Thursday, December 31, 2009

Supporting the motion: retract the power to prorogue

Dr. Dawg proposed this idea today:
Let the adjournment or prorogation* of Parliament be up to Parliament, not the whim of an authoritarian Prime Minister, abetted by a feudal monarch's assistant.
Given some rumblings from the Conservatives on the future use of prorogation as a routine matter, such a change would seem to be even more pressing to consider, for example:
Sources said Harper would like to make suspending Parliament before the annual budget a regular practice so the government can bring in a throne speech to give the economic message a wider context.
The crippling of our parliamentary system, a seismic change, would be what this little move would accomplish. There's no way of knowing if this was just rhetoric offered up by a Prime Ministerial spokesperson to provide cover for the Prime Minister's abuse of the tactic, widely documented as such. Regularizing it and spinning it that way sells it to the public as nothing to worry about, nothing to see here.

But the life of a parliamentary session is supposed to be contingent on the completion of its legislative work. That's an unknowable term at any time. Some sessions run for years in order to finish business. Setting a fixed time limit, an "annual" one on a session would throw a wrench into legislative deliberations, seriously crimping the time in which legislators have to debate, engage, work in committee. It would require a wholesale rethinking of how parliament works. In short, it's an alien imposition in a parliamentary system. At least, that's my first reading of it.

And on the thought that a Conservative controlled Senate might block such a move by the House of Commons, let's just contemplate the spectacle of the Conservatives embracing that tactic. The hypocrisy would be wonderful and while you can't put it past them, they'll have their difficulties in obstructing the Commons majority. It'll be more for the Harper anti-democratic narrative. It's building.

Such musings about increased exercise of prorogation are more evidence that our parliamentary system is viewed as something to be bent at the will of this Prime Minister, whatever is good for him politically, the rest be damned.

(h/t SG, thx)

The year in isotopes: not so good


OK, a bit of a year end summation on the state of affairs on the medical isotope file.

For anyone watching the progress in Chalk River's NRU reactor repair, which has been shut down since May, AECL has been providing updates: the latest indicating that the reactor repair is at 24% completion. The previous update on December 23rd had it at 11% repaired. The target date for return to service continues to be the end of March. That will make it almost a year that it will have been out of service.

An editorial in the Toronto Star earlier this month, "Canada's isotope fiasco," highlighted some of the outstanding issues that need to be resolved, going forward, on this file:
How long must Canadians wait for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to settle on a remedy for the shortage of medical isotopes? The issue has been on Harper's desk ever since Linda Keen, who then headed the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, first raised "serious concerns" in 2007 about the Chalk River research reactor and tried to shut it down. She was overruled, but the reactor was finally shut down last spring anyway.

That put the world's major producer of isotopes for diagnosing cancer, cardiac and other diseases out of service.

Harper, who was quick to fire Keen for what he saw as a lack of judgment, has been slower to solve the isotope problem. The shortage has damaged Canada's reputation as a supplier and caused the Americans and others to think about alternative sources. It has also left physicians relying on erratic supplies, and it has worried patients.

Beyond that, Harper has put a question mark over the very future of Canada's medical isotope production by musing about getting out of the business and buying what we need from foreign suppliers.

But if Harper decides to maintain production here, he will have to replace Chalk River's leaky 52-year-old National Research Universal reactor, which is nearing the end of its life cycle. Right now, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. just hopes to get it running again next year.

Last week, an expert panel urged Ottawa to build a new $1.2 billion reactor and to adopt other measures to ensure a stable domestic supply. Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt is studying the advice.
While Harper and Raitt sit on their hands, the Netherlands, in virtually the identical situation to us, have acted, and are poised to step into a leadership role in the world in 2016, exactly when Canada's NRU unit is supposed to be winding down:
The Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG), which operates the High Flux Reactor (HFR) in Petten, The Netherlands, announced in October developments in its plans to build a new reactor to produce medical isotopes.
...
Juliette van der Laan, the NRG spokesperson, told media sources that ‘‘The most important characteristic of Pallas will be its operational flexibility, which will make it possible to respond immediately to the fluctuating demands for isotopes. Operational power for Pallas will be adjustable and in a range of 30–80 MW power. Pallas has the capacity to be the world’s largest producer of medical isotopes.’’ (emphasis added)
(Reference, see News Briefs, pg 4).

Under the Harper government, we have totally abandoned our leadership role in the world on medical isotopes to other nations, the above mentioned Netherlands, and to the U.S. who are now creating their own supply. We have supplied about 60% of the world's isotopes. Now, we are likely to become dependent on foreign suppliers, down the road, as the Harper government is giving no indication of taking steps to ensure a domestic source will be built to replace the NRU, despite their expert panel's recommendation to that effect. Jim Flaherty's budget axe is going to fall, there's not likely to be any room for a new reactor, health care need that it is. The ironic thing, dependence on foreign suppliers will probably be more costly in the long run, in terms of health care costs and the brain drain that will occur as well. How this evolving situation will be of benefit to Canada and its nuclear medicine industry is unclear, to put it charitably. The government has seemed indifferent.

Finally, not to be forgotten this year, the patients and hospitals that have been struggling to deal with the uncertainty of isotope supply for their health care needs. They saw a government that avoided the issue like the plague.

All in all, one of the major failings of the Harper government in 2009.

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

Prorogation: the morning after

A survey of some reaction to the prorogation...so, how's it taking out there?

Prorogation, Part II: PM makes dodgy move:
Prime ministers have much overt and covert power at their disposal. But to use the Constitution as a convenience store — and as a means to buck the system or to duck accountability — is to debase it, something that doesn’t faze Mr. Harper.
The Globe's editorial is also worth a read:
For the second consecutive December, Stephen Harper is putting Parliament on ice. In the act, the Prime Minister is turning prorogation, a sometimes sensible parliamentary procedure, into an underhanded manoeuvre to avoid being accountable to Parliament. In the interests of political expediency, the government will diminish the democratic rights of Canadians.

Proroguing stops committee work and makes all legislation pending before Parliament vanish. Historically, it has been used when a government has implemented most of its agenda. Until Mr. Harper's innovation, it was not an annual occurrence; the last minority government to use it more than once was Lester B. Pearson's Liberal administration in the 1960s.
...
Canada's democracy should not be conducted solely on the basis of convenience for the governing party. If the debate over detainees cannot be carried out in Parliament, then it should continue among Canadians at large. On this and other important issues, the government cannot delay accountability forever.
Letters to the Globe are unkind to Mr. Harper's move. Great editorial cartoon here.

Jim Travers sets out one of the risks that Kady O'Malley was referring to on the National last night as well:
While Canadians struggle with recession's aftershocks, Harper risks being seen as more interested in maximizing a sporting spectacle Conservatives are doing everything possible to make their own.
The Bloc was raising that point yesterday (Translation):
«De donner les Jeux olympiques comme prétexte pour proroger le gouvernement, il faut être culotté pas à peu près», a rétorqué Michel Guimond. «Il ya des villages que je représente en Haute-Côte-Nord avec des taux de chômage de 22 à 24 %. Est-ce qu'ils s'attendent à ce que les députés aillent à Vancouver-Whistler suivre les Jeux olympiques ou s'ils s'attendent à ce qu'ils adoptent des mesures pour les aider», at-il lancé.
Will Canadians start asking those questions, hey, why aren't these guys doing their jobs if I have to throughout the Olympics?

