Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ethics for Dummies

Continuing on with the Dummies theme today...this installment deals with things you learn in grade school not to do. Specifically, things a serious ethical government engaged in governing at a time of world economic crisis should know better than to do.

"NDP considers legal action after Tories listen in and tape private meeting:"
A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said there was nothing unethical about covertly listening in to the private NDP deliberations, taping those discussions and releasing them to the media.

An unidentified Tory was "invited" to participate in the call, said PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas.

"Maybe the invitation was meant for the Bloc, and they accidentally invited us. We were invited. When you get invited somewhere you have the opportunity to choose to participate or not participate." (emphasis added)
Choices, choices. What to do when presented with such an opportunity? The better part of valour? Or sneaky subterfuge? It's not a tough call for our governing Conservatives apparently!

All of which is an interesting accompaniment to the great Harper climb down of 2008. The more the Conservatives cave, as they did today in withdrawing their draconian and likely illegal ban on the federal public service's right to strike ("...Minister of Transport John Baird said the government would not eliminate the right to strike for federal civil servants, as pledged last week"), the more they demonstrate that their governing instincts are very wrong. They are now playing catch up, that's what we'll see this week.

Undoing their economic update, piece by piece. Peddling their dirty tricks. In such a government Canadians should have confidence?

Breaking news from Bob Fife courtesy of Nixonian dirty tricksters

So Bob will be the go to guy of the Conservative backroom this week. I am shocked. Incredibly, we learn from Bob that the NDP and the Bloc speak on the telephone thingys up there in Ottawa. Shocking stuff, this: "NDP, Bloc in coalition talks before fiscal update: tape." I'm partly sarcastic here, partly greatly ticked at the methods used here by the Conservatives. Barging in on an NDP conference call and taping it? This appears to be what the Conservatives did. So welcome to Harper's Canada where apparently hatchet thingys invade other party telephone calls, tape them and distribute to the media. Doesn't feel like my Canada. Feels like Nixon's or Rove's U.S.

Secondly...and? It's news that the NDP and Bloc have been speaking? In a minority parliament? How scandalous. The other parties outnumber the Conservatives and if the Conservatives aren't acting in a manner that the other parties agree with...then such discussions are entirely appropriate. It's appropriate to explore at any moment and lay the groundwork for alternatives in an inherently fragile parliament, which, contrary to Conservative spinning, it is.

Thirdly, desperate times apparently call for desperate measures. The Conservatives are spending their time plotting dirty tricks against opposition parties, not governing. Attempting to inflame Canadians. Very telling. Let them keep showing how they operate. The opposition should keep talking issues, deal with the distractions but keep this sideshow stuff in its proper place.

Fourthly, I wonder what a Conservative conference call sounds like? Oh to be a fly on the wall listening in on those discussions at the moment...something to keep in mind if you hear any tapes of party phone calls today.

Things that don't happen in Harper's Canada

What a concept, a leader who puts statesmanship and the national interest first: "Obama To Name Clinton Secretary Of State Monday."
President-elect Barack Obama planned to nominate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as his secretary of state on Monday, transforming a once-bitter political rivalry into a high-level strategic and diplomatic partnership.

Obama will name the New York senator to his national security team at a news conference in Chicago, Democratic officials said Saturday.
The Clinton pick was an extraordinary gesture of goodwill after a year in which the two rivals competed for the Democratic nomination in a long, bitter primary battle.

The two clashed repeatedly on foreign affairs during the 50-state contest, with Obama criticizing Clinton for her vote to authorize the Iraq war and Clinton saying that Obama lacked the experience to be president. She also chided him for saying he would meet with leaders of rogue nations like Iran and Cuba without preconditions.

The bitterness began melting away in June after Clinton ended her campaign and endorsed Obama. She went on to campaign for him in his general election contest against Republican Sen. John McCain.

Advisers said Obama had for several months envisioned Clinton as his top diplomat, and he invited her to Chicago to discuss the job shortly after the Nov. 4 election. Clinton was said to be interested and then to waver, concerned about relinquishing her Senate seat and the political independence it conferred. (emphasis added)
No major point to be made here. Just an incredibly refreshing contrast in leadership to what we witnessed from Steve the Plumber this week.

As CC would put it, that is all...

Disgruntled Conservative watch...

Oh dear, not again:
"Around the country, many Conservatives were furious that Harper's inner circle had failed to consult more widely before delivering the fiscal update.

One senior Conservative said Harper had shot himself in the foot for ideological reasons — much as he did when he announced $45 million in arts funding cuts last summer, which cost his party seats in Quebec in the Oct. 14 federal election.

'These guys think it's campus politics, so they get too cute by half and then f--- everything up,' he said.
'We're in the middle of an economic crisis and they pull a stunt like this?'"
See, now this is what happens when you keep the lid on so tight for all these years.

Bonus Conservative panic and fear mongering, here. Off to another good start today...

It begins

I see A View from the Left has received some information that will be very disconcerting to Mr. Harper this fine evening. See, there's a new blog in town called "Conservatives for Prentice" and here is the creative kind of material they are offering up:
This is not us trying to find fault with Stephen Harper. He has been a good and capable leader who has brought about a Conservative government, something that most people (and most of all the mainstream media) never thought possible. But the problem is that there is something keeping more Canadians from supporting him, maybe spooked by some of the things in his history like the "northern European welfare state" statement (which was taken out of context but still hurt perception of Harper). We believe that Jim Prentice has none of these handicaps and would perform better at connecting with the average Canadian.

If we are still in office after December the 8th, the authors of this blog will continue to support Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his leadership. But if we lose power before Christmas, we will be in favour of a change at the top of the Conservative Party, and our choice for the job will be Jim Prentice!
The blog has the Blogging Tories affiliation in its sidebar.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Take him out"

"Why the opposition can't back down now." On fire!
First things first: take him out.

After all, Stephen Harper is the most dangerous animal lurking in the jungles of Parliament. He is a threat to the future viability of the Liberals. A blood simple opponent of the NDP and the only serious contemporary challenge to the Bloc Quebecois. Without him, his party is an unlikely combination of Reform Party leftovers, Harris refugees and Red Tory desperates. They don't matter or even exist without Mr. Harper. So before you think a moment longer, opposition leaders, think on that.

And if that's not compelling enough, remember: He doesn't play to win. He plays to conquer. Under his guidance, the public interest is always subjugated to his personal political advancement. And he poisons Parliament with an extreme, bare-fanged breed of partisanship that has no hope of repair until he is banished.

This becomes relevant because suddenly, he is weak. In fact, at this particular moment, he is almost unable to defend himself. Owing to a ridiculously ill-considered act of hubris, he has laid himself vulnerable to his opponents. Their imperative could not be more clear: kill him. Kill him dead. Do not, whatever you do, provide him with an opportunity to extend his hold on power. Because you can be damn certain he will never again be so reckless as to give you a chance to finish him off.
Pretty much says it all. A very necessary call to arms for the opposition parties to be strong, united and not fall prey to the coming endeavours to break them apart. They did receive more seats than Mr. Harper six weeks ago and they can act with legitimacy as a result. Be calm, deliberate and responsible. Continue to act in the manner that has been evident the last few days and not let the coming Conservative circus interfere. The presence of Chretien and Broadbent in the background greatly assists and signals to the public that this is a serious moment.

Mr. Harper has shown his contempt for the institutions of our democracy. I think it's over and I agree with Mr. Reid, you have to do something about it. The more you hear from angry Conservative insiders, I suspect there are those in the Conservative party who may support these sentiments as well.

This should help

The best and the brightest in the Conservative firmament out there building consensus and goodwill at a time when their government may be defeated:
"Poilievre said, however, that opposition parties are focused on power, while Harper is looking at the economy.

