Saturday, February 28, 2009

Peter MacKay, Russian bombers and the top NATO job

About Peter MacKay's chatting up yesterday of the Russian bomber "incident" on the eve of Obama's visit, that turns out to have been not much of an incident at all, the timing of MacKay's disclosure was noted as strange:
It's not clear why Canada chose yesterday to draw attention to what is a fairly common occurrence.
Why publicize a routine incident that happened over a week ago? There are a few reasons offered for the disclosure by MacKay in the Star today:

A senior government official said highlighting the mid-air meeting was a good way to show the worth and relevance of NORAD while its commander, U.S. Gen. VictorRenuart, was visiting Ottawa.

It's also a good way to "get some ink" for Canada's contribution to continental security, the official said.

In addition, it's a diplomatic rebuff to Russian officials who have complained in the last week about nations "militarizing" the Arctic to bolster claims to valuable energy and mineral resources beneath the thawing tundra and the seabed.

Any of which might be true and meant MacKay could let the cat out of the bag and garner significant attention. As a convenient byproduct, MacKay gains some publicity in order to assist him in his bid to be the new NATO secretary general, a position for which he's been described as a "long shot" and which is being chosen in April. Craig Oliver was heard stating this week that MacKay might actually have a chance due to Canada's profile in Afghanistan and in spite of the post traditionally going to a European. MacKay's Cold War tale managed to attract a lot of international attention relatively quickly. How often does MacKay get his name in the New York Times, after all, unless he's having coffee with Condi. Although if Dave's account (first link above) is the real impression created in NATO circles, one of an irresponsible and uninformed minister saber rattling for the sake of some attention, it could just as easily have harmed his chances.

Make of it what you will. It all seemed a little too enthusiastically done by MacKay to not raise a few questions.

Checking in on the Ritz

Somebody's showing his "support" for cash strapped cattle farmers in his own special way:
Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud announced $71 million in aid for livestock producers Thursday, while continuing to urge Ottawa to chip in additional cash.

“If the auto industry is going to receive federal support, the federal government must also provide support to our cattle and hog sector,” said Bjornerud.

But as provincial farm leaders praised the one-time money, it drew criticism from federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. The Conservative government has no intention of topping up provincial funding, and doing so would likely cause Canada’s trade partners to retaliate, said the Battlefords-Lloydminster MP.

“I’m disappointed that Saskatchewan has decided to go this way,” he said.

“I don’t like the way that they throw the gauntlet down when they already knew what the answer was.”
As a Saskatchewan reader suggests, this is not exactly empathetic stuff and in fact it sounds like the Ritz is taking his voting public for granted out there, banking that they have nowhere to turn on voting day.

In other Ritz related news, the minister of listeria's agency is improving listeria testing due to what they learned from "recent events," aka the listeriosis outbreak that killed 20 people:

"Our interest is providing the very best level of assurance we can to consumers," said Paul Mayers, associate vice-president for programs.

"And so what we're doing here in terms of these enhancements is to take advantage of the lessons we learned through recent events and to continue the spirit of continuous improvement that we have always applied in terms of the meat inspection system."

See? Spirit of continuous improvement at the CFIA...too bad it wasn't in play when Ritz came up with the old inspection regime that took inspectors off the floor!

Thanks to P in Saskatchewan as usual for the keen eye on the livestock front...:)

Update: More of Ritz rankling the federal-provincial relationship in Saskatchewan, here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Return to form...took about a month

In addition to his taunts of the opposition as "soft on crime" yesterday while in B.C., the PM brought out the really good nuclear stuff, threatening another election! Here's the clip (within first minute) and here's the report, "Harper demands MPs put rush on $3-billion in stimulus spending."

There's not much one really needs to say about the whole dynamic here. The Conservatives are in a box of their own making. Denied the country was in economic trouble through the fall election campaign, produced a partisan and misleading fall economic update that wrongly represented a surplus position for the government, prorogued parliament...the delay on stimulus spending is something they now wear. If you watch the clip, the PM's self-induced frustration is understandable. But the threat attached to it is not. Consider the reaction:
Strategic Counsel pollster Peter Donolo said it makes no sense for Mr. Harper to stir up election talk right now, particularly with the economy listing. “I don't think you should be threatening an election when you're dropping in the polls,” he said.

“It's difficult for a combative politician to always mind his Ps and Qs ... [but] sometimes they can't help themselves.”

The $3-billion fund will be part of an interim supply bill to be voted on by March 26 and, although the Liberals are supporting the 2009 stimulus budget, Mr. McCallum said they've not yet committed to backing the supply bill – which is also a confidence vote.

Mr. McCallum said he wasn't willing to give Mr. Harper a pass yesterday and said the Tory Leader's “super-aggressive” bully tactics were puzzling and irritating. He said if the Tories had moved sooner to offer stimulus spending – last fall, for instance, when other countries acted – then there wouldn't be a rush now.

“We don't want to penalize Canadians for this laziness on the part of the government, but neither are we going to cave to pressure from Stephen Harper to do what he wants us to do,” Mr. McCallum said.
Prediction, some kind of a climb down off the ledge. Big misread of the present mood where there is little appetite for threatening, my-way-or-the-highway politicians. Very "un-Obaman" in fact!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"No real issue, just sitting in (an) opposition riding."

That's the comment from John-Paul Fournier, head of capital planning in Indian Affairs on why a school to be built on a reserve was being delayed. Fournier repeats the comment in respect of another school, both found in emails uncovered by MP Charlie Angus. It's surprising this information actually got out given the sorry state of Access to Information in Canada these days.

What the political representation in these ridings has to do with building schools...that's a good question. There's an explanation offered, of course, that the note was simply to highlight that questions could be raised about the schools being delayed due to the ridings being represented by opposition members. Angus doesn't believe it and the fact that newly Conservative ridings in New Brunswick and norther Ontario are getting schools built on reserves is raising questions.

So what should we believe? In the wake of information showing that 78% of infrastructure funds spent since 2007 were spent in Conservative ridings...this is a tough one...

Good for Charlie Angus for uncovering this troubling information.

Criminal justice posturing from the PM

From the PM in B.C. today while announcing his crime sentencing proposals, in the midst of a troubled community struggling with gang warfare...there's always time for a shot at the opposition:
"The truth of the matter is, those who say that the tougher penalties on perpetrators will not work don’t want them to work because they don’t believe in his kind of approach," he told reporters.

"We know that we’re going to hear these critics, and we know that we’re going to hear the opposition parrot some of these critics because they all believe in soft-on-crime policies."

Shortly after the prime minister spoke, the Liberals and NDP announced they would support the bill in principle, while also criticizing the Tories for not going far enough in terms of crime prevention.
The Bloc is also expressing support. But here's more of the "soft-on-crime" reaction to rebut Harper's manipulation of the opposition positions:
Dosanjh told reporters the Tory bill simply "repackages" current offences, and accused the government of completely ignoring crime prevention programs over the past few years.

"We support the bill in principle, but we believe that this bill could have been done earlier and it doesn’t really create any new offences," Dosanjh said.

"This government has absolutely, miserably failed in advancing our agenda, the Canadian agenda, on crime prevention."

NDP justice critic Joe Comartin called on the Conservatives to fast-track the bill into law, saying it is consistent with themes that his party have supported in past elections.

"We will be supporting it and we will be pushing it through the House as fast as we can," Comartin said.

But he also called for more action to be taken as part of a comprehensive strategy, including more police officers on the street, especially in the Metro Vancouver area, as well as more diversion projects for youths at risk of joining gangs.

Remarkable to watch how many times the PM said "soft on crime" today, boldly attributing this position to the opposition in the midst of this violence. Watch the clip, he's in fine form. Even a mention of the "coalition" makes an appearance. Talking point governance in action.

Mr. Harper's been on watch for years now and at the height of media coverage on gang shootings out in BC, swoops in to announce such measures that experts rightfully point out are dubious:

Critics such as University of Ottawa criminologist Irvin Waller say that more jail time will not curb the kind of violence that the government wants to bring to a screeching halt.