Will unforeseeable events occur between now and March 3rd that will make the absence of parliament appear to have been an unwise choice? Will foreseeable events, such as those taking place in Afghanistan, pile on and make the parliamentary absence even more glaring?

Will the negative image of Stephen Harper, with this latest prorogation, become crystallized to a degree not yet seen before? Will that "arrogance" catch up to him after all?

These are unknowns that no one can control for, not even too-clever-by-half Stephen Harper. One can have the grandest plan on paper. Yet two months is a lifetime, many lifetimes in this political era. The unknowns may come back to bite him on this decision.

Early reviews do not appear to be good, the Globe editorial standing out quite prominently, reminiscent of their recent stances opposing the government's heavy-handed reaction to the detainee torture allegations. And such displays are notable. As governmental mechanisms of accountability are shut down by the PM, the media's ability to act as an instrument of public accountability becomes all the more important. I don't believe he can prorogue them.

Governor General's year end address



A few thoughts on the year end address from the Governor General that has, really, been overshadowed by the prorogation event of yesterday. This year end message is never really a big deal of an event, more of a pro forma thing but nevertheless, it does take on a bit of new meaning now. See below...

It's a hopeful message from Michaelle Jean, populated with idealistic expressions. She relates what she has been hearing from Canadians this past year and what their hopes are. She speaks of "solidarity," "an ethic of sharing," a fairer society, that is "more ecological," "more peaceful." Yes, that all sounds very good.

What's really timely, given the prorogation, is her statement that Canada has chosen to embrace the "luminous promise of the truth" in respect of our aboriginal schools history and the truth and reconciliation commission that will be travelling across the country.
It is Canada's desire to seek the truth and to make amends that makes it a symbol of hope for so many people around the world.
And you know, this is what a Governor General is for, right? Uplifting, idealistic inspiration from the person representing us all. It's hard not to listen to Jean and get that sense.

Yet in listening to that message, brief as it is and acknowledging that it is meant to be an idealistic statement, the word that comes to mind is "incongruent." Jean's words on what we are doing as a nation to reconcile historic wrongs are in jarring contrast to present reality, the history we are presently writing. What the government is doing in respect of the present truths it is responsible for does not measure up to any idealistic sense of what our parliamentary democracy should be about. What did it do when faced with torture allegations in Afghanistan? It won't tell us. We learn through leaks to the media and whistle blowers. The information is blacked out, the Military Police Complaints Commission is shut down, public servants like Peter Tinsley, the chair of that Commission, are dismissed, a respectable diplomat is attacked, and ultimately, Parliament is ignored and prorogued.

How wide is the gap between Jean's words and present day reality. The "luminous promise of the truth," eloquent as it is coming from Jean, seems to be for history, not the events we face today.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Prorogation: the sequel



It's quite the record this Prime Minister is building for the history books. Prorogation may be a power a Prime Minister can exercise. Whether he or she should exercise it and the circumstances in which they do it, that's what distinguishes Mr. Harper from his predecessors. Twice within a year, Mr. Harper has chosen to run from facing the music. Run and hide Harper, that's for sure. The anti-democratic narrative Stephen Harper is building for himself is remarkable. There's a huge opening for a Government 2.0 platform.

But back to today's events, it's not about a lone incident of a detainee getting beaten by a shoe, as Stephen Taylor and Laurie Hawn and Harvie Andre would have you believe. That's part of the spin, minimizing the Afghan detainee issue. It's about the Prime Minister's actions here and now, in Canada. This Prime Minister and his timid followers are defying a Parliamentary order. That's virtually unprecedented and it won't go away because Stephen Harper is booking off for the Olympics in order to wave flags. It's not clear at this moment how that order will be pursued but it's there, sitting on the books and Stephen Harper has chosen to close down Parliament rather than deal with it. Those are the facts no matter what the spin is.

Speaking of which, the political power of the Prime Minister as evidenced in polls is irrelevant to that basic parliamentary issue. It's a backdrop, sure, it always is when assessing Conservative actions, it's how they make their decisions rather than in the best interests of the nation. But within the halls of Parliament, contempt of an order is for Parliament to deal with, by its own rules. The fact that we have a government that chooses how to act on rule of law issues by their standing in the polls, that's an affront to the rule of law, yes. It's also an issue for the electorate to deal with in the future.

It's high times in Canadian politics, we have the spectacle of a Prime Minister that chooses to defy constitutional conventions, Parliamentary orders...because he has the grey room in parliamentary convention to do so and money and political power at his back.

We have to continue to work to defeat him, he's not good for the country, it's as simple as that.

Democracy optional

This news outfit is reporting it: "Tories want Parliament suspended until March." And Big City Lib believes it. Good enough for me.

Sure sounds like the Harper way. The going has gotten tough on the detainee issue. Time for this leader to run:
The Conservative government will ask the Governor General to suspend Parliament Wednesday delaying the return of MPs until the beginning of March, QMI Agency has learned.

Sources say the government is expected to prevent Parliament coming back on its scheduled return date of Jan. 25 so it can keep the House in recess until after the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

Dimitri Soudas, press secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would not confirm or deny the story saying only that "no decision had yet been made" with respect to proroguing parliament.

Preventing the return of Parliament until after the Olympics would effectively shut down all government committees, which would stop MPs from pursuing the Afghan detainee controversy until Parliament returned.
It's some kind of democracy we've got going on here. Just top shelf.

A PMO spokesthingy previously said parliament would return on January 25th. Things change I guess.

I wrote about this recently, I don't believe there's much chance the Governor General would refuse this request despite the argument she should refuse.

Bowie has catalogued the bills that would die, despite the incessant Conservative rhetoric we've been subjected to on their crime legislation. What a load of hooey that's been. Which we knew. Now they've just flat out admitted it.

In addition, throw in such matters as the government's inaction on the isotope panel's report. That likely falls by the wayside for three more months now, possibly more. No urgency from the government has been in evidence on that. Patients and hospitals bear the brunt, the government skates away from responsibility.

Stephen Harper, treating parliament as if it's his own personal plaything, to dismiss at his leisure while the rest of the world goes on working...there's no legitimate reason for it.

A new expression for the General

General Hillier, in an interview with Don Martin, offers up what seems to be one of his all time favourite things to say, we hear it so often after all:
Defence spending roared into an $18-billion budget item that bought new tanks, LAVs, helicopters, heavy lift aircraft and cargo planes.

“The term would be revolutionary. We were dying as Canadian forces 10 years ago and having come through the decade of darkness, we were at our lowest ebb,” General Hillier said in an interview. “The difference is now that by and large Canadians have woken up and taken ownership of their Canadian Forces.”
The infamous "decade of darkness" quote from Hillier lives on. How many times have we heard him say this? Most recently, in his opening statement to the Afghanistan special committee: "...after a decade of darkness that was the culmination of many, many years of lower funding and lack of support that we perceived..." Have we heard this highly charged expression from any other military leader? Probably not as vocally and not in such public forums as Hillier has taken the opportunity to do. This is the former chief of defence staff and he just won't give it a rest.

It's not inappropriate for a military leader to advocate funding for greater military resources, that's what any government department does on its behalf, in its own interest. That's not the issue. It's the politically charged phrasing that he continues to deploy, suggesting a decided orientation, despite his book's stories of fights with the Prime Minister's office, for example. Because using the phrasing, on an ongoing basis, feeds into the current Conservative modus operandi of politicizing the military, portraying Conservatives as on the military's side, as the party that supports the troops to the exclusion of others. Hillier must know this, yet he continues to do it.

