Saturday, July 10, 2010

Saturday Afternoon Links

- The Harper Cons' strategy of perpetual reannouncements has reached the point where they're claiming credit for Mulroney-era policies rather than keeping their promises to cut oil subsidies. Next up: answering criticism of their attacks on women's programs by pointing to universal suffrage.

- It's worth noting that the Saskatchewan NDP is using a fairly sharp description of Brad Wall as a "sell out" to headline one of its press releases - and even more so that this time, the Sask Party doesn't seem to be responding in kind. And that raises a question which may largely determine the direction of the province's political conversation for the next year and a half: is this a one-time calculation by the Sask Party that now isn't the moment to push back, or have they decided they're better off not talking about what damaging labels might fit their leader?

- Meanwhile, outside analysts may not be using the words "sell out", but they aren't exactly pleased with a flood aid plan that figures to fall well short of covering farmers' costs.

- CanWest's Shanon Proudfoot takes a look at the feedback received by Statistics Canada on the last census - which not surprisingly, couldn't be further from the Cons' spin about privacy concerns with the long form.

- From the "our standards don't apply to ourselves" department which seems to hold so many Saskatchewan political conversations: Saskatoon's city manager is explicitly seeking out projects to wedge into a P3 model just so the city can say it's pursuing them. Which means that naturally, Saskatoon's mayor is criticizing anybody who disagrees with that "must have P3s!!!" approach as unduly ideological.

- Jeff nicely documents Stephen Harper's growing list of unsuccessful candidates who have won patronage appointments to the Senate. But it's worth linking that list to the Cons' coalition rhetoric and their attempts to block bills passed by the House of Commons: why does Stephen Harper think that no less than eight hand-picked "losers" have the right to kill bills passed by the democratically-elected House of Commons?

- Finally, the Afghan detainee document panel has managed to reach new depths in futility, as MPs are now wasting their time reviewing records even before any "eminent jurists" has been appointed to the panel which will get the final say over every single document. But let's give the Libs this much for their strategy: their naming of Stephane Dion to the panel looks fairly astute at least to the extent that he probably wouldn't be able to do much else useful on the summer BBQ circuit anyway, while the Cons' choice of Laurie Hawn may actually affect their ability to hold a riding that's being fiercely contested.

On polar opposites

Of course, there's plenty of cringe-worthy material in the Globe and Mail's plea of "Please, Corn Cob Kory, don't hurt us!!!". But one passage particularly cries out for demolition:
Mr. Teneycke's grandparents were dyed-in-the wool supporters of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a precursor to the NDP, while their grandson has moved from the Progressive Conservatives to Reform, the Saskatchewan Party, the Ontario Tories under Mike Harris and the Harper government. Yet Mr. Teneycke doesn't consider this such a jump from the old-time CCF.

“It wasn't about running deficits(.) They were fighting rail monopolies and eastern banks; they were standing for a very traditional set of values and protecting the little guy.”
So let's take a look at the scorecard for the Harper Cons compared to the exact opposite of the values Teneycke rightly associates with the CCF/NDP.

Running record deficits? Check.
Fighting for rail monopolies against farmers? Check.
Fighting for eastern banks against the "little guy"? A thousand times check.

Naturally, I'd be entirely happy if Teneycke had the slightest interest in putting genuine CCF values into a modern context. But nobody should be fooled into thinking that the Cons are anything but Canada's most fervent political opponents of each and every one of them - so as long as Teneycke is shilling on behalf of the Harper government, his attempt to claim the CCF's populist legacy deserves to be laughed out of the building.

The reviews are in

I wouldn't have even thought to comment on Stephen Harper's usual media avoidance during his Yorkton photo-op - which may say something about how radically he's managed to distort any expectations about public accountability for Canada's government. But the Leader-Post editorial board nicely ties yesterday's stop into Harper's general refusal to step outside his bubble of cult Conservatives:
(I)t's not just reporters Harper seems to loathe. It's anyone who appears to question him.

Remember when former Prince Albert Tory MP Brian Fitzpatrick suggested in 2006 that there might be a political price to pay if Harper didn't honour his election promise to exclude Saskatchewan's non-renewable resources from equalization? On Harper's next visit to Regina, Fitzpatrick was literally left outside the tent at a party gathering and early in 2007 he announced he was not running again.

In Parliament, when Harper tires of opposition parties asking awkward questions and demanding accountability, he shuts the place down by proroguing.

