Saturday, January 31, 2009

Not feeling the spin, Mr. Prentice

Obama's stance on climate change and the potential for world leadership on the file from the U.S. being restored was discussed in Davos, Switzerland this week. It's worth looking at some of the early indications from the Obama camp given Jim Prentice's remarks yesterday, notably, his effort to tie the Harper crew to Obama's coattails:
In an interview with Canwest News Service, he said Obama's principles are "virtually identical" to those of the Conservative government and Canada's targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are "somewhat more aggressive."
Prentice also noted that a North American cap and trade system will be on the agenda at the Obama-Harper meeting on February 19. Colour me skeptical on the "identical" shtick. I find it hard to believe that the Obama administration will be following Harper's desire to adhere to 2006 base levels to measure greenhouse gas emission reductions.

So what are the indications from Obama's team at this point? Here's a note on one of Obama's top advisers, Valerie Jarrett, out of Davos:
Valerie Jarrett, President Obama's adviser on intergovernmental relations, earlier told the Davos meeting that the United States was "ready to lead" in the fight against global warming, which threatens droughts, floods, disease and rising seas.
Her speech was nevertheless criticized for a lack of specifics.

Next, a special envoy on climate change has been named by Secretary Clinton:
... Todd Stern, a lawyer and environmental expert at the Washington think tank Center for American Progress, served as an advisor for Clinton from 1993 to 1998. He played a key role in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations from 1997 to 1999, before becoming an advisor to the secretary of the treasury from 1999 to 2001.
Other appointees include Nobel prize winning scientist Steven Chu as Energy Secretary and new Climate "Czar" Carol Browner, a Gore person. Also of note, the direction of billions in the Obama stimulus package to green efforts, including " in renewable energy, conservation and a better electric grid." We saw no such sweeping choices from the Harper government in their budget.

We'll see how this proceeds, but thus far, the signs from one camp are just much different from the other, despite the spin.

It depends on what the meaning of out of favour is...

There's reality: Gerard Kennedy is opposition critic for Infrastructure, Cities & Communities; Martha Hall Findlay, the critic for Public Works & Government Services.

And pictures too:

And then there's this:
Not: Musical chairs: Gerard Kennedy and Martha Hall Findlay. The two Toronto MPs and sweethearts of the Stéphane Dion era are out of favour now that the Ignatieff team has taken over. There had been grumbling in the caucus over the fact that Mr. Dion had given the rookie MPs coveted front-row seats in the Commons while long-time Liberals were relegated to the back. Ms. Hall Findlay is now in the second to last row and Mr. Kennedy is right up against the curtains.(emphasis added)
Also noted GK and MHF in the media this week, speaking on the budget. Yes, the seating was noticed this week and it's not surprising it showed up in the "Hot/Not" item. But in the grander scheme, I'm sure the work is what's important, not such considerations of optics.

Write your own caption


Here's mine...what Canadian voters will be doing to the Conservatives in the next election now that they are finally clueing in to Conservative incompetence...:)

Update (3:40 p.m.): Reader TT:
"Just like this BonHomme, I kick Quebec to the curb after the last election."

Update II (Sunday 6:35 p.m.): See comment at 10:28 a.m....I think we have a winner...:)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday night music

Oh, it's the usual...

Shout out to Mentarch, nice theme over there...:)

Fun in the Senate

A follow-up to Senator Elaine McCoy's post earlier today at "Hullabaloos" where she alerted us to the bill that Senator Lowell Murray has initiated in the Senate to repeal Harper's fixed election date law...

How interesting is this given who Murray is. Brian Mulroney's alter-ego during the Meech Lake era who led the charge for it as Mulroney's constitutional go-to guy and Minister of Federal-Provincial Relations.  It's not clear how close the two remain.  But we still have a Progressive Conservative Senator and historical Mulroney ally here, in effect embarrassing Harper with this move. Note some of Murray's remarks in the Senate, firmly rebuking Harper:
The bill that we passed into law is a facade. It is misleading; I would almost say it was intended to mislead. In any case, it is of no force or effect.

In the run-up to the dissolution last fall, the Prime Minister was quoted — I can point to other quotations but I will sum it up with one quotation from a press conference he gave at the Library and Archives Canada on August 26, which states:

"We are clear. You can only have certainty about a fixed election date in the context of a majority government."

We heard nothing of that view in the debate on Bill C-16.
Then, with tongue-in-cheek:
Honourable senators, we have had our eyes opened by experience with this law. The Prime Minister has demonstrated beyond any possibility of doubt that the law is a nullity; that it is meaningless. Therefore, let us redeem ourselves and him by removing this embarrassment from the statute books of our country.
Murray also took the opportunity to highlight the schism in the conservative pool that still exists for some of the Progressive Conservative variety:
This is a sop. This bill that we passed — too readily, in my view — was a sop to the Reform-Alliance base. There is nothing wrong with that. However, it was a sop to that unending fascination they have with importing piecemeal parts of the United States congressional system.
Zing!  One final note from that debate, the big question was posed, in case anyone is wondering about October, 2009:
Hon. Percy E. Downe: Could the Honourable senator advise us whether, in his opinion, there is a requirement for an election in October 2009 if the Canada Elections Act is not amended?

Senator Murray: I think not because, to paraphrase the bill the phrase states that unless there is an early dissolution, the next election willing be held on such a date. There was an earlier dissolution and I would not worry about renting the planes for October 2009 because of Bill C-16.
All in all, an intriguing development out of the Senate.  H/t to Senator McCoy for sharing.

Addition of Twitter to the blog

As you will see in the right sidebar, I've decided to hop on to the Twitter micro-blogging phenomenon. At first, I signed in just to reserve my blog name and had planned to mull over the actual use of it for a while. I've been reading posts here and there over the past few months by bloggers who have started using it only to discard it. But then a few people added me to their follow list so now I'm caught. Blasted!

I can see how it would come in handy though and it seems to me it's all in the using. My intention is to use it for short blog entries - with 140 characters, there's nothing else possible - on events and issues in order to supplement the blog where I may not be interested in writing a full-blown post or may not have the time. The ability to update quickly by using a mobile device is also an attraction (even though you can do that with Blogger). Further, I can see this being quite useful when a major political event is unfolding. Quick thoughts can be entered in the absence of the restraints you face when composing a blog entry. Live blogging a political debate would be a good example. But then again, it's only 140 characters, so you can question again how useful it is.

So, despite my many existential quandaries over the application, I'm going to get with the 2009 ethos, give it a shot and see how it goes.

And P.S., that's not me in the photo that accompanies my twitter i.d. It's an absurd picture that I find hilarious and somewhat emblematic of the Conservative government.

What's the matter with Kansas, Conservative MP Mike Allen?

An opportunity to rev up some kind of nationalistic furor presents itself and a Conservative MP is all over it: "New Brunswick MP complains about school's decision to drop O Canada."
A Conservative MP from New Brunswick says he believes Canadians are outraged by the decision of a school in the province to stop playing O Canada over the school's public address system every morning.
Mike Allen, the member for Tobique-Mactaquac, told the House of Commons today that the move amounts to "political correctness run wild."
Allen says he understands the principal wanted to be inclusive, but he stressed that the song itself is an expression of "our collective pride" in being citizens of Canada.
The MP is urging the principal of Belleisle Elementary School in Springfield to reverse his decision.
Canadians are outraged? I think Canadians may be a little preoccupied with other matters these days. Whether the local elementary school is playing the anthem though is apparently Mr. Allen's priority at the moment. I'm thinking he could be spending his time a little more wisely instead of attempting to drum up a distraction. We have just spent a week obsessed with the economic life of the nation, perhaps something along those lines might be more productive at the moment.

