Saturday, May 30, 2009

Your credibility deficit is showing again

Update (Sunday 10:00 p.m.) below.

It's not just fiscal deficit numbers this government is discredited on at the moment. Their treatment of the 2007 Chalk River shutdown versus their treatment of the present day shutdown is totally diametric, as editorialized on by the Star today: "Isotope scramble: tale of two crises." Their handling of the Chalk River challenge calls into stark question whether they know what they're doing and what we can believe from this government.

How can it be that a three week shutdown in December of 2007 was cause to fire the nuclear regulator, who simply wanted to ensure laws were followed and that the licence conditions would be adhered to as the shutdown was managed. How can that shutdown have been cause for the Prime Minister to rail on about the health and safety of thousands of Canadians being placed in jeopardy if the reactor weren't restarted, pronto ("...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.") Yet now, faced with a three month shutdown, there's not a problem in sight for the Conservative folk. It's blue skies all around. In fact, the Health Minister said this yesterday on the question of the supply of medical isotopes:
Meanwhile, federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq downplayed the seriousness of the looming shortage of medical isotopes sparked by the shutdown. "It's not a crisis. There are many tests that can be completed using other options."
It's just mind boggling.

The health minister can talk to hospitals about prioritizing tests, but that is no comfort to a patient with heart disease or a woman waiting to find out if her breast cancer has spread.

Stephen Harper's Conservative government is either dramatically underplaying the current medical isotope crisis or wildly overplayed the last one.

Why limit ourselves to the either/or proposition? It's probably both, isn't it?

Here's the kicker in terms of accountability for the Harper gang:

After the 2007 crisis, the government also appointed a panel of health specialists to study the matter and recommend ways to avoid a reoccurrence. The so-called "lessons learned" panel advised the government a year ago that it should "diversify generator supply sources, preferably within Canada." Specifically, it said that research reactors on university campuses across the country could be adapted to produce medical isotopes.

No apparent action was taken on that recommendation until yesterday, when the government announced funding for McMaster University to upgrade its research reactor to produce medical isotopes.(emphasis added)

It's not a debatable policy issue we're dealing with here where legitimate choices could be made out of a range of options and we're dissatisfied with what they did do. Here we're talking about a supply of needed medical isotopes that's at stake. That they had fair warning was a problem and yet did apparently nothing about post 2007 crisis.

This is practical government competence 101 stuff that they're failing.

Update (Sunday 10:00 p.m.): CanPolitico points out that the McMaster facility that is now being funded as of Friday in order to boost production of medical isotopes presently creates 60,000 per year. Versus the Chalk River facility that produces 20 million isotope treatments per year. In case there's any doubt about the makeshift nature of the above referenced announcement.

For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.

Historic disappointment

More letters:
"The news that the Conservative government of Stephen Harper will likely run a historic $50 billion plus deficit this year is a historic disappointment for Canadians. Was it not just six short months ago that Messieurs Harper and Flaherty informed us that Canada would celebrate the windfalls of another budgetary surplus? Were we not told by the economist Prime Minister that his 'steady hand on the tiller' would steer Canada to a position of economic strength in the global community, and moreover, that there would be 'no recession'?

Now it seems we're facing what Flaherty calls 'a deeper economic slowdown than anticipated,' including record unemployment and bankruptcies, and a growing burden of debt to hoist on to our children's shoulders.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have decided that issuing personal attacks against Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff should be their priority 'shovel ready' project.

For suffering Canadians, the government's plan is now clear. Misleading us about the opposition leader is actually a Harper government stimulus plan, strategically designed to save the only jobs that matter to them: their own.

Michael L. Maynard, Oshawa"
The letters on that page are pretty brutal today, have a look.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Peter MacKay to leave federal Conservative politics?

Update (Sat aft. below)

Speculation on a MacKay departure beginning. Would expect to hear the usual denials, of course, but the circumstantial factors surrounding the story make it sound plausible. We well know what happened this past week when Foreign Affairs issued a public and embarrassing rebuke to MacKay. Would not be surprised in the least if "loyal" MacKay associates were putting the word out and causing such speculation as a result of that little Conservative upper-echelon-directed slap:
Recent grumblings out of Atlantic Canada indicate that current Conservative Defense Minister Peter MacKay may be looking to resign his post and as MP for Central Nova, the Nova Scotia riding he has held since 2004.
...
In some political circles it has been quietly suggested that MacKay may be looking for a way out of the Conservative Party, an 'honourable exit'. Speculation includes MacKay anticipating a collapse in the Conservative vote in the next election, losing Government, and having no desire to be there to when it happens. Leaving for a position in NATO, for example, would allow him to escape the possible mess of a Conservative Party reeling after its loss of power and of its strong and tight-fisted leader.
...
Giving the story of MacKay's possible departure from Government more credence are whispers that following the current provincial election in Nova Scotia, MacKay may be interested in overtaking the leadership of the provincial Tories. The leadership of the party would allow the 43-year old MacKay to build his resume and perch himself in an advantageous position for a possible future run at the Conservative leadership, all the while avoiding culpability for the potential electoral collapse of his party and staying clean through the mud-slinging in the wake of Harper's departure.

While the story is still raw and no official statements are likely to emerge in the short-term, it should make for interesting weeks and months ahead. If MacKay steps down, many Canadians will know why.
(h/t stratosphear)

Update (Sat 2:20 p.m.): A view from N.S.:
There have been rumours before of Elmer's boy looking to lead the Nova
Scotia Tories. They will certainly be needing a new leader on June 10 as
the current group seems headed for election oblivion on the 9th. The
major campaign promise of Rodney's team is to impose a curfew for those
16 and under (since they proposed 1AM, they didn't even attract the
"keep off my lawn" crowd, who were hoping for something earlier, like
7PM). Intellectually and financially bankrupt actually turns out to be a
negative for once in John Buchanan land. But given the distribution of
the votes outside Halifax and Dartmouth (all ridings there firmly in
competent NDP hands except for Diana Whalen's suburban Clayton Park
liberal seat), I guess it is still possible for the Tories to come back
with a minority government while finishing a distant third in the
popular vote.

Friday fun with Blogging Tory twitterfeed

Such a devil, that Big City Lib, and why we love him so. Good advice for we blogging twitter types. Didn't catch my tweet there but did catch the RT version (click to enlarge):



These tweets will make their brief appearance but they won't typically last that long. But fun to keep in mind! Remember kids, #roft will do the trick...:)

Update (8:30 p.m.): Upon further thought, I'm going to chalk this up to a Friday bit of fun. I intend to use #roft for legitimate purposes only, if a tweet I write is substantively directed to that hashtag and will encourage all others to do the same. Fun is fun but intend to stick with my usual blogging and twitter routine, sorry...:)

"We can't afford PM"


Letter to the editor and bonus rare shot of the new House of Commons head wear for the PM and Deficit Jim:
Just over six months ago, Stephen Harper asked for our votes. He said the economy is fine and we should invest in the stock market.

He played poker with the Canadian economy and our jobs in order to bluff his way to government. Since then, 400,000 jobs have been lost and the federal government has fallen $50 billion into deficit.

May Canada have few leaders like him — we cannot afford to play his game.

Eugene Parks,
Victoria
Blind man's bluff, anyone?

Update (Sat 2:35 p.m.): The above letter is in today's Toronto Star, here.