There are those who think Harper is just doing his job as he sees fit and has no obligation to talk to the media. These are the same supporters who wonder why Harper often gets poor press.

Being prime minister entails communicating with Canadians -- and not just via photo ops and sterile news releases. Yorkton was yet another lost opportunity.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Musical interlude

Wide Mouth Mason - My Old Self

Abject failure will not deter us

One of Stephen Harper's appointees to the Senate has bitten the hand that picked him.

Richard Neufeld stunned colleagues in the chamber of sober second thought Wednesday by announcing he's had, well, second thoughts about the prime minister's cherished dream of creating an elected Senate.
Indeed, Neufeld has become a big booster of the current unelected Senate.
All of Harper's appointees to the Senate were supposed to support two of the prime minister's most cherished initiatives — to create an elected upper house and impose eight-year term limits on senators.

Neufeld said he supports term limits but the Senate election bill is "neither workable nor effective."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Friday he's appointing Salma Ataullahjan to fill the vacancy left by Michael Pitfield, who retired several weeks ago.
The statement also notes Ataullahjan pledged to support the government's legislation to limit Senate tenure and to allow provinces to elect their senators.

Trickle down

Shorter David Akin and linked corporate economists:

Oh noes!!!! The flow of stimulus has gone so far as to arguably reach...(gasp)...the common worker! Shut off the taps! SHUT OFF THE TAPS!!!

On democratic diversity

Saskatoon Riversdale MLA Danielle Chartier provides a strong response to Murray Mandryk's column on female candidates within the Saskatchewan NDP. And while there's no doubt that the party has a long ways to go, there's reason for optimism based on both the strategy already in place and the recognition that diverse representation is essential to good government:
Across Canada, political parties of all stripes are not doing enough to ensure that our legislatures and Parliament are more reflective of the diversity of our provinces and our country. We need to elect more women, First Nations and Métis people, people of colour, people with disabilities, and people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

This is not about diversity for its own sake. This is about ensuring all perspectives are brought to the decision-making table so that public policy actually addresses the needs of all citizens.
(A)ll four (Saskatchewan NDP) leadership candidates reaffirmed their commitment to nominating and electing more women. Promising, yes, but problematic, as there was still no strategy in place. The dialogue continues under our leader, Dwain Lingenfelter, and I am pleased there is now a strategy in place to support and develop women candidates for nomination in 2011 and beyond.

I believe this multi-faceted strategy to elect more women is a step in the right direction. Is it going to get us to 50 per cent women nominated in 2011? Perhaps not, but the recent nominations in Regina South and Regina Coronation Park have re-ignited within the party as a whole the much-needed dialogue on how we get there.

The strategy includes formal mentorship of all female candidates. This may be controversial to some, as MLAs have traditionally distanced themselves from nominations. But the words of Albert Einstein are particularly relevant here: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

If we want to nominate and elect more women (and more First Nations and Métis people, people of colour, people with disabilities, people from the LGBT community), and we have not had the desired success thus far, we need to do things differently.
Of course, there's room for discussion as to what the NDP's candidate diversity strategy actually should include. And the recent nomination races offer some fodder for discussion on both sides of the question of whether a combination of mentoring and explicit focus on diversity will get the job done.

To be sure, the fact that two strong female candidates fell short in their campaigns has to be a major concern for the party. But there's more to the story than that.

After all, in Regina Coronation Park it was a candidate who spoke strongly about his immigrant background who won a race featuring three diversity candidates. So while the end result may have made for a disappointment from a gender parity standpoint, it can't be seen as a negative when it comes to the NDP's goal of assembling a more diverse and representative caucus.

What's more, while the female candidates came up short in both nomination races, it's worth noting that the one who placed a much more direct focus on gender representation as an issue achieved substantially better results. And that may signal the value of highlighting the NDP's commitment to diversity and the role a candidate can play in it, rather than counting on members to pick up on the issue for themselves.

Fortunately, there are plenty of nominations left for the NDP to learn from recent events and encourage strong candidates of all kinds of backgrounds. And hopefully the continued discussion of the need for diversity will encourage candidates and potential supporters alike to maintain it as a primary focus as the party puts together its slate of candidates for 2011.

The obvious deal

Following up on yesterday's post about the future of the Cons' dumpster budget bill in the Senate, here's one simple suggestion: what if the opposition majority agrees to make a regular practice of "bow(ing) to the will of the elected Commons, which has already approved the bill" just as soon as the Cons do the same?

