Saturday, May 22, 2010


Following up on this afternoon's post, let's note that while it's laughable for Stephen Harper to suggest that he doesn't have any say over his party's representatives on the Board of Internal Economy, it may be plausible that the broader issue of expenses is one where he actually does perceive some danger related to MPs thinking for themselves.

After all, Harper has exerted constant control over his MPs' actions in areas where they could possibly become a matter of public issue. But it wouldn't seem all that unlikely that MP expenses might have been classified as immune from public scrutiny precisely because of the lack of auditing in the past. And that might have led Harper to ease off on his usual strategy of micromanagement - leading to what he'd perceive as unacceptable risk of PR damage if those expenses become public.

But the question of whether Harper perceives the problem as being one of too much top-down control or not enough may be answered by his willingness to join in the tentative steps taken by the other party leaders toward increased disclosure.

Presumably the risks involved in what Harper doesn't know now could be reduced by actually requiring his MPs to turn over their books to the party before MPs agree on any audit. And I'd expect the Cons would be in the midst of assembling that information for themselves and preparing defences if they didn't already have full central control over MP expenses - which would presumably be followed by Harper changing his tune once a damage control plan is in place.

Conversely, if Harper's intransigence is the result of his party having top-down schemes in place to funnel MP funding to party supporters, then there isn't much Harper could possibly do other than stonewall as long as possible in hopes that the opposition will change the subject. And that possibility can only provide every incentive for the opposition parties to work together toward as much transparency as they can achieve.

On authority

Shorter Stephen Harper:

Sure, I control what bills Conservative MPs are allowed to present. And their future career path. And what statements they make inside and outside Parliament. And when they clip their toenails. But their position when it comes to MP expense audits is the one area where I consider them to be entirely beyond my authority.

Burning question

Stephen Harper considers the fact that one of his cabinet ministers is pro-choice to be a problem (on par with her being a poor communicator) when it comes to defending his party's principles on maternal health. So what does that say about what litmus tests Harper might plan to apply for cabinet assignments in the future?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Musical interlude

Enigma - Boum Boum (Chicane Club Version)

Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre - NDP Nomination Dates Set

For those wondering when they'll get the chance to choose between Don Hansen and Brian Sklar as the NDP's nominated candidate to challenge (and hopefully unelect) Con MP Tom Lukiwski, there won't be much longer to wait. The NDP's Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre nomination meetings have been set for June 23 in Lumsden and June 24 in Regina.

Deep thought

Nothing helps to rebuild the credibility of a party whose poll numbers are stuck in unimaginable depths like some blatant lying.

Update: Though I suppose the NDP probably won't complain if the Libs manage to get voters to call Mulcair's and Layton's offices demanding that they vote "no" on C-391. After all, both can say that they have and will continue to do so - and will presumably appreciate the opportunity to point out the absurdity of how the Libs are directing their activism.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

On limited opportunities

It's noteworthy enough that the Libs are apparently focusing on only three ridings in Quebec as remotely plausible gains. But it's even more significant that a list that short includes one riding already held by the NDP, and another where the NDP has inside position on the Libs.

In effect, the Libs are publicly admitting that they're helpless to change the balance of power in Quebec against either the Cons in a national battle, or the Bloc in a federalist/separatist contest. And if the Libs can't claim any plausible hope of contesting more new seats than the NDP, then there's every reason for habitual Lib voters across the province to consider whether there's a better chance to bring about the change they want by voting for a party that actually has some room for growth.

It's always good news for Brad Wall

Shorter Murray Mandryk:

The outcome of Saskatchewan's spring session in the Legislature was so lopsided in the NDP's favour that even I can't declare it a draw. But by sheer coincidence, I've just now decided that nobody likes a winner.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The bill comes due

The inevitable consequences of Conadscam (remember that?) are just now starting to materialize. And not surprisingly, the Cons are panicking at the realization of what they've wrought by making up their worst excuses yet. Shorter Cons now that several of their cabinet ministers are in danger of being prosecuted:

As a matter of free speech, we're entitled to make up whatever numbers we want in reporting our electoral expenses.

Still in issue

While the initial legislative debates about the HST in both Ontario and B.C. are done, the issue isn't dying down in either province. So let's note the most interesting developments on both fronts.

