Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's just another week in our changing nation

No entry for a New Brunswick Liberal parliamentarian, or local Liberal representatives, to the Prime Minister's parliamentary economic update held in New Brunswick. I mean, what did this opposition MP expect to happen, after all? That he would be allowed to attend a Prime Ministerial event? Our expectations are clearly set too high these days.

Another instance of this government's anti-democratic tendencies is making the rounds today as well, explained here. That one is about disrespect for the rule of law. The Conservatives are making a mockery of an upcoming inquiry on the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, an issue which speaks to our respect as a nation for the Geneva conventions:
The Justice Department has invoked national security and told the Military Police Complaints Commission that subpoenaed witnesses will be allowed to appear at the inquiry, but they will be instructed to say nothing when hearings begin next month.
Lawyers representing both the commission, as well as complainants Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, are aghast.

"I've never seen something like that in all of my life," said Kristjanson, who was counsel to the commission that investigated the Maher Arar deportation and torture case.

"It seems to me the government has never had any intention of co-operating."
You may also have heard Minister John Baird referring to Liberal MP Bonnie Crombie in the House of Commons today as "un-Canadian" for her participation in a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's donut photo-op last week. Crombie was making the legitimate point that Harper should have been at the UN instead rather than attending a photo-op that could have occurred at any time.

It's just another week in Stephen Harper's Canada...


Checking in on everyone's favourite candidate...

More hagiography:
Amid gloom and doom being generated about Afghanistan today, because of increased Taliban violence, Alexander's is a voice of reason, realism and maybe a touch of optimism. Tactfully, he speaks his mind; unconcerned if his views differ from the conventional.
Like General Stanley McChrystal, he is wary of deadlines for withdrawing our troops.
But then there's a bit of reality:
When The Hill Times reached Mr. Alexander on his cell phone last week, he said he wanted to wait until later to speak to the media about his candidacy, and that he had nothing more to say on Afghanistan.

"I'm no longer talking about Afghanistan, I'm trying to just take a pause on this stuff," he said. (emphasis added)
Huh. Somehow I think it's going to come up...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A banner blue ad day that continues to raise questions

Blue was the colour of the day yesterday, as the Prime Minister was speaking, providing an economic update which was more akin to Conservative talking points. Some photo evidence that must be noted. All over the major web media yesterday were the ads:

Today, if you check the same the sites, the ads have subsided. It was obviously quite the push that was on yesterday (and on the weekend, in the lead-up) in conjunction with Harper's speech. There's clearly a well-oiled propaganda machine at the ready, available to be fired up to reinforce the day's political message. You may also have noticed the longer television ad touting the plan on national newscasts last night as well. Figures have varied as to the recent costs for this advertising, from $5.6 million to $4 million. With yesterday's push, the numbers have got to be going up.

The use of public money to push a Conservative political message is inappropriate, unethical and pushing the limits of what's acceptable government messaging. Clearly, when you look at just the above set of ads, magically timed to coincide with the Prime Minister's action plan update, there's something wrong here.

Here is an ethics argument to make, it's not a slam dunk, but it's worth considering.

Section 23 of the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada:
Institutions must not use public funds to purchase advertising in support of a political party.
The ads being run by the Government of Canada at the moment contain a political message congruent with the Conservative party's message that the country must "stay on track" and that no election should occur.
Tories like Transport Minister John Baird have argued an election would slow stimulus spending of infrastructure projects. The government’s new taxpayer-funded $4.1-million TV ad campaign to tout the stimulus package – purchased in August – airs commercials that include the tag line: “We can’t stop now.”
There is possibly a conflict of interest operative here where the private interests of the Conservative party, i.e., obtaining political support via advertisements, are being furthered by the use of public taxpayer funds, as carried out by Conservative members of parliament.

Some relevant provisions from the Conflict of Interest Act:
3. The purpose of this Act is to

(b) minimize the possibility of conflicts arising between the private interests and public duties of public office holders and provide for the resolution of those conflicts in the public interest should they arise;
The private interests, one would argue, are those of the Conservative party that are factoring into the advertising decisions being made.
4. For the purposes of this Act, a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.

9. No public office holder shall use his or her position as a public office holder to seek to influence a decision of another person so as to further the public office holder’s private interests or those of the public office holder’s relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.
Additional relevant articulations of the conflict of interest rules appear in the Member's Code:
3.(1) The following definitions apply in this Code.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), a Member is considered to further a person’s private interests, including his or her own private interests, when the Member’s actions result, directly or indirectly, in any of the following
(a) an increase in, or the preservation of, the value of the person’s assets;
(c) the acquisition of a financial interest by the person;
This articulation of when a private interest is furthered would require a successful argument that the Conservative party has directly or indirectly financially benefited from the government ads. The argument would be that ads have been purchased which benefit the party and which the party did not have to pay for. In that sense, one would argue that a financial interest would have been gained by the Conservative party.

The Conservatives might argue that the ad decision is a matter of "general application" not singling out any group in particular:
(3) For the purpose of this Code, a Member is not considered to further his or her own private interests or the interests of another person if the matter in question
(a) is of general application;
(b) affects the Member or the other person as one of a broad class of the public;
The purchase of ads can be characterized as a matter of general application to advertise the economic action plan, yes that's true. But the specific tailoring of the message in those television ads on the need to "stay on track" is a message specifically tailored for the benefit of one political party. That's prohibited under section 23 of the Communications Policy above. And the Conservatives would also need to satisfy (b), that the Conservative party is affected "as one of a broad class of the public." The specific benefit gained by the Conservative party is there to be argued though.

The seeds of an argument are there. It's a difficult one but it seems like enough to ask for clarification from the Ethics Commissioner. This purchase of ads with millions of taxpayer dollars that is benefiting the Conservative party warrants publicity, opposition and complaint. What kind of democracy do we want to be living where big brother buys ads to benefit itself or do we want to stand up and say no?

If others have better readings on this, happy to consider.

Only lemmings need apply

"Tory candidate dumped for frank TV comments." But of course. Not Harper material, clearly. What with all the truth-telling about the infrastructure spending not being available for a medical facility in the Markham riding because it's held by a Liberal. So, the truth-teller gets the axe:
As a regional councillor from Markham, Landon, 61, is used to being independent and speaking his mind, "so it's hard for me to bow to a lot of structure and having everything approved by Ottawa," he said.
"I didn't follow Conservative policy in terms of getting permission to go on that TV show and I made a comment on that show that was an embarrassment to some members of the Conservative party."
Yes, in fact, this is what you said:
Mr. Landon, a regional councillor who will try to unseat Mr. McCallum to become Markham-Unionville's MP next election, said on a local Rogers TV show this week that the government won't give money to Markham to help fund a medical device research facility "because it's held by the Liberals."
Yes, that was an embarrassing disclosure for Conservatives, indeed. So now he's off to the woodshed, to be replaced by a more pliable cipher that can read talking points and attend at central party approved media appearances. Defining democracy down, onwards valiant Conservatives.

Of note in that Star report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is making noises again and is liable to weigh in at some point on the infrastructure spending truthiness. This is an issue that cries out for a review now. Gerard Kennedy's report is quite damaging and is in total contradiction to the government's rosy picture issued yesterday by the Prime Minister. The government is predictably stonewalling the PBO:
Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says the government isn't sharing infrastructure-spending details he needs to determine whether the almost $16 billion over two years is being spent.

Page said his office filed a request for specific infrastructure spending at the end of August but was stonewalled.

"We got a letter back from the deputy minister of transport and infrastructure just last week saying this is a significant data request ... and they weren't prepared to give us this data (at this time)," said Page, who has been a thorn in the Harper government's side.

