Stephen Harper's Privy Council Office makes a lot more sense. After all, if Harper's paid minions won't vote up questions along the lines of "Your government has the momentum of a runaway freight train. What makes you so popular?", then who will?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Surely a term of endearment

And #1 on the Top Ten Statements that Lib Supporters Hoped They'd Never Hear (But Should Have Expected):
We are pulling a ‘Dion’,” says (a Liberal) insider, referring to the fact that under Mr. Dion’s leadership the Liberals made sure the government did not fall.

On blind spots

Two days after the story about the Saskatchewan Party's exploitation of 9/11 for fund-raising purposes first broke - and after it's been slammed across the political spectrum on its way to being noted by a national news outlet - there's still nary a mention anywhere in Saskatchewan's traditional media, including the likes of the Leader-Post, CJME and even CBC.

Which should tell anybody counting on getting the full local story from the mainstream media that something's missing from the picture - and that the much-polished image that Brad Wall and his party have been able to develop thanks to an all-too-often fawning media may have little to do with reality.

Update: The Globe and Mail now has the story. But still crickets from the media in the province the Sask Party is actually governing.

Update II: Now was that so hard?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Must-read of the day

As Brad Lavigne and others have noted, Frances Russell's column today is chock full of goodies to counter the Cons' reckless and regressive budgeting. At least, for those who are interested in bothering with that type of argument.

The Absent Opposition Departs Again

Most of the public focus on Parliament over the last week has rightly been on the issue of the Cons' continued attempts to avoid accountability for their actions when it comes to Afghan detainees - and there's plenty of reason for concern about the Libs' willingness to give the Harper government a way out on that point. But another highly significant example of the Libs abdicating their role as official opposition looks to have been lost in the shuffle - even as it generated no lack of confusion over yesterday's budget amendment votes.

Here's the sum total of the media coverage I've seen of the Libs' failure to present an amendment to the Cons' budget motion last week. From the Canadian Press:
The Liberals — who are not pushing for a spring election — didn't bother to introduce an amendment.
And from Janyce McGregor at CBC's Inside Politics blog:
I stand corrected, and humbly so, by those with far more procedural expertise than I.

Apparently, the Liberals are not bringing forward an amendment this year. So, the Bloc's proposed change (below) is the amendment, and the NDP's is the sub-amendment.
There may be some additional mentions somewhere in the media. But the lack of a Lib amendment on Canada's budgetary direction certainly doesn't seem to have been a major story - which is surprising considering how customary such amendments seem to be.

Mind you, the Libs' actions in 2009 were already somewhat of an anomaly, as their amendment set out their "probation" scheme rather than reflecting an alternative to the Cons' policies. But prior to that, the pattern looks to be absolutely clear: at least every year since minority Parliaments became the norm in 2004, the official opposition had presented a budget motion amendment which either set out a policy vision to compete with that of the government, or at least presented some substantive critique of the government of the day.

That includes 2005, when Stephen Harper responded to Paul Martin's budget by declaring that "the budget's priorities are conservative ones". Even after declaring that he had no objection to the Libs' plans that would justify actually opposing them, Harper introduced an amendment to more forcefully present his own party's views the next day.

And it also includes 2008. Then, the Libs were so afraid of their own shadow that they presented only a motion of vague disapproval aimed as much at the NDP as at the Cons, and were so fearful of an election that only seven of them showed up to vote for it. But even that reflected some willingness to take a position on the country's budgetary direction.

Now, I haven't looked further back in time than 2004, and I'm curious to see whether an official opposition has ever before chosen to sit down and say nothing when it has its opportunity to present a budget amendment. But I'd be surprised if it happened at all during periods of majority government when there was no risk of precipitating an election - meaning that the practice over the past few years would seem to make for a fairly compelling precedent.

So it's a remarkable piece of news that Ignatieff, holding the unique opportunity as Leader of the Opposition to present what he perceives to be the most viable alternative to the government's fiscal direction, simply declined to do anything with that chance. And that goes doubly when he's supposedly spent over a year trying to do something about his party's lack of direction or ideas.

