Monday, August 31, 2009

The irony

Is just so palpable it has to be pointed out given the slew of quotes today from the designated "no election" front man for the Conservatives, John Baird:
"It would be irresponsible to interrupt our important work on the economy with an unnecessary election," Baird told reporters.

The Conservative government's message is a far cry from just a year ago when it forced an election just as the country plummeted into the worst recession just the Second World War.
Surely as those words roll off the tongue, the uncomfortable position must hit home for Baird. This kind of rhetoric coming from the wedge-driven Conservatives just doesn't sound right. More irony for you, the Conservative arsonists are preaching fire safety:
"Election threats and election posturing, political posturing, I don't think that's what the economy needs."
I mean, who are you and what have you done with the real John Baird? Election threats no longer all the rage? What's been with all the confidence votes during the life span of the minority government situation that Mr. Harper has presided over then? The my-way-or-the-highway approach is well-ingrained into the Canadian psyche by now.

As for election posturing, it's a nice sentiment that it's not needed, but there's been plenty of that from the Harper p.r. gang of late. The entire week-long jaunt up north with the military photo ops, the family man story plant in Quebec City. Do as I say, not as I do.

While they may be trying to strike a reasonable tone, it doesn't jibe with their history. And in attempting to appeal to that general Canadian malaise about elections, they're also coming off as weak, as if they know they're vulnerable. There is an "uncaring" (Dosanjh quote) aspect to this government that's crystallizing and perhaps they know it.

Globe editorial nails Conservatives on appeal of Khadr repatriation to Supreme Court

"Disowning Canadians abroad." A vigorous opposition to Mr. Harper's choice:
It is weak legally and even weaker morally. There is no serious principle worth defending.
This is becoming almost a weekly kind of thing. The thorough rebuke of the government on the major issue of the day.

Is the Globe editorial board having buyer's remorse yet? Is the wind shifting? Might they go another way next time? This collection of editorials leads one to think that they just might. Fairly major issues they are repeatedly chastising the government on these days. They seemed to give Stephen Harper a major benefit of the doubt last time. It certainly appears that he's used all that up.

Glad to see the pattern at the Globe.

Jim Flaherty: still loving the HST

Trying to spin his HST show ever-so-carefully now. But we know he's the architect of the HST and besides, he's just not that good at the spin:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty offered a firm endorsement Sunday of a harmonized sales tax while at the same time distancing his government from a policy that has sparked criticism of provincial governments considering it, particularly in British Columbia.

Flaherty, speaking with reporters in Vancouver, said "there's no question" that combining provincial sales tax with the GST is good fiscal policy - but he stressed it's not up to Ottawa.

"First of all, the decision to harmonize the GST and PST has to be that of the provincial government," he said.

"I realize that this is challenging for provincial leaders, but I have no doubt in my mind that it's good long-term economic policy for our country."(emphasis added)
Think that one should be printed up and carpet-bombed across British Columbia just about now.

Remember kids, the HST got the special seal of approval as a policy that was good for "Canada's Tax Advantage." The clear intent of Flaherty's budget was to encourage sales tax harmonization across Canada. A national policy.

How ridiculous Mr. Flaherty looks, ducking and hiding from his own budget.

Ignatieff backs McMaster offer to solve isotope shortage

Michael Ignatieff was at McMaster this weekend viewing the reactor facility there. The report today is that he is committing to funding the McMaster proposal to produce isotopes. This is a big move in response to the Harper government's inaction on this file.
McMaster University will get all the money it needs to solve Canada's medical isotope crisis -- as long as Michael Ignatieff gets to be the next prime minister.

The Opposition Liberal leader made his promise over the weekend after touring Mac's nuclear reactor and flogging the Harper government for letting the crisis develop.

"Canada has had leadership in this field for 60 years. It's regrettable, to say the least, that Mr. Harper and the Conservatives have had two shutdowns to supplies of nuclear isotopes on their watch," he said. "We're here today to talk to the world-class researchers at McMaster about how they can step in and begin to fill the gap ... When we're in government they'll have full-hearted support from my government."
...
"I don't want to drag McMaster into political controversy, but Mac came to the government a very long time ago, after the first shutdown and said 'How can we help?' They've had no reply," Ignatieff said.

Mo Elbestawi, Mac's vice-president for research, said the reactor upgrade could be a boon for the Hamilton area. The facility currently provides about 150 jobs with the potential for another 50, making isotopes which can be sold around the world.

"Government has already invested in the infrastructure, but what we need is the operating funding; we need the people who can operate this facility. The ask is about $44.3 million, and we believe we could be up in production at a steady pace in 12 to 18 months," he said.
As Ignatieff suggests, the McMaster offer was made in January 2008 on the immediate heels of the December 2007 shutdown. Yet there has been no apparent response to it. If the offer had been accepted by the government then, McMaster would likely be producing isotopes for Canada (and the world) by now.

McMaster has executed this role before and they believe it is something they can quite readily do now. That point was clearly made in the Globe recently, where McMaster's role in stepping up to do so in the 1970s was cited, along with the main pitch:
McMaster wants to be a part of the Canadian solution; it's willing and certainly able. Ramping up the McMaster Nuclear Reactor to produce moly-99 would utilize a facility with proven technology. It would require a modest investment and relatively little startup time. It would reassert Canada's position as a leader in nuclear research and nuclear medicine. And it would save lives and bring peace of mind to countless numbers of cancer and heart patients in Canada and around the world.
Ignatieff is stepping into the leadership void which exists on this issue. His stance marks a clear contrast with the Harper government's inaction and failure to lead on this file. A very welcome development.

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

Enough

There was a brilliant little op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday, "The True North strong and mean." A little incident this past week did not go unnoticed by the writer, as it didn't for many Canadians. It was the contrast in how gracious Brian Mulroney was in speaking about Ted Kennedy's death with what our Prime Minister did. He offered a one-line statement, no more. That small gesture was all too symbolic of the mindset of this government, found most recently in the positions taken on Omar Khadr and the citizenship cases we've seen play out this summer, examples cited here. The piece is a great read on what many of us feel about the partisan and perpetually small-minded nature of this government:
Watching the national soul being whittled down by those who know only the narrow path is exhausting and saddening, especially when the path may be less ideological than just tragically limited. Perhaps mean thinkers are simply not gifted and lack the tools to think broadly.

Whatever the reason, they lead shrivelled lives, which is entirely their right. The tragic thing is, they want the rest of us to do the same, individually and nationally.

It is time to say, "Enough."
(h/t pb)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Thoughts on Doer

Just a few on this non-partisan choice by the Prime Minister that seems to be winning universal praise. I'll acknowledge the surprise element here that appears to show a Prime Minister reaching out.

But is this really so bold? The big issues the U.S. ambassador is said to face are not of any partisan controversy, really. The "Buy American" and border security issues that will occupy a good amount of his time aren't controversial in a partisan sense. Most of the issues Doer will deal with will likely fall into that category. So any thinking about this representing somehow a new golden era in "progressive" diplomacy for Canada in the U.S. might end up being disappointed. Doer will no doubt get along better personally with Democrats so in that sense it's a plus.

Environmental policies that Doer may be involved in will likely be Harper driven. Do we have any illusions about that? Or who runs the foreign affairs portfolio? Is Harper turning over a new leaf, hmmm? Even Stephen Lewis, the likely model appointee for this Harper exercise, is politely hedging his guesses on how this is likely to work out. Does Harper have a track record of working with strong, independent people and trusting them with their portfolios? Am I missing something?

One quote from Stephen Lewis did stand out in light of some other current developments:
“It's a bit of a shock when you get into the role and realize that you're much more shackled,” Mr. Lewis recalled. “I was very lucky because of the relationship with the prime minister … but Foreign Affairs [bureaucrats] dictate the content of what you say and do in significant measure. They can write the speeches and insist that you deliver them, and they make sure that the talking points on your policy briefs are adhered to,” he said, adding: “You're sort of unprepared for it. And I think I learned over time that you shouldn't be constrained by it.”(emphasis added)
The present Harper foreign affairs content managers, as we know, have excised terms like "gender equality" and "international humanitarian law" from our foreign policy terminology. Maybe Doer's going to get a pass on using those terms? Or maybe they just won't come up.