In Ontario, there doesn't seem to be much talk of stopping or reversing the move toward benefiting corporations at the expense of citizens. But it's worth highlighting the effort of one Lib constituency association to try to counter public disgust at having the HST applied to a wide swath of consumer purchases - by countering with a list of some of the areas that are mercifully unaffected. Which strikes me as functionally equivalent to BP declaring we should all be grateful for its Gulf of Mexico spill by naming areas of coastline elsewhere around the globe that won't end up covered in oil.

Meanwhile, in B.C. the conventional wisdom appears to have changed from "the Libs will ride it out" to "the Libs are doomed whatever they do" - and not without reason given the remarkable strength of the province's petition campaign. And it doesn't figure to be much of a leap from that stance to the view that Gordon Campbell and Colin Hansen may have to back down from their stubborn insistence on imposing the tax.

Saskatchewan NDP Events Update

As Guest noted in comments here, there's another joint nomination meeting coming up for four of the Saskatchewan NDP's Saskatoon seats. With that in mind, let's note a few more of the significant events approaching in the next few weeks:

- May 26, 6:30 PM, Good Samaritan Parish Centre - Regina Coronation Park all-candidates forum.

- May 31, 7:00 PM, Royal Canadian Legion Hall (Saskatoon) - Saskatoon Riversdale, Saskatoon Fairview, Saskatoon Eastview and Saskatoon Centre joint nomination meeting.

- June 17, 7:00 PM, location not listed Sunset United Church - Regina South nomination meeting.

- June 19, 1:00 PM, Thom Collegiate - Regina Coronation Park nomination meeting. (This one isn't yet up on the party's events schedule, but will presumably be confirmed.)

Meanwhile, the policy review process looks to be taking a brief break after meetings the last two weekends. But I'll be sure to note when the next sessions are posted.

Update: Thanks to a reader for noting the location for the Regina South nomination meeting.

On value for money

We may not find out exactly what some MPs think they have to hide until public opinion actually forces the Board of Internal Economy to allow a full value-for-money audit. But while we've heard some odd excuses as to what's being covered up, I'll point out another possibility.

It's not much of a secret that to varying degrees, the federal parties have pooled resources that were initially to be the prerogative of individual MPs to be used instead based on centralized instructions. The most obvious example may be the ten-percenters which have since been restricted, but other areas such as the use of private members' bills and speaking time in Parliament have also largely been brought under effective party control.

Given that tendency elsewhere, would it come as much of a shock if the same is effectively happening with MPs' funding so as to ensure that money gets directed toward party-friendly actors as service providers?

That might not become apparent on an audit which looks solely at a single MP's expenses, as a single charge for a service with some confirmed work product might not seem out of place. But adding up the total for a number of MPs for effectively the same work might paint an entirely different picture of the "value" involved - leading to embarrassment for both the party and the provider.

Of course, this is purely a matter of speculation for now. But it looks to me like one of the more plausible reasons why the federal parties might want to guard their MP expenses - even if it also serves as an additional reason why the public should demand that the books be opened up.

On battle lines

Stephen Harper says that criticism of the regulators responsible for allowing off-shore drilling is "an attack on Canada".

The regulators responsible for off-shore drilling have allowed projects like Chevron's Lona O-55 to proceed even after being told that a major oil spill won't be cleaned up.

So if it comes to choosing sides in a battle, how many voters believe Canada should be on the side of uncontrolled oil spills against regulation that prohibits them?

(Edit: fixed wording, typo.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The right answer

In comments to this post, DL offers up the best suggestion I've heard as to the NDP's response to the issue of MP expense audits:
I think the NDP should say it agrees to an audit of MPs and senators on condition that the Auditor-General also conduct a "value for money" audit of the Privy Council Office and the Prime Ministers Office - both massive wastes of taxpayers money!
Now, I'm not entirely sure off hand as to what elements of PCO and PMO spending are already subject to what types of audits. And the NDP's scope for bargaining would be limited to the House of Commons since it can't speak for a Senate which doesn't include any NDP members - though any move in one chamber would presumably be followed in the other.

