Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Something you'd think would be beyond partisan exploitation...

But it's not. Headlines that speak for themselves: "Vast majority of disability funding goes to Tory ridings."
About 94 per cent of funding flowing through the Enabling Accessibly Fund went project in Tory ridings, the Liberals say.

Just 6 per cent of the $36 million in projects funded so far ended up in ridings held by opposition parties, they found.
...
The Liberal analysis is based on information about the EAF tabled by the government in the House of Commons earlier this week that listed the projects by their federal ridings. It showed that 166 smaller projects were granted funding while another 562 were turned down.

Liberal MP Michael Savage said it was “pretty blatant” that the money was directed to Tory ridings. He said he’s sure the approved projects were worthwhile, but says it’s not fair those in other ridings didn’t get money.

“There are 306 other ridings in this county that have people with disabilities who are crying out for assistance. Who gets funding shouldn’t be determined who your representative is.”
Stephen Harper's Canada, ladies and gentlemen...where the partisan spending extravaganza knows absolutely no bounds.

Update (Thursday a.m.): Whoopsie, the Prog Blogfather got this one too, h/t!

Three cheers for the Federal Court...and maybe four

Item 1: In early March, the Federal Court ordered the Harper government to seek clemency for the Canadian on death-row in Colorado, Ronald Smith. In doing so, the court rebuked the Harper government for its arbitrary clemency policy: 
"The decision by the government of Canada to withdraw support for Mr. Smith was made in breach of the duty of fairness, is unlawful and is set aside,” Judge Barnes said. “In the absence of any new clemency policy, I am ordering the government to continue to apply the former policy of supporting clemency on behalf of Canadians facing the death penalty in any foreign state to Mr. Smith.”
Item 2: Last week, the Federal Court ordered the Harper government to request the repatriation of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay.

Item 3: Cut to today, more news from the Federal Court:"Court denies Ottawa's bid to thwart Afghan detainee hearings."
Efforts to thwart public hearings into allegations that Canada knowingly transferred prisoners to likely torturers in Afghanistan were dealt another defeat yesterday by a federal court judge who denied the government's application for an indefinite stay.

“The last thing the government wants is military officers testifying publicly about Afghan detainees and the risk of torture,” said Paul Champ, the lawyer representing rights groups that filed the original complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission.

MPCC public hearings are scheduled to begin next month, although the government may still seek to have them delayed or cancelled. It says the MPCC has overstepped it mandate.
Can't help but think that the loud debate going on in the U.S. may be influencing the court here. Our government clearly wants to sweep the issue under the rug but the court appears to be having none of it.

Care to go for four, Conservatives? They might want to cut their losses on that in and out thing before the Federal Court bites them again...

Still against the appeal of the Khadr judgment

"Judge sets June 1 for Khadr hearing to resume as UN to debate child soldiers."

Well that's a timely reminder from the Khadr military commission judge. The trials were halted by Obama's executive order but only for 120 days. The Department of Justice is reviewing all of the Guantanamo cases and it is scheduled to report prior to that June 1st date:
Khadr's fate is currently under consideration by a presidential review panel, which is due to make recommendations by May 20. Obama halted all military-commission cases in January pending the review.
And the Department of Justice review team has just received a copy of the Federal Court of Canada decision of April 23rd ordering the government of Canada to request Khadr's repatriation:
Khadr's lawyers immediately forwarded the decision to the review committee as an addendum to the materials filed ahead of the April 15 deadline for submissions.
We should therefore see by May 20 what the U.S. government is going to do with Khadr, prior to the trial start date. We should also know by then whether the Harper government will appeal that repatriation order.

Khadr's lawyers, by the way, are getting some press attention today by dovetailing a press conference on Khadr's case with a UN Security Council debate on child soldiers. The Federal Court judgment of last week relied in part on the UN Protocol on the Rights of the Child in formulating the Canadian government's duty to protect Khadr and get him out of Guantanamo. It is this Protocol that would similarly cause optics problems for the U.S. should it decide to proceed with this military commissions trial of Khadr, 22, who has been in custody for seven years. It's hard to see how the U.S. government would go through with it.

As for the latest guess on whether an appeal of that Khadr judgment will occur, it's possible that they'll just wait for the result of the U.S. review. Launching an appeal would be a very bold step for this government and when it comes down to it, they're not that bold or principled. And launching an appeal would run counter to the Harper passing the buck course of action they've deployed all along. Their course has been to wait and see what the U.S. will do, in their process, to deal with Khadr who is facing "serious charges," as they've told us ad nauseam infinitum. So if the Harper government were to be consistent with their own rhetoric at a minimum, they would wait for the review panel to weigh in and defer to it. Not block the possibility of a diplomatic and legal resolution by taking their first freelance step in the case and launching an appeal.

They're probably going to wait and see, with a whimper, the more you think about it. No bold leadership for Canada likely to be seen here, even with a court order giving them a way out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ari Fleischer writing the PM's talking points

To supplement the blogging from last night on Harper employee Ari Fleischer's payment disclosure, just wanted to emphasize one part of this reporting that is quite revealing. Ari Fleischer was helping to write talking points for the Canadian Prime Minister:
The disclosure documents from Ari Fleischer Communications Inc. say the company performed four main tasks — none of which involved lobbying the current U.S. administration.

The tasks included helping Mr. Harper develop statements and talking points; advising the PMO on media appearances; arranging interviews with American TV and print media; and helping brief Mr. Harper for his interviews.

Mr. Fleischer helped Canada communicate its position for the G20 economic summit, which began April 2 in London.

“The means to be employed are to educate and inform the U.S. public about the views and positions of the Prime Minister of Canada with regard to these and related issues,” says the document.
Same point, from Canwest:
As part of a comprehensive plan to help Harper "educate and inform" Americans about Canada, Fleischer reported the scope of his work included helping write the prime minister's talking points and booking interviews with U.S.-based media before the April 2 summit in London.

"The purpose of the services is to articulate the position of the Government of Canada . . . to a broad variety of audiences, to promote Canada's international objectives," Fleischer wrote in the filing, which is required when U.S. consultants are hired by a foreign government.

"The services will include advising the Office of the Prime Minister with respect to development of statements and talking points; advising with respect to media appearances and interviews; arranging and booking such media appearances for the prime minister; and participating as appropriate in briefings of the prime minister and his staff in preparation for such media appearances and interviews." (emphasis added)
Much more damaging than the financial cost of this questionable retainer, it's the spectacle of a Canadian Prime Minister being scripted by Americans. And outsourcing something he shouldn't be doing in the first place to a member of the discredited Bush Republican administration, Ari Fleischer. The early word on this contract was that it was about booking arrangements and Fleischer (and Mike McCurry) using their contacts to help Harper land interviews. But writing media talking points for Harper? That's a whole new ballgame for Canadian Prime Ministers. How embarrassing that is. No wonder we have to count on American disclosure to find it out.

P.S. To any American friends who are reading, this is not intended whatsoever to be an anti-American post. It is about Canadians having a government that can't speak for itself.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Still waiting on the Conservatives...



Here's that video of Lawrence "Loose" Cannon in the House of Commons doing his thing on Friday...

Still waiting on word about the Khadr appeal...great Toronto Star editorial yesterday on it. And if you haven't read this, you should.

Tick, tock...

Highway of Heroes - Major Michelle Mendes

Annals of attack politics

This was a classic example from the Harper government and it deserves to be noted: "Harper inflamed isotope crisis with partisan remarks: government document." Canadian Press has obtained a briefing note prepared for new Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt and it describes the impact of Mr. Harper's remarks in the House of Commons regarding Ms. Keen, when he said this:
The government has independent advice indicating there is no safety concern with the reactor," Harper told the Commons in December 2007.