On its face it all looks good and best of luck to him. The proof will be in the pudding...or whatever that platitude is...

Egads, the Senate is at risk

Well that's one I've never heard...

And probably for good reason. The underlying presumption in that post is that it would be legitimate for the Senate to act as if it is the equal of the House of Commons. It isn't. Imagine an unelected Conservative Senate blocking the legislative agenda of a newly elected Liberal government. There would be no appetite for that publicly and any future Prime Minister would happily rail against it and win. The House of Commons passes legislation, the Senate studies, yes, and in a functioning cooperative system, may even suggest amendments. Because we have been known to have mature governments in the past who actually valued the input of Senators. But ultimately the Senate signs off. That's the presumptive state of affairs. It is a question of legitimacy, which they do not have due to their unelected status.

The post also seems to imply a continued loyalty to Harper once he's politically dead and gone, that would have Harper pulling the strings to stop Liberal legislation? That would be a neat trick. He's just not that awesome though.

Contrary to the talking points that are all the rage these days, Liberals have not frustrated the Conservative agenda in the Senate (from link at that site). Any Harper "crime bills" or other assorted subjects of complaint that have failed to pass have been due to the end of the parliamentary session arriving, or Harper introducing the bills too late to make it through. Or prorogation. Etc. It's manufactured talking point hoohah designed to discredit the system. That's what Harper Conservatives do. So there is no justification down the road for Conservatives to do something that Liberal Senators supposedly did. In any event, see above legitimacy point.

One can agree with the premise in that post though that it would of course be better to not have Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. His goal in ratcheting up his patronage orgy may in fact be to discredit the entire institution of the Senate. Irresponsible enough. But he's probably taking people down a road of abolition with his behaviour, not elected-equal-effective dogma that he and his old Reformers (ah, memories) have had in mind. Is that what his western base wants? Who knows, maybe they'll take it. But that takes a constitutional amendment too! Whoopsie. And the nation seems to have more pressing bidness.

Update: A Harper minister is again peddling the Senate obstruction myth today in the Globe. They're shameless.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Letter to the editor

That Lisa Raitt, she's not fooling anyone and now the Oakville Beaver readers know it too:
When Halton MP and Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt spoke to the Oakville Chamber of Commerce last week, she touted the government’s goal of generating 90 per cent of our electricity from non-emitting sources by 2020, comparing that to the U. K.’s more modest goal of 30 per cent by the same date.

While this makes it sound like the Conservative government is setting lofty environmental goals compared to other countries, these figures are somewhat deceptive.

In fact, Canada already generates 76.4 per cent of its electricity through non-emitting sources due to our abundance of hydroelectric resources. So getting to 90 per cent would only require a 17.8 per cent increase in that proportion. The United Kingdom currently generates only 20 per cent of its electricity through non-emitting sources (largely nuclear), so they are in fact aiming to increase production from these sources by half.

I would have been far more interested in hearing Ms. Raitt’s explanation of why her ministry has spent the past two years ignoring repeated and ongoing requests from McMaster University for the relatively minimal funding they would need to start producing enough medical isotopes at their existing research reactor to solve the current crisis.

Sadly, Ms. Raitt appears to be more interested in boosterism than problem solving.

JENNIFER SMITH
Nice.

Conservative strategist on Harper's record Senate appointments: "I just don't think people care"

All you need to know about the Conservative mode of governing in one little paragraph:
A top Conservative strategist, speaking on background, dismissed public backlash to the Senate appointments

"I just don't think people care, number one. And it's fair. We gave reform a go. We need Conservatives in the Senate who are loyal to the party, to the cause and to him (Harper.)"(emphasis added)
He doesn't think people care if Harper says one thing, and does another. Really. Can't say it helps that trust factor at all.

They gave reform a go. No, they pretended to push a fake plan that is unconstitutional. They need 7 provinces to pass it. No effort at all has been made on that front.

They need Senators who are loyal "to him." No, Senators represent their provinces if anything and since they serve "for life," they're not loyal to any one PM at any time. Harper Conservatives may view all hands in government as loyal "to him," but that's not normal or correct.

Cynical and misguided. At least they're not shy about it.

Liberals lining up to take on Gary Lunn

Updated below (3:50 p.m.)

Well I guess this is becoming a bit of a mini series or something, following on yesterday's post...not intentionally, just so happens that I've been hearing a bit about the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding in response to a blog post I wrote on the subject of Elizabeth May's heading out there to run.

There are two strong Liberal candidates seeking the nomination, Renee Hetherington and Kit Spence. You get the impression that both candidates have a lot of respect for Briony Penn, the previous Liberal candidate who came very close to defeating Lunn in the October election. Hetherington worked with Penn while Spence was her campaign manager last time around.

Spence has been working in "democratic development in emerging democracies including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Ukraine" since 2004 and judging by the pictures at his site, has been involved with the Liberals for many years (seen with Pierre Trudeau, for e.g.). Hetherington has very strong environmental credentials, having a Ph.D. in Anthropology, Biology, Geography and Geology and was awarded an NSERC doctoral fellowship for her work on the Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii. She has a climate change book that's forthcoming in spring 2010. As I said, both impressive individuals.

Am going to post this video of Hetherington since I found it impressive, funny and inspirational. Gives you a good sense of the type of individual who's being attracted to run for office these days and why. Hint: good people are running. And on the why: it's about Canada and how we're viewed. (Would have happily posted a Spence one too but couldn't find any to post.)



Don't know who's going to win this one but you do get the sense that if Hetherington won the nomination, which takes place on September 12, May will have a harder time in the riding given both of their obvious strengths on the environment.

Would be happy to see either one knock off Gary Lunn, another riding to keep an eye on.

Update (3:50 p.m.): Penn, by the way, has endorsed Hetherington. (h/t FarandWide)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gritgirl does Harper's Senate appointments



h/t Tribe

Conservative MPs break with party on asbestos

Maybe just the beginning, in the wake of the Canadian Medical Association resolution supporting a ban on asbestos exports, passed with 95% support at its recent annual meeting, there's this news:"Two Tories defy party, call for asbestos ban"
Two Conservative MPs have broken ranks with the government over support for the asbestos industry as Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff faces criticism in Quebec for opposing the export of what he called such "dangerous substances."

Conservative MP Dona Cadman of British Columbia told Canwest News Service Thursday she would love to see asbestos mining operations in Quebec shut down, adding "I could get myself in a lot of trouble for this."

Ontario Conservative MP Pat Davidson told the Sarnia Observer last week — after the Canadian Medical Association called for a ban on asbestos use and exports — that "I'm definitely not supporting the mining or exporting of asbestos."
...
"I'm really concerned about it," Cadman said. "I mean, here we are, we're ripping it out of our walls in Ottawa and yet we're still manufacturing it. Now we're sending something that is unsafe to Third World countries that don't have the ability or the resources to put the safety practices in."
And what's this...praise for Ignatieff who is getting hammered for his stance in the Thetford Mines region:
Kathleen Ruff, a longtime human rights activist who lobbies MPs to take a stance against asbestos, praised Ignatieff as "very gutsy" for making his statements in Quebec.
Not mentioned in this reporting, in conjunction with his stance on asbestos, Ignatieff has stated that "other work will have to be found for local workers if production is halted." Hard to watch this CBC report and not agree.

Misfiring

It's been quite the thing at a certain blog this week to be reading the criticisms of Liberals for poll performances and allegedly not standing up on human rights issues. How I do wish some of my NDP friends would keep their eye on the ball. I understand the Liberal-bashing, but sometimes it gets a bit much.