Page has embarrassed the federal government by casting doubt on Ottawa's price tag for the Afghan mission and accurately predicting the deficit would be far greater than forecast by the Conservatives.

"We are looking at where the bar has been set in other countries on openness and transparency on stimulus money and ... we will keep asking for the information so we can do our own analysis on money going out the door," he told the Toronto Star. (emphasis added)
What's the government got to hide if they're so confident in their 90% hype?

Jazz hands

Who woulda thunk that the use of "quotations" around certain words in my little post yesterday on the Coderre/Quebec brouhaha would have garnered a little rejoinder about the use of such punctuation. "Scare quotes" is what they're being called now. To quote Ed McMahon, "I did not know that." I used the quotes because I was honestly mocking the terminology. I do believe it is antiquated and strangely militaristic for a political organization and the moment seemed right to call it out.

I also stand by the point that lost in all of this Coderre fascination, is the fact that yes, there are indeed new BFFs in Quebec, as Lindsay put it. That seemed to me a legitimate and obvious point to make yesterday that was missing in the discussion. And while I did see traces of it in the media (Oblique but insufficient reference by Roger Smith last night, La Presse), it didn't receive nearly enough attention.

So, yep, I'm a Liberal, no surprise around here anymore about that. But I was surprised that the post yesterday was taken as "jazz hands," when that was, to me anyway, quite legitimate factual information that should have been more present in yesterday's discussions.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go find my red hoodie.

(By the way, the use of italics above is a frequent technique of mine too. Not necessarily grammatically correct but done to emphasize a given word so it will stand out in a given paragraph. For readability, not to scare anyone:))

Monday, September 28, 2009

Moving on

A point on Coderre's move today, resigning as "Quebec lieutenant."

The vestige of a provincial "lieutenant" with untold power seems to be an antiquated holdover from days gone by. In the Outremont instance, its weaknesses have clearly been exposed. And it must be noted, Coderre's departure doesn't mean that the fallout will go as he predicts and people should think twice before lazily falling for the characterization offered up by Coderre. An "inner circle from Toronto" is going to "run" a Quebec operation? Doesn't make sense in view of events this summer. Noted earlier this summer, for example, some prominent provincial Quebec Liberals from Charest's team were recruited to help with the federal effort in the province. It appears that the Liberal effort in Quebec was already moving on beyond Coderre, the seeds were there this summer:
Meanwhile, Jean-Marc Fournier, a former provincial Liberal minister, is working as a strategist for Mr. Ignatieff, and Marc-André Blanchard, a former president of the provincial Liberal Party, will co-chair the Liberal campaign in Quebec.
Further, have a look at this cyberpresse article today, well-timed, in which Fournier is interviewed. Sounds like things are actually going quite well for the PLC in Quebec. Fournier has now been "Senior Advisor" to Ignatieff for two weeks and that timing may or may not be coincidental to some of the goings on in the background with the Outremont machinations.

All may not be as it appears on the surface today, something to keep in mind.

P.S. The Quebec government may challenge the Harper government's plan to change the House of Commons seat allotments. They're not too happy about the increases in other provinces that will inherently reduce Quebec's percentage of seats within the House of Commons. There could be a challenge launched against the law. Just thought we should mention that while we're on Quebec and how things are going for respective parties.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Well chosen, voters of St Paul's

Not that in the end it was close at all though. But Sue Ann Levy demonstrates just what the voters are now missing out on. In her column today on Mayor Miller's departure, she calls him an "insufferable egomaniac" and a "coward." Thanks to N for the email:
I think the St Paul’s voters were on to something when they decisively rejected Sue-Ann Levy. Her column in today’s Sun on the resignation of Mayor Miller speaks volumes about her and her attitudes.
Once elected, an MPP, MP or councillor represents not just the key supporters but everyone. She cannot bring herself to acknowledge any one else but demeans anyone who does reflect her views.
Miller's tenure is open to criticism, sure, and no doubt there are a lot of Torontonians looking to turn the page. But the offering from Levy doesn't seem appropriate to send off a politician who, whether you agree with his record or not, devoted a lot to the city. A little bit of class in the moment never hurt anybody.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Conservative advertising breaking the rules

"Tory political advertising breaks rules: Liberals." Just a quick post here, good to see that Liberals are pushing this issue. Recommending concrete improvements to ensure such abuses that the Conservatives are presently guilty of will not occur again. And notably, formal complaints could be coming, sounds like an ethics complaint or perhaps with Elections Canada, continuing to put the Conservatives on the defensive.
The Liberals say there are a number of examples where the Tories have broken the rules. They point to reports that the Tories spent $40 million to advertise the Conservatives' economic plan — compared to just $6.5 million for H1N1 prevention.

The Liberals also claim the ads link to a Conservative-blue website with campaign-style photographs of Harper that refers to the government of Canada as the "Harper government."

Liberal public works critic Martha Hall Findlay said Treasury Board rules specify what should be included in government of Canada advertising.

"Strangely enough, it doesn’t say 'Harper government’ in the rules."

She said the party is looking into making formal complaints against the Tories, saying their advertisements may also infringe Elections Canada financing rules.

"We feel very strongly that there are rules being broken," she said. "But even above all of that, from an ethical perspective, what we are seeing with these websites and … these advertisements is of such a partisan nature that it’s contrary to the spirit of any of the rules we have."
The Conservatives are blatantly pushing the limits with the tv ads and with their infrastructure stimulus and its partisan bent. Good to see this development today.

The Economist is not impressed with Operation Nanook (video)

A critical video which is fair and pierces the photo-op shenanigans seen during Operation Nanook.

Coming soon: Harper Government H1N1 Hand Sanitizer

(click to enlarge)

Anonymous government insiders have confirmed to the Impolitical blog that Harper Government issued Hand Sanitizer will soon begin appearing in mailboxes across the nation as part of the government's late effort to educate Canadians to the threat of the H1N1 flu.

When questioned about the apparently partisan presentation on the bottle layout, a senior Conservative source feigned bewilderment and professed absolute confidence that Canadians would receive it well. The official was confident that the "totally non-partisan" presentation was an acceptable form of communication under the Government of Canada's Federal Identity Program and that even if the use of such terminology as "Harper Government" wasn't, "who's going to make me take it off, anyway?" Besides, Canadians want hand sanitizer, the official protested, and would want the Harper Government to be seen to be acting.

Officials also reluctantly confirmed after persistent questioning that the hand sanitizer bottle originally included five photographs of the Prime Minister. In addition to the front head shot which remains, photos had been placed on the outside of the cap, on the inside of the cap, with two additional shots appearing on the back label. Extensive focus group testing, however, and written media questions to the Privy Council Office led to the decision to rein it in and go with the lone head shot of the Prime Minister. The official explanation, however, remains that the "floating head" of Stephen Harper is an obvious choice given that he is the Harper Government's chief spokesperson.

Also obtained by the Impolitical blog, the text which appears on the back label of the Harper Government H1N1 Hand Sanitizer. The message mimics in many respects the H1N1 television ads produced by the Ontario government which the Harper Government has recently commandeered and started running nationally as well:
"How can you protect yourself against the H1N1 flu virus?

Making sure we don't have an unnecessary election is the first step.

And washing your hands thoroughly and often is the best way to prevent its spread. Or use this Harper Government H1N1 Hand Sanitizer.

Cough and sneeze into a tissue, or at a Liberal — not your hand.

Keep commonly touched surfaces such as those recently renovated home tax credit areas disinfected. And stay at home when you're sick.

To find out more, go to or call 1 800 No-election.

A message from the Harper Government."
Similar questions as to the partisan nature of the label were ignored.