"On the contrary, what we do know is that the continuing actions of the Liberal-appointed Nuclear Safety Commission will jeopardize the health and safety and lives of tens of thousands of Canadians." (emphasis added)
Keen, of course, was doing her job, as head of nuclear safety, independent of the government, and it was laughably ludicrous to suggest, as Harper surely did, that partisan motivations could have been driving the shut down of the Chalk River plant. Instead of focusing on the governance issue at hand, the incident became another example of Conservative partisan distraction:
"The issue of Ms. Keen's demotion became the catalyst for media commentary on the issue of the prime minister's relationship with the public service, an issue - along with the prime minister's politicization of the affair - that underpinned much of the Chalk River affair," the briefing note says.

The news analysis said the isotope crisis was "comparable in volume to the Mulroney-Schreiber affair."
A big shout out, by the way, to the briefing crew at Natural Resources for telling it like it was. These are the little episodes that keep recurring for this government. The latest being the Harper-Mulroney soap opera, all piling up over time to tell a story of one of the most partisan governments in recent memory.

Speaking of which, you'll also read in the report that Dimitri Soudas, a Harper spokesperson, is still needlessly blaming Ms. Keen in response to the briefing note's revelation. It was all "fact" Harper was speaking, stated Soudas, when we know how Mr. Harper's words resonated. So, they've learned little from their past on this file. Stay classy, Harper minions. Way to pad that record for women voters by continuing to attack the internationally award winning Keen.

A very useful reminder of how Mr. Harper and his second-rate ministers interact with the independent institutions of our government. Not very well and with a lot of contempt for rules, laws and independence.

See also: CanPolitico.

Stephen Harper and the rule of law

If you're looking for a must read today, Chantal Hebert's column in Le Devoir won't disappoint: "Stephen Harper and the rule of law" (translated version). One of her strongest indictments to date of Harper, setting out many of the instances, past and present, where he's demonstrated little patience for the law's constraints, preferring to argue the primacy of the "people" or democracy instead and at perhaps an unprecedented and inappropriate level compared to past governments. This is an issue that goes to the heart of the challenge which Mr. Harper embodies to our democracy (my view, not Hebert specifically, but she might agree).

Hebert offers, attributed to "government leaders," that Harper was prepared to defy the Governor General and challenge her legitimacy if she hadn't permitted prorogation in December. Mind boggling. And in the end part, throws in the suggestion that members of his own government are troubled by his contempt for the rule of law and how far he's pushed things. To which it must be said, maybe these insiders might want to speak out now on the Khadr matter if they are indeed so mightily troubled.

Hebert has previously written about Ned Franks' views on Harper's rhetoric during the prorogation and this column has continued the theme. If you want to read more from other constitutional experts dissecting these recent historic events, this book is excellent: Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis. Hebert reads like she's been influenced somewhat by the thinking in it.

And speaking of contempt for the rule of law and other assorted affronts, there's news that one of the PM's best friends has received a patronage appointment to a board that doles out millions of research infrastructure funds. The appointee John Weissenberger is a climate change skeptic/denier, according to Liberal MP Marc Garneau. Another sign that Mr. Harper knows his time is about up?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Leadership difficulties, past and present

You may have noticed that the Conservatives have hauled out some 2006 interview footage of Justin Trudeau during that Liberal leadership campaign to muckrake about Michael Ignatieff's judgment. Huh. An apparently earth-shattering 2009 discovery that there were different viewpoints expressed on leadership capabilities during the 2006 leadership campaign.

You know...now that they bring it up, seems to me that's something the Conservatives are going to have to start getting a little bit more comfortable with themselves as a result of Mr. Harper's latest act of judgmental hara-kiri, best expressed by Rex Murphy today:
Now, however, this newest masterstroke seems to have worked as when a pebble hits the car windshield. A mere splinter in the glass at first, it has worked its way across the entire pane. We hear of caucus broils. Peter MacKay greets Mr. Mulroney - actually speaks to the man ( quelle horreur). Almost daily in the press we have a report or two, a column or a musing, on whether Mr. Harper is the man to lead them in the next election. Whether he can stand up to Michael Ignatieff. Whether three goes at a majority is all any party head deserves. There is, previously unthinkable, speculation whether he has the command of party and caucus he once had.

The spat with Mr. Mulroney that one would have thought - especially at this late date - to be incidental, the merest sidelight to the (presumably) bigger story of the inquiry itself, seems to have operated as something of a catalyst for lingering resentments and dissatisfaction with both the style and substance of Mr. Harper's leadership. He is neither as secure or as intimidating as once he was. All this, coming as Mr. Ignatieff is surfing on some of the best press he's had since returning to Canada, has made the Conservatives jittery and with cause.

There was a gracelessness, a touch of piling on more than was necessary, to trying to push Mr. Mulroney so utterly from the Conservative circle. Canadians have an ear for "tone" in politics. They mind manners as much as policy. That gracelessness is costing the man his supporters presumably thought they were protecting. It has added to Mr. Harper's negatives, and opened a fracture within his party.
Best to have the open dissent about one's party leader in the past than the present, don't you think?

Well, can't say we blame the Conservative faithful for attacking Mr. Ignatieff. After all, look at this...it's not exactly edge of your seat stuff...

Friday, April 24, 2009

This is what they call "pwned" these days



Must see, highly enjoyable video of Clinton in high gear, thoroughly and powerfully discrediting the argument of a Republican congressman on the need for the U.S. to maintain "pro-life" policies in their engagement in Africa and Latin American countries. As it was put at the Shakesville site (transcript there) that ran this clip, "this is what a feminist Secretary of State sounds like."

h/t noncarborundum

Stop flip-flopping on Khadr and do the right thing

"Tories flip-flop on Khadr appeal." Ignominy awaits the Harper crowd who dither while history moves beyond them:
The Harper government seems to be having some trouble deciding whether it's appealing a court ruling on the Omar Khadr case.

The government now says it has not decided if it will appeal a Federal Court ruling that said it must ask the United States to send Khadr home. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told the House of Commons today that their would be an appeal.

But his spokeswoman quickly contradicted that, saying no decision had been made.

Within minutes, she backtracked, saying the minister's comments stood.

A short time later things changed again, with the spokeswoman saying the government is still considering what to do.
Wonder what they would have done if they'd been in power when the Berlin wall came down?

Update (3:35 p.m.): Cannon in responding during Question Period today, intermingled the question of the Khadr appeal with a reference to the death of trooper Karine Blais who was being laid to rest today. Here's the CP report which doesn't reference the Blais aspect but references the argument from Cannon:
Cannon told the Commons that recent news footage apparently showed Khadr assembling bombs of the kind that have killed a number of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan over the years.
Khadr has nothing to do with any of this, of course, it's just an effort by the government, cornered as they are by the Federal Court, to once again inflame the situation by referencing fallen Canadian soldiers. Disgraceful.

Update (4:35 p.m.): Tonda MacCharles' report has further details on Cannon's efforts in the House of Commons and Bob Rae's response:
"What is Mr. Cannon doing? It's a classic McCarthyite tactic. And it is not the way we do, should be doing business or politics in Canada."

"No one's denying that the charges against Mr. Khadr are serious," said Rae. In French he added, "there is no one who doesn't share the emotion of the families' loss, for young Canadians who sacrificed their lives."