He's obviously got his opinions, as narrowly expressed as they are, and we will continue to be subjected to them. There's not much one can do about it except draw attention to it and object. If military spending was cut in the 1990s or is cut in the future, that's a legitimate decision open to any government to make and it's not for the military to politically muckrake about. The military leadership should not align itself with any political party. That's what the General does, every time he clumsily puts it out there.

And as a bonus, Hillier opines that the discussion of the detainee issue is "incredibly depressing." It's unfortunate that the General is depressed by the discussion about the inconvenient Geneva Conventions and our government's actions in relation to them. But I'm sure he knows that it's Mr. Harper, Mr. MacKay, Mr. Cannon and Mr. O'Connor who are the lead instigators of that depression. Call it Canada's mid-decade turn into a whole new kind of darkness. There's a new expression for the General.

The pyrrhic victory of it all

From a year ender a few days ago, Stephen Maher captures the dilemma Mr. Harper's brand of politics leaves him in, a dynamic that will continue on into 2010:
He shows strength by refusing to respond to opposition and media concerns if they do not suit his agenda, and the many Canadians who have put their faith in him are not bothered by the cries of opposition MPs and commentators.

On the other hand, Mr. Harper shows rigidity, secretiveness, a zeal for control and a willingness to treat people roughly.

His government publicly slagged the diplomat in question and got rid of the head of the Military Police Complaints Commission, the arm’s-length body investigating his government — one of a number of watchdogs Mr. Harper has ditched.

Mr. Harper remains in control in Ottawa, a firm hand on the tiller, with the approval of many Canadians, in better shape at the end of the year than at the beginning, his back off the wall.

All the same, his hard edges make it difficult for him to broaden his base.
Just when he advances, post-piano playing, he crashes back down to standard minority territory on real, difficult issues such as Afghanistan, the environment. And despite 2010's promise of Olympic glory and reflected glow for Stephen Harper, there will be job promises to live up to ("...265,000 jobs by the end of 2010"), deficits to grapple with as stimulus spending ends and real economists press them for real plans. There also remains the other real, difficult issues that aren't going away in 2010, Afghanistan, the environment. When reality interferes with the best laid plans of this government's massive p.r. operation, that's when Mr. Harper et al. have problems. We need to keep pressing reality upon them.

And the other part of the equation needs to be solved, of course, that goes without saying.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Politik



Have you heard of Grooveshark? An online music service I've been taking to of late, as you can tell. Highly recommend if you like to listen to music while online, or on your laptop while travelling, etc.

There's no life like it

A skeptic might raise an eyebrow at some recent headlines of the military variety in the last few days. For example, we've seen: "Paying Afghans for damage caused by soldiers 'phenomenal' counter-insurgency." Then there was this news from the high seas: "Crew of Canadian frigate helps ship after pirates get ransom and flee." Both reports sole-sourced to the military and of a very good news orientation. The pirate story in particular. We board, we sweep for pirates, we give medical examinations, we leave fresh food and water, and then with a wave and a smile, we're off. OK, not the wave and smile part, but it's close.

Anyway, I suppose I'm a baddie for drawing critical attention to such reports which seem to stand out amidst a lengthy stretch of negative focus on Afghanistan and in particular on the Afghan detainee issue. That story continues today.

Who knows, maybe it all is that sunny, the glass is half full, gee whiz...but it's tough not to question the timing, the one-sidedness of the reporting and the out of the blue nature of the subject matters.

The youth vote

This is a good idea:
Here’s what we need in 2010 — the youth to take over. Everybody is sick and tired, or at least they should be, of the eternal grip on power of the post-war baby boomer cohort.
...
Among our elected representatives, in the cobwebbed chamber that is the House of Commons, there is one guy with the potential to light a fuse.
Justin Trudeau, 38, is the politician who can change things. He is young, articulate in both languages, dashing, magnetic. Wherever he goes he draws a crowd. Charisma is a rare political gift. About one in 1,000 have it. He has it.
...
The Liberals should do all they can to showcase him. The youth vote is up for grabs in this country and the party that gets it will be the party on the move. It’s how Barack Obama won. As his campaign manager, David Plouffe, relates in his book, The Audacity To Win, what the Obama campaign did was change the electorate. It reached down below the boring baby boomers to the emerging younger cohort and awakened it.
That’s what has to happen here.
Of course there are no magic bullets and no one is likely to replicate the magical Obama campaign. It is true, though, that the youth vote looks very competitive for Liberals if you watch the polls. There's no reason not to go after it in a concerted way if a party has an asset like Trudeau. Going after the youth vote with him, that's a no-brainer to ramp up, moreso than it already is.

Yes it is

"Honesty is the best policy," writes Preston Manning today, in part regaling us on Stephen Harper's lack of hypocrisy on human rights in China and the supposed hypocrisy of former governments.

Too bad Manning seems to have missed all this then. It was quite recent. Or maybe he did see it and he's characterizing it as the "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" Liberal stuff he refers to. Except if you read Chretien's speech, it's not nudgey-winky in the slightest. Rewriting history are these Conservatives.

Honesty is indeed the best policy, on that much, I'd agree.

Silly Karl Rove

Watch silly, discredited, hyper-partisan Karl Rove on the underwear bomber:



Then read:
...there is no question about the legitimacy of U.S. federal courts to incapacitate terrorists. Many of Holder's critics appear to have forgotten that the Bush administration used civilian courts to put away dozens of terrorists, including "shoe bomber" Richard Reid; al-Qaeda agent Jose Padilla; "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh; the Lackawanna Six; and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was prosecuted for the same conspiracy for which Mohammed is likely to be charged. Many of these terrorists are locked in a supermax prison in Colorado, never to be seen again.

In terrorist trials over the past 15 years, federal prosecutors and judges have gained extensive experience protecting intelligence sources and methods, limiting a defendant's ability to raise irrelevant issues and tightly controlling the courtroom.
More on other prosecutions of terror suspects in the U.S. here. And on the specific point about getting information, it's well known that Ahmed Ressam, the "Millenium bomber," for example, cooperated with American authorities for a few years before clamming up. There are no guarantees about getting information, either way, through the court system or the military commission route. But with the stunning lack of success in the military commission system (with prosecutions), it's remarkable to hear Republicans still touting its merits, it's clearly all political for them. The generalities offered up by the likes of the discredited Rove politicos clearly need to be kept in perspective.

Update: And on this general topic today, a great letter in the Globe:
Permit me to offer a suggestion. The airline should designate a crew member as master at arms. He or she will select a dozen able-bodied passengers from those waiting at the gate. Those chosen will be issued truncheons; they’ll be boarded last and announced as they take their seats along the aisles. In the event of any terrorist action, the master at arms will call on them to subdue the perpetrator(s). Apart from added security, this will provide those flying the satisfaction of doing something apart from being patted down and herded like sheep.

Michael Egan, Pierrefonds, Que.

The Current political panel yesterday

If you're interested, here is the link to the Current's political panel yesterday with Warren Kinsella, Peggy Nash and former Mulroney cabinet minister Harvie Andre.

Harvie Andre almost made listening to it unbearable. Referring to an "opposition coup" last year, referring to allegations of "so called torture." Apparently this stuff has become mainstream Conservative talking point material now to the point that former Mulroneyites are getting in on it.