A one-off comment in a newspaper report on the prospect of legislation to deal with consular issues abroad has been inflated as the likely Liberal position. You'll have to excuse some of us if we don't take what appears to be a shoot-from-the-hip remark from a Liberal MP that appears to be borne out of frustration with the Conservatives as gospel on what the Liberal party may or may not do on the issue in the future, whether in opposition or government. Liberals might like to propose their own bill, for starters instead of jumping on board with Dewar's legislation, whatever that draft work in progress might entail. Dewar likes to be first off the mark on so many issues (Parliamentary Budget Officer too, isn't he foreign affairs critic?), maybe some future leadership politics going on with Dewar. While Dewar should be congratulated in pursuing his own bill, it certainly doesn't preclude other efforts. There's certainly no need to wonder about a lack of interest from Liberals.

And you know, the Liberals don't need to apologize to anyone for their stance on such issues this summer. To wit: "Liberals call for public investigation into abandoned Canadians abroad." The likely new Foreign Affairs Minister in a Liberal government has demonstrated amply what a Liberal led policy on standing up for Canadians abroad would look like:
"Today's decision by the Federal Court of Appeal reaffirms the obligation of the government of Canada to seek Omar Khadr's return to Canada,” said Mr. Rae.

“Suaad Mohamud, Omar Khadr, Abdihakim Mohamed, Bashir Makhtal, Maziar Bahari, Abousfian Abdelrazik and Brenda Martin all have one thing in common – they’re Canadian. But our government has failed in its duty to provide equal treatment to them,” Mr. Rae added.
Bob Rae's been widely quoted on these cases throughout the summer and he's more than able in doing so. What do we think the response might be from Bob Rae on such issues if he were the minister? I reckon he'd put Lawrence Cannon to shame. I reckon Omar Khadr would be repatriated by now or well on the way. And the leader, in the Liberal party anyway, doesn't have to be in front of the cameras on every issue 24/7. That's what a more than competent team is for. But I don't expect any of that to assuage NDP critics. The Liberals started on some of these cases years ago, yadda, same as the Conservative talking points. Rae and the present party's words count though.

Secondly, an Ipsos poll was relied on to slag the Liberals. They've flubbed it, it's all lost. Yet hola, Decima and Ekos (Aug. 27 link) quickly demonstrated that the numbers this summer have actually been quite stable. Yet that's still not enough, we're told the Liberals should be skyrocketing in the polls. While the numbers are not soaring, it's recognition that we're in, what I like to call it, an electoral lock box. There are two "blocs" in Canada, Quebec - which may move to an extent - and Alberta. There might be some movement in B.C. and Atlantic Canada too but the big play will be in Ontario and numbers overall have been more favourable here for Liberals in recent months than Conservatives. Any breakaway is likely to come within the context of a campaign. Until then, there's complacency in the wedge-subjected, talking point-throttled and negative-ad deluged electorate. And by the way, as we are seeing, the NDP numbers aren't quite where they were in the last election, it must be noted. At 14% and 13% in Ontario in those recent Decima and Ekos polls, not good. Guess if I were an NDP blogger I'd be deflecting too.

I generally don't think it's a fruitful way to spend the time, engaging in assaults against the NDP, there's more than enough to do in writing about the Harper crew. But from time to time, I'll bite.

Harper's Senate appointments: "a sad little affair"

Don Martin on Harper's imminent Senate patronage orgy today:
An ideological politician who was disgusted at watching Parliament's upper house turned into a vote-stacking exercise, where only the faintest of sober second thoughts actually take place, Mr. Harper has turned ruthlessly partisan in making his Senate appointments, elevating party loyalty into a key consideration for the cushiest job on the Hill.
Despite all the spin you'll hear about the Liberals today, and the hockey card-like-trading of one Conservative Senate press person being equivalent to a Liberal press person and so on, and so on...this event is all about Mr. Harper today. Abandoning his long and loudly touted Senate principles that the hard core Reformer grew up on and rode to his party's leadership, they mean practically nothing now. But, but, but...we can't pass reform since the Liberals control the Senate...more nonsense. Provinces oppose Mr. Harper's view of an elected Senate as well (whatever it really is, no detailed offerings to see) and they'd have to pass it as well so the Senate reform canard is just that. What's amazing is that the Reform base still hangs in there with him, having been sold totally down the river. Must be something satisfying for them in the masochism.

It's an orgy of patronage, filling the place with chums. A thanks for all the help over the years kind of thing. Because that election is coming, Harper calculates. Maybe his one last kick at the Senate can, it's about nothing more, nothing less.

Liberals lining up to take a run at Lawrence Cannon

There are three strong candidates seeking the Liberal nomination in Pontiac to take on Lawrence "Loose" Cannon: Greg Fergus, Cindy Duncan McMillan and Georges Lafontaine. They were recently profiled in this column. McMillan came within a few thousand votes of defeating Lawrence Cannon last time so it is possible that with a better Liberal showing in Quebec, Cannon could be vulnerable and any one of these candidates could give him a good run.

After the summer Cannon has had, you can't help but think that some of his recent greatest hits, from his not-standing-up-for-Canadian-citizens-abroad-summerpalloozza may come back to haunt him in this election. His remarkable statements on the Mohamud case in particular demonstrate the reverse onus kind of philosophy the Harper government has come to adopt in its overseas practices. They're just not standing up for Canadians the way we would expect:
“The individual has to be straightforward, has to let us know whether or not she is a Canadian citizen. She's saying so, but there is no tangible proof to the effect. All Canadians who hold passports generally have a picture that is identical in their passport to what they claim to be.” (CBC News: The National, July 24, 2009)

Two weeks ago, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Mohamud must try harder to prove herself: "The individual Canadian citizen has to let us know whether or not she is a Canadian.” (Toronto Star, Aug 11 2009)
This is the thinking of Cannon, Foreign Affairs Minister, on what Canadians overseas need to do to get his department to act. It's totally backwards and we can do better than this.

If you are interested in helping to defeat Cannon in Pontiac, consider helping Greg Fergus or Cindy Duncan McMillan or Georges Lafontaine (sorry, no campaign website I could find). The nomination meeting is on September 13th.

Knocking off Lawrence Cannon, sounds like a good cause to me.

Mulroney buries the hatchet

In his own unique way:
"It's in the interest of all Conservatives - Progressive Conservatives and the latter-day group - to come together in support of common principles," Mulroney said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

"This is an evening of friendship, so everybody's welcome."
Zing! Yes, friends...and the latter-day group, whatever your name is, you're welcome too.

CBC got in on the rift-mending too:
"Former prime minister Brian Mulroney has spoken out publicly for the first time about his rift with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In an interview with CBC News, Mulroney said he is not concerned about the loss of Harper's friendship.

'He severed relations with me, which, when you've been prime minister, doesn't really mean very much to you. There's nothing that I worry about [that] Mr. Harper can or cannot do,' Mulroney said. 'That's his decision.'"
That hatchet is truly buried now. Somewhere. I mean, can't you feel the love?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ontario government fighting the Conservative HST weak kneed crowd

"Ontario fighting claims that Ottawa had nothing to do with tax harmonization." What else can you do when we have a federal government that seems intent on picking and choosing their version of the truth on any given issue for political advantage? Call it out:
Ontario is fighting back against federal Conservatives who say Ottawa had nothing to do with the province's decision to move ahead with tax harmonization.

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan says some Tories are trying to have it both ways by encouraging provinces to move to a single sales tax, then speaking out against it when their constituents complain.

He says Ottawa gave him "4.3 billion dollars of reasons" to move ahead with tax harmonization - referring to the amount of federal cash Ontario will receive to ease the transition.

The Prime Minister's Office and several federal Tories have recently distanced themselves from the contentious plan to merge provincial sales taxes with the federal GST, which will hike the cost of many items currently exempt from the provincial levy.

They say Ottawa had nothing to do with the decision even though it's kicking in billions of dollars to make it happen in both Ontario and British Columbia.
Good to see lots of attention on Conservative squirming here. Jim Flaherty loves him some harmonized sales tax:
"This is solid economic policy in the long run for Canadian businesses and therefore for Canadian jobs and for growth of the Canadian economy," he said...
We all know it no matter how much they protest.