Conservative Dean Del Mastro sends ballots to dead people

Somebody's sounding defensive: "MP defends polling process." Hmmm. If you were gettin' feedback like this from your little survey, you might be too: "Thanks from me, myself and my dear, dead mother," "Ballots on Little Lake being mailed to deceased and people who have moved," "Ballots mailed to the dead." And from the Examiner report today:
City Coun. Ann Farquharson said she received five ballots - two for her father who died in 2004, one for her mother who died two years ago, one addressed to a stranger and one in her name.
Think that survey's el busto.

And see how nice Dean's being to the private developer, having the taxpayer foot the bill for this little flawed survey, saving the developer a little bundle:
Del Mastro said it cost taxpayers about $2,500 to print the ballots.

If someone wanted to mail 98,608 letters using 54-cent postage stamps bought at a post office and include stamps for the return shipment, it would cost $106,497.
And that is this morning's update on the Del Mastro condo development watch...

Friday notes

1. Nuclear fallout:

Bit of a misleading headline here: "Alternatives emerge for Chalk River isotopes." Um, not really. McMaster's production ramp-up will require a reactor modification and money while the B.C. company that's mentioned has the technology but needs to build a site. When the shortage of medical isotopes is pressing, such a headline suggests some kind of imminent resolution. Even the minister admits, in respect of the alternatives...
“None of them are ready for the immediate, short-term future,” she said.
You have to wonder though, since the McMaster option sounds like it's the closest possibility to assisting in production, why it was not seriously looked into post-2007's incident. Further, we should be asking why it is just now that this "expert panel" is being tasked with coming up with a solution for future suppliers.

2. EI national standard push:

Gordon Campbell is adding his voice to those calling for a national standard for EI eligibility with an op-ed in the Globe. Kind of a big splash for him, newly re-elected and now with some leverage to push the issue. He's doing so despite the Conservatives' hiding behind their deficit shield now and in a timely fashion given the apparent hardening of positions among the federal parties. Not sure about all the details he's offering, but Campbell's move for a national standard is the big headline and is not going to help the Harper position whatsoever. Looks like they know this given the typical attack style response they emailed the Globe.

Edmonton Journal editorial today also calls for Harper to give in on EI.

3. Massive Conservative deficit watch:

Globe editorial wrongly puts the size of the $50 billion and counting deficit on the shoulders of both Liberals and Conservatives. Globe concludes "...if it is larger than it needs to be, it was a group effort that made it so." No. It's billions larger than it should be solely due to Conservative policy choices leading up to this recession. That's important. Look at a different editorial today which helps out on the point:
Coming into office with a built-in surplus of $13 billion, the Conservative government proceeded to hike spending by some 19 per cent, to $208.1 billion last year from $175.2 billion in Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodale's last budget.

The prime minister then ignored the advice of all credible economists and, to keep an ill-conceived election promise, slashed the GST by two points -- a move that cost the treasury $12 billion.

This was particularly curious, considering Mr. Harper abandoned the election promise to Saskatchewan that he would keep resources out of equalization, proving his disdain for Robert Service's observation that "a promise made is a debt unpaid."

Remember the $1.3 billion Leopard 2 tank boondoggle? Anyone? It's also a stretch to put responsibility for any deficit numbers on the shoulders of the Liberals given the clear pattern of obfuscation and withholding of the numbers from the Canadian public by the Conservatives. How can anyone share in that?

4. Attack ad aftermath:

Rick Salutin should consider that just because something is made an issue in a Conservative attack ad does not mean that it is a legitimate issue or worthy of response. Just sayin'. We could spend all day on these things and I'm sure they'd love the media to start asking all these questions. That's part of why they run them too.

Barbara Yaffe today deems Jim Flaherty a walking, talking negative ad all by his lonesome, all $50 billion dollar man's worth:
The Liberals' tag for Flaherty -- "the $50-billion man" -- is far more likely to stick than any mudpies in Conservative ads about Ignatieff being elitist or speaking French with a Parisian rather than a Quebecois accent.
On the subject of civility in the wake of the attack ads, from someone who attended a recent meeting of church leaders with Ignatieff in Ottawa:
This is a small snapshot, but it opened a window for me on why Stephen Harper and company are spooked. Michael Ignatieff is not Barack Obama, and probably not even a Trudeau (although time will tell), but we can certainly look forward to a much-needed upgrade in political discourse with him on the scene.
That we could certainly use around here...

For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Conservative Dean Del Mastro should run for Peterborough City Council

And leave the federal stuff to people who really want to make a difference there. I mean, if Dean is so concerned with what private developers want to build at the local level, so much so that he's mailed out "...98,608 ballots to eligible voters in the riding on Thursday" in order to gauge interest in that resort/condo complex, he should go with his instincts. Go local, Dean.

Not that it's a certainty that he'd be welcome these days, it appears. Citizen petition against "...MP Dean Del Mastro’s idea to allow a private developer to build on Parks Canada land next to Little Lake" now at 749 signatures and counting. Here it is, for Peterborough residents.

The stuff that defines our democracy

Going to blog this one, even though it's been circulating for a day now. It's a topic that deserves all the scrutiny it can get.

In case anyone had any doubts about what was done to Stephane Dion by CTV on October 9th, the eve of the election, it's all on the record now: "CTV broke codes in Dion interview, CBSC finds."
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has found that CTV Newsnet violated the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Code of Ethics in a broadcast of Mike Duffy Live Prime Time on October 9, 2008. CTV Newsnet broadcast several restarts of an interview with Stéphane Dion which originally aired on CTV Atlantic. The CBSC has concluded that the rebroadcast of the outtakes when the broadcaster had consented to restart the interview and the consistent misrepresentation by host Mike Duffy of the point of view of one of his invited guests violated Clause 6 of the Code, which requires the fair and proper presentation of news, opinion, comment and editorial.
And what was Mr. Dion's reaction?
A spokesman for Dion said the former leader had read the decision, and said "it speaks for itself.''
It certainly does. Mr. Dion has too much class to say anything else.

As for the PM, his appointment of Duffy to the Senate is of course marred by this decision. This is the kind of thing that should matter very much in our democracy, the integrity of such appointments. We should expect not to have our PM make us look like we're a banana republic. Because the appearance here is terrible, the elephant in the room. This broadcaster's been publicly rebuked by the national broadcasting standards body for conduct during a federal election that was widely viewed as harming Mr. Dion so close to the election date. We all know there were a multitude of factors at play during the election, so of course, I'm not suggesting this putrid little incident was determinative. But it certainly didn't help and it should not have occurred. A few months later, Mr. Duffy is off to the Senate with a plum patronage appointment made by the PM's office directly, who apparently gave no consideration to what it might look like. Or perhaps they did and they plowed on anyway. Out of concern for the integrity of his appointments, such appearances should have been weighed by the PM. And just maybe, out of an ounce of humanity, for the dig it represented at Mr. Dion's expense, it might have been rethought.

Mr. Duffy was one of the 18 Senate appointments made during prorogation, those appointments being in and of themselves a questionable exercise of power by the PM given his tenuous hold on the government during that period. For that reason, you'd think that the persons chosen would have been beyond reproach out of consideration for the limits they were pushing in the first place. But the unwritten rules of adhering to our constitutional conventions, that former PMs have respected, are just not on the radar screen for this one.

Meanwhile, Mr. Duffy is on his merry way, now taking jabs at Conservative political opponents in the Senate. Something else that speaks for itself.

A low point for CTV and one more low point in the tenure of Mr. Harper is confirmed. Canadians, and one in particular, deserved better from both.

