Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday night

New Year's version, this one seemed appropriate. Bit of an old sound (from 2003 mind you) mixed with the new.

Have a good night!

Best of 2010

Churchill statue, Halifax, N.S.
Not a Canadian political year end list here! As I was finally getting around to renewing my New Yorker subscription yesterday, on the site I came across this article: "The making of Winston Churchill." It was from the August 30th issue and having read it at that time, I was surprised - and happy - to see that apparently it is one of the most popular articles from the year, as the sidebar rankings show.

The article was timed as a 70 year commemoration of Churchill's infamous World War II speeches from 1940. It deconstructs them and really, celebrates them for the powerful words that they were at that perilous moment (" wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.") The article also goes into Churchill's "telepathic sense of Hitler," his sense that a "rhetorical fist" in the dictator's face would evoke rage and perhaps provoke error, as it did.

I recommend the whole thing but here is the conclusion, to give a sense of it:
Churchill’s real legacy lies elsewhere. He is, with de Gaulle, the greatest instance in modern times of the romantic-conservative temperament in power. The curious thing is that this temperament can at moments be more practical than its liberal opposite, or than its pragmatic-conservative twin, since it rightly concedes the primacy of ideas and passions, rather than interests and practicalities, in men’s minds. Churchill was a student of history, but one whose reading allowed him to grasp when a new thing in history happened.

What is most impressive about his legacy, perhaps, is that he is one of the rare charismatic moderns who seem to have never toyed with extra-parliamentary movements or anti-liberal ideals. During all the years, and despite all the difficulties—in decades when the idea of Parliament as a fraud and a folly, a slow-footed relic of a dying age, was a standard faith of intellectuals on left and right alike—he remained a creature of rules and traditions who happily kissed the Queen’s hand and accepted the people’s verdict without complaint. Throughout the war, as Hitler retreated into his many bunkers and Stalin stormed and even Roosevelt concentrated power more and more in his single hand, Churchill accepted votes of confidence, endured fatuous parliamentary criticism, and meekly left office after triumphing in the most improbable of victories. A romantic visionary in constitutional spectacles can often see things as they are.
Confidence votes during World War II...say it isn't so! No fragile economic recoveries would have bothered that parliament!

So there you go. A very popular read of the year for many. Fascinated by the language, the leadership and what we may not see again in this modern era of the 24/7 news cycle.

Happy thoughts at year's end

Ah yes, what do we have today...someone's looking to build a Prime Ministerial bunker in case terror or nuclear winter rain down upon us: "New site sought for government command centre during emergency."
Plans are in the works for a new backup site to house the Prime Minister’s Office and his large team of political staff and bureaucrats in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency.

Having a backup command centre for the Prime Minister is not a new concept, but government reports and memos obtained through Access to Information provide a rare window as to how the government might run in the event of a major emergency and what would be needed.
Not a new concept, hey? Well it is if a bunch of money has to be spent on it and nobody knows anything about those little monetary details, which sound quite big actually, unless reporters start asking questions. The Globe is right about the window into "how the government might be run" and "what would be needed" being of interest though.

How the government might be run...well, by the Prime Minister it appears. No mention whatsoever of Parliament or how it would operate in the event of said assorted catastrophes. Surely there must be plans for parliamentary operation of some kind, just not mentioned here. At least, there should be. Maybe the PMO/PCO could pencil that one in somewhere if they have time amidst all the secret bunker plans.

What would be needed? Well, taping facilities, of course: "The alternate site would include a communications centre and an ability for the Prime Minister to deliver live broadcasts and videotaping." And that "essential service" of "secret printing." Yes, that sounds essential for any bunker.

It's all just a draft says a Prime Ministerial spokesman, not to worry our pretty little heads over costs and secret plans. Between this and that new Taj Mahal for the DND spy agency, maybe we should start.

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean everyone's not out to get you, you know. A maxim for Harper's Canada.