"This is yet again a debate about penalties when it's very clear from looking south of the border that these penalties do not make a lot of difference to the number of people killed," Waller told The Canadian Press earlier this week.

"It's not a debate about what will actually stop them from happening."

Who is really the "soft" actor in this picture? Sounds like it's the leader who chooses to posture about enacting window dressing that will likely make no difference to the violence on the ground.

While people in B.C. are justifiably nervous about what's happening and likely are heartened to be receiving such attention, let's not avoid pointing out the obvious political motivation driving this legislation and the misrepresentations on the PM's part here in his characterization of the opposition. And an issue like this, causing such concern in the community where people are being gunned down in their cars, doesn't deserve to be accompanied by the cynicism and partisanship from the PM in his interactions with the media. Too much to ask from this PM again, I suppose...

Bad day for Mr. Mulroney and other items...

1. The judge in the Mulroney-Schreiber inquiry issued a setback for Mr. Mulroney yesterday, who had sought to limit the inquiry to considering only the Ethics Code in place in 1985 for applicable standards to judge his conduct. The judge accepted the broader position of the Department of Justice, that the Criminal Code, the Income Tax Act, the Parliament of Canada Act, standing orders of the House of Commons, etc. may all be considered in terms of the standards to be used in assessing the appropriateness of Mr. Mulroney's conduct. In addition, the judge seemed to go out of his way to emphasize the high standards set out in Mulroney's own "Guidance for Ministers" by quoting from it a number of times. Mulroney could be hoist by his own petard as a result of having articulated a very high standard of conduct for his ministers (and therefore, himself, as enforcer of it), but we shall see. In case you're wondering, it starts up at the end of March. Globe story on the ruling today, here.

2. The Conservatives' fall election campaign cost them $19.4 million. Taking them close to spending virtually the entire amount they raised in 2008, $21 million. Perhaps backdrop to the settlement of the Cadman lawsuit. As my friend the Vigilant one would say, this is the "high burn rate" of funds raised, in action.

3. Speaking of the Cadman case, a voice cries in the wilderness, "Whatever happened to Harper's hard-fought lawsuit against the Liberal party?"
Incredible isn't it? Harper is content to leave in the public arena multiple statements that he admits label him a crook and he says caused him to be "brought into ridicule, scandal and contempt" because Dion is no longer the Grit boss.

What's been conveniently forgotten is that whatever happened or didn't happen before that key vote in May 2005 reflects on the integrity and honesty of both Harper and the Conservative party.

The public deserves to know what happened.

Who approached Cadman? What was said? What did Harper know and when did he know it?
Questions we would all like to know the answer to...what we really need and which is totally unrealistic in our system, a Patrick Fitzgerald to pursue such allegations. There are some things the Americans do much better than we do.

4. Should we laugh or cry at Mr. Flaherty's ridiculous assertion yesterday about mistakes to be expected in the rush to get stimulus spending out the door? Not the picture of a competent government that knows what it is doing. It's the picture of a government that waited too long...

5. When CBC funding and the Conservatives mix, that can't be good. It sounds like the CBC made some bad decisions to import expensive U.S. game shows and it's costing them now as ad revenues tank. Not surprising to hear James Moore's response, no to any help. Given the Conservatives' disdain for the CBC, expressed as recently as the election campaign, the response was predictable. The Conservatives, however, should not be permitted, under cover of this downturn, to achieve the weakening of the CBC, one of their long held goals. Repeating the current level of funding, if it's inadequate in view of the downturn, is not a full answer. And keep in mind, as I know some may be getting sick of hearing from me, that our financial affairs are in deficit as a result of the Conservatives own financial mismanagement. For them to achieve partisan goals toward the CBC as a result would be obscene.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reasons for federal debt under the Conservatives

A note about a report on the CanWest sites at the moment: "Taxpayers group relaunches federal debt clock." It's the return of the federal debt clock, for the first time since 1997:
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Wednesday it was relaunching a federal debt clock now that the Conservative government is set to run up $85-billion in deficits over a five-year period.

Available at, it shows that the federal debt stands at roughly $458-billion, or $13,685 per Canadian taxpayer. The federation said the national debt is now growing at a rate of $34.88 per second.
OK, we know there's a deficit now under the Conservatives, but the explanations offered in the report are deficient:
The Conservative government engaged in deliberate deficit spending in an effort to combat the global financial crisis that is dragging the world economy into negative territory. Also, the move appeased political opponents after the Conservative government was nearly defeated following a fall economic statement that included no fiscal stimuli and questioned whether it would be needed.

The budget includes a two-year, $40-billion stimulus package that, when combined with contributions from the provinces and some municipalities, will come to 2% of GDP, or what the Group of 20 nations agreed upon in meetings late last year. (emphasis added)
So, reasons for Conservative deficit: global financial crisis; political survival; G20 agreement. But what's missing? The botched policies of the Conservatives that created a $13 billion deficit this year, principally the GST cuts combined with higher government spending. A deficit of the Conservatives' own making, in advance of any of the above. Their policies have exacerbated poor federal finances as the recession has kicked in, to the tune of between $46-$105 billion over the next five years.

If you're going to go to the trouble of laying out the reasons Canadians will be paying off a massive deficit, and you're a reporting entity, kind of important to be telling the whole story.

Fun with media

A little fun with video, a bit of the ever unpredictable Chris Matthews who had an interesting reaction as Republican Governor Bobby Jindal began to walk out to speak last night in response to Obama:

The mic is always on, Mr. Matthews! Not exactly what you hope to hear if you're a Jindal supporter! Matthews was likely reacting to the uncomfortable effort he was about to witness from Republicans attempting to capture some of that Obama magic. It didn't turn out so well.

Shortest 2012 speculation...ever?

Day 2 of biggest ever U.S. media blitz by our Conservative government

You know, on the heels of the PM's New York launch of his "biggest ever U.S. media-blitz," the meeting between Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon and Secretary Clinton just didn't seem to do it for anyone. We try really hard around here to buy into the hype and muster up some kind of insightful commentary on the Harper gang's latest but this LC guy is not exactly bringin' it in terms of inspirational material. But we shall do our best...

First of all, with respect to his invitation to Clinton to visit Ottawa, you know, the awkward camera captured moment - "you too...can come to Ottawa...and be equally well received...I'm sure" - I'm sure she's pencilled that one in already. Enough with the mutual invitation society at this point, you know?

As for the "meat' of the day, the tete-a-tete on substantive issues between the eminent foreign affairs honchos, also a bit of a letdown.

On Khadr, Cannon seemed to be proud to announce, once again, perhaps for one of the last times that hey, we're still doing exactly nothing here, and by the way, the kid is an alleged murderer. Nice. Did you hear that giant round of applause last night, Mr. Cannon, when President Obama reiterated the closing of Guantanamo Bay? Huh? You'd think a major ally making a gesture would be appreciated, like other nations are doing ("In Madrid yesterday, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his country was prepared to accept prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Reuters reported. He made his comments after his first meeting with Ms. Clinton."). But no such movement from Harper and Cannon. Hope they live long with the memory of their inaction at this historic moment.

On Afghanistan, Cannon said that he did most of the talking here, giving the impression once again, like Obama to Harper last week, that the Americans are hanging back. The "ask" is likely to come, whatever that may be down the road. Cannon did suggest more civilians, thank the U.S. for more military and had this to say:
"In the light of Canada's experience in Kandahar, I also offered to share the lessons Canada has learned in Kandahar in the areas of training the Afghan National Police, border management and overall reconstruction and development work," Cannon said late Tuesday afternoon.
OK, we've been there a while and have experience to share, fair enough. But just ixnay on the whole Kandahar massive rison-pay reak-bay...not exactly great moments in NATO force command operations.