"Harper's utter indifference" on Khadr case

There are a few points of interest in Tonda MacCharles' backdrop piece today on the Harper government's decision to appeal the Omar Khadr case to the Supreme Court. First, a bit of a crack in the Conservative facade is noted that suggests Harper's stubbornness on Khadr is not universally shared in his party:
Even some Conservatives privately admit they have been taken aback by Harper’s utter indifference to pleas about Khadr’s plight.
Shocked are they? Join the rest of us out here. That seems like rather big news. Some Conservatives at least are willing to say on background that they're not down with the Harper policy. But why haven't we heard anything about this until now? Where have they been? Nice to hear at this late date but these Conservatives clearly haven't thought enough of their differences with Harper on the issue to act in any respect to push him on the issue before now, when the stubborn policy is finally edging toward its resolution. And sure would like to know who the shocked souls are.

Secondly, it appears that MacCharles has reviewed the court filing and has this statement of the government's position, that is expected:

In its written brief, Ottawa says the lower court decisions have created an untenable situation - that of judges dictating foreign policy to the executive branch of government.

The notion that a government has a positive “duty to protect” citizens like Khadr abroad does not exist in international law, is rejected by courts in the United Kingdom and Australia, and goes further than courts in South Africa, where a government must only “carefully consider requests for diplomatic protection,” the brief states.

While that latter paragraph suggests that the upshot of the Federal Court rulings is to have created a sweeping new "duty to protect" that will be imposed on the federal government, as has been argued here before, that's stretching the interpretation of the lower courts' rulings. Khadr's status as a child soldier was key here, with Canada as a signatory to the international convention a determinative factor. So too was the implication of Canadian officials in Khadr's mistreatment by their interrogation of him at Guantanamo. Two very unique circumstances which narrowed the judgment and are unlikely to mean that it has broad application for future cases.

Let's hope that the Supreme Court acts quickly on this and dismisses the appeal. That would be a very powerful message to the indifferent Mr. Harper.

Loss of an icon

It feels like one of those days where Canadian politics will be completely overshadowed by American news. The news late last night that Senator Ted Kennedy has died is huge and if you're like me, you may feel surprisingly walloped by the news. For as long as most of us have followed U.S politics, he's been the quintessential Senator, the icon of an American politician. You think of the trademark accent, the hair (yes!), the Kennedy mythology, the movie star stature, the scandals and the achievements, he's always been there in the American political theatre. So it's incredibly sad news. There's a good overview of his life and career in the New York Times' obituary today, some excerpts here:
He was a Rabelaisian figure in the Senate and in life, instantly recognizable by his shock of white hair, his florid, oversize face, his booming Boston brogue, his powerful but pained stride. He was a celebrity, sometimes a self-parody, a hearty friend, an implacable foe, a man of large faith and large flaws, a melancholy character who persevered, drank deeply and sang loudly. He was a Kennedy.
...
Born to one of the wealthiest American families, Mr. Kennedy spoke for the downtrodden in his public life while living the heedless private life of a playboy and a rake for many of his years. Dismissed early in his career as a lightweight and an unworthy successor to his revered brothers, he grew in stature over time by sheer longevity and by hewing to liberal principles while often crossing the partisan aisle to enact legislation. A man of unbridled appetites at times, he nevertheless brought a discipline to his public work that resulted in an impressive catalog of legislative achievement across a broad landscape of social policy.

Mr. Kennedy left his mark on legislation concerning civil rights, health care, education, voting rights and labor. He was chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions at his death. But he was more than a legislator. He was a living legend whose presence insured a crowd and whose hovering figure haunted many a president.
...
Mr. Kennedy “deserves recognition not just as the leading senator of his time, but as one of the greats in its history, wise in the workings of this singular institution, especially its demand to be more than partisan to accomplish much,” Mr. Clymer wrote in his biography.

“The deaths and tragedies around him would have led others to withdraw. He never quits, but sails against the wind.”
A devastating loss, for sure. It would be a great thing to see the American health care debate become civilized and ultimately successful out of some measure of respect or perspective as a result.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PMO rhetoric watch

Watching the Conservative rhetoric again today. Signs from the PMO that yet again show how defensive they are about a fall election:
The Conservatives, who won a strengthened minority in an election last October, argue that Canada's economic recovery is too fragile to risk another election now.

"We're hearing the Canadian public telling us this is a very dangerous time to have an election," Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said before the meeting with Layton.
So now it's "dangerous." Three points here.

It's inappropriate for a spokesperson for the PMO to be using such irresponsible and inflammatory language. We'd likely survive the event quite handily, thank you. And not lose our minds in the process, contrary to Conservative talking points attempting to whip up no-election fervor. It would be nice to have a Prime Minister who wouldn't subject us to such nonsense.

Second, it speaks again to their goal, avoiding an election. Warning of how dangerous the climate is can't really be interpreted any other way. Bringing us to the third point, the PMO is being hypocritical. The election last fall and prorogation of parliament until the end of January weren't exactly banner moments in hardworking parliamentary productivity for this Conservative government as the recession set in and Canada plunged into deficit. Where were they then? Quel chutzpah in doling out these little warnings to opposition parties.

More rhetorical fluorish from Soudas tonight:
“The meeting was cordial. But it's also clear to us that the NDP want to work with the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois. I think that Mr. Layton asked for the meeting so he can pretend he's not working with his coalition partners, but the reality is that he is.”
There's that word again. They just can't let it go no matter how many times they're told it's just not going to happen. It's like the play that was used to win the big game last time, they think it'll work again. Guess we will have to continually deal with this silliness in coming months as Conservatives continue to box with shadows.

Trapped in a bubble with Stephen Harper

The unsurprising news from the Harper government last night that it will appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada rather than seeking the repatriation of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay demonstrates once again just how out of step this government is at the moment with the majority of the western world. Here is the report from CBC news which broke the story: "Ottawa takes Khadr ruling fight to Supreme Court." The move had been telegraphed by the Prime Minister almost immediately upon the release of the Federal Court of Appeal decision ordering Khadr's repatriation and now he's followed through. By appealing to the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister shows that he continues to live in that bubble of his, oblivious to how the world is entering a post-Guantanamo era.

What bad timing for this move. If the Prime Minister had noticed events out of Washington yesterday, he'd have seen that the U.S. has just announced a special prosecutor to investigate abuses at overseas prisons run by the CIA. The investigation is said to focus largely on cases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Khadr was held at Bagram prison in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay and alleges that he was tortured while there. His claims are bolstered by the fact that many interrogators at Bagram were charged for abuses they committed at Bagram at the same time Khadr was held there. We also know that Khadr was subjected to torture at Guantanamo Bay (e.g., the "frequent flyer programme" of sleep deprivation.)

The fact that such abuses are now being publicly investigated by the Americans, however, apparently does not register for the Harper government as something that should cause them to change their position. When a nation holding one of our citizens publicly declares it is investigating itself for torture, that's a big signal that it's time to stop bowing to the supposed integrity of that system. Guess the Prime Minister didn't notice the big special prosecutor development yesterday.

The Prime Minister might also have taken into account the growing movement among a host of nations around the world who have agreed to accept Guantanamo detainees in their countries. Recent reports show that the Obama administration has been quite successful in negotiating transfers of Guantanamo detainees to other countries. Those nations who have answered the call to help Obama to date include Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, who have accepted or agreed to take detainees. Four other EU nations have privately agreed to take detainees while five EU nations are considering it. Australia and Georgia are also talking to the Obama administration about it. Bermuda and Palau are resettling the Chinese Uighur detainees.