Andre also seemed to be laughing for a good part of the way through the interview. It's nice to have pleasant banter running through those things to lighten it up but come on.

Notably, at one point, Andre spoke glowingly about climategate as having thrown doubt upon the fact of global warming, as the underreported story of the year. I take it he was speaking with full approval of the Harper government, no one speaks as a representative of any party in these venues without approval. So that was interesting.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Harper PMO: In with the old

The Prime Minister's Office, dutifully doing the pressing business of the nation: "PMO mocks Ignatieff in internal email." Seems they've latched on to one answer given by Ignatieff during the many, many year end news interviews that Ignatieff gave to multiple media outlets. The many interviews that Ignatieff volunteered up were in contrast to the Prime Minister's controlled effort where he gave one puff interview to an English outlet, one interview to a French outlet.

So, their foe having provided miles of videotape, the PMO's video watching minions have apparently uncovered their latest "gotcha" moment. One response from Ignatieff on becoming PM that was less than to the PMO's exacting standards. You can see how laughable this is, coming from a PMO that refused to engage in similar media access by the PM. And that they're picking over the details, it's quite a telling story about how they spend their time. Attack politics, that's what they do.

It's also laughable given the PM's less than memorable year. He survived near defeat this past January. He doled out stimulus funds in a skewed partisan manner inordinately to Conservative ridings. He played the piano. He snuffed out debate on the Afghan detainee issue by defying a Parliamentary order for documents, by shutting down the Military Police Complaints Commission. He sat on his hands, for the fourth year now, on environmental action. What does he do as PM, that's the better question. How does he conduct himself. He's hanging on, in minority territory, what a year.

It's funny, the PM was touting the "Olympic spirit" that's about to sweep the nation in his year end Christmas message, speaking of winning Olympians becoming symbols of what the country represents. He really could stand to learn a thing or two from them, as alien as fair play and winning on merit seem as concepts. Instead, the ongoing negative attack preoccupation is what we get from his PMO. They're the dopers of the political world.

Then there's the whole issue of how this missive from the PMO warrants a news item in the national newspaper of record. No formal attack ads necessary, just print up the talking points, all linked up and let the media run with it. I mean, why bother paying anymore?

You're tempted to say that Liberals should be doing this style of media engagement too, some media are obviously willing recipients of such attacks and will promulgate them nation-wide for free. The question of what to do, how to deal with such attacks is an ongoing one. Should the Liberals be doing it themselves or just let such attacks sit, knowing that they just cement the negative image of the Prime Minister, hardening his base?

It's a larger question that needs to be addressed, the Conservatives are not relenting on such tactics and these attacks resonate with some, they wouldn't be doing it if it didn't.

Update (8:50 p.m.): And this too.

Update (10:45 p.m.): Greg has some advice.

"Shaming us all"

An excellent column by Janice Kennedy on the KAIROS defunding which captures the ugly coat that the Harper government is wearing as a result of its smear of KAIROS as anti-Semitic: "Shaming us all." Worth a read today. For example, there's this explanation of exactly why it is so unacceptable for a Canadian cabinet minister to be speaking in such terms in the context of defunding KAIROS:
Anti-Semitic. He effectively called KAIROS anti-Semitic.

The charge is horrific. For people of good will who are not Jewish, the very idea of being or appearing anti-Semitic is chilling. I speak personally. We have seen the result of anti-Semitism at its most horrendous in film, literature, the powerful testimonials of those who lived and died during the Holocaust. We have heard our Jewish friends and neighbours, and we understand without question the need for both the concept and state of Israel, as well as the worldwide duty of vigilance. "Never again" is the understandably passionate cry of every heart that is Jewish -- but it also has a resounding resonance, a powerful resonance, in hearts that are not.

Anti-Semitism, in short, is a crime against humanity, something loathsome that emerges from the hatred and wilful ignorance of shrivelled souls and the lowest of the low. To label persons or groups anti-Semitic is to condemn them, rightly, to contempt. And a minister of the Crown has just done that to a Christian humanitarian group.
The fact that we have a government that is quite comfortable in taking such a heinous charge and freely levelling it at political opponents and now international humanitarian groups is a phenomenon. We've not had a government in recent memory that has so enthusiastically embraced the rhetorical sword as feverishly as this one, pushing our discourse to new limits all the time. The audacity of the Conservative government in making such charges deserves ongoing focus, as they've started to get now. They need to be called on it, as Kennedy does here.

The second aspect of the column worth noting, Kennedy cites the work that KAIROS does that is going to be undercut now:
What is sad here, besides the Harperites' unconscionable and politically motivated mudslinging, is the damage to both the reputation KAIROS has built up so powerfully over the years, and its role as a champion of responsible global citizenship.

In Sudan, where its humanitarian work focuses on developing livelihoods for the community; in Indonesia, where it investigates human rights violations and military atrocities; in Colombia, where its community development work is a bulwark against kidnappings and assassinations; in the Congo, where it is involved in the fight against rape as a weapon of war -- in so many places, in so many ways, KAIROS does the good, honourable and difficult thing.

Any well-meaning Canadian -- left, right, centre -- should feel a justifiable sense of shame that our government, in our name, has so ill-used an organization that walks the walk, fights the fight and does all those other things for which most of us lack the time, inclination and stomach.
That message may have infiltrated the Conservative political consciousness, as demonstrated by Jason Kenney's initial effort at damage control that came on Christmas Eve, denying he'd said what everyone is nevertheless under the impression that he did indeed say. That was a sign that the Conservative brain trust knows they went too far, an effort to belatedly get the story back to CIDA cutbacks.

Anyway, just wanted to call attention to this column, someone else who gets it about this government, always worth noting.

Ixnay on the earning-lay

Referring to a talking point that seems to be of questionable merit, coming from Ignatieff yesterday and numerous times of late. In talking about the early fall tactical shift to opposing the government on confidence matters, he's taken to positioning himself in the learner's role, a shade too much for comfort:
“Canadians were in the middle of the toughest recession in 25 years,” he said. “They want an alternative to the Harper government. What they didn't want is someone talking about an election. And somehow we got stuck with the idea that we wanted an election at any price.

“And I think Canadians said, ‘Come on. Get out of here. Come back when you've got an alternative for us.' And I'm listening. I'm learning. I'm getting better at this.” (emphasis added)
Put me down as uncertain about the wisdom of this talking point. Facing Mr. Harper, I'm not sure it's helpful in the least to have someone continuously refer to himself as learning. Listening, ok. But the learning part, that is not reassuring when facing a ruthless Machiavellian operator of the highest order.

What's wrong with, "I'm listening, we're working hard to give Canadians an alternative, earn their trust, etc., etc.," without the constant learning aspect that seems to undermine the confidence that is sought to be gained?

But who knows, maybe somebody knows something about this magic word and it's meant to appeal to voters. In the meantime, I squirm every time I hear it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday night

Lights of Toronto



A well done video from the Toronto Star, atmospheric music accompanying some of the highlights of the city's lit up self from the holidays. My much maligned city looks pretty good. My 'hood near the end, Bloor West Village.

Normal political blogging will resume any day now. Starting to itch.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Control freaks and new frontiers, sentiments of the season

(bensonkua)

Hope you're finished with Christmas shopping and planning and can move on to other things, with family or whatever you may be doing for the next few days. We Torontonians will be enjoying rain and freezing rain, no white Christmas. Nice.