'By contrast, the Liberals, the separatists and the socialists, all of whom were resoundingly rejected in the last election, want to overturn that election and impose a coalition that they promised they would never entertain,' he said."
Those parties have a majority of seats in the House of Commons, Mr. Poilievre, and a coalition - constitutionally permissible and justified in the circumstances - if it occurs, will be the fruit of Stephen Harper's poisoned economic update. Nice hewing to the talking points from on high there, guy. Methinks you should be exercising independent thought, however, and asking your confreres up there in Ottawa what exactly you are gaining from the continued foot-shooting of Mr. Harper.

Just a thought.

Breach of trust

Their faces say it all these days. Here's Baird on CTV announcing that oh, no, the public financing item has been withdrawn. They didn't mean it, this time, anyway. It might come back in a future election. For now, withdrawn! And that's the problem!

The economic update was a colossal failure on the part of the Conservatives. Not only for the petty, partisan attack they launched on the opposition parties, but in respect of providing economic leadership the parties could all collectively work on to address the needs of Canadians. They veered instead, headlong into partisanship and ideology. A laughable prediction on surpluses, out of nowhere attacks on the right to strike, pay equity. They broke faith with the trust that they were given on October 14th, albeit in the form of a minority of seats. Once that trust within parliament is broken, is there any turning back?

The retreat on the party financing element is only a small part of the problem. If they don't recognize that, the minority Conservative government may very well still be defeated: wasn't clear Saturday if the Conservative change of heart was enough to defuse the situation and stop the opposition from banding together.

"We've just been meeting as a group, and our focus is the economy (and) making sure that we do what's best for Canadians," said NDP MP Paul Dewar.

The Liberals were also pushing for an economic aid package from the government.

"The Conservatives just don't get it," said Liberal house leader Ralph Goodale in a media release.

"What Canadians want from their government is a plan to help protect their jobs, their homes and prevent their hard-earned savings from disappearing."
Note that Craig Oliver was citing "anger from Conservative cabinet ministers" in a report today as background to the Conservative retreat on public financing. Harper has likely begun a full-scale climb down out of fear for his job. Economic news to come on Sunday from Flaherty, they're reporting: "...the official said the announcement will not include any new economic stimulus that the opposition parties are demanding." This should be very interesting. Because what they've produced to date has shown they don't get it. Suddenly, they're supposed to get religion and produce enough on the economic front to evoke confidence. They have brought us to deficit, with reckless spending and tax cuts.

Further, the opposition has seen what Conservatives are prepared to do with the levers of government, in terms of the way they conduct themselves in running the minority parliament and by prioritizing Conservative items of faith that were not raised in the election. Why should backtracking on public financing and the doling out of economic plans under duress, to save the government's skin, divert the train that is rolling down the track? There's been a fundamental breach of trust. Harper's Chief of Staff is instructing that propaganda flood the nation that is full of partisan excess and sideshow games. That's what they do. They can't help themselves.

I'm not sure there's anything Harper can do to repair the image of his government that the opposition sees as one that is fundamentally partisan and unserious. He shook the opposition to its core with partisan behaviour that is unsuited for the political and economic moment. Why should they believe him now?

"Something snapped yesterday"

Oh dear:
"...while the Tories remained outwardly feisty, there were several examples of internal nervousness. One Conservative official said it was unfathomable that the government might be heading for a cliff.

“I thought it was ‘The economy, stupid,'” one strategist said."
Enjoy the sound of Conservative insiders freaking out in the morning...:)

More information from some unknown insider (h/t Troy):
That’s why Stephen Harper has to wear this political mess himself. He personally ordered the incendiary paragraph inserted into Thursday’s fiscal update, ignored warnings from his own MPs who felt it was a lousy idea and clearly under-estimated his opponents’ resolve to defend their cash at any political price.
Still more:

A Conservative government source said yesterday the idea was Harper's.

Sources said "most" of the Conservative caucus is perplexed why the government moved to put such controversial measures in now. "It makes no sense," said one.


Conservative insiders across the country were flabbergasted.

"It is 1979 bravado with 1985 facts," said one plugged-in Tory, referring to Clark's bungled confidence vote in 1979 and the 1985 Liberal-NDP accord that ended 42 years of Tory rule at Queen's Park. "The government will fall," he lamented.

This is definitely an intriguing turn of events. They're hanging Harpie out to dry to unprecedented levels. The leadership race must surely be afoot.

In the meantime, not sure how all the whining and finger pointing is going to help the weekend p.r. blitz though:
The Globe and Mail has learned that Conservative MPs have been told to fan out this weekend in their ridings and sell the message, through forums such as talk radio, that this dispute with opposition parties is merely about the Liberals, NDP and Bloc trying to protect their share of the $27-million in public subsidies.

The Tories plan to scrutinize public reaction this weekend. If they don't feel they've persuaded Canadians that a change would be disastrous, sources said, they may consider describing in more detail what kind of spending they would be prepared to offer and under what conditions they would pump stimulus into the economy.
Their economic plans might be forthcoming depending on how their little political sideshow goes? Goes to show how they've gotten sidetracked. The auto industry? Hello? Jobs? Savings? Those are some issues worth talking about. Besides, I thought the public financing item was removed from their agenda for now? So why are they going to fan out and keep talking about it? Seems to me they should be spending their time on pressing issues rather than overtly self-interested political ones.

All of which goes to a picture of the Conservatives being frantic, the opposition serene:
The Tories hope to use the coming week to sow doubts in the public mind about the legitimacy of a coalition.

However, it may too be too late to stop the opposition parties from acting.

“I would say that my impression is that something snapped yesterday, and … certainly in our group, in our caucus, I think there's a growing feeling it is not possible to support the government,” Liberal MP and leadership candidate Bob Rae said.

“We'll see what the next week is like, but my sense is that something quite profound happened yesterday.”
Yes, profound is a good word for it.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday night music

Yes, even tonight...:) Here's this week's choice. No embed once again! Blasted!

Cheers...and play safe out there, kids.

Harper tries to put the genie back in the bottle

Picture of the year, demonstrating great moments in Prime Ministerial sheepishness:

Climbing in off that ledge is a might embarrassing. I've been away from the computer for most of the day but did manage to catch some of his speech while out earlier then fire it back up at here are a few thoughts on how disingenuous it was. Did you catch the nervous lull in his voice at the very end of the speech as he wished everyone a good weekend? Listen for it. Very telling.

How many times did Harper say "Stephane Dion" in that speech? As if this is all about Dion!
"Stéphane Dion does not have the right to take power without an election."
Um, portraying Stephane Dion as a power hungry politician does not exactly fit with the Conservative messaging from the past two know, he's supposed to be all incompetent and not-a-leader-like, remember? Suddenly, Dion is the most awesome force in Canadian politics! Heh...:) Just goes to show you he'll say anything he needs to in order to fit the moment. Dion, since he is leaving, should be a very acceptable leader of such an alternative government, as he's non-threatening and any actions he would take would not be self-interested at all. The Canadian public knows that, so this will be in the backdrop should such an eventuality come to pass.

The characterization of the opposition as undermining the recent electoral result is not correct either. They're acting in accordance with it. A minority parliament is inherently susceptible to such steps that the opposition is considering. Canadians chose the current make-up of parliament and if they had wanted the electoral result not to be disturbed then they would have elected a majority.

As for the rest of the speech, it just sounded partisan and unsubstantial.