P.S. That Diefenbunker might be an idea if the Globe would just ixnay on the ocation-lay.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Deep thought

This report in the New York Times the other day on Canadian banks expanding south prompted a second look:
Now several of the banks are taking advantage of their solid balance sheets as well as the current revamping and consolidation of the American banking system to again look south for expansion. Last week, the Toronto-Dominion Bank agreed to pay $6.3 billion for Chrysler Financial. And earlier this month the Bank of Montreal bought Marshall & Ilsley, a bank based in Milwaukee, for $4.1 billion.
...Canadian banks have few other options for expansion.

“The banks simply have no choice,” said Louis Gagnon, an associate professor of finance at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “They have to go beyond our borders to grow and the only market that makes sense is the United States.”
While that has made for a orderly financial system for Canada that is very profitable for bank investors, the banks now find themselves accumulating substantial capital without effective ways to use it to increase their businesses within Canada.
Seems to me that some enterprising minds of the economic variety might want to think about all that investment money going south and come up with some new avenues for that substantial capital to make more of a difference here in Canada. I don't know what that could mean, honestly, but I throw it out there.

Brushing back the Governor General

The Governor General made a little bit of news this week and seems to have caught the eye of the National Post editorial board now (more on that below). Here was what most of us thought the newsmaking item was, from a report on Monday: "Nothing wrong with coalition governments: GG."
Gov. Gen. David Johnston told QMI Agency he's been busy brushing up on constitutional governments in case he is called upon to navigate a choppy political crisis.

“Any governor general who has that role in a constitutional system like ours, from time to time will be confronted with questions where there is an element of discretion,” he said.
“I think that most jurisdictions that have a system of first-past-the-post or proportional representation will from time to have time have coalitions or amalgamation of different parties and that’s the way democracy sorts itself out,” he said.
Calm, reasonable stuff. Neutral references to options that may or may not come into play in 2011. Brief remarks on the way that parliamentary democracies can sort themselves out, not shocking following the British and Australian elections of 2010.

Now additionally, in another QMI interview, he made some comments on his activities as a Governor General and what his priorities would be, such as fostering that smart/caring society that he's discussed since his initial appointment, with his emphasis on higher education, research and innovation, etc. He signalled these priorities clearly in his installation speech on October 1st. It's nothing new.

But what do you know...Tuesday brought a brushback from the National Post editorial board: "National Post editorial board: Politics is not a sport for the Governor-General." In the editorial, they decry the above banal priorities as perhaps too political. Yes, the education and research/innovation priorities above all else warranted an editorial:
Our new Governor-General, David Johnston, wants to have influence over public policy. That’s all well and good. But he had better be careful not to exert that influence in too public a manner.
But are they too much to hope to achieve in less than five years? And are they too political? There are several public policies that would have to be changed and public spending that would have to be increased or redirected — especially in the fields of education and research — if Mr. Johnston’s ambitions are to be achieved. He must be very careful to avoid treading on the turf of Canadians’ elected representatives.

We trust Mr. Johnston needs only a gentle reminder to be discreet.
Johnston "had better be careful" and "be discreet" and "avoid treading on the turf of Canadians' elected representatives." Oh, come on. Is advocacy for higher education and innovation what's really driving the National Post editorial board to pen such brash warnings to the new Governor General? Are they so very troubled by the prospect of a Governor General advocating for such apple pie? One who has been described, widely, as politically astute? Seems a bit of a stretch.

It's more likely that there's something else going on with this editorial. The elephant in the room, unremarked in the Post editorial, is the above response in that other year end interview to QMI by the Governor General on coalitions and democracy sorting itself out. That answer was a big problemo for the Conservative government's cartoonish and undemocratic anti-coalition stance and for the editorial boards that slavishly support such governments and their stances. This editorial seems like a transparent and immediately timed response in the form of a brushback pitch to the Governor General as a result of those comments. Not hard to read between the lines here and something that bears watching. 

The RCMP in 2010: bonus worthy?

Surprising news yesterday: "$1.6M in extra pay for RCMP brass."
RCMP top brass took home more than $1.6 million in extra pay in 2009-2010.