The school is handling this a little awkwardly, with the principal framing the playing of the national anthem as some kind of referendum on the beliefs in the school when really, it sounds like they just want to lessen the distractions for kids as the school day starts. So let the school do what it wants to do for its own administrative purposes.

Seeking to exploit the situation for political purposes seems rather inappropriate and opportunistic. The last thing we need is to go down the road that the Americans do, establishing some kind of patriotic litmus test on such issues.

Update (5:20 p.m.): Might this have been another attempt to distract from current Conservative misfortunes?

Update (8:25 p.m.): Within 3 minutes of posting:

Will the "little cheques" continue to roll in for the Conservatives?

Think the idea of axing political party financing will be back in the near future? A clue from the very talkative Tom Flanagan:
"Mr. Flanagan said the budget may cause a number of party members to curtail donations.

“I think it's absolutely essential for the party to keep its core supporters onside, and there wasn't that much in this budget that really speaks to those core supporters,” he said.

He cited as an example the drop-off in contributions in 2000 for the Canadian Alliance, a forerunner of the Conservative Party, when it began to have troubles under leader Stockwell Day.

“All these 100,000-plus donors are writing their little cheques because they believe in a cause and – I don't know what's going to happen – but when Stockwell Day got into trouble that was the first really big sign. The money stopped coming in.”"
Yes, they have a fundraising advantage that won't be in immediate jeopardy. But this kind of talk from the Conservative illuminati and obvious disgruntlement can't help with the motivation these days.  So the better choice would be to hedge their bets for the foreseeable future. Besides, the poisonous stench that would surround such a move would again lead people to question Mr. Harper's steadiness and we can't have that:
Flanagan noted that Harper alternated last fall between conciliation and trying to "slit the throat" of opposition parties and he vacillated over the seriousness of the recession and the probability of running deficits. After so many mood swings, Flanagan said Harper needs to "rehabilitate himself."
With friends like these...well, you know.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

For the construction obsessed PM

Thanks to J for the tip...

Today's adventure:

Dear Greg (II)

I am so happy that you enjoyed my previous note and find myself somewhat engaged by your ongoing flattery. I must say I was completely unaware of the dyslexia, please accept my sincerest apology. Boy, you've made me look like the big baddie now! But I do maintain that spellchecking is next to godliness, as you know, such mistakes tend to raise questions about one's argumentation and such.

I think we're probably in agreement on such matters as EI, pay equity, tax cuts, et al., and the proof will be in the pudding, as they say, should the Liberals return to governing in the near future. I know you won't be holding your breath, you are the so-entitled "sinister" one, after all. I prefer to be hopeful, a contributor and push my party to achieve such positions. I know, it's all so quaint, isn't it?

I do wish our parties might cooperate a little more on solving common problems. Speaking of which, forgive me, but I haven't heard anything from the NDP about any budget amendments. Maybe I've missed it? And I wonder whether the NDP would have supported any such Liberal amendments in any event? Or were they foot stamping in a fit of bring 'em down pique, in an all or nothing type deal? I really don't know the answer to that one. But judging by today's radio attack ads, that's probably a good indication of where they were at. This is probably all a matter of speculation on my part and I'm not sure you know what the answer to that one is. Needless to say, it doesn't do much for camaraderie out here in the trenches, now does it?

Yours in pursuing the return of liberal governance to Canada (note how I use the small "l"),


Thursday notes...

1. A new Conservative strategy?

No talking.
Earlier yesterday, Harper attended a tightly controlled "photo opportunity" at a home renovation worksite to highlight his proposed measure of tax credits to stimulate the construction industry. However, he did not formally speak to Parliament about his government's throne speech, budget, or to the Liberal call for regular updates.
2. Bob Rae, do you have a killer line for every scenario?
"They're going to find that the trouble with deathbed conversions is that sometimes you live," Liberal MP Bob Rae said.
I think you do...

3. Agreed:
What is clear now, if it was not before, is that the ground has shifted. It remains to be seen what sort of agenda Mr. Ignatieff will put forward for the country, and whether he will succeed in rebuilding the Liberals into a truly national party. But he has served notice that his party will not play silly partisan games on the economy - and that it will be perilous from this point forward for the Conservatives to play them, either.
4. The picture that keeps on giving:

It spawns another comical critique:
I have studied the photo. And, herewith, I offer the appropriate caption with the names of the actors and their characters: Prime Minister Stephen Harper (the Minister for Arrogance) meets with Human Resources Minister Diane Finley (the Minister for Woe), Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (the Minister for Hardship), International Trade Minister Stockwell Day (the Minister for Gloom), and Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt (the Minister for Desolation) in his office on Tuesday.

You're welcome. This is going to be fun. Especially when Our Glorious Leader tries to go all President Bartlet and offer up a photo op with his bare feet on his desk.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dear Greg

I am humbled by your concern for my supposed feelings of guilt as a Liberal. I must admit though, I'm not feeling bad today at all. The Liberal party is a big party and while I may be on the progressive end of the spectrum, I feel quite at home thank you very much. I'm delighted that you've taken such interest in my political well-being.

I must admit that I also find it baffling to think that you would read my blog and think that I would embrace the Conservatives in any respect, let alone a coalition of some sort. I don't find the idea a natural fit, it's quite unnatural if you ask me. Ask any Liberal and they'll tell you much the same thing. The word "ick" comes to mind. The parliamentary numbers of the past few years are difficult realities for us all to live with and work within, particularly when Mr. Harper abuses the use of the confidence vote, but I assure you, there should be no confusion about Liberals and Conservatives. Did the environmental policy we offered in the last election, albeit rejected by the voters, strike you as a particularly Conservative one? Do the calls to repatriate Omar Khadr strike you as Conservative policy? Is the cancellation of the Court Challenges Programme something you also would have expected from the Liberals?

I appreciate your clever offering up of a "True Blue Coalition," but note that you spelled it wrong. As you did with my blog name. That Blogger has no spell check on such equally important components of the blog post is an ongoing source of bemusement for me as well.



No address to Parliament for Obama

A missed opportunity for an historic moment:
"There had been hopes that Obama might address Parliament the way presidents Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry S. Truman have done before him.

But the House isn't sitting during the week of his visit. There were suggestions that MPs might be called back early to take in Obama's legendary oratory skills in Parliament, but no such address is scheduled."
From AP:
Parliament Hill had been abuzz with speculation that Obama would follow in the footsteps of about 50 other world leaders who have done so.
No idea how much the PMO might have had to do with the scheduling of the visit. It would be likely that Obama is a little busier than Harper, after all. But they are saying things like this:

A senior Canadian government official said Mr. Obama will not be addressing Parliament during what he described as purely a "working visit."

"We're looking to minimize the amount of time spent on ceremony and maximize the amount of time focused on a robust agenda."

