Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dean, Dean, no longer the condo machine


Once more, for old times sake with that stellar shot which said just ever so much. It spoke to the involvement of Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro and his role in advocating for a land development on Parks Canada land in the Peterborough area known as Little Lake. Del Mastro's ballot results came in today and the upshot is that it was a resulting NO. It failed to meet his self-imposed voting threshold of 60%. About 8,000 plus Peterborough area residents out of about 98,000 ballots sent out in total voted in favour of the land development, which would have included condominiums.

Watch the video here of Del Mastro announcing the results today. Sounds defensive, like he has totally backed off and has felt the heat, likely not only from residents who were opposed, but city officials who had their own planning process in place and perhaps Parks Canada too.

The spectacle of an MP running such a ballot, self-administering it in view of the municipal processes that are already in place to handle such projects seemed odd and interfering from the start.

Now we are left to contemplate how much of an impact this adventure will have on Mr. Del Mastro's political fortunes next time out...

Update: While Del Mastro does refer to his results as having demonstrated a majority level of support, the fact remains that his own 60% threshold was not reached. He's in a corner there. And I'm reading a lot into his resigned tone in that video linked to above which appears on a Kawartha News paper site and his pledges not to push it. It sounds as if Del Mastro's washing his hands of it.

Update: One other thought, you just can't help but think that this kind of attention getting individual initiative exhibited by Mr. Del Mastro is just not the kind they smile upon in the PMO...I mean, it's hard to imagine he ever got the green light for this referendum-palooza in the first place.

Elizabeth May speculation: go west

Seems to be a bit of speculation going on as to where Elizabeth May will run in the next election. Won't cover the ground that's already been covered here, here and here.

But I will say that I hope May seriously considers the BC riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands as her best option. Knocking off Gary Lunn, a high profile Conservative would be preferable to taking on a Liberal given the parties' respective positions on the environment, one would think. Lunn was beatable in the last campaign and should be ripe for the picking with a greater anti-Conservative tide that will be rising in a coming election. May can hammer Lunn for his prior role as Minister of Natural Resources, exploit lingering weaknesses in his role as a result of the Chalk River shutdown and its continuing impact on the national isotope shortage. It's in her "wheelhouse." She has shown an inclination to take down the Conservatives before, I'd expect her to stick with that given the Conservative record on the environment. Isn't that the principal argument she'll want to make?

Secondly, Frank Valeriote, the newly elected Liberal MP in Guelph should not be underestimated. He's got roots there, he's a tremendous communicator and has made a splash in parliament as a vocal critic on the auto file in particular. To an extent, you can't just look at past party success in isolation. Sure there's a core of Green support to build on, but Valeriote is a solid MP and I'm betting he's grown on the folks in Guelph. He's very likable (met him at Vancouver convention, full disclosure, very impressed). So, factor that in, along with what could be the flip side of that anti-Conservative tide in a coming election. A more pro-Liberal one that will advantage Valeriote.

Go west, Ms. May, go west...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Iggy at Pride pic


A little birdie (thx very much!) sent me this lovely photo of the Liberal forces in motion at the Pride parade in Toronto on Sunday...Ignatieff, Carolyn Bennett, Gerard right up front in his bright red shirt and I do believe that's the esteemed Bob Rae over Kennedy's shoulder.

Apparently Iggy is staring because, I am told, the photog was taking a little long with the shot. But a nod and wink ensued...:)

So there you go, da Liberals be strong at pride!

Update (Tuesday 5:30ish): Big City Lib being a devil, again...:)

More from Senator Duffy on tour

Updated Tuesday aft., below.

Senator Mike Duffy, serving it up all summer long it appears! Highlights - with necessary corrections where required - from a report on his appearance in Vancouver last week at the Fraser Institute. Duffy's radical and lightning fast transformation to Conservative uber-partisan continues to amaze.
Most surprising about Mr. Duffy's talk was his partisanship after being a national political commentator whose party leanings were seldom seen or heard. No longer. He is a Stephen Harper fan through and through, defending vigorously the prime minister's leadership.
About this repeated line, now making its way into Duffy's routine on the Conservative fiscal management:
He says Finance Minister James Flaherty was prescient in shutting down 40-year mortgages thereby reducing risks for lenders.
Duffy omits that Flaherty opened Canada's door wide to the 40 year mortgage and was the one who permitted these risky products in the first place. Flaherty actually did not act so quickly in shutting them down at all.

Other highlights:
While senators are unelected Mr. Duffy talked like a politician looking for votes when he reminded the audience that the first Chinese elected to parliament was a Conservative from Vancouver.

Some in the audience were unconvinced. They had difficulty with the view that running big deficits is ever consistent with conservative values. Mr. Duffy remained adamant that these are exceptional times requiring exceptional measures including fiscal expansion.

He peddled the old Liberal Chretien-Martin feud:
The two groups are so hostile that the PEI Senator believes the followers of Mr. Cretien may have urged their new leader Michael Ignatief to make an unpopular election threat just so he would be defeated making an opening for former Premier Bob Rae - a pal of Mr. Cretien.
Ha, ha! Just off the charts, that one. Needs some new sources, methinks.

Then there's perhaps one of the most entertaining parts of the talk that's summarized:
When questioned about the uneven reputation of the Prime Minister for openness Mr. Duffy defended the Conservatives and did not see any problem. Many in the audience disagreed. An animated discussion broke out at the end of the speech about Mr. Harper's communication style or lack thereof. The senator took sides with unquestioned support of the Conservatives and Mr. Harper. Recounting his recent travels with the Prime Minister in close contact for a week he said he was very impressed with Mr. Harper's down-home personality. Some wanted him to take special training to improve his public charisma. Mr. Duffy did not join this chorus and seemed more comfortable with the adage, "Beware of charisma....While the charismatic has an uncanny outside source of strength, the authentic is strong because he is what he seems to be."

On the issue of concerns about the sudden resignation of the Information Commissioner, Robert Marleau, the new senator firmly believes there are no political overtones about information issues and the resignation was indeed made for personal reasons.

The Prime Minister is a "radically normal" person concludes Mr. Duffy. Prime Minister Harper works very hard and likes to spend time with his family Saturday night rather than hobnobbing at dinners with the wealthy in Toronto or Vancouver.
Yes, where does one get "special training" to improve one's public charisma? Is that what Mr. Harper will be doing this summer? Something to watch for, behavioural changes in the PM indicating specialized training has been undertaken.

Interesting to note that in a receptive Conservative audience, there seems to have been plenty of disagreement with Duffy's Conservative script. And it's quite the script, replete with the standard and Duffy-embellished Conservative talking points. Mr. Duffy's transformation has been quite remarkable.

Update (Tuesday 3:00 p.m.): Scott Feschuk enjoyed it too...

Song for Iran



From the site:
On June 24, Iranian Superstar Andy Madadian went into an LA recording studio with Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and American record producers Don Was and John Shanks to record a musical message of worldwide solidarity with the people of Iran.

This version of the old Ben E. King classic is not for sale - it was not meant to be on the Billboard charts or even manufactured as a CD.....it's intended to be downloaded and shared by the Iranian people...to give voice to the sentiment that all people of the world stand together....the handwritten Farsi sign in the video translates to "we are one".

If you know someone in Iran - or someone who knows someone in Iran - please share this link:

http://www.MyDamnChannel.com/DonWas
(h/t robertmcbean)

Did you know Canada now supports the death penalty?