Officials say Canadians in Conservative ridings in particular should be watching their mailboxes as they are more likely to receive theirs "well before" other Canadians.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A $12-billion boondoggle

Andrew Steele gets to the heart of the matter:
What makes this stunning is not the partisanship of public spending. Governments since the days of the Château Clique have used taxpayer dollars to reward friends and supporters.
But prior scandals of this sort were typically involving secondary initiatives with middling importance to both the economy and the political outcomes of the government.
What makes this story stand out is that a government that has bet its very survival in the economic success of the stimulus package would be this dumb.
Unemployment and economic distress occurs across the nation. Tending to the challenge just in those seats held by Conservative MPs leaves most of Quebec, Ontario and Atlantic Canada, along with assorted places elsewhere, potentially dragging down the recovery in the rest of the country.
And remember the context in which the Conservatives brought in this stimulus package. Facing defeat on a confidence vote if they failed to wise up after missing the onset of the recession in the fall when they were preoccupied with partisan games, trying to destroy the opposition by cutting off political funding, among other things. The stimulus was supposed to be a correction, a reaffirmation by the Conservatives to serious economic priorities while they were under the gun. Following through and implementing it in a similarly serious way would prove that they learned their lesson. That's what makes today's report so galling. They didn't get it at all. They could have implemented measures to flow the stimulus more quickly and fairly, as Steele and the report itself notes, but they went on their own merry partisan way:
Like individuals, governments often show their essential character at times of difficulty. In January 2009, the major on-the-ground partners in any infrastructure endeavour, Canadian municipalities and the private construction industry, gave the government public advice that the only way to create jobs immediately and undertake quality building was to further expand the existing Gas Tax Transfer
program. On March 3, the House of Commons passed a Liberal resolution directing the Harper government to distribute half the infrastructure stimulus funds by Gas Tax Transfer, which would have permitted Canadian municipalities to incorporate the new funds into their budgets April 1. VII The opportunity was ripe for non-partisan collaboration across levels of government.
Instead, the Harper government decided to forgo the existing audit, administration and evaluation systems of the Gas Tax Transfer, to ignore the advice of experts, and to overrule the will of Parliament to devise an entirely new program. The result was a four-month delay to produce a one-page application form and processes that lowered accountability and eliminated traditional due diligence. Incredibly, this application process for a program justified in the name of jobs did not ask how many jobs would be created or when, nor did it take the local need for jobs into account in awarding funds. It also has no system to track how many jobs are actually created viii. The system did, however, allow all projects to be vetted by the Harper government.
Kennedy says he is happy to put his numbers up for third party review if there are any takers. He sounds pretty confident in his analysis and is challenging the government to do the same. Do we think they'll take him up on it?

What a fine mess the Harper crew have gotten themselves into.

Conservative candidate admits partisan stimulus spending

This video has been making the rounds today but am going to post in any event for those who may not have seen it. The Conservative candidate in Markham, a city councillor on the ground and in the know, confirms, twice, that the Markham riding has been subjected to the partisan lens of the federal Conservatives and found wanting. It doesn't have a Conservative member and therefore, a medical research facility in the riding has not been fairly considered for federal funding. The Conservatives are denying it now that the matter's come to light thanks to Mr. Landon, Conservative candidate. But on a day when serious questions are being raised about the impartiality of the Harper Conservatives' administration of the federal infrastructure stimulus, this latest disclosure doesn't help their case:
Mr. Landon, a regional councillor who will try to unseat Mr. McCallum to become Markham-Unionville's MP next election, said on a local Rogers TV show this week that the government won't give money to Markham to help fund a medical device research facility "because it's held by the Liberals."

The National Centre for Medical Device Development is a proposed public-private partnership that a study said could create more than $20 million in economic development and almost 800 jobs.
Mr. Landon wasn't immediately available for comment this afternoon, but Mr. Harper has responded to Mr. Landon's comments.

Speaking to CityTV, he said it's not true that funding is dependent on the party representing a riding.

"The candidate, as you know, is not a member of our caucus and is speaking with no knowledge of that particular situation," the Prime Minister said.

But Mr. McCallum questioned that.

"As a regional councillor, he (Mr. Landon) was not just any citizen. He was involved with the negotiations with the federal government (on the facility). He understood the situation and told the truth," he said.
Another day when we're told day is night, up is down. As the evidence of partisan preference endemic to this government piles up, the Canadian public will catch on. We have a long track record in this country of strongly rejecting such conduct.

The Conservative Economic Inaction Plan

The Liberal report on the government's economic "inaction" plan is to be released this morning. Following on the heels of the news of the week, that the government has spent five times the amount of money on the advertising as it has on H1N1 public health advertising, infrastructure critic Gerard Kennedy's report is more damaging news. Kennedy finds that only 12 percent, not 80 percent, of the moneys for infrastructure have flowed thus far. And that this means a maximum of 4800 jobs have been created in total, not the 40,000 advertised.
Thus far, Kennedy said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has announced 1,697 projects worth $2.6 billion.

Liberals were able to directly contact people involved in 946 of those projects. Of those, he said they found construction has actually started on only 224 projects.

Extrapolating those results over the other projects they weren't able to contact, Kennedy said Liberal researchers concluded that only 12 per cent of the $4 billion fund has flowed.

So, there's much more talk here than work that is starting. It's been "announce-a-rama," as Kennedy puts it. Even the projects announced by Harper himself have been misleading, with 14 of 16 being "...regular, pre-recession infrastructure programs, have been in the works for years and will take years to complete."

Further, we've been getting hints to date as to the partisan nature of the infrastructure allocation that's been going on, in Kennedy's daily broadsides in the House of Commons of late that even Conservative-leaning commentators have taken note. That aspect is also set out in the report, B.C. figure emphasized for obvious reasons.:
The average Conservative riding got 13 times as much money as the average opposition riding in British Columbia, 2.7 times as much in Quebec. In Ontario, Conservative ridings got 11 per cent more than opposition ridings.
These two points, that little of the work has started and that what has been approved is going into Conservative ridings to a much greater extent, underscore just how incredible it is that the Conservatives have nevertheless pumped their p.r. effort of late on the economic action plan. It's a misplaced and cynical direction of energy and resources:
Even though the work on the projects is badly behind schedule, Kennedy said Wednesday the government has ratcheted up its "propaganda" machine in the last few weeks to promote its efforts to battle the recession, including a $34-million advertising campaign.

Among other things, he said municipalities have been required to stipulate that they'll post big signs at federally-funded construction projects boasting about "Canada's economic action plan at work."

"If they'd spent as much time on helping to create jobs for Canadians as they have on the spin and the image they're trying to create, we'd have a lot more people working for sure," Kennedy said in an interview.

"We're saying this is quite serious. This is not just a badly run program or politics as usual. This is a prime minister letting the country down on undertakings he made."
This looks like major federal incompetence in action. This government is blowing its own horn, spending our money in doing so on ads and big brother-like work site signs when there's little to tout. They're not doing the hard work of getting the funding out to make sure jobs are being created. And they've politicized the spending to such an extent, it's difficult to characterize it as anything but a breach of trust for failing to act in the best interests of all Canadians instead of favouring those living in Conservative held ridings.

They're hard-wired for partisanship, not good government.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jim Prentice: Minister of Comedy

Updated below.

Video from Power Play yesterday where the obvious error is made by Prentice. It's laughable to think this government has done more in the last eight months than in our entire history on climate change. This government's foot dragging is well known.