According to documents provided by the RCMP, the Mounties' six deputy commissioners were paid a total of $224,419 in at risk pay and bonuses, which when divided equally, works out to a little over $37,000 each. The force paid its 33 assistant commissioners a total of $358,296 in extra pay last year and its 77 chief superintendents an additional $1,033,101.
These seem to be the criteria for bonus pay, with discretion given to the RCMP Commissioner:
A spokesperson for the RCMP says the Commissioner has authority over the additional payments but bases his decisions on the Treasury Board's performance management program for executives. The Treasury Board defines at risk pay as a percentage of an individual's salary based on the successful achievement of commitments. Bonuses are also a lump sump payment "based on the individual's demonstrated performance that has surpassed expectations."
Now was this a federal organization deserving of pay bonuses in 2010? Theoretically, bonus pay is a reward for good performance. Is this an organization that Canadians would look at and think, hmmm, 2010 and the RCMP...bonus pay should blanket the leadership?

Consider the bare bones performance of the RCMP in 2010. A year that saw the Braidwood inquiry find that RCMP officers' taser use on Robert Dziekanski was not justified. A year that saw the G20 with the abuses of civil rights that occurred, with the RCMP's conduct producing complaints and now being probed in a resulting inquiry. It was also a year that saw dissent and infighting at senior levels of the RCMP with a workplace assessment being undertaken, to boot. All of these are things that one would think would normally factor in when the consideration is made about whether the leadership had surpassed expectations and such.

So maybe there should have been some more thought given to the optics of these bonuses by the Harper-handpicked Commissioner. Beyond the performance issues, it is supposedly a time of fiscal austerity in Ottawa, as we are told on occasion (mostly when it is politically opportune for the government). There's a disconnect here, with a squeeze being put on public servants, Defence department employee numbers being scrutinized, yet the RCMP seems to be immune. Strange.

The Commissioner's ability to exercise discretion here due to his own difficult tenure also seems to be relevant. If he said no to bonuses, would that make his tenure still worse?

From the public perspective, this looks like an exercise of judgment worth questioning.

Andre Pratte suggests Quebec voters abandon Bloc, go Liberal

This is notable, from the influential Andre Pratte, a column stating that Quebecers should think twice about the logic of voting for the Bloc in the next election if they truly want to ensure the Conservatives are defeated:
Il existe pourtant une solution à cette impasse. Cette solution, ce sont les Québécois qui l'ont entre les mains. Depuis plus de 15 ans, la majorité des électeurs de la province ont renoncé à influencer le résultat des scrutins fédéraux. Ils laissent les autres Canadiens choisir ceux qui gouverneront le pays, préférant se doter d'une police d'assurance sous la forme du Bloc québécois. Ainsi, ils sont certains qu'une formation politique à Ottawa défendra les intérêts du Québec sans faire de compromis. Au pouvoir nécessairement pragmatique, ils préfèrent l'opposition pure, par conséquent irréaliste. Tout indique que les Québécois adopteront la même stratégie lors des prochaines élections fédérales. Ils devraient pourtant y penser à deux fois.

Le chef du Bloc québécois, Gilles Duceppe, fera campagne en répétant que «le seul parti en mesure d'empêcher Stephen Harper d'avoir le chemin libre avec une majorité, c'est le Bloc québécois». On doit comprendre que si les Québécois veulent le statu quo, c'est-à-dire un gouvernement Harper minoritaire à Ottawa, ils devraient voter Bloc. Mais que doivent-ils faire s'ils veulent chasser les conservateurs du pouvoir? Voter Bloc ne leur servira à rien. C'est le point de vue que martèlera le chef libéral, Michael Ignatieff, selon ce qu'il a confié en entrevue dimanche. «Je dirai aux Canadiens: 'Si vous voulez quatre autres années de gouvernement Harper, votez Bloc, NPD ou Vert. Si vous voulez vous débarrasser de M. Harper et cherchez une solution de rechange compatissante et responsable, il vous faut voter libéral'.»