They're doing their "best" and that's the problem

Speaking of having "...a prime minister who has literally made his career attacking and undermining the legitimacy of Canadian institutions," the Conservative brain trust have announced today that they will sell Atomic Energy Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation that runs the Chalk River nuclear facility that is presently in shutdown. Yes, that's right, in the midst of a critical shutdown that's causing rationing of medical isotopes for critical medical diagnoses for Canadians with life threatening diseases, the priority from the Harper gang is to privatize the thing, including the managing of the Chalk River facility. No government interest too sacred to hive off, even an asset evoking the highest public safety concerns! A diversionary tactic to make it look like they have a plan to resolve matters? If so, not working:

A heavy-water leak shut down the 52-year-old NRU reactor two weeks ago, and the company says it will be out of commission for at least three months.

AECL ran out of medical isotopes over the weekend and doctors are scrambling to collect a scarce supply from the world's four other isotope-producing reactors.

The likely motive:
A sale could help the government shrink its budget deficit, which Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said this week will be more than C$50 billion ($44.7 billion) in 2009.
Better make that $57 billion, Canadians! What a great time for such a sale.

And more irony from the gang who can't shoot straight, who fired Linda Keen with all the pique they could muster, accusing her of contributing to the medical jeopardy of Canadians back during the 2007 shutdown (Bloomberg link):
Today’s announcement comes after AECL said it won’t be able to meet international demand for medical isotopes because a reactor was shut down unexpectedly May 14. The National Research Universal reactor, which was shut down after a power outage, will stay offline for at least three months, according to a May 27 company statement.

Raitt also appointed an expert panel to find long-term solutions for the production of medical isotopes, which are used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other illnesses.

We’re doing the best that we can do,” Raitt said.(emphasis added)
Well, that's an interesting contrast to her boss back in the day. Here was Harper thundering about the health and safety of Canadians in 2007:
"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."
Not so much outrage anymore when there's no one to blame for failing to plan for the next inevitable shutdown that's now upon us. Another day, another example of the totally discredited Harper crew.

For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.

The Canadian Nixon

Update II (9:40 p.m.): Oh looky, a pointed question for the PM. I'm sure he'll pen an answer right away.

Update (2:55 p.m.) below...

In the House of Commons yesterday, the PM, in his inimitable way, summoned up a veiled threat against Michael Ignatieff by touting "all the tapes I have on him." Announcing it in almost a calm, self-assured manner, as if such activity constitutes run of the mill, legitimate political tactics. Mr. Harper's statement is something that should cause us to stop and think about the implications of having such political leadership in our country: "PM threatens Ignatieff with old tapes."
In a move described as "Nixonian," Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested he would release potentially damaging videotapes of Michael Ignatieff after the Liberal leader called on Harper to fire Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

During question period yesterday, Harper told the Commons he had lots of videotapes featuring Ignatieff, raising the spectre of using them to discredit the opposition leader before and during the next election campaign.

"I cannot fire the Leader of the Opposition and with all the tapes I have on him, I do not want to," he said.
...
The Conservatives are reported to have hundreds of hours of video clips of Ignatieff speeches and interviews and hope to mine a lifetime of his musings from his career as a journalist, author and public intellectual. (emphasis added)
As you read that report, the word that might be coming to mind is "plumbers." In other words, the worst of the Republican attack machine from the U.S.. This is not the first such comparison Harper has elicited to Nixon. Recall:

The historian Garry Wills once observed that Richard Nixon wanted to be president not to govern the nation but to undermine the government. The Nixon presidency was one long counterinsurgency campaign against key American institutions like the courts, the FBI, the state department and the CIA. Harper has the same basic approach to politics: attack not just political foes but the very institutions that make governing possible. The state for Nixon and Harper exists not as an instrument of policy making but as an alien force to be subdued.

Canadians have never had a prime minister who has literally made his career attacking and undermining the legitimacy of Canadian institutions.

Until now.

Yesterday's little remark will do nothing but amplify such comparisons, combined as it is with the negative ad onslaught that's already begun. A Prime Minister, gleeful in clutching hours of videotape of a political opponent, is the last thing we need on our hands.

Update (2:55 p.m.): Look at what those crazy kids on the internets come up with these days...last question posed in the video is the big one.

"Annals of Finance Department flip-flops"

A few columnists of note today, with their takes on Mr. Flaherty's $50 billion deficit revelation...

Lawrence Martin with a good one: "In the Finance Minister's case, the issue is credibility." Tracing the foolhardy economic mismanagement of the supposed uber-managers. And replete with two mentions of dunce caps, headgear item of the week in the Finance Minister's office.

Travers hitting similar notes today: "Are Flaherty's critics justified?: Yes." With an interesting little hint that Ignatieff is trying to recruit David Dodge, the former Bank of Canada governor or someone of comparable stature to run in order to acquire more economic credentials to sell to voters for, you know, cleaning up after Harper & Flaherty purposes. Wouldn't that be a contrast to the PM's utter failure to attract any star candidates to round out his own bench.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Nixonian"

Scrum of Michael Ignatieff with reporters post-Question Period today on the subject of a remarkable disclosure by the PM in the House of Commons:
Ignatieff scrum - Newsworld closed captioning - May 27, 2009

>> The hon. Michael ignatieff: (Speaking french)
>> Question: Mr. Harper said he has tapes on you.
>> The hon. Michael ignatieff: That's the other thing. He said in the house that he had tapes on me. That is the most nixonian of mr. Harper's many remarks. Every day that goes by he's more like richard nixon. We're in the middle of the most serious economic crisis since the second world war, and the prime minister of canada is wasting his time listening to tapes of me? And then, not content with that, he says it in the house of commons so he'll intimidate me. I will not be intimidated by the prime minister. I've got a job to do which is to hold him to account. The public finances of our country are in freefall, and he's wasting time with tapes of me? It's a joke.
>> Question: Are you bringing m down now?
>> The hon. Michael ignatieff: Look, I am where I've been for six months. I am trying, god knows it's hard, to make the parliament of canada work because that's what canadians want. But on three issues it is getting more and more difficult. The first issue is E.I. We've got an E.I. Crisis to which they are not responding. The second point, the stimulus is not out the door. We are 120 days in to this, and 6% of the stimulus has got out. And, third, the public finances are in freefall, and he can't tell us where the bottom is. On these three grounds it's getting very difficult to work with the government.
>> Question: (Speaking french)
>> The hon. Michael ignatieff: (Speaking french) (speaking french) (speaking french)
>> Question: (Speaking french)
>> The hon. Michael ignatieff: (Speaking french) (speaking french)
>> Question: (Speaking french)
>> The hon. Michael ignatieff: (Speaking french)
>> Suhana: That was liberal leader michael ignatieff once again reiterating the call that he made in question period in the house of commons just moments ago and that is suggesting, asking, demanding, in fact, from the prime minister that he sack his finance minister jim flaherty.

GritGirl updates her Massive Conservative Deficit video

Why is Dean Del Mastro taking surveys on behalf of private developers in Peterborough?

(Pet. Examiner)

Update
(5:40 p.m.): See above.

Update (5:50 p.m.): Peterborough Examiner reporting today that Del Mastro's survey going out to dead people. And notes the online action at twitter, search #littlelake.