What is truly amazing about this day is the unification in the opposition that has resulted. It's not surprising then that the line of attack coming from Conservative related sources is to attempt to undermine it. I suspect there will be much more of it this week, perhaps even ads run by the Conservative party. Which I believe could embolden the opposition even more so. But the essential problem is that Harper has given them an extremely important reason to stick together: his reckless decision to play politics with the economic update rather than acting substantively. The world is acting, he's exposed: "...the lack of movement on the economic front that both New Democrats and Liberals cited as the real impetus behind the decision to hold coalition talks." More:
"There's no stimulus package," said deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. "Yes, there are some parts of it that could always be brought back that would help some people but overall, a total lack of vision and failure to stimulate the economy, unlike every other major nation or entity in the world that has realized that there is a serious economic problem."
That's the brilliance of the opposition move. Harpie gave them a very serious opening and they took it. Scott Brison is sounding very down to earth and insightful here in presenting substance that resonates, instead of Conservative dithering. Sorry, John Ivison, but there is nothing scary about this:

We would work with finance department officials to thoroughly evaluate the financial position of Canada. We would continue to work with the top economic thinkers and business and labour leaders in Canada and bring them together formally for an immediate summit to determine how far we can go. The focus would be on stimulus measures that make sense now during a downturn, but would also contribute to long-term productivity and prosperity for Canadians.

We understand that now is not the time for timidity. We must be bold. Measures to be considered would include: an increase and an acceleration of infrastructure measures, with a particular focus on green infrastructure; an increase in support for Research and Development measures that can take place in the short-term; working with provinces to improve programs for Canadian workers to train and retrain as part of life-long learning to help them cope with current and future economic realities; and working with manufacturing, forestry and auto sector leaders to develop measures that help strengthen their position during this crisis.

With regards to the auto sector, we would not continue to be a bystander in these important ongoing negotiations in the U.S. We would seek to be a more active stakeholder given that we represent 14 per cent of the auto industry in North America.

We would also convene an immediate First Ministers conference to partner with provinces to ensure the stimulus comes into effect quickly and makes an impact now in the downturn, but also contributes to greater productivity and prosperity in the future as the global economy recovers. (emphasis added)

Where's this kind of action from the government? Nada.

The talk that a coalition can't survive or that it wouldn't be permitted by the Governor General is to be expected. But there are enough experts who will come forth to support the Governor General in turning to the opposition. The 1985 precedent is very instructive. And Bob Rae's intimate experience there can be helpful in making a similar agreement work now.

Something big has been put in motion by Harper's conniving. He's shown himself and it will be very difficult to put this genie back in the bottle.

Update: When I wrote this, I had no idea that Dawg had used this genie in the bottle phrasing earlier or I would have provided a h/t. So here it is...

A rude awakening for the Conservatives

"Liberals, NDP in coalition talks." Quite the day, as evident all over the blogosphere.

Mr. Harper has put in motion a series of events that he did not anticipate, that's clear. Whatever happens, it's fair to say that this was an overplayed hand. The presence of the party elder statesmen has jolted Stevie to attention. And as a result, I'm thinking that he will not easily give up his precious government status. I would expect him to start exhibiting kung-fu grip on the levers of power just about now. Because being brought down now would spell the beginning of the end of Stephen Harper and his dice rolling. Leadership rumblings would definitely be afoot. You know, to the effect that Steve went a little too far. So in addition to today's caving - ("they did announce that the first confidence vote on the fiscal update – due on Monday – would not be on the public financing proposal") - there may be more to come, despite all the Teneycke tough talk. No one out there speaking for the Conservatives other than Teneycke? Striking.

Whatever happens, whether the non-confidence vote occurs on Monday or not, the groundwork is being laid for an alternative government as early as Monday or at some point in the very near future. There are adults up there in Ottawa!

Fun, fun, fun. It is indeed satisfying to stand up to the bully.

Friday morning notes...the S.S. Harper returns

1. Thought I'd fish out this artwork from the recent federal campaign - I like to call it the "S.S. Harper" - and it's taking on a whole new meaning these days...heh...:) That Harper quote sounds so foolish now...I thought Noah didn't need to panic?

2. What the brilliant tactician may have done was push the opposition firmly toward toppling the Conservatives when, prior to the last 24-48 hours, it really wasn't on the table. Nothing was concrete enough to crystallize it. It's now being openly discussed. Reporters seem awestruck at the sight, reinforcing its reality (Hebert and Gregg last night). Conservatives are described as "thunderstruck." And even if it doesn't happen over this economic update, i.e., Harper backs down, the likelihood of it happening on some other vote, perhaps the coming "early" budget has markedly increased. Harper has galvanized the opposition by startling them with the lengths he's willing to go to. This is purely a guess...but I'm thinking he had no idea that talk of coalitions would actually come to fruition.

3. A reader prompted me to look back to the 1985 accord between Bob Rae and David Peterson as precedent for a viable scenario at the moment. So here are a few items to consider. First, here's a video clip featuring an interview with a young Rae that was referenced on Cam Holmstrom's site that gives you a pretty good sense of some aspects of the deal that was made between Rae and Peterson at that time. Second, there was a prescient column in the Toronto Star on October 13th, the day before the last election, on scenarios for the opposition that's quite helpful to review at this moment (and remember, it was written eons ago in our news cycles, so some of it is sooo dated, already). It discusses the 1985 accord and relates it to the situation on October 13th when another minority result was imminent:

By the time of the 1985 Tory toppling, Rae was determined to be more than a footnote in history: He agreed to support Peterson as premier only after the Liberals signed a two-year pact not to call an election, while passing an agreed-upon list of mutually acceptable reforms. The famous "accord" made Peterson premier but it also garnered a popularity for Rae's New Democrats that put him in the premier's office in 1990.

Now white-haired, a convert to Liberalism, a former rival for the leadership won by Stéphane Dion, Rae could yet play a key part in the aftermath of tomorrow's election, one all the polls say will deliver Canadians their third minority government in a row.


If the economy continues to slide, an opposition coalition based on some guarantee of stability could possibly look very attractive to worried Canadians. The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc have burning issues to address together: climate change, the war in Afghanistan, restoring arts funding, and strengthening of social supports in times of trouble.

In Ontario, the activist government dictated by the agreed-upon agenda in the accord proved broadly popular. Negotiated between the two parties out of common planks in their election platforms – a ban on doctors' extra-billing, equal pay for work of equal value, 10,000 social housing starts, a spills bill for polluters – the accord was impervious to the powerful doctor and business lobbies. It had been signed: Peterson could not waver.

It is difficult to see how, based on platforms and ideologies, Harper could attract a stable governing partner. It is easier to imagine the Liberals, NDP and Bloc agreeing on a common action plan.

Interestingly, Duceppe recently swallowed his spleen about Dion, the architect of the Clarity Act, and observed he might be willing to enter into an agreement with the Liberals on some issues, such as the environment – in Quebec's interests, of course. Duceppe has no doubt already ruled out a coalition (sharing cabinet seats) with a federalist party, but he might see merit in an Ontario-style accord.

Following a defeat of Harper's government in the Commons, the opposition parties could offer written proofs to Governor General Michaëlle Jean that they have a stable agreement to support Dion as prime minister for a certain period (it was two years in Ontario) in return for swift government action on their common agenda.

... would be tricky – particularly with three prickly partners instead of the two in the Ontario experiment.

But it is a tried-and-true way to offer election-weary Canadians a period of stability, and a common agenda put together out of the platforms for which most of the electorate voted.

Issues that would have to be worked out include whether this would be a coalition, where cabinet seats would be shared, or an accord, where as in Ontario, one party would run the government and the other(s) would share power through the provisions of the accord on issues, process, etc.

4. There's also the not so little issue of the Liberal leadership. As referenced in that Globe report last night, there are kinks to work out:

The party almost certainly would refuse to go into another election under Mr. Dion, with the likely result that the mantle of interim leadership would fall on Michael Ignatieff, who has the most support from the parliamentary caucus and influential backroom Liberals.

