Sunday, August 31, 2008

The brink of recession

Well, this little report in the Financial Times, "Canada on brink of recession," has been perched on my Google News page all weekend. It's like it's begging to be blogged or something. So in the interests of sharing the bleak news, here's a taste of Canada's economic state of affairs as we enter election season, from a few articles that set it out pretty clearly and concisely and below, what the Conservatives are up to in the coming week against this background:
Canada's economy barely grew in the second quarter, new figures revealed yesterday, lending further evidence that growth has stalled amid falling US demand for Canadian exports.

Gross domestic product expanded by just 0.1 per cent over the quarter - just 0.3 per cent on an annualised basis - much less than the Bank of Canada and most private forecasters were expecting. This follows a slip in GDP in the first quarter, and suggests that Canada is skirting the brink of a technical recession.
Second quarter growth in Canada was well below forecasts by private sector economists, many of whom had anticipated 0.7 per cent growth in GDP (not annualised) over the quarter.

Exports, long the country's economic engine, fell for the fourth consecutive quarter, down nearly 5 per cent from last year due mainly to falling US demand for cars and lumber.

"The story that Canada's resource riches could help it sustain the US difficulties has gone right out the window in the first half of this year," said Derek Holt, senior vice-president at Scotia Capital Markets.

Several indicators suggest the economy is fraying. Job losses are mounting, housing starts and resale values are slipping, business spending is declining and the Canadian dollar has fallen after strong gains last year.

Canada has so far avoided a full-blown domestic credit squeeze of the kind at work in the US. Consumer spending and corporate profits remain strong, with profits in the second quarter at their highest since the first quarter of 2004.

Canada also benefits from high commodity prices. But global weakness has put a damper on the gains Canada makes from commodities, even though these remain at elevated levels even after recent drops in value.

The sources of strength in Canada in the second quarter are "clearly unsustainable", said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
More bad news:

What's more, the first quarter was revised down to a 0.8% contraction from an initial 0.3% retreat.

The second-quarter bounce allows the economy to avoid the recession label, which is conventionally defined as two consecutive quarters of declining output.

But there is no doubt: This economy has ground to a halt. On a two-quarter basis, growth is at its weakest since the last recession in 1991.

"This is confirmation the Canadian economy is in a significant economic slowdown," said Craig Alexander, deputy chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank.

"We can debate about whether a recession is present," Mr. Alexander said. (emphasis added)

So what can we do at this point?

While the U. S. government handed out stimulus cheques in the second quarter, much of the pump-priming has already been done in Canada. The federal government has cut taxes significantly and spent like there is no tomorrow.

"The government is so disorganized it's bound to be too little too late," Mr. Orr said.

Prudent fiscal managers that they are, the Harper gang failed to prepare in this economic backdrop.

Our friend Jim Flaherty had this to say about the gloomy financial indicators:
"I think what we are seeing is a shared concern in the province of Ontario and federally ... a shared concern with respect to the need for care and encouragement with respect to the Ontario economy," Flaherty told a Toronto news conference after Statistics Canada reported the national economy had barely avoided slipping into recession.
He suddenly feels Ontario's pain! Sharing concern, care,'s just so genuine. Whatever has come over him!

But rest assured, despite all of the above, the prudent Conservative fiscal management types who receive so much credit for economic stewardship will be on the job this week, spending like there's no tomorrow as an election is imminent:
Before they're ready to hit the hustings, the Conservatives want to make several major announcements over the coming week, Canwest News Service has learned.

Industry Minister Jim Prentice is in Cambridge, Ont., Tuesday for an announcement about the future of the Canadian Space Agency. Infrastructure Minister Lawrence Cannon is expected to announce the completion of deals with Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec that will free up billions of federal infrastructure spending in those provinces.

And Harper himself will make a key announcement somewhere in southwestern Ontario about help for the auto industry, sources say.
Of course they will...

A view from Newfoundland: "I don't think any federal Conservative has much of a chance of holding their seat"

The prospect of Danny Williams coming to Ontario or elsewhere during a federal campaign is perplexing the commentariat. The Newfoundland-federal dispute is but a thing of the past, intones Nelson Wiseman, they're awash in oil royalties down there, he says, and there's this:
"His initial assaults on the federal government have worn off," he said.
Missing the point entirely. Williams is just as effective an opponent to Harper now as he was then, when the fallout from the breach of the Atlantic Accord by the PM occurred. As a result, there's a strong likelihood that Williams' vocal, loud opposition to Mr. Harper will impact the federal seats in Newfoundland. They could very well lose a few Conservative seats there. That makes a difference when every seat counts.

And secondly, Williams remains a highly motivated opponent of Mr. Harper who happens to be a very effective, clear communicator whose voice will carry beyond that province. He's one more voice that will be unleashed during this campaign to speak out about the tendencies Mr. Harper has displayed. The Conservatives are clearly worried about it, as in the past few days both Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn and Defence Minister Junior MacKay have been assigned to take on Danny, head-on. That's telling.

If you were the Prime Minister entering an election, would you want Danny Williams to be so fired up about doing everything he can to ensure your defeat? Don't think so...

Yes, why is it all about Steve right now?

"“I will ask Stephen Harper face to face to explain why he is in such a rush to violate the spirit of his own legislation,” Mr. Dion said in a statement. “I will ask him to explain why he wants to break his word, yet again.” .

The Prime Minister should be spending less time trying to dream up contrived reasons for forcing an election, and more time addressing the serious issues facing our country, not the least of which is an ongoing food safety crisis.”" (emphasis added)
That is a very key point to be making going in and going out of this meeting. The petty little meeting games the Conservatives have manufactured to make the opposition leaders dance along are a time wasting, manipulative ploy. Meanwhile, the listeria crisis is playing out with its daily developments and the government is barely acknowledging its existence. The Minister of Health has been and is MIA. But the Conservatives are stuffing idolatrous Stephen Harper leadership ads in the Canadian public's face. It's truly incongruous.

Never say never, Peter Van Loan!

Can this be? How can we be having an election when the Conservative illuminati have spoken thusly?
As I indicated, we have passed Bill C-16 on fixed election dates through the House of Commons. Never again will the government of the day be able to play around with the date of an election for its own crass political motives.
(Lawyer Van Loan, February 12, 2007.)

Never say never, Petey! You Conservatives and your promises certainly have a short shelf life!

LKO also is focussing on this today, the Globe is rife with wonderful Conservative quotes...:)

Tony Clement back from Denver, dispensing cash

If you thought that upon his return the Minister of Health would be in any way interested in the national health crisis Canadians are dealing with in the form of the listeria outbreak, that he might head to Ottawa to give hapless Gerry a hand...well, once again, you'd be sorely mistaken.

Tony, it seems, is on a spending spree in and about his riding, Parry Sound-Muskoka, which he won by a whopping 28 votes in 2006. So tending to the Health Ministry or electioneering...not a tough call for landslide Tony.

So let's see what he's been up to, and so quickly.

Infrastructure for Nipissing: $1.7 million in support of 11 projects in Nipissing-Timiskaming area, which borders his riding (August 30,2008).

$2 million for Laurentian University in Sudbury, Nickel Belt riding, borders to the north of his (August 30,2008).

There's also talk of a new media centre for Huntsville, in Tony's riding, in advance of the G8 summit in 2010.
Clement said he and the town have some “preliminary guesstimates” on what the centre would cost, but would not give a number.
Although to be fair, that news came while Tony was in Denver. And, you know, while he was still ignoring the listeria outbreak.

Our Minister of "Health" in action, folks...blissfully blind to the daily listeria developments. I think it'll be high time to give Tony the boot...

Tell us more about the communists, Kory

Kory educates us about the history of political parties:
"Teneycke says Harper stresses another minority government because 'Conservatives should be marked by realism and the knowledge the Liberal party is one of the most successful parties ever – more successful than the Communist parties in Russia and China and more enduring than Fidel Castro.