This morning's post:

From the sounds of things, the Conservative MP from Peterborough may be hurting his re-election prospects and that would be hunky dory around here. Not a fan. There was a public meeting in Peterborough last night over an area known as Little Lake. Apparently there is a city process that has been underway to review its development, in whatever form that may take. It sounds like there is a strong disposition toward maintaining green space and public use. But along comes Del Mastro who appears to be assisting a private developer, to the extent that the developer's proposal is being referred to as "Del Mastro's plan" and "Del Mastro's idea." See below. In doing so, he seems to have galvanized the community against the development proposal:
MP Dean Del Mastro’s idea to build a resort and condominium complex on Parks Canada land next to Little Lake threatened to hijack a city planning process last night.
...
Several in the audience carried their ballot and information pamphlet that Del Mastro mailed to Peterborough-riding residents last week.

He has asked residents to vote on the idea of allowing a private developer to build on the Trent-Severn Waterway headquarters property that’s owned by the federal government.
...
Del Mastro’s plan has brought people together to defend the green space, said Mary-Anne Johnston, a Lakefield resident.

His plan has totally galvanized people against it,” she said. (emphasis added)
Dean, Dean, Dean. Is he using public resources with his little survey and with his time to help out this private developer? Seems inappropriate and it sounds like many of his fellow citizens agree.

Petition here which gives you more of a sense of the upset Del Mastro seems to be causing.

The Harper Conservatives' Massive Deficit



GritGirl from March with the video of the same name which is appropriate to roll out today given the headlines, "Deficit soars, Flaherty gets 'dunce cap'," "$34-billion to $50-billion – in 4 months."
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty offered an impromptu fiscal update Tuesday, announcing that this year's budget deficit will balloon to more than $50-billion – a new record for red ink in Canada as the costs of the economic downturn mount.
...
“We will run a substantial short-term deficit this year which I would estimate at more than $50-billion,” Mr. Flaherty told reporters after the House of Common's Question Period.
It's remarkable to watch that video footage of Harper in the House of Commons at the end of November talking so reassuringly about surpluses and not having a structural deficit. He and his Finance Minister are totally discredited for making those representations to Canadians. That $80+ billion for the coming two years referenced in the video will need to be updated as well. And imagine such an updated video running across the country at the moment or in an election campaign, in comparison to Mr. Harper's silly ads. Record versus ridiculous. Which do you think would be more important to people?

Let's not forget that this year's deficit is not all recession related as they like to tell us. A good chunk of this year's deficit, $13 billion, is Conservative wrought and theirs alone due to high spending and the GST cuts. Oops, actually ours as we'll all have to dig out of that Conservative pre-recession hole before we get around to dealing with the entire mess.

About that digging, Mr. Flaherty...
But he insisted that the Conservatives would as planned bring the government out of deficit in four years without raising taxes.
Why on earth would we believe anything these Conservatives have to say now?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Let's have a moratorium on our government deciding who's Canadian and who's not, OK?

Steven Fletcher's reaction to the bill introduced in the Senate to limit advertising outside of election campaigns:
Steven Fletcher, the Conservative minister of state for democratic reform, immediately slammed the bill as an anti-democratic and "un-Canadian" assault on free speech.
...
"It certainly seems like it will severely limit freedom of speech and that's un-Canadian and hurts our democracy," Fletcher said in an interview.
In Canada, as Mr. Fletcher should well know since he has a ministerial title, our Supreme Court has accepted limits on third party political advertising in the form of monetary spending limits. The case was called Harper v. Canada. Ask your boss, he'll tell you all about his failed years of litigating the case where he sought to achieve the American system of unregulated spending. And he'll surely speak in glowing terms about it.

Spending limits and other reasonable limitations upon rights articulated in the Charter are part and parcel of our constitutional system and are a normal part of the interaction between the legislature and the courts. It's all very Canadian in fact. Look up Section 1 of the Charter, Mr. Fletcher.

And STOP telling us who is a good Canadian and who is not.

Update: The point of this bill, as I understand it, is to prevent political parties from avoiding spending limits by running political advertising in the period immediately preceding a general election. No one is going to prevent Mr. Fletcher's party from running ads in advance of the writ period. But under the bill, if they advertise in the three months before an election period, that spending would count against the agreed spending limits. In other words, we're talking about rules, fairness and abiding by limits. Nothing "un-Canadian" about that.

Turnabout

The PM today has verily undermined his massive tax branding effort against the Liberals. The transcript:
Hon. John mccallum (l): So the implication of what the prime minister said is to agree with the liberal party and increase ei. I would also suggest that both the prime minister and the minister of finance subscribe to an excellent publication entitled "deficits for dummies." It might help them come to some understanding. But my question to the finance minister is, canadians want to see the colour of your money. The deficits are soaring. The deficits are soaring. The promises are soaring. But we're seeing nothing invested in communities and canadians aren't seeing any jobs created.

The speaker: The right honourable prime minister.

Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada: Mr. Speaker, let's be clear: When we did our pre-budget consultations, the liberal party wanted two more weeks of employment insurance. So, mr. Speaker, we gave five more weeks of employment insurance, plus all kinds of additional money for training for people both on ei and not on ei. These are measures to help the unemployed in this recession. What we're not going to do is every two or three months come up with another economic policy, another budget until we need to go into -- until we need to raise taxes. Our deficits are affordable, but they will remain short-term.
No sympathy from this corner on claims the PM was misspeaking. Dem's da breaks when you live by the sword and at every turn mischaracterize your opponent's policies.

Not buying the Tom Daschle school of politics these days.

"The irony is complete"

Updated (9:35 p.m.) and (9:45 p.m.) below...

Linda Keen, voice of conscience on nuclear safety is watching the Harper government wriggle as a result of its failure to do much at all since the 2007 shutdown of Chalk River:
Keen said she worries her successor at the CNSC, Michael Binder, does not have the independence he needs to ensure Canadians are safe from nuclear risk.

She noted he has a dual mandate: to regulate nuclear safety; and safeguard the supply of medical isotopes.

"I really worry about the independence of the regulator," she said.

She said she expects independent commissioners to put AECL "through the wringer" at a June 11 meeting at the CNSC.

She noted the independent commissioners "can't be fired."

Keen also said she finds it ironic that Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt and the government are downplaying the shutdown by saying isotopes are available elsewhere and are not always necessary anyway. In contrast, the 2007 was described as a life-or-death situation, which is why Parliament voted to overrule her decision.

"The irony is complete," she said.
Oh, it be complete all right.

I'm not sure that anyone has said that isotopes are not "always necessary anyway" but the rationing regime that's now in place is inherently prioritizing some health scans over others. The world is "snookered," as it is. Let's hope the CNSC is indeed going to be rigorous, based on some of the ideas being floated anonymously for a solution to the isotope shortage:
...two sources, both of them nuclear engineers who have worked on the NRU and the MAPLEs, say the MAPLEs are perfectly capable of safely producing isotopes and that Raitt ought to "persuade" the CNSC to take another look the project.

"I think there's a way out of this but the way out is that CNSC would have to relent on the safety requirements and that's a tall order," said a former Chalk River engineer who is now a risk management expert for the federal government and asked not to be identified. "But maybe we'll have to get that in order to avert a major crisis."
So, what has the Harper government done since the shutdown in 2007? What was the plan that's been put into place to manage this very public, pressing risk to the Canadian health care system? As we sit and watch isotopes being rationed, it's become apparent that it's been a wing and a prayer.