Le raisonnement est blindé: si les Québécois ne veulent plus du gouvernement Harper, ils doivent se joindre aux autres Canadiens qui pensent comme eux et voter pour le seul parti autre que le Parti conservateur ayant des chances de prendre le pouvoir.

Certes, Michael Ignatieff laisse froid la plupart des Québécois. Cependant, au moment de voter, les électeurs ne devraient pas se demander si M. Ignatieff est le politicien de leurs rêves. Les questions fondamentales du prochain scrutin seront plutôt les suivantes: est-ce que je veux que les conservateurs soient battus? Est-ce que je souhaite que le Québec joue un rôle important dans le prochain gouvernement du Canada? L'électeur qui répondra oui à ces deux questions devrait, en toute logique, délaisser le Bloc québécois.
(Translation) That is big. Recall that Pratte wrote a blistering editorial critique of the Conservatives for their cancellation of the long-form census: " of the most incompetent and harmful governments this country has ever known." It's not necessarily surprising, then, to see such musings as above. If one truly believes that, it's a logical next step to cut to the quick of how to get rid of that epically harmful government.

For an influential voice like Pratte's to suggest that Bloc voters - who have been steadfast - reconsider what they're doing, it could be the start of some stirring in Quebec, a new opening for Liberals.

Packing heat with Rachel Maddow

Maddow is doing a bit of a year end review of segments and issues covered this year on her show. Thought this might be relevant to a discussion that's been going on here of late, the Cherry visit to Afghanistan. In the last highlight here, she fires a tank gun in Iraq.

Also, just for fun, before Christmas, Rachel covered the Leafs/waffle throwing incidents. We're big time, baby!

Her blog did a follow-up, mystery solved for the Maddow show.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another 2010 foreign policy triumph plays out

This is what you get when you have a government that is incapable of negotiating and playing nicely with others, domestically and here, in foreign affairs: "UAE embassy to charge Canadians steep visa fees."
The United Arab Emirates embassy in Ottawa has announced it will be charging Canadians up to $1,000 for visas starting next week – seemingly punitive pricing that exceeds global norms.
No citizen of any other Western country needs a visa to enter the UAE, which announced months ago that Canadians would lose their favoured-guest status amid an ongoing bilateral row over aviation rights. The policy is to take effect Jan. 2, though the precise details have never been officially spelled out.
The new rates are posted on the UAE embassy site. Just boffo stuff, LC.

They're still clinging to the line that this is all perfectly normal, a visa decision taken in 2009 that is just being implemented now. A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman offers it up in the piece and apparently the diplomatic corps in Dubai has been enlisted to chime in, playing down the notion that Canada is being treated differently. The reporting says otherwise though in terms of the scale of the fees, the cost implications for Canadian visitors and the simple fact of Canadians now requiring a visa: "Canada was among 30 countries whose citizens did not require a visa to the UAE." Just do the math.
The new rules will affect 25,000 Canadians living in the UAE as well as the 200 Canadian companies operating in the country. that 25,000 x $1,000? $25 million at the high end? That's a pricey imposition on Canadians. But we're told that all is perfectly normal. This is the way this government operates, facts are to be spun to offset political damage.

The costs go beyond those visa charges too. Despite all the camouflage of the airline landing rights that the UAE sought and talk of Canada being blackmailed, this dispute was about things more costly than that commercial dispute. That could have been worked out. This was about Canada's foreign policy skills in action and failing when our rent-free use of an essential military base in the UAE since 2001 was at stake:
"It seems to me a diplomatic dispute that we thought we could brush off became much larger than that," Adam Chapnick, a foreign policy expert and deputy director of education at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto, told "It's quite possible we underestimated the extent to which the UAE would react to more hardball diplomatic tactics."

Chapnick calls the loss of Camp Mirage, which was the vital logistical airbase into Afghanistan, an "expensive blow." "It's a cost we probably could have avoided," he said.