'We're going up against a successful political machine... There's no shame in being honest and realistic.'"
Well, if it's Kory Teneycke we're talking about, there actually seems to be a lot of shame involved, isn't there? Honest and realistic? Not so much. I will share that one with my readers though so they can tell all their friends and family what types of idiotic things are being spewed out of the PMO these days. It's all just so visionary.

And if that's not enough for you from the Kory Teneycke files today, did you catch young Kory telling us that the Green party and Liberal party are one and the same? And therefore, only Stephane can be in the debates. I guess Canadians will have to wrestle with that Rubik's Cube for say...five seconds of wtf head shaking. Oh yes, it's going to be an alternative reality based campaign, all right. I kind of enjoyed Kady O'Malley's take on this bit of Teneycke babble:
We did find out that the Conservatives are probably going to object to the Greens being allowed into the debates on the grounds of having insufficient hatred of Stephane Dion and the Liberals, so that was interesting, at least.
Yep, that's about it...:) Now that Teneycke, today's representative from the league of junior Conservative anchormen has weighed in, I'm inclined to fully and enthusiastically support Mme. May in her one woman quest to be a thorn in the PM's side for hours upon end during televised debates. I suppose that could be what they in fact want, to encourage a further split on the left-centre side of the spectrum. But I doubt it. They've consistently taken this position. And picture May pummelling Harper. I think they can too.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Leadership strategery coming our way

Noticed in media reports today, the he's-scary-and-everyone-knows-it strategy being cited once again by unknown Conservatives:
"'Love him or hate him, our Prime Minister knows where he stands on the issues and will offer Canadians certainty,' a senior Tory official said."
Hmmm...there's a very prominent world leader who has been gracing our lives for the past eight years who has been described in exactly the same manner. I think Stephen Colbert lampooned this ridiculous rationale for supporting such a leader quite appropriately at his White House Correspondent's dinner appearance :
"The greatest thing about this man is he's steady," Colbert continued, in a nod to George W. Bush. "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday."
The fallacy of equating certainty of position with strong leadership has been proven to be demonstrably false by the Bush administration. But if the Harper team wants to have that debate in that construct, running the Bush 2004 campaign, more power to them.

The style of leadership of Stephen Harper is a debate that opposing parties should welcome. Every facet of that leadership style should get a good and proper vetting from media and opponents alike. Does he set the right tone at the top? Does he trust and use his Ministers well? Is he honest, trustworthy and accountable? Does he have a vision? Is there an open climate of healthy political debate fostered by the leader? These are some of the aspects of leadership that should be discussed in this debate on leadership. Knowing one's positions is one thing. It's how you go about inspiring others to follow and subsequently executing those policies that also make up leadership.

Let that debate begin...

Goons in Guelph

Graffiti sprayed on to the garage of a person who had a Liberal sign on their lawn in Guelph...

You can see more pictures of the damage at CDLU and Scott's site...

It appears that the individuals who did this were devious enough to cut brake lines of cars which could cause serious injury or deaths and, among other things, to deface homes with graffiti expressing anti-C-68 slogans. C-68 was the gun registry bill.

A very ugly turn in a by-election that now appears to be all for nought. This is an absolute outrage to say the very least.

Yes, please

"Will Hargrove run against Flaherty?" That would be a good one. A blogger can hope:
"Big news is very serious discussion about Buzz Hargrove, a Martin Liberal, running against [Finance Minister] Jim Flaherty on income trusts, jobs and especially Flaherty's demonizing of [Premier] Dalton McGuinty and Ontario," said one party-goer.

Taking on Mr. Flaherty would be ideal for Mr. Hargrove, as the minister's Oshawa, Ont., riding is full of auto workers. Remember in the last election, Mr. Hargrove, the Canadian Auto Workers president and an NDPer, famously supported Paul Martin and controversially encouraged his members to vote strategically to elect Liberals.
To knock off Flaherty would be huge...just huge. And drawing such an opponent? Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Conservatives now trying to delay Cadman litigation to post-election

That seems to be the big development in this CP report on the Globe site tonight. Harper was indeed cross-examined by the Liberal lawyers last week and perhaps that didn't go so well, we just don't know. But we do know that Harper's lawyer, Richard Dearden, said today that the injunction application scheduled to be heard on September 22nd, which would take us smack dab in the middle of an election, may not occur after all:
...Mr. Dearden revealed that the next hearing in the case — a potentially explosive court drama that could take place in the midst of an expected federal election campaign — may now have to be postponed.
The main reason appears to be a delay of the Harper team's own doing, although typical for them, they couch it:
Though Mr. Harper earlier had insisted on a speedy hearing of his request for a court order to stop the Liberals from distributing or quoting the Zytaruk tape, Mr. Dearden complained Friday about delays receiving records from the Liberal legal team and revealed a sound expert Mr. Harper has retained to examine the tape will be on a European holiday for two weeks prior to the Sept. 22 hearing.
See, Dearden's not leaving it to the Liberals to remedy the delay...he has injected his own reason to postpone it. A court could readily order the Liberal lawyers to hew to a deadline. But if Harper's own expert is on vacation...well, isn't that convenient. It certainly sounds like they don't want this hearing occurring during the election. Couldn't they have worked out the expert's travel plans a while ago?

Talk about a self-defeating exercise. When does a plaintiff seeking an injunction, a matter of urgence, delay their own application? When it's not looking so good.

But you have to love all the coverage of the Russell affidavit. The historical examples of heated political events that did not produce litigation are cited, to wit:
The opinion by University of Toronto professor Peter Russell compares the Cadman allegations to the railway scandal that brought down Canada's first prime minister in 1873.

Mr. Dearden told Justice Charles Hackland the comparison — which Mr. Russell used as one example in arguing Mr. Harper is the first Canadian Prime Minister to sue political opponents — is “absurd” and unfairly taints Mr. Harper's reputation.
The nerve of those Liberals, defending themselves. And once again, Russell's damaging indictment of the PM is repeated in the national media:
“The Prime Minister's legal actions are an attempt to use the courts to interfere with the official opposition's freedom of political expression and thereby give his party an advantage over his principal political opponents,” wrote Mr. Russell.

“Such an injection of legal action into our political debates, were it to succeed, would give the government party a political advantage over its opponents.”
The judge gave an indication he was not inclined to deal with the motion to strike the Russell affidavit today:
Justice Hackland questioned Mr. Dearden several times about Mr. Harper's objections to the affidavit and suggested it might be best to let the judge who will hear the injunction application next month decide.
That doesn't sound the least bit surprising.

But well done, Harper legal team, you're giving this affidavit the attention it deserves.

It keeps growing

As the PM is floating an election date of October 14th now and is engaged in self-centred political survival, the national public health matter of the meat recall takes new turns.

Today, there was a significant expansion to B.C.:
Health officials say a death in British Columbia is being blamed on the ongoing listeriosis outbreak, bringing to nine the number of deaths linked to tainted meat produced by Maple Leaf Foods.

It's the first death outside Ontario, where eight other people have died, since word of the outbreak first emerged nearly two weeks ago.
The Mayor of Walkerton, with all the evocative power of the name of that town, has called for a public inquiry (see FarNWide).

There is evidence the Canadian government wanted lower standards than the U.S. and pressed the U.S. accordingly (see ABCer). Gerry Ritz is inexplicably responding to the charge in bafflegab:
"The systems are different but comparable," Ritz told a news conference. is lower, and one is higher. That is not comparable.

Meanwhile, for the everyday citizen, the recall seems to expand daily, with more announcements today:
Meanwhile, almost 50 additional products have been added to an expanding list of items being recalled because they may contain some contaminated meat products from a Maple Leaf Foods (TSX:MSI) plant in Toronto.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency added a variety of ready-to-eat products early Friday that are sold in Sobeys and Foodland stores throughout Atlantic Canada.
And the Consumers Council of Canada is speaking out:
Eleanor Friedland, vice-president of the Consumers Council of Canada, said she doesn't believe the federal government when it says consumer safety is a top priority.