Those quibbles aside, it would make all the sense in the world for the NDP to push for greater accountability for government expenses in addition to the proposed MP audit, rather than playing into the narrative that the lone issue worth addressing involves Parliament rather than government agencies. And while I wouldn't expect the Harper Cons to ultimately accept such a proposal, there's still plenty of value in suggesting it - particularly if a Con refusal to see greater government accountability can be contrasted against eventual all-party agreement on MP expenses.


When I posted on what the federal leaders might be expected to do when it comes to the auditing of MPs' expense accounts, I have to admit that this didn't even occur to me as an option which would merit consideration. And I'll stick by that assessment, even as Michael Ignatieff has made it his public stance that Sheila Fraser should present a lesser request to Parliament than the one which has won such widespread public approval.

That said, I have to wonder whether Ignatieff's bizarre statement might only make it more likely that we get a full audit in the end.

After all, the lone road which seemed to lead away from that outcome involved the leaders themselves refusing to say anything, with some external events then distracting the outside actors driving the issue. But now that Ignatieff has made a public statement, I'm not sure how either of the other national leaders in Parliament can resist the temptation to create a contrast by coming out in favour of the principle of auditing public expenses. And once that debate gets started, there still doesn't seem to be any way for it to end other than agreement on a full audit.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Saskatchewan NDP Nomination Roundup

There's plenty of news to point out on the Saskatchewan NDP nomination front - so rather than splitting it up into several posts, let's bundle it together for your reading convenience.

- On the federal side, Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre nomination candidate Brian Sklar has unveiled his website, featuring sharp criticism of Con incumbent Tom Lukiwski along with a policy section that mirrors Dwain Lingenfelter's provincial vision. Meanwhile, Donald Hansen's Facebook page has become an extremely lively and informative source of news and opinion.

- On the provincial side, the biggest news is the scheduling of a joint nomination meeting for all six of Regina's NDP incumbents on May 25. Of particular note, the list includes includes the Regina-Dewdney nomination, which no longer appears to be contested (as confirmed by the deletion of any "running for" from Kaitlin Stocks' Facebook page).

- Meanwhile, a couple of the candidates working toward nomination dates next month have activities on the go which deserve pointing out. Jaime Garcia has become the latest NDPer to look to a money bomb to finance his campaign in Regina Coronation Park, while Heather McIntyre will be holding a BBQ tonight in support of her Regina South campaign.

- Finally, the Regina Northeast race looks like it's about to get even more interesting in the wake of the two initial entries. At least two more entrants are apparently set to announce their intentions, including one of the NDP's long-anticipated new candidates. Stay tuned...

Memo to Conservative donors

Your hard-earned money is being used to pay for Stephen Harper's psychic friend and personal primping. Govern yourselves accordingly next time the party comes calling for cash.

Your money, their Amicus

I haven't yet blogged about the Saskatchewan NDP's strong questioning of the Wall government about the sweetheart deal given to the builder of a Saskatoon care home. But it looks like the story will be a big one in the months to come, and Murray Mandryk nicely summarizes why it figures to be important:
(S)tories of how Grant Devine's Progressive Conservative administration first got into trouble are legendary in NDP ranks -- stories of water purifier contracts that went to PC party friends, the manufacturers whose plastic shopping carts didn't quite fit in supermarket aisles or investments in computerized French translation services that didn't exactly translate anything.
(V)eteran Saskatchewan New Democrats know that it was a lot of these smaller stories -- the rewarding of business supporters, family members and sometimes even themselves with favourable taxpayer-financed contracts or loans through the old Sedco and other avenues of government finances -- that first started to turn the political tide against the PCs.

Well, a story emerging out of the legislature, raised by veteran MLA Pat Atkinson, about an untendered contract to build a Saskatoon nursing home let to a construction firm owned by a large Saskatchewan Party donor appears to have many of the elements of these old stories that first got the Devine government in trouble.
Atkinson last week spoke of an "odour" wafting around the plan to build a 100-bed, private long-term health-care unit that will allow Level One and Two residents occupancy with more critical Level Three and Four spouses. The agreement, announced by the Saskatoon Health Region, sees Amicus Health Care Inc., a subsidiary of the Catholic Health Ministry of Saskatchewan, paying the upfront capital costs, supported by what Atkinson described as a government loan guarantee. She also questioned the government's decision to charge a larger-than normal daily bed fee.
On Monday, Atkinson raised the spectre of the Saskatoon Health Region (read: provincial taxpayers) having to pay the outstanding balance should Amicus or the health region decide to terminate the contract. As Atkinson noted, this does seem to fit the definition of a loan guarantee, causing the Saskatoon MLA to ask: "Why is the Sask. Party government using taxpayers' money to reward its friends?"