Note Clark asks about Harper's absence yesterday from the meeting of world leaders. That was followed by today's Harper absence at the U.N. when Obama gave his first address to the body, widely recognized as a significant event and among most world leaders. Most, that is. Not our own:
An array of world leaders sat in the hall for Mr. Obama’s speech, which was often interrupted by applause and the flashbulbs of cameras going off, including some from delegates in the room.
Our guy was at the Tim Horton's HQ in Oakville. Priorities, priorities, so poorly chosen by this Prime Minister. He's just rubbing our faces in it now.

Update (3:10 p.m.):Beyond the Ahmadinejad boycott, let's not lose sight of what Harper's absence signifies:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, meanwhile, criticized the Prime Minister’s absence from United Nation talks this week, including negotiations on fighting global warming and addresses by major world leaders.

Mr. Ignatieff said Canada cannot tolerate Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitism, but argued that Mr. Harper should be at the UN to register the government’s unhappiness in person.

“Canada should be there when the world is talking about the major issues of our time. Canadians our proud of our leadership at the UN” he said told CTV News Channel.

“I just find it unbelievable,” he said. “This is a day in which when world leaders are coming together to address the challenge of climate change. The reason I think he’s walked away from New York is he’s got nothing to say on climate change.”
Update (3:15 p.m.): From Harper's recent closed door speech to supporters, video of his regard for the United Nations. The implication from his statements is that the U.N. does not stand for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. There's contempt for the U.N. obviously on display here and that's part of what's playing out this week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The case of the missing mug shots

(Screen shot of in its former idolatrous iteration)

CP like a dog with a bone on this story. Must say, I like the "mug shot" terminology. Fun, fun, fun with the PMO who ridiculously maintained the position that no changes had been made to the website but who have now gone silent in the face of evidence to the contrary having been presented to them:
Call it the case of the missing mug shots.

Despite adamant government claims to the contrary, dozens of photos of Prime Minister Stephen Harper have vanished from the taxpayer-funded website that promotes the Conservative economic plan.

The photos disappeared after The Canadian Press questioned the government about complaints of partisanship in federal advertising, including a website plastered with Harper photos.

"We have not removed any pictures of the PM," a Privy Council Office spokeswoman insisted late Monday.

A spokesman for the prime minister made the same assertion.

After being presented with a cached image of the site from last week which featured over 40 photos of Harper, the government did not respond to further inquiries on the matter Tuesday.

The website currently features about seven different Harper photos.
Anyone who has seen the action plan websites in the last few months (there have been two versions, the old one above and the newer one being Conservative bold blue) has been given the overwhelming impression that it's all about Stephen Harper. The 40 photos emphasized him to such an extent it was hard to view it as anything but a promotional site for the Harper Conservatives. Minimizing the story by framing it as a natural change that all websites go through by referring us to the September 16th version of the site is not a relevant response to the main point. As Conservatives well know, CP was poking around on the story early last week and had submitted written questions to the Privy Council Office. "Repeated inquiries over more than a week to the Privy Council Office,"writes CP. Do we suppose the PCO tipped off the site masters that media were asking about the 40 photos of Mr. Harper? Pretty good bet. And down the photos came in embarrassment. The pictures would still be there had CP not started asking questions and framing it in contrast to the H1N1 spending.

As for the point that spending $$ on television ads on H1N1 public health education is liable to "fuel hysteria" and therefore the government's approach has been correct...take a look at this Globe editorial today where it is pointed out that "The British have been bombarded since the spring with a highly effective "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it" mass advertising campaign by their Department of Health." It has been quite successful. In fact, the editorial notes, "Britain has just announced a dramatic decline in swine-flu cases, leaving the country "tantalizingly close" to winning its battle against the pandemic, according to its chief medical officer." Now we'll have to see what happens here and whether the lack of a similar campaign will prove to have been the correct judgment. The Conservatives made their choice and they are late with the H1N1 ads. They chose politics over public health.

Even Conservative supporters are critical of the self-interested Conservative spending on the action plan ads.

"People see it as an abuse of tax dollars," Gerry Nicholls, a right-wing commentator and former Harper colleague at the National Citizens' Coalition, said Tuesday.

"Governments should not be using Canadian tax dollars to basically run partisan advertising, and I don't think anybody looking at those ads could mistake them for anything else. They were clearly partisan, clearly Conservative propaganda."

Listen to the radio interview:

What should be done? If the government had any sense of propriety, they'd re-orient their priorities now that they've been caught so publicly in choosing partisan self-interest over public health eduction:
Liberals, meanwhile, called on the government to replace the economic ads with swine flu prevention ads.

"They've now had their wrists slapped, but taking a few photos off the web doesn't cut it," said Liberal MP Martha Hall-Findlay.
Keep pushing, media and politicians alike.

"Capricious indifference to life and health care"

Letter to the editor today:
Breathtaking indifference to life
September 22, 2009

Re:Ottawa sends body bags for flu battle, Sept. 17

The Harper government shipped body-bags to two first nations communities as "preparation" for a potential flu pandemic. The federal Conservatives previously refused to ship hand-sanitizers because they said aboriginals could not be trusted with the supplies.

With the recent shipment of body bags, the message that our indigenous community heard is: just bag your dead.

We heard the minister of agriculture laugh at the dozens of listeriosis deaths; we've seen Mr. Harper cancel the medical-isotope cancer program; we've watched Mr. Harper fail to defend the integrity of our health system against an avalanche of slander in the U.S. health care debate.

Now, the Harper government has let racist attitudes creep into Canadian health care.

The capricious indifference to life and health care in Mr. Harper and team is breathtaking – in more than one way.

Eugene Parks, Victoria, B.C.

Harper MIA on climate change

Waiting for the Americans...waiting to blindly follow along...isn't that what Bob says?

Some notes on the Ignatieff speech yesterday

Update (7:00 p.m.).

Just a few points on the speech by Michael Ignatieff to the Toronto Board of Trade yesterday. You can read it here. It reminded me a bit of a speech Ignatieff delivered last year around this time in Toronto during the election campaign that was a good one too and was really the first time I paid much attention to him because I liked it very much. So I don't know what it is about Ignatieff speeches in Toronto at this time of year but they tend to go well.

First point is that there was a bit of news that won't get a heck of a lot of attention but is worth noting. I recall some jabbing at Liberals in the blogosphere recently over the issue of the independence of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Ignatieff made a flat declaration about the office's future, in the context of opening the books and avoiding games like we've seen over the past year over ever-changing deficit numbers for which the Parliamentary Budget Officer has always seemed to be right:
Upon taking office, we’ll conduct a full audit of our public finances. We’ll open the books and find out where we really are.

That’s step one.

We’ll also make the Parliamentary Budget Officer independent, so that we never have to go through this again. No more wishful projections. No more false promises.
In fact, some of us, ahem, even predicted in July that the position on the PBO that Liberals were pilloried over at the time was not finished at all. OK, I'm done, moving on...but seriously, this is one of those open government issues that the secretive and information stifling Conservatives are ripe to be hammered on. Good to see this issue being seized and hope there's lots more in this vein to come.

Second point, the Nortel failing of the Conservatives figured prominently in the speech as a metaphor for the Conservative approach to government and their belief that "...the only good government is no government at all." Andrew Willis wrote a pretty good column on Ignatieff's speech and its Nortel focus yesterday: "Ignatieff picks up Nortel gauntlet." One aspect of Willis' column reinforces the problem of the hands-off approach of the Conservatives:
Last week, Avaya won Nortel’s enterprise unit, which makes routers and telecom hardware, for $900-million (U.S.) The New Jersey-based company plans to move head office functions south of the border.

Rival Siemens Enterprise Communications made a cash-and-debt offer that proved weaker than the pitch from Avaya. However, Siemens Enterprise planned to combine its Munich head office and Nortel executives currently based in North Carolina at a new global headquarters in Toronto. The resulting Canadian company was expected to employ thousands, and boast $5-billion annual revenue. The Ontario government was willing to put up to $75-million into that plan.