"If that's the case, how come (so many) people have died and we don't know how many more will be showing symptoms?" Ms. Friedland said.

"The ball fell through and consumer confidence is right down the tubes, with respect to government and companies like Maple Leaf. It's absolutely outrageous."
Ms. Friedland called on the federal government to ramp up inspections and for municipal and provincial governments to bully Ottawa into paying attention to the matter, which she suspects will be a major election issue should Canada be headed for a fall election.

"It's affecting more and more people than you can possibly imagine," Ms. Friedland said, adding she has heard from many concerned citizens in the wake of the outbreak and recalls of Maple Leaf products.

"School lunches are going to have to be re-thought, hospitals, cafeteria — this is a major, major consumer issue."

Ms. Friedland said she also wants to know how the Maple Leaf plant in Toronto came to be contaminated with the Listeria bacterium in the first place, calling president and chief executive Michael McCain's claim that the source may never be determined "nonsense."

"They have to find out what caused this so that it can never happen again," Ms. Friedland said. "If they don't find out, how do I know that next month it's not going to happen again? Or with some other products? More care has to be put into how our food is prepared."
Still feeling that an election does not sit right while this issue ongoing...but hey, I'm not a Conservative brainiac.

A preview of the federal campaign in Newfoundland

Danny Williams is ready to go, sticking it to Harper on his arts funding cuts today:
The federal government clashed with Premier Danny Williams on Friday over arts funding in what may be a sign of things to come in the next federal election.

Williams has announced his Progressive Conservative government will cover federal funding cuts to artists in Newfoundland and Labrador by their Conservative counterparts in Ottawa.

He said he wants to protect local artists and the province's cultural industries from $45 million in funding cuts across the country recently announced by the federal government.
Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn, longtime rival to Williams, immediately attacked, calling Williams predictable, etc., and dismissing Williams as a factor in the coming campaign. Let me think...real hard now...hmmm, who do I like in this battle? It's likely Danny in a landslide.

Williams has served notice...looks like it's going to be quite the engaged battle down there. Around here, we're hoping that Danny will take his anti-Harper show on the road as much as humanly possible...:)

Harper needs "big lessons on Canada's North"

A reader passes along the following glowing review of Harper's announcement in Inuvik yesterday (click to enlarge, from a newsletter of some kind). Seems the Harper crowd didn't know it was - cold - in Inuvik at this time of year. And they even had the Minister of Environment in tow who should have known as much.

All in all, it sounds like they ticked off many with their travelling election show...

Update (6:15 p.m.): The newsletter is entitled "PermaFrost Media," a daily summary of news from the north to which one can subscribe.

You'd think that with a national health crisis they'd have some real work to do...

But you would be wrong! The Privy Council Office, dedicated public servants that they are, have their eyes trained on Errol Mendes today. No doubt due to his op-ed in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen tearing Harpie a new one for his imminent law breaking election call. Looks like they're gearing up to diminish Professor Mendes' views by linking him to the Liberal party. Because critical thinkers opposed to Harpie must be Liberal partisans, right? Wrong.

Now that we're on the topic...Mendes planted an interesting suggestion in that piece yesterday:
Even if the fixed elections law does not constrain the governor general's discretion to grant dissolution of Parliament, one could argue that the law constrains the prime minister's power to ask for one until October 2009. Hiding under the political constraints of the governor general's residual power is nevertheless a violation of a statute. Some aggrieved citizen may even consider seeking court action to stop this legally dubious move.
There must be some enterprising citizen that aspires to give Harpie fits and draw further attention to the move...

Welcome back

The Bernier/Couillard affair returns with an impeccably timed bang: "Mounties probe Couillard link to real-estate deal." The allegations of influence peddling at Public Works by Ms. Couillard through either Mr. Bernier or Mr. Cote on behalf of Kevlar Group are being investigated by the RCMP. This marks the first confirmation that the RCMP is investigating any aspect of the Bernier/Couillard matter. So I suspect this is raining on a few parades in Ottawa Conservative circles today. And providing perhaps further rationale for Harper's rush to an election. If this RCMP investigation is just beginning, the thinking may be it's best to get an election out of the way before the results of it come in. But who knows what stage this is at and what it will turn up. The optics at the moment, however, are terrible.

Some details:
The Mounties are investigating a controversial real-estate deal that the Harper government cancelled yesterday, and on which Julie Couillard allegedly lobbied two senior Conservative officials while she was dating them.

Sources said that RCMP are seeking information from federal officials on the project, which is in Quebec City. The Kevlar Group, a real-estate firm associated with Ms. Couillard, submitted two of the four bids that made it to the second phase of the tendering process.

The Mounties have been contacting civil servants and ministerial staff recently, including current and former officials of Public Works and Government Services Canada.

Public Works has been looking in recent years to buy a building to house federal officials in Quebec City. However, the government announced yesterday it will launch a new competition on the project, after the four remaining properties offered were deemed to be non-compliant with the environmental criteria. (emphasis added)
So yesterday it launched a new competition? Curious timing. More house cleaning before an election? Public Works is saying everything was above board and the report also mentions a "review of the project by a fairness monitor" released yesterday that found no interference in the project. That report is here and here's the press release from the government yesterday. They are both non-starters in terms of telling you anything interesting. They look stage managed.

Recall from back in the spring that we learned about an intervention Maxime Bernier apparently made at Treasury Board in connection with Quebec City land:
Sources said this week that Ms. Couillard promoted Kevlar's bid for a
federal real estate deal in Quebec City with Mr. Bernier. The sources
said Ms. Couillard had initially approached an adviser to Public Works
Minister Michael Fortier on the same issue.

Given that it was a Kevlar official who introduced Ms. Couillard to
Mr. Bernier in April, 2007, opposition MPs accused Ms. Couillard this
week of having attempted to infiltrate the government to favour
Kevlar's bid.

However, government officials said Mr. Bernier never helped Kevlar.
Initially, the federal project called for the construction of a major
building for 750 bureaucrats in downtown Quebec City. Kevlar owned a
parking lot in the area and hoped to build the federal building on
that site.

But Conservative officials said Mr. Bernier intervened to expand the
area in which the project could be built to include a poorer part of
Quebec City where land prices are cheaper. Sources said that Mr.
Bernier made his intervention at Treasury Board, a cabinet committee
where deliberations are kept secret.
(emphasis added)
Then, back to today's Globe report where the following information, related to the foregoing, appears:
A source said Ms. Couillard raised questions in federal circles when she learned last year the government had made a decision that went against Kevlar's first bid. At the time, Kevlar was offering a property close to downtown Quebec City for the project. However, the Harper government expanded the perimeter in which the building could be located, which increased the pool of potential bidders. Kevlar then submitted a bid in the new perimeter.
Does this mean that Couillard was in some way able to assist Kevlar in getting into the second round of bidding when they had been defeated in the first? And that Bernier assisted in that? It's not clear but I suppose the investigation will be pursuing this.

Cadman, Conadscam...Couillard. The three C's of Conservative wrongdoing that can raise their head on any given day...

"Surprisingly absent"

From a National Post editorial:
As the death toll rises and class action lawsuits against Maple Leaf pick up steam, we must apportion the blame for this incident where it is merited--both to Maple Leaf and to the federal government.

Changes to the way food inspection takes place in this country appears to be a major factor in this outbreak. Food inspectors, including the one responsible for the Toronto plant, are simply stretched too thin to perform their jobs properly. In March, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) introduced a new compliance verification system that imposed more uniform standards, but also created a larger administrative burden for its inspectors, thereby limiting their time performing on-site inspections. When inspectors feel forced to choose between "dropping the paper work" and "dropping the inspection work," you have a broken system.