If you're looking for political thinking today, there's Travers on the plight of the watchdog under Stephen Harper's tenure with some Christmas tidings on the PM:
Opposition parties, having experienced the madness of his methods, wonder aloud how far beyond silencing critics and suspending Parliament the Prime Minister will go to have his way. Even some Conservatives now refer privately to Harper as a control freak.
Now that's the Christmas spirit.

Lawrence Martin is feeling the season too, all optimistic about next year and what not. It is interesting the way he recaps the year, briefly, and notes achievements of Chretien, Martin but there's no comparable note of achievement for Mr. Harper that is cited, except the piano playing act. Interesting how that is all that is coming to mind to those looking back. Yes, what did he do, let us rack our brains. After mentioning Obama's year, Martin ends with this:
On Christmas Eve, such noble thoughts as that arise. It is the year's greatest day of anticipation, a day when the glimmers of optimism reach beyond the radiant faces of children to all ages. In 2009, we moved past the big scares. It was a year of survival. In 2010, more is promised. Recovery begins in earnest. New frontiers beckon.
It would be nice to think that 2010 will be better politically, with "new frontiers," as hard as that is to see given how the year is ending. But Martin's sentiment is probably a good end note for today.

Enough politics for now, seasonal music, but of course...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Break from the hum de dum

The votes are in

What's this we're reading? "Harper's steady statesmanship earns him title of Newsmaker of the Year." CBC reports on it too. Well, that's all very nice, but not surprisingly, in this corner you won't find a shared view of "steady statesmanship" from this leader. Should we be magnanimous in the spirit of the season? Maybe. But moving on...

Perusing the CP item, one can't help but have the overall sense that while the "honorific" is bestowed on Harper, there's enough offered as opinion to fairly say it's a begrudging choice. There's recognition of the political acumen, the resort to the international stage for the statesmanlike glow that can attract. Fine, give it to him on those scores. But there are enough reasons enumerated for the choice that aren't exactly glowing and continue to point out that ultimately, this is a vulnerable politician who can be beaten. I'm inclined to support the reasoning of Antonia Maioni who articulates the "default" position that Harper occupies. Until something better comes along, it's a vote/poll choice parking era for Canadians:
"It's been a quiet leadership," said Antonia Maioni, a political scientist at McGill University and director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

After brainstorming for highlights, the best she could come up with was "him playing piano at the National Arts Centre. If that's the only inspiration, we have a problem in terms of leadership."
...
...Harper also seemed to know instinctively when not to lead. He spent less time in the House of Commons this fall than his last two predecessors, according to statistics compiled by Le Devoir.

When the Afghan detainee controversy exploded in November, the prime minister chose to have his picture taken with the national lacrosse team rather than attend question period. He stayed out of sight for the bulk of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen this month, where Canada was vilified, leaving Environment Minister Jim Prentice to defend his government's environmental policies.

"That reflects a little bit about what Stephen Harper is able to do, to deflect and stay in power, by default," said Maioni.

For all of his foreign travel, Harper offered little of substance in terms of leaving a Canadian mark on world affairs, she added.

"It's good that he's getting out in the world, but he's certainly not a global presence. By association, Canada isn't either."
One more view of the default winner:
"Harper has been able to lead a country that appeared to vote Liberal by reflex and survive everything from accusations of partisan stimulus distribution to a war against the arts to war-crime charges," said Irene Gentle, news editor of the Hamilton Spectator.

"It looks like he did have a secret agenda - making you like him just enough to keep his poll numbers rising, in spite of himself."(emphasis added)
It's high times in Canadian politics, congrats to Mr. Harper, he wins! Imagine all the kids across the nation being inspired, maybe when they grow up they can deflect and stay in power by default too.

Buck passing at year end

Give your head a shake at the latest from the PM: "Torture issue Afghan problem, not Canadian: PM." Harper is moving to put great distance between Canada and the Afghan government over handling of detainees. It's all their responsibility, Canada really has nothing to do with it, according to hands-off Harper, who is becoming quite comfortable in that role on the international scene it appears. In his year end interview to TVA, he had this to say in a herculean buck passing effort (apparently he says this during the full CTV year end interview too, yet to be aired):
“The allegations are not being made – I hope – against Canadian soldiers,” Mr. Harper said in a year-end interview with the French-language television network TVA. “… Our diplomats reformed the transfer system. We are speaking here of a problem among Afghans. It's not a problem between Canadians and Afghans. We're speaking of problems between the government of Afghanistan and the situation in Afghanistan. We are trying to do what's possible to improve that situation, but it's not in our control.
The obligatory use of the troops as a shield, of course, that's his well-established m.o. at this point. But this now is rather remarkable chutzpah, trying to say that his government's actions in 2006-2007 that have been under the microscope are irrelevant. He's spinning the problem now as an Afghan-on-Afghan construct and hoping that polls move his way. But polling on who is benefiting from the political handling of torture allegations is obscene, the allegations should be pursued irrespective of any such numbers. International actors won't care about Mr. Harper's domestic political calculations.

Back to the main issue here, Harper knows that as part of our Afghan mission, we have Geneva Conventions obligations with respect to the transfer of detainees. That if we know that there is the risk of torture by Afghans, we should not be transferring them to Afghans. Then once we've transferred, we have ongoing obligations to correct the situation if we're notified of torture allegations. So it's in an ongoing manner, by virtue of our role there, that we are inextricably connected to what he describes as an Afghan-on-Afghan problem. His government, as the civilian leadership exercising control over the military has ultimate responsibility for overseeing that we act in accordance with those standards. Canada can't shirk like Mr. Harper is doing, pointing fingers at Afghans and trying to erase his government's accountability.

That he's spinning these obligations away like just any other routine political matter, it just seems immoral. There's no sense of higher purpose here, Mr. Harper is fatally preoccupied with finding the latest crafty political escape hatch, no more, no less.

If there's any comfort to be found for anyone watching Mr. Harper day in and day out, it's that increasingly, voices are speaking up against his excess. The latest today,"Who's next on Harper's smear list?" The Conservatives may smugly feel they are getting away with it all but the voices are multiplying as good people are being smeared and lines are being crossed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

For old times sake



Since someone is musing about carbon taxes now. He is, despite the attempt to dial back his answer. The PM spoke, unspun.

Might have been nice to have a different stripe of government representing us at Copenhagen, video is a timely reminder.

The big year ender

So we got a little preview last night on CTV of the coming end of year sit down among Harper, Bob Fife and Lloyd Robertson of CTV. There's a video preview there at the link. CTV is the only English language network to be granted an interview with his highness, blessed art CTV amongst networks. A major departure from previous years. But are we surprised? No. And maybe a bit thankful given the glimpse of content that we did see. There's only so much of this year end blather a discerning citizen can take.

First issue for Canadians to be apprised of at year end...why it's all coming up roses in terms of handling that monster deficit. No problemo, says Harper, adopting a moderate tone meant for the viewing audience, and giving us the p.r. tested spin:
He says the deficit can be wiped out with restraint in Ottawa, and without tax increases.

“The government's approach will be clear. We won't be raising taxes, but we will be constraining growth, making sure that growth is very much contained in the future, and that the tax base of the country can gradually recover,” Mr. Harper said in a year-end interview for CTV's A Conversation with the Prime Minister , taped for a Boxing Day broadcast.