It is an ironic situation in which we Canadians now find ourselves. We have no death penalty here in Canada. Yet Canada, courtesy of the Harper government, now formally supports its application to Canadian citizens in trouble abroad. This development has been perhaps overshadowed of late by the understandable attention on developments in the Abdelrazik case, but it's equally important. In fact, it's a historic reversal for Canada's clemency policy which should lead us to question whether the next step is the death penalty's reinstatement domestically. Here's how the policy was articulated by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon in the House of Commons on June 19th:
An individual who is judged in a democracy that subscribes to the rule of law should not necessarily expect the Canadian government to intercede on his behalf, especially when he has been found guilty of serious or violent crimes.
That is the position the Harper government has decided is appropriate in the wake of the Federal Court decision in the Ronald Smith case which ordered them to seek Smith's clemency in Colorado where he is facing the death penalty. Recall that in that case, the court zeroed in on the fact that Harper's policy of not seeking clemency for such Canadians abroad was not supported by any evidence. The policy was a product of various political statements made to the media by Conservatives. But it did not satisfy the court's standard of a "tangible and intelligible articulation" of a policy that could be applied to Mr. Smith's circumstances. The arbitrariness of the policy therefore led the judge to rule that on grounds of fairness, Mr. Smith had the right to know what the government's policy was. So in the absence of a formally articulated new policy, the Harper government was ordered to continue applying the longstanding one. You know, the one where Canada stands up for its citizens abroad and seeks clemency for them. The policy that is entirely consistent with our domestic policy, i.e., we don't apply the death penalty. The judge noted what had been Canada's longstanding policy in the Smith case:
[49] The evidence is clear that until various representatives of the Government of Canada began to publicly discuss Mr. Smith’s case in 2007 Canada’s official clemency policy was to support clemency for Canadians facing execution in a foreign state[5]. According to Mr. Graham, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, this policy allowed for no exceptions and was founded on Canada’s principled objection to the death penalty – a view which evolved since the practice of execution was ended here in 1962. This is also a position that is consistent with Canada’s long-standing international policy to support the universal abolition of the death penalty.
Faced with the Federal Court's criticism, the Harper Conservatives decided to formalize to a greater extent their new iteration of Canada's death penalty policy. In the following key exchanges in the House of Commons that occurred in the final week of the session, you can see the new policy and contemplate some of the difficulties it will pose. More on that below, as it is being currently manifested in the case of Mohamed Kohail, a Canadian facing beheading in Saudi Arabia. The "tangible and intelligible articulation" they are now offering of their death penalty policy for Canadian citizens abroad is one that will be made on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nation involved, the case, etc.. So much for correcting the arbitrariness.

From June 19th, a principal articulation of the new policy:
Ms. Francine Lalonde (La Pointe-de-l'Île, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairs confirmed this week that his party feels that the death penalty is acceptable. However, the minister said he wanted to decide on a case-by-case basis.

What is the difference between being put to death by lethal injection in the United States, shot in China and decapitated in Saudi Arabia? Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs realize that he will now be determining who lives and who dies?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, once again, this statement is completely out of proportion.

An individual who is judged in a democracy that subscribes to the rule of law should not necessarily expect the Canadian government to intercede on his behalf, especially when he has been found guilty of serious or violent crimes.
The strong measures the government has taken to combat violent crime in Canada are based on these Canadian values: respect for freedom, democracy, human rights—
The short answer to her first question...the Canadian in the U.S. will die. The two in China & Saudi Arabia may live, depending on diplomatic intervention, as we will choose to go to bat for those Canadians. You can imagine how other nations will throw back at us our inconsistent application of the policy to some nations but not others, undermining our efforts. You can also imagine that some nations might not take so kindly to being deemed undemocratic, non-rule of law abiding nations, even if they are. How would that help a Canadian facing execution in one of those countries?

Another incredible exchange in the Commons earlier in that week:
Mrs. Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac (Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, at the urging of Denmark and the Netherlands, the UN is calling on Canada to drop its policy of no longer seeking clemency on behalf of Canadians sentenced to death abroad.

Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs intend to act on the UN recommendations and thus choose not to abandon Ronald Smith, a Canadian who has on death row in Montana for over 25 years?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, in the case of Mr. Smith raised by the hon. member, the government will be subject to the decision of the courts, but in all other cases, and I will be very clear on this, clemency is not an obligation. It must be earned. We will study each appeal for clemency individually.
Clemency must be earned. Suggesting some kind of reverse onus obligation on the Canadian citizen who may be facing a totally arbitrary process abroad to earn their government's support. Throw in that the government will also assess the status of the nation as a democracy and whether it subscribes to the rule of law. The upshot is that the government will pick and choose which Canadians facing the death penalty abroad will receive the luxury of the government's efforts to seek clemency. We'll let Canadians die in some nations, but not others.

If you are giving the notion the benefit of the doubt, thinking this may not be too difficult to apply overseas, think again. The government's new policy is playing itself out presently in Saudi Arabia. Trade Minister Stockwell Day appears to be muddying the effort on behalf of the Canadian government on the pending execution of Canadian Mohamed Kohail, facing beheading after a very suspect judicial process. On the one hand, the government claims to be lobbying the Saudis in meetings. Demonstrating that Saudi Arabia doesn't meet the Harper government's test of a "democracy subscribing to the rule of law." Yet on the other hand, there are questions about how determined the Canadian government's efforts are. Mohamed Kohail has written to Mr. Harper twice now, complaining of a lack of support in Canada's efforts. Then we read Stockwell Day quoted in a Sunday Canadian Press report speaking optimistically and deferentially about how the Saudi judicial system is working:
The judicial wrangling in Saudi Arabia over a Montreal man facing beheading is a good sign, says Trade Minister Stockwell Day, because it shows the country's top court isn't sold on a lower court's ruling.

Saudi Arabia's Supreme Judicial Council has reportedly asked a lower court to again rethink its decision on Mohamed Kohail. It's the latest volley in a game of judicial ping-pong between the two Saudi courts.
...
"The fact that it's been referred back to the lower court, that is the higher court saying 'There are some issues here that need to be reconsidered,"' he said. "We're taking that as positive ... but I don't want to be reading things into this decision."

Forcing the Jidda General Court to once more rethink its ruling may allow Kohail's lawyers to air concerns not previously heard, Day added.

"Any time an item is being appealed, there's always the potential for increased consideration on the points of concern," he said.

"That's why though their appeal process, like Canada's, can be extensive, it shows they are giving thought to the issues that have been raised."(emphasis added)
Incredibly, Day seems to be suggesting that Saudi Arabia's court system is comparable to Canada's. Is Day signalling that Canada will therefore defer to the judgment of that lower court based on his seeming approval of the higher court's referral? Because Kohail's case has been referred back to it 6 times! This is a problem, they're sending mixed signals, seemingly intervening yet perhaps deferring when this jurisdiction cannot be said to have provided a fair trial and it's not a democracy at all. The Saudis torture those in their jails, such as Canadian William Sampson a few years back. Their new policy would require full effort here yet Day seems to be undermining it. Doesn't seem to be the way to run a foreign policy that has life and death implications, does it?

Like much of what they do, this death penalty position is political, rooted in "law and order" posturing. Posturing is a fair characterization since a lot of their so-called law and order bills are announced with great fanfare yet are not concertedly pushed through the House of Commons when it's crunch time. They let sessions end with these bills left to expire. It's posturing done for the politics, for public consumption and the Conservative base. Meanwhile, on the death penalty issue in particular, Canada's longstanding position is reversed, the UN is asking questions of us and Canadians seeking assistance overseas are left twisting in the wind.

We are now a death penalty supporting nation, brought in through a back door.
From now on, the death penalty will be acceptable for Canadians sentenced to death in democratic, sovereign countries which have a justice system based on the primacy of law.

That covers about half the 201 countries in the world, including Canada.
While the big issues in the next election will be economic, such issues are important too. They speak to the fundamental changes that are being made to our nation by the Harper government. The Harper Conservatives should answer for this flawed policy. And they should explain whether they intend to finish the job they've started, by bringing this pro-death penalty policy home to us.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Hudak: bringing less P and more C to the Ontario PCs

Updated (Sunday 5:00 p.m.) below.

Updated (8:00 p.m.) below.