Against the appeal of the Khadr judgment


The Federal Court decision (pdf link here) ordering the Harper government to seek Omar Khadr's repatriation should not be appealed. For two sets of reasons, legal and political.

Legal:

The principal legal reason not to appeal this decision is that it is a narrow decision. The Canadian government's "duty to protect" Khadr under the Charter that the judge articulated was not an expansive one that should warrant the government's apprehension. If we hear Mr. Harper or Mr. Cannon speaking about the need to assert an appeal in order to avoid onerous, expensive diplomatic obligations stemming from this Khadr decision, that's a red herring. Here are the paragraphs of the judgment that make it clear that the duty to protect Khadr is not a far-reaching principle but is tailored to the circumstances of the Khadr case, making it more difficult for the government to credibly argue the need to defeat this precedent (click to enlarge):





The duty to protect is couched as being applicable to "persons in Mr. Khadr's circumstances." That is narrow. Khadr's circumstances include those in para. 70 and his being an individual to whom the Convention on the Rights of the Child applies, significantly, but also the Convention against Torture and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Khadr's circumstances also include the complicity of Canadian officials in a process that violated international law, by their questioning of Khadr at Guantanamo with the knowledge that he had been sleep deprived, i.e., tortured. The combination of Khadr's youth and the involvement of Canadian officials were clearly significant factors for the judge in this case. All of which makes it more difficult for Mr. Harper to find room to appeal, to argue that onerous obligations would be placed on the government as a result of this decision. It is narrow.

It's also difficult to see how they could argue against the very duty to protect, either. It flows principally from the international treaty obligations Canada is a signatory to, enumerated above.

And while the foreign case law cited in the decision is not binding in Canada, there are decisions of the Court of Appeal in the U.K. (Abbasi) and the South Africa Constitutional Court (Kaunda) that provide international indications that other countries are on the same road as this judge in terms of articulating this duty to protect. There's an inevitability factor at play.

Even if the Harper government wants to argue the grounds that foreign policy is the prerogative of the government, it's difficult to sustain that argument in this case where the government is implicated in the wrongdoing by having participated in the breach of his rights through that interrogation at Guantanamo. You can't say leave me to my own judgment in this case if it's been proven wrong.

They have recently demonstrated a capacity in a similar case to cut their losses if the writing is on the wall. Recall the Federal Court ordering the government to resume Canada's historical opposition to the death penalty abroad in the case involving Ronald Smith facing the death penalty in Colorado. The Harper government accepted that decision. They should do the same here.

Political:

Last week's release of the torture memos in the U.S. has made the substance of this judgment seem all the more appropriate and likely to gain support from Canadians. For Mr. Harper to be stubbornly insisting that “[t]he facts in our judgment have not changed,” is absurd. While the distinctive facts in Khadr's case may not have changed, the context has. The release of those memos has shone an even brighter light on the use of torture by the U.S. for a good week now. It might be a coincidence that this very clear, strong judgment in Khadr's favour comes within a week of the release of those memos, but the timing enhances Mr. Harper's positioning as being out of sync, aligned with the Guantanamo status quo crowd, the Cheneys and Fleischers of the Bush administration. Is this really where he wants to continue to be in the Obama era? The right political judgment, to appeal to a broader swath of Canadians is to separate himself, albeit as late in the day as it is, from that crowd.

Guantanamo is closing. There are no other western citizens other than Khadr there. And Harper's government has just been ordered by a Federal Court judge to repatriate him. Yet we know that the Conservative base may limit what the poorly polling Harper can do, leading him to appeal. If that's his choice, at least he will continue to expose his partisan priorities.

And as for the other major political actor here...if the Obama administration wants to unburden themselves of one more Guantanamo detainee, they might want to take note of a Canadian Federal Court having so ordered the Harper government to demand Khadr's repatriation and speed up their review. What choice would Harper have, if faced with not only a court decision but a request from the Obama legal team to take him back?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Letters to the editor: Abdelrazik

The Harper government's contempt for the rule of law, still exposed on this file in a big way:
Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik has been stranded in Sudan without a passport since 2003. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon denied him a passport citing national security concerns. CSIS and the RCMP say that there is no evidence that Abdelrazik is a security threat, so security concerns may not be an issue.

If he is a threat, then Canada should contain him. If Abdelrazik is caught up in the paranoia after 9/11, his citizenship right to live in Canada must be respected. If there are reasonable suspicions, grant him a three-day passport to travel to Canada where we take responsibility for watching him.

A sovereign Canada must take responsibility for its own. We are abdicating responsibility for Abdelrazik to another country. The government of the day would rather abandon you than take responsibility for you.

Eugene Parks,
Victoria
The ubiquitous citizen Parks strikes again on a very worthy issue.

Can you feel the love tonight?

(Update below, 10:30 p.m.)

In case there's any confusion, today's new and improved message from the Conservative caucus on the virtues of their former PM, Mr. Mulroney, is a total retreat for the PMO:
“The message was he's a past prime minister and deserves to be treated with respect,” one Tory said Wednesday of the morning Conservative caucus meeting in Ottawa.
An admission by Mr. Harper and his PMO that their latest partisan misadventure, in which Mr. Harper reportedly had his own hands, was a total failure. From banishing their former PM from the party membership rolls to avowals of respect within a few weeks. What a difference a little push back from the membership and a weakened PM makes.

Guess we can safely say that the idea of a campaign against corruption is off!

And think we can also safely say, there's a power shift that this little event symbolizes, to those in the Conservative caucus who care to oppose the high handed PMO, with all the leadership implications it carries with it. Just sayin...

Update (10:30 p.m.): CP has a report tonight with the inside scoop from the Conservative caucus room:

With Harper in the room this time, caucus sources said only one MP – Lee Richardson – denounced what he described as unfair and unnecessary attacks against the former prime minister.

One source said that less than a handful applauded Richardson's remarks, unlike the previous meeting where pro-Mulroney prompted more applause.

Sources also said senior members of the Harper government were accused of lying to their own MPs by stating that the Prime Minister's Office had nothing to do with spreading stories about Mulroney.

A pair of other MPs rose to complain Wednesday not about Mulroney, but about colleagues who leaked proceedings of the last meeting to the media.

According to one source, Harper was asked whether he would punish anyone caught sharing details of internal party discussions.

Harper eschewed talk of discipline and instead delivered a message aimed at unifying his caucus, said the source.

He lauded the historic achievements of the Mulroney government in a monologue intended to please former Progressive Conservatives who view the ex-prime minister fondly.

...

At Wednesday's meeting, Richardson accused the PMO of spreading lies.

Still not feelin' the love...lots of posturing but the damage is there, as this political scientist observes:

University of Alberta political scientist Steve Patten said Mr. Harper's strong management can submerge divisions between Progressive Conservatives and Reformers for now – but he predicted these will re-emerge the next time there's a race for the helm of the party.

“This is a really significant division within the Conservative family and one that won't disappear for a long time,” Prof. Patten said. “At the end of the day, Mr. Harper has the capacity to put this back into the closet, but it doesn't mean they go away. I don't think we're going to know how significant these divisions are until Harper retires.”

Clarifying the rhetoric

Harper today obscuring his government's record on their role in causing the current federal deficit:
Mr. Harper responded by noting that Canada's hardly alone in running deficits today as tax revenue dips and stimulus spending strains the bank. And again with the jab at Mr. Ignatieff's plan to raise taxes:

"The fact is this: virtually every country in the world is running a deficit and the reason we are running a deficit is to take money the private sector is not using and to make sure it is employed for the benefit of the people who are losing their jobs," the Prime Minister said. "That's why we have surpluses in good times - so that we can act when times are tough. And none of that - there is no excuse for an agenda to raise taxes."
But we know that Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty brought us into deficit well before the global recession hit, for the umpteenth time and despite their spin:
Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page told MPs Thursday that Canada's deficit next year could be as high as $13 billion and that Conservative government decisions to cut the GST and raise government spending are to blame, not global economic events.