A real disappointment for Canadians who, if asked, would absolutely want to see him address Parliament.

The Ignatieff strategy

In a nutshell, letting the Conservatives self-immolate seems to be the strategy the Liberals have adopted today toward the Harper government. The problems in the budget are clear - yet there are good things too. So what does a political party do that has the ultimate goal of replacing the Harper government? Let the Conservatives defend the choices they have made. Let them defend their EI choices over the coming months. Let them demonstrate the infrastructure moneys are flowing. And so on, and so on, and so on.

At the risk of being pilloried, and I'm not sure how coherent this will come across, here we go...

In staking out this position, the Liberals are reasserting, for lack of a better word, their stature in the House of Commons. This has been missing in the past few years, it pains me to say as a supporter of Stephane Dion. They have been batted around like a cat's toy by their political opponents on all sides. In this move, that changes. There is a return to a more proper functioning of the House of Commons. Accountability and engagement is the goal. A return to parliamentary supremacy. That, I like. The requirement of updates in this amendment to the budget adds a very visible mechanism to the mix. And it appears, from comments made in the House of Commons this afternoon by excellent Conservative from Burlington, Mike Wallace, that the Conservatives will acquiesce. This will be a recognition, as Scott Tribe put it, that the Conservatives cannot be trusted on their own to move forward: "If the Conservatives vote for it, they’ll be admitting they can’t be trusted to follow through on their Budget promises." The Harper Conservatives will likely go along in order to save their government's fate but it likely won't be playing out as they like, down the road.

The goal is to replace this government, legitimately and for the long-term. Politics is not always what you idealistically want it to be. We have the luxury in the blogosphere of our pure idealism. We're clearly feeling that today. Do I want to see the back of Stephen Harper exiting the front seats of government? Absolutely, I rail against his government on a daily basis. But the Liberal approach is, in my view, going to achieve the departure of Stephen Harper, it'll just take a little longer and it won't be through an immediate exercise of the coalition option. At least, it so appears that way at the moment.

For anyone criticizing the Liberals for playing politics at the expense of greater principles, well, this is politics isn't it? And besides, there's plenty of that to go around. Is there any political self-interest in the NDP wanting a coalition immediately? Of course there is. There are two sides of that coin.

And with respect to coalitions, we should not rule them out for Canada in the near or long-term future. We should remain open to that possibility and not crucify each other politically for our actions. Because coalitions may become part of our governance on a regular basis in the future if the country continues to be as fractured as it presently is. The presence of the Bloc, which does not seem to be going away, dictates that.

The Liberal amendment will continue to pit Ignatieff against Harper. There will be an ongoing confrontation here. The match-up is a good one and from early indications, it really doesn't favour Mr. Harper.

P.S. What else did I learn today...oh yes, always remain vigilant about what you read in the newspapers.

Implosion: a follow-up

A reader is wondering what has happened to two key staffers at the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples in the wake of Patrick Brazeau's ascension to the Senate of Canada. Al Fleming, former Director of Communications as recently as January 7th (see post here which reproduces part of a Globe report from that day and in which Fleming defends Brazeau) appears to have left the organization. Further, the reader notes that Lorraine Foreman, former Chief of Staff at CAP, also appears to have left. See the contact information of the organization, here.

Some questions posed by the reader: "Both individuals appear to have left the scene, leaving an organization without guiding direction, approval processes... so how are they now functioning??? Are current staff being paid, and by whom??? Has the abandonment of CAP been part of the long-term planning process?"

In light of recent questions on Health Canada's audit of CAP and request for moneys to be returned and questions about the governance of CAP, the operation of the entity in Brazeau's wake bears watching.  

Day after budget day notes

And at least one other topic...

1. A picture worth a thousand words...did I get around to saying how much I enjoyed this picture yesterday:

Because I did, very much. First time, I believe, that other ministers in the Harper empire have been given such photoriffic prominence in the inner sanctum. And they all looked like they were having such a good time too. So natural. I wonder who told the men to take off their jackets and such. Who placed Stock's coffee cup there, to make it look like they're hard at work at the bidness of the nation. There is no "i" in team you know...:) (see BCer for video as well)

Other than having fun though, is there anything we can take from the staging of such a series of photos of the shirt-sleeved Conservatives. Or from the leaks about the grown-ups now being in charge. Or from the budget lacking in November-update-style partisan shots. Is there any clue in any of this whatsoever about what the Governor General might possibly have discussed with Mr. Harper in terms of the possibility of a $300 million election call were he to once again face a losing confidence vote and ring her doorbell. Just wondering...

2. Areas of concern in the budget being cited this morning, to name five: the numbers on which it is based are too rosy, undermining its credibility; its lack of vision; and the constraints on infrastructure funding that may prohibit it from flowing, rendering it useless; EI not more accessible, not increased;  skyrocketing deficit numbers.  Clearly the case can be made for improvements.

3.  Bob Rae-Lawrence Cannon exchange in the House of Commons yesterday:   
Rae: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Foreign Affairs. President Obama has closed the prison in Guantanamo and suspended proceedings against Mr. Khadr.
My question for the minister is simple. Mr. Khadr is a child soldier. Why is Canada not shouldering its responsibilities and bringing Mr. Khadr back to Canada?

Cannon:Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. Our position on Mr. Khadr remains unchanged. In fact, two previous Liberal governments took the same position. Mr. Khadr has been charged with serious crimes, including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism and spying.
We are continuing to monitor the situation and the work of the American committee set up to consider the fate of the detainees in Guantanamo, including Mr. Khadr.

Rae:Mr. Speaker, Mr. Khadr was recruited at the age of 13. He was arrested at the age of 15. He has been incarcerated for nearly seven years. I wonder how the minister can, in all conscience, not recognize that while the position of the Government of Canada may be unchanged, regardless of the circumstances, the fact remains that the President of the United States, who we will be welcoming here shortly, has in fact carried out a whole series of changes.
When will somebody turn the lights on over on that side of Parliament and recognize that the world is changing around them and that Canada needs to take its responsibility for one of our own citizens?

Cannon:Mr. Speaker, our position regarding Mr. Khadr remains unchanged. It is exactly the same position as two previous Liberal governments. The problem here is that no charges have been dropped against this individual, on the one hand.
Where there is inconsistency is in the Liberal Party's position. As a matter of fact, the leader of the Liberal Party would want to have this individual come back to Canada; whereas the hon. colleague who has just asked me the question, the member for Toronto Centre, would want to set up a special committee to look at this problem. So, what is the issue? In--
They're back and their answers are as unhelpful as ever.

To amend or not to amend, that is one of the questions

Further to Steve's post tonight, if this CP report is true and there are budget amendments forthcoming on infrastructure and EI, that means we're in for some interesting days ahead.  
Liberals privately suggested an amendment could include a proviso that municipalities receive their share of federal infrastructure funding, even if they can't afford to ante up matching funds. It could also specify that the unemployed must receive jobless benefits immediately, doing away with the two-week waiting period.
So it could be that we're going to be seeing some engagement in the coming days, if this is indeed what's actually the announced position tomorrow. And what a concept that would be.  A minority parliament that actually engages in debate. 