Federal Health Minister Tony Clement has been surprisingly absent from the public eye during the crisis, choosing instead to travel to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. His response -- that he is "available all hours of the day and night" -- hardly inspires confidence. Leadership in a crisis cannot be delivered via BlackBerry.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Gerry Ritz gets tripped up in his tangled web

Gerry Ritz, point man for the government on the meat recall, doesn't know what he's talking about: "Government backs off claim meat-plant inspectors spend half time on site."
The federal government is backing away from previous assurances that its health inspectors spend at least half their time doing on-site physical inspections at meat processing plants across the country.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz made the claim this week, in the face of a deadly listeriosis outbreak linked to a Maple Leaf Foods processing plant in Toronto.

But under a deluge of criticism from the meat inspectors union, federal officials now acknowledge that the 50-50 split between hands-on inspection and paperwork is just a goal - not necessarily a daily reality.

The about-face came after Bob Kingston, president of the agricultural employees wing of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, issued a news release Thursday accusing Ritz of misleading the public.

Kingston called it "pure fiction" to claim that inspectors spend only half their time on paperwork under a new system introduced in March.

Confronted with the union statement, Ritz declined comment and handed the matter off to bureaucrats from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (emphasis added)
In their zeal to cover their political backsides, they're misrepresenting the facts.

Competent government is what is needed to address this food crisis, not political spinning.

Also of note in the CP report, is the chilling climate descending upon the CFIA in Ottawa as the government clamps down:

The union official added that, after Ritz's claim of a 50-50 split in time, he was flooded with calls from inspectors across the country challenging the minister's assertion.

Nearly all the 40 inspectors who have phoned estimate their split is closer to 25 per cent for actual hands-on inspection and 75 per cent for paperwork.

A number of inspectors are "champing at the bit" to speak out publicly about their personal experiences, said Kingston, but "every one of them is afraid of being fired if they do."

He acknowledged, when pressed, that nobody has been directly threatened. "It's just the climate of the day," he said, noting that CFIA has told its employees all comment on the matter must come through agency headquarters in Ottawa.

Come on, where's that support for whistleblowers, Conservatives?

Things that don't play well in Quebec

Harpie has struck a nerve:
"Culture is important and Canadians won't forget the government's actions, warned Vincent Graton, a Quebec actor and activist who organized Wednesday's protest.

'If there are [federal] elections, I'm going to get involved, and I'm sure I won't be the only one,' Graton said.

Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay attended the protest, as well as director Lorraine Pintal and singer Pierre Lapointe."
Now who is Michel Tremblay? Let's just say iconic in Quebec:
Playwright/translator born in a working class family in Quebec in 1942, he is probably the most-produced playwright in the nation and arguably the most important playwright in the history of the country.
More damaging fallout, here:
"We must wonder about the sincerity of a government that recognizes the people of Quebec as a nation when it does not hesitate to cut into the very heart of its existence - culture," said film producer Denise Robert.

"In addition to ensuring the financial stability of dozens of organizations across Canada, the financial support of government facilitates the collection of private donations which, in turn, can promote production here and abroad," she added. "We attract international investment in culture."

The demonstration was organized by Culture Montreal and the Montreal arts council.
Maybe the Kory Teneycke's who blather on about "programs that are boondoggles" and the Conservative party strategists should have thought twice before slashing and burning arts funding about the implications beyond the bottom line. The masters of political strategy, as the commentariat tells us Conservatives are, have stepped in it again. Galvanizing the leading lights in Quebec cultural circles against it on the eve of an election. Bravo, boys. Artists have unique and creative ways of getting their point across. I look forward to seeing what they come up with during a campaign.

The reaction Conservatives are now getting in Quebec is demonstrating that while they might talk a good game, it sure as heck looks like they really don't understand that province at all...

We get all kinds... how's that St. Lambert thing going anyway, Privy Council Office brainiacs?

Can't think that it helps when your candidate, running for the third time, who apparently works in the film and television industry has to justify massive Conservative cuts to the arts. Especially when he's let himself be described in this manner:
Due to his experience as an artist and a businessman, he is convinced that culture is one of our nation’s strengths and that Canada could improve its performance in terms of cultural exports.
Gee, that might be tough given the antics of the Conservative government of late.

Very strange position to put your candidate in:
While the decision has sparked controversy across the country, it is in Quebec that it risks having the most impact - both on arts groups and on Conservative political fortunes. Observers have even suggested it could cost the Tories their chance of winning the by-election in the riding of Saint- Lambert. (emphasis added)
That would be a shame...

If it acts like an authoritarian...

If it talks like one, looks like one, then perhaps it is one:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is asking a judge to reject expert testimony that compares him to an authoritarian ruler.

Harper's lawyers will argue in Ontario Superior Court on Friday that the opinion of political scientist Peter Russell is irrelevant to the prime minister's $3.5-million defamation suit against the Liberals.

The opinion is part of the evidence Liberals filed to argue Harper's libel claim is an attempt to muzzle opponents.
Paliare filed an opinion from Russell as part of the Liberal argument that no prime minister has ever filed a libel suit against a political opponent despite a history of scandals and allegations of corruption in Parliament.

Russell, a professor at the University of Toronto, argued the give and take of the Commons, and related arenas, is part of the cut and thrust of free political debate.

"This use of legal action to silence the opposition is characteristic of authoritarian governments," he said.
No wonder Harper is trying to get rid of Russell's affidavit. One of the leading political scientists and constitutional scholars in the country, widely respected, has called his government authoritarian. That's unprecedented and I continue to argue here on my blog about the need for people to pay attention to this. It's a clarion call to the country when you have Peter Russell willing to file such an opinion.

Hopefully the motion from Harper's team will be dismissed. Remember what this court action Harper has brought is all about. He's trying to suppress the ability of the Liberals to say things that others are freely saying elsewhere. And he's used the power of his office to do so.

If that's not authoritarian...I don't know what is.

Tony Clement travel update

Tony has inspired a most excellent letter to the editor:


August 28, 2008

Regina -- Let me see if I've got this right: Stephen Harper says the Governor-General should remain in the country to deal with his manufactured political crisis (G-G Cancels Trip; PM Says Election Nearly Certain - Aug. 27), but Health Minister Tony Clement can remain abroad during a real and deadly public-health crisis.

His real priorities have never been so clear.
Pesky citizens...

And Tony's having a ball in Denver:
The Canadian government sponsored a swish lunch reception at its consul-general's Denver residence.

The food included bite-sized bits of beef, shrimp, tortellini and potatoes gratin. Health Minister Tony Clement, whose absence from Canada during the tainted meat crisis has not gone unnoticed, was there and introduced himself:

"I'm Health Minister Tony Clement, and I have to say I approved this food."
Aren't you glad he's having such a swell time, making jokes about food safety? Such a kidder...

Gerry Ritz's tangled web

It's getting hard to follow Mr. Ritz.

Gerry keeps repeating that 200 new food inspectors have been hired. Regarding those 200 new inspectors, well, no one seems to know whether they're involved in meat inspection:
CFIA officials on Tuesday could not say how many of the new inspectors are being assigned to meat plants.
Kind of strange that they can't. And the ones that we do have? They're writing things like this:
In correspondence to union officials provided to Canwest News Service, one inspector complained, "We do not have the same presence we used to have in the processing facilities. When the cat is away the mice will play." Another noted that, "We are not making the observations we used to make when we had more of a hands-on approach. We spend more time looking at paper than anything else."

Another inspector was more blunt. "We've had all our authority taken away and now we are just paper pushers."
Perhaps that's why we read this morning that the Conservatives are suddenly in a hurry to hire 58 new inspectors. It's a recognition of the problem, despite Ritz's denial:
Mr. Ritz and Paul Mayers, the associate vice-president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, responded tersely to recent assertions by the union representing CFIA inspectors that inspectors are so overburdened with paperwork that they are unable to physically inspect plants.