"The weak fiscal performance to date is largely attributable to previous policy decisions as opposed to weakened economic conditions," Page wrote in his first report to parliamentarians on the government's economic and fiscal position.
That's the hole the Harper gang dug as they "prepared" us for the global recession. Inconvenient.

A point that apparently will need to be made on an ongoing basis.

Ari Fleischer CNN appearance last night

In case you missed it, new Harper $20,000 per month consultant Ari Fleischer was on CNN last night demonstrating the art of a not-so-skilled media appearance. Video and transcript here. Fleischer did not come off that well, although I'm sure those of the Republican variety would say otherwise. The legalities of the torture issue, the facts, etc., didn't seem to be within Fleischer's grasp. Not that Paul Begala is much of a credible expert here either.

On the other hand, Fleischer did try to turn discussion of the torture investigation into a partisan witch hunt, pointing fingers at Democratic leaders and asking questions about whether they should be prosecuted as well (all 2 of the Democrats, Pelosi and Senator Bob Graham, who were supposedly "briefed" but with conflicting accounts of the depth and content of those briefings). So on that score, perhaps he's a very simpatico adviser for the Harper government.

The larger point for Canadians, this is the person the Harper government is spending Canadian tax dollars on and who it thinks wise to advise it on U.S. media appearances. People can judge that decision for themselves.

Snow in April?

A few notes worth looking at today for Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff that give a pretty good indication of the general state of affairs these days...

Chantal Hebert's column will make a few waves today, surely: "Is it time for Harper's walk in the snow?" Fairly remarkable to think that within six months of reelection, albeit to a minority government, that the PM's grasp on his job is so tenuous as to inspire such musings. All the rage with the political chattering classes apparently and justifiably so, given the poll numbers and performance. And having to deal with the Mulroney distraction, again, today.

Also likely to be the subject of discussion, Michael Ignatieff's attendance in Washington on Thursday for a prestigious Afghanistan/Pakistan conference organized for Richard Holbrooke, Obama's point man on that region. You can find a link to the agenda, here, which actually looks quite interesting and substantive. I'm sure this development will be endlessly interpreted as a poke in the eye to the Conservatives. Given their incredible contortions to make it appear that they are Mr. Obama's new best friends forever despite their years of pro-Bush rhetoric and positioning, they certainly deserve a little retributive justice in the form of such little yet symbolic surprises.

Philip Zelikow interview on Maddow show Tuesday night



Another must see interview from the Maddow show, a follow-up to last night's big one. Here Philip Zelikow, former State Department official under Condoleezza Rice speaks of his having produced competing legal advice to the torture memos which took issue with the claims made in them. He has written a piece for Foreign Policy that discloses this information, along with the fact that Bush administration officials sought to destroy all copies of his memo. A very remarkable interview which indicates that there was indeed dissent in the Bush administration on this issue that now seems to be unleashed, freed up by the release of these memos now to come out. Also interesting is the hint that Rice was unhappy with the administration on the torture issue, at least, that's what's hinted at here by Zelikow who makes a point of stating that he was acting as agent on her behalf. Watched earlier tonight and thought it was among one of the best interviews I've seen of late in terms of its significance, a signalling of the unravelling of the former coherent front of the Bush administration.

Update (Wednesday a.m.):  Also of interest today, the account in the NY Times about the inception of the interrogation programme. A key part of the report, in my opinion, is the emphasized part of this sentence: 
Though some former officials expressed regret that such a momentous decision was made so quickly without vital information or robust debate, none were willing to be quoted by name.
A momentous case study in failed leadership and failed governance. Replete with poor information circulating, based on poor research, information asymmetries among those both steering the decision-making and making the decisions along with a whole cast of acquiescent players. Philip Zelikow, also quoted here, makes a point along those lines: 
Competent staff work could have quickly canvassed relevant history, insights from the best law enforcement and military interrogators, and lessons from the painful British and Israeli experience,” Mr. Zelikow said. “Especially in a time of great stress, walking into this minefield, the president was entitled to get the most thoughtful and searching analysis our government could muster.”
Yes, and he should have been the one ensuring that it was.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Say it ain't so...

Just Another Willy Loman signing off with this post, it appears: "Just like the thirties."

Blasted! These talented souls like Willy who offer us their voice then move on to deal with life's realities. I am sad.

Best of luck, Mr. Loman and don't be a stranger.

Fee for carriage lemmingship

Saw some of the Heritage Committee's hearings yesterday on video last night (yes, really) and would offer the following brief observations...

As reported in the Financial Post last night, it seemed to me that the cable guy, Phil Lind from Rogers, was surprisingly the one who made the most sense and in his opening statement in particular, smacked around this notion that anyone should be subsidizing these over leveraged private broadcasters at this moment. He was quite clear in stating that a lot of the facts you're hearing from private broadcasters at the moment are not true. For example, the notion that viewership is declining and being lost to digital media, the new generation of Ipod watchers, for example, that James Moore has been known to cite. Slight decrease but not happening in the "tuning" numbers, the Rogers people offered. He also challenged the notion that on air television is not a profitable business at the moment based upon recent earnings. Here are some of Lind's comments from the aforementioned report:
Rogers' vice-chairman, Phil Lind, warned the fee-for-carriage conventional broadcasters are pushing is nothing more than a "tax on consumers," with the funds raised to be used to acquire U.S. programming.

Instead, Ottawa is best served by waiting for the economy to improve - at which time the over-the-air sector will bounce back, given the TV industry is cyclical.

"At Rogers, we have mortgages too; we're also having difficulties with our over-the-air TV interests," Mr. Lind said. (Rogers, besides being the biggest cable company, also owns the City-TV and OMNI conventional brands.)

"We're not here seeking a bailout. We are not asking consumers or other companies' shareholders to underwrite our problems. The economic situation will hopefully improve shortly. When it does, history tells us that over-the-air TV will be back in the black."(emphasis added)
One of the key arguments from the private broadcasters at the moment, and picked up feverishly by the Conservative MPs with stations in their ridings, is that fee for carriage is needed to maintain those local stations and local content. But note what Michael Geist wrote yesterday on that point:
Last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission established the $60 million Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) to support programming in smaller markets. Broadcasters have been cool to the idea. MPs may want to ask why they continue to ask for new carriage fees, but have not embraced funding that targets the local programming that is said to be in dire straits.
The "LPIF" was an issue Liberal MP Scott Simms questioned Rogers about yesterday. That programme would be a logical choice to grow if local programming is indeed what these private broadcasters are seeking funds for. But we don't hear anything about it, just please give me the blanket fee for carriage to go into the larger corporate mix.

Also, typically of note, questions from Conservative Peterborough MPDean Del Mastro, as reported by CP last night, evidencing an interest in the rob Peter to pay Paul form of public policy:

Rogers faced some pointed questions from MPs.

A Conservative MP challenged the suggestion that fee-for-carriage would necessarily result in higher cable bills.

"You're making a lot of money," Tory MP Dean Del Mastro told the cable executives.

"Nobody says it has to be passed along to consumers. . . Why can't we just take it out of the money Rogers is making?"