Things should get interesting in Ontario provincial - and federal - politics, now that Mr. Hudak has pulled off that Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership win this afternoon. Congratulations to him.

A reminder then of what may be in store politically for Mr. Hudak and his federal counterparts due to that big, controversial policy proposal that Hudak ran on, the elimination of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal:
...five Conservative cabinet ministers and 15 other Conservative MPs have endorsed candidates for the Ontario Progressive Leadership campaign who have called for the abolishment of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

So far, Transport Minister John Baird, Industry Minister Tony Clement, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, along with MPs Dean Allison, Gord Brown, Patrick Brown, Paul Calandra, Barry Devolin, Rick Dykstra, Royal Galipeau, Daryl Kramp, Pierre Poilievre, Joe Preston, Gary Schellenberger, David Sweet and David Tilson, have endorsed candidate Tim Hudak.
So the question will become, as is being raised by federal Liberals like Bob Rae, what is the federal Conservative position with respect to the federal human rights commission if federal ministers so enthusiastically supported Mr. Hudak? Mr. Hudak's campaign went so far as to characterize the Ontario system which hears complaints of discrimination as one "built on hurt feelings." This could have implications federally. Could make a difference in suburban Toronto ridings where the Conservatives have been creeping up on the Liberals. Kind of cannibalizes Jason Kenney's "values" argument, that Conservative values are new Canadians' values.

Now that Human Rights Tribunal abolishing Hudak has won, this will be an interesting undercurrent to watch.

(h/t Big City Lib)

Update (8:00 p.m.): Andrew Steele earlier:
In the days leading up to voting, still more problems marred the contest. The most serious is a police investigation aimed at intimidation tactics used against new Canadians. A false report was sent to voters with "unambiguously ethnic" names, claiming the RCMP was looking for voter fraud in the race and spelling out the penalties. As the new leader, the pressure will be on to Hudak to explain why his party is taking on an appearance of hostility to new Canadians.
Update (Sunday 5:00 p.m.): Hudak, despite his very loud position on the human rights tribunal, will deploy the Jason Kenney strategy:
Like his federal cousins, Tim Hudak says he plans to reach out to immigrants to grow the Ontario Progressive Conservative party ahead of the next election.

The newly minted leader says the party's ranks must expand from the current 43,000 members if the Tories are to defeat the ruling Liberals in the 2011 provincial election.
That should be a neat trick.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Blogging milestone

Of some sort, don't know if this is good or bad! Noticed this week that this number was coming up. This is my 6,000th post since beginning the blog back in April of 2005. And it seems like just yesterday that this little hobby began...:)

It's kind of funny (and sometimes embarrassing, let's face it) to look back on your older posts and see how one has evolved as a blogger. Writing style, emphasis, some positions taken, causes pursued, tilting at windmills, you name it. I was much less of a "L"iberal at the beginning and much more of an anti-Bush blogger. Spent the majority of time with my earlier posts writing about U.S. issues in a greater depth of detail than I'd ever really do these days, mostly due to that widely shared intense and motivating dislike for W and what he wrought for the world. As anyone who reads knows, however, that focus has greatly shifted and it's pretty much all-Canadian all the time around here.

This blog led me to join a political party in December for the first time since a minor dalliance in high school/university. It becomes hard not to commit when you're engaging with issues regularly that you care about. One of the upsides of this blogging experience.

Another upside, have met some fabulous committed people, Liberals yes, others in the blogosphere and now the twittersphere. This online world can be strange and insular but positive too. "It is what it is." Then there are the people who regularly email and send thoughts, support, stories they feel need attention, that's been so great. Love the graphic contributions too (you know who you are)!

I know some out there find my lack of comments problematic and I'm sorry for that but it's going to remain that way for now. My blog, my life, for many reasons. Don't intend for that to sound flip (even though it probably does!) I don't get many complaints about that at all, btw. Think people know what to expect when they arrive here and they're OK with that.

Am blessed to have a flexible life that allows me to keep this up. I guess it'll continue until I've run out of things to say (what?!) or life intervenes. For now, onwards and thanks for reading...:)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Harper backtracks on his attack ads

Hard to defend nonsense in person, isn't it? A bit of a grilling from the infamous ATV anchor, Steve Murphy, puts Harper on his heels about the childish, uncivil, personal attack ads against Michael Ignatieff. Bobs, weaves and ultimately gives a typical Harperian response about the ads that once again reveals his mode of governing:
Pressed repeatedly on whether the negative Conservative Party ads slamming Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff for his time out of the country represent his own view, Harper dodged a direct answer four times during a Halifax television interview.

Harper defended the campaign's claim that Ignatieff is "Just Visiting," saying the source for the ad material is "strictly Mr. Ignatieff's own words and own record so he's the one who has to answer questions on that."

CTV host Steve Murphy asked Harper a fifth time about his personal view. "Do you think that he is in any sense disqualified from aspiring to be prime minister because he's been out of the country?"

Harper stammered, and reluctantly disavowed the main thrust behind his party's ad campaign, which just concluded a broadcast run across the country.

"Every, every, every, obviously every Canadian citizen's eligible to run for office," Harper said. "But obviously our records, motives, statements, all these things will be under scrutiny, they always are, of all party leaders in an election campaign."

Asked if he thought the ads "were working," the Conservative leader said, "that's really for party officials who worry about that," but suggested the ads had had at least one desired effect.

"To the extent that I think the ads have made the Liberal party think twice about having an election, I think that's been a good result. Because I don't think Canadians want an election. I think it would be another round of political instability. And so to the extent that it's put that party a little bit back on its heels and maybe thinking a little bit more about how to cooperate and actually dealing with the economy, I actually think it's been helpful."
(emphasis added)
There's the big headline point here, that he's visibly uncomfortable in defending the thrust of the ads, that Ignatieff is disqualified from running due to his years of international employment. If you watched it, it clearly wasn't a question he wanted to engage. Who can defend such cartoonish silliness anyway? He can't and he conceded the point.

But that last paragraph of Harperian babble is, as always, incredible to hear coming from him. The Liberal party needing to think about how to cooperate more? From this wielder of confidence votes ad nauseam? Please. From the PM who tried to decapitate his political opposition by cutting off public funding immediately after an election where it never appeared on the agenda? Please. A plea to cooperate more on the economy from the PM who denied any problems were coming? It's almost embarrassing to hear. What's so cynical is that he knows most Canadians don't pay that much attention to such details and he still makes such statements, exploiting it to his advantage. The last part of the "Sham-ocracy" series today deals with his disingenuous practices. As does Jim Travers.

Also remarkable, Harper's taking to equating an election with political instability. And his constant repetition that "Canadians don't want an election." It's all nonsense and should be countered at every turn. Back at the height of the coalition drama, he seemed to be in love with the notion of constant elections. We needed them whenever a confidence vote was lost, we were told by the PM and his p.r. machine, contrary to our constitutional traditions that would have permitted the opposition to take government without an election (because we had just had an election). Now, however, when we've moved well beyond the post-October '08 election period where an election would actually have to be held following defeat on a confidence vote, he's suddenly developed an aversion to elections. Too unstable, is the line.

And that's the challenge posed by Mr. Harper's tenure. It's irresponsible for the PM to be playing such games and dabbling in such p.r. campaigns. He's manipulating the rules of our constitutional traditions as he goes.

Wrong

Updated (8:00 p.m. Thursday) below.

Canwest reports on the big backtrack on the withholding of the Afghan war's future costs. Absolutely right of "the Defence Department" to fess up here on this egregious error. This is, after all, still a democracy last time any of us checked. The key excerpt then a few points below:
The Defence Department admitted Wednesday that it was wrong to withhold the future cost of the war in Afghanistan on the basis that releasing it would violate national security.

Earlier this week, Canwest News Service revealed that the military had censored the projected costs in the coming three fiscal years in a recent Access to Information request by the federal NDP. The military withheld those costs even though they released them in an identical request by the NDP in April 2008.