As for media coverage of the biggest media blitz ever, if anyone can find a U.S. piece covering this visit...more power to you. AP's big Canada story yesterday seemed to be what the new standards should be for airliners hit by bird strikes, specifically Canada geese. Ouch. New York Times? Nothing. Washington Post? Well, the Spanish accepting Guantanamo prisoners made it on the Post web site. No Cannon though. Very brief report by AFP. That's it.

So I guess we can sum up by saying...little accomplished to speak of on the substantive front, totally overshadowed by Obama speech last night, and media didn't notice. In other words, in Conservative speak, a total success for the Canadian people...:)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Harper not a fan of high-speed rail? He might be changing his mind

"Harper not a fan of high-speed rail link between Que. and Ont.: McGuinty":
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is frowning on a proposal for a high-speed rail link between Ontario and Quebec that would boost the economy and help the environment, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Tuesday.

Without federal support, the proposed link between Windsor, Ont., and Quebec City may never get off the ground, McGuinty said.

"I continue to be a big fan of (the plan), as does (Quebec Premier) Jean Charest," McGuinty said.

"The prime minister is not as much of a fan on this score."
Harper does, however, enjoy taking GO trains out of service for the day and making them turn around to face the direction he prefers for his photo ops, as he did last week in Toronto in order to make a political splash in Michael Ignatieff's riding:
"(The photo op took the train out of service for a day, because Mr. Harper insisted the locomotive should face west. “Normally all our locomotives are east-facing,” a GO staffer told me. GO took it over to the VIA yards to turn it around, and then turned it back around after the PM departed)."
I'm sure that didn't cost much.

As for the future of high speed rail in Canada, Mr. Harper may find it hard to ignore the proposition in the future:
In his address to the governors, Mr. Rohatyn noted that President Obama had asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to come up with a plan for financing high-speed rail projects. He said he hoped that that would be a step toward the eventual establishment of an infrastructure bank.
And we do know that the Harper crew do love them some Obama these days...:)

(h/t reader DH on the GO train item)

Update (5 pm): j-rad also highlighting the high-speed rail issue today, "Harper’s high-speed hypocracy."

Harper's American media "offensive"

So the latest from the Harper brain trust is a two-part strategy involving hitching themselves to Obama, Obama, Obama...and did I mention, Obama? And secondly, the "... biggest-ever U.S. media blitz launched by a Canadian prime minister" according to Teneycke.

Harper's appearance on Lawrence Kudlow's CNBC show is here. Making a soundbite appearance, once again, Mr. Harper and his new talking point about his government's "first" and "second" stimulus packages. To be retroactively labelling prior acts as his "first stimulus" package is disingenuous, of course. Linking it to this latest budget that is late, the product of Conservative delay due to Mr. Harper's choice of election and prorogation, as if it were all a concerted two stimulus package plan, shameless. By the way, how simpatico were Kudlow and Harper? Kudlow obviously had a lot of time for Mr. Harper. Fox, Kudlow, WSJ editorial board, they chose Harper's forums well. All right wing sympathetic media for Mr. Harper. But no Canadian.

Are the Harper Conservatives confusing communications strategy with governing? They don't actually do much in the way of governing. We hear more from Teneycke than any minister in the Harper cabinet. Chantal Hebert wrote an influential column on their photo-op preoccupation a few weeks ago, criticizing the PM for his construction and hockey rink photo ops that were lacking in substance and failed to talk up to the Canadian public on economic issues. She also noted how he was ignoring the Canadian media. They now seem to be on to the next phase of the ever-shifting communications plan, starting with Obama's visit and all events since.

Not surprisingly, some of us are wondering about the new strategy, particularly in light of yesterday's trip. Yes Canadians are supportive of Obama, but he's not our leader. And the Obama halo doesn't mean Canadians can't see through a sudden p.r. offensive from a sycophantic government desperate to put a new face on a partisan, tired operation. Harper's meeting at the U.N. was good, yes, and he did plug the merits of the highly regulated Canadian banking system which he has thankfully been unable to mess up. But that latter fact of our banking sector being in good regulatory shape was widely known in advance of his trip. (The banking angle seems to be the takeaway based on the AP reporting.) Harper spent the rest of the day note-taking at the meeting he had with business leaders and schmoozing with right wing media, spewing dubious claims all the while, unchallenged. If this is what Teneycke had in mind when he said, "There's an appreciation that communicating to the American public right now, and more broadly to an international realm, is good...," then the question that comes to mind, having watched the little whirl wind trip, is: good for whom?

Monday, February 23, 2009

The new Conservative talking points must be out

I totally believe these comments on the CTV site:
Peter in London
The Right Honorable Stephen Harper is first and foremost a family man who grew up in a middle class setting and understands the real values of life for the average citizen.
He is a top notch economist and a world history and political junkie.
His favorite pastime is hockey and he is also an historical buff on the subject of our national sport.
He is the leader of the newest federal political party in Canada and it's principal architect. It has not yet been corrupted by too many years in power and it's right of centre values appeal to most Canadians.

Now our Prime Minister impresses on the world stage and is about to be one of it's most influencial leaders to steer us out of the economic turmoil.

Yet, too many Canadians do not recognize this or should I say don't take the time to analyse before swallowing and regurgitating the cliches and propaganda. It is really a shame.

Harper is among the top five best Prime Ministers this country has ever had. PERIOD.
Another impressed citizen:
Richard L. Provencher
My wife and I are very proud of our PM Harper. He is the right man for this period of difficulty. He promotes co-operation and exudes pride in his country, and it shows. I believe many Canadians think more of him now as he deals with this "global" economic issue.
What about you, Lillian?
This PM is one of the best we have ever had. He has the respect of leaders around the world. He hasn't been overly friendly to the media and won't be pushed round by them and therefore they refuse to give him fair coverage most of the time. I am thankful that Harper is PM at this critical time.
Totally, freaking, awesome.

Your end of day laugh...:)

Harper on Fox News, Canadian oil witches and other yarns

Just had a look at the Harper performance on Fox News and the train wreck transcripts, which Fox tells us, "may not be 100% accurate." Bit of an understatement. They do manage to get it down for the most part, but the Fox system still manages to entertain. In a brief segment on the oil sands, they come up with "Canadian oil witches." There was a phrasing in the conversation, "Canadian oil which is...," but you can see how the automatons would get to "witches." Second segment of Harper appearance in which that occurs, here: "PM Harper on the U.S. Financial System." Maybe they're trying to liven up the rather dull performance of the PM...:) But seriously now...

Let's see...during that second segment, some dubious claims by the PM. Must have gotten warmed up after the first, which was eventful in the fact-checking department, but not as eventful as the second:
"We don't have the mortgage problems certainly we have a downturn in our housing sector but it's not structural there will be no government bail out mortgages in Canada."
No government bail out of mortgages in Canada? Hmmm, what was this all about then? And no mortgage problems? Read this tale of the Harper-high risk-40 year mortgages.

Glossing over the Conservative induced deficit of between $46 billion and $105 billion over the next 5 years, prior to the recession and stimulus spending, of course:
We should be able to do that and emerge back in the surplus in about four years' time so we haven't got a structural deficit problem which which isn't a pretty good. Financial even running a budget certainly been -- budget surplus for over a decade for over a decade. And we're in a position to return to surpluses and as the recession is over -- obviously.
Yes, obviously.

And repeating the blame-the-U.S. environmental mantra now to the U.S. audience:
"We Canada for a decade wanted to have some regulation on carbon emissions but in an integrated North American -- economy."
Was very interesting as well to see Harper singing the praises of the highly regulated financial sector. See link above on the mortgage experimentation the Harper/Flaherty team engaged in.

As for the first segment of his appearance, video and transcript are here. Rather bumbled mumbling on protectionism in places, although he did seem to get the point out, eventually. But an intriguing mention of Canada's "second stimulus package." Really? I think we all missed the first. He's likely renaming the second GST cut and the fall 2007 update as the first "stimulus package," to convince us, wrongly, that he saw it all coming.