Oh, I don't know...because Rogers will ensure the consumer pays at the end of the day in any event? Because this is embarrassing thinking that betrays short-term panicking rather than good public policy?

Other points, BQ MP Carol Lavallee did raise the issue with Pierre Karl Peladeau of his rumoured interest in the Canadiens, but in a rather joking manner. She seemed more interested in constitutional arguments over Quebec having its own version of the CRTC. That seems useful at the moment...not.

The hearings are continuing this week and next. The focus in MPs' questions thus far on fee for carriage suggests that this simple tool may be top of mind as a remedy for private broadcasters. Whether we will see effective policy making come out of all this when the broadcasters are applying such tremendous political pressure, doubtful.

Obama back on right track on torture investigation



Transcript, here. Now that's a little more like it!

Glenn Greenwald's take, here. I note that Greenwald cites Scott Horton's prescription for the mess as a possible option, one that's stuck with me over the past few months as well.

A good thing to hear, a very good thing.

More Conservative MP goodness

Updated...below...



Video of Conservative MP Ron Cannan yesterday during the Member Statement period, one of the MPs referenced in today's earlier post. He conflated the earthquake in Italy with a partisan attack against the Liberals. Again, what this Conservative party is doing these days, speaks for itself.

Update (5:05 p.m.): Hey there, pal! You might want to give the word to ixnay on the atorade-hay!

This has been another edition of Conservative MPs, awesome parliamentarians

First up, Burlington Conservative Mike Wallace deploys his formidable oratorical skills to offer the Canadian public the latest in worthy Conservative public policy inquiry from the floor of the House of Commons:
Mr. Mike Wallace (Burlington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader finally let the cat out of the bag about his real intentions regarding taxes. He plans to raise them. Canadians should be very worried by these comments. Liberals have never met a tax they did not like.

Would Canada's Minister of Transport remind the House of the actions this government is taking to wisely spend Canadian tax dollars while also acting to reduce the tax burden on Canadian families in a time of economic uncertainty?
Do we detect a theme, dreamt up for these empty vessels to spew forth? Think so. Please, give the Canadian public, hungering for principled, visionary leadership some more, good Conservative parrots:
Ms. Candice Hoeppner (Portage—Lisgar, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party sure loves taxes.

Last week we learned that the Liberal leader plans to hike taxes on Canadian families, a tax hike at the worst possible time, and there is never a good time to raise taxes.

Then again, it is not really a surprise. The Liberal Party wanted to raise the GST and the Liberal leader campaigned on the job-killing carbon tax.

Conservatives are taking action to help Canadian families with our economic action plan. Liberals are trying to take their hard-earned dollars away.

How much would the Liberal leader's tax hike cost Canadians? Which taxes will he hike and by how much will he raise them? Which Canadians will be forced to pay? Canadians deserve an honest answer.
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party "sure loves" repeating its fake argumentation!

In fact, they took the opportunity to abuse their time during Members Statements to repeat these fabricated arguments four times of the seven statements they made on their first day back in Parliament after the two week absence. And they did so in the midst of statements from other parties on the earthquake in Italy and the death of Canadian soldier Karine Blais. 

Awesome parliamentarians, just sit back and watch them go...

This day in April 20: Mr. Harper's remarks on how minority parliaments work



Darn, missed the anniversary by minutes. Oh well. Any excuse is a good one to haul out this nugget of insight.

Update (12:25 a.m. Eastern): It's still April 20th on the west coast, I am reminded. Made it after all...:)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Possibility of special prosecutor on torture memos



Video report from Rachel Maddow's show tonight, on the news that Attorney General Eric Holder is considering the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the released torture memos. Here's Newsweek:
But the Obama administration is not off the hook. Though administration officials declared that CIA interrogators who followed Justice's legal guidance on torture would not be prosecuted, that does not mean the inquiries are over. Senior Justice Department lawyers and other advisers, who declined to be identified discussing a sensitive subject, say Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has discussed naming a senior prosecutor or outside counsel to review whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries--and whether Bush administration officials broke the law by giving the CIA permission to torture in the first place. Some Justice officials are deeply troubled by reports of detainee treatment and believe they may suggest criminal misconduct, these sources say. Even if prosecutions prove too difficult to bring, an outside counsel's report could be made public. For his part, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is still pushing for a "truth commission." In a democracy, the wheels of justice grind on--and the president, for good reason under the rule of law, does not have the power to stop them.
Even if Holder were to hold off (pardon the pun), in addition to Leahy's efforts, there's the news that Dianne Feinstein is asking for time for congressional investigations, something to note as well.
But the White House came under new pressure Monday to leave open the possibility of prosecutions.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, asked Obama in a letter that pledges of immunity "be held in reserve" until her committee had completed an investigation.

The panel is expected to review thousands of classified CIA cables and other materials describing the interrogations of self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others. Feinstein said the review would take eight months.
Eight months. If the Democrats in congress assert themselves via investigations and take the time to do so, the evidence may build, in addition to public opinion that may lead to choices that will be difficult to ignore. All underscoring why the return of an independent Justice Department is so important.

Update (Tuesday a.m.): And for the umpteenth time, amidst all this publicity over these torture memos, a renewed call for the repatriation of Omar Khadr is given even more rationale by their release.

Why Canadian journalists are not permitted on such calls...mystery

Audio of conference call PM had with American journalists, no Canadians permitted, courtesy of David Akin.

Opening comments from Harper on Durban II conference, questions from journalists largely on Iran.

Update (6:35 p.m.): Here's Akin's post regarding the call.

A question for the Heritage Committee

Pierre Karl Péladeau, President and CEO of Québecor and Québecor Media Inc. is scheduled to appear before the Canadian Heritage Committee on Monday afternoon along with other Quebecor executives. The timely topic for the day (and week), the "Evolution of the television industry in Canada and its impact on local communities," given current issues in the broadcast industry (Quebecor is the owner of TVA). It has been reported that Mr. Peladeau has personally lobbied the Prime Minister for financial assistance for Quebecor recently:
...the message that immediate help is needed has been taken directly to 24 Sussex Drive. Both CanWest CEO Leonard Asper and Quebecor’s Pierre-Karl Péladeau, have personally met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of their companies in recent weeks.
We don't yet know what form of assistance, if any, is being contemplated by the Harper government for private broadcasters and whether they dare go ahead while ignoring CBC, but ad buys from the feds or a "fee for carriage" for companies like TVA are among the commonly discussed options.

Given that using public moneys have been floated by the Conservatives and sought by private broadcasters like Quebecor/TVA, it would seem appropriate then that the Heritage Committee attempt to have Mr. Peladeau reconcile Quebecor's seeking public assistance from the taxpayer with Mr. Peladeau's simultaneous pursuit of purchasing the Montreal Canadiens, as reported at the end of last week: "Big names mull joining forces in bid for Canadiens."
A shared passion for the Montreal Canadiens is making for strange bedfellows in Quebec business circles, as a consortium made up of pop star Céline Dion, Seagram heir Stephen Bronfman and Quebecor Inc. boss Pierre Karl Péladeau is considering a joint bid for the storied NHL team, financial sources report.
...
This trio of potential buyers is said to be contemplating a dedicated pay-TV channel in Quebec that would carry Habs games and other hockey-related content as one way to increase revenues from the team.
A reported purchase price floated Friday is between $400-450 million. While Peladeau looks to be part of a larger purchase group, the optics are not good from the vantage point of the Canadian taxpayer who is being asked to provide funding for his company on the one hand while he pursues a high profile purchase of the Montreal Canadiens on the other. A situation that deserves a little clarity.