"Inspectors verify cooking temperatures and observe and validate a company's sanitary practices. The CFIA also directly supervises the sample collection process in the plant," Mr. Mayers said. "And while some might characterize that as paperwork, I characterize that as an important element of an effective inspection system."

Mr. Ritz said the union's claims are not true and that inspectors spend 50 per cent of their time on the plant floor.
Somebody's not telling the truth. Multiple inspectors versus Gerry Ritz in CYA mode...well, you decide. The Agriculture Union president certainly has an opinion:
Bob Kingston, the former CFIA inspector and the Agriculture Union president who made the claims, responded harshly to the minister's remarks.

"That's total bullshit," he said yesterday. "I don't know where he gets that crap from, but it's just complete and utter nonsense."
There are other inconsistent aspects to Ritz's public statements that are mentioned in the Globe report. All of which isn't helping instill confidence in the government's approach to the issue.

Nanos weighs in on the meat recall's impact

Wild card:
Regardless of who's to blame for the tainted meat tragedy, the prospect of a mounting death toll in the midst of an election campaign is bound to hurt Stephen Harper's Conservatives, a pollster predicts.

Indeed, Nik Nanos said the prime minister might want to reconsider his apparent plan to pull the plug on his government next week.

"I think the Conservatives are facing enough risks in this campaign because basically (Harper's) putting his government on the line with no guarantee of success," Nanos said in an interview.

With the death toll from Listeria linked to contaminated meat products likely to continue mounting, Nanos said the public health crisis has injected into the campaign "a wild card that's not likely to play in his favour."
Just as the income trust investigation reinforced a pre-existing perception in 2006 that the Liberals were corrupt, Nanos said the listeriosis tragedy could reinforce a perception that the Tories' belief in a more hands-off government is putting the lives of Canadians at risk.

"What's occurred could lead to a broader discussion on government's role in these kind of things and it's pretty clear that the Harper government has more of a laissez-faire, self-regulatory view on a lot of these issues," he said.

"So it could leave the Conservatives vulnerable if a narrative emerges that this is an example (of what happens) when you don't have actual government inspectors and you can't rely on an industry to police itself."

Nanos said the listeriosis outbreak could be particularly damaging for the Tories in Ontario, where voters still remember the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton eight years ago.

A judicial inquiry concluded that provincial government cutbacks and a policy of privatizing water testing contributed to the Walkerton debacle, in which seven people died and more than 2,300 fell ill.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Full speed ahead

Harper signals his government will stick with its position of farming out greater responsibility to industry for meat inspection:
Speaking in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T. Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested Wednesday that his government plans to eventually hand more responsibility for food inspections to the industry.

"Ultimately, any effective regulation is in a sense a joint responsibility. We've increased the number of regulators, but we also do rely obviously on the work done within the companies themselves," he said

"We have increased the number of inspectors, we've increased the amount we spend on protection, but we do also plan as we move forward to change the system to make sure that we have greater responsibility on those who ultimately market the product."
Watch an interview with Bob Kingston, a critic cited frequently today, speaking about the new rules brought in as of March 31 here. Kingston speaks of inspectors not having the time to do what they need to with respect to inspection activities. He seems to be speaking for "inspectors."

Come on in, the water's warm

Yes, Sparrow put his foot in his mouth, big time you Conservative brainiacs. An ant took on a constitutional giant.

Keep sending the league of junior conservative broadcasters out's quite enjoyable...:)

As always, thanks for stopping by. You might learn something. But we won't be holding our breath around here...:)

There's private and then there's public

It would be surprising to see Michael McCain do anything less than accept full responsibility for his company's role in the listeriosis outbreak at this moment, as he did again today during a press conference. The transcript is here. Reassuring people about the safety of the Canadian food inspection regime would be expected as well. McCain did that today, stating outright that this incident is Maple Leaf's responsibility and that "...this week it's our best efforts that failed, not the regulators or the Canadian food safety system."

McCain, of course, can't be seen to be saying anything else at the moment. It would be economic suicide for his company and contrary to his demonstrable ethics which have been apparent as this incident has progressed. If he were to engage in a buck passing exercise with federal regulators at the present moment, confidence in Maple Leaf on the part of the public and investors would likely be shaken. Note that the Maple Leaf share price is now rebounding.

That being said, the Globe report today raises legitimate questions about what kind of inspection systems Canadians deserve to have in place. That is a public policy question in which the public is the principal stakeholder. The Conservatives have indeed put in place changes that the report makes clear are less than we need. The public has every right to hold them accountable for it. I suspect we will have lots of opportunity to do so in the coming months.

As further backdrop to this story today, check out the comments section of the Galloping Beaver, here.

I wonder if, after today's developments, Gerry Ritz is kicking himself once again over his intemperate remarks about Luc Pomerleau...

Sucking sound reported in vicinity of Conservative war room in St. Lambert

In case the news today that the Harper government has actually put in place changes to meat inspection procedures that have decreased the federal meat inspectors' role isn't enough for you, well, there's this. In case you missed it, a column from L. Ian MacDonald, former Mulroney speechwriter, in the Gazette Monday suggests there could be problems brewing for Conservatives in Quebec. First, with respect to those pesky Quebec by-elections:
There are two other by-elections that day, in the Montreal- area ridings of St. Lambert, held by the Bloc Québécois, and Westmount-Ville-Marie, a Liberal redoubt since 1962. The Liberals should retain Westmount without breaking a sweat, but in South Shore St. Lambert, the Conservatives are seen as the competitive federalist party, and their candidate, Patrick Clune, is himself the son of a cultural icon, Senator Andrée Champagne, famously Donalda on Radio-Canada many years ago.

The dustup over cultural funding, particularly in the French-language media, has cast a negative light on Clune's campaign in the last 10 days. It isn't helping him, either, that the Conservatives are calling most of the shots from headquarters in Ottawa. As a result, the Conservatives are slipping in the riding at a time when they should be growing. Unless they turn it around this week, a riding that could be winnable will probably be lost. (emphasis added)
Why ever would such negativity be expressed by MacDonald, a Conservative supporter, about Conservative missteps of late? Seems MacDonald, with his close ties to Brian Mulroney, may be manifesting the problems predicted in a Lawrence Martin column on August 18th to the effect that a "steamed" Brian Mulroney may have his supporters stand down in a coming federal election. If Macdonald keeps writing columns like this, it may be fair indication that the Mulroneyites are not going to be any friend of Harper going forward.

More importantly, MacDonald's expressing gloom about the state of Conservative chances in the St. Lambert by-election . He writes that the Conservatives are said to be slipping in the riding in the wake of bad publicity in Quebec over Harper's cuts to the arts. If true, this might prove to be a bad omen for Harper's fortunes in Quebec, one of the few provinces where he hopes to grow his seats. Which would in turn provide an explanation for the sudden rush to pre-empt the by-elections in order to preserve Conservative fortunes in Quebec. It's a reboot before there can be any showing of weakness.

Despite what one poll might say, Conservative actions are being noted in Quebec and at least in St. Lambert, they're not playing well.

It's looking like that $1 billion bridge isn't buying friends and influencing people in St. Lambert after all...

P.S. Note that there is no "s" in vicinity...

Clement meeting oil executives today in Denver and more big news on the meat recall

Illustrating once more that there's always more to a Harper government official explanation of why they're doing something, not less:
...[H]is key meeting was to come before his departure Wednesday, when he chairs a closed-door discussion on energy security with American oil and gas company executives in Denver.

'We're one of the greatest energy producers in the world, as the prime minister said we're an energy superpower. We should be here,' Mr. Clement said."
"We've got to get our message out better about the value of the oil sands. For the first time in history it's the Stephen Harper government that is putting mandatory caps with a trading system for emissions from the oil sands," said Mr. Clement.