Always fun to watch...:)

Monday notes

1. We. Get. It. Ad nauseam. He likes hockey, he drapes himself in it at every opportunity. Apparently it's a state secret though that he is a Leafs fan, won't admit to it. Will gladly help him get back to that book on hockey he's supposedly "writing," gladly...a full time return to it would be a good thing for the book, don't you think? And for the nation?

2. The giant mess that the Bush administration left at the S.E.C. is the subject of this NY Times report, "S.E.C. Chief Pursues Reversal of Years of Lax Enforcement" that's worth a look today. Gives you a sense of how the commission, through the life of the Bush administration, was essentially rigged to quash investigations, Bush populated the commission with "opponents of government regulation." Leading to the commission missing major scandals. Brand new one today. Schapiro is said to be improving technology and looking at significant corporate governance reforms, including "...considering asking boards to disclose more about directors' backgrounds and skills, specifically how much they know about managing risk."

3. The NY Times editorial board is applauding the new EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson, for the speed at which she is reversing Bush era intransigence on environmental action.
She has pledged to reverse or review three Bush administration directives that had slowed the government’s response to global warming and has brought a new sense of urgency to an issue that President Bush treated indifferently. She has also boosted morale at an agency badly demoralized after eight years of political meddling.
These would be major changes in regulatory policy affecting, all told, more than half the greenhouse gas emissions emitted in this country.
While we will await the content of these directives, the point is that the Obama administration is starting to act, quickly here, and Mr. Harper's feigned inability to act due to U.S. obstruction will be coming to an end. Surely he too is applauding, based upon his recent comments.

4. Liberals will use Kevin Page, Parliamentary Budget Officer when it comes time to review the Conservatives' progress in implementing the budget:
Mr. McCallum said however that his party will be working with the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page to dissect and study the report to determine if it is sufficient. He said although the Liberals and the Parliamentary Budget office still have to work out the details about what the party is looking for, Mr. Page will review the report. "He's done a very good job in providing economic professional advice to Parliamentarians and he will play a role in the report," Mr. McCallum said, adding the Liberals are looking for evidence that "the government has active plans to get money out the door fast [because] the money will not have flowed" by March 12.
See that? Cooperation with the independent types. Not so hard.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

It depends on what the meaning of the word "transcript" is

That's the Clintonian parsing of a CP access to information request by the Privy Council Office. The PCO is refusing to release handwritten notes taken during listeriosis conference calls on that basis: "Harper government withholds listeriosis notes." On the heels of the revelations last week about how Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) is stifling access requests by charging up front preparation fees, this denial of information by the Privy Council Office elevates the problem to the highest level in the federal government and demonstrates the lengths to which this government will go in order to deny information requests. This excuse for non-production is a classic:
The Harper government has delayed for months the release of notes on conference calls held at the height of last summer's deadly listeriosis outbreak — a lag some experts say breaks Ottawa's own information laws.

At issue is an Access to Information request by The Canadian Press to the Privy Council Office for “all transcripts and minutes” of the crucial exchanges last August and September.

Officials were grappling at the time with a health crisis that sparked intense scrutiny of the national food safety system.

Twenty Canadians died after developing listeriosis, an outbreak that was traced to meat-processing equipment at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.

Privy Council officials at first said they had records as requested, but needed four months “to consult other government institutions” about them.

Then Ann Wesch, the access to information director for PCO, wrote a letter dated Feb. 10 stating that in fact “the records retrieved do not fall under the scope of this request. Therefore we have no records relevant to your request.

The explanation for the flip-flop? Records retrieved were handwritten notes — not minutes or transcripts, said the PCO analyst questioned about the response.

This, despite the fact that the word transcribe is in part defined in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as “make a copy of, esp. in writing . . . write out (shorthand, notes, etc.) . . . .” (emphasis added)
It's stretching, it's hypocritical in light of production of handwritten notes by Agriculture Canada, as noted in the article, and it's the unaccountable, secretive Harper government at work.

So...they won't produce them to the press, wonder if their listeriosis investigator with no subpoena power will have any luck either?

Governments of principle?

Three things to read today that speak to the challenges facing western democracies in upholding the rule of law, specifically in respect of how we treat detainees in our custody.

1. This New York Times report on the Obama administration's decision regarding the ability of detainees in Afghanistan (and Iraq) to challenge their detentions:
The Obama administration has told a federal judge that military detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there, embracing a key argument of former President Bush’s legal team.

In a two-sentence filing late Friday, the Justice Department said that the new administration had reviewed its position in a case brought by prisoners at the United States Air Force base at Bagram, just north of the Afghan capital. The Obama team determined that the Bush policy was correct: such prisoners cannot sue for their release.
This was a great disappointment for anyone hoping for a new direction from the Obama administration on such detentions. However, there's still a ray of optimism:
Jack Balkin, a Yale Law School professor, said it was too early to tell what the Obama administration would end up doing with the detainees at Bagram. He said some observers believed that the Obama team would end up making a major change in policy but simply needed more time to come up with it, while others believed that the administration had decided “to err on the side of doing things more like the Bush administration did, as opposed to really rethinking and reorienting everything” about the detention policies it inherited because it had too many other problems to deal with.

“It may take some time before we see exactly what is going on — whether this is just a transitory policy or whether this is really their policy: ‘No to Guantánamo, but we can just create Guantánamo in some other place,’ ” Mr. Balkin said.
Something to watch going forward. Along with the next item...

2. This Scott Horton piece on U.S. and international law requiring criminal investigations of the following matters pertaining to detainee treatment:
There are three areas of particular concern:

First, the interrogations program, which University of California law pro-fessor John Yoo, the author of the infamous torture memoranda, properly calls the “Bush program.” A system of torture techniques was introduced by the Bush Administration over sustained opposition from career lawyers, particularly military lawyers. One for instance, now a senior general in the Pentagon, recounted to me how he confronted John Yoo directly telling him that the techniques under contemplation and approved by Yoo were violations of U.S. criminal law and would lead to prosecutions. Yoo responded by saying that he had considered that possibility and had therefore involved the chief of the criminal division in the opinion writing process. The Bush Administration would not prosecute the Bush Administration’s decisions, he implicitly offered. But the administration that follows will, the general responded.

Second, the system of extraordinary renditions under which persons were seized and transported to secret prisons outside of any accountability under law and then regularly tortured either by U.S. agents or by foreign states acting as proxies.

Third, the system of military commissions created in Guantanamo, an unprecedented judicial travesty. Six prosecutors resigned or requested transfer after disclosing that they were aware of efforts by political figures to rig the proceedings assuring outcomes acceptable to the administration. This has placed an unprecedented taint on the American military justice system, which previously was a point of pride for our country.

These three programs violated criminal law in a systematic way, the violations occurring as a matter of policy formed by government and pushed through over objections of career employees.
Horton continues his call for a blue ribbon commission in addition to the "unavoidable" criminal prosecutions.

3. Pogge's blogpost on Friday, supporting the need for an investigation here in Canada of the handling of detainees in Afghanistan, under Peter Tinsley, the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission. Why should we care? We should care about whether the government is ensuring that Geneva Conventions are being applied overseas by our forces, that the government is supporting them, not putting them in compromising positions. We should care about how we're perceived by the international community in fulfilling our obligations when involved in such conflicts. Things people in healthy democracies should care about and ensure are not left in big messes of conflicting and questionable accounts, which appears to be the case at the moment in Canada.

That's all, just three little light pieces...:)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Only in Britain, you say?

The UK and US Governments have reached agreement on the transfer of Mr Binyam Mohamed from Guantanamo Bay to the UK. He will be returned as soon as the practical arrangements can be made. This result follows recent discussions between the British and US Governments and a medical assessment, undertaken by a UK doctor, that Mr Mohamed is medically fit to return.

The UK Government requested the release and return of all former legal UK residents detained at Guantanamo Bay in August 2007. The Home Secretary and I took this decision in light of work by the US Government to reduce the number of those detained at Guantanamo with the aim of closing the facility and our wish to offer practical and concrete support to those efforts. In reaching this decision we gave full consideration to the need to maintain national security and the Government’s overriding responsibilities in this regard.