Potemkin aid

It may not be news to those of us in Canada that the Harper Cons are far more interested in making big announcements than in following through on them. But six months after its devastating earthquake, Haiti is apparently learning the hard way to make sure to get the cheque while the cameras are rolling.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

On distant threats

Before anybody panics too much about the Cons' latest election threat, it's worth keeping in mind the process that their dumpster budget would have to go through before that possibility could materialize.

As noted in Gloria Galloway's coverage of the Senate Finance Committee's fully-justified decision to carve out some of the more gratuitously non-budgetary parts of the bill, the Cons have thus far managed to get their way in the full Senate - meaning that they can simply vote down the committee's amendments and pass the bill in full, dog's breakfast and all:
(T)he bill will go back to the Senate as a whole for final reading with those portions removed.

The Conservatives could, at that point, vote to have them re-installed. The Liberals and the independents combined hold the barest of majorities in the Red Chamber but they have not been able to get enough bodies in the seats to stop the Conservatives from pushing the bill through.
Moreover, even if the third-reading vote becomes the first one where the Senate opposition is able to use its majority, it's worth questioning whether the Cons's spin as to what would come next makes any particular sense. If the Senate does return the bill with the committee's deletions, then the House of Commons would effectively have two choices: it could either pass the bill as amended by the Senate, or junk the bill up again and send it back to the Senate.

But I'd argue that the Cons' case to push the latter would be more difficult than what they've faced so far with the dumpster bill. In effect, having pushed the bill forward by trumpeting the importance of its budgetary measures, they'd then have to hold hostage every economic initiative they claim to care about in order to add the extra provisions back in. Which means that they'd be relatively likely to simply pass the amended bill if the Libs were to hold up long enough to press the point.

Again, I don't actually expect that to happen: most likely either the Cons will strike a deal with the Libs in the Senate to let through a private member's bill or two in exchange for getting the budget passed, or the Libs will blink on a third-reading showdown. But even if the Senate follows through with the amended bill, we'd still be a long way from any election other than one of the Cons' choice. And if Harper is determined to go to the polls, we should know by now that it doesn't matter whether or not he has a stalled confidence bill to use as an excuse.

On priorities

Just so we're clear: the Harper government's contribution in response to the worst flooding in Canadian history, washing out a third of Saskatchewan's farmland, is less than what they were willing to spend on half a day's worth of G20 rent-a-cops.

Suffice it to say that this doesn't exactly improve the perception that the Cons continue to take Saskatchewan for granted.

On preconditions

I don't think there's much room for disagreement with the consensus that David Johnston is as positive a nominee for Governor-General as we could hope for. But it's worth a reminder that he's been put in the position by a Prime Minister who's made a public spectacle of demanding that potential public officials commit to supporting his political interests before they're appointed - however unenforceable those promises turn out to be.

So now would be the time to ask: did Harper ask for and receive any pledges from Johnston about future decisions before appointing him as the Governor-General who may determine the fate of his government?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

The reviews are in

The Leader-Post editorial board is none too happy with the Wall government's slashing of funding to the Wascana Centre Authority:
The province axed $600,000 in funding to Wascana Centre in its March budget, just two days before announcing formation of the Office of the Provincial Capital Commission to promote and preserve "distinctive heritage and cultural entities in the capital city" Wascana Centre.

With nine fewer seasonal workers hired as a result, don't be surprised to see more weeds and uncut lawns in the 2,300-acre park this summer or more trash lying around. Crumbling roads won't get fixed, either.

But the cutbacks don't end there: the centre's only full-time constable was laid off and its six part-time constables are working fewer hours. In addition, long-planned improvements are being scaled back and event organizers were hit with a wide range of fee increases this spring.
The authority has been politely understanding about the cutbacks and it is to be commended for pursuing public and corporate donations, but that doesn't mean the province can be let off the hook...

By creating the capital commission, the government raised expectations that Wascana Centre -- along with other important institutions like Government House and the Saskatchewan Archives -- could look forward to solid support. The reverse has proven true.
Perhaps if Wascana Centre Authority allowed the lawns around the "Marble Palace" to grow knee-high and weeds to take over the flower beds in front of it, the government might quickly realize there is a price to pay for neglecting this prairie oasis generations fought hard to build.

Nobody could have predicted...

...that Stephen Harper's hand-picked Senators might decide they don't particularly mind a permanent, accountability-free appointment once they've come to enjoy its benefits.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Deep thought

I eagerly await the Conservatives' declaration that the only problem with the federal do-not-call list is a need for higher fines that offenders can continue to ignore.