In fairness, I don't hold any illusions that an amendment would hold any prospect of substantially changing the Cons' direction. But it still looks to be far out of the ordinary for Canada's Official Opposition to choose not to take an official position on how Canada's budget should be administered even if any amendment was bound to be voted down. And the fact that the Libs voluntarily left the NDP as the only national party to present an alternative vision for Canada might serve as a signal that voters should take a closer look at who's actually offering one.

On opportune moments

David Schneiderman weighs in on the options available to the opposition parties if they're able to agree that Parliamentary supremacy is worth affirming:
Prerogatives continue to exist, however, only to the extent that they have not been disrupted by statute. Although Judge Iacobucci's advice may be helpful in resolving some aspects of this dispute, what the circumstances require is that Parliament take immediate measures to control the exercise of prerogative power, using statute. This realm of unfettered discretion must be made accountable to the people and their representatives. It is not often that Parliament can acquire this authority in the face of an intransigent prime minister. With Mr. Harper's party in the minority, however, the House of Commons can enact a special statute directing disclosure of these documents, even under certain conditions, and so control the prerogative in this instance.

It also is an opportune moment for the House to consider limiting, even abolishing, the balance of prerogative powers that are exercised almost exclusively by prime minister and cabinet. This is what the British House of Commons select committee on public administration recommended in 2004 and the House of Lords recommended in respect of the prerogative of deploying troops in 2006.

A bill regulating the exercise of a prime minister's power to recommend prorogation or dissolution to the governor-general is a more delicate constitutional matter, but deserves serious consideration as well.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Deep thought

Just remember, the Harper Cons have absolutely nothing to do with the implementation of the HST.

(Edit: added label.)

On missed objections

Oh, how I would have liked to be wrong in worrying that the opposition parties were going to pass up their chance to put in place some rules that couldn't be so easily manipulated by the Harper Cons. Here's Kady:
(G)enerally speaking, committees readopt the same rules of procedural engagement as the previous session, although there's always a remote chance that the government -- or, for that matter, the opposition -- will seize the opportunity to tweak the fine print. Usually, it involves the post-first round allocation of questions; those who followed me in my previous iteration may recall that the Conservatives were able to sneak a few more slots in for their side when the last session began.
The newly elected chair takes his seat, and gets right down to routine motions; he notes that he's actually a new member, so -- cut him slack, I guess. He reads the motion in the House reinstating the previous routine motions, but it doesn't look like there's any objection.
So the opposition response seems to be that the rules underlying the Cons' obstruction manual - as already changed last session for the Cons' benefit - are just fine as they are and don't require even the slightest amendment. Can somebody explain why on earth they'd be acting based on that assumption?

On dereliction of duty

While I tend toward the view that the high-profile portions of question period are covered to death, there's still sometimes room for some highly noteworthy questions and answers to slip through the cracks. Take for example what this exchange between NDP MP Carol Hughes and Con Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq says about the Cons' view of their federal responsibility for Canada's First Nations:
Mrs. Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, last week's throne speech indicated that we will improve the conditions of aboriginal women in Canada.

When it comes to HIV-AIDS, the infection rate for aboriginal women is running ahead of Canadian averages and is increasing. Aboriginal women are overrepresented in the Canadian epidemic. To bring this number down requires money and political will.

Will the government commit necessary funding to bring the HIV-AIDS infection rate down among aboriginal women?

Hon. Leona Aglukkaq (Minister of Health, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, we continue to increase the transfers of funding to provinces and territories. Again this year we are increasing the transfers by six per cent. We will continue to work with the provinces and the territories to deal with health issues.
Now, if one wants to be generous, one could note that it's possible that working with provinces and territories could conceivably have some impact on the spread of AIDS. But the fact that Aglukkaq doesn't even mention the word herself seems to speak volumes about the Cons' actual lack of interest in having anything to do with the issue. Indeed, Aglukkaq says nothing more than that the other levels of government will have money to work with when it comes to general health spending which they can choose to apply to the problem.

More importantly, though, there's still a gaping hole in Aglukkaq's response. After all, it's the federal government alone which is directly responsible for health and other government issues on First Nations reserves. So money sent to the provinces wouldn't have any conceivable effect on programs for hundreds of thousands of First Nations people.

Of course, one can simply view Aglukkaq's answer as a default response to all issues dealing with health - and I'm sure the Cons would come with additional spin if the issue gets pressed. But it's still striking that the Harper government's first line of talking points is to both ignore AIDS as a separate issue, and to feign ignorance of its responsibility for the well-being of on-reserve First Nations.