It's become a little tiresome this week in terms of rolling out the slogan one more time....but the "Stephen Harper: Leadership" label has to be one of the biggest scams in recent Canadian political history as we watch it being continuously laid bare.

Update (9:35 p.m.): Don Martin tonight on the implications of the latest shutdown: .
..if this plant shutdown goes long-term or even permanent, there's no avoiding a toxic spillover into the hospitals and medical clinics of Canada and the world.

If the Conservative blueprint for coping with a sick nuclear plant that has immense global medical significance is a single sheet of paper, the politics of this issue will go radioactive and the public reaction will go nuclear even faster than the economic meltdown.
Update II (9:45 p.m.): Just saw Dave's take on this:
From the point where Harper countermanded the requirements of then CNSC president Linda Keen and forced the Chalk River reactor back into operation through a parliamentary vote, (then fired Keen), the responsibility for that reactor's continued safe operation became the sole province of Harper and his Minister of Natural Resources.

In short, Harper himself is to blame for the state of the Chalk River reactor today and the current rationing of medical isotopes.

It will probably take more time, but eventually Harper and his mediocre collegues will figure out that the warm water hitting them in the face is not a late spring rain.
The Harper government's incompetence never ceases to amaze and they deserve every ounce of accountability on this that they get.

For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.

Sonia Sotomayor appointment to U.S. Supreme Court



Video of her statement today. "I firmly believe in the rule of law." Hear, hear!

(h/t Noetical)

Base rhetoric

So much for Ms. Finley's remarks yesterday that “It’s important we focus not on partisan politics right now.” Today, there's a whole new Diane Finley in Le Devoir with an op-ed characterizing the Liberal EI proposals as the "year of 45 days" and requiring payroll tax increases. It's not true, of course, as a Star editorial points out today. But is anyone under the illusion anymore that we're dealing with an honourable government? Harper engaged in similar rhetoric last week:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last week that the Liberals “are suggesting that what we should do is bring in an EI system where any Canadian, anywhere in the country, in perpetuity, could work 45 days and collect EI benefits for a period up to a year.”

In fact, under the Liberal plan, someone with the minimum number of hours would qualify for just 19 weeks of EI, not a full year. And the enhanced benefits would end with the recession.

And the payroll tax increase has been specifically denied by Ignatieff:
"Mr. Harper continues to deliberately misrepresent the Liberal position. He knows our plan is tied to the recession - not in perpetuity - and would not require increasing payroll premiums," he said in the statement.
So that's what we're dealing with in trying to argue with the Conservatives. We know this about them but it's become incredibly blatant on this EI matter. It's really an unprecedented display of audacity they're engaging in.

Whether all of this rattling will result in an election or not, no one really has any idea at the moment. But the Conservatives continue to show us the lengths they're willing to go to in order to maintain their grip on governance. It's incredibly ugly.

Monday, May 25, 2009

If you listen closely, it's the sound of slight backtracking you hear...

The Conservative ministers seem to be singing from a slightly different hymn book today. Departing from their party's present and opposite message that's flooding the airwaves. Saw Flaherty's statement today when speaking about the deficit and it made me smile:
We're all Canadians. We're all in this together. There's a mutuality of interest,” he said.
Then noticed Aaron Wherry's bit that flagged Diane Finley as well:
It's important we focus not on partisan politics right now, but that we [move] forward, let us keep moving to get the economic stimulus out there to create programs like this,” Ms. Finley said at a news conference in Oshawa, a city beset by job losses from the decaying manufacturing sector.

“We don't need another election right now,” she said. (emphasis added)
These Conservatives, their chutzpah knows no bounds! So what is it, the Leger poll? Or, to use the words of our PM, are his ministers just engaged in an exercise of suck and blow, having it both ways?

Whatever it is, it is ludicrous given the activity that their party is presently engaged in. We will call it backtracking, around here...:)

See also, Tribe, who is enjoying the humour as well.

Deficit Jim: bringing Canada "substantially more" deficit since the mid-90's

Whoopsie. We don't call him Deficit Jim around here for no good reason, you know...:) A major admission from the Conservative Minister of Deficit this afternoon, finally 'fessing up and still doing for Canada what he did for Ontario:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Monday the federal deficit will be "substantially more" than the government projected in January's 2009-2010 budget.

The initial deficit forecast was $34 billion. But Flaherty said that government revenues have been hit harder by the recession than expected.

"We will run a larger deficit in this year than anticipated in January, and I'll report further on that when the government reports to the people of Canada and Parliament in June with our update," he said.

You know, I think they'd be better off in funding the Parliamentary Budget Office properly and not trying to muzzle that office. The PBO has, after all, been better on the deficit numbers than Flaherty and when Kevin Page testified about the worsening state of the deficit in front of a parliamentary committee at the end of March, the Conservative members metaphorically plugged their ears and complained about not hearing anything "positive" from him:
Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page told the House of Commons finance committee that the current recession will be "sharper" than the one Flaherty spoke of when he tabled the budget on Jan. 27 and that means deficits that will be deeper and thousands more Canadians are likely to lose their jobs.

He also said Canada's economy has slowed more rapidly than during the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s.

"We think what we're seeing now is absolutely historic in terms of quarter-to-quarter declines," Page told the finance committee Wednesday.

Page said that new economic data released since Jan. 27 has led his office's forecasters to conclude that the Conservative government's predictions are too optimistic, a message that seemed to annoy some Conservative members of the finance committee.
So, it's taken the stubborn Conservatives two months to catch up to Page, who predicted in that testimony, that we're in for $9 billion more in deficit than present Finance estimates from Flaherty. How's that for some of the patented "Stephen Harper: Leadership" in action? The economic management record will be a big issue for the Conservatives in the next election and clearly, it's why they like to distract.

How not to win media friends and influence people

Updated (6:45 p.m.) below...

There be some gems in this here Hill Times piece on excellent Conservative media strategery:
"I think that we have become so used to never hearing the Prime Minister speak at all on Parliament Hill and never have any opportunity to ask him questions that we've become used to it," said Canwest News Service Hill reporter Andrew Mayeda. "But it's kind of like the twilight zone situation; we have a Prime Minister who is more willing to talk to the U.S. media than he is to the national Canadian media, and voters will be the ultimate judge, but it seems pretty weird to me." (emphasis added)
Yes, and that U.S. favouritism is particularly ironic given the Conservatives' present advertising hobby. Andrew Mayeda's on a roll about Conservative media muzzling.

Also enjoyed the use of terms of endearment such as "these people," by the Press Gallery President:
The press gallery is trying to work with Mr. Teneycke and PMO officials to gain access to Cabinet ministers after Cabinet meetings.

Mr. Teneycke suggested the idea when he met with Ms. Buzzetti in March and the gallery followed up with a letter, but hasn't heard back from Mr. Teneycke.

The objective is to gain back media access to the third floor of Centre Block where Cabinet meets, said Ms. Buzzetti, adding that that "doesn't seem to be on the horizon with these people."

Mr. Teneycke declined to discuss media access with The Hill Times.
Access to cabinet ministers after meetings, what a concept and what a sad commentary on the fragility of some of the key underpinnings of Canadian democratic life when such opportunities are taken away, one by one, with no regard for the interest of the Canadian public. These little creeping behind the scenes increments of change for the worse under the Conservatives are hard to portray to the wider public, they come off as media carping, but it's clearly about much more than that. Accessibility, transparency, what kind of government do we want to have? Thematically it's all part of a bigger story to tell about the Conservatives.