But the federal government declined to provide post-merger loans or even verbal backing for either side. Sources close to Siemens Enterprise say that lack of support from Ottawa doomed a Made-in-Canada solution to this tale of woe at Nortel.
Contrast that "no we can't" set of facts with this:
“A Liberal government will stand up for flagship Canadian companies,” said Mr. Ignatieff, and that sentiment will play well on the Street, not because it is protectionist, but simply because business leaders want to see a degree of support from politicians.

“Stephen Harper dropped the ball on Nortel. He let a Canadian champion fail, and sat back while invaluable pieces of intellectual property were sold off to foreign bidders,” said the Liberal Leader. “The fact that the Conservatives have refused to even review that sale is astounding. It’s dereliction of duty. It’s the Avro Arrow all over again.”

“Nortel wasn’t a one-off mistake,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “There is a pattern of dereliction. Inco and Faconbridge, Stelco, Alcan, Canadian nuclear medicine. The Conservatives are not standing up for Canadian industries and Canadian workers.”
There's a good opening for such arguments, no doubt about it. We have witnessed throughout the summer the failings of the Harper government on the isotope file, with Harper essentially turning his back to fifty years of Canadian leadership in that industry. It's been a remarkable "no we can't" attitude of hands-off government that's having significant consequences on the nuclear medicine industry and our health care system. One more industry the Conservatives have failed to stand up for, allowing for their own prior election sloganeering to be turned against them. They haven't lived up to their rhetoric in their approach to industrial policy at all. So there's a positive and somewhat patriotic economic message for others to make as a result.

Oh, and it could pay off in certain key areas in Ontario too.

Update (7:00 p.m.): Pogge will believe it when he sees it. That's cool. Wonder how long we'll have to wait.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A retreat from Harper megalomania

Update (9:40 p.m.) below, more on the sudden burst of H1N1 ad activity. And (9:50).

CP follows up on the story: "PM's pics pulled from economic website amid partisan flap." It took Liberals pushing the issue and national media embarrassment for this government to come to its senses and realize that plastering the Prime Minister's mug all over a government website is just not on. The fact that this point must be pushed is remarkable and testament to the dominant one-man show of the "Harper government." I noticed the website clean-up too, earlier today. The editing seems to have occurred in the dead of last night. Wonder who got the lucky late night shift. Imagine that late night scene in the Ottawa offices as they scrambled for shots of other Conservatives to get up there to quickly take the place of the 40 Harper pictures.

Details from CP:
The government of Canada website set up to promote the Conservative economic action plan had a slightly different look Monday: more than 30 photos of Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been removed.

Critics have complained that the website,, looks like a partisan promotion - complete with a Tory-blue colour scheme, glowing third-party testimonials, more than 40 photos of Harper and repeated references to "the Harper government" rather than the Government of Canada.
Rattled, are they?

The site remains infested with the "Harper government" label which is in violation of Treasury Board rules on permitted uses of "federal identity." Mr. Harper is not a fixture of the Canadian government equivalent to the official "Government of Canada" label that warrants his name being used in branding efforts. Wonder what it'll take to get them to stop that too.

Also of note in that report, the fact that it is Ontario government H1N1 ads that the federal government is now apparently running across the country. So the federal government did not invest any effort in its own national H1N1 ads but is piggybacking on the Ontario government. Lots of effort put into partisan economic action plan ads but H1N1? Gee, let's just see what Ontario's got.

Still thinking an ethics complaint or perhaps a public sector integrity complaint may be in order.

Update (9:40 p.m.): Appearing late this morning on the twitter account for Public Health Canada (@PHAC_GC): "Canada Launches Television Advertising on Infection Prevention #h1n1." If you follow the link, it takes you to a morning press release and a link to the tv ad. Amazing how these items appeared so quickly in the wake of such bad publicity.

Update (9:50 p.m.): The government has also placed the ad on the Public Health web site today. Yesterday it was not there.

Ethically wrong "contempt for the public"

Ignatieff today:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says it's wrong that the Conservative government is spending much more taxpayer's money on promoting its own economic action plan than on its plans to fight the H1N1 flu.
Ignatieff's comments come in response to reports that the federal government is spending five times as many taxpayer dollars on the economic plan as it is on raising public awareness about the flu pandemic.
Ignatieff says "at a time when we're worried about H1N1, Canadian taxpayers' money should be spent on public health information, not paid advertising for the Conservative party."
He says it's "wastefulness" and "contempt for the public."
Government ads about stimulus spending have been appearing on TV recently - part of a $34-million media blitz trumpeting the Conservatives' recession-fighting budget.
Ignatieff - who answered reporters' questions after speaking to the Toronto Board of Trade today - says it all helps to explain why his party "can't continue to support" the Conservatives.
A reminder:
The Communications Policy of the Government of Canada includes this item, section 23 dealing with advertising:
Institutions must not use public funds to purchase advertising in support of a political party.
Action plan ads that incorporate the Conservatives' "stay the course" plea are quite arguably in breach of government communications policy. While the ads do not overtly support a political party, let's not kid ourselves, in their substance that's exactly what they are meant to accomplish.
It is above my political pay grade (metaphorically speaking of course, independent citizen here) but this issue may warrant official action of some sort. Perhaps in the form of an official complaint to one of the appropriate officers of parliament. Here. Or here.

Suddenly, H1N1 ads to appear after Harper government embarrassed on its ad spending

Update II (9:00 p.m.) below.

Update (7:00 p.m.) below.

After being publicly embarrassed by the media, the Harper Conservatives have said they will act on H1N1 television advertising. After the CP report on the government's spending five times more on its economic action plan ads than H1N1 preparation loudly made the rounds Sunday afternoon, the Conservatives started the damage control Sunday night. It's not a tough concept to grasp, after all. Nobody likes a government spending money in its own interest to the detriment of a major public health issue:
Government officials didn't respond to a specific query from The Canadian Press last week on whether television ads were in the works to combat swine flu.

But a government spokesman said Sunday evening that television ads are to be launched Monday across the country to raise public awareness about H1N1.

The official said the government had planned for some time to launch the ad campaign.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it has a total marketing budget of $6.5 million to inform Canadians about the H1N1 virus and how to avoid infection.

Some $4.5 million of that was spent on ads in newspapers, public transit ads and on the web that ran from April to August.

The health agency has committed another $2 million to radio spots that began airing last week, just as new swine flu outbreaks were being reported.
Monday! H1N1 ads are apparently at the ready. How very, very strange the timing on that piece of information in the wake of Sunday's story. If they're so ready, what's been the hold up? Is it that the H1N1 ads have been held back so that public attention could be fixated on the more political action plan ads? Particularly during this past week when the prospect of an election was at a heightened pitch and such ads seemed to enjoy a heavy rotation? And during said week we saw new and improved lengthy economic action plan ads. Circumstantial evidence points to yes, that the H1N1 ads were held back for political reasons.

So this news that they actually have such H1N1 ads at the ready while the action plan campaign has been favoured doesn't really help them on the altruistic meter. It just affirms cynicism about this government's competence. What a way to undermine confidence that they have the right priorities in order in terms of managing the H1N1 crisis on behalf of Canadians. They can't seem to keep political considerations out of anything they do no matter how serious the issue.

It's also not clear that the Conservatives have devoted enough resources to this H1N1 campaign. The above mentioned figures pale in comparison to the $34 million spent on the action plan ads. It looks like there's about $2 million for the H1N1 television campaign. $34 million...$2 million. It's not looking like a proper reflection of the seriousness of the H1N1 issue.