What would motivate these nations to accept detainees when our government continues to recoil? Strategic self-interest combined with good will:
"Obama has a lot of political capital. Countries want to do something for him, and that allows us to say, 'This is it, this is what we want you to do,' " said a senior administration official. "This is going a lot better than we might have thought."
The Harper government has probably not considered diplomatic horse-trading on this file, it's fair to say, for fear of offending its base. While our national interest might warrant a bit of pride-swallowing from the Harper crew on the Khadr case in order to achieve a breakthrough on something like the "buy American" issue, for example, they nevertheless allow Canada to remain hobbled by their own narrow domestic political considerations. Unfortunately it puts Canada on the outside looking in while other nations ally themselves helpfully with Obama on what is a very politically sensitive file for him in the U.S. But helping Obama on this file would mean alienating Republican sensibilities and that is likely a factor for the Harper government as well.

The decision to appeal the Khadr decision to the Supreme Court kicks the resolution of this case down the road. Maybe the Supreme Court will deal Mr. Harper a major embarrassment and refuse to hear the case, and quickly. But until a resolution comes, one way or another, Canada remains trapped in a bubble with Mr. Harper. We're missing the moment as the world works to get Guantanamo Bay closed.

"Operation Nanook: the most expensive photo-op you’ll ever see"

An evocative description of a key moment during the PM's trip to the north last week:
Three CF-18 fighter jets swoop low over Frobisher Bay and kick in the afterburners. The roar vibrates deep in the chests of the dozens of sailors, media and dignitaries assembled on the deck of the HMCS Toronto, a naval frigate.

Off the port bow, the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Pierre Radisson, and the HMCS Cornerbrook, one of Canada’s four naval submarines, hold their positions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, flanked by defense minister Peter MacKay and the Toronto’s captain, Cmdr. Alex Grant, happens to be between the bank of cameras and the ships as the jets blast by and the shutters click. This, obviously, is not a coincidence. In fact, the whole thing is delayed until all three ships are perfectly aligned.

It may just be the most expensive photo opportunity ever staged in Nunavut.
Yes, we wonder how much this huge display cost. While there were clearly some military training/exercises going on, as I'm sure they carry out on a regular basis, you cannot help but be left with the impression that there was great additional expense and effort that was coordinated here for the political purposes of the PMO. And at a time of record deficit in the country. Indeed, the entire trip was characterized as an "election-style" tour.

Will be watching to see where these photos pop up in the future.

(h/t Equivocator for the link)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Protest much?

Have you noticed lately, the propensity of Canadian politicians to speak in superlatives about the views of Canadians on having an election in the fall. In particular, the politicians from one particular party. Here's the latest example from John Baird, getting quite animated about something Michael Ignatieff said in response to a question from le Devoir, that an election would not bring "instability." Baird exhales:
"There's not one single person in the world who'd agree with him on that. You can't just say things that are so outrageously false," said Transport Minister John Baird.
"It's clear the economy is at a critical stage. We're seeing some good positive signs of economic activity but they're fragile. I think the last thing the country needs right now is the political instability that an election would cause."
Baird said an election would mean government would "grind to a halt," with decision making and financial commitments put on hold throughout the campaign and beyond until a new cabinet could be sworn in and Parliament convened.
The Conservatives weren't as concerned about having Parliament up and running last fall when Harper had the body suspended in order to avoid a non-confidence vote - even as the country plunged into recession.
There's got to be some great metaphor to use to describe the irony of having John Baird respond on the issue of political instability by using such inflammatory rhetoric. But it's not coming to me. "In the world." "Grind to a halt." Yes, how cheeky of Ignatieff, saying things that are so "outrageously false." Protest much? And taking it up a notch from what the PM said the other day:
“I think the emphasis of all parties in the House of Commons should be working to ensure that we're working on the economy in the fall and that that's our focus,” he said. “And I will say over and over again, I have not met a single Canadian, a single real person out there, whose telling me that they think we should be fighting an election right now.”(emphasis added)
They are sounding very much on the defensive and totally disinclined to an election. Very noticeable and very telling.

The view from Hamilton: federal failure on isotopes

The Hamilton Spectator, hometown paper of McMaster University, slammed the Harper Conservatives last week in a vigorous editorial for their "deaf and dumb" act on the McMaster proposal to help out in producing isotopes: "Federal failure on isotopes." It's a pretty hard-hitting and specific editorial. As you will see below, Lisa Raitt responded, but seemed to omit a key element in her letter. First, the editorial:
At a very basic, common sense level, there's something really wrong with the federal government's strategy around the growing medical isotope crisis, and specifically around McMaster University's role in mitigating the crisis.

The university has a small reactor which, with adequate financial support, could partially fill the gap in the production of medical isotopes, critical diagnostic and treatment tools used in cancer and other conditions.
...
For two years, McMaster has been lobbying the government to make the university a backup producer. It had previous experience in that role back in the 1970s during a previous Chalk River shutdown. But for reasons no one can explain, Ottawa has been deaf and dumb on the McMaster proposal.

Considering the current crisis, and absolute lack of a backup or any other plan, Ottawa and Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. look very foolish, and inhumane to boot, especially considering the presence of a viable backup option in their own back yard.

...

McMaster says it would need $30 million to support operating its reactor in production of more medical isotopes. That's not a large investment, and it would offer considerable relief. Still, Ottawa is mum.

Mac's director of nuclear operations, Chris Heysel, puts it this way: "We've got Canadian infrastructure here that could be used for the benefit of Canadian patients and for millions and millions around the world."


Why on earth would the federal government not want that? (emphasis added)
Have been doing a lot of the "why on earth" stuff on this issue of late around here too. None of their inaction makes sense when we do have options like McMaster that have been waving their arms in the government's direction for quite some time now. Unless the plan is just to let the Americans step in and have Canada become reliant upon them for our isotopes.

So, very specific points in the editorial, you can imagine that Lisa Raitt would want to provide a clear response. Yet it turns out, no. Raitt wrote a generic letter to the editor in response, "Government is making isotopes a priority," almost as if a staffer reeled off the latest Conservative talking points. The letter is totally oblivious to the McMaster issue. Instead, she offered the usual platitudes such as:
"Going forward, we will continue working closely with provinces, territories, the medical community and distributors on a full range of issues related to the medical isotope file."
Why bother at all? Raitt is apparently at a loss for words in responding to the McMaster solution, it remains hanging out there, unaddressed.

Not good optics for Lisa Raitt in her electoral vicinity down there in the golden horseshoe...

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

Globe editorial nails Conservatives on HST weak knees

Yes, nip this Conservative "disingenuousness" on the HST in the bud:
Stephen Harper's Conservatives wish to have it both ways. For years, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has lobbied the provinces to harmonize their sales taxes with the federal goods and services tax. Now that two provinces have complied, some Conservatives are shrinking from the ensuing controversy. Don't blame us, they're saying; it was all the provinces' idea.
...
Given the rigid message control by the Prime Minister's Office, it could have put a stop to this. Instead, it piled on. “If any Ontarian is concerned about this provincial decision, they should contact his or her MPP,” Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Mr. Harper, said late last week. “We said that we would accept the decision of any provincial government to proceed with the harmonization of the sales tax, but ultimately the decision is a decision that needs to be made by the provinces.”

Mr. Flaherty made clear what he wanted the provinces to do. His 2008 budget called harmonization “the single most important step” that provinces could take to improve competitiveness. He repeated that message at various points last year, acknowledging that he was “gently nudging” Ontario in particular. It has been widely reported that he actively negotiated with the provinces to ensure that compensation from the federal government – which turned out to be $4.3-billion for Ontario and $1.6-billion for B.C. – was enough to convince them. (emphasis added)
Straight out of the deepest darkest recesses of the very political PMO, Soudas hangs the provinces out to dry. Confirmation of the political intent from on high. Lesson once again confirmed, you just can't trust Stephen Harper. How'd you like to be on a life raft with these guys?

More material for the campaign flyers, looks like it will be needed.

Ignatieff on fall election

Le Devoir has an interview today. Done while he's recently been in Quebec ridings, you know, wasting his summer away. The impression you get is that this interview marks the end of the summer political season and the gloves are starting to come off again.