Much more in the report, particularly on the subject matter of the PMO's penchant for off the record briefing sessions and media having adopted it as part of the landscape under this PMO, albeit with some conscientious objections noted. There's clearly chafing over it, however, and perhaps the wave of negative coverage of the ad campaign might indicate a sea change is a comin'.

Update (6:45 p.m.): Picking up on Mayeda's complaint about the PM's unavailability to Canadian media, here's an item from last week I just came across:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to Winnipeg yesterday.

But unless you work at the virology lab or bought a ticket to attend a private dinner for the Frontier Centre, you would have had absolutely no chance to hear from him.
...
The Conservatives have gone out of their way to attack Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff as an elitist. Harper is supposed to be a man of the people. He’s Tim Horton’s while Ignatieff is Starbucks.

But how elitist is it for the prime minister to breeze through town and only be available to an elite group while the rest of Manitoba – and Canada for that matter – gets the silent treatment?

New poll in Quebec post Conservative attack ads

Basically, Liberal numbers are unaffected in Quebec despite the ads' release. This Leger Marketing-Le Devoir poll that's out today took place from May 13-17th, coincidental to the ad release on May 12. This poll has the Liberals at 37%, BQ at 33%, NDP at 14% and the Conservatives bringing up the rear at 13% with the Greens at 3%. These numbers are similar to other polls in Quebec of late in terms of the Conservative numbers and a trend upwards for the Liberals.

The previous Leger Marketing poll at the end of March had the Bloc at 42, Libs at 33 and the Conservatives at 12.

Ekos in mid-April showed similar numbers too: Bloc 39.5, Libs 33, Cons 11.

Strategic Counsel in early May: Bloc 39, Libs 37, Cons 9.

So the upward trend for the Liberals is confirmed in this new poll. It appears to be at the expense of the Bloc while the Conservatives linger in the low teens.

Quebec voters are still writing off the Conservatives and this is nothing new. They have been doing so since the election and the prorogation crisis. They are not the voters I'd be concerned about. During the October election campaign, they demonstrated that they would react disfavourably to Conservative policies and gaffes, like the arts cuts, draconian youth criminal justice policies and the giant billboard mocking the Bloc that the Conservatives brilliantly drove around Quebec. Harper's route to a majority tanked in large part due to the wisdom of the Quebec voter. So, not surprised that Quebecers would not be affected, to date, by the release of the juvenile Conservative ads. It will be more interesting to see the numbers in Ontario and elsewhere in coming polls.

One interesting comment made by Christian Bourque about the impact of Michael Ignatieff though which may be a key to breaking open the dynamics:
«Il y a véritablement un mouvement pro-libéral au Québec. La remontée est constante depuis décembre. Il y a un aspect nouveauté, les gens veulent découvrir Ignatieff. Il profite aussi des difficultés du Parti conservateur et du fait que le Bloc québécois ne semble rien offrir de nouveau.» (emphasis added)
A reminder that the element of novelty may work in the Liberals' favour in comparison with other leaders who we've seen in 3 campaigns now within the last 5 years.

To sum up, I think we can fairly say that it's an inauspicious start for the Conservative ad campaign. Let's hope it continues.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Question Period follow up

Just a few points...

Flaherty's appearance seemed to be geared toward playing good cop to Harper's bad cop on EI. Not hard to sound more reasonable than Mr. Harper's inflammatory rhetoric on Friday. Summer showdown, still big question mark.

On the Foreign Affairs matter of Pakistan and the government's performance this week...they're not helping themselves out at all with appearances by Deepak Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister. The best he could do throughout the segment was to issue bald denials that there is any confusion in the Harper government over its handling of foreign affairs. To deny that there is any confusion being shown to the world when the Defence Minister says in Pakistan that the Canadian military technology embargo may be lifted, only to be slapped down by the Foreign Affairs Department two days later. It's just not credible for Mr. Obhrai to issue such bald statements. It was a painful experience to watch, as far as these things go, of course. I suppose it's the lot for Conservative ministers and parliamentary secretaries and they do so willingly, so not much sympathy here.

Bob Rae made the point quite clearly, that we just need to show the world that "we know how to do this." That is, handle a sensitive foreign affairs question with skill, a sense of direction. Yet, too much to ask at the moment, clearly. It's the PMO's one-man government that is befuddling and chafing the Harper ministers.

By the way...is MacKay back yet? 'Cause someone really needs to prod and find out what's up after what's happened this week. Hoping that someone opts to unburden themselves over this one instead of exercising boring restraint.

"No way to run a foreign policy"

"No way to run a foreign policy," those were Craig Oliver's comments on Saturday night's CTV news report regarding the Harper government's Pakistani arms ban snafu this week and in this instance, they're particularly apt. Oliver was referencing Foreign Affairs' public rebuke of Peter MacKay for stating, while in Pakistan, that the Canadian ban on exporting military technology would be lifted. Oliver confirms the Globe reporting from Friday, that the ban was in the works and hints that the larger difficulty in events this week lies with the actions of Cannon's Foreign Affairs department. That MacKay was just edging along the lift on the ban that was certainly in the works and that everyone knew about. Apparently more on this story on Question Period Sunday.

As you might guess, I find this interesting not just for its implications on what Canada is doing (or not doing, in light of this week's arms ban/no ban dalliance) in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border situation. That is a significant and sensitive question, whether Canada should be lifting this arms ban or not and how it goes about doing it. Is it in Canada's interests to lift that ban, would we be doing so but for the Pakistani army fighting the Taliban? Are we just blindly following U.S. policy once again? Perhaps we should have a greater focus on the need for aid given the refugee situation. Does the Harper government give us any confidence that it knows what it is doing in this regard? No legitimate debate, of course, this is Canada.

What's more interesting are the Canadian domestic political implications and what it says about the Harper government's competence in handling a sensitive foreign affairs matter. They've underfunded the Foreign Affairs department ("...slashing the Department of Foreign Affairs' budget by nearly $639 million from 2007 levels, while at the same time increasing the Defence Department's budget by more than $2.4 billion."). They've had a revolving door of 4 ministers in 3 years in this significant department (MacKay, Bernier, Emerson, Cannon). And as we know, the PM is the foreign affairs force hovering in the background (the frequent critique of the Harper government being Mr. Harper's one-man show, see Caplan comments here after Lawrence Cannon's assumption of the job, for e.g.). The dysfunctionality is starting to catch up with them, it appears.

For a government that likes to talk a good game about its vaunted leadership skills and Canada being "back" in the world, there's yet again little to back up their marketing slogan. The Pakistani arms ban issue was a major failure this week and thankfully, it's going to get some more attention.

The view from down east

One more review, since it's so darn brutal and yet...so fun. The Chronicle Herald weighs in on the you-know-whats:
This is character assassination, pure and simple.
...
Caricaturing an opponent’s policies is bad enough. But distorting a person’s character is worse — and that is what Mr. Harper specializes in.

The prime minister was repackaged as a sweater-vest-toting father figure during the last election. But the kinder, gentler Stephen Harper, as it turns out, was pulling the wool over the eyes of Canadians. The "sweater" isn’t getting any sweeter.
You see, Maritimers are nice people, through and through, unfailingly so. So it's not surprising to see one of the more scathing editorials of the week from Halifax. A fine one indeed...:)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Saturday notes: Polls, arguments, media

1. One of those fun little polls that gives us the latest snapshot on Canadians' gut feelings about the leadership of recent Prime Ministers. No surprise in these results. Trudeau is best at 40%, a perennial favourite among Canadians. Harper comes in a distant second at 11%, Chretien at 9%, Mulroney at 8%.