But that would upset supporters of MPs Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc, who are campaigning for the Liberal leadership and who were outraged Thursday when key Ignatieff organizer Steven MacKinnon used the proposed Harper legislation to send out an e-mail fundraising appeal for Mr. Ignatieff under the heading “Save Canada's Democracy – Stephen Harper is trying to undermine Canada's fair and open political system. Take action now!”

From the CP, there's this:

Under the Liberal constitution, the party's national executive, in consultation with caucus, has emergency power to appoint a successor should the leader resign or die.

Ignatieff, who has the lion's share of caucus and executive support, would likely become leader if that route were followed.

Given that there is a leadership race in progress, this is going to be a tricky manoeuvre. As Canwest reports, if Jean Chretien is involved, as they say, it looks like it's serious business. Personally, I'm not comfortable with installing one of them as the way to go. Would the situation constitute an emergency? Could a third party be chosen by the caucus to run a coalition until the leadership could be worked out? As a reader suggests, if there is an accord entered into with the other parties, for say, 2 years, then why would one of the candidates have to be installed right now? Wait a few months after a shortened leadership campaign, perhaps. I'm just not comfortable with obliterating the race in its entirety as a result of some agreement. Not a good precedent.

5. Other notes... what the NY Times readers are reading about Harper's injection of the political financing question into the economic update and the prospect of a coalition government:
“It’s pure political gimmickry,” said C. E. S. Franks, a professor emeritus of political science at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Professor Franks said that the comparative youth of the current Parliament could mean that the governor general, Michaëlle Jean, might turn to the opposition parties to form a government if the Conservative plan was defeated. The opposition would, he added, probably have to publicly sign a formal agreement to support any resulting government for a fixed period.
6. A startling revelation from former Mulroney official, L. Ian MacDonald:
Had the Conservatives been returned with a majority in last month’s election they had every intention of cutting off public financing of political parties, and they would had the means and the muscle to do it over the howls of opposition protests. Now they’re doing so anyway, touting it as part of Ottawa tightening its spending in yesterday’s economic update. (emphasis added)
Every intention of doing so, despite this major public policy change not having been raised at all during the election. Just unbelievable. Well, actually believable from this crowd. But quite the revelation.

7. And finally, this Globe editorial that gets it right:

By destabilizing their own government, the Conservatives have placed Canada at a competitive disadvantage against other states. Through gratuitous partisanship, they have turned an economic crisis into a political one.

They should withdraw their cynical attempt to rewrite election rules and concentrate on what matters: the world economic crisis.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

More likely constitutional support for the Governor General to refuse an election

In light of the three opposition parties vowing to oppose the Conservative economic update, the prospect of a showdown coming where the government is defeated on a confidence vote becomes more real. It may be a way's down the road, and such arguments may be putting the cart before the horse, but it's still worthwhile context for the present political goings on. My previous post referenced Peter Russell's view on the Governor General being able to deny a Harper request for another election. I suspect we may be hearing from others who will echo Russell as well. If, for example, you now go back and re-read one of the influential pieces written prior to Harper's recent September election call that supported that election call, Professor Patrick Monahan's op-ed, "The request Jean can't refuse," it seems clear that circumstances have now changed and Professor Monahan's support for the Harper September election call would no longer be operative. Here was the crux of Monahan's argument on August 29, 2008 which agreed with Harper's election call, on the basis of the political circumstances in early fall:
The circumstances today are quite different on all counts from those in 1926. First, Stephen Harper would be seeking his first dissolution, and it has been almost a full three years since the previous election. In fact, Mr. Harper's minority government has been in office nearly twice as long as the average minority government in Canada. Moreover, despite Opposition Leader Stephane Dion's strong hints that he intends to defeat the government this fall, there can be no doubt but that the Prime Minister still enjoys the confidence of the House, having survived numerous confidence votes during the spring session of Parliament. Thus there is no basis for the Governor-General refusing to follow his advice. Finally, unlike in 1926, there is no suggestion that the Leader of the Opposition is in a position to form a stable minority government and thus no practical alternative to an election should the Prime Minister request one.

In short, even if the governor-general has a "reserve power" that would entitle her in exceptional circumstances to refuse a prime minister's request for an election, no such special circumstances exist today. Thus there can be no doubt but that under established constitutional conventions, the Governor-General should grant Prime Minister Harper's request.
That seems to be an argument that no longer holds. There is an argument that "special circumstances" have arisen that would permit the Governor-General to turn to the Leader of the Opposition and deny the PM's request. This would be the second dissolution sought within months. With the opposition parties unanimously indicating they no longer support the government and presumably about to follow through on this opposition, the PM would not be able to say he has the confidence of the House. The Governor General would have the basis to refuse to follow his advice. If there is a public expression of a coalition or a Liberal minority government agreed to as a result of a governing plan of some sort articulated by the opposition parties, then a practical alternative presents itself. Throw in the special circumstances of a recession and the present economic challenges, and a second $300 million election within months being requested by Mr. Harper...there's a good argument for you.

For what it's worth. This is likely a long way's off and even writing about such machinations reinforces how time wasting the Harper-Flaherty ploy is. People are distracted from the essential fact that the Conservative economic update today was a failure. They're dithering and tinkering with gimmicks while Canadians are hurting.

Liberals and NDP to vote against the economic update

CTV is reporting now...

Peter Russell's recent op-ed in the Globe is worth reproducing at this moment. Published November 17th, Russell, one of the nation's pre-eminent political scientists, provides the rationale for the Governor General to deny a request for another election and turn instead to the Leader of the Opposition:

If our 40th Parliament is not to suffer the fate of the 39th, its life must not be at the mercy of Mr. Harper's political designs. The Governor-General should exercise her discretionary power to dissolve Parliament before October 2012 only if Mr. Harper's government is defeated on a confidence vote and the Leader of the Opposition cannot form a government with a reasonable chance of being supported by a majority in the House of Commons.

To reduce the possibility of these conditions being met, Mr. Harper should label as confidence matters only those measures that are so important to his government that he is prepared to fight an election to secure a mandate for them. For their part, the opposition parties, before voting to bring the government down, have an obligation to see if they can agree on terms for supporting an alternative government.

In September, when Mr. Harper asked for a dissolution, there was no alternative government in sight with a chance of commanding the confidence of Parliament. Without such an alternative, the Governor-General has no choice but to accede to the Prime Minister's request, however unpalatable and unconstitutional it may be.

It is not necessary for the Liberals and NDP to agree to form a coalition government. They need only agree on a legislative agenda, similar to the 1985 accord between the Peterson Liberals and the Rae NDP in Ontario, that has a good chance of winning sufficient Bloc support to sustain a Liberal minority government. News of such a possibility might cool Mr. Harper's ardour for a premature dissolution or, if it doesn't, give the Governor-General a basis for refusing such a request, for dismissing him and calling on the Leader of the Opposition to form a government.

This is a moment at which we need a functioning, serious government that addresses the issues of the day. One that doesn't play games by dangling shiny objects in front of the population to distract from burgeoning deficits of their own making. The conventional wisdom that the Governor General must grant an election upon every request by a PM is clearly debatable in the present circumstances. Russell, for one, is providing a backstop for the opposition.

Update (5:30 p.m.): Scott Brison was referring to Flaherty as "Deficit Jim" on both Don Newman's show and Duffy...heh...:) It may seem silly, but the caricature is well-deserved and fits the bill. It ties the devastating economic incompetence to the man. Flaherty is bringing to Canada what he did to Ontario. Brison's doing a bang-up job this afternoon by the way. A fresh face on the economic message, clearly getting the point across.

Deficit Jim's big day: his first federal deficit

A few more brief thoughts on the Flaherty plan that is to be unveiled today and that supposedly includes the slashing of political party financing...