Ignatieff starts pushing the Conservatives back on the defensive in this interview, raising some of the expected issues: the visa bumbling, the "laissez-faire Ottawa" position on Nortel, 1.5 million unemployed, no plan on the isotope shortage, no plan for recovery from the deficit. Also smart tactically, the characterization of the Harper government as one that refuses to cooperate, a Harper negative that it's smart to push and additionally, take off the table for Harper to use as a ploy for an election (as he did last fall).

Also notable here, the interviewer's description of Ignatieff's demeanour when he is asked about the prospect of an election creating "instability." He's described as "visibly upset," and forcefully responds to the point. Like to see a bit of flash on a point like that, it's ridiculous and should evoke a passionate response, particularly given the instability-instigator that we all know has sown it and now seeks to lecture others on causing it.

And some welcome talk from Ignatieff on the recent reports of Conservatives seeking a majority:
Michael Ignatieff considers the conservative attitude "arrogant." "It's ridiculous to say that. In my opinion, nobody in Canada believes that the Conservatives deserve a majority. There is a deficit of 50 billion dollars and 1.5 million unemployed. And I think you can not expect a majority to Canadians. We offer a platform, and the citizens make their choice. But to say that it is in the interest of people to have a conservative majority is such arrogance. "
Yes, just say it. More of this please.

See also Chantal Hebert today, assessing the situation in Quebec for the Liberals. It's an optimistic outlook.

Outlier polls and the papers that love them

Ipsos poll being crowed about by Canwest today (nice picture!), August 24:
Cons 39, Libs 28, NDP 14, Green 10

Other most recent numbers from major Canadian pollsters this summer:

Ekos, August 20:
Cons 32.8, Libs 30.2, NDP 17.3, Green 11

Strategic Counsel, August 13:
Cons 34, Libs 32, NDP 15, Green 8

Nanos, August 10:
Libs 33.8, Cons 31.3, NDP 18.7, Green 7

Nanos additionally released a poll on August 22nd in which these results were produced:
Stephen Harper has had his chance and it is time for a change: 58.5%
Stephen Harper has done a good enough job to deserve re-election: 31.9%

Note that latter figure of 31.9%, in other words, comparable Conservative support to the other polls referenced above, other than Ipsos. As others are saying, unless a trend develops in other polls, it's fair to say that we're looking at an outlier poll.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Having it both ways

So let me get this straight... the Harper government is likely not going to review the Nortel transaction with Ericsson, which is worth $1.2 billion, because the new provisions of the Investment Canada Act that would require it...are not quite yet law.

But they are running television ads on the Home Renovation Tax Credit, actively pushing Canadians to take advantage of it...but it is not yet law.

See how it all works out for this legally challenged government and its priorities?

"Feelings are stronger than facts"

This is a video from Rachel Maddow's show earlier this week where she talks with Bill Maher about how to fight the organized campaign of misinformation that has been playing out in town halls in America over health care. It's funny the way Maher, a comedian, actually is a worthy interviewee on such a topic. In a way, the demonstrations and ruckus are like intense cultural theatrics, so it's somewhat appropriate that the Mahers of the world be consulted for insights into how to deal with the circuses. We had our own circus here in Canada in December and the echoes of that little episode of misinformation and stirred-up emotions are there when you hear such a discussion.

The first few minutes in particular raise a few good points about politics these days and how to break through these fact-free onslaughts. The very frustrating backdrop to the Maddow/Maher conversation for health care reform supporting Americans was the news that the misinformation was starting to manifest itself in some public opinion polls:
Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions — all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress.
Voter databases plus talk radio plus vivid town halls equal an awesome force to be met by fair-minded policy advocates. So the question is what to do in the face of such an onslaught.

Part of the solution they touch on in their discussion is common sense, to "call a liar a liar" and call out factual misrepresentations. That's tough when the two (or more) camps aren't equally organized though. And when one side has "more energy than factual basis" underlying their campaign, that makes it all the harder to overcome the "fact-free emotion." It's even harder to overcome such feelings when they're being stoked by people who are in positions of power who are supposed to know better than to abuse their positions by telling untruths. That's what we're seeing in the U.S. (e.g., see Frank Rich on such leaders today). That's what we saw here. But strong, effective leadership, for starters, has to be willing and able to step up and fight such "fact-free emotion" by clearly calling out the lies. E.g., from Rich:
Coburn’s implicit rationalization for far-right fanatics bearing arms at presidential events — the government makes them do it! — cannot stand. He’s not a radio or Fox News bloviator paid a fortune to be outrageous; he’s a card-carrying member of the United States Senate.
Another part of the solution discussed by Maddow/Maher is the need to have a network ready to meet the challenge of such campaigns. As Maher wonders, where are all the Obama people from the campaign trail who were so mobilized? Given Obama's legendary national organization, so outstanding during his campaign, it's been a little surprising to see it out organized (if you can call it that) by the right wing groups like Americans for Prosperity.

Since the Democrats are indeed the party in power with sizable majorities, they've got a bit of a luxury in falling behind in this debate and may yet get over the hurdle of organized misinformation. They are likely now to go it alone legislatively. Obviously, we don't have a comparable governing circumstance in Canada at the moment with our divided minority government. Maybe we need a situation too where one party can "go it alone." If the right wing party can't work with others, here, or in the U.S., then hopefully voters see that they don't need to be in power at the moment.

It's been fascinating to watch, but not in any smug sense. Canada will be in the midst of some kind of maelstrom soon enough, whether that's an election or a fight on a given issue. The American debate has been a reminder of what can go wrong when the misinformation gets out of control. Hopefully Canadian political observers are learning well from it.

Update(4:35 p.m.): Another tactic on messaging:
Wanted to comment on the problem of misinformation as it relates to the health care battle in the US. The best response is KISS. In this case, the fact that matters is:

People Want to Keep Making Money Off YOUR Sickness. Americans for Prosperity? Yeah, right!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

More law and order from the Conservatives

The law, we have learned by this point, seems to be viewed by Conservatives as whatever is politically convenient for them at a given moment. So we see Tony Clement may go along with creative accounting contortions on the Nortel deal in conjunction with Ericsson's CEO to let the deal go without an Investment Canada review. Here's the stretch:
Under the Investment Canada Act, transactions involving foreign takeovers are automatically reviewed if their book value exceeds $312 million and the industry minister has 45 days to determine whether or not to allow the investment.

Although the sale of the wireless unit was for $1.13 billion US, Nortel said the book value of the assets was only $149 million US.

In response to Ignatieff, Ericsson Canada Inc. president and CEO Mark Henderson reiterated that the book value of what his company is buying is far below the level that triggers a review. (emphasis added)
A loophole in this statute (at the moment, in the absence of regulations) driven by company chosen accounting values that both Nortel and Ericsson seek to capitalize upon.

Clement is under a cone of silence, they appear to be quietly letting the issue go, with a comic turn from Clement's spokesthingy:
Clement's spokesman, Darren Cunningham, told CBC News on Friday afternoon that by law, the minister was unable to comment on the matter.
Really? He's commented throughout, funny he's stopping now. Could be things like this giving the minister a sudden pause:
A new poll of Canadians has found that the country's citizens want the federal government in Ottawa to block the sale of Nortel Networks (NYSE: NT)' CDMA/LTE unit to Sweden's Ericsson.

Canadian market researcher Strategic Counsel surveyed 1,000 Canadians and found that 73% of the respondents want Nortel technology to remain in Canada.

Ericsson bid $1.13 billion for the prized Nortel unit, and its offer was much higher than the only other bid -- a $650 million offer made by Nokia Siemens Networks. Research In Motion, headquartered in Ontario like Nortel, has urged Ottawa to block the sale on national security grounds.

The sale to Ericsson, however, is proceeding apace and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he won't block the deal.
And then there's this, Canadians like their government to actually, you know, do things:
...55% of the respondents opposed an outcome in which the federal government would do nothing about the sale of the Nortel assets to Ericsson.
Whatever will they do?