As for how Conservatives would react, to date they have been totally uncooperative while working within these confines.  A reflection of Mr. Harper's personality.  They've presumed that they can do as they please.  So it would be surprising to see a tempered response to amendment proposals.  How they respond, however, to serious, thoughtful proposals that seek to improve our ability to weather this crisis and ease people's burdens (EI) would be in the spotlight and could haunt them if an election ensued.  Further, we've been told that the grown-ups are in charge now.  Grown-ups don't stamp their feet and dig in, not in times like this. 

And in the background, the Conservatives don't have any guarantee that they'd be granted an election by the Governor General at this time if they sought to stick to their guns on the budget.  In fact, the weight of opinion suggests an election would not be granted at the moment. So intransigence on their part seems risky:
Note also that in the backdrop tonight we see the opposition of Danny Williams, who is now calling for the budget to be defeated on the grounds of a change to equalization that penalizes Newfoundland. Quebec is also unhappy with transfer payment changes.  There's plenty of opposition from Conservative supporters percolating as well.  So it's clear that there's discontent with the budget and an opening to seek amendment.  

All of which should make for interesting days ahead.

Update (12:10 a.m.): Globe and Mail report just out: "Ignatieff to call for changes to budget."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Preservation not inspiration

Update (8:40 p.m.): Some reaction:
Initial indications from inside what was described as "grumpy" caucus were that the government may have to work harder to earn the backing of the Liberals and survive a confidence vote.

"I think it could even be a flat no or there could be an amendment," said one senior Liberal. "But those are the only two options".

While I will endeavour to read the monstrosity this evening as well, since that's what all the cool civic minded types are doing these days...a few thoughts off the bat.

This is a budget designed to preserve a government, no doubt about that. The Conservatives haven't inspired us with any great thinking here, they're just seeking to get by, touching all the bases.  They're definitely a "B" grade bunch of thinkers.  A very careful mix designed to spend some and cut taxes some. And above all, offend no one, least of all the Ignatieff Liberals. No obvious inflammatory poison pills like the November update, yet lots to question.  Less obvious points to object to this time around yet certainly lots of room for opposition. That's what the opposition properly does in a minority parliament and the Conservatives should expect that.    

On the tax front, the personal income tax proposals sound very incremental on every item they touch yet will cost $20 billion over the next five years. Tonda MacCharles' report explains the personal tax changes pretty clearly. Of note, they're expanding the 15% and 22% income tax brackets. And they're expanding the lowest basic personal amount at which any tax at all will kick in.  

You have to marvel at the Conservatives' evolution here and timing, that they are seeking to bring in such income tax measures now when the gimmicky GST cuts have been their tax reduction priorities to date and have put the federal government in a hole.  The hole's gotten a lot bigger due to the economic challenges and it's now going to get $85 billion bigger with their plan.  Admittedly, these cuts are difficult to oppose because people earning at the lower rates deserve help.  But they propose it now while we're in a hole courtesy of excellent Conservative financial management.  

And in respect of the personal cuts, people are being told they can make more before they will be taxed more.  But are people worried about those margins at the moment or keeping their jobs?  Is it going to provide comfort to people and encourage them to spend?  Likely not.  And the amounts they'll benefit from as a result of these cuts are small:  
The budget introduces broad income tax cuts that will save the average taxpayer several hundred dollars a year - $247 in savings for a family making between $30,000 and $45,000; $473 in savings for a family earning between $60,000 and $80,000.
It's all a slight ideological nod, not overly offensive yet still something they should be criticized for as it still keeps us in the hole and is of questionable value at the moment.

The home renovation tax credit is a perfect example of more gimmicky retail politics from the Conservatives but whether people are inclined to spend a lot to get a little back (on limited choices) at the moment strains the imagination:
Examples include the temporary tax credit for home renovations exceeding $1,000 in cost, which expires on February 1, 2010. The 15 per cent credit – which is not refundable – will provide tax relief of up to $1,350 for Canadians if they spend the maximum $10,000 eligible for the break.
Others are noting the problems with the infrastructure plans, that funding is tied to the municipalities and provinces meeting the federal contribution.  That looks like an area ripe for amendment. 

The EI plans may also be challenged. The proposal is to expand the amount of weeks of eligibility and freeze EI payroll premiums.  But not to ease the front-end two week waiting time.

At a minimum, it's certainly looking like there is room to propose amendments to this budget. This is a minority parliament and if Mr. Harper is serious about a new tone and making it work, he should be quite open to them.  

Here we go

Are you excited? Capital cost allowance and all such talk about to scintillate the viewing public to no end. What a massive p.r. exercise this has been.

Meanwhile, the Privy Council Office was on the job today...:)

So glad to help out there guys...

Tuesday budget day notes

1. Where's the vision thing? Good question: a whole, most of the announcements and leaks thus far – $2-billion for social housing, $160-million for arts and culture, $550-million for farmers, $300-million for tourism, $250-million for a new economic development agency in Ontario, and so on – seem scattershot.
The danger, not surprisingly for a government that is fighting for its political life, is that its spending package will attempt to satisfy every possible constituency, industry and interest group by throwing money at it.
2. John Ivison makes a similar point, but puts a more cynical bent on it:
The focus of this budget is not on setting Canada on the road to recovery. Rather, the principal goal appears to be ensuring a Conservative victory at the next election.

If the Bloc Québécois votes against the budget and we are forced to go to the polls again, the Conservatives will be able to champion the $160-million in new spending on cultural projects that Heritage Minister, James Moore, revealed exclusively to La Presse over the weekend. If the Liberals and NDP vote against the government, the Tories will point out that they are denying the most vulnerable Canadians $2-billion in spending on new public housing.

We are even going to see a new $250-million economic development agency for southern Ontario from the Prime Minister who campaigned for the elimination all corporate subsidies and industrial development schemes in the 2004 election.
3. The Conservative tax cut proposals that are seeping out today seem similarly set up for electoral positioning:
...The Globe and Mail has learned that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty plans modest but permanent tax breaks for people in middle- and lower-income tax brackets, with one senior official saying the cuts will apply to those earning $80,000 a year or less. Money will also be provided for home renovations, although it's unclear how much the program will be worth.

Mr. Flaherty will also move to give Ottawa power to regulate credit cards, allowing the federal government to intervene if necessary, sources said.
The Star spells out the politics here:
Broad-based tax cuts, however, are risky for the Conservative minority government, which is under threat of defeat from the opposition parties. The Liberals, who hold the key to the government's survival, have said they will try to vote down the government if the budget slashes income taxes. The Liberals argue that tax cuts are ineffective as an economic stimulus tool and could saddle Ottawa with perpetual budget shortfalls.
...observers question whether the Liberals would want to go into an election opposing an income tax break for the middle class.
If we were to have an election, that is.  The tax cuts could be the problem area that provoke some real debate in the coming days. 

4.  Ken Dryden is truth-telling in the background today.

5.  While Conservative supporters are showing their dismay

6. Since it's all economic type news today, reader MM offers this Canadian, ahem, start- up as "...measurably successful and a wonderful model" and an example when "very few Canadian companies succeed in commericalising research, design and engineering - especially after investing a tiny amount of capital." Quite the story.

Onwards to the budget...whatever will transpire...