On pressure points

There's been loads of backlash against the Cons' short-sighted attack on Canada's census, with the Libs going so far as to send up a trial balloon about legislative changes to require mandatory long forms. But this looks to be one case where the best course of action is to put pressure directly on the Cons, rather than to seek legislative change now or later.

That's in part because there's no prospect of actually making any changes in legislation in time to help without the Cons' support. Based on the few private members' bills which have become law over the past few years, the timeline to get a bill passed over the Cons' objections looks to be in the range of one to two years. And that's for a bill passing through the House of Commons with a privileged position in the Parliamentary lottery, and before the Cons' impending Senate majority takes hold this fall.

So there's no reason to think that the legislation actually can be changed in time for the 2011 census without a concurrent change in government (which would presumably make the point moot). But it's also worth asking whether legislation is the best way to deal with the issue in the first place.

I'd see two options to require a mandatory long form, but both would come with obvious drawbacks. A bill which prescribes the contents of the long form would make it more difficult for Statistics Canada to amend the form based on new or changing factors, while one which simply creates a requirement for a separate long form with contents to be determined could easily be turned into a farce by the Cons. (Remember how the Libs' "quarterly reports" on economic management turned into a political infomercial? Just wait until the Cons use their discretion to feature mandatory multiple-choice questions like "How great is Prime Minister Stephen Harper?" and "To what degree does Michael Ignatieff think it's all about himself?".)

Simply put, leaving the census form in the hands of Statistics Canada is the best way to deal with any circumstances other than the government of vandals currently afflicting the country. And legislative changes will either create new problems or offer another chance for the Cons to make a mockery of the value of census data.

Fortunately, there should be a realistic prospect of getting the Cons to reverse their decision - particularly by emphasizing some of their own constituencies which are hurt by the move. Sure, the anti-science Cons may not care in the slightest if they permanently gut the resources available to other levels of government and social scientists. But all indications are that they've completely failed to recognize that Canadian business also stands to be hurt by the loss of accurate information for the purposes of demographic weighting - and pressure on that front would figure to have a strong chance of forcing a change in course, particularly in the absence of anybody taking any particularly strong position to defend it.

So for the Libs and other opposition parties, the proper response is to challenge the Cons' decision directly, not merely hint at future interest in undoing the change. And if they join the business, municipal and academic communities in calling for action, there's reason for hope that this is one of the few decisions that the Cons can actually be persuaded to reverse.

The reviews are in

Frances Russell tears into Michael Ignatieff for his regressive instincts, and points out that the Libs figure to have nothing but trouble pretending to offer an alternative to the Cons because of them:
(Ignatieff is) losing because his default instinct is always right-wing.

He showcases himself as the inheritor not just of the Liberalism of Trudeau, but of Lester B. Pearson, the prime minister who created Canada's social safety net with nation-building programs such as medicare, the Canada Assistance Plan and the Canada Pension Plan. And he has even floated his own nation-building ideas: an east-west power grid; a national oil pipeline to service Quebec and the Maritimes; national child care and early learning; free university education for everyone with the marks.

But they are never fleshed out past the headline and often vanish completely. And when he is confronted with real challenges or opportunities to support or advance bedrock Liberal principles and policies, Ignatieff invariably drops the ball. When Quebec's 2010 budget announced plans to impose a universal health tax and floated the idea of user fees, Ignatieff not only wasn't critical, he wrongly claimed both conformed to the Canada Health Act.
"'I don't recall one instance this weekend when someone said, here's the problem, the solution is a big expensive government program. Didn't hear it. Didn't hear it,'" Adams reports Ignatieff said (after his thinkers' conference). "He obviously hadn't been listening," Adams writes. "Moreover, even those social policy objectives Ignatieff did enumerate turned out to be subject to a higher priority: eliminating the deficit. By making the deficit his overriding priority, he made jobs, education, health care, day care, pensions, and so on, secondary: a wish list for another day."

And there was more. Ignatieff insisted no new spending would occur unless funds were specifically identified, ensuring the deficit would not rise, Adams says. The Liberal leader also told delegates: "We are not a big government party; we are the party of the network." Adams believes this means the Liberals will just convene federal-provincial conferences and hope the provinces can work things out.

Ignatieff's leadership has "demagnetized" the Liberal party, Adams warns. It no longer can rally the anti-Harper vote. "Most Canadians who give up on the Tories go right past the Liberals to the NDP, the Bloc (Québécois) or, in particular, to the Greens," he concludes.