Old habits dying hard for Conservative minister Blackburn

Conservative cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn, still doing his part to help out with those Conservative poll numbers in Quebec.

Recall the reporting from 2007 on Blackburn: "Tory minister racks up $149,389 in plane rentals, declares zero air fare." The hiding of expenses was seen then as a breach of Conservative promises on accountability.

Blackburn, it appears, has not learned from the 2007 exposure and continues with the same practices, still leasing chartered flights back to Quebec, within Quebec and still failing to disclose the travel costs of doing so. CP has uncovered the latest costs, however, by tracking contract spending in Blackburn's ministry. Over the six months March to September 2008, Blackburn chartered 11 flights at a cost of $73,000+. The minister should properly be reporting this in standard ministerial proactive disclosure on the web. And thinking about flying commercial on the odd occasion when he can back to Quebec in order to save taxpayers some scratch.

Now that is chutzpah for you...

Update: It's far from Blackburn's fault that the numbers are what they are in Quebec, but the above reporting certainly doesn't help. Read L. Ian MacDonald's latest column from yesterday, it says it all about how the Conservatives have landed where they are in Quebec. And the tone speaks to the obvious disdain Mulroney supporters have for the Harper government.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We're a country, eh?

Al Kamen of the Washington Post picks up on Harper's hiring of Ari Fleischer and Mike McCurry:
Speaking of Canada, they've launched yet another effort to make sure that Americans appreciate them. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided to be the country's salesman in chief and has hired the new odd couple of the PR world -- Ari Fleischer and Mike McCurry -- to book him some face time on American television and garner positive newspaper coverage.

The former Bush and Clinton press secretaries have already been on the job, Canwest News Service reports. Fleischer has helped Harper with print interviews and appearances on the Sunday talk shows before the recent economic and NATO summits in Europe, while McCurry is helping him get the word out of Canada's great friendship with this country before the Summit of the Americas this weekend. The Canadians are chronically worried that the U.S. media don't pay any attention to them -- or focus on such things as Ottawa's ties to Cuba or its refusal to join the invasion of Iraq.
Oh well, I'm sure no one saw that in the Washington Post anyway...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Full circle

Judge Gomery yesterday:
A retired Quebec judge who oversaw an inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal said Friday that unnecessary delays or outright denials of requests under the Access to Information Act are creating a lack of transparency in government.

John Gomery, speaking to a Canadian Bar Association luncheon in Regina, said this type of transparency is crucial to the Canadian public, to democracy and to society at large.

"It's a danger to open government and to our democratic institutions, frankly. A public this isn't informed is a public which isn't able to vote intelligently," he said.
In happier, more optimistic times:
Speaking on his 75th birthday and official retirement date, Mr. Gomery praised the Conservative government's showpiece Accountability Act, which included reforms to electoral laws and lobbying rules. But the former head of the inquiry into the sponsorship scandal warned that the job is far from over.

"I thought was a marvellous case of good intentions. As to whether or not those good intentions are going to be translated into government action is something that I think will take a little time," Mr. Gomery said in an interview.
Yep, time's up.

A lawsuit to be applauded

There's a Globe report today, "The Big Bluff," on the massive $3.5 billion class action lawsuit against the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation on behalf of addicted gamblers. The crux of the suit has to do with self-exclusion forms which these gamblers have signed and the scope of the duty owed by OLG to enforce them. Enforcement has been pretty much non-existent, despite the claims here and the gamblers have continued to gamble, respectively, hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings, home equity, borrowed dollars, ruining thousands of lives in the process. It's a problem I'd never noticed, much less paid any attention to the issue of gambling in Ontario at all, until I met someone last year who has destroyed his life as a result of this very addiction yet who had signed one of these forms and tried to stop. A decent, hard working person who has lost just about everything. House, family, life savings.

As the blog post title states, while we don't know what the outcome of this novel suit will be, it is to be applauded in the hope that it will cause OLG to take steps to enforce these self-exclusion processes, by devoting people, resources and technology to the problem. While legally they may or may not be judged to owe that duty of care, morally they do and as a society we should do everything we can to encourage them to take responsibility for the tools of addiction that they provide.

Letters to the editor

Cheeky Globe readers:
DAVID OWEN

April 18, 2009

Canmore, Alta. -- Mr. Ignatieff can't force an election alone, he needs the socialists and separatists. This raises the question: Who does Stephen Harper need to withstand a no-confidence vote?

Friday, April 17, 2009

PMO media strategy update

If I am understanding this correctly...

Shorter Stephen Taylor this afternoon: Michael Ignatieff is so awesome, he has forced the PM to elevate his media appearances, including by going to another country, i.e., the U.S., in order to get a less scornful and less context-aware media lens. Previously, he left the media spotlight to Stephane Dion but this can no longer stand due to the "more serious opponent."

The Canadian viewing public is so fortunate that the PM has decided to so engage us...:)

Highway of Heroes - Trooper Karine Blais

Flanagan whistling past the graveyard

Updated (Friday 5:30 pm.) below...

Tom Flanagan, bending himself into pretzel-like contortions today: "Whistling up the coalition from the dead." Flanagan tells us the Liberals will have to "...reactivate the coalition with the socialists and separatists against which Canadians reacted so strongly last fall" in order to force an election, whenever that may be. Really, he is. In his effort to conjure up the good ol' days in December of Conservative fear mongering and inflammatory rhetoric, Flanagan has hauled out the "coalition" spectre, mentioning it about 9 times in his piece.

Flanagan, stalking horse of trial balloons for the Conservative faithful, argues neither the NDP nor the Bloc will likely play along with Ignatieff when the time comes to force an election. Not respectively in either's interests, he says, to accede to a Liberal motion. Well, it would be very surprising, in the fall off your chair variety, if the NDP were the lone party to prop up Mr. Harper and hold out against an election. It just doesn't seem likely, not even going to go here.

As for the Bloc, they don't seem more susceptible to Conservative persuasion either. If polls like the Ekos one last night recur, in which the Bloc is projected to keep their seat total, they may not have cause to fear an election. Harder to say what the numbers will be in the fall, but their staying power hasn't receded over the last 3 elections, being consistently in the 50 seat range out of 75. Further, we need only imagine the optics in Quebec of Gilles Duceppe making some kind of deal with Mr. Harper to prop up his government. First of all, how Mr. Harper could do this given his rhetoric in the fall is hard to conceive (Tom? Short memory about "separatist vetos?"). It just wouldn't play in Quebec where the Conservatives are at 10% in the polls. Mr. Duceppe would be in for a world of trouble if he made a deal with Mr. Harper who has offended Quebecers so loudly and mightily, as Flanagan puts it, for "some extra drops falling on Quebec."

The rest of Flanagan's piece is essentially a mind dump of wishful but no doubt brewing Conservative thinking on raising the spectre of a coalition to deploy against the Liberals. Difficult though to see an anti-coalition backlash like December's being resurrected successfully when much time will have passed. When the economic consequences post-coalition have angered Canadians, at Mr. Harper's expense, it's more likely to bite him ("...69 per cent say they still blame Mr. Harper for causing an unnecessary political crisis late last year when he should have been focusing on the economy.") Really, how much traction will there be for coalition seances in an election that will largely be fought on economic issues? It's not serious.

Probably giving too much credence to the piece but it's tough to resist having a go at popping Mr. Flanagan's trial balloons when they so frequently populate the pages of the national daily...

Update (5:30 p.m.): BigCityLib opined in his inimitable way earlier today that the NDP could be had for a vote principally due to environmental difficulties...sticking to my thought above, no go on that. Neither money nor political considerations are justifiable reasons for NDP to say no to an election, they have been very vocal about that.