Playing a waiting game?

A big headline greets us in the Globe today: "Maples reactors no solution to isotope shortage." So said the president of Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. at yesterday's Commons committee meeting. But we pretty much knew AECL's position on the Maples before yesterday. It was set out publicly in an op-ed in the National Post on July 28th. And we also know that the no-can-do AECL view is challenged by many experts. Joining those experts this past week was the Canadian Medical Association who weighed in quite publicly and forcefully in asking for "an independent panel to look at putting the Maples online."

Perhaps as a result, Lisa Raitt acknowledged in an interview with the Globe published yesterday that the Maples will in fact be looked at again as an option by the expert panel she's appointed. This on its face seems to be an admission from the Harper government that maybe they've gotten it wrong here. They decided to shut them down in May of 2008. Now in the wake of public pressure they seem to be bowing to it and ceding that a second look by the panel will occur. At least, that's the way it appears. This could just be momentary damage control from Raitt, a minister in the most politically driven government in recent times, coming out to speak publicly on the specific point of the Maples reactors in the wake of the CMA's quite politically damaging resolutions seeking answers from the government. People tend to trust the doctors, funny thing, and the Harper p.r. people probably know that. So whether this will at the end of the day be a genuine look at the option or just a public nod to temporarily quiet critics, we'll see. (As set out below, events may be overtaking us.)

Raitt's former deputy minister, Serge Dupont seemed to back up Raitt at the committee meeting yesterday on the point, stating that if the panel comes back and says the Maples are worth another look, the Minister will consider that. He pointed out that one proposal received by the expert panel as a long term solution is the offer from MDS Nordion to in some manner, it seems, run the Maples if the government returns them to service (which MDS believes is quite possible). Raitt also mentioned the MDS proposal as a rationale for reconsidering the Maples option. You could be endlessly suspicious here and surmise that maybe they will find fault somehow in that proposal as a basis for rejecting the option. But they likely know there has been enough awareness created now about the much-discussed Maples option that they ignore at their own risk. It's an option that enough credible experts have pointed to, their expert panel review of the option better have utmost credibility. MP Alan Tonks yesterday wondered about the independence of that panel given the PM, Raitt and AECL in particular (see Globe article above) all seeming to be quite set against the Maples option. There might be something to that.

Because looming in the background of all of this speculation is the situation with the American market and the steps they are taking as we sit and wait for this vaunted expert panel to weigh in. The Americans are seeking to make their own long term solutions, having been made painfully aware of Canada's shrinking back this summer. As Dr. Robert Atcher, the past-president of the International Society of Nuclear Medicine testified yesterday, in a survey of their members recently, 80% of their members have been impacted by the shutdown and 53% have no alternative sources of isotopes. So the Americans are about to act:
The U.S. government is expected to decide in the next week on an alternate supply of isotopes, possibly from U.S. reactors.

The White House's Office for Science and Technology Policy is “close to making some decisions about how to deal with the issue in the short term,” said spokesman Rick Weiss. “There's a longer process ahead to deal with the long-term solution, which essentially, at its core, has to involve increasing domestic production so this doesn't become an issue in the future.”
That announcement will come before this expert panel weighs in (end of November). If the U.S. decides to become self-sufficient, how significant will Canada's efforts then be? Would we invest in pursuing the Maples reactors? Do you see the situation that's developed out of the Harper government's inaction?

The prospect of the Americans stepping up as we step back seems to be a very welcome one to the Conservatives, as traces of eagerness at discussions of American involvement popped up at the committee meeting yesterday. Why isn't anyone else producing isotopes, wondered Cheryl Gallant, i.e., the Americans. How does it work, "irradiating targets" in the U.S. and then transporting them to Chalk River for processing asked another Conservative. Serge Dupont, the Raitt adviser and Harper Privy Councillor, also expressed agreement about the Americans needing to have capacity to produce isotopes.

The Americans would be fools not to go ahead now based on what's occurred this summer. So Canada will likely be left in a position of only needing diminished capacity, the huge American market in this $4 billion industry will effectively be gone for Canada. So there are many questions to be answered. When we've been a leader in this industry world-wide, we'll effectively be moving this industry very much backwards. Is this what we should be doing? How many nuclear scientists will be heading south? Is shrinking industries part of national leadership? How is this good for Canada?

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

Special federal meeting on medical isotopes & Chalk River today

From 2:15 - 5:00 today, a special meeting of the Commons Natural Resources Committee will be taking place. It's all about the isotope shortage, a heck of a way to spend a Friday afternoon in August if you're interested;)

Here's the agenda with witness list. A few points on it, if you're going to be watching (with approximate witness times for the first 3, common sense).

2:15 Michael Ivanco: is an AECL engineer and vice-president of the Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, the union of engineers at AECL. He's been vocal in that capacity in speaking out about the uncertainty the federal government's privatization plans for AECL have created and the resulting halt to Ontario's nuclear plans:
"As the scientists and engineers of AECL we know what a world leader the company is and what potential it holds for Canadians," said Ivanco. "We need the Government of Canada to complete the reorganization quickly while maintaining majority control of the company. AECL has demonstrated that it has the technical capability of delivering a winning bid for Ontario. Now we need to remove this impediment and quickly negotiate a contract to build this project."
The AECL engineers are concerned about the future of the crown corporation and what the government's plans are:
Ivanco said the fear is that the government will sell part of the commercial reactor business to a foreign rival, such as France’s Areva SA, that will simply let decades of Candu innovation wither and die.

“Our biggest concern is that we’re bought by somebody who isn’t interested in the technology but is interested in getting rid of a competitor,” he said. “If we are sold, then I hope it’s to a company that will keep the technology Canadian.”
2:30 Robert Atcher, President, International Society of Nuclear Medicine: I would expect to hear about the international community's difficulties in dealing with the shortage now with perhaps some stern words for Canada. He hasn't been shy lately in speaking forcefully about the effects of the crisis on patients and Canada's breach of its implied contract to finish those darned Maples and continue supplying a big share of the world's isotopes. Expect more of that.

2:45 Sandy McEwan, the Minister of Health's special advisor on isotopes: If McEwan is restricted by the usual code of conduct for Harper government witnesses, could be mucho to do with the excellent response by the health community. And that's it. Which, to be fair, has been by all accounts remarkable but they are being stretched & exhausted now. Further, in the fairness realm, the man is an expert and he'll likely be quite informative on nuclear medicine. We shall see. The Quebec head of nuclear medicine was not thrilled when McEwan was appointed (it's the last link in that post, the Globe is now curiously walling off stories from just a few months ago). The big question for the federal Minister would be: why no compensation from the feds to the provinces for increased costs? Don't know if McEwan will have that answer.

3:00 - 4:00: we have Atomic Energy of Canada executives up. Expect the focus here to be "how's the reactor repair going, guys?" And by the way, what's with you and your no-can-do attitude on the Maples when a raft of experts disagree . Hope to see some rigorous examination here.

4:00 - 5:00: the Department of Natural Resources guys are up. Although the first, Serge Dupont, who is listed as "Deputy Minister" is actually no longer. Harper moved him over to the Privy Council Office in June. But he is still a special adviser to Raitt. So how involved in the file is Mr. Harper, Serge? And what has Raitt been doing this summer? 

Twitter hashtag: #RNNR for those tweeting it.

Correction

Try "them" in place of "our democracy":
"But if a party has to pretend not to want full control over the government in order to have a chance at getting it, there's something distinctly wrong with our democracy."
There, that's better...