Mr Mohamed’s return does not constitute a commitment by the Home Secretary that he may remain permanently in the UK. His immigration status will be reviewed following his return and the same security considerations will apply to him as would apply to any other foreign national in this country. As always, all appropriate steps will be taken to protect national security. (emphasis added)
That announcement was made yesterday by the British Foreign Office. Clearly, some cases are in motion, despite Obama's diplomatic words on Thursday about the need to review all cases and decisions in other cases such as Omar Khadr's not being imminent.

Update: This post probably gave too much credit to the British government here who have acted throughout the Mohamed case rather shamefully, in refusing to produce exculpatory evidence to him in order to defend himself. The point was to draw a contrast between the British government that has at long last acted to get this British resident out of Guantanamo with our own.

With distinction

The Jurist is picking up today on an item in the transcript of the briefing given by a White House official to the press corps on Air Force One as they headed back to the U.S. That briefing was somewhat detailed and gave we Canadians a better sense of what was said in the day's meetings as we couldn't hope to receive the same from the Harper government. However, in picking up on this excerpt, it's a little disingenuous to put the word "bipartisanship" in Ignatieff's mouth and to import broader purposes into it:
Mr. Ignatieff spent a lot of time talking about the importance of bipartisanship in Canada on foreign policy and how they had made the decision to back the government on the deployment after the Manley Commission, and that they saw this as not a partisan issue; it was more important to get the country together on issues like the budget and on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that this was a commitment that they were sharing across the parties, and that they wanted to work together with the United States.
It's clear from Mr. Ignatieff's tenure thus far that there's a different tone the Liberals are taking, you see that in the daily questions in Question Period, you hear it from Ignatieff and other ministers. But to read into this White House official's use of the word "bipartisanship", which he would naturally hew to with his American perspective, that Ignatieff was talking about a "Con/Lib team effort" is stretching. The use of that word may be the official's alone, we don't know. And even if Ignatieff did use it, he may have used it to engage in some "American-speak," to make the point very clearly during the meeting with Obama.

I don't read the raising of a less partisan approach (and it looks like it was limited to two issues) as signifying a harmful approach for the Liberals which cedes political ground. The evidence from Canadians surrounding the budget was that they wanted to get it done. A desire for a less partisan approach, to me, is a direct reaction to Mr. Harper and his tactics of three years. He's seriously damaged by his actions in that November update, the prorogation and various other incidents over the years, taunting the opposition as Taliban sympathizers, the unprecedented Cadman lawsuit he launched against the Liberals, etc. He's going to have a very tough time spinning this web that it's now all a "fresh start," that he can wipe the slate clean and be trusted. He has obvious negatives that Canadians know. He's damaged himself in Quebec.

The question going forward in respect of partisanship is who is best placed to give Canadians a serious government that will dispense with the nonsense. To date, the Harper crew has not been able to do that. Ignatieff is attempting to offer that alternative. By speaking to that broad goal of a less partisan approach, that doesn't create a hard and fast alliance with the Conservatives, no matter how much the NDP wish to continue pushing that characterization. It does need to be done skilfully, however, and not in the Tom Daschle mode of opposition. To date, it's not looking like the weakness of the past few years is recurring.

And in contrast to the concluding thought of the Jurist, ("rather than using his time with Obama to lay the groundwork for any future improvement on Harper's vision of Canada/U.S. relations, Ignatieff has instead done little but to highlight the similarities between himself and Deceivin' Stephen."), Ignatieff drew a strong contrast with Harper in respect to a future foreign policy direction for Canada. Expressing support for the closure of Guantanamo Bay and a desire to help the U.S. with that effort:
Ignatieff said he told Obama if the Liberals form a government in the future that "we would be helpful to the Americans in respect of this and other matters relating to getting us beyond the Guantanamo Bay world." (emphasis added)
That's the beginning of a return to support for the rule of law internationally from Canada, a major flaw in the Harper government's foreign policy approach and a major face of their government. Which would not only be in respect of Guantanamo, but would play out with the detainee issue in Afghanistan, the Canadian position on the application of the death penalty abroad for Canadians in jeopardy, and on environmental cooperation to name a few areas where the Harper Conservatives have fallen down.

So, not surprisingly, I would disagree on this effort to "twin" the Libs and Conservatives. Too much of that going around this week...


Not my word, Ian Brown's, here: "Obama likes us, he really likes us." A skewering of the day, the media, the mood. Hilarious.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday night music

This is a singer I came across recently, very talented, Missy Higgins from Australia. Had never heard of her before, just incredible voice, especially in this first one.

Enjoy...and of course, shout out to Mentarch who's been quiet this week!

Obama wrap-up

People may be a little "Obamad" out, if that's possible, but thought there were a few things floating around in the ether to put down today...

This New York Times article today on the visit seemed to me one of the relatively more nuanced pieces of reporting that put its finger on an awkwardness between Obama and Harper that was manifested during the news conference in the discussion on trade and security:
“I provided Prime Minister Harper an assurance that I want to grow trade, not contract it,” Mr. Obama said during the brief, four-question news conference with Mr. Harper in the grand Gothic-style center block of the Canadian Parliament. “And I don’t think that there was anything in the recovery package that was adverse to that goal.”

The prime minister responded by giving the president a bit of a lecture, remarking that Canada’s stimulus package “actually removed duties on some imported goods.”

“If we pursue stimulus packages the goal of which is only to benefit ourselves, or to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, we will deepen the world recession, not solve it,” Mr. Harper said.

The exchange was an awkward moment in a visit that was intended by both leaders to emphasize their countries’ friendship and longstanding bonds. After slipping up by nearly referring to Ottawa as Iowa, Mr. Obama went on to say that he had a Canadian brother-in-law and that two of his top aides were Canadian.

Mr. Harper, for his part, responded to a question about border security by saying that “threats to the United States are threats to Canada.” It was a powerful sound bite that appeared to be the final word of the news conference, until Mr. Obama jumped in to get one last word of his own, saying, “We have no doubt about Canada’s commitment to security in the United States.”
The point being that Mr. Harper in his effort to be a strong advocate on Canada's behalf on these issues, which he should, is rarely a skilled statesman. Read that excerpt in conjunction with the next. The Times went on to write this:
If Mr. Obama is not entirely simpatico with Mr. Harper, he may have more in common with Canada’s opposition leader, Michael Ignatieff of the Liberal Party. Mr. Ignatieff is an author (like Mr. Obama) and a former director of a human rights center at Harvard, where he worked alongside Samantha Power, who advised Mr. Obama on foreign policy during his campaign. The two had a brief meeting at the airport on Mr. Obama’s way out of town.
I picked up a distinct undertone in this piece, an unstated reflection of the political dynamic in Canada at the moment. Harper as minority government leader, clearly. And the effort to minimize Ignatieff's role in the day didn't work out so well.

One more point on the whole Harper's morphing environmental position hypocrisy that may have left an important impression on the visitors as well. Jeffrey Simpson chimed in today on dressing down Harper for his foolish attempt to blame Bush for Harper's own global warming inaction:
"To suggest that Canada's failure was because the Americans were an unwilling partner is historical revisionism of a brazen kind."
To watch Harper during the news conference with Obama repeating that stance was almost surreal. But it was fun to watch Obama as Harper was saying this, it must have been quite the political lesson, standing face to face with such political opportunism. Obama fully demonstrated his command of Canadian issues/files in the Mansbridge interview and during the press conference, there's no way he didn't know Harper was blowing hot air. I marvel at how Harper summons the ability to say such things at such moments. For the life of me I can't understand how he can do it or that he would do it. It's like the thinnest of escape hatches from his recalcitrance was being grabbed simply because it's there, no matter what it looked like. He shouldn't be doing it and especially not in that forum. For all his talk about the next time he's on the phone with Obama it'll be much different now that they've met in person, well, factor this little bit in as well. He shoots, he doesn't score, once again.

