Saturday, July 03, 2010

Upcoming Saskatchewan NDP Nomination Dates - The Battlefords, Saskatoon Sutherland

For those who didn't get enough nomination drama in June or are already looking for their next fix, the Saskatchewan NDP has posted a couple of nomination dates for September and October:

- On September 16, the NDP will hold its nomination meeting for The Battlefords riding held by Len Taylor.

- And October 2 will be the date of the Saskatoon Sutherland nomination meeting, featuring a hotly contested race among Ryan Meili, Naveed Anwar, Rob Dobrohoczki and Scott Stelmaschuk.

Neither of the event listings yet includes locations or times - but I'll post those once they're available.

Meanwhile, for those looking for a dose of politics in the meantime, Michael Medby's Northwest Rebellion is worth a listen.

But are they listening?

While he's more optimistic than he probably should be as to the likelihood of anything improving, Murray Mandryk is right to note a common thread linking most of the Wall government's most glaring mistakes:
(I)f you look at where this government has struggled, it usually boils down to a minister who didn't listen.

Consider the government's problems in the last year: The massive overestimation of potash revenues, changes to Bill 80 that appeared to have been written by the construction industry; the more legitimate union concerns about abuse of the new essential services law and unfair bargaining; the privacy commissioner's concerns about disclosing patient hospital stay information to fundraisers; the unpopular changes to the Wildlife Habitat Protection Act (WHPA); the surprising furor over SCN cuts; the witch hunt over the NDP leak on the wrongly released sex offender, and; (sic) even the piddling budget cuts to Dutch elm disease and mosquito control.

So what do all these problems have in common? Well, the problems tended to start with either the minister concerned not seeking better advice or choosing to listen to only what he or she wanted to hear.
Too much government time has been wasted listening to friendlies blowing smoke -- the construction industry, the potash corporations promising gigantic production numbers and expansions, the business sector, etc. Not enough time has been spent listening to others that would help develop more rounded policies. For this, Wall must take responsibility. He's allowed too many ministers like Rob Norris, Bill Boyd and Don McMorris to cater to specific interest groups at the expense of others. In short, he's made it easy for them not to listen.

Spending money to make money

There's plenty to discuss about the 2009 year-end returns - both in their original form, and the handy comparison put together by Alice at Pundits' Guide. But let's start with an obvious explanation for the differences in fund-raising between the national political parties which signals both an opportunity for the opposition parties to bring in more money, and the fact that there's much less of a gap in apparent fund-raising capacity than the top-line contribution numbers might suggest.

While the Globe and Mail notes the massive amount spent by the Cons on fund-raising only in passing and doesn't mention the comparable figures for the other parties, take a look at the relationship between expenditures on fund-raising and returns:

Party Expenses Contributions Net
Cons $7,183,514 $17,704,401 $10,520,887
Libs $2,377,395 $9,087,756 $6,710,361
NDP $1,594,566 $4,006,641 $2,412,075
Green $0* $1,142,893 $1,142,893

*It's possible that the Greens may have fund-raising costs embedded in another category ("wages and benefits"? "professional fees"?). But I'll count this as zero since they don't list a separate expenditure category for fund-raising.

So what can we take from the net numbers? The first obvious point is that the Cons' advantage over the Libs in particular looks a lot smaller when one considers the respective amount each party is plowing into fund-raising efforts. Rather than having an insurmountable lead in the amount of money they're able to raise for advertising or other purposes, the Cons actually have a relatively small advantage which seems to be driven mostly by their more aggressive fund-raising efforts.

But that isn't to say that the Cons have their strategy wrong by any stretch of the imagination. As I've noted before, the ideal point of fund-raising for any political party would seem to be that where the incremental fund-raising value of the next dollar spent approaches zero - or maybe even slightly less than that to the extent it's possible to derive valuable information about donor preferences and public buy-in from a fund-raising campaign. And from the massive gap between the amounts spent by the Libs (and Greens) and the amount received in contributions, it looks like both of those parties are falling well short of the ideal spending amount.

Meanwhile, the NDP looks to have roughly matched the Cons' spending on fund-raising as a percentage of its contributions. But of course that's a double-edged sword: if the NDP is already near the optimal point of fund-raising spending for its current level of public support, then any further increases in fund-raising would figure to involve an extra step to try to expand the pool of potential donors.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Musical interlude

Delerium - Angelicus

On voluntary restrictions

It shouldn't be news that the claims relied on by the Harper Cons to suppress information from Parliament and the public - including that of cabinet secrecy - reflect areas where Harper and his government are choosing to hide the truth, rather than cases where there's any particular obstacle to providing full and accurate information to Canadians. And Jean Charest has offered up a prime example of what a government can do to open up its operations to the public where it wants to do so:
Premier Jean Charest is forcing the hand of former justice minister Marc Bellemare by lifting some cabinet secrecy restrictions, allowing him to testify before the inquiry looking into the nomination of judges in the province.