For the record, CP also obtained an explanation for all the pictures (40) of Harper on the action plan website:
As for all those photos of Harper, "The Prime Minister is the chief spokesperson in the Government of Canada for the (action plan)," wrote Massabki.
That's fine. But it doesn't mean megalomania is in order. Look at the U.S. site and see if you can find one picture of President Obama. You can't. Ours has been a Harper cartoon in comparison to the quite serious U.S. site. That is, until today. Because it looks like in the wake of yesterday's report, they've taken down a bunch of Harper photos and replaced them with various minister photos. Public embarrassment, that's what it takes for them to de-Harperize the site. Here's what Chantal Hebert had to say about the former version of the site (you can see a screen shot there) on this point:

In less politically mature countries, it could be construed as an effort to substitute a cult of the personality for solid policy dialogue. Here, it is just the latest silly production of a muddled Conservative brain trust.

Every link leads to more pictures of the Prime Minister.

On the page devoted to so-called real action, the government's web masters have actually managed to fit in a dozen postage-stamp-size shots of Harper.


The Conservatives were caught, exposed handily on this embarrassing inattention to a significant public health need. And they moved immediately into damage control, as they always do when the bright lights are shone on what they've been doing in the dark. But they just can't erase their lopsided spending. They're playing catch up again.

Update (7:00 p.m.): Old friend CanPolitico thinks my math is bad. I may have read too much into the word "another" in this sentence, "The health agency has committed another $2 million to radio spots that began airing last week, just as new swine flu outbreaks were being reported." I read that as being beyond the total $6.5 million budget. Perhaps that is wrong. In which case, they've got no money for television ads. Which would be a neat trick then since the government spokesman says they're coming yet they are not budgeted for. Who knows with this lot, Deficit Jim is on their team, after all.

Update (9:00 p.m.): Looks like my original interpretation on the budget numbers is what the government was in fact doing:
The Public Health Agency of Canada now says it has a marketing budget of $8.5 million to inform Canadians about the virus and how to best avoid infection. That's up from the $6.5 million it reported last week.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is there anything else we taxpayers can get for you trough swilling Conservatives?

CP expands today on some of the reporting from the past week which drew attention to the Harper government's obscene spending on "economic action plan" and home renovation tax credit ads as the talk of a fall election has heated up. It's obscene in two senses.

As the CP report points out, there has been little to nothing in comparison on H1N1 public education, something that is quite likely much more pressing than the self-promotional actionplan ads. Have you seen anything on your tv screens? No.

And secondly, the actionplan ads in particular convey messaging that reinforces the Conservative line, that we don't need an election as it will interrupt stimulus spending. This is nonsense given the Conservatives' own trumpeting of the stimulus being 80% implemented already. Economists have also laughed at the notion.

This issue was highlighted by Martha Hall Findlay earlier this summer yet nothing's been done by the government to change their partisan orientation in this advertising. If anything, they've instead put the pedal to the floor, knowing that the federal rules on the line between legitimate and partisan advertising are grey. They do love the grey areas. Today's news that they are spending 5 times the amount on self-glorifying ads versus flu pandemic awareness provides us with yet another instance of improper Conservative self-aggrandizing in action.

Not to sound too much like a partisan shill here, but clearly, the phrase applies. We can do better than this government which abuses our taxpayer funds in its own self-interest. What a shameful display of priorities.

Former PM Mulroney's Thursday speech, praise for Obama (video)

If you didn't see the video of Mulroney speaking at the 25 year anniversary event for his 1984 election, here is a five plus minute clip that's got some of the most interesting parts. At the beginning, Mulroney's comments on political leadership and doing things that are hard, not necessarily politically popular. Which leads into the second part starting around the 2:50 mark where he begins to praise Obama for pursuing public health care in the U.S. in the face of rabid opposition:
"50 years from today, Americans will revere the name Obama. Because like his Canadian predecessors, he chose the tough responsibilities of national political leadership over the meaningless nostrums of sterile partisanship that we see too much of in Canada and around the world today."
It's already been well-remarked upon this week as to what Mulroney's comments signified, namely, a showing up of the current Conservative Prime Minister who has, by contrast, studiously and purposely avoided speaking up on behalf of the Canadian health care system when he's had plenty of opportunity to do so. Harper's refrain is that it is a U.S. domestic debate and in any event, health care is a provincial responsibility. Which is nonsense talking point shoulder shrugging and deflection in the current context where Americans have launched into an open season assault on Canadian health care. What else is a Prime Minister for if not to defend our values at such a moment?

The fact that Mr. Harper has been MIA on the issue has evidently not been lost on Mulroney. That Mulroney spoke so clearly about health care being one of our prime Canadian values was a jarring contrast with Harper. Harper would choke on such words and could never summon up the enthusiasm that Mulroney did on the subject. And of course, Mulroney's bold praise and support for Obama in his health care fight, when Harper has missed his opportunity, was very striking too. Delivered while Harper was in the U.S., having just finished a meeting with Obama, message delivered.

"The meaningless nostrums of sterile partisanship...," you have to give it to him here, that's a perfect phrase to capture the challenges reasonable people face in overcoming the partisan noise in Canada and the U.S. at the moment. Obama overcame it during his campaign but is struggling with it now. And we have our own nonsense to deal with. Anyway, useful to hear such an appeal, no matter how you may feel about the source.


Just because. It is Sunday after all...enjoy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Flaherty continues to talk up the HST

There he goes again, putting a crimp in Conservative anti-HST political mojo. This has to be noted today: "Finance Minister Flaherty says HST is good long term economic policy." Thought the PMO had put the kibosh on such talk but Deficit Jim just can't seem to help himself. It is his baby, after all:
Harmonization of the federal GST with provincial sales taxes remains the most important thing provinces can do to improve their competitiveness, says Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

"It's good longterm economic policy for the people of Canada," Flaherty said in Brampton, Ont., on Friday at the launch of the city's new rapid transit bus service called Zum.

"The decision to harmonize is always up to the individual province whether they choose to do it or not," Flaherty said.
Flaherty is providing $4.3 billion to Ontario and $1.6 billion to B.C. to make the change.
Here was the reporting this week on the PMO's effort in the summer to begin the political positioning on their HST support:
In March, he praised Ontario, saying the move would save business about $500 million in administrative costs, and noted that, in a few years, "hopefully we will have a harmonized system across Canada."

But federal Conservative sources have told the Star that earlier in the summer, officials in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office ordered Flaherty to tone it down.

"They asked Jim to stop talking about (the tax) so much because it's not helpful," said one insider.
There you have the bizarro Conservative mode of government in action, the PMO asking the Finance Minister to stop talking publicly about a significant measure in the federal budget which they presented as such. Another naked example of playing politics with a policy that they believe in and have pushed yet believe they can gain politically from by throwing responsibility elsewhere. Profiles in courage from the federal gang. Yet Flaherty keeps stepping on the plan.

Playing both sides of the HST issue fits in with the larger message about the Conservatives. They can't be straight on anything, including something in their own federal budget. This is a theme which is going to be pursued:
Ignatieff will, however, attack the way Harper does politics – and the ads are a big part of it.

"What he says in private is not what he says in public," says Ignatieff, a reference to a video that emerged over the past couple of weeks, showing Harper delivering a speech to staunch Conservative supporters – a speech in which he mocked social-justice advocates as "left-wing fringe groups" and talked about a need for a majority to deliver "a lesson" to the opposition parties and their supporters.
Trust, in a nutshell, is what is lacking.