"It was unnecessarily severed. It was a human error and we acknowledge that mistake," military spokesman Jeremy Sales said in an interview.

When the military finally divulged the numbers on Wednesday, the cost to taxpayers turned out to be almost $2.6 billion higher than the figures provided in 2008.

The figures released Wednesday show that cost of the war for 2009-10 is estimated at $1.513 billion, while for 2010-11 the cost is pegged at $1.468 billion.

Those 2008 figures showed a $261-million price tag for 2009-10 and $150 million projection for 2010-11. (emphasis added)
First thing here, "the Defence Department" admitted it was wrong in withholding these numbers? But the Defence Minister Peter MacKay said on Monday that he had nothing to do with the military's censorship decision. So apparently we are to believe that the department acted on its own in refusing to provide the numbers, in contravention of or unbeknownst to civilian leadership. So we must ask, does civilian leadership run the defence department or not? It should. Perhaps it's not Mr. MacKay's civilian leadership though, perhaps it's someone else's that Mr. MacKay was hinting at. Such as the PMO, for example.

It's also quite difficult to believe that a decision of this magnitude could be chalked up to a "human error" and we shouldn't accept this attempt to minimize it so easily. The decision was thought through enough for someone to go to the trouble of justifying the refusal to provide the information on the grounds of national security in an access to information request. To make it sound like an innocent error stretches credibility.

Also note that the figures released now with Wednesday's batch of information for the cost of the mission in the next few years are $2.6 billion higher than the 2008 projections. The explanation? That the 2008 figures didn't factor in the cost of the extension to 2011 yet. That explanation doesn't, however, account for the figures that were on the Treasury Board website that pegged the cost overrun at $1.35 billion. So now we're up to $2.6 billion beyond what was projected in 2008. The discrepancy suggests that they have been holding back on such figures and low balling the costs to date in order to save political face. Games with numbers, all part of the credibility deficit this government has.

Final point, a figure of $1.2 billion has been placed on the costs of the military mission post-2011, the end date as agreed to by parliament. That should start some discussion.

All in all, it's another banner week for your Conservative government in action...

Update (8:00 p.m.): Dave's take at Galloping Beaver, informed military opinion.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

N.S. Conservative party leadership open...anyone?

Well, it's been kind of fun of late to speculate about a certain federal Conservative's possible exit to take on his home province's party leadership. Guess we'll now see just what Peter MacKay's judgment is about his best future political prospects in light of Nova Scotia PC leader Rodney MacDonald's stepping down, announced today.

Is it to stay in Ottawa on the chance that the federal Conservatives can hang on? Irrespective of whether the federal Conservatives win or lose in the next election, Mr. Harper's leadership gig will likely be up within the next year or so. Even what is viewed to be the best possible result for Harper to hope for now, another minority, will likely start the leadership push from within his own party. So MacKay will likely be factoring in his likelihood of succeeding to the leadership. Which, depending on what MacKay does, will be an interesting statement in and of itself as to where the dial is set on the political spectrum in the Conservative party at the moment.

On the other hand, any aspirants to the Nova Scotia job now will have to be patient. After all, it's a majority government and the new leader will have to spend his or her time over the next few years in a bit of political wilderness.

A bit of fun speculation for the junkies on a hot summer afternoon in any event...

Why access to information is important

Here are the kinds of things you find out: "Canada's Afghan tab will be $1.35B more." Apparently an oversight on the part of the Harper government, the military estimates were left on a Treasury Board website at the same time that they were denying that the information could be made public by refusing an access to information request on grounds of national security:
The Treasury Board says that the cost of Canada's military mission in Afghanistan for the next two years will be $1.35 billion higher than projected a year ago by the Defence Department.

Those revised estimates of the incremental costs of the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan are posted on the Treasury Board website.

The Defence Department, citing national security provisions, censored an Access to Information request by the federal NDP that asked for those figures three weeks ago.

The Treasury Board says the military mission will cost $822 million in the fiscal year 2009-10 and $943 million in 2010-11. It also estimates that the mission will cost $178 million in fiscal 2011-12, when Canadian troops are expected to pull out of combat roles in Afghanistan. It's the first time figures for that year have been made available. (emphasis added)
So, we find out that once again, the costs are higher than budgeted. We also find out that money has been budgeted for the time frame beyond which the military is supposed to have ceased its operations, albeit at a much lower level than the two preceding years. Two reasons why some unknown government official or team of government officials may have been motivated to deny releasing the information, and improperly so.

Any indication that the military may be planning to remain in a form of engagement is a sensitive political matter that could become subject of debate in a coming election. And bad budgeting, cost overruns will likely figure in that debate as well at a time when the federal deficit is growing exponentially and there are competing demands. The latter point feeds into a theme with these Conservatives, with their consistently poor projections and increasing of our national debt irrespective of the task at hand.

The ongoing cost of this military mission and its wrapping up are major national issues that the public is entitled to scrutinize as this mission is coming to an end. But for what appears to have been an oversight on the Harper government's part, who knows if we'd have ever found out these key pieces of information that help inform our collective judgment.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Isotope Shortage tracker

As you know, many Canadians are concerned about the isotope shortage and there has been a ton of blogging done on the topic around here over the past few weeks. This is just a brief entry to introduce you to the "Isotope Shortage Tracker" that is keeping track of just that, the shortages across the country. It appears in the right sidebar. Click on the badge and it will take you to a google map which has clickable icons all across the country which provide up to date information. Check back in with it on a regular basis for updates.

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

Monday, June 22, 2009

Information Commissioner resigns in context of information clampdown

(Updated (9:10 p.m.) below.)

Information Commissioner Robert Marleau has "abruptly" resigned today, reports seeming to stress the personal nature of the exit:
Information Commissioner Robert Marleau abruptly resigned Monday for "entirely personal and private" reasons, raising doubts about the pace and direction of reforms to Canada's access to information laws that he was spearheading.
There's lots of context to look at surrounding this departure, however. So, in light of this "abrupt" departure, it's worth a look at his recent statements for context, from the Toronto Star just yesterday and in his annual report in the spring (below). Further, there was yesterday's disclosure that the costs of the Afghan war will no longer be made public to the Canadian people, an incredible development that, it's not a stretch to say, would have greatly troubled the Information Commissioner.

First, in the Star yesterday, Marleau's comments indicate an officer of parliament speaking quite candidly about Canada's lack of commitment to access to information. And later in the report, there are his observations on how Canadians took to Conservative portrayals of the coalition as a "coup," observations which an independent officer of parliament should be free to make, yet may have rankled some (one guess). We have to take the Commissioner at his word that his resignation was personal, albeit occurring less than half way into his tenure as Information Commissioner.

A reminder then of what are now his parting comments that can be factored into his departure:
"We were amongst the leaders in the world," says Robert Marleau, the federal information commissioner.

But the leader has become the laggard after 26 years of "static decline," Marleau says.

"Since then it's been the same song and dance, no effort by any government to have this legislation or these processes keep pace with time, change and technology," he said in an interview.
...
Marleau complains Canadians know too little about the institutions that govern them.

He points to last fall's parliamentary showdown as proof when the notion of the Liberal-NDP coalition was dismissed as "unconstitutional."

The coalition may have been politically unpalatable. But it was perfectly legal under Canada's parliamentary system.

And yet complaints about the coalition as a "coup" found a ready audience among Canadians, something Marleau finds worrisome.

"We do not do a good job in Canada about teaching and learning about our basic institutions."
Those comments are clearly directed toward a problem pointed out by many in the past number of months, a need for better education about our institutions. Fostering better access to information is part of that.