Bellemare had refused to testify before the Bastarache Commission, because he said he could not break cabinet confidentiality rules.
In a statement released on Friday, the premier's office confirmed an order of cabinet had been adopted suspending the obligation of confidentiality for Bellemare and a handful of others...
Of course, the purpose of pointing out Charest's action isn't to suggest that he's setting any particularly useful standard for transparency. After all, Charest's motives look to be entirely self-interested in wanting to allow an inquiry to test damaging allegations against his government, rather than genuinely opening up his government's decision-making in general for greater scrutiny.

But it's still worth remembering that cabinet confidences can be (and are) opened up where that course of action serves a government's purposes. And the fact that the Harper Cons consistently throw every excuse they can in the way of accountability for their own actions should provide ample reason for concern as to what lurks behind their blanket of secrecy.

Friday Afternoon Links

- Dan Gardner's column offers a useful reminder of the role of luck in sports and political outcomes alike. But there are a couple of points worth some additional discussion.

First off, it's worth keeping in mind that while actual results will indeed vary based in large part on random events, actors in both spheres do have opportunities available to help turn the odds in their favour. And considering the real-world ramifications of political success or failure, it's remarkable that it may be in sports that more of that analysis has taken place.

At the same time, it's also worth noting that the political sphere lends itself far more readily to spin.

While there's no denying the score at the end of a sporting event (even if the means of getting there may be in controversy), political events short of election results leave room for all parties to claim victories for themselves and defeat for their opponents - and indeed there's a strong incentive for parties to claim all events as evidence of their own merit and their opponents' weakness. So political actors have reason not to publicly acknowledge that luck is at play even when it does have a major impact on events.

- In light of the Harper Cons' unfortunate success in limiting the amount of reporting on climate change issues, I won't let this story pass without a link:
The Department of Finance recommended over the spring that Harper lead by example and get rid of tax incentives that encourage oil and gas production.

But documents obtained by The Canadian Press, to be released in conjunction with the final G20 communique on Sunday, show the prime minister opted instead to reiterate actions taken in the past rather than volunteer any additional gestures.
"If Canada undertakes no reforms, it would eliminate the need to co-ordinate action internationally, though justifying inaction could be challenging if others are taking action," says the March memo to Flaherty.
Sadly, the Cons managed to avoid that need for justification by ensuring that climate change wouldn't form a meaningful part of the G8/G20 discussion as long as they had control of the agenda. But the more important question is whether Canadians want a government so devoted to inaction in the first place.

- Meanwhile, the Cons' commitment to evidence-free policy-making shouldn't come as much surprise - even if the latest steps to restrict the collection of useful information are worth pointing out.

- Finally, A Tiny Revolution highlights John Ralston Saul's insights into the actual meaning of money and debt. But it's truly sad that in the time since Saul wrote the quoted passage, we've seen more and more public policy dictated by exactly the same arbitrary forces that form the target of Saul's critique.

On joint efforts

It's probably worth making sure we start getting our "coalition" terminology right as Canada's political parties consider their options for the next election and beyond - and on that front, one can't paint the Libs as having won any of the benefits normally bestowed on the junior partner in an actual coalition government. But otherwise, Paul Wells is once again all too accurate in describing the partnership between the Cons and Libs:
(E)ven though Ottawa is rife with rumours this summer, yet again, that Harper will contrive a reason to trigger an election in the autumn, there’s no reason to doubt something else that he told Reuters, which is that he doesn’t want one. If an election goes really well for him, he’ll be Prime Minister when it’s over. But he’s Prime Minister already. And he’s really the Prime Minister. Another evergreen Ottawa myth asserts that Harper is somehow unfulfilled without a parliamentary majority. But he has had a majority for four years, thanks to a succession of not-ready-for-prime-time Liberals...

And in concert with the Liberals, Stephen Harper is changing this country. He was able to gut environmental oversight of energy projects in the middle of a historic energy-sector environmental disaster. He is stuffing the nation’s prisons like Christmas geese. He spent $1 billion turning the country’s biggest city into a demonstration of the necessity (if not, ahem, the effectiveness) of tough policing against thugs, rabble, bicyclists and other miscreants. Inside the riot zone, with the world watching, he stared down Barack Obama in a debate over continued fiscal stimulus vs. relative budgetary restraint. He gets to name Supreme Court justices. He gets to name a new governor general. He’s in charge of nominations to every board and agency.