What's not surprising and spells trouble for Mr. Harper, his designation as the worst Canadian Prime Minister since 1968. This is not exactly the kind of stuff a sitting PM likes to hear. Shades of the judgments that Mr. Bush faced as he neared his expiration date.
The poll indicates polarization of opinion about Harper. More than one-fifth (22 per cent) say he has been Canada's worst prime minister since 1968, the most of any leader, and slightly more than the 19 per cent who give that dubious distinction to Mulroney.

The percentage of those who say Harper ranks as the worst prime minister in the past four decades has shot up rapidly in the past year. In June 2008, only 15 per cent said he was the worst prime minister.

Anti-Harper sentiment is most pronounced in Atlantic Canada, where 39 per cent say he's the worst resident of 24 Sussex Drive since 1968. In Quebec, it's 29 per cent and, in Ontario, 18 per cent.
That Conservative strategy that we've heard floated from time to time that the longer the Conservatives are in office, the more comfortable we will grow with them and him clearly has not worked.

2. This argument over EI is shaping up to be an interesting study in contrasts. There's the substantive reasonable approach of Michael Ignatieff. And then there's the obfuscating hyperventilated approach of Stephen Harper.

As FarNWide notes today, the call for a national approach to overcome regional disparities in EI access will have its significant supporters. So, typical of Canadian politics in the past few years, the debate is shaping up to be one of reason versus mischaracterization (see environmental debate in last election, December parliamentary crisis). The Conservative approach is to ignore substance, to inflame the public on a given issue, divide Canadian against Canadian, and use their media strategies to appeal directly to the Canadian people. It'll be a big challenge, whenever it takes place, as it's not clear whether there will be a showdown this spring/summer over it.

3. What is CTV doing, using its national airwaves to advocate their local television campaign? Missing from the hours of broadcasting today on the issue, all under the guise of quaint local open houses, any analysis of CTV's ownership decisions that massively over leveraged the company and now seeks the Canadian taxpayer's help to bail it out. A day of public advocacy over the air waves to drum up popular support for fee for carriage. How inappropriate.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Harper government incompetence on the Pakistan file

Interesting week watching the Harper government's handling of the Pakistan file. They've swung like a pendulum, back and forth. Defence Minister Peter MacKay says one thing, well, a few things, before and during his trip to Pakistan which would lead a Canadian citizen to believe that he has the authority and competence to be doing so. Then within days, Lawrence Cannon's Foreign Affairs Department, perhaps assisted by the overlord in the PMO, cuts the rug out from under him. So, what is going on here? Is it just plain old incompetence? An intra-party dispute spilling into foreign affairs? Could be and it all has the effect of making us look like amateurs on the world stage.

Here are the twists and turns this week.

While in Pakistan early this week, MacKay told both the Globe and the Star ("Canada eyes arms sales to Pakistan") that Canada was considering lifting its ban on military exports/technology to Pakistan. That was a big development and caught a lot of eyes. But via the Globe last night, we learned that Foreign Affairs has assertively retracted MacKay's representations:
The Harper government moved Thursday to quash Defence Minister Peter MacKay's assertion that Canada is considering lifting a ban on arms sales to Pakistan, asserting that it has no plan to allow military exports to resume.

It appeared to be an embarrassing contradiction of Mr. MacKay, who three days ago told The Globe and Mail that the Conservatives are “contemplating” an end to the 11-year-old ban.
But what's very strange is that the Globe reports from a number of sources that yes, the government was indeed actively considering lifting the ban and it was somewhat widely known in Ottawa. For example:
Pakistan's deputy high commissioner, Naela Chohan, said that after lengthy efforts of pushing for the ban to be lifted, Canadian diplomats told her in the past two weeks that Ottawa was considering doing so.

“I had been hearing it from my diplomatic contacts,” she said. “That's my information. If there has been any development or change on that, I haven't [had that] conveyed officially.”
It was also about to be discussed by the Harper cabinet according to a "government source" cited by the Globe. Now whether MacKay should have stated the information publicly while in Pakistan, that's another question. Because India weighed in after hearing the news, raising concerns about the lifting of the ban. The Harper government may therefore have been caught flatfooted by MacKay's representations.

A further twist, this Canadian Press report from last night, 'Pakistani nukes secure, despite MacKay warnings: report." After MacKay had been publicly rebuked over the arms ban, for good measure it appears that a report was released via access to information to CP that further contradicts something MacKay said prior to his trip to Pakistan.
Prior to a trip to Islamabad this week, MacKay had warned that advancing Taliban forces in the east of the country posed a threat to Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
But the report obtained by CP contradicts this point:
Security around Pakistan's nuclear weapons is "credible" and the threat of them falling into the hands of terrorists or rogue army commanders is remote, Canadian military analysts have concluded.

The assessment, contained in a briefing note last year to the country's top military commander, contradicts recent warnings by Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who said the south Asian state was the most dangerous country on the face of the Earth.

The report, obtained by The Canadian Press under access-to-information laws, comes after the Foreign Affairs Department took the unusual step of publicly contradicting the veteran Conservative minister over the issue of potential arms sales to the government in Islamabad. (emphasis added)
Someone seems to be going to a lot of trouble to publicly punish MacKay. I mean, it's not like we haven't heard concern about Pakistani nukes from the Americans of late.

So what's happened here? A case of swelled head-itis by MacKay who had been up for the NATO job and is having a hard time coming back to earth? Is it a lack of teamwork between MacKay's Defence team and the Cannon/PMO Foreign Affairs team? A reflection of an ongoing split between the MacKay PC side and the Harper Reform side with all the politics going on there? A further reflection on the PM for not being able to ensure such mistakes aren't made by his ministers? For not being able to manage his people with all that awesome "Stephen Harper: Leadership" mojo? Which lack of management is now spilling over into Canada's reputation on the world stage? And damaging relations between India and Pakistan?

Well done, Harper team, whatever the case may be, well done. It would be amusing if it weren't so darned consequential.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Keep digging

Two times since Friday, Conservative spokesthingys have had to come out and explain the point of their attack ads. It's not the bald fact that Mr. Ignatieff was away, say they. It was the quality of his time spent out of the country that is the issue, how he acted.  Ryan Sparrow last night :
"Ryan Sparrow, a spokesperson for the Conservative party, said the Liberal leader is evading the point of their ads.

'The issue is not that Ignatieff worked outside the country,' Sparrow said in an email. 'The issue is that while outside the country he slammed Canada, Canadians and our flag - and perhaps most disturbingly - admitted that he would (again) leave Canada if unsuccessful in his political career. In other words, he's just visiting. Canadians should be able to expect more from their Prime Minister.'"
The flag? What was he doing? Burning it? 'Cause I'd really like to know about this flag allegation, Mr. Sparrow. It sounds patently ridiculous and doesn't credibly match Ignatieff's demeanour whatsoever. More likely it's just Sparrow spinning.

Mr. Harper's press secretary, Dimitri Soudas, said last night the issue is not the years Mr. Ignatieff spent abroad, but that he came back only to try to become prime minister.