For a Sask. Party government that has both vowed not to pick winners and has desperately tried to distance itself from the Devine Tories, such allegations are not good a sign.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Regina Coronation Park - Roger Bucsis Enters NDP Nomination Race

Jason mentions the news only as an aside, but it's worth noting that there's another apparent entrant in the already-crowded field pursuing the NDP's nomination in Regina Coronation Park.

Unfortunately there isn't much to be said about Roger Bucsis based on what's publicly available to this point - and he'll figure to need to change that in a hurry in order to make up ground on his competitors. But it's still a plus to see even more interest in the race, and it'll be interesting to see how much of a challenge Bucsis can mount following his late start.

Alone in the world

Shorter Harper cabinet ministers fanning across the globe at public expense:

To our neighbours in an increasingly interconnected world, we say: Canada is an island with no reason to bother planning for the next crash. So keep your developing international consensus on financial stability the hell out of our summit.

On blissful ignorance

Shorter David Bercuson:

War inevitably leads to difficult moral and legal grey areas. And the only reasonable response is to pretend against all evidence that nothing could possibly have been done wrong as a matter of clear-cut, black-and-white division.

One of these things is not like the other

How often did the Wall government make it a priority to consult with, say, SCN before deciding to eliminate it? The answer is not once in two and a half years:
But as someone who has also served in numerous capacities in the Saskatchewan film and video industry, from CTV's program advisory board to the head of the film board, what Gamracy finds offensive is that the government would arbitrarily eliminate SCN without seeking consultation and without attempting to understand how SCN fits as an intricate part of Saskatchewan's film industry puzzle.

Actually, Gamracy would have even been happy with the simple courtesy of either of the Sask. Party government's culture ministers meeting with her or the SCN board in two and half years of government.

Gamracy, who has served as SCN board chair since 2007, says she has not met with a government minister since the last NDP minister responsible for the film industry. "I can say unequivocally I've never been treated so disrespectfully," she said, adding that she certainly called and e-mailed to arrange meetings with Sask. Party government ministers and their officials.
How about consulting the entire province when it came to TILMA II?
NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter also accused the Saskatchewan government of not living up to a commitment to consult with the public.

"Now that the premier's signature is on the document we still don't know what's in it because none of us have really had time to digest the details," Lingenfelter said. "What we're really urging people to do is to get the document, read it and study it and not simply listen to the premier's spin."

Wall said the people of Saskatchewan had a say during public hearings on TILMA in 2007, which took place under the previous NDP government.
And it's no different for the province's privacy watchdog when it comes to the use of patients' personal health information for fund-raising:
But McMorris said that when he spoke of formal consultations, he was referring to the ones that took place between the health ministry and Information and Privacy Commissioner Gary Dickson between 2004 to 2007 under the previous NDP government.

McMorris said there was no need to seek Dickson's formal opinion again this year when the Saskatchewan Party government decided to proceed with the change to health privacy rules, because his opposition to the idea had already been made clear.
But have no fear: at least one group enjoys a perpetual open door to the Wall government:
Hon. Mr. Cheveldayoff: — Mr. Speaker, Enterprise Saskatchewan consults with industry around the clock, around the calendar. They make sure that those consultations take place, Mr. Speaker, whether they're in the summertime, whether in the fall, whether in budget cycle or without budget cycle.
So the moral of the story: if you want a 24-hour hotline to the Wall government, all you have to do is become one of its private-sector benefactors. But if you're not in that group, then you can expect to be ignored for years at a time and told you had your chance to speak when the NDP was in office.

Monday, May 17, 2010

On equal opportunities

Sure, some naysayers might think this is reason to criticize the Harper government's ridiculous degree of thought control:
Two youths who participated in a public forum with Prime Minister Stephen Harper today say their questions were edited by the Prime Minister's Office.