So when Liberals debate the wisdom of coalition government, it would be well for them to remember they are already in one. And when they debate the worth of Michael Ignatieff to Liberals, they will perhaps be heartened to learn that Conservatives are tremendously fond of him.

On unifying principles

Since the Charest government first introduced user fees for health care earlier this year, there's been plenty of question as to who would lead the charge to preserve and improve health care on the federal level - with the NDP taking up the cause last month. Now, Chantal Hebert points out just how significant the opportunity looks to be for a party which focuses on substantial policy results rather than taking the word of the likes of Charest that the federal government shouldn't try to enforce national standards:
(In the latest Angus Reid polling,) there was no regional fault line in the increase of the public attachment to medicare.

In its last budget, the Quebec government took steps to refinance the province’s health-care system. It introduced a universal health levy and it floated the idea of imposing user fees on medical visits.

The result was a massive backlash with at least one poll showing that a majority of Quebecers would favour a federal intervention to nip the user fee plan in the bud; even it meant that Ottawa would trample on an otherwise exclusive provincial jurisdiction to do so.
Now, I'd be particularly interested to see whether that same conclusion would apply in other areas where even the NDP has gone out of its way to allow Quebec to opt out of what are intended to be national standards.

But when it comes to health care at least, there looks to be plenty of voter demand for meaningful enforcement of the Canada Health Act which both the Libs and Cons have ruled out. And with citizens in all parts of Canada seemingly in agreement that our health care system is worth preserving and reinforcing, this looks to be a rare issue where there are few tradeoffs to be made in taking a strong stand.

On compulsive secrecy

The Star-Phoenix editorial board rightly slams the Wall government for hiding a death in custody as long as it could:
There was a time when provincial Corrections officials felt responsible enough for the people in their care that they realized it is news whenever a prisoner dies in custody.

Not any more. Now, if they are lucky enough, the media must depend on inside sources, leaks or accidental admissions to get timely access to information about a death.

Let's be clear here. Nothing that a government does on behalf of the citizens it serves is more sensitive than depriving people of their freedom. Whether these are prisoners or children apprehended for their own protection, it is done on behalf of us all.

And when someone dies under these circumstances, it is the responsibility of those in charge to inform citizens immediately.
Corrections, Public Safety and Policing Minister Yogi Huyghebaert and his ministry already have done much to erode public confidence in the way the ministry conducts its business. From refusing to notify the public when potentially dangerous offenders have been released in error, to conducting witch hunts and firing employees who potentially blew the whistle on these mistakes, it is difficult to trust that Corrections officials have the interests of society in mind at the best of times.

This is further exacerbated by having a minister threaten opposition MLAs with police investigations for raising such matters in the legislature.
Until (the ministry reverses course), Saskatchewan residents can't be confident they know who, or even how many persons, apprehended on their behalf are dying. It is hard to imagine a topic that should be less private.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

On rationalizations

Bill Tieleman's response to Gordon Campbell's HST op-ed is definitely worth a read. But for those of us in Saskatchewan, it's part of Campbell's excuse after the fact that bears particular attention based on the spin currently emanating from our own premier:
Although you may not have seen much media coverage before last summer, combining the PST and GST to create a harmonized sales tax is something that has been discussed publicly for many years.

Federal governments - past and present - and business organizations - large and small across the province - repeatedly asked us to harmonize the PST with the GST...

Each time we were asked, we said we would not consider it for two primary reasons. First, it would eliminate B.C.'s ability to set our own tax rate.

And it still does - BC has given up its tax sovereignty to Ottawa for the most part.

Second, we wanted to be able to shape our tax regime with flexibility that would allow us to exempt certain goods and services from being taxable. It wasn't until last year that kind of flexibility was available.
So the fact that harmonization had been discussed in some circles before - even having been rejected by Campbell's own government at the time - is being put forward as justification for not bothering to consider how the province might react to the HST, whether by consulting with voters, or even by taking their interests into account. Which looks to offer yet another parallel between Campbell's modus operandi and Brad Wall's - and serves as all the more reason to distrust Wall when he claims that we shouldn't worry about his making the same move in Saskatchewan.