1. A major change to the system such as this should have been disclosed by the Conservatives during the election campaign that ended just six weeks ago. That it was not is an indication, once again, of why voters have difficulty placing trust in Stephen Harper. Hidden agenda? Check. And just think, he's only 12 seats away from a majority. Think of all he could be doing if he'd won that majority on October 14th. This proposal wouldn't even be an issue, it would be flying through the House of Commons right about now under cover of a world economic crisis...

2. The fact that the issue was not raised during the campaign means that there is no mandate, whatsoever, for a radical change to the party financing system. Particularly with a minority parliament in place.

3. Harper has, in putting this idea in motion, "poisoned" the atmosphere in parliament, just as a minority parliament was re-elected by the Canadian population with the directive to work together. That should tell the Canadian people what he thinks of their judgment.

4. Here are a few reactions in the reporting that give a sense of the tenor of the fight that has been unleashed, to the detriment of more serious issues that need to be addressed, if Flaherty is serious about this:
"They're going to have a hell of a fight on their hands. This is not the way to behave in a democracy," Liberal leadership contender Bob Rae told CTV News.
From a CanWest report:
"This is huge. This is so audacious and outrageous," said Pat Martin, an NDP MP from Winnipeg. "This means war."
"During an economic crisis, (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper is more focused on putting the boots to his political adversaries than helping vulnerable Canadians protect their jobs and savings with a real economic plan," said Liberal MP Scott Brison.
"This is not a perk; it is a way of having fair democracy in Canada," said John Bennett, communications director for the Green Party. "This is a way of using the financial crisis to do political damage to other parties."

"They're using the financial crisis as a cover for an attempt to eliminate the political opposition in Canada, despite the fact that the government only got a little over one third of the votes of Canadians. This is a blow to democracy. It will have a significant impact on the ability for the party to maintain our offices and our operation in Ottawa."
It's hard to believe the Conservatives will be following through on this. So we'll all have to wait and see what Deficit Jim squawks out this afternoon. But if at the end of the day, they do, the opposition best get very serious about how to deal with Stephen Harper and his politics of distraction and destruction at a time when we need it least of all.

Oh Canada, look what you have ushered in

I have been away from the internets this evening...but looky what the cat has dragged in...

Under the guise of the world economic crisis, the incompetent Conservatives who have spent the cupboard bare and slashed the GST to the tune of $13 billion a year in revenues are apparently thick enough to attack the public financing system for political parties: "Tories to slash all party funds, MP perks in economic update." Where to start with this bomb the Conservative flame throwers have launched? I'd say with a cool head to begin with. There are so many aspects to this to consider, it's so misguided.

First off, it's a pure political stink bomb. When people are losing their jobs, when the auto industry is in the crapper, when Canadian financial institutions are having liquidity difficulties due to the world's crunch...this is what the Conservatives come up with. A proposal that is purely about partisan politics. Destroying the financing of the opposition parties that they and the Conservatives have lived with for years now and on which they plan and run their activities as vibrant participants in our democracy. Suddenly, at a moment's notice, the Conservative anti-democrats want to take that away like a rug swooshed out from under parliament's feet. Are they kidding with this? Talk about smoking out the Conservatives for their basest instincts. They don't want a functioning democracy. They want to destroy the opposition, principally their main rival, the Liberals. The current economic crisis, world and Conservative induced is not a licence to destroy the pillars of our democracy.

Secondly, in terms of strategy, if I were an opposition party leader or influential staffer or someone in a position of authority, I would be thinking about setting up an all party meeting of the opposition parties, pronto. Adopt a united front on this. Indicate that any legislation including this provision will be voted down due to its sideshow nature, number one, as it does nothing to make up for Conservative financial incompetence. And secondly, it will be voted down due to its anti-democratic bent. Watch them back down.

Thirdly, well, if they want to amend the party financing system, then bring in legislation. Respect the democratic process we have in this country. Let the opposition parties contribute their plans too. But again - this is a sideshow in the middle of these economic circumstances. Is it too much to ask that they be serious?

Fourthly, the opposition should consider serious discussions about forming an alternative to these clowns. This floated trial balloon demonstrates that quite clearly. If they can't oversee our democracy properly but want to slash and burn it with such proposals that are on no one's top ten list, then people will have to stand up. No matter the party circumstances.

Carry on in the blogosphere on this one...I'll be back later. There's lots to chew on, that's for sure.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Conservative dithering

Conservatives on the defensive today, that's a shame: "Tories slammed for lack of stimulus package." Their dithering is deservedly under the microscope. So an unknown senior official has been dispatched to fight the perception taking hold that they don't know what they're doing. That and the second perception that they're waiting on Obama before acting. It's quite the hesitant performance for a government that we've just re-elected on a platform of economic leadership and all:
The Harper government is fighting back against criticism that it's not acting fast enough to confront the economic crisis, saying Canada will likely beat the U.S. in getting shovels in the ground.

A senior official conceded there will be no stimulus package in Thursday's fiscal update and said that will have to wait until next year's budget.

The official would give no estimate about when the stimulus - expected to be mostly in the form of massive infrastructure spending - will be passed by Parliament, but said it will likely be in place before the Americans act.

That's because Barack Obama won't be sworn in as president until Jan. 20 and then the legislative wheels begin grinding.

"We have an administration already in place. The prime minister is the prime minister today. And our legislative process tends to move more quickly," the official explained.

This week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the budget will be moved up to ensure stimulus is introduced as soon as possible, but he wouldn't give a date.

The government has come under increasing pressure to move quickly on a multibillion-dollar spending program to stimulate the economy, but the official insisted Ottawa will not act prematurely just to satisfy "the media and stakeholders." (emphasis added)
Yes, it's the media and unknown "stakeholders" that are insisting on action. Um, leading economists, how about that? Not to mention the reality of those losing their jobs due to turbulence in the auto industry reinforcing the need to act. Maybe they might send out a better government official next time. One that doesn't have a tin ear.

Seems they're a little testy about remarks like these that people hear and think, you know, that guy knew what he was doing, maybe there's something to it:
Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin says he would already have a stimulus package on the go to deal with the economic crisis if he were still leading the nation.

And he wouldn't hesitate to help out the struggling automotive industry.

"I do believe in stimulus spending," Martin said last night before a book signing for Hell or High Water, his political autobiography.

"Everybody is moving quicker. The British have moved. The Americans -- (Barack) Obama is going to move the minute he becomes president.

"I'm not sure why a government that's in office in Canada has to wait until after a new president takes office in the United States."
We're not sure either. But perhaps it has something to do with a distinct lack of leadership and timidity:
The size of stimulus the government is considering for the full budget hasn’t been decided, the aide said, adding that the larger fiscal plan won’t come before next year.
Oh the perils of a one man show...because when he's away, no one's allowed to make a decision it seems. Flaherty and partisan sidekick Menzies are just not giving anyone any confidence.

Turley on Torture Prosecutions

Professor Jonathan Turley on Rachel Maddow's show last night laying down the essential question for the Democrats and the American democracy on the issue of what to do about torture perpetrated under the Bush administration...will they prosecute war crimes if criminal investigations uncover such offences? Or will the great American democracy turn a blind eye to it? Stay tuned on this one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No fiscal stimulus, just political optics on deck

CTV, of course, has the details on the Conservatives' imminent "belt-tightening" political optics extravaganza:

Sources told CTV News the measures will include:

  • Cancellation of a planned three per cent or $4,600 pay hike for MPs who already earn $155,400
  • Restricting the use of government challenger jets
  • Ending all unnecessary travel and entertainment
  • Cutting all business-class travel for cabinet ministers and top civil servants

It's also believed that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will order spending cuts at Crown corporations and other federal agencies. Insiders say the financial belt-tightening could save Canada tens of millions of dollars each year. (emphasis added)

Tens of millions, crikey they've solved it! While it's a start, we're talking billions. And before the accolades for the right tone they're setting start flooding the air waves, let's remember they had no choice after having been caught with their travel pants down. No more government jets for Lawrence-22-times-in-2-years-Cannon. For someone who doesn't like to fly, that's quite the record. Is it different on a government jet? Do you get frequent flyer miles on government jets?