"We've got something that we can market to the Americans, saying hey, we're doing our job with the oil sands and other emissions, and we want to work with you to curb emission too."
The Health Minister is marketing the oil sands while these are the kinds of headlines gracing the country: "Tainted meat deaths hit 15," "We need answers to questions about the listeria outbreak," "Meat retailers besieged by listeria inquiries." The priorities of the Harper government are being shown to be sorely misguided once again. It's almost obscene to hear Clement prattle on about the oil sands when he's the Health Minister in a country facing this food scare and the response by the federal government is still being questioned.

And there's still another big development on the meat recall file today. Apparently the plans to let industry police themselves have been in place since March, according to a Globe report this morning.
...the federal agency responsible for food safety this year began to let the industry conduct its own food testing, The Globe and Mail has learned.

A leaked cabinet document that outlined plans for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to give the food industry a greater role in the inspection process raised the ire of opposition politicians last week.

However, some of the plans have been in place since March 31, according to a CFIA manager and an official from the union that represents the federal inspectors.

At the Maple Leaf plant behind the listeria outbreak, a single federal inspector was relegated to auditing company paperwork and had to deal with several other plants, the manager and the union official said, contradicting the impression that officials had left last week that full-time watchdogs were on-site.

Under the new system, federal inspectors do random product tests only three or four times a year at any given plant. And meat packers are required to test each type of product only once a month.

Under the old system, inspectors had a more hands-on role on the plant floor, did more of the tests themselves and had more freedom to investigate, said former CFIA inspector Bob Kingston, who is national president of the Agriculture Union, a branch of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Life just got a lot worse for the Harper government. This information directly contradicts the comments of Mr. Harper yesterday who was talking up his government having put more resources and inspectors into the system. Those comments just obscure the real story here. The new meat inspection rules that the Harper government has kept secret are in fact in place and they've caused a major disaster.

Wow. I do believe their time is up.

Giving Flaherty fits

Continuing with the theme of strange Conservative travel plans noted seems a little odd that Jim Flaherty just went to Kandahar with Junior MacKay. There was a spending announcement, so I guess ostensibly, that would be the rationale for Flaherty's attendance. But didn't see one word uttered by Flaherty on the trip in any of the coverage though. Just along for the photos, I suppose.

Maybe Flaherty's running away from an issue that's creeping back to the forefront now that an election is imminent, the Harper income trust tax. There's an income trust activist, Brent Fullard, who is challenging Flaherty to debate and is garnering media attention for it:
Income trust taxpayer activist, Brent Fullard, is willing to give $50,000 to charities if Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has the guts to publicly debate the income trust tax which shaved $35 billion off the value of trusts and led to $65-billion worth of foreign and leveraged buyouts costing government coffers $1.4 billion annually so far. Brent will select the charities for $25,000 of his grubstake and will let Flaherty earmark the rest, as long as it isn't into his campaign coffers.
John McCallum's debating an opponent of the Green Shift in Toronto on September 10 in a similarly styled event. But debate is not the strong suit of the Conservatives, is it? Still, this is a notable development. The income trust issue is being pushed back to the public's attention via such activists who remain highly motivated to take on the Harper government. Around here, we're all for such commendable efforts that should give Flaherty fits. And besides, it's for charity, right?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The leaders on display today

Picking up on Cathie from Canada's blog post title earlier, "Passive Aggressive," it's fascinating to watch the demeanour of both Harper and Dion today. Here's Dion answering questions in a media scrum earlier (best part begins post 2:30 or so when Dion gets on a roll once he's said his opening statement). He seems confident and relaxed and in good humour. And here's Harper who seems dour, almost resigned to what he's saying, without any evident enthusiasm. It's an incredibly restrained performance up until you reach the 10 minute mark where he gets visibly angry and irritated. You have to wait until 12 minutes in, really, to get a question from Paul Wells that actually challenges the PM. Our Canadian media really need to step up.

The PM avoided the question of why the Health Minister is in Denver when the country is facing a great national health crisis. It didn't seem to matter to Harper that Clement's not present. Today marked the first public comments by the PM on the meat recall issue, well over a week into this crisis. And it remains unclear as to what this remark from the PM would mean in practice when we know his government has circulated plans to turn meat inspection over to industry:
"This is a serious concern. That's why I indicated ... that it's necessary to reform and revamp our food and product inspection regimes."
The government's moves with respect to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will be getting a lot more scrutiny during an election campaign.

He also avoided any response to why he's considering pre-empting the September by-elections. To have had these candidates expend resources in anticipation of a September 8th election date and then to have the rug pulled out from under them...likely another ploy to deplete candidate resources and get another kick at the can since the Conservatives aren't likely to win any of them, barring some major development during a campaign.

While people can make their own judgments, to this observer, it didn't appear to be a winning posture displayed by the PM today.

Tony Clement on Insite

Video of Tony Clement speaking in a scrum in early August at a conference in Mexico. Clement gets quite heated about the issue of Insite and ends with a bang. Worth watching.

As a reminder, here's a report on what happened at that conference. Clement spoke against Insite, a program supported by the policies of the World Health Organization.

A forceful call for the PM to respect our traditions

The implications of Harper's gaming an election spelled out quite eloquently in a Globe editorial today:
Stephen Harper and his government should return to face the House of Commons before an election is called. Mr. Harper must show some serious regard for the fixed-election-date reform he himself introduced only two years ago.
A federal election has become desirable, but there is no urgency or necessity. Mr. Harper should respect, and work within, customary parliamentary procedures.
Mr. Harper would do a real injustice to his own long-term reputation if, without acting through parliamentary procedures, he were to give the appearance of disingenuously setting aside a previously held principle, for the sake of short-term political convenience and electoral tactics. Nor should he forgo the openness and formality of parliamentary procedure, with the requirements and rituals of debate and explanation, in order to seek a putative agreement to disagree, among party leaders in a back room.
While this Parliament seems adrift and our politics could benefit from going to the country, there is no pressing need to rush into an election, on the strength of back-room machinations.
Now that is some mighty fine writing. Hopefully there will be many more influential editorial pages joining in this coming week.

Clement politicking in Denver at a very odd moment

The deck chairs on the Titanic being rearranged, or something like that...
Canada's Health Minister Tony Clement is in Denver this week to take in Barack Obama's coronation at the Democratic National Convention, leaving his officials in Ottawa to manage one of the largest food recalls in Canadian history.

Mr. Clement made his first public comments Sunday on the growing outbreak of listeriosis, but by yesterday Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz was back as the lead point man for the Conservative government.
"I continue to be available all hours of the day and night," said Mr. Clement in a phone call from Denver, where he is one of three Conservative ministers at the event, along with government House Leader Peter Van Loan and Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon. "This is a very important convention where there is a chance that the next president of the United States will be nominated."
First of all, how bad are things when Ritz is the only one left minding the store...

The priorities of the Harper Conservatives never cease to amaze. Clement and the boys are in Denver what exactly? Meet with Republican operatives who are also attending in order to be schooled on how to slime the opposition, whether Liberal or Democrat? Van Loan admitted as much. Can you imagine the Democratic leadership being pestered by this trio? Talk about the last thing Democrats are interested in, three right wing ideologues from Canada hanging out with whatever agenda they have. The Democrats are well aware that Stephen Harper's Conservatives are no friend of Barack Obama.

Of course the point is that the Health Minister should rightly be front and center, IN CANADA, dealing with this health crisis which is a matter of grave public concern. Put governance ahead of politics, for once, Conservative wonder boys. The Prime Minister whining about not being able to get Stephane Dion on the phone so he can game an election call doesn't exactly help on that front either. Who's minding the store? What does the PM have to say about this major health crisis? Does he still intend to privatize meat inspection?