Extra fireworks

In addition to Canada Day, let's not forget that two provinces are getting to celebrate Prostrate Yourselves Before Your Corporate Overlords Day as well. And while the general theme is one of rightful frustration, at least some people seem disturbingly enthusiastic about the prospect.

Well said

By all means, today should be a day to celebrate Canada. But James Travers offers a needed reminder that pride in our country should also involve working to improve it, rather than resting on our laurels:
Still, there is a real and pressing danger. We are at risk of impaling ourselves on our own indifference.

For decades now the going has been so good and easy that Canadians are forgetting that citizenship is a participatory sport. Together we are ignoring that nations built brick-by-brick fall piece-by-piece.

Strange and counter-intuitive as it seems, that deconstruction is most difficult to spot here in the capital. Tens of thousands will crowd to Parliament Hill on Canada Day without realizing that the towering Gothic symbols of our political freedoms are figuratively, as well as literally, crumbling.

What began with Pierre Trudeau’s steady erosion of accountability has become under Stephen Harper a handful of democratic dust. Autocracy best describes the between-elections reality of a prime minister, surrounded by fawning whisperers, ruling behind closed doors.

No party or leader bears the full burden of blame. All since Trudeau share responsibility for the result. Confused by Big Man presidential politics and understandably disappointed in the poisonous results, voters stay away from federal elections in droves.

A legacy that shabby would be a shame if that’s left by a generation bequeathed so much. Sadly, we are also abandoning our garbage. For our own comfort and convenience we are dumping on the future fiscal, social and environmental deficits.
Today is the moment to wallow in the joy and privilege of being Canadian. It’s also a day to remember that those pleasures come wrapped in duties.

To abandon those responsibilities is to foolishly assume that there will be as much to swell the hearts of our children and their children.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On roadblocks

I've mentioned before that the greatest hurdles for the NDP's Climate Change Accountability Act figured to lie in the Senate rather than the House of Commons. So it isn't much surprise to learn that the Cons are indeed doing what they can to override the will of Canada's democratically-elected representatives.

But should it really be this easy for a single Senator to hold up a bill that's already managed to make it through two readings?
Bill C-311, drafted by NDP MP Bruce Hyer, would require the government to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. It was supported in the Senate by Liberal Senator Grant Mitchell and has been read twice but has since been adjourned in the name of Conservative Senator Richard Neufeld. The legislation cannot move forward until he speaks to it.
Mr. Neufeld said on Wednesday that there has been no organized effort to keep the bill from being passed into law. If it is not addressed before the Senate rises, probably next week, it can always be raised in the fall, he said. “Our chamber has been pretty busy,” said Mr. Neufeld.

But the Liberals say they fear that the Conservatives are stalling until they obtain an absolute majority of Senate seats and can unilaterally kill the legislation - something that is likely to occur in November.
Now, this is far from the first time that the Cons have made use of procedural shenanigans to control the flow of legislation originating with other parties. But it seems downright absurd that a single Canadian Senator would hold the ability to single-handedly stop the progress of a bill simply by refusing to continue an adjourned debate on it - combining the worst of the U.S. Senate's stifling conventions on comity which allow a single member to hold up action with the inherently undemocratic nature of Canada's upper chamber.

But then, that power would also seem to give rise to an opportunity to do the same to Con bills to make sure that C-311 actually receives due consideration before the Cons have had a chance to fully stack the deck. And it'll be worth watching whether anybody uses the same trick to put pressure on the Cons to allow climate change accountability to become the law of the land.

A little rights reading

While they only scratch the surface of the continued news about the G8/G20 protests over the weekend, a couple of pieces are definitely worth a look.

First, there's LRT's observations, featuring in particular two key points about the public level of support for the protesters:
1 - The security build-up and intimidation factor of having so many heavily armed police in the streets kept the G20 protests from being even larger. Attendees to the rally at Massey Hall on Friday night believe that the turnout at the G20 was only a fraction of the people who wanted to protest - the rest were scared.

A massive security presence had the effect of silencing a lot of voices.

2 - Popular support for the protests was huge in Toronto. Cheers generally went up when televisions in pubs and restaurants showed news footage of the protests.

I can only recall speaking to one man who was critical of the protestors. Support for the Black Bloc was considerably smaller.
Mind you, it's interesting to note as well the difference between the view from on the ground and that from afar. For example, LRT wasn't sure whether what may be the defining YouTube moment of the protests would get noticed:

Meanwhile, for a more systematic take, the CCLA's preliminary report offers a thorough look at exactly what happened and why so much of it was problematic. Though presumably there will be plenty to update now that police deception has been added to the picture.