On exploiters

There are plenty of ways to respond with snark to the Sask Party's use of 9/11 carnage to raise money. But this is one time where even trying to respond with humour would miss the point.

It's never been much of a secret that the Sask Party's underlying philosophy is one of shameless exploitation of whatever it can get its hands on. Normally, though, that's been covered up with just enough of a facade of social concern to try to present the party as somewhat moderate and non-threatening for mass consumption.

Now, the curtain looks to have been pulled back. There seems to be little room for doubt that there's no event so tragic, no human suffering so extreme that the Wall government won't try to make a buck off of it - using the most graphic depiction available for added effect. And while we can fully expect the Martensville constituency (which would end up using the money for environment minister Nancy Heppner) and/or the party to backtrack from its choice of themes and images, the fact that the poster was approved in the first place would seem to speak volumes about a lack of basic humanity within the Sask Party.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Concern trolling par excellence

Shorter Kelly McParland:

If those lazy, shiftless, useless jack-booted bureaucratic thugs whose red tape destroys the economy and who suck from the public teat while bleeding hard-working Canadians dry don't agree to hand over some of their ill-gotten gains, then some unnamed persons might try to foment resentment against them. And we'd sure hate to see that.

Important public notice

To residents of Edmonton-Strathcona: any vote for the Cons' Ryan Hastman will be interpreted as justifying Rob Anders' existence. Govern yourselves accordingly.


Shorter Stockwell Day:

Of course nobody should care that we're slashing jobs from the Military Police Complaints Commission. After all, it's not as if we're letting it do its job in the first place.

Today's the day... find out whether the opposition parties have actually developed rule changes to Harper-proof our Parliamentary committees at least to the extent of preventing the Cons from unilaterally shutting them down. Anybody want to take the "yes" side of that bet?

Clap louder!!!

I've noted that the Saskatchewan Party convention was noticeably lacking in any ideas or questions from its delegates. But let's note in fairness that while the Sask Party's members did manage to rouse up at least some contribution to the proceedings:
Standing O for Gantefoer.
Yes, that Gantefoer - the Finance Minister whose combination of gratuitous cuts, perpetually misguided estimates and massive deficits makes him somebody who's done plenty to earn the ire of Saskatchewanians of all political stripes. Which would tend to explain much of what happened at the convention - as instead of having the time to work on any new ideas for themselves, the delegates had to go through a rigorous seal-training process to ensure a standing ovation for whatever Wall placed in front of them.

Not doing their part

The Hill Times goes into detail about the Cons' parliamentary budget estimates. And the most striking (if entirely unsurprising) news is that the Harper Privy Council Office is looking for a huge increase in funding to help it spread the message that everybody needs to sacrifice:
The Privy Council Office is also asking for a $15-million increase to funding, according to the main estimates, for a total of $143,948,000. This includes a $2,000 funding allowance each for the Minister of State (Democratic Reform) and the Chief Government Whip's motor car. In addition, $74,462,000 is for support and advice to the Prime Minister and portfolio ministers; $47,471,000 for "internal services"; $17,243,000 for advice and support to Cabinet and Cabinet committees; $4,650,000 for "public service leadership and direction" and $112,000 for commissions of inquiry. This represents an 11.77 per cent increase over last year's estimates.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

On insecure supplies

AECL CEO Hugh McDiarmid then:

“Returning the NRU to service to support the production of medical isotopes for Canadian patients and healthcare practitioners is our primary objective”, said AECL’s President and CEO Hugh MacDiarmid. “We have a dedicated team working around the clock to bring the NRU back to operation as quickly and as safely as possible. However, it is a complex task with many variables”, he said.
AECL CEO Hugh McDiarmid now:
Federal Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, who is responsible for the nuclear file, referred questions to AECL, whose CEO acknowledged that there is no requirement that any of the medical isotopes produced at Chalk River be reserved for Canadian patients.

“There never has been” the requirement to supply Canadians with isotopes from the NRU, AECL chief executive Hugh MacDiarmid said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

On time pressures

I'll echo the many posts this weekend to the effect that the opposition parties need to press forward with their Afghan detainee document order in order to preserve any semblance of Parliamentary supremacy (even if I'm pessimistic about the prospect of their taking the advice). But it's worth pointing out that their case to do so will only get weaker with time if they choose to let the Cons off the hook - even if they claim only to be waiting to see what questions the Cons get around to asking Justice Iacobucci.