Measures like this should be expected. Canadians everywhere are tightening their belts and suffering their own hardships. Some people - see Deficit Jim's riding - are actually losing their jobs, not just foregoing a pay hike while making much more than the average Canadian. So please spare us the self-congratulatory sanctimony on Thursday...

Kory times are tough times

Get ready for a pile of symbolic gimmickry meant to obscure Conservative incompetence and responsibility for putting the nation's finances in jeopardy. The ministers are being put on allowance:
"Canada will use a budget update this week to outline curbs on government expenditures, including spending by high-ranking politicians, according to a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“We will be talking about the need to restrain discretionary spending and that will start with the top,” Kory Teneycke, Harper’s director of communications, told reporters today in Ottawa."
More from the government's chief financial spokesthingy these days:
Canada will slash spending by cabinet ministers and other politicians in the wake of media revelations about lavish foreign trips, a top official said on Tuesday.

Kory Teneycke, the chief spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said the Conservative government must show Canadians it can manage the nation's finances in times of economic crisis.

"We will be talking about the need to restrain discretionary spending and that will start at the top," he told reporters, predicting "lots of complaints" from politicians.

"This will be much more deep and much more significant than anyone has speculated to date."

Oh do tell spokesthingy. This sounds like quite the plan. I look forward to seeing how discretionary spending by ministers will make any dent whatsoever in the billions of deficit financing that Deficit Jim is bringing our way. Do I detect echoes of John McCain's "fantasy war" on wasteful spending and earmarks here? These Conservatives love their symbolic politics but they're just so unoriginal and really, unhelpful.

The emperor has no clothes

The latest on Stephen Harper's alleged leadership skills: "Canada bides time."

Not coming off well at all. Especially in comparison to this guy.

Harper and Guantanamo Bay realpolitik

Another legal effort to have Omar Khadr's Guantanamo trial halted was refused yesterday. His lawyers sought to halt the trial on the grounds that the military commission doesn't have jurisdiction to try child soldiers who cannot be classified as "enemy combatants." That is a question for the military commission, said the U.S. federal judge, punting the decision off to January 26th, Khadr's latest trial start date. The reaction of Khadr's lawyer:
"The judge did not reach the merits of the child soldier issue . . . it makes it abundantly clear that the question of whether Omar will be the first child tried by the U.S. for war crimes in U.S. history is a purely political question," said Kuebler. "Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper having abdicated his responsibility to protect Omar as a Canadian citizen, we hope president-elect (Barack) Obama shows greater moral courage."
Abdicated responsibility. That's a fitting description of what the Harper Conservatives have done on this file, hiding behind the legal process at Guantanamo Bay.

The PM repeated his weak do-nothing position on Sunday at the APEC summit,when someone surprisingly was able to ask him a question on why he's not doing anything in respect of Khadr now that Obama has publicly reiterated his goal of closing Gitmo:
"The reason, as I understand it, for [Obama's] position on the closing of the prison is that most of the prisoners there are not charged with anything, and they are not subject to any legal process, and that is the controversy," Harper said in Lima.

"The case of Omar Khadr, as we all know, is not that. It is very different. He is charged ... with very serious offences. He is subject to a legal process."
Khadr's been charged under the legal process at Gitmo, prattled the PM, as if that legal process were perfectly legitimate. Ignoring that Khadr's a child soldier and was tortured. Ignoring other established torture at Gitmo. Prisoners held for 7 years on flimsy evidence. Prosecutors who have resigned due to politicized prosecutions. Hamdan, Bin Laden's driver, is being returned to Yemen in the next few days to serve out the rest of his sentence. But the Canadian arrested when he was 15 must remain there because our government respects the legal process. Few do anymore. But Harper does. Even though the place is about to be closed down out of recognition of the international embarrassment it is.

Harper's fantasy in which he never has to deal with Khadr, however, is in for a rude awakening at some point in the near future:
The Conservative policy has hit a realpolitik wall. The United States has a new president-elect, Barack Obama, who has committed his government, repeatedly, to the closing down of Guantanamo Bay. Even if this promise is delayed in its execution, the trial of Omar Khadr will never lead anywhere; its wheels will come off, just as so many others are doing at Guantanamo Bay.

The only question that remains is what to do with Omar Khadr in 2009, as the Guantanamo detention facility is prepared for closure. At that point, the U.S. administration will be desperately seeking countries willing to facilitate the return of detained citizens. There will be an American expectation that Canada will help by taking Omar Khadr back. Mr. Khadr is one of about 250 remaining prisoners at Guantanamo; in no one's eyes does he number among the 20-30 hard core detainees who pose a serious threat and who will constitute the major headache for the new president's policy.

The Canadian government will need to reverse course on Mr. Khadr and prepare the ground for his return.
Well, we can hope. But it is the Stephen Harper government, after all.

Until then, kudos to Bill Kuebler for calling it like it is: our PM has exhibited zero moral courage on one of the most significant international issues of the day.

Flaherty all over the map

Like others, I watched Jim Flaherty's actions on Monday with interest and did my best to try to keep track of his evolving positions as the day proceeded. I think this CBC update tonight gives you a sense of the rudderless Flaherty who is doing nothing to reassure that he knows what he's doing: "Flaherty hints at early budget to stimulate economy." Here's the trail he left as of the end of the day:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty may table the next federal budget early to include infrastructure spending and other provisions to stimulate the ailing economy.

In a speech Monday evening, Flaherty said the Canadian economy is rapidly losing speed, and demands government action before the March budget is tabled.

Earlier in the day, he made no promises that a stimulus package would be forthcoming when he delivers his economic update later this week.

Flaherty later said any package would be included in a sooner-than-scheduled budget, although he did not give a specific date. His officials also suggested that announcing stimulus measures before the next budget is a possibility.
That's about it. Here's what happened on Monday, as best as I can figure it. He seems to have been blindsided by a number of economists who were reported to be insisting on a major stimulus sooner rather than later, in this Globe report from this morning. The spring would be too late, they warned. So Flaherty played up his talk on infrastructure spending in a speech this afternoon in Toronto, principally the $33 billion that is already in the pipeline. Pogge has more on that issue, as well. Quoted in the Globe report on the speech, this is what Flaherty said about this week's update:
Mr. Flaherty also said that this week's economic update would be “just that” and not include any major moves meant to stimulate the economy, but budgetary measures, such as a cap on public sector salaries, may be included.
Linda Diebel reported this inaction as well and the obvious political peril for the Harper government:
Although Canada is likely headed for recession, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says his government has no plans to introduce an economic stimulus package before next spring's budget.

Instead, Flaherty said today he will table only an economic update to Parliament on Thursday because his government has already acted on the tax side to combat the economic crisis.

"We've made dramatic tax cuts already," Flaherty told reporters after a luncheon speech today in Toronto to the Canadian Council for Public-Private Parnerships.

Asked how people losing their jobs now can wait until the federal budget next March, Flaherty replied:

"We have a stimulus of almost 2 percent of GDP in the Canadian economy . . . Fortunately, we acted in advance of other countries who have had to play catch-up on that stimulus."
Yeah, that GST cut is sure helping the workers of the nation right now. So Flaherty seemed to be testing out his message at his speech in the afternoon, that they've already done enough.