The loss of the base would become even more expensive after it was announced in November that Canada would be staying in Afghanistan until 2014, adding three more years to the total bill. Estimates put the cost of closing Camp Mirage at $300 million, provided the mission ended at the 2011 deadline. (CTV link)
Hundreds of millions in new, unnecessary costs to the military and now, 2011 brings us millions in new visa charges, alone among western nations. Rack 'em up, Canada! Life under Stephen Harper, Economist™.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Mark Bonokoski was introduced as "the voice of The Sun" in early September.

The voice said this on December 1st:
If I were in charge of QMI Agency, and therefore newsroom boss of its 36 major dailies and 200-plus community newspapers, I would send out an edict that no picture of convicted killer-rapist Russell Williams will ever again be published in our pages with him wearing a military uniform.

But I have no such clout. Perhaps the power of suggestion will win the day.

It would be the right thing for the largest newspaper chain in Canada to do, and for it to then publicly state why this corporate decision was made.
End of December, QMI selects Williams as its newsmaker of the year, replete with picture in military garb.

If the Sun doesn't listen to its chosen voice, why should we?

Across the pond

A tribute done up by a UK site to the UK political bloggers that hung up the keyboards in 2010. Kind of fun. I swear that's the British BigCityLib at about the 30 second mark, a ubiquitous look among we blogging types apparently.

Notice how these British bloggers also appear to be on television quite a bit, enough so as to enable capturing them for posterity's sake from those appearances.

If we had a Canadian version, figuring in there from 2010 would be the Cynic, of course, my friend, HarperBizarro and others. We're just not that organized though. So no Andrea Bocelli serenades for you, my friends!

They also have shiny "building the progressive grassroots online" workshop thingys coming up. Very jealous of the Netroots UK movement. Over here we'd have to carve it up a hundred ways to Sunday, with elbows up in everybody's faces. Yep, that's how we roll. It certainly helps that they've got a rallying, urgent issue in the form of the cuts being made in Britain, with the ominous tuition fee changes lighting a fire under such online developments.

This has been a Canadian-politics-is-very-quiet-post-Christmas-lull-grass-is-greener-over-there moment. Back to Canadiana maybe later today.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday night

"You have to make sure the music's bang on, you can't have a revolution if the music isn't right. You know what I mean, boys?"


Most viewed posts of last 6 months

A bit of a year end review thing here just for fun. The Blogger stats page indicates that these were the most viewed posts on the blog since May, so I thought I'd share them again. Takes you back to all these swell moments in (mostly) Canadian politics.

1. Things that aren't surprising, July 7th.
I caught an early run of a Sun media report with a quote that later disappeared from the final version. A brouhaha was alleged in the report over the Queen's sleeping arrangements during her summer visit. National Newswatch linked so it got a bunch of views.

2. Put it in D, November 1st.
A simple post with an Obama video. Who knew.

3. Bravo National Post, December 16th.
In which I got a little worked up in criticizing a National Post columnist. That can happen around here from time to time.

4. Peter MacKay debunked, August 4th.
As I have said before, David Pugliese is a national treasure. That was a fun one.

5. A national disgrace, December 8th.
On the rejection of a Senate bill to help the disabled Nortel workers. Self-explanatory title and a continuing disgrace.

6. “You can’t have the Prime Minister handing out radio and TV licences.” August 19th.
Lawrence Martin's column on the prospect of Sun TV getting must carry status with an assist from the PM was worth a push.

7. About that cerebral approach to governance..., July 27th.
Conservative Senate staffer caught astroturfing in Ottawa Citizen.