Also of note in the Globe report, Tony's office is covering their collective behind, it appears, with respect to growing criticism that they were slow to respond. No doubt this clarification effort comes after Tony handled his press conference so poorly on Sunday. It only further underlines the unseemliness of the Minister's priorities.
Mr. Clement's office told The Globe and Mail yesterday that the Health Minister was not notified about the listeriosis outbreak until Aug. 19 - three days after Canadian Food Inspection Agency officials recommended to Health Canada officials that a recall take place.

It was on Aug. 19 that Mr. Clement's political staff sent him an e-mail notifying him that his department had been dealing with a listeriosis outbreak and that he should be briefed.

The e-mail was sent the day before Maple Leaf foods recalled more than 20 meat products and shut down its Toronto plant. The day after the recall, Mr. Clement discussed the outbreak face to face with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa.

While Mr. Ritz, who is responsible for the CFIA, came to Ottawa immediately from his Saskatchewan riding to manage the growing crisis, Mr. Clement carried on with his regular schedule, including stops in Saskatchewan and his Parry Sound-Muskoka riding in Ontario. (emphasis added)
The clear implication of that set of facts is that Clement was told by Harper to carry on with his regular schedule. Nice. That should earn Clement a lot of cred with the PMO. Heh...:) It also tells us of what importance it was to Harper that the Health Minister be dealing with this crisis. It was more important that Clement attend to his riding, won by a slim margin in 2006.

This is quite the report the Globe has...also percolating in the background is the former hero to the Conservatives, sponsorship whistleblower Allan Cutler, who is presently tearing a strip off Gerry Ritz for Conservative hypocrisy in going after the meat inspection cuts whistleblower, Luc Pomerleau. That's a shame...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Late night conventioneering

A little late night venture into U.S. political territory...the brilliant Rachel Maddow, soon to have her own show on MSNBC as of early September, asks the big question about John McCain's POW status. As others have pointed out, it's in danger of becoming the McCain version of Rudy Giuliani's 9/11 card. As in, noun-verb-9/11 is becoming noun-verb-POW. The back and forth between Maddow and Buchanan is pretty entertaining. Buchanan's clearly met his match. Note Olbermann's correct use of "jibe" at the end...(skdadl will never live this down with me).

Shocking stuff this...arrests made in connection with a possible assassination attempt on Obama :

Teddy Kennedy does indeed attend and gives an emotional speech:

Fun stuff but I really could do without the canned, corny music that envelopes the speeches...:)

Line it up for the book clubs, Canadians...

The Impolitical reading list for the fall includes:

That's the kind of thing a blogger might want to put on their sidebar, heh...:)

Bernier summoned

This CP headline and report could do with a good edit: "Opposition move to compel Bernier testimony could hasten election." The slant seems to feed into the the story line being spun by Conservatives that the moves of the opposition somehow justify Harper's claim of parliamentary dysfunction and therefore his rationalization of a sudden election call:
Opposition MPs have given Prime Minister Stephen Harper more ammunition to declare Parliament dysfunctional and plunge the country into an early fall election.

Opposition members of the Commons public safety committee used their majority Monday to pass a rare motion asking the House of Commons to compel Maxime Bernier to testify about the embarrassing affair that forced his resignation as foreign affairs minister last May.

The decision to challenge the government over the Bernier affair brings to seven the number of House committees that are either inquiring into Conservative controversies or are deadlocked because the government has refused to allow similar investigations to go ahead.

The motion is bound to further antagonize Harper, who recently claimed opposition committee tactics have paralyzed Parliament and hinted strongly that he plans to pull the plug on his minority Conservative government before the House of Commons returns to work on Sept. 15.
The opposition is portrayed here as seeking to embarrass the government, as seemingly ganging up on the Conservatives in an antagonistic manner. Making it sound like this is some personal vendetta against Harper when nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Harper's party is simply reaping the appropriate amount of accountability that its actions demand.

It is clear that seeking to compel a former Minister to testify may be an extraordinary and rare event. But extraordinary challenges posed by an unaccountable government require extraordinary vigilance and actions to meet those challenges. It's not the opposition's doing that's caused these investigations. It's Conservative wrongdoing. It might be a prettier and tidier democracy if commons committees didn't look into these things. But we have to decide what kind of democracy we want to live in. One where commons committees are ignored when they seek to acquire information so that they can do their job and determine, for example, what breaches of confidentiality and/or security occurred under Minister Bernier's watch. Or do we want committees to be able to ask questions and determine how to prevent such breaches in the future?

Mr. Harper clearly doesn't want members of his government to be subjected to such questioning. It's not just the Bernier matter, it's been demonstrated in the past few weeks that the Conservatives are not permitting witnesses who have been legitimately summoned by the Ethics Committee to testify. When the rule of law is being affronted in such a manner, we need Members of Parliament to stand up and say no to this. In the same manner that Elections Canada has said no to Conservative election breaches in the in-and-out matter.

The Bernier/Couillard matter is unique in that there is knowledge each of Mr. Bernier and Ms. Couillard have that cannot be obtained from other sources, making their attendance before the Public Safety Committee a rational and reasonable request. The public has the right to know that the Foreign Affairs department is and was operating in a manner that wasn't compromised. And they have the right to see that information being provided in a public forum. The Foreign Affairs review, conducted by private consultants who relied upon Mr. Bernier's word, is not sufficient. There are too many unanswered questions.

This move by the Public Safety Committee today was a smart one. It puts on the record a request by the democratically elected majority of members on that committee, reflecting the minority government that the people elected, that they want the former Minister and Ms. Couillard to attend and provide answers. If Mr. Harper decides to call an election in the interim, it's one more item among many that he'll have to answer for during that election campaign.

Run away! Run away!

Here's today's instance of Conservatives doing what they do best, abandoning their true beliefs for electoral advantage: "Tories abandon 'unborn victims' bill." With Dion having raised the issue last week at Garth Turner's Oakville town hall and challenging the Prime Minister to speak on whether he supports a woman's right to choose and further, with the Canadian Medical Association opposing C-484, the Conservatives have backed down.
The Harper government cut loose a contentious private member's bill that would have made it a crime to take the life of a fetus just as election speculation hits fever pitch.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced Monday that the government will draft a new bill to replace Bill C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime Act, so that it closes the debate about fetal rights and focuses instead on penalizing criminals who harm pregnant women.

The act, which was introduced last year by Tory MP Ken Epp of Edmonton and passed second reading in the spring, would make it a separate offence for killing an unborn child when a pregnant woman is slain.

Pro-abortion advocates have denounced it for giving the fetus some human rights. Last week, the Canadian Medical Association voted to oppose the bill, and Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion spoke out against it, challenging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to clarify his own views on abortion.

"We've heard criticism from across the country, including representatives of the medical community, that Mr. Epp's bill as presently drafted could be interpreted as instilling fetal rights. Let me be clear. Our government will not reopen the debate on abortion," Mr. Nicholson said.

"For this reason ... I'm announcing that the government will introduce legislation that will punish criminals who commit violence against pregnant women but do so in a way that leaves no room for the introduction of fetal rights."
Gee, and I thought Ken had a special poll showing us all how much support he had for his bill. Oh well, maybe Ken should save his money next time.

And let's wait and see on that legislation from Nicholson. I would not put it past them at all to retreat from this position if they were to get a majority. Look how they backtracked here. Everything is malleable for Conservatives.

Remind me again...who is the strong leader here?

(h/t Bread N Roses)

Tell us more, Stock

"Stockwell Day says street gang prevention having positive impact in Montreal." Tell us about life in Montreal through your rose coloured glasses:
On Sunday, Day joined anti-gang officers on a tour of a north-end Montreal neighbourhood that erupted into a riot earlier this month after police shot and killed 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva.

He said the increased police presence was having an obvious impact in reducing gang activity.

"I could see already that. . . their presence is already recognized, they're having an affect," Day said.

It is "causing street gangs to be less aggressive and more restrained in their activities."
Excellent work, Stalkwell. Except, not so much:
Montreal police say more than 30 people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the riot.