Monday, January 26, 2009

More pre-budget positioning

It is on. Noted tonight from this CTV report, Harper continues to do his usual thing:
...faced with the prospect of loosing power through a non-confidence vote, Harper urged his Parliamentary colleagues to "stop the political games and get on with the business of passing some of these economic measures."

Harper then hinted that he would push for another election in the event his budget is defeated: "We'll have to go to an election and the people will have to decide this."
That first statement, no need to say much, it's so clearly hypocritical. Secondly, on that election obsession he has, see Tom Mulcair's response:
Mulcair also painted as false spin the Tory claim that an unnecessary election would have to be thrust upon voters. The Conservatives have repeatedly claimed a Liberal - NDP coalition - especially one propped up by the separatist Bloc - would be undemocratic.

Citing the "unanimous view" of 35 constitutional experts from across the country, Mulcair said within a six-month period of the last election, the Governor General must give the official opposition - in this case with the support of the coalition partners - the chance to obtain the confidence of the House should the government be defeated.
That well-timed constitutional opinion may yet come into play (see excellent interview, here). Finally, note the nuance injected into the debate by John McCallum:
Liberal finance critic John McCallum repeated his party's stance that the "devil is in the (budget's) details," and they will study the document closely before making a decision.

"Should we decide to bring the government down, then the ball is in the governor general's court," McCallum told CTV Newsnet's On the Hill Monday evening. "The coalition is a possibility, but that is not our decision.'
I don't think that point is meant to agitate, it's just an option that's received little attention to date. If the Conservative position is that you need an election because the coalition was not presented to voters, then maybe the Governor General agrees. In the sense that we have to stick with the result from the election, in which case, the Liberals would be given the choice to form a government. Which may all be academic, depending on what wondrous news comes our way tomorrow, principally in the form of Conservative tax measures.

Harper's Senate crew show up

Just to round out the inauspicious day for Mr. Harper, it must be noted that his prorogation Senate picks made their first appearance today, among them, the controversial Patrick Brazeau:
CTV broadcaster Mike Duffy, former broadcaster Pamela Wallin and Olympic icon Nancy Greene Raine were among 18 Canadians sworn in to the Senate on Monday.

The senators received the oath of office shortly before Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean was set to open a new session of Parliament with a speech from the throne.
Another controversial pick is Patrick Brazeau. The former head of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples is facing a sexual harassment complaint before a human rights tribunal, charges he has dismissed as “100 per cent false.”
So it's official, Brazeau is now sworn in and wearing the Conservative mantle. The stream of revelations over the past month or so of multiple sexual harassment allegations and financial questions at CAP made absolutely no difference to the stubborn Harper government. They'd rather stick with a flawed nominee than do the right thing. One more remarkable thing for the Harper government to wear.

An ignominious day for Mr. Harper

Shortest Speech from the Throne evah. No wonder.  To endure a lengthy sitting would just have compounded the spectacle of this government offering their second throne speech within a two month time period. Get in, get out and move on to the budget.

But as for the speech, you can read it here. It'll take you about, oh, two minutes. And while it's brief, there are some choice lines worth a look. There are quite a few that ring hollow given the events of the past few months. In particular, those appealing for cooperation, meant to suggest the Conservatives have suddenly found religion:
In these uncertain times, when the world is threatened by a struggling economy, it is imperative that we work together, that we stand beside one another and that we strive for greater solidarity.
Our Government approached the dialogue in a spirit of open and non-partisan cooperation. There is no monopoly on good ideas because we face this crisis together. There can be no pride of authorship –only the satisfaction of identifying solutions that will work for all Canadians.
The present crisis is new, but the imperative of concerted action is a challenge to which Parliament has risen many times in our history. What will sustain us today will be the same strengths of character that have pulled Canada through critical times before: unity, determination and constancy of purpose.
The calls for "solidarity," "non-partisan cooperation," "strengths of character" just don't ring true in light of the government's actions, not just in November but over the course of the past few years.  Their unprecedented use of the confidence vote demonstrated how much they valued such concepts.  Mr. Harper seemed quite small sitting in the shadow of this speech singing the praises of such newfound virtues.  Whoever the speech writer was, they didn't do him any favours with the overreach on this front.

Then there was the language of crisis:
Each Throne Speech is a milestone on the remarkable 142-year Canadian journey. Your predecessors, too, were summoned to this chamber at times of great crisis: as Canada struggled to claim her independence, in the shadow of war, during the depth of the Great Depression and at moments when great policy division tugged the very bonds of this union.

Today we meet at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty. The global credit crunch has dragged the world economy into a crisis whose pull we cannot escape. The nations of the world are grappling with challenges that Canada can address but not avoid.

The Government's agenda and the priorities of Parliament must adapt in response to the deepening crisis. Old assumptions must be tested and old decisions must be rethought. The global economy has weakened since Canadians voted in the last general election. In fact, it has weakened further since Parliament met last month.
The heightened and unprecedented crisis rhetoric may end up working against the government, particularly were it to be defeated. It creates the foundation for an argument that it's not the time for another $300 million election. Secondly, even if the government survives, if they slide back into partisan rhetoric and tactics - a likely happening - they'll be measured against their own thesis. Either way, it's going to be a much tougher slog this time around for Mr. Harper.

Some leaks are better than others

Specifically, anonymous government officials embarrassing Harper in a Globe report today:
"We have grown-ups running the budget process," a senior government official told The Globe and Mail yesterday on condition of remaining unidentified by name. "There will be no juvenile political games."

The source said the Prime Minister's chief of staff, Guy Giorno, has seen his influence over the budget superseded by two veterans with more than 70 years of combined experience; the Clerk of the Privy Council, Kevin Lynch, and a senior adviser to the Prime Minister, Bruce Carson.
Message: they absolutely do not want to be defeated on the budget and are apparently quite fearful that it may happen.  They're pulling out all the stops, including such leaks to the media about the process.  This is all addressed to Michael Ignatieff.  If you believe this stuff, that is. But it certainly appears, anyway, that senior Conservatives, or perhaps Kevin Lynch, have taken the PM by the ear and read him the riot act. I don't know how else these little anonymous sound bites can be interpreted.
"There's a sense now that now's not the time for gimmicks," said the Tory. "We just have to appear serious at this stage. We can't appear to be poking our fingers in people's eyes."

The new co-operative attitude on behalf of the PMO has also been on display with respect to the premiers, business leaders and the civil service. Observers also say Mr. Harper's authority has been curbed, his agenda circumscribed and his instincts to attack Mr. Ignatieff curtailed. (emphasis added)
Well, welcome to crushing reality, boys.  It's only taken them just about three years to get it through their skulls that the federal government and the Prime Minister's Office should not be their own personal partisan war rooms devoted to gimmicks and "poking fingers in people's eyes."  What an earth-shattering revelation that the Conservative brain trust has finally arrived at.  Oh, and it only took a serious threat that they'd be turfed and grave national economic difficulties for them to wake up.

How embarrassing must it be for a Prime Minister to be so described as above, like a child whose privileges have been taken away. I mean, if this kind of messaging is what they view as necessary in order to demonstrate their gravitas, then Harper's time as leader has got to be in serious question.  