“And within four to five years, if we follow that path, we should be back to a balanced budget.”
No new taxes, we will just "constrain" growth. "Constrain," "constrain," "constrain," get to know that word. Fresh from the focus groups I'm sure. It is meant to suggest government spending will continue at levels we're used to but without pain, go back to sleep Canadians. They will just be slowing the rate of spending growth. But the real meaning is there to be extrapolated, it means spending cuts, and they will be substantial. The real world economists, for example, think the no-pain Harper view is not realistic:
Former deputy ministers Scott Clark and David Dodge have already stepped forward to challenge the government's plans for eliminating the deficit, which is projected to reach $56-billion this fiscal year. Mr. Clark has said that Ottawa will have to raise the GST, which Mr. Harper cut in 2006.

“I don't think it's very likely that they can balance the budget without some very severe spending restraint,” said Bank of Montreal deputy chief economist Douglas Porter.
Given the Harper track record on statements regarding deficits and how far they've been off, I think it's fair to bet on the economists. Harper doesn't dare speak the truth on the cuts that will be required, he's gunning for a majority before the truth will out.

Other issues of interest in the interview...no answer on prorogation, whether it's coming or not. The budget will be in March and while Harper plays coy, it could very well be that there's a prorogation that occurs in the new year, holding off parliament until after the Olympic extravaganza.

Also of note, when asked if a carbon tax for Canada is a possibility, Harper said "I hope not." Again, throwing in haplessly with the Americans, speaking of having to wait and see on the "regime" adopted in the U.S. But he did say it, leaving the door open, despite the frantic spin from his communications staff to CTV at the end of the interview. And Harper ironically blasted environmentalists:
"It's not a simple matter of having moral outrage and marching in the streets," said Harper. "One has to actually develop a plan that will reduce emissions in a way that will not cause hundreds of thousands of people to lose their jobs in the middle of a recession."
Yes, serious government types have a plan. Too bad there hasn't been one for four years, we've been in a recession for just over a year. What explains the other years of inaction? And hundreds of thousands of lost jobs? What's the basis? Oh for a follow-up question.

Anyway, that's just from the few minute glimpse we've been given. I'm sure it'll be a fine holiday event.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Prorogation miscellany: Private members bills, the GG

(flickr)

A few things on the rumoured prorogation. A PMO spokesman did deny it flatly last week:
Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, brushed it off as the rumor mill at work, saying "we don't speculate on that stuff, on what the government might or might not do."

"It's just a rumor, it's not grounded in any fact," MacDougall told Dow Jones. "The government has work to do, it has work to do in Parliament."

MacDougall said Parliament will return from the six-week Christmas break on Jan. 25, as scheduled.
So I guess we should take their word for it. Anyway...

Just in case you were wondering and wanted to know the impact a prorogation would have on any private member bills that are in the committee stage, e.g., the gun registry bill, the Standing Orders say they come back as is:
Private Members’ Business to continue.

86.1 At the beginning of the second or a subsequent session of a Parliament, all items of Private Members’ Business originating in the House of Commons that were listed on the Order Paper during the previous session shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation and shall stand, if necessary, on the Order Paper or, as the case may be, referred to committee and the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business and the order of precedence established pursuant to Standing Order 87 shall continue from session to session.
More for the wonks, the plain English version:
Prorogation of a session usually brings to an end all proceedings before Parliament. Unfinished business “dies” on the Order Paper and must be started anew in a subsequent session. The provisions of Standing Order 86.1, however, mean that prorogation has almost no practical effect on Private Members’ Business. The List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business, established at the beginning of a Parliament, and the order of precedence, established pursuant to Standing Order 87, continue from session to session. Private Members’ bills and motions, including motions for papers which have been transferred for debate, need not be reintroduced in a new session as they automatically are deemed to have passed all stages completed in the previous session and retain the same place on the Order Paper. Thus, items placed in the order of precedence remain there. Items designated as non-votable maintain that designation. Private Members’ bills are deemed to have been adopted at all stages of the legislative process agreed to in the previous session. If consideration of an item at a certain stage had begun but had not been completed, the item is restored at the beginning of that stage, as if no debate had yet occurred. [2] Bills that were referred to a committee in the previous session are deemed referred back to the same committee. For the purposes of Standing Order 97.1, the deadline for reporting a private Members’ bill from committee is 60 sitting days following the day it is deemed referred to the committee, normally the first day of the session. [3] For ease of reference, all bills and motions under Private Members’ Business retain the same number from session to session.
So, there is no silver lining on a prorogation in this respect. And the upside of the wily tactic of wrapping the gun registry bill in a Private Members' cloak is demonstrated once again.

Secondly, just wanted to draw attention to the Star's op-ed pages in the last few days. They're pushing Lawrence Martin's theme of our democratic deficit along. Really, Jim Travers has been doing that all year, but they're getting a bit more intense of late. Note this piece from Professor Emeritus Reg Whitaker on Friday, indicting the Harper government's defiance of the House of Commons order on production of documents in relation to the Afghan detainee issue.
If the Prime Minister is actually considering proroguing Parliament in a desperate attempt to keep the lid on, suspicion will turn into certainty: This must represent a cover-up of serious wrongdoing.

There is no reasonable explanation of why the Harper government has gone to such lengths to suppress these documents, other than fear for its own political well-being. If it wishes to allay such suspicions, it can take up any of the available opportunities to provide transparency without endangering national security. If it does not, the public will have to draw its own conclusions.
Then there was Jim Travers' column on Saturday, "The year of governing secretly," which is also worth a read.

And thirdly, this piece today, "Harper acting as though he is an elected dictator" which some have picked up on. Siddiqui offers another brilliant contribution to the growing chorus of voices standing up loudly to Stephen Harper.
Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.
Culminating in this recommendation to the Governor General on a present day rumoured prorogation:
She should flat-out refuse and not repeat her mistake from a year ago, when she got rolled by him.
There's more that's worth a read there, Siddiqui paints the picture that essentially makes the case for the Governor General to refuse prorogation on the basis of abuse of power. But given that last year in arguably a much more egregious situation, she agreed to prorogation, it's hard to see that she would refuse this time. There's a strong convention that a Prime Minister's advice be accepted if he/she has the confidence of the House of Commons. Difficult as that may be to stomach given the conduct we're witnessing. Still, very interesting argument that can't be dismissed out of hand and it's encouraging to see these editorial pages putting the case out there.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday night

We win

(Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam International)

Just for fun...a shot of the Harper dummy, for lack of a better word, as he won the coveted prize at Copenhagen (click to enlarge). Captures a moment in time. It's not often that a Canadian Prime Minister is dummy-worthy at a major international event, after all. Although I do think the stubble effect is a little too pronounced.

Prentice now back home trying to sell the deal but the bad press continues:
Canadian negotiators, however, weren't invited to a meeting that included the U.S., China, Brazil, India and South Africa for the drafting of the final document. But Prentice said Canada didn't need a seat at the table for the 11th-hour bargaining session.

"Those were the countries that had to be in that room because the final issue that needed to be resolved was transparency in terms of the obligations by the developing countries," he said.

"Canada was not there because we are only responsible for two per cent of the world's emissions."