A little further back, in the spring, in an overview to his annual report, the Commissioner made specific pleas for political leadership to change the culture of access to information which is becoming increasingly bogged down under the Conservative government. It reads almost as if he knew his tenure was up:
In March 2009, I presented a series of legislative recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. These recommendations are meant as an initial effort to meet, without delay, the urgent challenges of modernizing the Act and strengthening the compliance model.

To move forward, strong, concerted leadership is required, now more than ever, from all quarters and all levels. Parliamentarians remain critical players, as they continue to press the government for legislative reform. The President of the Treasury Board, as the designated minister under the Act, must provide the political leadership to change a transparency adverse culture.

The Treasury Board Secretariat—as the organization responsible for ensuring that federal institutions fulfill their responsibilities under the Act—needs to provide institutional leadership guidance with clear performance objectives, explicit directives and adequate financial support and resources.

Within institutions, executive leadership is crucial to how well institutions fulfill their obligations under the Act. All ministers, deputy ministers and heads of agencies throughout the system must commit to the required cultural change. Through appropriate delegation of authority, access to information directors must be empowered to act in the true spirit of the legislation.

A rejuvenated, reorganized and better funded Office of the Information Commissioner also stands ready to fulfill the vision the Honourable Francis Fox set out in the parliamentary debates leading up to the adoption of the Access to Information Act. During the second reading debate in the House of Commons in 1981, he said: “I expect the office of the information commissioner to become over time more than an information ombudsman, more than an access advocate. I expect it to be the heart of the system.” This can only fully happen with legislative reform.

In closing, I wish to acknowledge the professionalism and dedication my staff has demonstrated through a period of radical change and scarcity. I also want to pay tribute to the memory of former Information Commissioner Dr. John Grace whose impassioned pleas for reform, 15 years ago, still resonate today. Dr. Grace set the bar high in the defence of the citizen’s right to know. Unfortunately, successive governments have chosen to ignore his recommendations and those of the commissioners who followed him. How much longer will Parliament stand by and tolerate this pervasive neglect and the attrition of a fundamental democratic right?(emphasis added)
Within days of the summer break, we've seen the Conservative government decide that the costs of the Afghanistan war are not for the public to know. Immediately following that revelation, the "abrupt" resignation of the Information Commissioner. Those are the facts.

Best of luck to Mr. Marleau and best of luck to his successor, Suzanne Legault who inherits a position that is not exactly valued by this present government.

Update (9:10 p.m.): A bit more fallout on that decision by the Harper government to prevent the Canadian public from knowing the cost of the Afghanistan war, looks like there was a bit of "it wasn't me-itis" going on in Ottawa today. Global news reported earlier tonight that Defence Minister Peter MacKay stated it was not his decision to deny the public this information. Canadian military not commenting either.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Your anti-democratic tendencies are showing

Incredibly contemptuous transparency and accountability moment from your Conservative government in action. Just unbelievable the limits they continue to push:
In a significant policy shift, the Canadian government now believes that telling the country’s taxpayers the future cost of the war in Afghanistan would be a threat to national security, Canwest News Service has learned.

The Defence Department cited a national security exemption when it censored a request under Access to Information by the federal NDP for the military costs of Canada’s military participation in the NATO-led, United Nations-sanctioned military mission to Afghanistan.

When the NDP asked for the identical figures last year, the military made them public. Canwest News Service was able to disclose in April 2008 that the yearly incremental cost of the war would top $1 billion for the first time since Canada’s military became involved in Afghanistan in 2002.

But this year, military censors cited Section 15 of the act in blocking out the figure.
Consider the absurdity of what's going on here. We're regularly bombarded with figures from the U.S. about the cost of the Iraq war, their war in Afghanistan, etc. It's a common measurement that's routine, expected and always public. Yet here in Canada, suddenly, similar basic information for the Canadian public that we have enjoyed, up until now, is now none of our business.

This is information that the public can weigh in order to assess the very merits of the conflict, so we can know, monetarily and in of course, in other important measures such as human treasure, just how much this war is costing us. So that the public can weigh its commitment to the war in comparison to other national priorities. So that the public can weigh its commitment to other things as well, such as political parties who happen to presently occupy the government and who are charged with spending those dollars on our behalf.

This is information that defines what it is to be a democratic nation. If the people aren't permitted to know what a war is costing them, then clearly, those making such decisions don't trust the people. We, in turn, should not be trusting them.

It may be summer break, but apparently, we're going to have to rack up our time scrutinizing these misguided Conservatives in action. This should go over quite well in a coming election, whenever that may be.

More here and here.

Illuminating series in the Star

Trying to have a quiet day in the blogosphere here, but there are things you cannot but help draw attention to when they catch your eye, like these observations in today's "Sham-ocracy" series in the Star, "Turned-off Canadians tuning out."
IT DIDN'T HAPPEN overnight. Instead, this trend has been in the works over decades with both Progressive Conservatives and Liberals in government, though many observers agree that the worrisome trends have accelerated since Prime Minister Stephen Harper took power in 2006.

University of Toronto political science professor Lorraine Weinrib charges that Harper has an "extended track record" of showing disdain for the principles and practices at the heart of Canada's constitutional system.

"While Harper touts the democratic principle as his ideal, his actions align with another principle – an all-powerful executive authority that makes his own rules," she writes in an essay for a book titled Parliament Democracy in Crisis.

She notes how the Conservatives cancelled the court challenges program, which provided funding for court challenges by rights advocates. Harper himself has challenged the non-partisan officers of Parliament, such as the head of Elections Canada and the ethics commissioner. (emphasis added)
That emphasized part is why some of we bloggers are committed to that Harper free Canada thing...:)

This is a series of reports to follow, picking up on Jim Travers' recent series of columns on the same topic. Good for the Star for pursuing this topic. The political events of the last 9 months or so have been illuminating about the weaknesses in our constitutional system that a prime minister can exploit. As it turns out, in most instances of late, it's not been to the good end of the spectrum.

Ask the Canadian government to keep Cdn embassy in Tehran open

Update (Monday 1:00 a.m.):

Some additional points to add to the post from earlier Sunday. A few tweets have been sent out by Minister Jason Kenney on this situation, here they are, courtesy of David Akin:
[Tweet at 1842 Sunday night] Some posters mistakingly believe that western embassies are sheltering wounded protestors in Tehran, except Canada. I've looked into this ...

[Tweet at 1843 Sunday night] ... and its completely untrue. Canada has contacted all relevant embassies in Tehran to enquire. None are doing so: they can't.
Associated Press report earlier Sunday:
Italy said Sunday it had instructed its embassy in Iran to provide humanitarian aid to protesters wounded in days of violent clashes over disputed elections.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he planned to discuss a European Union-wide proposal to coordinate such assistance for wounded demonstrators during a meeting Wednesday in Stockholm, Sweden, which takes over the EU presidency next week.

Pending a coordinated response, Italy has already instructed its embassy to help out "where there is a request or need for help from injured demonstrators," the ministry said in a statement.
It was reported that:
People injured in the Saturday protests sought refuge at a number of international embassies in Tehran, including the Canadian Embassy, said freelance reporter Kameel Ahmady, reporting from the capital.
Further:
The New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says scores of injured demonstrators needed medical treatment and some of them had sought refuge at foreign embassies.
So it's true to say that the reports of Canada being one of the few western nations not providing assistance were not reliable. Things were happening quickly in the midst of the demonstrations on Saturday. Those urging not just Canada but other nations (see previous link) to open their doors were motivated by concern for the situation. It was a widespread concern pushed by citizens in many nations.

The larger question that remains is, when faced with such a situation, what should Canada be doing? Looking around at other embassies and seeking reassurance that no one is doing anything? Other than the Italians, that is. Or something more? Providing humanitarian aid to people should be a basic minimum. It does not necessarily lead to "sheltering" or "providing refuge," which is the gist of Kenney's response and which implies much more in terms of diplomatic assistance and engagement in the conflict.

Guess we'll see whether this remains an issue for Tehran, depending on what occurs in coming days.