On due diligence

Shorter Don Morgan:

Hiring independent officers of the legislature is haaaaaaaaaaard. Can't we just agree to pick names out of a hat?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Burning question

Many of us will be hoping Dr. Dawg is right in theorizing that John Pruyn's story will be the last straw in the eyes of the public when it comes to evaluating the actions of the security forces in Toronto at the time of the G20 summit. (And the story should also serve as important inspiration for the rallies set to take place next week.)

But can it take long before the reactionary right starts declaring that having wandered out among the heathens with a prosthesis, Pruyn had it coming?

On wilful blindness

Shorter David Frum:

What's this world coming to when the most powerful country on the planet won't stubbornly prevent the rest of the globe from recognizing well-known facts in order to further the interests of a single ally?

On disaster response

Once again, Murray Mandryk is being too generous in suggesting that a single outburst of federal recognition of Saskatchewan's needs can make up for years of neglect as the Harper Cons have sought to buy a majority elsewhere. But his latest suggestion would at least represent a meager first step in making up for what Saskatchewan has lost from having both a provincial government and 13 federal MPs more interested in doing Stephen Harper's bidding than listening to their constituents:
For too long now, Wall has allowed Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the local Conservative MPs to take this province for granted -- largely because what Saskatchewan has requested from Ottawa has always been considerably less pressing than the disaster relief that is needed.

This is something neither Wall nor the province can continue to tolerate. If it wasn't worth going to battle with Ottawa over unfair equalization, infrastructure spending or support for the province's future economic initiatives, surely now is the time for Wall to call in his markers with Harper on flood assistance. Wall must demonstrate leadership by standing up to Harper and refusing to take no as an answer.
(Edit: fixed wording.)

The reviews are in

The Chronicle Herald lends its voice to the cause of reversing the Harper and Charest governments' shameful insistence on exporting asbestos even while acknowledging that it's not fit for use at home:
Not surprisingly, there’s virtually no use of asbestos in construction anymore in this country.

But for many years, Canada, to its shame, has led an ugly and hypocritical campaign to keep asbestos markets open wherever possible worldwide. Worse, Canada has even fought to keep information on the abundant dangers of asbestos from being distributed — via the UN-sponsored Rotterdam Convention — to countries importing the substance. More than 50 countries have banned the use of asbestos.
As the Quebec government pondered a $58-million loan guarantee to revive an old asbestos mine, a group of international health experts issued a stinging rebuke to governments worldwide that have failed to ban the material, despite "overwhelming agreement" that no safe level of exposure exists. It was published last week in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The politics behind continued production — entirely in Quebec — and export of asbestos is killing people.

Alternative explanations

Chrystal rightly points out that the drop in Canadian voter turnout in 2008 looks to have been largely centred in the 45-74 age range, signalling unusual disengagement by a set of voters which would normally be relatively active. But while I agree with her view that a more proportional system would be a plus generally, I'm not sure we can blame the same electoral system that a voter would have been familiar with for upwards of half of his or her life for a sudden dropoff in that age range.

Instead, I'd think there are two more obvious explanations as to how it's that group in particular that decided not to vote.

First off, there's the issue of partisan attachments in the context of a woefully weak Liberal campaign. For younger voters turned off by Stephane Dion's frailties and the lack of party support behind him, the lack of a long-term voting pattern would seem to make it comparatively easier to look to an alternative. But those who had been voting Liberal for decades may have been more likely to stay home rather than supporting the NDP or the Greens - and all indications are that Libs supporters did so in droves.

But that isn't a full explanation either since turnout was down for all parties but the Greens. And that leaves the possible effect of the new voter identification rules imposed by the Cons, Libs and Bloc.

My first impression would have been that the voters most affected would likely be found in the oldest and youngest cohorts where they'd be less likely to have all of the required ID. But that doesn't seem to have been a problem for voters 75+, who actually made up the lone group which increased its turnout from 2006. So could it be that the greatest effect of the new ID requirements was to restrict the turnout among older working Canadians who may have figured that it wasn't worth the trouble to go to the polls?

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bending the facts

One of the major stories in U.S. politics today has been the Economist's manipulation of a photo of Barack Obama on its cover to make him appear more solitary. And particularly considering that the source image itself reflects Obama's willingness to be photographed by media outlets in an environment that wasn't image-sanitized for his benefit, there's plenty of reason for concern about the tactic.