But Prentice's explanation did little to abate the criticism levelled against Canada during the two week U-N Conference in the Danish capital. Canada was bestowed with the dubious "Colossal Fossil" award by environmental groups during the conference. Canada was criticized by developing countries and environmentalists who accused the Conservative government of failing to make concessions to help reach a deal - and of relinquishing the country's historic role as a progressive on the world stage.
The country's historic role as a progressive on the world stage...that's exactly what we need to get back.

COP15 Highlights, day 12 - December 18, 2009

Just to finish off the series...





And the blogosphere has weighed in quite effectively on Canada in Copenhagen.

More explaining for MacKay

Regarding this story, "Canada's troops investigated for Afghan abuse," and this story, "Source: Afghan detainee mistreated in Canadian custody," a few points...

This marks a significant public turning point in the discussion about this issue. To date we've been talking in terms of Afghans abusing Canadian-transferred detainees. Putting Canadian troops in the mix definitely ramps up the focus on the issue and the severity of the situation for Canadian conduct in Afghanistan. To date the government has essentially been able to shluff off the issue - spin wise, anyway - to how Afghans treat other Afghans. What do you expect, perfection, we've heard as the spin, in terms of conditions in Afghan prisons. Now this is a new turn, it's us in the spotlight.

It's not clear whether the incident referenced in the canoe.ca report is the one that is still being investigated as noted in the CBC report:
"The military police determined that the allegations were unfounded in five of the six cases, and the remaining investigation is ongoing," said Major Paule Poulin, a spokesperson for the Canadian Forces Provost Marshall.
We might hear Peter MacKay maintain he hasn't said anything wrong when he said this:
"The member is suggesting by implication that the military did something wrong, that somehow they did not do the right thing. That is what is so despicable," MacKay said on Dec. 10.
Five of six cases were proven to be unfounded and one remains ongoing and unresolved, therefore, MacKay would say he was justified in batting back accusations about the troops. But MacKay knew about these investigations yet he - and Harper and others - gamely participated in a p.r. patriotism affront against the opposition, accusing them of smearing the troops (when they hadn't at all). The lengths they will go to continue to amaze.

And apparently the information was authorized to be publicly disclosed anyway, as it should be. That's what MacKay's question period briefing notes indicate. The fact that these investigations have occurred/are ongoing is cited as an answer to be given "If pressed on pre-transfer allegations." These briefing notes appear to have been obtained by CBC (or someone else and given to CBC) through an access to information request, see the briefing note document at the very top, "Information Unclassified." Wouldn't MacKay know this would be made public? So it's strange that he wouldn't disclose the information. After all, the military should be investigating such incidents, it's not inconceivable that such allegations would arise during battlefield conditions and need to be dealt with. It's not all good, there's bad and there's ugly....but MacKay opts for the Conservative tendency to hide information. Canadians have a right to know how the mission is being conducted in our names.

That canoe.ca report raises a lot of questions too. How can MacKay's office credibly claim not to know about that incident when MacKay is being briefed about other allegations in his question period briefing notes? It's just not credible. He knows of some allegations but not others? What does he know, anyway?

More explaining for MacKay but he's really just continuing to lose credibility with such news. It's hard to see how he can credibly remain a Minister of Defence with these ongoing revelations. MacKay's statements have been undermined so many times now, it's almost getting embarrassing to watch.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday night



The Crystal Method, we do love them very much lately, featuring Charlotte Martin. A song that got me through this week:) It starts up at about the 2 min mark and then, you're set.

And by the way, the holes in the glass...it's no comment on the week's events, any correlation entirely unintentional, the song is called "Glass Breaker" after all.

"We're dealing with Stephen Harper..."

Yes, unfortunately, we are:
...Mr. Ignatieff would not be pinned down on what it will take for his party to support the next budget.

"We're dealing with the Conservative Party of Canada here," Mr. Ignatieff said. "We're dealing with Stephen Harper (and his) capacity for poison pills, for game-playing, for omnibus budget bills that freight in some other thing that you never even saw coming. I've been around long enough to know I'm not telling you what I'm going to do because I've got to look at this thing and see what it is."

Moreover, Mr. Ignatieff said it is the government's responsibility, not the Opposition's, to propose a plan to eliminate the deficit that it created.

"They don't have a plan to get us out of deficit. So the burden is not on me -- I'm in the Opposition -- they've got to give Canadians a credible plan on deficit reduction and they don't have any."
The year-end interview extravaganzas are on. I suppose this means we'll be subjected to the Prime Ministerial ones any day now where we'll be told fairy tales about no tax increases - while they're increasing the EI payroll tax - and no spending cuts. It'll be a Festivus miracle!

Hope there will be lots of questions about the Afghanistan issue, maybe some probing of privatization plans from the Harper crew and whether there will be a prorogation or not, with all its implications for the Senate, bills that have not yet been passed, etc. I know I always look forward to Bob Fife, Lloyd and Harper sitting down to share some eggnog, but I do hope it gets a little more serious this year, it's a time for it.

The steak grilling theory of international relations, busted again


Is someone living to regret those words yet? You know, the stuff about us grilling steaks with the US and the UK instead of making waffles with the middle powers. Just wondering, 'cause this week showed Harper's Canada to be in a decidedly secondary, subservient role at a major international event. Excluded from key meetings on the last day. Is this where Canadians want to be, on the outside looking in? Is this where we have to be? No, not at all. Hopefully this was a key moment for Canadians which crystallized what it means to be represented by this government on the world stage.

Now that an agreement of some sort has been reached, look for the Harper gang to lash themselves to it and spin furiously. Although it's not clear how much spinning they'll have to do:
...the agreement is not binding and does not set new greenhouse-gas reduction targets. Instead, countries are to set their own emission-reduction commitments, which would not be legally binding.

Those commitments will be the subject of further negotiation, with the aim of a final deal at next year's summit in Mexico. It's a compromise following 12 days of divisive talks that saw hopes dwindle as the summit's close drew near.
And just for fun, watch White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs intervene for the American press and get them in the meeting with the world leaders over Chinese objections, "no press, no press":



Update (7:45 p.m.): Just thinking about this more...China was clearly instrumental in obstructing and stickling. This is where Canada, having iced relations with China for the past four years, could have made a difference. Jean Chretien certainly wouldn't have had a problem reaching out to the Chinese to assist. Harper, however, clearly with no strong relationships having been built, was not really helpful at all. Canadians can judge that for themselves.

The keystone cops formally put AECL up for sale

"Federal government formally offers AECL reactor division to bidders." So the Harper gang has moved on selling AECL, now that Parliament is on break (or facing yet another prorogue). Democracy, don't ya know. Now that those pesky MPs are not around to make noise, onwards with the ideological agenda. This process has been informally underway since May or thereabouts, with some notable fumbles along the way.

Remember this misstep from Teneycke, for example, as CP helpfully points out:
...the government may have undercut its own bargaining position when Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief spokesman described the Crown corporation as a "dysfunctional" $30-billion "sink-hole" last June.