The Governor General's role yesterday was a big highlight of the lighter variety...a reader sent me an email: "What struck me as the most impressive moment in the Obama visit was the animated social interaction between Obama and Ms Jean." Ken Chapman wrote about this too: "The new secret weapon Canada has on the diplomatic front is Governor General Michaelle Jean. Obama seems to be most comfortable and communicative with her and why not given the symbolic between them."

Was Harper only on The National last night with Mansbridge in the parliamentary library because Obama had been on with Mansbridge two nights prior? A rare CBC appearance...that's what I'm thinking.

Finally, on a lighter note, Rachel Maddow had a segment last night on the visit too, enjoy:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

No doubt

Lazy video blogging, some late night highlights of the day to close it off.

Here's TPM's day in 100 seconds. Harper and Obama warrant just the last 20 seconds and they get it about right:

Harper's breathy "unequivocal" moment:

And one last thing...a link to one of the faves around here, Bob Rae, speaking about the opposition meeting with Obama at the airport, issues raised including Khadr and his thoughts on the day. Always interesting to listen to him.

Conservative talking points are that Harper is the same as Obama...

Steve has a nice take on it, here.

And I see it's really being pushed and distorted, here on many issues. To take one...

A remarkable entry is the attempt to equate Harper's position on the Iraq war with Obama's. Where, for example, a 2005 Harper letter is cited as proof that Harper's position on Iraq would not have resulted in Canadian troops being sent. What's being cited is a Harper letter stating that at that time, in 2005, his position was that he "would not commit Canadian troops to that country." That would be an easy position to take in 2005. But this is not what Harper's decision would have been at all in 2003, as we know from his speech in 2003 in the House of Commons. He would have had Canada join the U.S. in Iraq from the start. Harper's been in lock-step with the Bush administration until, well, Obama was elected and he's now having to switch every position he holds.

It's really quite the thing today to see such superficial yet comprehensive efforts of the Conservatives to twin Harper with Obama. They're clearly worried about the Obama effect and its impact on Harper.

Semi-live blog of the press conference...

Afghanistan question leads off, good. Canada reconsidering 2011? Obama gracious in saving Harper here, tells us he didn't press Harper on extension. Harper seemed nervous at first but manages to get his bearings, it's a parliamentary framework we're working in, yes sir, that is correct.

French question on environment second up...harmonization on greenhouse gases when your approaches are different on tar sands? Beyond technological solutions, how can you reconcile when Cda refuses to have hard caps? Harper: US have just started their decision making, repeats his shrinking position as articulated in the Globe report linked to earlier today, that Canada has struggled as a result, alone in the absence of the U.S. Insisting approaches are similar, just different ways of measuring the same thing, he says. Huh? That's a nice bit of baffle gab that should provide plenty of discussion out of this. This "dialogue on green energy" is a nice cover they've achieved but the questioner was getting at the heart of the issue. What does that mean for GHG targets?

Obama brings the leadership: it's a world-wide issue we're going to have to confront. Good. See how easy that was, Mr. Harper? Says "dialogue" is a good beginning. Oil sands here, coal in U.S. Showing leadership in the hemisphere...when does Mr. Harper ever say things like this? It's just missing from Mr. Harper. Must say, however, that the tone from Obama is genuine but as for the hard caps/intensity target difference in specifics. Not surprised, that will come.

WSJ presses Obama on re-opening NAFTA, conflicting signals of late. Oh WSJ, why must you be such a downer? Trade beneficial...again states labour and environment side agreements needing to be incorporated into main agreement. He raised this with Harper...Obama voluntarily brings up "buy American" provisions, reiterates international agreements to be abided by. Harper chimes in...gets all "I'm an economist" here on provisions in trade agreement provisions...the "synchronized global recession" talking point rears its head. Harper goes on much too long for this blogger's comfort. It's not about you today, pls step back.

Jennifer Ditchburn brings the mirth! Obama laughs as a result of her question, makes joke. Ditchburn much preferable choice than Bob Fife (I was happily wrong here, shows press pool ruled, not PMO, CP the rightful questioner). But asks unfocussed multi-part question. Does manage, however to elicit a great line from Obama, perhaps one of the biggest of the press conference. He loves this country. Yowza. Honestly, that has clouded my focus on the rest of his response. Now Harper up...Chuck Todd is sleeping? Makes a pointed plea to Americans: "Threats to the United States are threats to Canada", we are separate countries with unique interests, don't be mind-melding us there, Mr. Harper. Point on border a good one to make, from Harper, but he overdid IMHO. No reciprocal depth of sentiment from Harper, unfortunately.

Overall, questions solid but this event was definitely not long enough.

A few minutes Obama departs, the screams/cheers ensue. No need to make the obvious point here...:)

Twittering at the moment

Semi-live blog post underway...but twittering will be up shortly.

Detainee transfers in Afghanistan back in the news

This is an article that deserves attention today despite all of the other festivities going on: "Detainee transfers briefly halted in spring of 2007." The report presents evidence that detainee transfers were actually secretly halted in Afghanistan at the same time that the PM and his ministers were publicly mocking the opposition for daring to make such a request in the House of Commons and taunting their patriotism. The government's accounting of the dates on which the transfers were stopped is also called into question by the report, with witnesses contradicting the government's written responses on the matter. Further, the gap between those on the ground, with their concerns about detainee treatment in light of what they were seeing, and "generals and political masters in Ottawa" is also raised.

All of which raises questions again about the Harper government's political preoccupations above all else, even when dealing with such serious matters, their inclinations to secrecy and their competence in the conduct of the Afghan mission.


It isn't just the weather that's responsible for the snow job in Ottawa today:
In a pre-summit interview with CNN, the Prime Minister insisted that Canada's climate-change policy has been hamstrung by the inaction of its largest trading partner.

“In Canada, we've been wrestling for the last decade or so with our desire to try to have a regime, a regulatory regime, that would diminish our own carbon emissions. But we've been trying to do so in an integrated economy when the United States has not been willing to do so,” Mr. Harper said in an interview to be broadcast in two parts yesterday and today.

“I think quite frankly the fact that we have a President and an administration that wants to see some kind of regulation on this is an encouragement.”(emphasis added)
Remarkable to hear. Harper doesn't have clean hands here whatsoever. The Canadian public knows his obstinate and do-nothing record, he's "Kyoto is a socialist scheme" guy and he's "intensity targets" guy:
Stephen Harper's plan uses "intensity" targets for industry, an approach that allows pollution to grow as firms increase their production. The federal government projects that its targets would allow emissions from Alberta's oil sands to nearly triple between 2006 and 2017.

In the U.S., intensity targets are not on the table; they're seen as a vestige of the Bush administration's failed approach. Both Barack Obama and John McCain have pledged a cap-and-trade system that puts hard caps on pollution.
The world knows his record, as demonstrated in Bali at the conference on climate change in December 2007:
At every step of the way, Canada was portrayed – by its domestic critics and its international counterparts – as a leading voice for the obstructionist camp. Its insistence that it was not undermining an activist international consensus on climate change was undercut by its obvious isolation.
And those sitting across from him today absolutely know the Harper record. Including Carol Browner, Obama's climate "czarina":
Strong résumé in environmental protection, law and management consulting, and a clear determination to break from the Bush record, which she has called “the worst environmental administration ever.” She was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bill Clinton for nearly eight years, the longest anyone has held that position.
They know what the score is. Trying to run away from your record, pretend it's something else and blame others, on CNN, on the eve of a summit like this, it's very disingenuous, craven and opportunistic. Quite a moment.

[h/t FarNWide; Mound of Sound; Pogge]

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More pre-summit stage setting

The BBC has Harper's number. An interesting analysis piece contrasting Obama with Harper on the issues, how they'll likely shake out during the "extended lunch" but the good stuff too, the differences between them personally and in their political stature and how they manifest themselves in this visit. Presented in that special, understated British way:
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a Conservative who leads a minority government, and it would be fair to say that he has avoided the temptations of charisma in doing so.