Update: And for your viewing pleasure, torontoist has a collection of essential videos.

The reviews are in

As is so often the case, the Leader-Post is too quick to give Brad Wall credit. (Hey, CanWest's influence has to count for something, right?) But it's on target with its conclusion about tax harmonization:
The Ontario and B.C. governments say harmonization will simplify the tax system and create thousands of jobs by removing the burden of sales taxes currently paid by businesses on their inputs. Prices should actually fall under harmonization, the conventional wisdom goes.

Consumers aren't buying it. Ipsos Reid surveys in both provinces found more than 70% oppose the new taxes. In B.C., consumer anger has resulted in a 700,000-name petition that was to be delivered to the province's government today by former premier Bill Vander Zalm. Under B.C. law, it could result in debate on an HST-repeal bill or trigger a non-binding referendum.
Unless harmonization resulted in no extra cost for taxpayers there is no way the public would support a business tax break at their expense.

In any case, businesses in our hot economy seem to be doing very nicely without an HST
(Edit: fixed typo; added link.)

On end goals

I don't have a lot to add about the individual moves between Brad Wall's cabinet shuffle that hasn't been noted elsewhere. There, the largest head-scratchers are obviously putting the Crown Investment Corporation and several Crown corporations in the hands of brand-new minister Tim McMillan at a time when the Sask Party is rightly facing a barrage of criticism over its complete politicization of the Crowns, and leaving Don McMorris in charge of Health despite his many failures this spring.

But perhaps more noteworthy is Wall's overall framing of the shuffle - including the addition of new ministers this late in his mandate - as being about "building capacity and experience" for his party's MLAs. After all the bad press he's faced this spring due in large part to glaring mistakes by cabinet ministers, one would think Wall's top priority would be to start getting a handle on the job of governing, not shuffling as many members as he can into cabinet. And those of us who see our province as more than a training ground for the use of the Sask Party would seem to have plenty of reason to wonder just when it is that Wall plans to fit "competent government" into his goals.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On lost credibility

In case Toronto Chief of Police Bill Blair hadn't embarrassed himself enough already, the Globe and Mail's Jill Mahoney calls BS on his ill-advised weapons display/garage sale:
Chief Blair said the objects represented just some of the evidence police collected. The display did not include flammable items, such as Molotov cocktails, several of which were seized by officers during the weekend.

The items, which were laid out on several tables in the lobby of Toronto Police headquarters, include gas masks, cans of spray paint, a replica gun, crowbars, saws, pocket knives, a staple gun, a drill, a baseball bat, a slingshot, chains, bear spray, dog repellent, handcuffs and bows and arrows. Some of the arrows had their pointy ends covered with fabric, which officers said were designed to be dipped in a flammable liquid and lit ablaze.

However, the “weapons” included items not normally considered dangerous, including skateboard and bicycle helmets, bandanas, golf balls, tennis balls, bamboo poles, goggles, rope, plastic tubes and walkie talkies. The police also laid out several notebooks and shields depicting red clenched fists, a resistance symbol.

In addition, some of the items presented to the media were not seized by protesters. A car search last Friday netted a cross bow and chain saw but they were not determined to be G20 related, and no charges were laid. When this was pointed out, Chief Blair acknowledged the items should not have been displayed but said “everything else” was seized from summit protesters.

However, police also included objects taken from a Whitby, Ont., man who was heading to a role playing fantasy game in Centennial Park Saturday morning. As was reported by the Globe on Saturday, Brian Barrett, 25, was stopped at Union Station for wearing chain mail and carrying a bag with an archery bow, shield and graphite swords. His jousting gear was seized by police, but was on display Tuesday, even though he was not charged and police told a Globe reporter it was a case of bad timing.
Sadly, it doesn't sound like that additional falsehood was pointed out at today's press conference. But the more Blair claims "but everything I've said is true except what you've just proven to be false!", the less anybody will be able to take anything he says seriously. And that looks to be particularly damaging with the calls for a full inquiry into the summit debacle growing by the hour.

Lies upon lies

There's rightfully been plenty of outcry about Bill Blair's smug declaration that Toronto's police pulled a fast one on the public by conjuring up a "five-metre rule" which didn't actually exist. But the truth is a bit more complex than that - and Blair's admitted lies to the public only make the actual law all the more indefensible.

It's true that if one parses the wording of the regulation carefully enough, the "five-metre" language in Schedule 2 applies only to areas "within the area described in Schedule 1", referring to the fenced-in area.