But based on Canada's experience with the Harper Cons, it's worth noting that there may be some circumstances where that's exactly the best way to make up for the dishonest presentation of a leader by an all-controlling government. Keep in mind what the media is up against in trying to pick up any semblance of "reality" from the Cons:
Ms. Buzzetti pointed to one incident in which a group of smiling Cabinet ministers were snapped by the Prime Minister's official photographer when they were about to chow down on seal meat during a trip to the Arctic.

Journalists on the trip were prevented from documenting the seal sampling themselves and instead given the official handout photo, she said.

"They wanted us to have this nice slick picture of them all smiling and saying, 'Mmm, seal is good. Look at us, international community; we like seal in Canada'....The risk, of course, is we would have seen some Cabinet minister not trying it because they're disgusted by it," said Ms. Buzzetti. "The impact is that you don't have the real proof. You have propaganda."
With that in mind, let's ask the question: should Canadian media be less shy about altering images of a government which limits the media to pre-selected photos chosen to reflect its desired image, rather than anything approaching reality?


Shorter Tony Clement:

We demand equal coverage for the tin-foil hat crowd!

On non-disclosure

I won't try to summarize Joe's latest post, since his research documenting a completely opaque decision-making process surrounding Saskatoon infrastructure among all three levels of government deserves a full read. But there are a couple of points that strike me as particularly worthy of some further investigation.

First, there's the provincial government's choice not to develop an infrastructure plan that was promised both to the federal government and to the people of Saskatchewan. And it doesn't look like they're even pretending to have an explanation for the failure:
In a letter dated June 28, 2010, highways and infrastructure deputy minister Rob Penny wrote: “You are correct in identifying the Canada-Saskatchewan Infrastructure Framework Agreement requires the province develop an infrastructure plan. The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure is tasked with the preparation of the required plan; to date the ministry has not completed nor looked to implement a Saskatchewan Infrastructure Plan.”

Penny did not explain why.

The news that there will be no long-term infrastructure plan is surprising given that the Wall government told the people of Saskatchewan there would be one.

In its 2008-09 annual report, Highways and Infrastructure had this to say: “The Ministry initiated the development of the Saskatchewan Infrastructure Plan that is a signature document establishing a comprehensive infrastructure plan for Saskatchewan.”

However, there is no mention of the initiative in the ministry’s plan for 2009-10. What happened to it is a mystery.
Now, it's probably too late for a useful plan to be developed on at least one level, since infrastructure money under the federal stimulus program doesn't figure to be available for any more new projects. But even if the media has been thoroughly scooped by Joe on the story generally, a few follow-ups as to what happened to the plan and when it might be developed for provincial purposes would appear to be in order.

Second, there's the response by both the city and the federal government to requests for records covering a time period when it's known that many of the major decisions were made:
In February 2010, a freedom of information request was submitted to Infrastructure Canada for copies of any records from November 1, 2008, to December 31, 2008, regarding or relating to the Mendel Art Gallery. This covered the time period the city said discussions were taking place. And yet, on February 25, 2010, Infrastructure Canada advised that it had no records responsive to the request.

In a letter dated March 19, 2010, responding to a freedom of information request, the city clerk noted “that prior to the City’s formal submission of April 9, 2009, there was only informal dialogue between officials of the City and the Province as to the eligibility of the many potential projects that were being considered.” There “was no formal correspondence, merely emails between officials” that the city did not keep copies of.
Now, it comes as news to me that a government organization would be able to declare that records can be withheld simply because they're not "formal". And the fact that the city acknowledges the existence some internal e-mails which have been deleted (which itself would seem inappropriate) suggests that there was at least some paper trail covering the decision.

But based on the combination of answers from the city and the federal government, one has to wonder whether there's a deliberate movement - whether coordinated among different levels of government or not - to avoid keeping track of the decisions being made with our public money. And it's hard not to think that any such efforts have only reinforced each other in a case like this where all three levels of government have been working on the same project.

On international incidents

Even though the Libs and Bloc have capitulated on the means of assessing the Harper government's handling of Afghan torture documents, I'd hope there isn't much doubt left about the plausibility of the Cons' spin seeking to suppress vital information. But for those still looking to test whether the Cons have believed a word they've spoken in trying to cover up key documents, the news that word of Canada's treatment of prisoners has come out in a U.K. courtroom should offer a golden opportunity.