But word soon came after the Diebel report that oopsie, the government changed its mind and may now be willing to do something before the budget in the spring:
Ottawa is considering a multibillion-dollar economic stimulus package before the next federal budget in an effort to ensure Canada's response to the unfolding global economic crisis does not lag behind the United States and other countries, government sources say.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty repeated Monday that the government is not ready to unveil major new spending measures in Thursday's economic update. The fiscal statement will update the House of Commons on the state of the economy and likely forecast a budget deficit for the 2009-2010 fiscal year as growth slows to a crawl.

But sources within the Tory government said the minister is leaving open the option of introducing an economic stimulus package focusing on accelerated infrastructure spending before the budget, expected in February, if the economy continues to deteriorate. (emphasis added)
And then the final twist, an early budget, as reported in the CBC item at the beginning of this post. Quite the day of evolution for Deficit Jim on Monday. Not exactly embodying a steady, wise hand on the economic tiller. More like flying by the seat of their pants, reacting and not leading. These Conservatives should be striking no fear, on economic matters, into the heart of any Liberals.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pressing issues for the PCO

Amazing, the things the Privy Council Office spends its time on, Mr. Harper's leadership fortunes:

Now, remember, kids...they're supposed to be non-partisan!
In Canada the Privy Council Office (French: Bureau du Conseil privé) is the secretariat of the federal cabinet and the department of the Prime Minister. It provides non-partisan advice and support to the Prime Minister and leadership, coordination and support to the departments and agencies of the government.
Unless they consider my blog to be an independent source of critical thought...nah...

If I were a prospective Conservative leader, I'd be making some baby steps toward a leadership run. But hey, that's just little ol' mischief maker me, I'm sure...:)

Harper's leadership in the news

Well this is bit of a downer on your return from the APEC summit: "Most Tories happy with Harper's 'even keel' leadership and his message discipline." Most. But not everyone:
If Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who just won a second minority government, fails to win a majority government in the next election, he should step down as party leader, say some Conservative Party members at the recent national policy convention in Winnipeg, but others say the decision should be left up to Mr. Harper, regardless of the next election's outcome.

"Harper led the Conservative Party in the last two elections and before that led the Alliance Party [in the 2004 election]. After the next election, if we again end up with a minority, I think that should be it. He should leave after that and let someone else take over. I have no doubt that Harper is a smart, intelligent leader but if we don't win a majority next time, he should step aside," said one Conservative delegate, who requested anonymity at the policy convention. (emphasis added)
I think that's the first leadership grumbling we've heard. Congratulations to you, unknown Conservative. Sounds like common sense to me. Besides, as the following anonymous source makes clear, there appears to be a climate of fear in the Conservative caucus:
"Casey and Turner were expelled from the caucus for speaking against the government and they were made examples of for other people. Harper has made it clear to everybody that all the caucus members have to be team players or they have no place in the party. Nobody wants to suffer from the same consequences," said the source.
It's hard to see how this makes for good long term prospects for Harper. More:
She cited certain other ministers, like Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner (Louis-Saint-Laurent, Que.), and Labour Minister Rona Ambrose (Edmonton-Spruce Grove, Alta.), who hardly ever speak to the press. "[Josée Verner] has never been allowed to just go out and scrum...Rona Ambrose was [intergovernmental affairs minister] for over a year, and I'm assuming others tried to get interviews with her to no avail, and I never heard her say one word on the subject of intergovernmental affairs. You have to ask yourself why that is, and I suspect it's because the PMO decides this is a risky file, something the PM has a personal interest in, and basically it's run out of the PMO anyway and the minister is better to be seen and not heard. There's a whole slew of them like that," said Ms. Bryden.
Check out the rest of that second article, it's really something on the stifling of the ministers, Teneycke's quote on the 45 minute Question Period being basically it for public access to ministers and Greg Weston's comments on the access to information bottle neck that the Conservatives have created.

The Harper ministers are either an exceedingly obedient bunch, in which case there's not much leadership potential there, or some are going to start bristling at the lock down, depending on how Harper executes over this next year or so.

Got to love those anonymous Conservatives making waves on a Monday morning...

Leadership notes

"Ex-PM Chretien receives an honorary degree in front of hometown crowd."
A number of former political colleagues were among the hundreds of guests present, including Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae.
Interesting. More below.

Lawrence Martin's column today focusses on the Liberal leadership dynamics, pointing out the potential kingmaker status of Dominic LeBlanc. With respect to whoever finishes third, it is just so flawed in this day and age that such a decision would potentially be left in one candidate's hands and subjected to all the political manoeuvring to be had. A one member-one vote system would be eminently preferable. Here's hoping that this is the last antiquated go round for a system that produces such a dynamic.

Back to the three candidate dynamic, if this does remain a three person race (anyone else out there?), perhaps the third place candidate will anoint no one and release their delegates in any event. It will take some real chutzpah for a third place finisher to go to one of the others. They'll be entitled to do so, yes. They'll also be entitled to hang back and release their delegates, a more democratic decision and perhaps more fair. Whatever the scenario, it's going to be a tough call and one that preferably wouldn't have to be made.

Martin does provide some grist, however, in pointing out the following about LeBlanc:
He comes out of the Chrétien wing of the party. He represents the New Brunswick riding of Beauséjour that Jean Chrétien once represented himself. Mr. Chrétien appointed his father, Roméo LeBlanc, governor-general. The Chrétien circle is behind Bob Rae, whose brother John was Mr. Chrétien's campaign manager.
Not determinative in any respect, but it is fair to point it out.

As for how it's going...I'm seeing a lot of Rae in the news. Speech on the economy, top of everyone's mind, on Friday. Not much Ignatieff, other than a trip to Winnipeg where he's in listening mode. Not much LeBlanc. It's early, yes, and I suppose there are a lot of organizational matters preoccupying early on. But we deserve to hear much more from these candidates. I hope this dynamic gets broken soon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Here we go

The ubiquitous Tom Flanagan speaks and his comments are worth keeping in mind as the Harper government proceeds in this economic climate after having mismanaged the nation's finances:
"I'm hopeful there will be some ideologically-driven, neo-conservative cuts to government," political scientist Tom Flanagan, a former chief of staff to Harper, said in an interview.

Such cuts, he added, would be consistent with Harper's long-term goal of reducing the size and scope of government.

"I think that's always been sort of the long-term plan, the way that Stephen was going about it of first depriving the government of surpluses through cutting taxes . . . You get rid of the surpluses and then it makes it easier to make some expenditure reductions."

At a minimum, Flanagan said: "I think there's certainly room for some incremental cuts to useless programs."
Think it's coincidence that the CBC has become an ongoing topic of discussion in recent months?
Flanagan said a five-per-cent cut to the CBC's $1-billion budget might be in line, much as the previous Liberal government imposed reductions during the last era of restraint in the mid-1990s.

Flanagan wishes Harper would go even farther and slap a for sale sign on the public broadcaster - but doubts anything so radical is on the agenda.

"Not with a minority government," Flanagan said.

"It would require legislation. I can't imagine the other parties approving legislation to privatize the CBC, much as I would support at least selling off parts of it, or the Post Office." (emphasis added)
While Flanagan protests that "...Harper appears to have long since given up a "strongly ideological approach" to reducing the size of government...," it's clear that Flanagan hasn't. Given that he's a long time ally of Harper, there remains the spectre that this is Harper's thinking, in the long run as well, were he ever to get a majority government. At a minimum, reports like this do nothing to dissuade Canadians who are suspicious of putting the Conservatives in that position.

(Perhaps I should withdraw my appeal to journalists to seek out other sources beyond Flanagan for commentary on Canadian political developments. Clearly, Flanagan can be useful.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stockwell Day, international man of cheerleading

Annals of brown-nosing
: a conference call with reporters, International Trade Minister Stockwell Day said Canada's handling of the economic crisis is getting a lot of attention from other countries.