"Canada has changed"

The Norwegian Ambassador is leaving Ottawa at the end of the month and offers, among others, this parting thought on how he views Canada:
"[The past four years in Ottawa] leaves me with an impression that Canada has changed," Mr. Naess says. "Canada is not the same as it used to be. I feel, personally, that politically it was [once] closer to Norway['s] thinking than it is today. I dare say that we feel Canada...used to be [a] more like-minded country to Norway. But that is always changing. Next year we may have another government in Norway."
Nice little diplomatic save there at the end but he made his point. It's probably a fair representation of what many nations are thinking about us these days. What's frustrating is that it's not really that Canada has changed so much, it's our Conservative minority government that has changed our face to the world. There are approximately 70% of us who do not share their views. But that really doesn't matter to the world that is interacting with us and is seeing us drop terms like "gender equality" from out international diplomatic efforts. That is seeing us repeatedly not standing up for our citizens abroad. That has seen us dragging our feet on global warming efforts. That really has seen us hew to a Bush-like version of foreign affairs for years now. 

Whenever that next election comes, the question of how we conduct our foreign affairs may finally be a more important consideration than in recent elections. What kind of face do we want the world to see when they think of Canada? Is it the one that baffles the world? Or the one that the ambassador was getting at above and that most of us connect with...the engaged, multilateral, peaceful, progressive and thoughtful nation on the world stage?

A wistful parting remark that provides plenty to think about.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jim Flaherty on the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)

Since Conservatives seem to be suddenly weak in the knees on the HST, let's just take a quick look at the federal Conservatives' record thus far on the HST. From Deficit Jim's 2008 federal budget (scroll down to bottom of pg):
Replacing remaining provincial retail sales taxes (RSTs) with value-added taxes harmonized with the GST is another area where provinces can contribute to strengthening Canada’s Tax Advantage. Provincial RSTs impair competitiveness because they apply to business inputs, increasing production costs and deterring investment. By comparison, a value-added tax system provides most businesses with full tax relief through the input tax credit mechanism. Provincial sales tax harmonization is the single most important step provinces with RSTs could take to improve the competitiveness of Canadian businesses.
More from Deficit Jim who is pushing adoption by hold-out provinces:
Ottawa is prepared to cut a cheque to three holdout provinces if they agree to merge their sales taxes with the federal GST, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Tuesday.

Ontario and British Columbia signed lucrative agreements this year to harmonize their taxes, with the federal government kicking in billions of dollars to ease the transition.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island could also get their share of federal cash if they jump on the bandwagon and move to a single tax, Flaherty said.

"We'll see what their governments decide to do," he said.

"But the same proposal - in terms of transition funding - that we made with the province of Ontario followed by the province of British Columbia is available to those provinces as well. The same formula."
...
Flaherty said tax harmonization is an important step to put Canada back on firm economic footing.

"This is solid economic policy in the long run for Canadian businesses and therefore for Canadian jobs and for growth of the Canadian economy," he said after announcing Ottawa's share of a joint federal-provincial, $93.5-million project to expand a waste water treatment plant in Pickering, about 30 kilometres east of Toronto. (emphasis added)
The HST is clearly a Conservative-driven policy that yes, Ontario and B.C. have adopted, viewing it in similar terms to Flaherty. Sure there are other quotes out there, but that's a quick search.

You can run brave Conservative MPs, but you can't hide...

Things to watch for: Conservative doublespeak on HST

Update (3:05 p.m.): Below, a 3rd Conservative joins in....

A few points on the phenomenon of Conservatives trying to have it both ways on the HST for political advantage. Big City Lib was sharp in calling attention to this development yesterday. It's something to watch, to see whether disavowal of the HST spreads in Conservative rhetoric or actions.

BCL's blog item dealt mainly with Ontario and Team Hudak trying to pin the move to the harmonized sales tax to McGuinty's Liberals, particularly in light of that upcoming provincial by-election in St. Paul's. But as the reporting notes, the Harper Conservatives have been partners in supporting and encouraging this move. As BCL pointed out, provincial Tory MPP Bill Murdoch has helpfully spoken out on that point as well. Hark, what kind of Conservative is this? A refreshing bit of candour there. Print it up in some flyers if you need to, Team Hoskins, a bit of inoculation, a medical term I'm sure the Dr. is familiar with.

Conservatives, be they provincial or federal just can't be permitted to separate themselves from this move:
Earlier this month, Mr. Flaherty called tax harmonization a “solid” policy that will create jobs and grow the Canadian economy in the long run. He even offered to cut the remaining holdout provinces a cheque to ease the transition if they agreed to harmonize the taxes.

Ottawa is already kicking in $4.3-billion to help Ontario adjust to the tax change, which will increase the cost of many items currently exempt from the provincial levy. British Columbia will receive $1.6-billion.
Come to think of it, get Deficit Jim's quote in those flyers too.

The federal Conservative MP making noises to distance himself from the Ontario HST (see above Globe link) is Bruce-Grey-Owen-Sound MP Larry Miller. Miller gets that the federal Conservative participation in this move could be politically damaging for them. So this could be a trial balloon for the federal Conservatives. They've participated in the HST move as partners on the one hand yet may diss it on the other in the smaller hometown venues in moves they think might not be noticed. Or they might perhaps quietly coat tail on protest (e.g., B.C. developments).

The prospect of political gain on the issue is clearly on Conservatives' minds as seen through provincial Team Hudak's enthusiasm and Miller's op-ed. Wouldn't put it past the Harper Conservatives to work this issue even though they're neck deep in it.

Update: Just saw NBCDipper with another Conservative doing the disavowal thing. See above:)

Update (3:05 p.m.): From CP:
A third Conservative MP is trying to wash his hands of a controversial tax harmonization plan that the federal government has touted as key to economic growth.

In a letter to a local newspaper, British Columbia MP James Lunney says moving to a single sales tax was the province's decision.

Lunney, who represents the riding of Nanaimo-Alberni, goes on to say that all concerns should be relayed to the local provincial representative Ron Cantelon.

His comments echo those of B.C. MP Dick Harris and Ontario MP Larry Miller, fellow Conservative caucus members who have disavowed Ottawa's role in convincing Ontario and B.C. to move to a single sales tax.
So, perhaps it is the plan, to point at the provincial Liberals and disavow the federal Harper/Flaherty role in this. That's not going to work...

Harper to ask Canadians for a majority government

A capital idea: "Tories changing election tune to stress majority."

"Stephen Harper: unchecked and unleashed."

Love that slogan. Please run on it.

Foreign Affairs speaking out anonymously on Kenya debacle

Of interest today, anonymous Foreign Affairs personnel are speaking to media about their colleague recalled from Kenya:
"...government sources insisted that the diplomat, former vice-consul Liliane Khadour, has simply ended her two-year diplomatic posting and has not been recalled to face disciplinary action.

'This is obviously larger than the actions of a single person,' a Foreign Affairs Department source told Canwest News Service on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity.

'What we're trying to ensure is that a single person isn't demonized in public.'"
Surely if there is an impartial round of investigations going on, led by Lawrence "Loose" Cannon and Peter Van Loan, such comments don't need to be made anonymously to media. Perhaps a sign of distrust in the investigations then. Maybe someone sees that the public calls for Khadour to be suspended may be just too tempting for the government to use and hang their investigative conclusions on. 

The investigations should indeed be impartial and there should be accountability for anyone involved. The proposition offered here, that the Mohamud affair is "obviously larger than the actions of a single person," sounds like a reasonable call for thoroughness in those investigations. 

The Star is editorializing along the same lines this morning. 

Letters to the editor

A view on two would-be nuclear experts:
We all know what Homer Simpson and Stephen Harper have in common -- they both think they are nuclear quality control experts. The difference between the two is that Homer's mistakes don't cost lives whereas Mr. Harper's government's catastrophic bungling of medical isotope management is a life-and-death crisis for the entire world.

If Mr. Harper doesn't want history to label him as the Homer Simpson of Canadian politics, he needs to spend $300-million on Chalk River's Maple Reactors to ensure there is an end to these utterly tragic and needless medical crises.

Eugene Parks, Victoria.
Interesting comparison:) (That figure of $300 million may be high, by the way, there have been estimates that it could be "tens of millions" (U.S. National Academy of Science) or, it could be in the neighbourhood of the above figure. That would need to be determined.)