Shout out to blogging Senator Elaine McCoy for a hullabaloo...and of course, CV, who is similarly fascinated by the "eminence grease" factor at work here...:)

Late night puppet theatre



Clearly, you don't want to tick off the rantpuppet constituency. Caution, graphic language...:)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Moore bizarro arts funding

Le Devoir has been reporting this week on the latest arts funding paradox from Mr. Moore's Heritage department. Since the English media seems to be absent on this, let me assist. If I am understanding this little bit of strategery correctly, it goes something like this.

In the recent past, Ottawa has provided funds for artists such as orchestras, dance troupes, theater, circus and other performing artists to travel overseas through the "Prom'Art" and "Trade Routes" programmes. Those programmes were abolished by the Conservatives as of April 1st, in the infamous arts cuts that arguably cost them support in Quebec and therefore a shot at a majority government in the last election. Nothing has replaced these programmes.

Now along comes the time of year when an annual arts festival takes place where a given province's artists are featured at a showcase festival in Ottawa ("BC Scene" starts April 21) and "producers, buyers and talent scouts" come from around the world to see Canadian artists perform and to perhaps offer them performing contracts for overseas locales. Our federal government is even paying $300,000 to help bring the talent scouts here and is funding the event to the tune of $2 million. The kicker, though, is that the arts groups performing no longer have federal funding support for any foreign gigs they might get offered out of the showcase festival, the whole point of it taking place in the first place. Additionally, the $2 million being spent on this 13 day event comes close to the $2.8 million for performing arts that Ottawa previously spent out of the entire $4.1 Prom'Art programme to help artists promote their work overseas. Kicker #3, this year's featured province, B.C., home province of the Minister. Shoot ourselves in the foot much?

Responses from Moore's office when questioned on the "beautiful paradox," have been, well, non-responsive.

Le Devoir entitled one column on the matter, "Le bal des inepties Culture," or "The ball of nonsense." Think that about says it all.

Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Your tax dollars at work...just not here

As Teneycke says,"Telling people what you're doing is as important as what you're actually doing." So tonight we read this news, applying that very mantra of the Harper communications team: "PMO hires former White House spokesmen to plug Canada." Ari Fleischer and Mike McCurry, former White House spokesmen are being hired to help Teneycke arrange TV interviews for Harper. Bookers, if you will. The PM is apparently going to be spending more time becoming a talking head on U.S. network television and is hiring people to help. No word on how much this is costing we the taxpayer, of course. Why would we the Canadian taxpayer be entitled to know that, after all? Once more, with gusto, you've got to be kidding me...
The Conservative government has hired two former White House communications strategists as part of a "sustained" effort to raise Canada's profile in the U.S. media - with Prime Minister Stephen Harper acting as salesman-in-chief, Canwest News Service has learned.

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday said it had retained Mike McCurry, a former press secretary to Bill Clinton, and Ari Fleischer, who held the same job during George W. Bush's first term, on temporary contracts to help Harper land interviews with leading American television networks and newspapers.

"Canada has a very good story to tell, and it won't tell itself," said Kory Teneycke, Mr. Harper's spokesman.

"The person best-positioned to tell that story in the [American] media is the prime minister."
Maybe he should be rolling up his sleeves and getting to work in Canada and on behalf of Canadians losing jobs at a record pace. That's a thought. And let's not even mention the CBC twisting in the wind in the background here because that would just be too obvious a point to make, wouldn't it? Would that our own PM would give Canadian media the same courtesies that he extends to the American.
Ottawa's communications plan envisions the prime minister doing extensive and ongoing media outreach in the United States, with the interviews timed to coincide with international summits, and highlighting areas where Canada is "broadly supportive of U.S. leadership," Mr. Teneycke said.
...
Mr. Harper's office has come to the conclusion that Canada has often been too "passive" in promoting its long-standing ties to the U.S. Mr. Harper's aim is to build goodwill on a wide range of issues the government considers vital to the Canada-U.S. relationship - including bilateral trade, the auto industry and energy security - in the belief it will help Ottawa avoid major problems when tensions erupt due to specific conflicts, Mr. Teneycke said.

"It's an opportunity for the prime minister to blaze the trail and set overall narrative for Canada," he said. "If you get the macro-relationship right, small problems take care of themselves."
The presumption being, of course, that it's the role of a PM to tell the Canadian story effectively on TV in the U.S. as a key component of the American relationship. Governance by photo op taken to a whole new level. Makes you wonder whether something is wrong with the normal diplomatic channels and departmental relationships these days that the communications effort must go outside those channels to get heard. The Harper/Obama relationship? Not working so well? Makes you wonder. Or just more of the effort to coat tail on the Obama magic?

Having a Prime Minister so overtly seeking out the American network limelight? There's something a little unseemly about this spectacle that's now shifting into high gear.


Update (Thursday 1:20 a.m.): Video of new Harper employee Ari Fleischer in March:

Study says Cdns would have been better off if GST had not been cut

Update (Wednesday 5:30 p.m.): Dave at Galloping Beaver links the CCPA study referenced here to Preston Manning's recent piece in the Globe suggesting that a two tier health care delivery system, public and private, is an eventuality for Canada. By cutting taxes, government revenues are squeezed and the public services that Canadians benefit from have to suffer. Chief among them, health care. Dave's conclusion:
It is worth keeping in mind that as Harper keeps offering tax cuts as an incentive to vote for his party, the cost is higher than most Canadians are willing to accept and the result would likely be something much worse than Manning has fabricated on behalf of his party leader.
If the Conservatives want to have this phony, irresponsible debate where they posit tax cuts as absolute goods, oblivious to the government's deficit position, it's likely to take them down a road or two that's not exactly politically palatable. Just sayin...:)

Now the post, from earlier today picking up from the blog post title...

That is one of the conclusions from a just released study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, "Canada's Quiet Bargain: The Benefits from Public Spending." This is a timely piece of research given the kafuffle yesterday on taxes. This study takes aim at the rising premium being placed on tax cuts in our political debates by providing some hard numbers to explain just how these cuts affect Canadians' standard of living.

From Canwest:
The study says most Canadians would have been better off if the Conservative government had not cut the goods and services tax, but instead transferred the proceeds of that tax cut to local governments to pay for more and better services. Similarly, it concludes the standard of living of most Canadians would have been improved if provincial governments spent more on health care and education over the last decade or so rather than bringing in broad-based income tax cuts.
From CP:
...80 per cent of Canadians would have been better off if the federal government had not cut the GST, according to the research.
...
According to the study, Canadians get an average of $17,000 worth of benefits from their tax-funded public services, which also include such items as pensions, child-care benefits, roads and police services.

That translates to about $41,000 for a middle-income family - or 63 per cent of its yearly income.

For households earning $80,000 to $90,000, public-service benefits are equivalent to about half their total income, according to the study.

In other words, an upper-middle income Canadian household would have to devote half a year's wages to pay for the public services their taxes provide.

"The vast majority of Canadians are getting a quiet bargain by investing in taxes that produce enormous public benefits," the analysis states.
...
"Tax cuts don't give you money for free. They introduce a trade off between a private benefit in the form of lower taxes and a reduced public benefit.

"For most Canadians . . . that trade-off is not very favourable."
Timely and relevant information...if and when debates occur over tax issues in coming political skirmishes.