“I can tell you the PM is getting a lot of attention around here because it's in time of troubles that people say: ‘What can we do? What is working?' and Canada has some things that are working,” he said.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Stockwell Day on his first international adventure.  Demonstrating his knowledge of the Conservative hierarchy and his place in it.

Canada has "things" that are working?  Well, then please don't break them, Conservatives.  

Memories of Bush and Mini Bush

The APEC summit in Peru this weekend is likely the last joint public event for Bush and Harper. So let's take a moment to take it all in...

The epitaph:
Bush called Harper a good friend and a strong leader, and said they had accomplished a lot together. The president said U.S.-Canada relations are “sometimes complicated,” but strong nevertheless.

“I appreciate your candour, your character and your philosophy,” Bush told Harper.

The prime minister said there were many things the two men had agreed on and a few they hadn't, but Bush was always willing to listen.

Harper offered a warm goodbye to the U.S. president in the event he doesn't see him before Jan. 20, when president-elect Barack Obama takes office — which Bush called his “forced retirement.”
The soundtrack:

One to go...:)

When you start nickelling and diming the CBC publicly...

You better be prepared to justify your own expenses: "Luxury travel bills contradict Tories' frugal image." So sad to read such a wide-ranging karmic expose on a Saturday. One of my favourite parts:
In a detailed comparison of 12 major ministries, the Star found Conservative ministers outspent Liberal predecessors in 10 out of 12 cases. But the Liberals outspent the Conservatives in the Prime Minister's Office. During the last two years of the Liberal government, the PMO spent $2.8 million on travel and hospitality. During its first two years, the Conservative PMO reports spending $2.6 million.

However, the Prime Minister's Office said its own analysis showed that overall, "our Government has spent significantly less than the previous government on travel and hospitality, period." Spokesperson Teneycke did not provide proof of their analysis.
No proof? That's a surprise. "Confronted" with the numbers, such as John Baird's $10,920 flight to Bali and Maxime Bernier's $17,537 flight to Sydney, Teneycke says they're "considering a plan to encourage federal travellers to fly economy class." Considering encouraging it. New stretches in spokesthingydom. He also said this:
"Our government is always concerned about how hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. We are continually improving the way we manage taxpayer money, to ensure the best value for money," he said.
Grossly overpaying for flight travel is how they improve managing our money, kids! Nice try.

There's nothing wrong with legitimate travel and hospitality expenses. There's a cost to representing the country overseas. What's wrong is the Conservative sanctimony we routinely get on such matters. Pointing the finger at others to be frugal, e.g., CBC, and forever pointing at their predecessors - but, but, but the Liberals...

It's their turn to be accountable. As the report makes clear, they're not very good at it.

CBC defends itself

The chair of the CBC board of directors has now publicly responded to Heritage Minister James Moore's public dressing down of the crown corporation over some expense reports recently obtained by Sun Media. There's a defence of the expenses incurred that should be noted:
The report, according to Casgrain, was taken out of context and paints "a totally distorted picture of the expenses of one of our most effective executives."

"Some of the items mentioned are expenses incurred by M. Lafrance in the conduct of his duties, while others are corporate expenses of French services for which he is responsible. That distinction was lost in the media reports," Casgrain wrote.
Casgrain also points out that the " and hospitality expenses of all senior management are posted on CBC websites."

What I found interesting was this bit, suggesting the less than pure motivations behind the airing of these expenses and those who sought them out:
He said that while the CBC is mindful of its financial responsibility to the Canadian public, the public nature of its operations makes the corporation particularly vulnerable to attacks from its competitors.

He noted the CBC has received more than 150 access to information requests this year — far more than those received by other Crown corporations — and that the bulk of these requests have come from two sources.

CBC was added to the list of agencies subject to access to information laws after the Conservative government came into power in 2006.

Casgrain also noted that Lafrance, as well as CBC/Radio-Canada, are currently the targets of legal action initiated by Quebecor Inc., which owns the Sun newspaper chain and Le Journal de Montréal. (emphasis added)
A few things the Minister might have factored in, you'd think, if he had bothered to fully inform himself. So perhaps the Heritage Minister could have picked up the phone or requested a meeting and inquired about the expenses upon learning of the report from Sun Media instead of launching a public relations effort, releasing letters to the media and initiating public rebukes. Why was public confrontation Moore's first resort? His opening public salvo here, early in his tenure as Heritage Minister, affirms the undercurrent of Conservative hostility toward the CBC. Such displays are what make a good number of Canadians uncomfortable with letting the Conservatives govern unrestrained by minority government.

Also of note here, the opening up of the CBC to access to information laws, something that would hardly have raised objection at the time it was done, may be having some administrative impact on them insofar as their competitors appear to be engaging it frequently. At least, that's the suggestion here. That there's a backdoor hamstringing going on that may be connected to why the access to information move was made by the Conservatives. Unintended consequence...or convenient result for the CBC bashing Conservatives?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday night music

I see we don't agree on the definition of "new school," Mentarch...:)

I'm going so new school this week, there's no video or footage of this track anywhere...:)

This is the only place I can find this version, so you can listen and ignore the boring picture. On a cold, eve of winter Friday night, this should make you move...:)

We are big fans of Chemical Brothers around here...can't you tell?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Bob chat

Since you likely haven't heard enough by now...:) Along with a good number of fellow bloggers, I dialed in and was able to participate on the call. Luckily, I "raised my hand" early enough to get a question in and thanks to the magic of James Bowie, it can now be reproduced here. Let me preface this by saying that I have spent a bit of time since the call feeling as if I had asked a totally boneheaded question. But now that I read it, it wasn't as boneheaded as I thought. Because it elicited a response that did what I had hoped, that is, jump beyond the easy, "I'm not going to second-guess" response, but give a sense of what kind of political judgment Bob Rae has to offer. So here it is:
The third question was about political judgement. "Do you believe there were missed opportunities in the last parliamentary session, with respect to the position the party took on Afghanistan? Or with respect to the timing in bringing down the government?"

His answer here is very interesting, so I'll reproduce it verbatim without comment:

"I think the challenge for the Liberals, for us, has been that having been in government for a long time, I think, is that the transition into being in opposition is always difficult. I first saw this when I was in the NDP as the finance critic in the late 70's and early 80's when Joe Clark's government was elected. The NDP caucus was a much more effective opposition than the Liberal caucus was, because the Liberal caucus was, you know, were just recovering from being in government for a long time, didn't enjoy being in opposition, and frankly didn't know how to do it. So, I think that one of the skills I can bring to bear is to say 'Well, I've done both.' I've been in government and I've also been in Opposition. And I've brought down Tory governments; I've brought down two. So I know how to do that. I know how to make people think and focus on the political issue.

"I'm not sure, I mean, I think the Afghanistan issue was a difficult one for the Party. I think in fact what we did had real integrity to it. We did actually get the Conservatives to change their position, which for the point of view of the country was the right thing to do. The Conservatives were never, were not, interested in a fixed date or in changing the mission or in really engaging. And I think the fact that they had to change is significant. I don't think their heart's into change at the moment, but certainly we made some progress there.

"But as to the question of the timing of the election, when to bring the government down, that's always tricky in a minority parliament. I don't really feel like second guessing those decisions now. I do feel like saying to people, 'some of the political smarts and skills and judgement over the years have been pret-e-good, even thought they were criticized at the time..."
So there you go, make of that what you will.

The half hour time limit was unfortunate, I imagine the discussion would have become much more fulsome had there been more time allotted. (Mr. Rae had to catch a plane.)

I'm looking forward to future exercises such as this from all of the campaigns.