The contrast with the new American president could hardly be greater.

Mr Obama's election in November last year was an international sensation making him one of the most easily recognisable faces on earth.

He is using his easy mastery of live television to explain to Americans how he believes his interventionist style of government will ease, and then end the recession.

Mr Harper's own modest electoral success a month earlier - when he increased his minority government's share of seats in Ottawa - went more or less unnoticed.

He does not like giving news conferences, and Canadian reporters say he likes to control what questions they are allowed to ask.
You might find, by the way, that you do not get much of a chance to judge any of this for yourself since when the two leaders meet the press reporters have been told they are confined to a total of four questions shared between the two leaders (two in English and two in French).

That suggests that the media management is in the hands of the reticent Mr Harper, rather than his more glamorous counterpart.

And if that seems a little unhelpful to journalists, consider the plight of the Canadian public.

So tight is security that anyone who considers braving the snow and Arctic air to attempt to get a glimpse of the American leader is likely to be disappointed.

Mr Obama will be ferried from point-to-point in his new armoured limousine and it is possible he will not actually be seen in public at all. (emphasis added)
Yes, so good of them to consider out plight...:) Arctic air? It is Ottawa, but come on! In other publications...the Washington Post and NY Times by contrast focussing soberly tonight on trade as the priority with the Times in particular setting out Obama's tough balancing act as a Democratic president with his labour constituency and how his campaign rhetoric hangs over the trip. Clearly, these reporters have something to learn from the BBC...:)

One more late note on the whole "Ignatieff-to-the-hangar" issue...Don Martin has the "scoop" from the PMO:
The Prime Minister’s Office insists it's not to blame for the banishment of Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to the Ottawa airport for his 15-minute chat with U.S. President Barack Obama moments before the Fly-by Summit ends on Thursday afternoon.

That was a White House decision, they insist. Fair enough, even though it seems strange to divert the presidential chat to the airport given Mr. Ignatieff’s office is one floor above Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s meeting room in the Centre Block.

But the rest of the itinerary has the choreographed look of Mr. Harper hogging the halo-illuminating Obama spotlight in what clearly would be a major image booster given the global mania this president seems to inspire wherever he goes.
No, of course the PMO had nothing to do with it...that all makes perfect sense.

We're hoping for a goodbye stroll to Air Force One between Ignatieff and Obama or something in that vein....just to provide some uncontrolled pictures and, you know, tick the PMO off...

Harper on CNN/Wolf Blitzer

Here he is on the Situation Room, courtesy of the PMO.

Did Harper seem tired/sluggish?

Especially interesting, post the 4:30 mark, where Harper speaks about financial regulation in Canada: "we have the strongest banking sector in the world." That's a good point, Mr. Harper.

Harper also touts the government being in a position of financial surplus until this year. Yes...another good point, Mr. Harper.

Always interesting to see such interviews, but fact-check with care...:)

(RedTory has this up as well.)

Update (8:00 p.m.): CP has a report on it now, with a few quotes from Harper, this one picked up on by Adam Radwanski:
"This is a huge risk to the world right now," Harper said on CNN in an interview from Ottawa. "If there's one thing that could turn a recession into a depression, it is protectionist measures across the world." (emphasis added)
On our own efforts, still unpassed of course, due to much delay in governing from Conservatives:
"We have a stimulus package ourselves; we didn't impose 'Buy Canada' provisions," he said.
No, we didn't and it's still not done even though Harper has been in office all this time and Obama's been on the job for just weeks. And a fitting endnote to put Harper's appearance on CNN in context:
The prime minister was likely preaching to an indifferent audience, however. Canada-U.S. relations barely register on the radar screen south of the border, even as a new poll in Canada suggests Harper's countrymen are convinced en masse that the relationship will thrive under Obama.

The eve of "fruitful discussions": see you at the airport hangar

A few items about the big visit tomorrow during which "fruitful discussions" are the order of the day for some but not for all.

First, this is really a bit of a joke:
Reporters from across the country have been calling the Parliamentary Press Gallery trying to get a seat at the four-question news conference he will share with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But there are just 40 spots for Canadian journalists and 40 for the U.S. contingent of 70 or 80 reporters who will arrive with Mr. Obama. (emphasis added)
As described in a Star report on the schedule tomorrow:
2:45 p.m.: Joint Obama-Harper news conference, with two questions from Canadian reporters (English and French), and two questions from American reporters. After the news conference, the two leaders walk down the Hall of Honour to view the Library of Parliament.
That's not a news conference, sorry to say. Technically, yes, but it's much more of a photo-op. Such vibrant democracies we live in! Why do the media clamour for seats? Why don't they just let the four questioners in so that it will accurately reflect the event? Love to see that. I suppose they anticipate the four questions turning into eight answers so it's a timing thing. But still, looks to be a letdown. Let's go out on a limb and make a prediction, though, just for fun...Bob Fife gets the lone Canadian/English question and it will be a doozy. Something about describing the relationship/friendship.

Second, this situating of Ignatieff at the airport at the end of the day to meet with Obama at the airport hangar really has an odious whiff about it, it can't be said too much:

3:40 p.m.: Obama’s motorcade departs the Centre Block for Ottawa international airport.

4 p.m.: Obama arrives at the airport for about a 20-minute meeting with Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

4:30 p.m.: Approximate departure time for Obama aboard Air Force One.

They've just barely met the protocol:

Protocol dictates the president meet with the leader of the Official Opposition during a visit to Canada. But the Liberals have questioned the selection of a less-than-public location for the meeting and its brevity — details they say were determined by the Prime Minister's Office.

There's just no way around this, it's just laughable in terms of proper decorum being extended to one's colleagues. Looking forward to seeing how that exercise plays out and how lemonade will be made of the lemons.

Strange priorities

Here comes Senate reform, again. We just saw this movie and it wasn't any good the first time. But bring on the sequel:
The Harper government will introduce new Senate reform legislation that would force the new raft of Conservative-appointed senators to quit their jobs after an eight-year term.

The move means that such senators as Patrick Brazeau, 34, would have to leave the upper chamber after one, non-renewable eight-year period. Minister of State for Democratic Reform Steven Fletcher said in an interview that new legislation would put the limit on all senators appointed since the October, 2008, election and into the future.
Mr. Fletcher was quick to add that any changes would only be made after the government implements its budget. "Right now, we must get our stimulus package passed through Parliament and we need to do that quickly," he said. "It just has to be passed before we can deal with the Senate ... it's by far and away the No. 1 priority."
So glad, I'm sure Canadians are wondering when the budget will be passed so they can get on with Senate reform. That this is the next issue on the agenda demonstrates either how empty the tank is in Conservative brain trust land or how urgent the need is to placate that base. While we can understand the pressing need to get Senator Brazeau out of the Senate, there are still just too many questions here.

Where is the pressing demand from Canadians that this issue be dealt with? It's not there. Where is the broad support among provinces for these changes? Not there as of the end of November:
Opposition to the idea is also stiff in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. The provinces have argued the Senate election and term limit bills are unconstitutional.
There are clear constitutional problems with Fletcher's proposals on term limits and elections, the Constitution says no. And there's little appetite to open that can of worms.

Around here, we do not get this fixation one iota.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Canadian Press lifts the lid on the Harper PMO's micro-management of the Obama visit to ensure that no one gets any TV time with Obama, except Harper: "Obama visit designed to remain Harper's show." What a petty picture being painted of the Harper staff effort here. Cutting the Ignatieff meeting with Obama down from 30 to 15 minutes, situating it at the airport in a hangar when this has not been tradition in the past with the opposition leader. Further, they're not televising the Obama meeting with the Governor General and the Governor General was unaware of that as of today. Consider Teneycke's response when asked to explain this unnecessary choice, representative of their tone:
When asked why the event would be restricted to still cameras alone, Teneycke replied: "That's a decision that has been made. . . . We can waste time by asking questions, but it won't change the answer."
How bizarre! Why would they prevent Canadians from seeing the Governor General, our head of state, meeting Obama live? There's a lot more in the report in terms of the lack of disclosure and the clamps on the media, all portraying a very uncelebratory effort from the Harper crowd. We'll see how this goes, but it appears as if they're misreading the mood of the Canadian public who likely want to see all of these events unfold, not have them suppressed by the PMO.