But as I pointed out earlier, it's also true that the law involved declares that a court is required to take the word of a provincial official as to the boundaries of a "public work":
For the purposes of this Act, the statement under oath of an officer or employee of the government, board, commission, municipal or other corporation or other person owning, operating or having control of a public work, as to the boundaries of the public work is conclusive evidence thereof.
So under the law as written, it didn't much matter where the actual boundaries were. So long as a member of a police force was willing to testify that a protester (or any other person) was located within the boundaries of a public work, a court would have no choice but to accept that statement as fact. Or in other words: for all intents and purposes, Blair's lies (whether of omission or commission) became the law.

From there, Blair's statement today serves only to rub the public's face in the fact that the Public Works Protection Act puts civil liberties entirely at the mercy of a police department which has no compunction about misleading its citizens. And while it may be all too true that the law as drafted allows for civil liberties to be suspended on the whim of public officials, hopefully today's news will result both in severe discipline for the decision-makers responsible, and a closer look at whether such laws can possibly be justified.

Update: Vanessa Long makes the same point.

(Edit: fixed wording; added links.)

Tuesday Morning Links

- Linda McQuaig's column noting the price being paid in cash and in freedom by ordinary Canadians for the Cons' elite summits may not be as strong as Naomi Klein's. But her analogy to hockey riots is an important one in a couple of ways not discussed by McQuaig.

On the one hand, it highlights the fact that politics have something close to zero impact on the type of vandalism that takes place under both circumstances. In effect, the recipe for destruction is a large crowd plus intense emotion - and it doesn't matter whether the source of the latter has any political basis or not.

That leads to the other important point to be drawn from the analogy, in the form of the response from defenders of the police state.

Nobody would dare to proclaim guilt by association among, say, all Montreal Canadiens fans for creating the circumstances in which hooliganism emerges in a sports riot. But plenty of reactionary commentators are quick to throw blame at citizens who protest peacefully - or people who associate with peaceful protesters through unions or community organizations - or even individuals who happen on the scene of a protest by going about their daily lives - where that suits the purposes of the state in trying to discredit the idea of public protest.

As a result, the group lumped together as unlawful by the Cons is a combination of politically-active Canadians and Torontonians as a whole. And there's every reason for that group to stand together in setting the record straight and standing up for citizens' rights and freedoms.

- Meanwhile, Jeffrey Simpson is the latest to slam the Cons' dumb on crime policies. And with the combination of the high-priced G8/G20 summit and hugely expensive crime posturing making news at the same time, now might be the perfect moment for an opposition message asking "can Canada afford more of Stephen Harper?"

- And on that point, James Laxer would be one of many to answer "no", based on Harper's damage to the wider economy.

- Finally, some sad news on the local front, as Regina's leading independent bookstore is closing down at the end of July.

Update: While I won't claim to be assembling a comprehensive set of links on the G20 protests, Alice is right to note that Steve Paikin's column is very much worth a read as well.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On review mechanisms

Obviously it's a plus to see the NDP demanding answers to some of the most glaring questions raised by the Harper government's G8/G20 debacle:
Demonstrations are inevitable at events such at the G8 and G20 and downtown Toronto is an extremely challenging area for police to secure. Following the summits, serious questions have been raised about the implementation of security plans.

* Why did the federal government ignore the concerns and suggestions of the local government in holding the summit in downtown Toronto on a weekend?
* Who requested the temporary suspension of basic civil liberties for the duration of the summits? And why was this done in secret?
* What role did federal officials play in the Integrated Security Unit in policing the summit?
* Will the government compensate Toronto for the damage that Harper’s summits have caused?

“The estimated billion dollar budget for security should have been Harper’s first clue that downtown Toronto was the wrong place to hold a summit like the G20,” said NDP Public Safety Critic Don Davies (Vancouver-Kingsway). “It’s incumbent on the federal government to work with the Integrated Security Unit, the city of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and all three levels of police forces to find answers to the questions being asked about how strategic decisions were made and the way in which demonstrators and journalists were treated. I will be asking the Public Safety Committee to get to the bottom of these lingering questions and develop a post-summit accountability report.”
But while the NDP looks to be asking the right questions, there are a couple of reasons why it's worth wondering whether the committee system is the best way to get at the truth.

First off, there's the combination of the Cons' invocation of "ministerial responsibility" to avoid questioning of anybody below the cabinet level, and their refusal to have ministers answer questions about anything "operational". Which will almost certainly limit any committee hearings to a battle of political spin rather than an exchange of meaningful information - at least to the extent that witnesses are under the Cons' thumb.