The minister wouldn't comment on the police shooting and subsequent riots.

"That's a municipal and provincial responsibility and they're handling it at that level," he said.

Overall crime has been falling in Montreal but criminal activity related to street gangs has been increasing.

Montreal police believe there are about 20 gangs operating in the city with between 400 and 500 core members.

Fourteen homicides were linked to gang activity in Montreal in 2007.
Pesky reporting...there's what the Conservatives tell us, and then there are the facts which portray a much more difficult struggle in Montreal than Captain Simpleton cares to address.

And while we're on the topic of street gangs, it's not exactly the issue Stock's crowd has set a good example on, what with the former Foreign Affairs Minister having dated someone with ties to the Hells Angels. And then having the PM and others stand up in the House of Commons and state that this was all a matter of the Minister's personal life. Not the best message sent in Quebec, hey Stock?

More strategery

In case you haven't had enough of it the past few days, there's more speculation about the political gamesmanship to come over the next few weeks from Lawrence Martin today.

I kind of like his scenario number two... don't give Harper an opening. Put the onus entirely on him to attempt to manufacture a crisis in the face of expressions of intent to make the minority parliament work. He may have to back down. And if he doesn't, he'll pay whatever price the voters are willing to mete out.

Martin also tells us we should be very afraid of the massive, excellent, well-planned, uber awesome Conservative negative campaign coming our way. Can it really live up to the hype? Nothing these guys have done to date has lived up to their billing. It will truly be an exception if it does.

Clement: "I think this was a success"

Well I see Gerry Ritz has been taken off the meat recall file. And just when he was getting warmed up too.

Now one of the longtime Conservative faces of Ontario, the Minister of Health, Tony Clement, he whose ethics are superior to the doctors he speechifies to, is on the scene with plenty to say. On the one hand, there's lots of not so good news:
“We expect that both the numbers of suspected cases and confirmed cases will increase as this investigation continues and samples continue to be received from provincial, territorial and federal partners,” Health Minister Tony Clement said Sunday.

The health minister added that because symptoms of listeriosis can occur for months after food is consumed, it may be several weeks before this outbreak completes its course.

First made public more than a week ago, the outbreak has already been linked to four deaths out of 21 confirmed cases with 30 more under investigation.
And on the other, there's a surreal plug for a successful federal response to the disaster:
Health Minister Tony Clement says the federal government response to a deadly listeriosis outbreak shows the health system is working the way it's supposed to - even though it appears to have taken a month from the time the first suspicions arose until a recall order was issued for tainted meat from Maple Leaf Foods.

"The surveillance system picked up a problem that was occurring and allowed us to respond efficiently and effectively to an emerging public health issue," Clement told an Ottawa news conference Sunday.

He termed it tragic that four people have lost their lives, but insisted nevertheless that "this is an example of where our surveillance system worked."

Provincial and municipal officials told The Canadian Press last week that local health authorities in Toronto first became worried in mid-July about two cases of listeriosis contracted by nursing home residents.

But it took weeks to track the food chain, obtain samples of the suspect meat products and conduct tests at federal laboratories.

Clement acknowledged, when pressed, that there's always room for improvement. But he continued to maintain that once Ottawa was notified of the problem it acted as quickly as possible.

"In those terms, certainly, I think this was a success," he said of the federal response.

"When there's a loss of life involved it is always tragic . . . It should force us to review our protocols, review how we deal with things and see if there are better ways we can do things.

"But once we were award of the situation (federal officials) acted very quickly."
Now maybe it's just me, but any talk of this situation being a success in terms of a federal response - or at any level of government - should be off the table at the moment. In fact, the word "success" should be placed nowhere near this fiasco for the foreseeable future. When people are out there, as he speaks, with listeriosis or are worried about developing it given its latent period and people have died, it is highly offensive for Clement to be appearing to cover the derriere for the federal response. As in, it's tragic yes, but in the next breath, we acted quickly. Good to know that the automatons of the federal government are noting the deaths and chalking them up like canaries in the coal mine that help to illustrate how the system is working. This certainly must not be what Clement intended to convey, yet he has.

And Tony is supposed to be an improvement upon Ritz who was expressing the opinion that charges should be laid against the Canadian Food Inspection Agency employee who let us know about Conservative plans to privatize the meat inspection process...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Military sabre-rattling in the north by the Harper gang

The heavy emphasis on the military aspect of Arctic sovereignty continues to shine through in the Harper northern strategy. The latest from CP today reporting on Harper and his cabinet's imminent visit to the north this week:

A senior government official said when the visit was announced that it demonstrates the significance Harper places on the North, especially the growing "geopolitical importance" of the melting Northwest Passage. Observers say the Tories are likely to use their record on Arctic sovereignty as a selling point in a federal election campaign this fall.

There have been indications from officials that announcements will include one on infrastructure and another that would put "boots on the ground." (emphasis added)

This follows Junior MacKay's tour last week of "Operation Nanook," the military's flexing in the north, with General Natynczyk. Junior also played up the military aspect of Canada's presence, going so far as to rattle a stick in the Russian hornets nest:
"Some of what is taking place here has to do with what I would describe as testing of the boundaries, perhaps, of the Canadian North," said Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who flew here this week with Gen. Walt Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, to observe the exercise. "If there are countries who want to come here and challenge our sovereignty, we'll be there to meet them." (emphasis added)
Perhaps? Are you sure there, Junior? But the bigger point here is the message Junior's sending with this kind of chest thumping rhetoric. It's directed at Russia. Here's more from that same report:
Military officials downplay the notion of any immediate threat to Canadian sovereignty. Nevertheless, Russia's increasing military confidence has heightened the importance of exercises like this. This week, MacKay served notice that Canada will be monitoring Russia's Arctic activities more closely following the invasion of Georgia.
Here is the sabre-rattling from MacKay earlier last week:
Canada will be keeping closer watch on Russian activities in the Arctic following the invasion of Georgia, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Tuesday, adding that Ottawa appears to have entered a "new era" of relations with Moscow.

"We're obviously very concerned about much of what Russia has been doing lately," MacKay said after launching Operation Nanook, a military-led Arctic sovereignty exercise.

"When we see a Russian bear approaching Canadian air space, we meet them with an F-18," said MacKay, referring to Arctic patrol flights by Russian bombers. "We remind them that this is Canadian air space, that this is Canadian sovereign air space, and they turn back. And we are going to continue to do that, to demonstrate that we are watching closely their activities here."


"Unfortunately, we appear to be entering a new era of relations with Russia," the defence minister said. "That is, again, something that we will be taking very close stock of, day to day, as we watch things progress, in Georgia but also in other regions, including the Canadian Arctic." (emphasis added)
What's he trying to do, provoke some kind of incident in Arctic waters? I'm wondering if this ratcheting up of rhetoric about Russia isn't part of some larger electoral strategy to look tough on world matters, thinking Canadians will rally to this. Taking a page - again- from the Rove playbook, much the same way Americans have been cattled by the Bush administration with phony terror alerts. They may be watching John McCain's uptick in the polls of late that is being attributed to the Russia/Georgia conflict. And they're tying it to the Arctic sovereignty issue. Here's an unnamed Canadian "foreign ministry official" cited in AFP today:

"It is clear that we were very troubled" by Russia's recent actions in Georgia and that is forcing us to examine the nature of our relations with Russia and the role of Russia in international affairs," the unidentified official said in La Presse.

"Canada is discussing the situation in Georgia with its allies, including the G8 and NATO. We are going to take a decision in consultation with our allies who share our values."

Canada, which denounced Russia's military actions in Georgia, has intensified the tone of its criticisms in recent days.

The chance of a conflict in the north is remote, to say the least. But the rumblings from Conservatives are worth watching, particularly when Harper is in the north this week. They appear to be ramping up on the Russia/Georgia conflict now, no doubt for whatever political advantage they view it gives them.