But let's not get too carried away here, as we do see this little reminder of how authentic this posturing may or may not be:
When asked whether Mr. Harper would have done so much consulting without the sword of the coalition hanging over his head, the bureaucrat said "no way, no way. This isn't in their DNA. They're playing against type here."
Nothing like fear as a motivator.   

Again, we shall see what the budget brings. They're certainly doing their best to make it sound like it will be passable. That trust question does loom heavily in the background, however. It's just so difficult to believe that they might produce something supportable, despite the lengths to which they are going.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Monday is Baird budget leak day

Everybody gets their turn!
Baird has scheduled a news conference for Ottawa on Monday where he's expected to flesh out an infrastructure strategy that will form a key part of the Tory game plan.
There was no word Sunday on details of Baird's strategy, but a government insider confirmed his announcement would be budget-related and qualify as "good news."
Really?  That has to be the most clever anonymous spin I've heard in has all the subtlety of a ten-pound sledgehammer.

I wonder how these cabinet ministers really feel at having to go out and sell this budget for their political lives after the fall update fiasco.  From Greg Weston's column earlier today:
Conservatives were generally underwhelmed with the results of the last election, and put much of the blame on the PM and his advisers.

But nothing has damaged Harper's leadership more than the follies of last fall's fiscal update that almost made Dion prime minister of a coalition government with Jack Layton.

As one cabinet minister put it recently: "That whole mess started a lot of talk in the party about the PM's time being in decline."
Factor that into this week's goings on too.

Harper's Khadr gaffe

Just wanted to add a point or two on Harper's latest on Guantanamo Bay, as reported by Canwest Friday: "Khadr was not a 'child soldier': Harper."  I think this was a gaffe from the freelancer in chief.  Note that this comes from a television interview. When unscripted, that's when Harper goes down rabbit holes that aren't necessarily helpful for him on any given issue. When he's pushed by reporters, he tends to commit errors like his inflammatory "gala people" whopper during the election. Like his "this is a good time to buy stocks" whopper. This seems to be a similar kind of remark.  He's not that good unscripted.  

Why would he stick to this hard line position now, after all? It's hard to imagine why he would want to keep going down this road.  Obama is likely coming here in February and all reasonable speculation tends to think that Khadr's repatriation is going to come up.  Yet here's Harper, the last western leader to enthusiastically support Guantanamo still out there on his limb. His comment that Khadr was not a child soldier is, after all, exactly what the Guantanamo military commission ruled with respect to Khadr at the end of April.  So he's still parroting the Bush administration's position.  Despite this week's developments which saw Obama's executive order to close the place.  Despite the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Canada is a signatory. And despite the advice of his own lawyers in the Department of Justice.  How is this helpful?  It's just obstinate.

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said it is "preposterous" that Ottawa is defending the Guantanamo military tribunals even when the United States has stopped them.

"The only guy now in the world who seems to believe in Guantanamo and military tribunals is Stephen Harper," Mr. Rae said.
"They've been in denial for so long," he said. "It's like a Monty Python sketch: This is a dead tribunal."
MacKay and Rae perhaps got to Harper and led him to publicly take a position that's not helpful in terms of the relationship with the Obama administration at the moment.  MacKay in particular likely caused this "who's the boss" moment.  A moment demonstrating once more how incapable he can be of demonstrating foresight and flexibility as a leader.  He flubbed the economic update in the fall and has been acting ever since to correct his mistakes.  He's doing the same thing on Khadr.   

More leaking

Another leak from the budget in the form of $2 billion for social housing according to today's Star.  Note the careful management of the budget items' release, one more announcement on a Sunday, two days after Friday's series of announcements by cabinet ministers across the country. All part of the p.r. plan: "Kory Teneycke, the director of communications, is advising on how to sell the budget – and its whopping fiscal shortfall – to the media and, through them, to Canadians."  

It appears to me that we've now been told how approximately 20% of the $21 billion stimulus is going to be spent, i.e., about $4 billion or so has been announced including today's amount. See the accompanying list in the Star report of items in the $21 billion stimulus that have been made public thus far.  Meaning there is still a substantial amount left to be unveiled in the budget on Tuesday.  For example, note the one item left unpriced in the stimulus list: "Some permanent tax cuts." So we'll have to wait to see how much of the remaining stimulus will be made up of tax cuts and credits and who knows what else.  You may have noticed that we suddenly heard quite a bit about tax cuts from the PM over the weekend.  

Colour me cynical (shocking, I know) until Tuesday about this stage-managed roll-out.    

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday notes

A brief version...

1. Conservative leadership rumblings still in the background...Don Martin:
"...for the first time since he became Canada's alpha Conservative male in 2002, a knife or two is being quietly sharpened in the benches behind his back -- just in case he fails."
John Ivison:
"...unlike former Conservative leader Brian Mulroney, Mr. Harper has failed to establish a personal rapport with many caucus members. Their loyalty would be strained to breaking point if Conservative support dropped into the 20s range - thus jeopardizing their cushy sinecures. Many Tories found themselves questioning their political faith during the general election and found it tested further by the Fall Fiscal Update.

“The ace the Prime Minister always had was that he was the master tactician. But our guy doesn’t have the ace anymore,” said one self-professed Harper supporter. “Ministers now whisper under their breath that they think we will lose the next election.”
Wha?  You mean the chess master sows doubt in the pawns?  Always a shame to read such opinions...

2. Budget secrecy? Nice pro forma report on the "cone of silence," how quaint.  But you're too late, it's been bulldozed:
Bureaucrats and economists were stunned when the "government official" revealed the budget details.
Mel Cappe, a former clerk of the Privy Council Office who now heads the Institute for Research on Public Policy, said releasing such numbers without the support of finance officials to explain what went into the forecast undermines the credibility of the budget, which Canadians should believe is as accurate and sound as possible.
"The minister of finance and PMO should be careful to protect the reputation and precious integrity of the Department of Finance in its forecasts. The government needs it. The market needs it and the public needs it and this doesn't help," Cappe said.
Clearly, this Conservative government cares little about any of that.   

3. Only Rex Murphy could be cranky after this week.  Try Bob Herbert instead.

4.  Travers puts his finger on the uncertainty of the coming week and the potential for "backsliding."

5.  Want to keep track of Obama's progress in keeping promises?  Try the Obameter (click  on the links at the top of the page rather than scrolling through).  He's off to a fairly good start. (h/t disco)

6.  Want to laugh this morning?  Try some Harper from the election on deficits, it's hilarious in retrospect. You'll be laughing (or smiling) within 20 seconds, I promise. He does love to play economist, doesn't he?

He's not pulling it out of his hat, you know...:)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday night music

I think I'm going to go with something light, ironic, catchy but with attitude. And appropriately titled, Lily Allen's "The Fear."

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cuz I’m being taken over by The Fear

P.S. Mentarch, I totally concur with your picks...:) 

D. Finley

Maybe it was Doug Finley, not Diane Finley who signed that petition criticizing Ontario police in the Caledonia land dispute:
At an announcement in Toronto on Friday, she didn't deny signing the document, which shows a signature and post office box address beside D. Finley.
From the Privy Council Office today:

That may or may not be relevant. But it's just one more opportunity to publicize the very serious work being done by the Privy Council Office...:)

Mr. Harper and his games: is it deja vu all over again?