The youths say hot-button words like "abortion" were cut from the questions in an event designed to focus on the G8 and G20 summits scheduled for next month in Ontario.

About 100 youths were gathered in front of TV cameras on Parliament Hill in an event moderated by Conservative Senator Mike Duffy and sponsored by Vision Internationale.

Most of the eight questions posed were on the economy and none addressed any subjects that could potentially embarrass the government.
But look on the bright side: Harper is apparently no less willing to listen to blunt and unfavourable questions from unspecified youths than from, say, his own cabinet ministers. And that has to count for something.

Regina Northeast - Dwayne Yasinowski Enters Nomination Race

As Kent has noted, there's another strong contender for the NDP's nomination in Regina Northeast, as Dwayne Yasinowski has become the second NDP candidate seeking to succeed Ron Harper. With the race officially on in Regina Northeast, the NDP can boast a fourth contested nomination in Regina - though it's interesting to note the rush of candidates in NDP-incumbent ridings when a couple of seats which the NDP held until 2007 (Regina Qu'Appelle Valley and Regina Wascana Plains) haven't yet seen any candidates step forward publicly.

In any event, kudos to Dwayne for entering what's shaping up to be another hotly contested nomination battle. And with two or more candidates putting their efforts into building the NDP in Regina Northeast, the party's chances of overcoming the Sask Party's strategy based on billboards and public announcements look better by the day.

(Edit: fixed label.)

On coalition building

It's enough of a plus that the coalition deal in the UK has led to the idea being discussed in Canada with less of the Con-fueled hysteria surrounding the last move to build a coalition in Parliament. But what's perhaps more interesting is the standard that's being set up by the party whose support for a coalition (in the absence of direct participation) might well be the deciding factor in who governs Canada after the next federal election:
Mr. Layton noted Canada can learn lessons from the U.K.

"One is that the people of the United Kingdom seemed to encourage the notion that parties should work together in the interests of everybody. That's something the New Democrats have believed for a long time."

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe (Laurier-Sainte-Marie, Que.) said that while the Bloc "was not part of the [2008] coalition, we were ready to support them." He pointed out that coalition government has become the norm across Europe, and that willing major partners are a primary ingredient of governing coalitions.

"I think [the British] are often people who act in a responsible manner, which has not been the case either for Mr. Harper or Mr. Ignatieff, and those are the only two who claim the post of Prime Minister," Mr. Duceppe said. "They need to be responsible and to have leadership."
Now, it's problematic if one sees Duceppe's comment as framing Canada's future choices in terms of only the Libs or Cons heading up a coalition government. But the statement does make for a fair assessment of where Canada has actually been, given that the NDP willingly took on the role of junior partner in order to bring the 2008 coalition together.

That said, Duceppe's comment also raises the possibility that an improvement in the prospects of a coalition might come about due to a change in which parties are seen as "major".

After all, the gap between the Libs and the NDP has been closing for a few election cycles now, and has reached the a point where it's entirely plausible that the next campaign could see more NDP seats than Liberal ones. And some scenarios have already been kicked around by political observers which would result in the NDP topping the Libs' seat total in a minority Parliament.

It's hard to see how that outcome would result in anything but a change as to which party would be considered "major" in working out a possible coalition - as well as who'd be responsible to show the leadership required of a Prime Minister. And the Libs presumably wouldn't be in much position to refuse a coalition. So if Duceppe's comment actually represents the Bloc's view of any possible alternative government, there's a straightforward way to get there, requiring only a fairly modest general shift toward the NDP as the national party most interested in cooperating in the public interest.

Lying in wait

For years now, it's been an open question as to what Brad Wall's promises not to make changes on issues such as Crown corporations and the HST actually meant. But Wall's interview with the Globe and Mail's report on business makes the answer entirely clear:
Why not a harmonized sales tax?

I’m not a member of the church of harmonization orthodoxy, at least as long as this jurisdiction has other tax modification priorities. Our corporate rate is too high; our small business thresholds are too high. We want to make progress on both of those. We have three tiers of [personal] income tax and we’ve said that a flatter system is important as we want to attract more entrepreneurial folks. We started with reforms in last year’s budget to reduce the property-tax share of education funding. This is a capital tax, and frankly a capital tax is far more insidious for an economy than the lack of harmonization.