(h/t mattbastard)

Minister Kenney: watch what you say or your funding may be cut

Free speech...not so much: "Funds lost over hatred." Immigration Minister par excellence Jason Kenney is admitting that he has instituted arbitrary standards to be applied by his Immigration department officials to screen comments being made by groups who apply for funding:
Kenney said he has already asked department officials to weigh comments made by groups when evaluating funding applications, and the comments made by the Arab Federation president will affect its contribution when the current one expires in March 2010.
This is not only offensive to free speech principles, it is arbitrary governance and irrelevant to the department's core mandate. Minister Kenney should take a good hard look at his new policy and the impact it will have on immigrants who will suffer as a result:
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is poised to slash federal funding to Canada's largest Arabic group after its president called him a "professional whore" for supporting Israel.

In an exclusive interview with Sun Media from London, England, where he is to speak today at an international conference on anti-Semitism, Kenney said groups are free within legal bounds to say what they like. But groups whose leaders say intolerant or hateful things shouldn't get taxpayer funding.

"We should not be rewarding those who express views that are contrary to Canada's best liberal values of tolerance and mutual respect."

One of those groups, said Kenney, is the Canadian Arab Federation whose president Khaled Mouammar called him a "professional whore" after Kenney criticized the presence of Hezbollah and Hamas flags at anti-Israel rallies in Toronto.
The federation received a $447,297 contribution from Kenney's department to operate a settlement program in Toronto for two years, teaching new immigrants language and job searching skills.
Decisions on such programs should be made on the merits. Kenney's actions have brought his department's credibility directly into question.

(h/t Dawg, Big City Lib)

Obama blog event in Toronto on Thursday

Toronto may be interested in this invitation:
"I would like to invite you to blog about Obama’s first visit to Canada from the comfort of a Timothy's in Toronto with free Internet access and unlimited cups of Timothy’s newest blend - Timothy’s Presidential Blend No. 44...This blend has been developed especially for this historic occasion and reflects President Obama's unique, global heritage. To take advantage of our hospitality, all you have to do is show up at the below location with your laptop and introduce yourself.

Date: Thursday, February 19th, 2009
Time: 7:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Location: Timothy’s World Coffee
TD Centre
66 Wellington Street West (Unit 017)
Toronto ON M5K 1A1

Please let me know me know if you plan on visiting Timothy’s for a warm welcome to Obama so that I can add you to the list. email:
Free coffee, free wi-fi & Obama(oh, and that other guy)...there you go...:)

Flaw in online EI application process: need to go in person

This was brought to my attention by the Rural Canadian, information that needs to be circulated to anyone presently engaged with the EI process, particularly the online one. From his letter to Minister Diane Finley:
I draw your attention to a major flaw in the on-line Employment Insurance application and reporting system which is causing unnecessary hardship and angst amongst many of the thousands of recently laid off workers.

Many workers have chosen to apply for EI using the on line web site provided and this process is reasonably easy and straight forward. After filing we receive a letter by mail acknowledging receipt of our application and saying it is being processed, calls to the 800 line after filing our by-weekly reports say the same thing.

Unfortunately this is NOT the case, after waiting many weeks and having still not received any payment we discovered (from discussions with other EI recipients) that it is a requirement to visit the local EI office IN PERSON before any application can be processed. This process took just a few minutes once we were aware that it was necessary and made the drive to the nearest office.

The problem is that there is no indication that this visit is necessary on ANY of the paperwork received or on ANY of the on line instructions and guidance viewed when applying or filing reports. An applicant using the on-line system simply is left thinking that the EI application is being processed and that funds will be forthcoming, is in fact told that on-line, on the 800 line and by mail when in fact it is actually stalled until such time as they personally visit the EI office.
Tatttered Sleeve identified the problem as well:
I have to personally visit my local Service Canada Centre, Record of Employment in hand, during business hours in order to get the ball rolling. And here I had assumed (because there is nothing on their website saying as such, nor in the letter they mailed to me) that I could enter the information online, thus saving a federal employee from carrying out this task manually.
Hopefully the government actors in question are taking steps to amend the online instructions accordingly.

Women's Campaign School, March 27-29, 2009 in Vancouver

A departure for a moment from the usual political banter around here. Direct your attention this morning to this very worthwhile endeavour, the Women's Campaign School which will be held in Vancouver from March 27-29 at the SFU Harbour Centre. Jennifer Sweeney, the President of the Canadian Women's Voters Congress which runs the school, would like to extend an invitation to smart women from across Canada who are interested in politics, who are political aspirants or otherwise, to attend. The school is "pan-political" and the course is described as "...a unique 3-day training course offering women the tools they need to effectively engage in the political process, at all levels." Some of the sessions offered include the following:
• The ABCs of Government • Campaign Strategies • Securing the Nomination • Campaign Ethics • Media Relations • Presentation Skills and Public Speaking
See also the list of speakers, the schedule of sessions and testimonials from former participants which are all quite informative.

Of note, on the site you will see that 32 women graduates of the campaign school ran in Canadian elections in 2008, including at the school trustee, municipal, provincial and federal levels. 20 won.

The organizers assure that the event will be "an amazing 3 day immersion in politics." Now what could be better than that?

Harper government's Kremlin on the Rideau streak reemerges

David Akin with the latest obscenity from the Harper government, DFAIT access to information policies that have had the effect of preventing the release of Foreign Affairs records: "Foreign Affairs violating disclosure laws: experts." Foreign Affairs, alone among federal departments, is charging preparation fees up front, prior to release of records. This has had a predictable effect which undermines the very notion of access to information:
In January 2008, department bureaucrats, faced with a growing backlog of requests for information, decided that the best way to clear that backlog was to "more fully administer" fees it believes it can charge under Access to Information laws, according to documents obtained by Canwest News Service.
Got that? They decided to clear the backlog by essentially putting up financial roadblocks to future requests. Bingo:
Within six months of implementing a policy of insisting those making requests pay what could amount to hundreds of dollars in "preparation fees" for what were in some cases routine government records, an interdepartmental memo says that 161,996 pages of records the department was getting ready to release did not have to be placed on the public record because the requests for information were abandoned because the preparation fees were too high.
The Information Commissioner is investigating complaints that have been made.

Criticism is being levelled by access to information experts:
"This is totally against the essence, the very spirit of the law itself," said Michel Drapeau, a lawyer and retired colonel who worked on Access to Information files during his career with the Department of National Defence. Drapeau is the co-author of a textbook on Canadian Access to Information laws.
"They're doing this to discourage access to records," Drapeau said. "It's wrong. It's fundamentally wrong because it goes against the spirit of the act itself."
Yes, against the spirit but the problem is the permission that they have to charge such fees under section 11(2) of the Access to Information Act. It looks like DFAIT is abusing that section, essentially charging people up front to pay for the censoring/blacking out of information that they're requesting. They're clearly applying a very liberal definition to the word "prepare." And, as Akin notes, they're even "...insisting "preparation fees" be paid for routine computerized records before it will release censored versions of those records." Routine computerized records shouldn't require major fees, but under the Harper Conservatives they do. They need to pay people with big fat black Sharpies to sit and black it all out. That takes time and is clearly a huge new growth area in DFAIT.

The fact that these fees are undermining the very access the act is meant to foster should be dealt with appropriately by the Information Commissioner according to its powers to redress such issues. In the meantime, what's happening here is that the onus is being placed on the applicant to fight for information through the various roadblocks. Fees up front and then a complaint process being launched, which can take a while. Meanwhile the value of the information subsides, time's passing. Journalists, researchers, etc. can't get information or when they finally do, it's less impactful. Mission accomplished.

The stellar Harper government record on transparency just continues to impress to no end.