After all, if the Cons genuinely believe that information about detainee treatment has to be covered up due to the need for other countries to trust that their information will be kept secret, then today's news would make for a massive breach of that expectation. So the Cons should be in a full-blown rage at our British allies.

On the other hand, if international relations are simply an excuse to try to shut down public inquiry into a damaging issue, then we'd expect the Cons to downplay today's news in hopes that it'll go away. But that will speak volumes as to whether the publicization of information about detainee treatment is actually seen as affecting information sharing among countries.

Needless to say, the Cons' response so far shouldn't come as much surprise. But let's give them a bit more time to decide whether or not they're prepared to concede that their "international relations" excuse - which figures to play a role in the document review set to happen any month now - has been nonsense from day one.

(Edit: fixed typo, wording.)

Conservative Money Management in Action

I'm not sure what's more disturbing: the fact that the Con government managed to lose $869 million in sole-source contracts in the first place, or the fact that their discovery is being treated as a footnote rather than front-page news. But either way, this looks to be yet another indication that Canada can't afford much more of Stephen Harper.

Time to be counted

The Star Phoenix editorial board slams the Cons for their short-sighted view of the long form census:
It's hard to imagine Industry Minister Tony Clement thought much beyond short-term politics when he unilaterally decided to axe from next year's census the mandatory long form Statistics Canada has used for 35 years to gather detailed information about Canadians.

Mr. Clement conceded he hadn't consulted any of the groups that will be affected -- among them municipal governments that had been working with Statistics Canada to increase accessibility to local data -- before deciding to placate some Canadians who'd complained that the census form was coercive and intrusive.
As anyone with a modicum of knowledge about surveys could have told the minister had he stopped to think things through, he's dead wrong to claim such a self-selecting response system "is a sound method that would beat the issue of concern of degradation of data."

This is little more than anti-intellectualism and political pandering that proves right those critics who have suggested the Conservative government's goal seems to be to discourage Statistics Canada from conducting analytical pieces that may prove politically embarrassing.
Had Mr. Clement consulted with others, he might have been able to come up with a workable solution. But it's apparent that he doesn't care about the long-term ramifications his decision poses for intelligent and informed public policy analysis across Canada as long as it buys the Conservatives a few votes on the fringes.
Fortunately, there's an easy step that Canadians can take to express their own concern about the Cons' push to gut the census. So take a moment to sign the petition calling on the Cons to reverse course.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

More and Better New Democrats

While we're comparing the state of online organizing in Canada and the U.S., let's note one important difference which is fairly surprising considering the seeming amount of organization required to affect political outcomes.

In the U.S., even a single primary can cost as much as an entire Canadian general election, and the scale of money involved in general elections dwarfs what exists in our system. But rather than seeing that as a problem, grassroots online organizations have been able to exert substantial amounts of influence on both. And indeed, Barack Obama's presidential campaign was able to harness small-money donors to swamp both public funding and corporate contributions as a force for change.

In Canada, on the other hand, the dollar amounts needed to radically change the outlook for any given seat should be well within the reach of even a small amount of online political organizing.

For general elections at the federal level, candidate spending caps ensure that nobody can spend more than a high five-figure or low six-figure sum to pursue any seat. And that amount is further reinforced by our electoral financing system: the tax credit system refunds 75% of low-level individual contributions, and the post-election expense rebates cut the real costs to any given candidate by 60%. Which means that a campaign which takes the simple step of borrowing against its expense rebate can run a fully-funded campaign of $80,000 at a real cost of $8,000 to its donors.

For nomination races which represent the best opportunity for change within a party (to the extent they're allowed by party leadership), the credit and rebate systems don't apply. But the cost of nominations as they're currently run is also substantially lower: a few thousand dollars are generally enough to fund the level of operation normally carried out. So again, a relatively modest amount of organization should be able to make a massive difference in outcomes.

The rules may vary at the provincial level, but the dollar amounts would figure to be lower than the ones which apply federally. So in effect, there shouldn't be a single race in Canada where the cost of running a campaign is beyond the reach of our own netroots.

Yet while a few isolated campaigns have tapped into online fund-raising, nobody has made a concerted effort to imitate the Blue America movement to fund progressive challengers within the Democratic Party, nor mirrored the "More and Better Democrats" credo that's driven the most successful progressive blog on the planet. And my sense is that it's time for change on that front.