How do you respond to business leaders who say you are too timid in easing the weight of government, such as the province’s Crown corporations?

We have a growth agenda for the province. We need to continue to get re-elected to continue to make these changes, maybe not as fast as people would like. But improving the economy’s competitiveness is a process, not an event.
Of course, there's another alternative which Wall has already latched onto in pushing ahead with policies he's promised not to implement. (Who's up for some tax WEPAnization?)

But the difference between Wall's strategy with the TILMA/WEPA and the other areas of controversy seems to be based solely on the time frame for his planned reversal. Wall leaves no doubt that tax harmonization is part of his long-term vision - just as soon as he's made other parts of the tax system more regressive first. And that likewise, he sees privatizing the Crowns as part of "these changes" that he ultimately intends to carry out - but he's biding his time for now until he's softened up the anticipated public backlash.

In other words, Wall has outright admitted that his promises not to private Crowns or harmonize taxes don't actually mean anything when it comes to his intentions in government; instead, they're merely political ploys to strengthen his grip on power, the better to enable him to do later what he's promised not to do now. But fortunately, there's an obvious way for Saskatchewan voters to stop Wall before he gets the chance to declare that all previous promises are null and void.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lest it be missed

I'm not sure how this mostly escaped notice in Kady's liveblog of Ryan Sparrow's appearance before the Ethics Committee. But it certainly seems like the punchline of the week at a meeting whose focus was Allegations of Interference in Access to Information Requests:
Sparrow has no compunction about acknowledging that he is "regularly" in touch with PMO -- coordinated governmental message, remember -- and with that, Valeriote's time runs out, which means it's over to Carole Freeman, who wants to know more about the 51 "alterations" - which works out to just over 20 percent - and whether it would be possible to table those particular media requests with the committee "so we can study them." Sparrow helpfully points out that they're available under Access to Information, but the chair, even more helpfully, reminds Sparrow that actually, the committee can order that he produce any documents...

Sunday Morning Links

You should be outside enjoying the weekend. But if you're not, then here's some reading material to help pass the time.

- While it's dangerous to plan too much based on a single poll result, the news that health care is back as the top issue of importance for Canadians looks to make for some interesting calculations for the federal parties. In particular, the issue seems to have mostly surfaced on its own, as the only major development in the area (Quebec's implementation of user fees) has actually received less discussion than would be expected on the federal scene - meaning that there would seem to be room for the numbers to grow further if anybody decides to put on a full-court press on the issue.

- Toby Sanger points out the latest analysis of the impact of Ontario's HST (this from the NDP using Statistics Canada data), and puts it in context as to how it'll affect the tax system:
If we assume that businesses pass on their savings from the HST to consumers through lower prices, I think it is fair to say that reductions in corporate income taxes would flow through to the owners of the businesses. If only half of of these benefits flow through to households in Ontario, then the picture is quite different. (About 28% of Cdn profits go to Canadian controlled corporations and I assumed that 1/3 of the remaining Ontario profits also flow out to people in other provinces)

Once you take account of the distributional impacts of the corporate tax cuts flowing through, the impact of this tax package is mildly progressive on the bottom end, but regressive in the middle to top end. Families with incomes of less than $30,000 are better off by an average of $20 to $80 a year, those in the middle income range from $40,000 to $100,000 are worse off by about 0.5% of their income level (~-$200 to -$400 a year).

However, those with family incomes of over $100,000 would, on average, be better off by about $365 a year
after accounting for the all elements of the tax package since this group receives a disproprotionately (sic) higher level of investment and capital income.

So Ontario’s HST tax reform is not an overall massive tax grab, but it is a major tax shift – and it certainly isn’t all progressive.
- If anybody would care to explain why there's any principled basis to tie the Canadian Wheat Board's streamlined payment for grain to the deliberate disenfranchisement of producers, I'd love to hear it. But it looks entirely likely that the Cons are simply looking to hold the former hostage by insisting on the latter - and it'll take another strong push back simply to avoid having the Cons permanently destroy the underpinnings of the CWB.