And second, there's the question of what kind of findings and report can be generated. In general, the committee wouldn't figure to be able to go into the level of detail required to completely sort out the competing arguments from the police and protesters. Plus, it's a mortal lock that the Cons would both delay the release of any report, and issue a dissenting opinion praising Stephen Harper to the skies to counterbalance even clear findings from the rest of the committee.

All of which makes this exactly the type of case where the opposition parties should be calling for an independent inquiry to take the most detailed possible look at the evidence available, and reach conclusions that the Cons won't reasonably be able to dispute. And hopefully the Libs and Bloc will share the NDP's determination to get answers about the billion dollars spent to repress Canadians.

Update: Of course, it never hurts to make it known that the public is paying attention to the issue as well. So join the Facebook group calling for an inquiry if you haven't already.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

On safeguards

A spokesflack for Vic Toews tries to explain why we shouldn't be the least bit worried about the Harper government handing passenger information to the U.S. even for flights which don't land there:
The United States has agreed to erase after seven days, passenger information "that is confirmed to not be linked with terrorism."
Which should be highly reassuring on a couple of fronts. After all, who wouldn't be completely pleased with the U.S. seeking whatever additional information it wants about all Canadian passengers and everybody they're linked to in order to "confirm" a negative before erasing any information?

And more importantly, who would doubt for a second that anybody saddled with a false positive will get a fair shake in trying to clear their name, both from the U.S. and Canada?

Monday, June 28, 2010

The reviews are in

Hassan Arif takes Michael Ignatieff to task for the Libs' latest move to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan:
Even the ostensibly hawkish Conservatives have set 2011 as the time to withdraw troops from (Afghanistan). Therefore, it is baffling that the Liberals would actually try to out-hawk the Conservatives on this issue by calling for an extension of Canada's involvement beyond 2011, even a limited one.

However, that is what Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has done. He has called for a limited extension of the mission beyond 2011, in particular keeping troops there in a "training" capacity. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government have shot back, opposing the extension and actually outflanking the Liberals on the anti-war front, something that is a winner with a war-weary public.
Mr. Ignatieff's potential to articulate a vision for his party and for his country are not being capitalized upon. Rather than an intellectual, he seems more a faltering politician. Ill-considered decisions, such as supporting a limited extension of the Afghanistan mission, do not help the party with progressive voters (not to mention being just plain wrong, given the bog that Afghanistan has become).

Both Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberal Party can do better.

On silver linings

There's no doubt about the need for some serious investigation into the security plan for the G8 and C20 summits, with Matt Gurney making a particularly important point as to the apparent goal:
Major Western cities, during international conferences, are probably the most secure places in the world, but — paradoxically — they achieve this security by becoming strangely lawless. It’s as if the police have reached an unspoken agreement with the most violent fringe of the mobs: Riot all you want, smash windows, hurl rocks, engage in any number of behaviours that would normally get you arrested and locked away. We’re fine with that. Just don’t get near the President.
But what about the outcome of the leaders' summits themselves?

While there's plenty worth criticizing about the subjects that were left off the agenda or paid lip service at best, it's worth wondering whether the Cons' push against meaningful agreement may prove to have been a blessing in disguise. After all, with the summits largely focused on policies ranging from the pointless to the disastrous, it may be that the best we can say is that at least the countries involved don't have any obligation to do much of anything in response to the leaders' mealy-mouthed statements.

Awaiting the inevitable

Needless to say, the Star is absolutely right to call for an inquiry into the Harper Cons' G8/G20 fiasco. But can there be any doubt that the Cons are readying their talking points about how we can't afford a few million dollars to get answers about how they frittered away over a billion?

I stand corrected

Having recently recalled the Libs' usual philosophy of "do nothing by halves which can be done by quarters", I'll take a moment to add an important exception. Shorter Lib senators following their House of Commons counterparts in pushing through the Cons' dumpster budget bill on Stephen Harper's schedule:

Capitulate never by halves / when it can be done in full while pleading "thank you, sir, may I have another?".

Sunday, June 27, 2010

On thuggery

Without belabouring the point, now might be a great time for a reminder that since the Cons took power, there's been exactly one case of politically-motivated vandalism in Canada which wasn't immediately condemned by all parties. That of course took place in December 2008, when a Con MP declared in response to the firebombing of one of NDP MP Nathan Cullen's signs that Cullen "had it coming". And there's been no indication that the Cons have ever made the slightest effort to ensure that either the MP involved or the thugs who they supported faced any justice for their actions.