"Canadians who chose to work outside the country don't pretend that Canada is not their country," he said.
The problem for the Conservatives is that they are now forced into this nuanced explanation that does not match the obvious takeaway from the ads. Like it or not, the obvious takeaway is that there is something wrong with having worked abroad as a Canadian or having spent any significant time away. That this disqualifies you from running for PM in Ignatieff's case.  And for the rest of we Canadians who are seeing these ads, they're starting to wonder about their own "pure laine" Canadian status.  That's the darker side of the debate that the Conservatives are flinging at us. Just how virtuous a Canadian are you? Are you a real Canadian? And what exactly are you doing and saying while abroad? Because these Conservatives are watching. It's Michelle Bachmann come north with a vengeance.

Oh, and more viewing fun for you: 


Hang in to the end, great tag lines: "Devaluing one Canadian devalues us all" and "Exercise your vote, say no to divisive politics."

Montana town will take Guantanamo detainees


This little video is kind of hilarious, it's an interview from Olbermann's show last night with Greg Smith, a Montana town's economic development director whose town is hurting and happens to have a virtually empty prison. Smith speaks from the empty prison. They're willing to take 100 of the Guantanamo detainees while they await trial. His common sense disarms a lot of the ridiculous fear mongering rhetoric about what to do with these detainees. Of course, it doesn't mean it'll actually happen, the Montana congressional delegation is against it. At least Olbermann's now elevated the possibility to national attention. And the visual of the interview and the positive attitude of Smith are refreshing to see in this ever tangled story.

What it takes to rally the troops these days

Typically, you take what political leaders say when they're "rallying their troops" with a grain of salt, the over the top rhetoric is to be expected. When media takes the words beyond the room, however, you know it's also meant for public consumption and so it warrants being addressed. There were the usual exaggerations, to be kind, in Mr. Harper's speech last night to Conservatives, principally in his characterizations of Mr. Ignatieff. Leaving them aside though, this was the part that needs a little tweaking due to its boldness in trying to rewrite recent history:
"Remember, we were re-elected in the midst of one of the biggest financial crises in the history of the United States. We were not elected in spite of the crisis but because of it because the Canadian people know no other party is even serious when it comes to managing the economy," he said.

"And we've delivered on the merchandise."(emphasis added)
It's more realistic to say that the Conservatives were re-elected because the full effects of the financial crisis had yet to manifest themselves in Canada at the mid-October point. That the Conservatives got in under the wire before the real crisis could be felt by Canadians. Before their deficit could be discovered by Canadians. Recall the job numbers in September, for example, announced just prior to the October election that created the impression that Canada was OK: "Record job creation keeps unemployment rate steady." And recall Mr. Harper's own words at the time, in his own advertising, that the Canadian economic "fundamentals are strong." He also famously promised no deficits and bragged about his government's stewardship. Now his revisionist view is that he was re-elected in the midst of a crisis and because of it.

The results of the economic crisis have come since the election. There have been record job losses: "...overall employment has fallen by 321,000 since the peak in October 2008." Unemployment is at its highest level in seven years. "Canadians will declare personal bankruptcy in record numbers this year and into 2010, according to a new study by the Toronto-Dominion Bank released Friday." Those are the kinds of statistics that Mr. Harper avoided having to run on in choosing his October election date. A recent poll showed, in fact, that while the Conservatives may have enjoyed an advantage on economic issues in the last few years and leading up to the last election, they've become vulnerable on that front, for good reason. Would they be re-elected today because of their economic stewardship? Highly unlikely.

As for the Conservatives being "serious" about the economy to the exclusion of all others - events in November with the partisan fall economic update, its aftermath through December and up to the end of the prorogation at the end of January would suggest otherwise. As would the politicized infrastructure spending dating from 2007. As would the underfunding and muzzling of the Parliamentary Budget Office. A government that is "serious" about managing the economy would prioritize funding for such a useful institution in these economic times.

Throw in the rest of the little Conservative distractions that have piled up since the election: gun registry rhetoric, banning George Galloway, picking fights with Russia, the Ruby Dhalla domestic inquiry, the Brian Mulroney Conservative party membership games, the incessant juvenile rants on the floor of the House of Commons, and now, Conservative attack ads polluting the airwaves, and what you have is a picture of a government that is anything but serious. Their actions on big issues like the environment and the auto industry have been characterized by a wait and see approach, hedging behind whatever the Americans do.

As for Conservatives delivering on the "merchandise," see statistics above. And they're not doing much better on infrastructure stimulus. Minister Baird admitted in a Commons committee last week that little of the $4 billion in stimulus infrastructure spending has gotten out the door. When it does, their track record provides little cause for confidence.

Looking forward to an election on the real Harper economic record. Despite Mr. Harper's efforts last night, we know the Conservatives sure aren't.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ignatieff on attack ads

Wednesday notes

1. Couldn't help but think, when reading this op-ed on the Indian election, that it provides some inspiration for us as well. In enumerating all the factors that voters rejected, for e.g., nationalistic appeals following the Mumbai attacks, a confrontational approach with neighbours such as Pakistan and regional vote splitting, there's the clear sense of a rallying effect that overcame the divisive options. The Obama effect gone global? Who knows but if our next election has even traces of a similar pattern, it would be a good thing.

2. Are the Ontario PCs, with their talk of abolishing human rights tribunals, going to cause trouble, not only for themselves, but for their federal cousins who have worked soooo hard (Jason Kenney) to pry away Ms. Dhalla's and other suburban GTA ridings?
The proposal may win votes in the leadership race, but it could cost the Tories dearly in a provincial election, said Henry Jacek, a politics professor at Hamilton's McMaster University.

The Tories need to win Toronto-area suburban ridings to defeat the Liberals, but could end up alienating new immigrants who live in those areas and feel the tribunal is protecting them from discrimination, he said.

"If I were an adviser, I wouldn't advise a Conservative candidate to essentially make this a big issue in the general election campaign, because I think it will probably hurt them in ridings that they need to win," he said.

Elliott echoed that sentiment, adding that the party must "be careful" with the idea of scrapping the tribunal, which is still needed in Ontario. (emphasis added)
Federal-provincial issues don't always cross over but given Mr. Flanagan's high profile entry into the debate yesterday, it wouldn't be difficult to connect the dots.

3. That O'Brien trial is hearing some very interesting stuff at the moment. Conflicting statements from John Baird which will be put to him when he testifies.
The first of two Baird police statements says Kilrea initially either emailed or called the minister about the parole board appointment, and they then met at Baird's office.

"We had some sort of communication, then he came to see me and we had a bit more of a substantive discussion about it," Baird told police.

In a subsequent police interview in October 2007, Baird first said he could not "recall at all" having spoken in person to Kilrea about the appointment, then later in the same interview flatly denied having any such conversation.
OK, taking back what I said about not being interested...looking forward to that appearance.

4. One more critique of the Conservative ads, in le Devoir, translated version. The point is raised once again how these ads are meant to drive Quebec voters to the Bloc, despite the PM's rhetoric against the Bloc in recent months and most notably as he faced losing a non-confidence vote in December. Apparently only too happy to use the Bloc however, in his electoral calculations, strengthening it in fact if it's to his benefit and to the detriment of a federalist option in Quebec.

5. Finally, fun with attack spoofs that continue...:) John A. MacDonald, "Not a Real Canadian":



"The Visitor":

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Accountability


Video recap of the resignation of the U.K. Speaker.

While the Speaker's departure doesn't turn over the government, of course, it's been a pleasant contrast to watch from Canada. The expenses controversy and transgressions led to a swell of demands for accountability and ultimately it was met. You can only imagine how a similar scandal might have played out here.