Bush Six debate begins


David Corn takes on former Reagan staffer Frank Gaffney on the issue of the possible indictment by a Spanish court of six former Bush administration officials. Intense argument here, with Gaffney citing American sovereignty as a primary rationale for rejecting the Spanish court's reach, claiming that these U.S. officials were working "inside a system of laws under the rule of law," doing their jobs. Gaffney discounts the criticism that the laws were interpreted for the Bush administration in a manner to their liking, by these officials under investigation, to permit laws preventing torture to be ignored. In other words, under this view, it seems to be that the Geneva Conventions could be legitimately lawyered away, whittled down by hard working lawyers, without interference from any other country on behalf of its citizens who have been affected by such American actions. Pretty remarkable claim.

Meanwhile, there are many applauding the Spanish, from within the U.S.:
The views of Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights – which has played a major role in mobilizing lawyers to defend Guantanamo detainees, probably represent the consensus among U.S. human rights advocates. He said, “The importance of this investigation can not be understated. Contrary to statements by some, the Spanish investigations are not ‘symbolic.’ Just ask Augusto Pinochet, who was stranded under house arrest in England and who ultimately faced criminal charges in Chile because of the pressure of the Spanish courts.”

He added, “If and when arrest warrants are issued, 24 countries in Europe are obligated to enforce them. The world is getting smaller for the torture conspirators.”

Brian J. Foley, Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Boston University, told us, “I hope Spain goes ahead with a full and fair investigation. These are serious allegations, and there needs to be a forum to air them. U.S. officials seem unwilling to look into the alleged war crimes, which is unfortunate and further diminishes any remaining U.S. moral authority. I hope the Spanish investigation is open and transparent, revealing the truth for the whole world to see -- including, perhaps especially, American citizens. We need to face what has been done in our name.”
The reporting last night was a little bit ahead of the game, Spanish officials now saying a decision on proceeding with an investigation is to come this week.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New tax for cable customers courtesy of Conservatives?

New ideas being floated by the Conservatives on the broadcasting front: "Ottawa considers ad boost to help broadcasters." You can imagine how the idea of increased government ads on our television screens might play out:
Ottawa has a new option on the table for helping local TV stations make it through the recession: buy more government ads.

The idea, which is under discussion at the cabinet's powerful committee on priorities and planning, is seen as a way to replace private advertising revenue that has fled since the onset of the financial crisis, a source told The Globe and Mail.

“In the short term, the most efficient way to get money out to broadcasters might be through advertising, because that's where the initial loss was,” said the source.

“That's where things have gone.”

Although a good number of MPs and cabinet ministers support help for the industry, the question of how best to deliver it is the subject of significant discussion. The government has talked about shelling out between $150-million and $75-million this year and $75-million next year in an effort to get money into the hands of the broadcasters quickly. However, some MPs are concerned that funnelling money directly to the broadcasters would not do much to prevent cuts. At least the government could benefit from the ads. (emphasis added)
Sounds a might politically opportunistic and not exactly coherent policy making.  Ads flooding the private broadcasters courtesy of the Harper federal government doesn't sound like a sustainable strategy for the broadcast industry for any length of time and it's not good for taxpayers who would yet again be put in the position of making up for the mistakes of over leveraged communications giants. 

The fee for carriage option is also floated in the report, and again, that's likely to hit consumers directly on their cable bills, to the tune of $10+ per month. For Conservatives who are so quick to decry tax increases, it's hypocritical to be turning in this direction. 

And of course, no word on whether any such plans would apply to the CBC.

Update (8:20 p.m.): Man, I've really got to start checking what FarNWide is wearing before I venture out into the blogosphere these days...:)

Conservative credibility on tax issues...not so much

See update at end of post (Wednesday a.m.)...

There's a report starting to get some attention this afternoon arising out of some comments Michael Ignatieff's made today during his swing through southern Ontario this week: "Tax hike likely unavoidable, Liberal leader says." Here's what Ignatieff is reported as saying, in this very brief report, in response to a questioner:
Ignatieff’s comments were in response to a question from Cambridge business leader John Bell, who wanted to known when the federal debt will be paid back.
“We will have to raise taxes,” but not at the expense of hurting the recovery from this recession. He added that “an honest politician” cannot exclude a tax hike as an option.
“I am not going to load a deficit onto your children or mine,” Ignatieff said.
To anyone contemplating how to grapple with the billions in debt we are facing as a result of Conservative overspending, unwise GST cutting and now this recession, it seems entirely reasonable that any and all remedies to deal with the problem will be on the table for thinking politicians who care to discuss issues honestly and rationally, including tax policy. We will need to get out of the Conservative deficit hole somehow.

Speaking of persons who care to discuss issues honestly and rationally, there was one in the news a few weeks ago:
Canada and the world are facing a long and deep recession that will fundamentally alter the nature of capitalism, former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge said in an exclusive interview a year after he left the bank.
That's a premise to keep in mind as economic and tax policies are discussed going forward. Automakers approaching bankruptcies, southern Ontario's manufacturing base being decimated, times have changed. Cookie cutter political slogans about taxing and spending seem oddly dated. More from Dodge:
As recovery takes hold, Ottawa could then raise taxes a bit – by, say, increasing the GST by a percentage point – to nurse the country's books back to health.

“A little bit of tax here and there would do it,” Mr. Dodge said.

He always opposed the federal government's move to cut the goods and services tax by two percentage points in the first place. The hole the tax cuts made in government revenue left Ottawa with a structural deficit at the end of the 2007-2008 fiscal year, he said – even though the Finance Department won't admit it.

So, raising the GST to make up for recessionary spending “is a very sensible way to do it.”

But the world will never go back to the way it was, according to Mr. Dodge.
Having pointed those remarks from Dodge out, it's not to say that Liberals will even be going there. It's simply a reminder that the economic ground has shifted and tax policy presumptions from Conservatives who have led us into great deficit all by their lonesomes prior to this recession have impaired credibility in comparison to voices like Dodge, voices who will likely multiply during future debates.

And recall this little revelation of late which also undermines Conservative credibility on tax issues:
Ian Brodie, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, delivered an astonishingly frank explanation today for why the Conservative government cut the Goods and Services Tax, and why he’s glad they did, even though just about every economist and tax expert said it was a terrible bit of public policy.

Despite economic evidence to the contrary, in my view the GST cut worked,” Brodie said in Montreal at the annual conference of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. “It worked in the sense that by the end of the ’05-’06 campaign, voters identified the Conservative party as the party of lower taxes. It worked in the sense that it helped us to win.

It’s not really surprising, of course, that campaign calculations lay behind the GST cuts, which have cost the federal government about $12 billion a year at the worst possible time. That’s been obvious all along.

What’s noteworthy is that Brodie, who is now a visiting fellow at the McGill institute, doesn’t shrink from publicly asserting that such a major public policy decision can still be deemed a success—even in the face of “evidence to the contrary”—if that move paid the desired political dividends. (emphasis added)
Canadians will be able to weigh for themselves the respective positions on tax policies, if they do become a feature of an upcoming election campaign. We have the Conservative party on the one hand who has been exposed by Harper's former chief of staff as implementing tax measures for political gain, despite economic advice to the contrary. Tax measures that have put us in a ditch. Then we will have other parties making their own proposals. It's respectfully submitted that tax issues then are not likely to be the fertile political ground that Conservatives think it will be going forward.

See also Far N Wide.

Update (8:22 p.m.): See Lib Arts & Minds; BCer as well.

Update (Wednesday a.m.): Ignatieff follow up:
Michael O'Shaughnessy, Mr. Ignatieff's press secretary, said later that the party has "no plan and no desire to raise taxes" in a recession.