The candidate

Turns out there's a new candidate on the scene, one who the Conservatives might consider running some of those "just visiting" ads against...oh wait...they'd have to run them against one of their own. Chris Alexander. The former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan who has spent most of his adult life outside Canada, is running for the Conservatives in...wait for it...Ajax-Pickering. The fact that the Conservatives have welcomed a candidate as highly qualified as Alexander is not surprising. But the hypocrisy should be noted. The news puts the lie to the Conservative ads, they don't really mean it. Otherwise, Alexander wouldn't be permitted to run for them. That silly ad stuff is only meaningless fluff meant for Liberals.

Much has been made of the fact that a supposed dance occurred between Alexander and both the Liberals and Conservatives prior to Alexander's decision to run for the Conservatives. But was there any doubt, really? Alexander admits he's a life-long Conservative, his family is Conservative, he has longstanding ties with Harper's former chief of staff, Ian Brodie. As a Canadian, he would have developed strong ties with the Harper government during his time as UN representative in Afghanistan. So his decision in terms of the personal connections is not surprising at all. Alexander admits this so you have to wonder about the Globe's spinning of this as a loss to the Liberals.

It's also not surprising if you're sitting where Alexander is if you're looking at your opportunities for advancement. Looking at the two parties, who gives him a better shot to be a cabinet minister? Alexander would leap-frog past all of Harper's present ministerial bunch. All of them, without a doubt. On the Liberal side, not so much. Quite a few candidates ahead of him.

In terms of what the Harper government's foreign affairs record is, however, Alexander's decision is surprising. This is not exactly a foreign affairs record to be proud of at all. Someone should ask Alexander whether he agrees with the removal of the word "humanitarian" from Canada's foreign policies on "international humanitarian law." The word has been excised. Someone should ask Alexander whether he agrees with Canada backing off its support for prosecutions at the International Criminal Court for those committing acts of sexual violence in the Congo. The Americans recently stepped up but we're backing down. And such changes have all taken place behind closed doors, as Conservative staffers strike out legally and diplomatically significant policies with their political antennae being exercised above all else, including the concerns of Foreign Affairs personnel. Alexander used to be one of those. Then of course we've had the summer of standing down for Canadian citizens abroad. Abdelrazik, Suaad Mohamud, continued appeals to courts to stave off acting to repatriate Omar Khadr. There's the Harper government's dithering on climate change too. None of which were enough for Alexander, former foreign service member to say no to the Conservatives. He's on board for the Harper foreign affairs agenda.

It might be that the extension of the Afghanistan mission is something that Alexander would be looking to change. While he expressed respect for the 2011 parliamentary resolution's deadline, it doesn't mean there couldn't be another one brought before parliament in the future. Is that what Alexander would hope a Conservative majority would do in order to obtain such an extension? Probably a question that will dog him. And Alexander has spoken of the Afghanistan challenge as being a "generational" one, so an extension would be a position you'd expect of him. It'll be fair game to pursue him on it. But anyway, the policy part of it is down the road.

The more immediate concern will be how all the Afghanistan stuff plays in Ajax-Pickering. That might be another story. Alexander's smart enough to know he can't run on that issue there. But no doubt his opponent will try to make him seem like an international interloper. What's good for the goose is good for the gander and all that sort of thing.

And it has to be noted, what a very interesting riding for the born and bred Torontonian Alexander to run in. For such a formidable candidate, you'd think the Conservatives might dare to actually make a run at Toronto. I mean, if not Alexander, you wonder who they'd ever run in Toronto. So Ajax-Pickering, home of local MP Mark Holland it is for Alexander. The parachute aspect may not go over so well in the riding against the well known local boy Holland. If I were Holland, I'd ask him why he's not running in his own hometown of Toronto that's so close by. If Alexander were to knock him off, it would be quite surprising.

Another great race to watch. If we ever get around to that election, that is.

Friday, September 18, 2009

End notes on the Hoskins by-election win in Ontario

Went to the get out the vote effort last night, scrutineered at a poll up in St. Paul's. Yes, one of those horrible, awful elections that is so decried far and wide by our federal politicians. And yet the voters did not seem put upon in the least. While the turnout was, not surprisingly, low the very strong get out the vote machine was in evidence in the abundance of volunteers. Hopefully it's a good foreshadowing for a federal campaign.

A few points jumping out from the media coverage...

Sue-Ann Levy, you lost. And rather badly considering the hype about how this was going to be a close contest and how outraged the voters were about the HST. Losing by 20 points is not a close race at all and you have to wonder about the impression created that it would indeed be a close race. Levy's comments last night in her concession speech continue the losing judgment seen in her campaign and don't reflect a sense of acceptance of that verdict:
Levy congratulated Hoskins in her concession speech, but laced her comments with a warning.

"Congratulations to Eric Hoskins. He's been given a very honourable position by the voters in St. Paul's," said Levy, a columnist for the Toronto Sun.

"I just talked to him about an hour ago and I told him I'll be watching him as a journalist ... I told him I would by holding his feet to the fire."
Conflict of interest much? As a journalist defeated by Hoskins, Levy should be going nowhere near the Hoskins beat. The voters spoke, Levy should respect that. Wonder if an editor out there might take issue with Levy's intent to carry on her campaign in her platform. If not, readers will undoubtedly know where the conflicted Levy is coming from.

Another point, you have to wonder about where the NDP strategy goes from here. Adopting the Conservative attack line didn't work and they're getting some criticism for it:
For the NDP, the returns in St. Paul’s may be even more disconcerting than for the Tories. Trial lawyer Julian Heller, the party’s standard-bearer, has lived in the riding for 25 years and is actively involved in education issues. It’s the third time he’s made a go of it in St. Paul’s. Name recognition wasn’t the problem. The party’s focus on HST clearly was.

By hitching themselves to the HST bandwagon and not differentiating themselves from the Tories, the NDP made a fatal flaw. Whatever happened to all that talk about the new green economy anyway?
Will be interesting to see whether they continue to pursue this line which is going to twin them with the Hudak crowd in Ontario.

The cynicism here is breathtaking:
Without some expectation of appointment to cabinet, which he surely has, it's hard to see what Hoskins – who spent years treating children in combat zones – thinks he can accomplish inside politics that he couldn't do better from without.

Whatever else it is, Queen's Park can be an elephant's graveyard of fancy resumés.

A year or two with his glorious credentials bleaching on the backbench, while he does constituency grunt work or pulls house duty in late-afternoon debate, and the good doctor might find himself pining for a medical tent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Somewhere his presence actually makes a difference.

Another telling note:
The Liberals collected a whopping $424,741 in reportable donations during the byelection campaign, while the Tories raised just $13,775, according to Elections Ontario.
Last word to Andrew Steele, with a typically good take on the dynamic in Ontario.

Congrats to Dr. Hoskins and his campaign team, what a great new addition to Canadian political life.

Bad timing

Ten percenter received at the ol' household today from Jack Layton (click to enlarge):

Bad timing indeed.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

No folding, full speed ahead to non-confidence

The plan:
“We’re not going to hold it up,” Ignatieff told reporters. “Let’s get it through and get to the motion of non-confidence which we will bring forward in due time.”
Here too:
The Liberals announced Thursday morning that they are offering to pass the bill quickly, in the hope of taking away the NDP's stated reason for keeping the Conservatives in office for the short term.

“We don't want to give Mr. Layton any alibis,” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.
Quite contrary to the symbolic pictures being used to describe Ignatieff today as folding, he's looking full-on like he's focussed on bringing down the government:
The move is clearly designed to embarrass NDP Leader Jack Layton, who has said his party will prop up the government at least until the EI reforms are implemented.

"We don't want to give Mr. Layton any alibis," Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said.

Most bills take months to wend their way through the legislative process in both houses of Parliament.