That same month, the Ontario government put off a decision on new reactor construction after deciding all the bids - including one for an untried, next-generation AECL reactor - were too costly.
Yes, some of us noticed that, this summer. The AECL "sink hole" blunder and the Ontario fallout occurred not too long before Mr. Teneycke sailed off into the corporate p.r. world. Losing the Ontario commitment to purchase reactors was a huge loss of value to AECL while in the midst of a privatization process. In fact, Ontario's future purchase is still up in the air:
But he said the price Ottawa will fetch is largely dependent on when – and if – Ontario is prepared to renew its own fleet of aging reactors. AECL will be hard-pressed to persuade potential foreign customers to purchase its new Advanced CANDU Reactor if it can't close a deal in its home province, say industry observers.
Nevertheless, perhaps the keystone cops are thinking AECL may command a better price for a stake given the new "deal" brokered in India recently for Canadian nuclear business there. With a deal to enable AECL to get into India, whose energy market is said to be worth between $25 and $50 billion over the next 20 years, that may have perked up the sell-off process. As the CP report notes, "Several companies have expressed tentative interest in buying a piece of AECL, including Montreal's SNC-Lavalin and Areva Group of France." Or GE Westinghouse in the U.S.?

If it's a foreign buyer, that has implications for jobs and Canadian control of nuclear technology. Particularly since they're willing to sell AECL's commercial division up to a 100% stake. The embattled Minister Lisa Raitt - under a few ethics and other investigations - professed yesterday that the government is committed to keeping the 30,000 jobs the industry provides. But if a foreign company buys AECL, like Areva or Westinghouse, what guarantees are there that jobs won't be lost? Look at Stelco, for example, the answer is none. Ask your cabinet colleague Tony Clement, Ms. Raitt, what the "commitments" from U.S. Steel have meant. Tony's been busy writing sternly worded letters and litigating with the foreign owners. So, depending on who the buyer is, particularly foreign, we should look very critically and skeptically upon their shiny commitments. And you know, maybe there's a lesson there.

The atomic engineers have the same concerns for Canadian jobs and the loss of valuable Canadian intellectual property. But, the Harper government didn't care when Nortel's IP was being dispensed when there was a prominent and willing Canadian tech giant available to keep it domestically, why would they act otherwise here?

And a very important point to keep in mind, not that it matters one iota to this government, but the government's own commissioned public opinion research shows that the Canadian public does not like the privatization of AECL one bit, particularly the notion of foreign control of Canada's nuclear technology:
* Nearly three in four Canadians agree (72%) that since AECL has been a Crown Corporation for over 50 years it should not now become a private corporation;
* Seven in ten Canadians (70%) say that AECL would benefit Canadians more as a Crown corporation than as a private corporation;
* Seven in ten Canadians (70%) say they would worry about the safety of Canada's nuclear technology if AECL became a fully private corporation;
* The focus group findings were largely consistent with these results. Most participants expressed discomfort with the notion of AECL becoming private;
* For these participants, a private AECL (even a partially private AECL for those most opposed) would entail an unacceptable loss of control over our nuclear technology;
* The nuclear technology used in Canada be retained in companies owned and controlled by Canadians (84%); and,
* New nuclear plants should be based on Canadian-developed technology (73%).
The spinners will say, but Canadians really don't know what AECL does, when you press them. But what they do know...are the basic concepts of nuclear safety and pride of ownership.

Despite such clear sentiment, the Harper government is bent on privatizing this asset, that's for sure. But it's not necessarily what is good for Canada, Canadian jobs and the future of this industry in which Canada has, again, historically been a leader.

Crossing lines of decency

For anyone who thought that the cuts to KAIROS, the Canadian ecumenical social justice group that works on international human rights issues, were just a matter of run of the mill cutbacks, think again. Jason Kenney has boldly provided the government's rationale:
...Kenney lumped KAIROS – a Toronto-based ecumenical group that works for social justice abroad – in with what he described as other anti-Semitic organizations.
...

"We have de-funded organizations, most recently, like KAIROS who are taking a leadership role in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign" against Israel, he told the Global Forum for combatting anti-Semitism.
KAIROS is expresssing shock and outrage, understandably, having been so labelled by a Canadian federal minister:
Corkery denied that KAIROS favours a boycott of Israel or advocated divesting funds from Israeli corporations.

"We have taken positions that critique actions of the Israeli government, as have people in many organizations," Corkery said.

"We have raised issues that we think cause suffering among people. But we have never spoken out against the state of Israel or tried to harm Israel."
Kenney's words are in contrast to International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda's who said KAIROS lost its funding due to changed priorities at CIDA. These people need to get their stories straight. Kenney apparently forgot the cover story.

35 years of government funding to this group and suddenly they're being tagged as being anti-Semitic in their work. 35 years of funding and suddenly it appears that they're being relegated to no more than a political football. Needless to say, there are serious questions here about this Conservative rhetoric and what looks to be manipulation of government funding for political purposes. This is not how a responsible, legitimate Canadian government acts.

COP15 Highlights, day 11 - December 17, 2009



In which Hillary arrives and starts kicking ass (1:37 and following. Killer look at a reporter at 2:14). Various world leaders excerpted here as well, Gordon Brown, Hugo Chavez, Kevin Rudd, Angela Merkel. Somebody doesn't get an excerpt because somebody didn't speak.

Hillary's "deal breaker" comment, directed at China on the issue of transparency, occurs at 4:29, perhaps the biggest moment yesterday. Obama has arrived too, in meetings with other leaders now, and the transparency issue with China remains a problem. The New York Times reports on a meeting of the countries who are working on a political declaration:
Mr. Obama, who was scheduled to address conference delegates shortly after his arrival, instead went into a closed-door meeting with a group of fellow leaders to discuss a preliminary draft of a political declaration they hope to produce here. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao boycotted the session, prompting a public rebuke from President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

Mr. Sarkozy said that China is holding back progress in the climate talks. Speaking just after the unscheduled meeting ended, Mr. Sarkozy said that Chinese resistance to monitoring of emissions was a key sticking point.

The countries represented include Australia, Britain, France, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Norway and Colombia. China was represented by a Foreign Ministry official.
...
An American negotiator, weary from a night of negotiations, expressed confidence early Friday that the talks would produce some form of an agreed declaration, even if it falls short of the ambitions of many delegates and lacks specifics on some of the toughest issues.
I suppose someone will tell Canada about that at some point.

Update: A few more tidbits on that Obama/leaders meeting referenced above:

Italy and Canada were the only G8 nations not invited to attend the talks. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is back home after being attacked by a protester earlier this week, suffering injuries that included a broken nose and a chipped tooth.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived at the Bella Center, where the summit is being held, at around 9:30 a.m. local time with bloodshot eyes after attending a gala dinner hosted by the Danish Queen that stretched until two o'clock Friday morning.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Downgrading democracy

Lawrence Martin on the state of our Harperian democracy today. Just brilliant.

COP15 Highlights, day 10 - December 16, 2009



As you can see, the chair of the proceedings has changed now. And there's much frustration among delegations over a lack of progress. Where is that blasted text, anyway. Latest New York Times report sums it up, "Hopes Are Fading for Climate Accord at Copenhagen:"
On Monday, African nations briefly brought the climate talks to a standstill. China, by far the largest economic power in the group, has dragged its feet throughout the week by raising one technical objection after another to the basic negotiating text. And on Wednesday night, the group refused to take part in negotiations that conference organizers had hoped would produce a definitive negotiating text by Thursday morning. Instead, many Group of 77 leaders spent the day hurling accusations at wealthier countries.

President Obama and other world leaders have said that the Copenhagen meetings are unlikely to produce a binding treaty; some sort of interim political agreement is far more likely, they said. But few appreciated the depth of anger in the developing world and the height of grandstanding that would consume so much of the conference’s time. Now it is hard to find someone who confidently predicts even that much success.