So as in so many other cases (such as years of criticism of the "Liberal culture of entitlement" where their only objection in practice seems to have been the "Liberal" part), the Cons' real beef with anarchist vandals seems to be that their destruction isn't dedicated to the greater glory of Stephen Harper and his party.

On message control

Brian Topp, Simple Massing Priest and others are absolutely right in pointing out that violence and vandalism have the disastrous effect of turning what would otherwise be an effective, peaceful protest against corporatist policymaking into the type of destructive scene that's played out in Toronto. And there's no doubt that we should work to ensure that the individuals and groups who carried out those actions are held accountable under the law.

But it's not hard to take the observation a step further, and note that the "forces of reaction" are equally aware of the effect of the few who go too far on their own interests. And with virtually all sides in agreement that the "extremist protesters" message serves the purposes of those seeking to discredit and control the thousands of citizens peacefully exercising their right of free speech and association, one of the most important questions to be asked coming out of this weekend's events is that of what security forces may have done (or failed to do) in order to encourage the development of exactly that narrative.

The reviews are in

James Travers points out that the obvious inaccuracy of the Cons' spin about their G8/G20 fiasco only invites the scrutiny of their wider record that they absolutely can't afford:
The Prime Minister is missing another opportunity. No recent summit made a louder case for ostentatious austerity. None has been as synonymous with profligate spending.

From fake lakes to a welcome stone, federal Conservatives have been dripping anecdotal acid on Canada’s credibility as the post-crash model.
A closer look should also make Conservatives squirm. Four record spending budgets coupled with vote-buying decisions to cut the GST put this country on track for deficits well before the global financial system imploded. Stimulating the country out of recession merely dug the hole deeper.

Much of this would have slipped past unnoticed if Conservatives hadn’t tripped over their own best laid plans. By failing to correct obvious and continuing weakness in the security system, particularly within the cultish and dysfunctional RCMP, Harper helped perpetuate conditions where top cops—remember Giuliano Zaccardelli?—and senior spooks run rogue. By letting the summits spiral out of cost control, the Prime Minister drew both international and domestic attention to the extravagance of a government that proselytizes restraint.

On familiar tactics

For those wondering whether Brad Wall's HST letter in the Star-Phoenix should offer any comfort to Saskatchewan citizens who don't want to see the province's tax structure altered to benefit corporations at their expense, let's take a look at what he has to say:
(A harmonized sales tax) would extend the PST tax base to a broad range of goods and services that are presently exempt from the provincial sales tax...

Such items that are currently PST-exempt include energy-efficient appliances, membership fees for clubs and gyms, newspapers and magazines, taxi fares, restaurant food and the professional services of architects and accountants. This is a major concern.

The harmonized GST would make it harder for future provincial governments to lower or raise sales tax rates, which reduces flexibility. In short, a harmonized GST is not something that is contemplated in the B.C. Liberal platform.
Oops, wrong HST response. But it still says plenty about how seriously we should take Wall's words:
Our government is not of the orthodoxy that the HST must be the No. 1 priority in a jurisdiction that needs to do more work on competitive personal and corporate tax rates, as well as lower property taxes.

Moreover, the discord fomented over HST implementation and all the attendant exemptions, credits and tinkering to make it politically palatable highlight the comparative efficacy of tax reform in other areas.

The discord and tax burden shift resulting from an HST do not fit with (the Sask Party government's) objectives.
If anything, one can find far more of a principled objection to the HST in the B.C. Libs' campaign statement (which was of course fully inoperative within a matter of weeks). Wall doesn't say for a second that he disagrees with the principle of making citizens pay more for the benefit of corporations - only that he doesn't want to deal with the political consequences of pushing it through, and figures he can do as much to make the tax system more regressive in other ways without the same backlash.

What's more, if Wall's lone reason for not harmonizing immediately is the question of whether it's "politically palatable", then it's worth keeping in mind that the political calculations involved might change radically by December 2011 if he figures that any anger will die down by the following election. And even though Campbell's similar conclusion has proven to be spectacularly wrong, it's entirely plausible that Wall might still figure that he can get away with the HST in the absence of the petition and recall processes that have kept the issue alive in British Columbia.

In sum, Wall's letter looks to be just one more example of his slightly tweaking the Campbell playbook to get to the same end result, rather than representing any reason for optimism that he'll avoid imposing harmonization on a province that's already definitively rejected it once before. And unlike their B.C. counterparts, Saskatchewan voters will have only one chance to send the message that they're not about to accept an HST.