Earlier Sunday post:

If you are concerned about the situation in Iran and wish to see the Canadian Embassy open its doors to Iranians who may be injured, contact some or all of the individuals and offices below. Other nations of the world are opening their doors, Canada should be among them. As of early Sunday morning (1:30 a.m.), reports are not clear about what the extent of Canada's assistance will be. A confusing Foreign Affairs statement to CTV Saturday p.m. stated that the Canadian embassy in Tehran was closed on Saturday yet suggested it might open to assist in coming days but it's unclear what this means:
Foreign Affairs says that Canadian embassies do not normally offer asylum to individuals abroad but will provide temporary safe haven if there is an immediate threat or injury.
Contact the Canadian government and let them know that you want Canada to keep our embassy doors open.

Prime Minister Harper
Telephone: (613) 992-4211
Constit Office Telephone: (403) 253-7990
Fax: (613) 941-6900
EMail: HarpeS@parl.gc.ca

Embassy of Canada in Tehran
Email: tehran@international.gc.ca

Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon
Telephone: (613) 992-5516
Constit Office Telephone: (819) 281-2626
Fax: (613) 992-6802
EMail: CannoL@parl.gc.ca

Parl Secy to Foreign Affairs Minister Deepak Obhrai
Telephone: (613) 947-4566
Constit Office Telephone: (403) 207-3030
Fax: (613) 947-4569
EMail: ObhraD@parl.gc.ca

You can go here to find your own MP's information.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff released a statement on Saturday night:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff today condemned the Government of Iran’s use of violence to stifle peaceful dissent by protesters calling for open and transparent democratic elections.

“We mourn each life lost as a result of the Government of Iran’s unjust actions, and share the anguish and outrage of Canadians of Iranian origin at the suppression of peaceful protest and the apparent denial of fully free and fair elections,” said Mr. Ignatieff.

Amid reports of death and injury inflicted by the Iranian government upon peaceful protesters, the Liberal Leader also encouraged the Canadian government to do all it can to help the injured at its embassy in Tehran.

"Canada should join other countries in keeping our embassy open for the humanitarian needs of the people of Iran."

Despite the media blackout put in place by the Iranian government, reports emerging largely through online social media show images of bloodshed among protesters and clashes with government police forces.

“The Iranian government cannot hide the truth from their own citizens or from the rest of the world. By answering the call for open and transparent elections with a violent disregard for the rights of its citizens, the Iranian government has further alienated itself from the international community.”

“The Liberal Party of Canada strongly affirms the rights of Iranians and people everywhere to freely express themselves and associate with others, without threat to their life or liberty. We call on the Iranian government to cease the violence and continue to call for open and transparent elections.”

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Back to the 50's

Not like there's a pressing medical issue that Canadians are facing or anything. So here's what the Conservative government has decided to do. Minister Raitt names a panel to come up with long term solutions to the isotope shortage, 18 months later than most well run entities would have done:
Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt named four members of an expert panel Friday, whom the federal government has asked to find a way for Canada to secure a stable, long-term supply of medical isotopes, used to help diagnose and treat more than two million patients a year.
...
She has asked the panel to complete its final report by Nov. 30.
It's almost laughable, these circumstances. The government has a tonne of material and testimony that's been presented to the Natural Resources Committee to work with. If they wanted, they could surely act on it. The timing of this expert panel seems intended to take the issue off the table and beyond an election that may be in the cards for the fall. But that's a risky move, an exercise in procrastination on a very time sensitive matter that could work against them. It means their lack of leadership here will be an election issue, to a greater extent than it already is. Because this "Plan B" panel assessment is a step that should have been taken after the last shutdown in December of 2007 and the long term solutions would be in front of us and pursued by now.

For good measure, here's what appears to be the common sense position that's of course going to be ignored:
On Thursday, University of Waterloo engineering professor Jatin Nathwani urged the government to reactivate the MAPLE project, even as the expert panel started its deliberations.

"A parallel path followed with urgency can bring the already built MAPLE reactors to an operating state in perhaps the next six to 18 months," Nathwani said.

"If Minister Raitt was concerned with the health and safety of millions of Canadians, she would embark on this parallel path today," said Regan. "If her panel comes to the same conclusion on Nov. 30, 2009, as Dr. Nathwani and the other experts we heard from yesterday, we will have wasted five months and put the health of thousands in jeopardy."
More in a remarkable Globe report today on the brain drain that's expected if Stephen Harper's inspirational vision of shutting down nuclear research in Canada comes to pass:
But as the aging machine heads into a sixth week offline, Canada is seen as dropping the ball not only when it comes to the 31 per cent of global isotope supplies it was relied upon to create and export worldwide; it risks letting a half-century of innovation slip away, leaving a retinue of researchers, doctors and technicians with no choice but to pack it in or pack their bags and head to greener, more nuke-friendly pastures.

“This is really actually quite awful,” Prof. Harroun said. “The whole Canadian community who uses neutron beams now have to find other places. They have to go to the States or they have to go to Europe or even farther abroad.”

The president of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine agrees. “It's going to be a drain of brains outside Canada, if Canada gets out of that field,” Jean-Luc Urbain said.
Back to the 50's with Stephen Harper...it really works on this issue, doesn't it?

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

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday night music

It's been a while! Here are a few new ones from Pete Yorn, we like him around here very much. New album out this week, "Back & Fourth." Check out "Social Development Dance" on it ("I googled you in quotes, got no results"), just excellent.



Auditor General working this summer?

Could be, this important "Enabling Accessibility Fund" and the odd Conservative distribution of it begs for scrutiny. If we can't distribute funding for disability projects across this country free from partisan advantage then our political system is morally bankrupt. It's hard to see how the Auditor General can avoid looking into what appear to be unconscionable numbers here:

...94 per cent of the funding approved so far from the $45-million Enabling Accessibility Fund has gone to Conservative-held ridings.

In particular, only two of 89 applications for major project funding have been approved, both for $15 million and both in Conservative ridings - Calgary Northeast and Flaherty's Whitby-Oshawa in Ontario.

One of those two major projects is the Durham Abilities Centre in Ontario.

Flaherty's wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, and his executive assistant, Nancy Shaw, are on the board of directors and Flaherty himself served as a director in the past, Savage wrote in a letter to Fraser.

Savage said disabled organizations have complained that the application criteria for large projects appeared "custom-made" for the centre in Flaherty's riding.

Moreover, he said many non-profit organizations were shut out of the application process for smaller projects because of the strict criteria and one-month time frame they were given for preparing applications.

Drops in non-Conservative ridings, buckets into Conservative ridings. An ongoing story to follow, that's for sure.

Citizens concerned about the isotope issue

So concerned, in fact, that they're writing blog posts these days:
Thanks for helping to keep this topic alive. The following article written by a Dr. Harold J. Smith, ex Manager, MAPLE Nuclear Commissioning, provides some insight into the technical problems encountered in the start-up and licensing of the Maples. I am NOT a nuclear engineer, just a concerned layman in this matter, but it does seem as if the Maples might be closer to being operational than we have been told by the government. If the Hanaro reactor in South Korea, which is based on the Maple technology (with apparently slight modifications), has been operating successfully since 1995, why can't we find out why that is the case and make the necessary design adjustments to our own two reactors? As Dr. Smith says, the final tests on the modified fuel bundles were never conducted. He makes the following statement:

The Maple reactor operated like a dream and was/is fully capable of meeting all objectives. All you have to do is finish the last test or put Hanaro-design fuel in it.

As a person closely involved with the reactors, I suppose Dr. Smith's views can also be dismissed as being biased, like those of MDS Nordion. On the other hand, he has the inside knowledge that few of the rest of us have. It is surely time for an independent appraisal to be made of the problems involved here.