The PM's budget games are well under way over the last 48 hours. Sending his ministers out across the country to sprinkle news in advance of the budget, designed to curry political favour. Running radio ads encouraging Canadians who haven't seen any details to blindly support the budget. The unprecedented leaking of deficit numbers days in advance of the budget and unbeknownst to his own Finance Department.

It's a massive p.r. onslaught from the PMO all designed to get that budget passed and save Mr. Harper's job. Little problem though, the aforementioned games may be working against him: "Ignatieff blasts Harper's deficit 'games'."
“I asked Mr. Harper not to play games like that,” he told 500 people at a luncheon of the Canadian and Empire Clubs in downtown Toronto. “I told him to put the facts and figures on the table, not let them slip out at his convenience. But the guy just can't help himself … he thinks it is all just some kind of a game.”

Mr. Ignatieff said he has five tough question to put to Mr. Harper about his budget on Tuesday: Will it help the needy? Will it save jobs? Will it create the jobs of tomorrow? Will it be fair to all of Canada's regions? And will it burden our children with debt?

“And if the answers don't cut it … if the government fails, I am ready to lead. I do not seek office at any price. But I am ready.”
The more we see Mr. Harper manipulating the process, the less encouraged we should be. I'd say it's entirely unpredictable at the moment as to whether or not we will see this budget garner any support in the House of Commons. I think Mr. Ignatieff is serious.

Throw in to the mix Mr. Harper's disingenuous comments on the deficit from an interview published yesterday and it's clear that he's just not being straight with Canadians:
Q: The November economic update was projecting surpluses for the next few years. Suddenly we’re facing multi-year, massive deficits. How did we get to that point?

A: There are two things. First of all there has been some deterioration in forecasts we’ve received from the private sector forecasters since then that is responsible for part of the deficit. But a lot of the deficit will be actions the government is undertaking in the budget. Deliberate actions to stimulate the economy over the next two years in particular.

Q: So you were working with wrong numbers from the private sector?

A: We were clear about this in the economic and financial update, that the government did intend to undertake stimulative measures going forward. They were not bad numbers by the private sector. We have been getting private sector forecasts now every two or three weeks now for the last six months and they have been deteriorating. This is the effect of the global recession. The numbers, quite frankly from September on and in December were markedly worse in terms of projections than in November. In January, again markedly worse. Markedly worse and with greater uncertainty. We’re all living in a period of tremendous uncertainty, but the world economy has slowed considerably, even since the economic financial update, and that will have an impact on the government’s revenues. So that’s the primary short-term impact. But as I say the government has decided, and I made clear at the G-20 meeting, that this government will go in to the marketplace, will borrow money that is sitting on the sidelines because people won’t spend, because businesses won’t invest, to make sure we sustain economic activity. That’s our plan. (emphasis added)
When I read things like that from Mr. Harper, pointing the finger everywhere else when we know that he, economist, put us in a terrible position at an historic moment, it suggests that we need to be very skeptical going into next week's budget. Ignatieff is right, that Mr. Harper just doesn't get it as to how he should conduct himself and such words from Mr. Harper should make us seriously doubt that he'll get it right next week. His incompetence has been well and truly exposed.

The Governor General is getting some helpful advice at the moment and I'm sure she's taking note of all of these developments.

Don't know what's going to happen but that feeling of hyper-reality from the end of November, early December is coming back again...

Principle of budget confidence violated by PMO official?

With all the focus on the big deficit numbers that were put out yesterday by an anonymous Conservative aide, the larger point was missed. Such budget disclosures are "unheard" of in Finance budgeting.
In an unprecedented move, an official from the Prime Minister's Office disclosed Thursday the federal government would post a cumulative deficit of $64-billion over the next two fiscal years -- five days before the release of its own budget.

The Conservative official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in a briefing with reporters that had no Department of Finance representatives present, said the government would return to surplus in 2014-15, or a half-decade after the next fiscal year.

Ottawa will record a $34-billion deficit in the 2009-10 fiscal year, followed by a $30-billion shortfall in the next 12-month period.
The circulation of the deficit numbers is being justified by the government as a response to other information seen this week, namely from the Parliamentary Budget Officer and Dale Orr, both of whom had their own projections of the likely deficit for the government in the coming year. Scott Brison makes the point as to what the PMO has been up to:
Scott Brison, a Liberal Party economic critic, accused the government of leaking one of the most important parts of the budget "for political reasons."

He added the unattributed briefing represented "a tremendous slap in the face to Finance," adding: "The government has made a laughingstock of itself."

A Finance spokesman said Thursday night it is department policy not to discuss budget items until the document is released. (emphasis added)
There's more in the report from other analysts remarking on the spectacle and how the discussion of deficit numbers "...could be market moving if it was beyond the scope of what economists and markets expect. This time, however, the figure was in line with expectations."

Looks like the drive to control the media story line took over at what could have been a great cost. From the Globe:
The deliberate leaking of fiscal projections -- just five days before the Jan. 27 budget -- is unprecedented, Finance watchers say. The move reflects the minority Conservative government's desire to get unfavourable coverage out of the way before next week.
Priorities, priorities. Conservative political fortunes above all else, even budget secrecy and the possible impact on the market.

Why did the Prime Minister permit such disseminations?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Conservatives claim solicitor-client privilege over 5 million pages of documents

And it sounds like the Elections Commissioner has had enough: "Judge asked to unseal millions of Tory documents on '06 election." Yes, back in the news on a few fronts, it's the Conservative in-and-out election ad scheme which is alleged to have brought them $1+ million over their national spending limit in the 2006 election. It's 2009 and the Conservatives are still successfully delaying action in the Elections Canada investigation of the matter. Here's the crux of the roadblock facing the Elections Commissioner in his investigation:
Elections Canada is asking a judge to unseal up to a staggering five million pages of Conservative party documents tied to allegations the party broke federal election laws with a controversial advertising campaign in the 2006 election.

The demand is the first major development in the case since investigators raided Conservative party headquarters last year.

Elections Commissioner William Corbett and lawyers with the federal public prosecution service have asked the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to review the documents after the party claimed they contained confidential information that is protected by solicitor-client privilege.

The legal roadblock has "stymied" the investigation and prevented authorities from determining "whether the evidence points to additional investigative activities or provides a sufficient basis for the recommending or not recommending of charges," Elections Canada told the court.

"The investigation cannot adequately proceed because the number of documents over which privilege is claimed, and which investigators and our forensic accountants are therefore unable to review, results in potential evidence not being available to investigators," Ronald Lamothe said in an affidavit supporting the application.

A Conservative spokesman said the party would have no comment on the case until their arguments are made in court. (emphasis added)
A reminder that charges against the Conservative party in this matter may yet materialize and that the Elections Commissioner's own investigation remains ongoing, in addition to the civil suit.

Also of note in media coverage today of this scandal, the Ottawa Citizen's report which points out the advantage obtained by Mr. Harper in having appointed Irving Gerstein to the Senate. Mr. Gerstein may now seek to avoid any appearance before the Commons' Ethics Committee should that investigation into the in-and-out matter resume:
One potentially important witness will not likely be available, however: Irving Gerstein, the party's official agent during the 2006 election and head of the party's fundraising arm, was appointed to the Senate before Christmas. As a parliamentarian, he cannot be summoned to testify before a committee.