- Michael Geist points out why the constant stream of anti-Canadian propaganda on copyright issues deserves to be mocked rather than taken seriously:
Late last month, the IFPI, which represents the global recording industry, released its annual Recording Industry in Numbers report that tracks global record sales. The report targeted two countries — Canada and Spain — for declining sales and linked those declines to copyright law. Not coincidentally, both countries are currently working on legal reforms.

The IFPI release succeeded in generating attention but a closer look reveals that it put the spotlight on the wrong country.

Canadian sales declined 7.4 per cent last year. That was bad news, but nearly identical to the global average of 7.2 per cent. Moreover, the declines were far larger in both the United States (10.7 per cent) and Japan (10.8 per cent), yet neither of those countries was described in similarly negative terms.

The same week the U.S. government chimed in with its annual Special 301 report. Often described as the global piracy list, the U.S. chose to lump Canada together with countries such as China and Russia as allegedly among the world’s worst intellectual property offenders.

Rather than embarrassing Canadians, the list itself is increasingly viewed as the embarrassment. This year’s report ignored a submission from the world’s largest technology and Internet companies (including Microsoft, Google, T-Mobile, Fujitsu, AMD, eBay, Intuit, Oracle and Yahoo), which argued that it is completely inappropriate to place Canada on the list.

Moreover, the data suggest Canada is a leader, not a laggard. According to the software industry’s own piracy numbers, Canada’s piracy rate is declining and is dramatically lower than any other country on the priority watch list. In fact, the Business Software Alliance has characterized Canada as a “low piracy country.”

The news is similar with respect to movie piracy, where the motion picture industry has acknowledged that incidents of illegal camcording have dropped in Canada as the country is one of few in the world with criminal convictions for such activities.
- Finally, for those who haven't yet seen the Citizen's article on the Harper government's steps to suppress information from last weekend, it's worth a read.

On advance notice

Following up on my earlier posts, let's note one final topic worth mentioning out of the extended exchange between Dwain Lingenfelter and Brad Wall this past week. This time, the part worth highlighting involves a policy position which Wall apparently wanted to play up for the occasion despite it not normally forming an area of strength for his party.

Here's Wall discussing health care in response to questions which had to do generally with the poor results under the Wall government rather than any specific concerns about the type of delivery:
Hon. Mr. Wall:...We need to keep our options open with respect to using regional operating theatres if we have to, perhaps engaging private clinics and surgeons, surgeons that are involved in those private clinics.

We hope members opposite will support that
. Members opposite have been voicing concerns quite rightly about the kidney transplant situation, about the need to get patients their kidney transplants obviously. I hope they will also work with the government as we move to solve the wait times initiative and use all of the options within the public health care system, including the potential of private clinics to add to the resources of the province and the regional operating theatres.
I would also say this to the member. He asks a question about wait-lists which are still too long in the province. I ask him this. It's now 18 months from the next election. And so now we need to hear, if what we're doing is not enough— and fair enough, that's part of the debate — I think we need to hear what members opposite would do. I think we need to hear why members opposite would oppose, within a public system, a single-payer system. We need to find out why that former free-enterprising capitalist from Alberta would oppose the use of private clinics to come into the province and deliver, within a public system, on surgeries for Saskatchewan.

We need a lot of orthopedic surgeries in the province. Well the member is kind of smiling. He's kind of grinning. Maybe he wants to get up in the next question and tell this House and tell the people of the province why he would object, why he would object to the use of private clinics who will come in, in the public system, operating in operating theatres to reduce the wait-list.
So what's significant about that exchange? Last I'd heard, the Sask Party wasn't publicly stating an intention to do anything more than study the concept of a privatized surgical system. But to the extent there was any doubt about the Sask Party's plans, Wall looks to have put an end to it: there surely wouldn't be any reason for him to start demanding the NDP's support for a privatized surgical system if it was merely one possibility rather than the path the Sask Party fully planned to take.

As a result, Wall looks to have given away the game as to what his government plans to do. And while the topic obviously wasn't at the top of the NDP's list for discussion last week, I'd think Lingenfelter has reason to grin about how the debate will play out if the province votes based on whether it wants to see money gush out of the public health care system into the hands of private operators.