Here is his article - the strange phrase "fuel meat" seems to be a term used by nuclear scientists (I Googled it to check!):

"Viewpoint - The failure of Maple."
...
I have no idea whether it is economically viable or even safe to proceed with the Maple project, but surely its merits should be debated openly, honestly and thoroughly!
Yes, it should and thank you for that! One other point on that article, this former Maples manager specifically contradicts what Ministers Lunn and Clement said about the reactors failing tests.

The option of restarting these reactors appears to be getting quite the hearing at the Natural Resources Committee these days. We'll see what Minister Raitt's panel has to say and whether it is indeed the plan now to open up those reactors to privatization too. Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? Privatizing nuclear reactors. Remember how well that ideological bent went over last summer under the Conservatives as applied to the meat industry...


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

Opposition lines up vs. Conservative internet eavesdropping bill

Yesterday demonstrated that the Conservative proposal to allow police to "...collect information about Canadian Internet users without a warrant" will meet stiff opposition. It's viewed by many as overreaching. Expert and political opposition staked out the criticism yesterday:
“Nobody wants to create roadblocks for law enforcement, but there has been no evidence put forward that the current system has created any barriers, and I think it raises real concern where there is potential for abuse,” said Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law. “That's why you have court oversight.”

Mr. Geist noted that some major police investigations in the past few years – including the arrest of 18 Toronto-area terrorism suspects in 2006 – was very much dependent on the Internet, and progressed even under current legislation.
...
Liberal MP and public safety critic Mark Holland said police have to be able to keep up with criminals using new technologies, but added that any legislation must also weigh the impact on Canadians' privacy.

“It can't be used ... to randomly go through people's Internet and e-mail records trolling for things,” he said. “That raises all kinds of concerns.”
Yes it does, particularly with this government's record in not respecting citizens' Charter rights. Their trust quotient on such issues has expired.

If this bill ever advances, the above opposition will likely be bolstered by vocal, ahem, online voices. Count on it.

Journamalism

Canwest repeats ugly, unfounded allegations from a Conservative muckraking flyer sent out by Conservative Vic Toews and makes it a national news story. As Aaron Wherry pointed out yesterday, the contents of the flyer have been totally debunked in the past, for example:
...Ignatieff was adept, even emotional, in rebutting accusations he had ever insulted Ukrainians. In fact, a fair reading of the contentious chapter on Ukraine in his 1995 book Blood and Belonging shows it to be a subtle meditation on nationalism in the context of the Ukrainian experience under Soviet domination in the 20th century.
With such a vicious charge drawn from an obviously partisan source, a news organization, you'd think, would go further than Canwest did in this report to determine its legitimacy. Or do they just intend to type up and circulate any old flyer the Conservatives put out this summer?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Economist on Conservative leadership failure on nuclear energy issues

Well done, Conservatives. Is this what you meant about bringing Canada back? The respected Economist examines recent events and the upshot is not so good: "Canada's troubled nuclear industry: Ending a dream, or nightmare." Teneycke's irresponsible remarks on AECL get attention. For all the plaudits Mr. Teneycke receives, that was a doozy of an example of foot-in-mouth disease. Especially, as the Economist points out, because it's a tenuous time for AECL with competition from abroad.

Some other excerpts that point the way for us to what is a growing consensus that the Conservatives have got it wrong on this issue for Canada. Excerpts:
Critics worry that the government is getting out of the nuclear business just when concerns about fossil fuels are prompting its renaissance. They believe that demand will rise not just for medical isotopes but also for Canada’s CANDU reactors, which use a different technology from many elsewhere. Canada led the world in the development of radioactive isotopes for medical diagnosis and therapy, says Jacalyn Duffin, a medical historian at Queen’s University in Ontario. “Why quit now?” But supporters of privatisation such as the C.D. Howe Institute, a think-tank, say that AECL is too small to survive, and the sale of its potentially profitable parts is the only way a nuclear resurgence in Canada is possible.

Canada’s dream of being a nuclear power began in 1943 when Mackenzie King, the prime minister, agreed with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt to co-operate on nuclear research. But government backing for peaceful nuclear operations later withered, a casualty of deficit-reduction under the past two Liberal governments and the Conservatives’ preference for smaller government. With a stimulus package driving the federal budget’s forecast deficit up to C$50bn this fiscal year, Mr Harper does not want to add to the C$1.7 billion his government has given AECL since coming to power in 2006.

Health officials in the United States are seeking an American supplier of medical isotopes, having decided that Canada is no longer a reliable source of molybdenum-99, which when processed into technetium-99m is used in two-thirds of all diagnostic medical-isotope procedures south of the border. As long as AECL was working on two replacement reactors, American processing firms were content to wait. But Canada cancelled the replacement programme last year when the new reactors, already eight years behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget, failed tests.

In Canada the isotope shortage has become a liability for Mr Harper. Lisa Raitt, the minister responsible for AECL, apologised to cancer patients after she was caught on tape discussing how her career might benefit if she solved the “sexy” isotope crisis. Leona Aglukkaq, the health minister whom Ms Raitt also criticised in the taped conversation, says she has arranged for new supplies from Australia. Yet Australia has problems of its own with its single, albeit newish reactor, and has recently been importing isotopes from South Africa. Capitalising on government disarray, Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal leader, demanded more information on isotope supply as one of several small concessions he extracted from Mr Harper in return for keeping the government in office by agreeing to back it in a confidence motion on the budget due for debate in the House of Commons on June 19th.
Yes, abandon Canada's long history of striving for leadership in this industry all under the guise of deficit management, deficits that they've heavily contributed to through their mismanagement. I suspect they're going to have problems answering for their policies here, whenever that election campaign comes round. It's the lack of leadership and vision thing that's the rub.

They're just not good for Canada. Dig?

Update (6:20 p.m.): For those who continue to twin the Liberals and Conservatives, here's an indication of the Liberal position on this issue.


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

Minister Raitt: Look here at home for the isotope solution

Things are crashing down on the "can't do" Conservatives. They're scrambling: Raitt looks to France, Belgium for medical isotopes:
Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt met with medical isotope experts from around the world on Thursday to try to secure an alternate supply for Canada.
Yet what's the matter with Canada's options, Minister Raitt? It's beginning to dawn on them that they may have messed up, it appears. Mixed signs that they're getting a clue. Raitt still hedging earlier today on the Maples reactors being reconsidered:
Revisiting the cancelled MAPLE reactors project, which concluded last year after producing not a single isotope and coming in hundreds of millions of dollars over budget, wouldn't solve the world's current problem, Ms. Raitt said.

"To revisit it... there was a lot of study done," she said. "Even if in 2008 it was determined that it could be fixed, the timeline would still be 5 to 10 years."
Not the timeline others have been saying. This report is somewhat encouraging though:
The Canadian government defended its decision to scrap the Maple isotope reactor project on Thursday, but left the door open for private groups to take over the mothballed nuclear program.

Ottawa halted construction of the project last year because of cost overruns and technical problems. It was planned to be a replacement for the ailing 50-year-old Chalk River unit and take over the production of medical isotopes.
...
"There may be groups of individuals and groups of companies out there that want to revisit the Maples and the calls for information and expressions of interest may very well point that out, because there are pieces that are not the reactor that are still utilizable, with still good infrastructure," Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt, told reporters.

"So we are hoping to get some interesting proposals coming out in the calls for information," Raitt said.
Guess why the Conservatives may have had a fire lit under them? The world pushing back and reeling from the PM's comments last week that we're getting out of the isotope business entirely down the road. That was quite the "Stephen Harper: Leadership" moment and the folks in the U.S. don't mess around. They've decided they've had enough of relying on us:
First, a letter was sent to the U.S. Congress by a high-powered coalition of U.S. medical and non-proliferation experts, demanding Washington abandon Canadian isotope production and start domestic production using low-enriched uranium (LEU), which is unsuitable for nuclear weapons.
...
U.S. nuclear-medicine and heath-care officials have now joined in an unprecedented coalition with the U.S. non-proliferation movement, using Monday's letter to urge the Senate and House appropriations committees to fund domestic production using LEU, "as quickly as possible."
Way to go, Steve! More coming in next post, the nuclear leadership we're providing is getting some great international attention today...