So beginning in the near future, I'll be introducing a new feature: "More and Better New Democrats", which will provide ongoing placement on Accidental Deliberations (rather than the isolated posts I've sometimes put up in the past) to draw readers' eyes to the candidates who are best positioned to strengthen the NDP in numbers and in principle. The idea will be to provide each candidate with:
- an initial introductory post profiling the candidate and providing links for readers to get involved through donations or volunteering;
- a profile on my sidebar for a fixed period of time (likely a week or a month depending on the level of interest), again with links to donation/volunteering opportunities; and
- a continued sidebar link to the profile as a listed "More and Better New Democrats" candidate as long as the candidate continues to run for the office or nomination involved.

For the most part, I'll try to avoid too much focus on candidates who are already on the NDP's list of targets or provincial equivalents, since the candidates already highlighted by the party figure to have enough organizational heft to run fully-funded campaigns.

Instead, the goal is to identify and promote candidates - at any level of government or organization - who can best improve their ability to make the case for progressive change with a modest amount of exposure outside their core supporters. At levels where the NDP isn't considered a likely potential government, the focus will largely on the "more" part of the equation - while for those where the NDP is in or near power, the "better" aspect will come into play more often as a means of ensuring that future NDP governments include the strongest possible left-wing voices.

Naturally, I have some ideas in mind as to who might get promoted in the future. But I'm wide open to input from candidates and supporters as to who might fit the criteria and why - or indeed how best to describe our goals. So please feel free to leave comments or send e-mails with your suggestions - and hopefully this can serve as a first step toward closing one of the most important gaps between Canadian progressives and our U.S. counterparts.

On narrow interests

Gary Mason slams the B.C. business community's decision to attack the province's HST petition through the courts only after a massive proportion of the province has already made its opposition clear:
For most of his nine years in office, Mr. Campbell has taken criticism for a policy agenda perceived to strongly favour business over unions. The business community has mostly rewarded that loyalty by donating generously to Mr. Campbell’s Liberals, helping to ensure they remain in power.
Now that the anti-HST campaign appears to have more than enough signatures on its petition to get a bill calling for the tax to be repealed introduced in the legislature, the business community has decided to enter the fray. With friends like that…

A coalition of business groups has asked the B.C. Supreme Court to rule the petition drive unconstitutional. The group’s argument is that B.C. does not have the right to quash the federally created HST.
There is a time and place for court challenges. But coming so late in the game, as this one does, looks cheap and undemocratic. It’s moves like this, quite frankly, that give business a bad name. Business leaders were too lazy to get off their duffs and do something when they should have, so now they are going to dig into their bloated wallets and take the easy way out. By going to court.

At this point the move is only going to make matters worse for Mr. Campbell – if that’s possible. The public will look at what the business coalition is doing as an attempt to thwart the will of the people on behalf of a governing party it has always supported.

Sunday Morning Links

- skdadl's post applying G20 security standards to that all-important question, "should I go out today?", is of course a must-read. But I'm surprised skdadl missed one of the most important questions of all: "do you plan to carry or transport any weapons such as rope, tennis balls or books?" Because I'd hate for an unwary citizen to fail to ask that question and end up contributing to Bill Blair's travelling road show.

- Sean Bruyea and Allan Cutler rightly point out that the Cons' stifling of creativity and dissent within the civil service has done far more to hurt the chances of public servants coming up suggestions to improve efficiency than their incentive scheme can possibly do to help:
This government implemented legislation and a Public Service Integrity Commissioner, purportedly to protect whistleblowers in a civil service where 400,000 employees are responsible for administering more than $50 billion in annual expenditures. However, in the three years since taking office, the commissioner has apparently not found one incident of government wrongdoing, nor has she apparently identified one whistleblower who needed protection.

In such an unsupportive atmosphere, it is unlikely that most federal civil servants will jeopardize their career, retirement, health and dignity to confront a system merely in the hopes of receiving a cash incentive, especially when any protection is either too weak or non-existent.
- Pundits' Guide features a guest post from Chanchal Bhattacharya which compares the types of strategies normally used in the U.S. and Canada, then nicely summarizes where each of the Canadian political parties stands in trying to adopt the type of social-network-era grassroots organization that served the Obama campaign so well in 2008.

- Finally, Richard Shearmur nicely sums up the questions Canadians should be asking about the Cons' move to gut our census:
Canadians need to ask themselves: Why does this government not value accurate information about Canadian society and its regions?

Is it because it wishes to protect people's privacy? Or is it because an ignorant and ill-informed society is easier to manipulate and govern?
(Edit: corrected author of the first link.)