Although Liberals believe the EI bill "falls radically short of serious employment insurance reform," Ignatieff said they want to expedite its passage.

"We're not going to hold it up. Let's get it through and get to the motion of non-confidence which we will bring forward in due time."

The Conservative incompetents in action

Civility and other notes

A few notes today instead of a lengthy post on any one topic...

1. Globe letter to the editor:
"Judith Timson (Serena, Joe, Kanye: It’s A New Social Disease – Sept. 15), writing about extreme public rudeness, didn’t mention the most appalling instance of incivility in Canada these days: political attack ads. I am stunned at the mean-spiritedness of these ads used to demean opponents. Civility has been the basis of our treasured Canadian society. If we fail to act with respect for our fellow citizens, be they political opponents or allies, what else really matters?

Susan Himann, Calgary"
2. Is Harper playing games with his EI proposal...already? That would be so very out of character. Le Devoir thinks the bill doesn't live up to advance billing. Don't see how anyone could back down now though without incurring the wrath of the nation. After all, it's never Harper's fault.

3. The Star rightfully takes Harper to task for the prominence given to the NHL charter flight issue in the Oval Office. It was ridiculous. Also criticized, the lack of progress on the Buy American issue. It's been a whole lotta' nothin' for months on end now on that issue.

4. John, John, John. Just when we were starting to like the advancement of infrastructure issues this week by Mr. Ivison, he gives us one of the usuals. Favourite excerpt:
More by luck than judgment, Mr. Ignatieff has survived to fight another day and can now fulfill his first responsibility as Leader of the Official Opposition -- that is, to provide Canadians with an alternative government.
More by luck than judgment...what does that mean exactly? It was all a crap shoot? There was no judgment? Of course there was some heavy betting going on, Ignatieff no doubt sized up the NDP's likelihood of wanting an election at the moment and made his move. When you act in a manner that advances your cause, based on facts you are able to surmise, does the outcome mean you're lucky or that you made a good judgment? Philosophical questions from strange phrases that occupy way too much of my time. But if it was luck, better to be lucky than not.

One thing I did agree with in Ivison's column today was the caution that Harper may not be able to help himself from self-destructing once more:
A caveat to all of the above is that it relies on Stephen Harper being as good as his word. The Prime Minister told the House this week that another election would be "needless and wasteful" and that his government was keen to concentrate on governing.

However, recent opinion polls suggest the Conservatives have built up a considerable lead over the Liberals, in large measure due to public disgust at Mr. Ignatieff's move to force another election. The Prime Minister will be tempted to engineer a parliamentary crisis that forces the NDP to side with the Liberals and bring down his government.

Yet, any hint of duplicity by Mr. Harper and those winning conditions would surely melt like snow in a river. The Prime Minister may be liked by Canadians but he's not well liked. The lesson of the past two weeks is that voters are in no mood for partisan machinations or policies that are more concerned with politicians than with people who have lost their jobs.
Setting aside the predictable claptrap in that excerpt, the important takeaway question is this: will Harper be able to resist his partisan instincts in this fall session...a very good question. Think he's due for a biggie a la last fall.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can't anybody here play this game?

A question pogge is asking today as the NDP support for the Conservative EI proposals is reported.
Especially given the fact that the BQ eliminated the suspense concerning the ways and means motion on Friday, the NDP could have taken their time and possibly — possibly — gotten more out of this. Instead it appears they've just quietly announced that they're folding so they can get it over with.

While Layton can claim that he got more out of Harper than Ignatieff did*, this is nowhere near the kinds of changes to the EI system that the NDP was originally looking for. So once again: can't anybody here play this game?
The answer to this question has been clear for a long time. There is no game to be played in a viable, functioning minority parliament until this Prime Minister is gone. There are few if any compromises to be had. Depending on who the next Conservative leader is, it may continue.

Traditional political considerations that would normally govern a minority parliament situation have not been operative in the life of the Harper minority governments. Not really. The Prime Minister doesn't respect his minority mandate. The use of confidence votes has belied that. Sure he can do it. But whether he should do it, another question entirely. He hasn't garnered majority support in pursuing this posture. But in a fractured parliament, he doesn't think he has to.

And the money in our system is perhaps the biggest consideration that dictates all the leverage. One party has much more than the others. It's an imbalance that needs to be corrected. It's bad for our democracy and it plays out in the House of Commons in all these negotiations.

The NDP have apparently decided they cannot afford an election and they've decided they can't even stick their necks out in a negotiation. Can't take a chance, take it off the table. I would think money has something to do with this, in addition to polling numbers. (Although Lavigne protests otherwise.)

So, the NDP are getting a welcome to what the Liberals have experienced to date...negotiating with a foe who is always happy to threaten an election, who has the financial resources to back it up and where typical minority parliamentary assumptions aren't really operative. Where the choice is: take this or have an election. And it's conditioned the public now to bemoan elections. Harper wins!

Am I missing something?

Yes, the NDP are waiting to see the details of the legislation. But even that posture says, no negotiation. They're not actively obtaining anything here by virtue of their own political leverage. They're waiting to see what the Conservatives do, it's looking very much like a take it or leave it. Harper doesn't have any interest in negotiating. He seems to want an election. Which is why I'm still not prepared to think it's off for the fall.

NHL charter flights: Oval Office worthy stuff to the Harper team

Update (7:20 p.m.) below.

One of the great issues of our time, the fate of NHL charter flights. Exaggerating, of course. But the reports seem to have it right up there with the "Buy American" issue and Afghanistan. How interesting. I don't know about you, but this one has been keeping me up at nights. Phew, sure glad Obama is involved now.

Harper raised it in his opening statement in the Oval Office when given the opportunity. Right there in priority with the economic recovery platitudes, the G20 and then, particular attention was drawn:
We're planning for the G20; we're looking forward to that. I think that's well in hand. I think we're going to have very useful and productive meetings there. And we discussed some of these irritants that arise in our trade relationship. Particularly I do want to mention this question of the charter flights, the NHL charter flights, which has been a difficulty in recent months. We think we're very close to resolving that in the next very little while. I think we have some kind of a tentative agreement in principle and we're working to finalize that in the next few days.
Yes, "particularly," that deserves a mention. Forever executing the Frank Luntz playbook, still. Mention hockey in the Oval Office. Garner yourself a headline in doing so, at that: "Harper and Obama talk Afghanistan, the economy and hockey."
Mr. Harper also said the two countries were close to an agreement on solving a charter flight problem that threatened to disrupt the soon-to-start National Hockey League season – an issue of particular importance to the Prime Minister who is an ardent hockey fan.
He scores!

The point being, yes, that's an issue, but what is it doing being elevated into the Oval Office? Aren't there a few other more pressing issues between our nations than NHL charter flights? I wonder what Obama must have really thought about this.

Does anyone have any doubts that if a different Prime Minister were sitting there with Obama the conversation's focus might also have been different? The above issues, trade and Afghanistan, would occur, absolutely. But there would quite likely be discussion of the closure of Guantanamo Bay, for example, and the repatriation of Omar Khadr or how Canada could help in that effort at the moment. Or, to name a major issue at the moment where the President could use a boost...HEALTH CARE. Stand up for the Canadian system, make a casual remark, we're doing OK, etc. I bet Chretien would have been all over it. What an opportunity there could be for a real strengthening of the relationship with the Obama team should an assist (to use a hockey metaphor) be handed to them in the midst of a tough legislative fight. But nope.

Maybe a minor bone to pick. But it's there and jumped out in the coverage. One of these things does not belong with the others.

Update (7:20 p.m.): Don Martin scrutinizes the significance of the focus on the NHL issue.