By the way, for a good background report on the Maples and the Chalk River shutdown, here's a video put out courtesy of the BCer...thx, Jeff!



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

Pressure on government to reverse Maples reactor decision

The advocacy for the reopening of the MAPLEs reactors continues: "The Maple reactors can keep Canada's isotope industry alive."

The Maples are state-of-the-art reactors. Their sole purpose is to produce medical isotopes. One Maple reactor powered at 50 per cent could produce enough isotopes to replace production from the NRU.

And the Maples do work. They created isotopes, just as the NRU has created isotopes. This fact has been verified by independent observers. The Maple reactors are complete, they are safe and they await final commissioning.

What is needed now is a collaboration of international experts, with or without AECL, to bring this much-needed capacity online. Is the government absolutely positive that, with the help of international experts, the Maple reactors would not be able to produce medical isotopes?

Given the global shortage, it's time for Canada to reverse its public policy decision. Activating the Maple reactors will do more than provide a secure supply of medical isotopes for the welfare of patients worldwide. It will preserve Canada's leadership position in the innovative and increasingly important field of nuclear medicine.

That op-ed in the Globe is by an MDS executive. MDS has a financial interest in those reactors but their views are echoed by other scientists. For example, see this op-ed by a University of Waterloo scientist in the Star today, also calling for the reconsideration of the decision to close the Maples reactors and for a more comprehensive approach on nuclear policy in Canada.

In addition, in the report on the National last night, we learned that the National Academy of Sciences also believes that the money to complete the Maples reactors to get them working properly ("tens of millions") would in the long run be less expensive than continuing to operate Chalk River to 2016 and perhaps beyond ("hundreds of millions").

The case continues to build to reconsider the Harper government's decision on the Maples.

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

Conservatives to introduce their internet eavesdropping bill today

There's another law and order bill being rolled out by the Conservatives today, it's not good: "Feds to give cops Internet-snooping powers."
Police will be given new powers to eavesdrop on Internet-based communications as part of a contentious government bill, to be announced Thursday, which Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has said is needed to modernize surveillance laws crafted during "the era of the rotary phone."

The proposed legislation would force Internet service providers to allow law enforcement to tap into their systems to obtain information about users and their digital conversations.
A key issue here is that there's no warrant involved, no judicial check on a power that's ripe for abuse. That should be a must with this legislation and should be pushed for if it ever ends up before a committee. Even Stockwell Day had previously committed to the use of a warrant in connection with a previous iteration of this legislation. There is likely a need for some kind of legislation on this issue though, especially since a judge in Ontario opened this door anyway with a ruling earlier this year and it would be good for the opposition parties to argue in favour of reining that ruling in by instituting a warrant requirement.

But given that today will be the second last day of this sitting before the summer break, the legislation will be tabled so there are no guarantees that it will ever make it into law. They've been yapping about it for months yet introduce it on the second last day of the session. Way to go you serious law and order types! Something to keep in mind as you hear about this particular law and order dog and pony show.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Currents

So, big day or not so big day in the Canadian political world?

There's the EI working group that's been established which will work through the summer on the two stated goals, allowing self-employed Canadians to participate in the system and more importantly, working on standardizing eligibility requirements on a national basis. While the EI changes will not be immediate, neither would they be if we went off to a summer election. So, work will be done throughout the summer to change to EI on an aspect which the Prime Minister to date has said a firm no to, regional fairness.

Mr. Harper's not in the habit of playing nicely with anyone, so the EI measure is an achievement. It's something that should not need to be pushed under the guise of an election threat, however. Ideally, given that this is a minority government, all parties should work in the national interest on issues but it hasn't happened. It's the politics of minority governing at play but the Conservatives have never gotten that if they actually did govern in a manner that fostered cooperation, giving and taking, winning on some issues, losing on others, they'd be successful and would have had a majority by now. Too late for that. While it is understandable the invective that's always launched at the Liberals when we have a day like this, let's not forget who sets the tone in Ottawa, who has the most seats and who is ultimately responsible for the working of the government we've got. The Canadian people gave the Conservatives 143 seats in October, too.

The commitment to a definite opposition day in the fall shouldn't be discounted either. Cold comfort to those wanting an election immediately. But there have been the circulating rumours of Mr. Harper's departure and the musings about wanting to have a post-Olympic glow election campaign with Mr. Harper all wrapped up in the Canadian flag. The parliamentary schedule in the fall now prohibits any Conservative manipulation of that opportunity. It requires Mr. Harper to sit in his place. Bet he's not too happy about that.

More speculation to end with here...beyond today's events, there's a dynamic developing in the Canadian electorate that's going to remain untouched by all the commentary. People want a change from Stephen Harper. The Liberals have steadily improved in the polls with Michael Ignatieff. Possibly just as simple as that. Aaron Wherry's getting a sense of it. As he articulates, there's been a heck of a lot that's happened since Ignatieff's taken on the Liberal leadership, and I think implicitly he's suggesting it should really be harming Ignatieff and the Liberals, but mysteriously, it's not. The dynamic is marching steadily along with Conservative declining fortunes, improving Liberals ones. The Dionization of Ignatieff isn't happening and I don't suspect it will happen as a result of this week's events either. The same playbook doesn't always work, not surprisingly. The demands for a Liberal alternative governing plan (what do they stand for!) aren't being met right away yet it's not mattering in the polls. Not that it can't be intelligently derived from day to day interaction in any event.

The conclusion from this corner...there's a strong current at play that's unlikely to be disturbed by the deal today. And since it's moving in one direction, that's a good thing.

Failing Health Care 101

"Government isotope response inadequate, doctors say." Once again the scientists are hammering away at the credibility of the Harper government in dealing with the isotope shortage. There was $6 million announced by Health Minister Aglukkaq yesterday but it was for long term research purposes. More of that "throwing money at the problem" thing the Conservatives do without, you know, actually helping to solve things.

In the meantime, the price that hospitals are having to pay for isotopes is going up, there's a bit of a bidding war developing now because, of course, supply is limited. So where do stretched hospitals get the money to pay for the price increases? That's what they're asking the government. Apparently all Aglukkaq had to say when asked "repeatedly" about that question yesterday was a talking point, that the federal government had increased transfers to the provinces in the last budget. Choke. Some reaction:
Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine president Jean-Luc Urbain said the federal research dollars are impractical when Canadians need alternative treatments immediately.

“We're in a crisis. We shouldn't be planning to do research that might yield something five years down the road,” he said. “It's health care 101.”
Ah, but don't ask the Harper folk to do "101" anything. Does not compute.

In the absence of Chalk River running, the McMaster reactor is being considered but will take 18 months to get up to being able to substitute for Chalk River. If McMaster is indeed an option, why has it not been pursued until now? Seems like a makeshift solution.

Notably, Linda Keen, the fired former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, testified yesterday to the Natural Resources Committee about the feasibility of the MAPLES reactors that have been shut down by the Harper government:
Keen told MPs the backup plan to the NRU — a pair of fully-built reactors known as the MAPLEs — could work.
...
Keen said she believes the technical trouble that prevented AECL from getting the MAPLEs licence for full-time production could be solved.

"We haven't involved international experts enough in this," Keen said.

Just one MAPLE could supply the entire global demand for Moly-99.
Keen is a respected nuclear regulator. Add her to the list of scientists and experts now who have testified before that Committee and who have thrown into serious doubt the merit of the Harper government's decision to mothball those reactors. The committee needs to provide some leadership on that and pursue an investigation of keeping them open. The squeeze is on patients and doctors and they're screaming for leadership...they're certainly not getting it from the Harper government.

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