Mr. Gerstein was among a group of Tory officials summoned to appear before the ethics committee last summer, but he did not attend. The party said the bailiff had served the summons on Mr. Gerstein's housekeeper, not on Mr. Gerstein, who was out of the country and unavailable to attend.
Mr. Gerstein could still voluntarily appear before the committee, as cabinet ministers routinely do. An aide in his new parliamentary office said Mr. Gerstein was unavailable to comment on the issue. Mr. Sparrow said it was premature to speculate on what topics a committee might look at or which witnesses it would call.

In an affidavit filed in support of the search warrant last spring, an Elections Canada investigator referred to Mr. Gerstein and claimed the contentious advertising purchase program was "known to and implemented by the most senior officials of the Conservative Party of Canada and the Conservative Fund Canada."
Another Senate appointee who may find himself in an unwelcome spotlight as he enters the upper chamber. If the Ethics Committee investigation continues, Mr. Gerstein's outstanding summons will have to be addressed.

Onwards with in-and-out then in 2009...

Update: CBC's report suggests what the Conservatives did in order to make so many documents supposedly solicitor-client privileged:
...lawyers argue that the Conservatives copied their lawyer on even the most mundane emails, suggesting he wasn't offering legal advice but was one of those organizing the advertising campaign.

A diplomatic opening on Khadr

The Obama Executive Order on the "Closure Of Guantanamo Detention Facilities" that may impact on Omar Khadr's case is definitely a document of interest to take a look at today. There's a tone of de novo review that will be applied here, clearly a fresh set of eyes are taking a look at the entire mess. The one week delay in Attorney General designate Eric Holder's confirmation is quite unfortunate in light of the process that the order sets out, his role is clearly paramount as the coordinator of the review of the cases of detainees at Gitmo. Well done, Republicans.

Some of the aspects of the order that are worth noting from the Canadian perspective as action on Omar Khadr becomes imminent: 
Section 2. (d) It is in the interests of the United States that the executive branch undertake a prompt and thorough review of the factual and legal bases for the continued detention of all individuals currently held at Guantánamo, and of whether their continued detention is in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and in the interests of justice. The unusual circumstances associated with detentions at Guantánamo require a comprehensive interagency review.

(e) New diplomatic efforts may result in an appropriate disposition of a substantial number of individuals currently detained at Guantánamo.

(f) Some individuals currently detained at Guantánamo may have committed offenses for which they should be prosecuted. It is in the interests of the United States to review whether and how any such individuals can and should be prosecuted.

(g) It is in the interests of the United States that the executive branch conduct a prompt and thorough review of the circumstances of the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo who have been charged with offenses before military commissions pursuant to the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Public Law 109-366, as well as of the military commission process more generally.
2(g) clearly applies to Khadr.  

Note the inclusion of the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in the list of review participants in section 4. There is clearly an emphasis on the need for a diplomatic solution where possible coming through in the order.  

As for options for Khadr, there are three.  "Transfer or release," "prosecution," or "...lawful means, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice, for the disposition of such individuals."  
Section 4. (c) (2) Determination of Transfer. The Review shall determine, on a rolling basis and as promptly as possible with respect to the individuals currently detained at Guantánamo, whether it is possible to transfer or release the individuals consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and, if so, whether and how the Secretary of Defense may effect their transfer or release. The Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and, as appropriate, other Review participants shall work to effect promptly the release or transfer of all individuals for whom release or transfer is possible.

(3) Determination of Prosecution. In accordance with United States law, the cases of individuals detained at Guantánamo not approved for release or transfer shall be evaluated to determine whether the Federal Government should seek to prosecute the detained individuals for any offenses they may have committed, including whether it is feasible to prosecute such individuals before a court established pursuant to Article III of the United States Constitution, and the Review participants shall in turn take the necessary and appropriate steps based on such determinations.

(4) Determination of Other Disposition. With respect to any individuals currently detained at Guantánamo whose disposition is not achieved under paragraphs (2) or (3) of this subsection, the Review shall select lawful means, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice, for the disposition of such individuals. The appropriate authorities shall promptly implement such dispositions.
From Americablog, citing additional information sent out by the White House Press Office:
The Order sets up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security. If transfer is not approved, a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum. The preference is for prosecution in Article III courts or under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), but military commissions, perhaps with revised authorities, would remain an option. If there are detainees who cannot be transferred or prosecuted, the review will examine the lawful options for dealing with them. The Attorney General will coordinate the review and the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security as well as the DNI and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will participate.
This latter bit of information suggests a presumption of transfer that is preferred.  The larger point, there is clearly an opening here for a diplomatic solution to Khadr's case, despite the continued clinging by the Harper government to the cover of a judicial process.  

You're forgetting something, Conservative aide

What a surprise, anonymous Conservative spinners are out, trying to weave an alternative reality in advance of next week's historic budget deficit numbers. Specifically, they're forgetting the part where they put us in hock to the tune of $13 billion for next year without even getting to the stimulus yet: "Canada set to post C$34 billion budget deficit: PM aide."
Canada will post a deficit of C$34 billion ($27 billion) for the coming fiscal year as it moves to stimulate a flagging economy, but it will return to surplus in five years, an aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Thursday.
The aide said most of the expected deficit resulted from the stimulus package.
Oh no, aide, I don't think you've got it quite right:
In a new analysis posted on his website, parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says the federal government will rack up between $46 billion and $105 billion in new debt over the next five years, even without new stimulus spending in Tuesday's budget. (emphasis added)
$13 billion alone of the deficit for next year is entirely due to Conservative mismanagement:

That's $13 billion they've single-handedly put on the backs of the Canadian taxpayers for 2009-10 prior to next week's announcements. I'm sure that was just a tiny oversight on the Conservative aide's part, right?

Always glad to help out around here...:)

Yet another name for the Harper succession sweepstakes

Lawrence Martin with a column that should make the PMO's day: "Talk of drafting Hillier stirs the political pot." Those talking up Hillier are vouching that it's a legitimate thing:
"Have you heard about the movement to draft Rick Hillier?" Someone popped the question at a gathering this week at Ottawa's Rideau Club of the think tank 20/20. "It's serious," the well-connected source added. "It's really happening." A quiet thing, the source said. Too early to get out front on.
Heh, it's so quiet they're leaking to Lawrence Martin. Who knows how serious such efforts are. Could be someone just wanting to send a message to Harper in case he has any bright ideas about pulling a November-update tactic again next in, watch yourself, we've got leadership options and we're willing to set them in motion.

An entertaining read. I'd add that Hillier's somewhat of a one-trick pony though, can't imagine him performing well on a breadth of issues.  Another obvious question would be whether he would have much appeal in Quebec. Speak French? Hard to see it. But I'd welcome him in trying.

A better choice for a leader out of the Maritimes would be one of the Impolitical blog's faves, Danny Williams. But, of course, he's likely burned too many bridges within Conservative circles over the past few years. The federal Conservative party is likely just too darn conservative for Mr. Williams in any event, he of the Progressive Conservative variety. Too bad. That would be a great addition to a Conservative race.

Conservative leadership speculation in the morning, too fun to pass up...:)