Remember that just last week, Lib MP Derek Lee was hemming and hawing as to whether or not to introduce the privilege issue immediately - balancing what I still find to be weak concerns about interfering with the throne speech and budget against a requirement that privilege issues be brought up as soon as possible:
Mr. Lee has told Speaker Peter Milliken he wants to raise a point of privilege, arguing that Defence Minister Peter MacKay and an assistant deputy minister in the Justice Department “obstructed” the release of the documents by stating a “false basis” for withholding them.

He also says the Conservative government is in contempt of Parliament for not producing the documents in defiance of a motion passed by the House of Commons on Dec. 10.

The rules around matters of privilege state they must be raised at the earliest possible time and that they take precedence over other business.
Now, we can only hope that Lee's reticence hasn't already led to a situation where the Cons can avoid being held in contempt due to his delay - particularly since he inexplicably backed down again on Friday in response to Rob Nicholson's stalling tactics.

But if the Cons are allowed to delay any contempt motion by stringing out the introduction of Iacobucci's terms of reference into next week or beyond, that will only make matters worse. If even a day or two posed a potential problem last week which justified working out an extensive review of the available options as to how to bring the matter forward as soon as possible, then surely another span of time without the same considerations in play will be no less problematic.

And there's little prospect that Lee will be able to use anything that's now in play as an explanation for any delay. In particular, even the most expansive terms of reference for Iacobucci wouldn't seem to provide a reason to hold off on pressing a privilege claim: in the unlikely event that Iacobucci is acually asked to deal with the privilege issue, his ruling won't be binding on anybody, and indeed won't even be publicly released unless the Cons choose to make it so (since the indication is that it's the government that's retained him).

So there's a real risk that if Lee keeps holding off on the privilege motion, it'll become less and less viable with time. And whenever the Iacobucci report is released (or suppressed, or the retainer cancelled), the Cons will surely have no qualms about claiming that the fact that the opposition allowed his review to play out prevents it from acting on the order passed in December.

In sum, the opposition faces a choice of use it or lose it when it comes to its authority to enforce the order which the Cons are ignoring. And the fact that the smaller fight over documents may have ramifications in all kinds of areas should only provide all the more reason to tell Harper and the Cons that they can't simply ignore the will of the majority.

Update: Impolitical points out on Twitter that the NDP has set a March 19 date for a contempt motion if the Cons haven't complied with the order by then. That will at least alleviate the risk of the issue being left hanging for months, though I'd still think there's little reason to wait.

Saskatchewan Party Cancelled Due to Lack of Interest II: No Question

In the apparent absence of enough interested members to actually ask questions at a at their convention, the Sask Party has sent up one "Brad W." to lob a softball to their caucus Q & A. Followed by a "B. Wall". And then a "Darb Llaw" to close out proceedings.

Now, I'd have thought they could at least afford to hire some outside ringers. But it certainly makes for an even more stark picture when the premier has to make multiple trips through the line to kill time because the Sask Party's rank and file doesn't have anything to say.

On bad deals

I'm not entirely sure why Dalton McGuinty and so many other Ontario politicians seem to have bought into the idea that massive privatization will do anything at all to help government finances. But in the wake of McGuinty's bizarre "super corporation" privatization plan, Erin has the right response:
Essentially, the Ontario government is considering a reverse mortgage: you get cash today and retain control of your house. But would it actually be a good financial deal for the provincial treasury?
If the government sold one-third of the shares based on a $50-billion valuation, it would shrink the current year’s deficit by $16.7 billion. That would reduce future debt-servicing costs by $0.8 billion per year. But giving up one-third of Crown corporation profits would reduce provincial revenues by $1.3 billion per year. On balance, Ontario taxpayers would come out half a billion dollars poorer.

So, partially privatizing public enterprises seems politically clever, but financially stupid.
Which leaves only the question of whether McGuinty will push ahead with a bad idea based on nothing more than a commitment to creating private profit out of public money. And there's little reason to think Ontario taxpayers will want to be on the hook for the privilege.