8. About that Friday night poll just out, August 20th.
An Ipsos poll gets some scrutiny.

9. Asleep at the switch, October 24th.
Guess who has been asleep at the switch? You know.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Iggy out in front

Ahead of the curve, from a year-end interview quote on December 16th:
"We are ready for an election and we think Canadians are ready for an election," the Liberal leader told The Canadian Press in a year-end interview Thursday.
Now today we see confirmation that if we do have an election, Canadians are ok with that:
Half of Canadians would have no reservations about taking part in a federal election in 2011, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion / Toronto Star poll has found.
In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,000 Canadian adults, 49 per cent of respondents agree with holding a federal election next year while one third (34%) disagree with the idea.
As always, we shall see how election speculation plays out, but it certainly looks like the "Canadians don't want an election" talking point is going to be less handy going forward.

(h/t a little birdie)

(see FarAndWide as well)

Krugman speaks, Flaherty spins

Posting this video for a bit of fun but also for the concerns raised. Maddow is at the 92nd Street YMCA in New York for a few live shows this week, so it's been nice to see her with the live audience and their reaction. It's also a short but decent discussion with one of the preeminent economists of our time, that would be, of course, Paul Krugman. He believes there's not nearly enough stimulus that's been done in the U.S., as we know if we read his columns, but he makes the point here again. A few choice quotes from Krugman are rude awakenings: "We really have seen all sanity driven from one of our two political parties;" and while he remarks that it's been a few good weeks for Obama, "think about the next few years and it's extremely frightening."

Krugman is talking not only about political worry but economic worry. That is a backdrop that is possibly affecting Flaherty's budget preparations now, but we shall see:
“The economic recovery is moderating and the outlook remains uncertain,” the Washington-based International Monetary Fund said of Canada in an assessment released Thursday. “Looking ahead, risks are elevated and tilted to the downside with high household debt levels the main domestic risk, and a weaker U.S. outlook the largest external risk,” the IMF concluded.
“What I’m hearing really sounds a lot to me like cautious restraint,” he said in an interview in his Parliament Hill office. “Nothing Draconian is being asked for. People do want us to move toward a balanced budget, but they do not want us to do that at the expense of jobs and growth and the economy.”

He is now describing the upcoming budget in February or March as a “pragmatic” set of policies that will balance the need for economic stimulus with the need to begin emphasizing government restraint in Ottawa.
There are other year-enders with Flaherty out there too with slightly different emphasis in each of them, yet it all seems to point in one direction, a careful Flaherty with an eye on how pivotal this budget will be as an election catalyst. Likely for that reason, he's playing down the notion that there will be big cuts. That gets big play in the Globe. See other interviews covered in Bloomberg, QMI and the Canadian Press where, notably, Flaherty indicates that they have looked into doing something on home care, but he's really not clear there on whether they might do anything, citing cost. You also see, in the interviews, talk of retraining programs for workers, infrastructure spending continuing, see the Bloomberg report, for example.

Flaherty says he's also concerned with interest rates and mortgages and Canadians getting into too much debt with "too much house," (QMI). That's ironic considering what's going on under his own roof, Jim's unable to meet his own departmental budget.

Making your way through all of it, it sounds like Flaherty's trying to be as uncontroversial as possible, likely what is intended. Based on what they've done thus far, we could see targeted cuts on the one hand (see this news today for example) combined with more of that skewed spending toward Conservative ridings and electoral prospects on the other hand. You could call it slash and splash. The "cautious restraint" of the uncontroversial budget...we'll believe it when we see it from Flaherty.

Mr. Smith's big debut

A bit of a gaffe extravaganza the past two days going for Larry Smith, Harper's new Senate appointee and now, going for the twofer, Lac-Saint-Louis riding candidate. Yesterday was the big one, of course, boldly going where perhaps no Senate appointee has gone before, trashing the size of the Senate paycheque:
“You have to understand that I’ve worked very hard over my career and to do what I’m doing now I’m making a major, major concession in my lifestyle to even be a senator,” he told the CBC’s Evan Solomon on Power and Politics.

“I’m not trying to be arrogant, because I’m not, but I made a commitment to get myself into a higher form of public service than the philanthropic stuff I’ve done for the last 30 years. . .

“In simple terms, he added, “the money I was earning in my last profession to where I would be in this profession is what I would call a dramatic, catastrophic pay cut. And I have a family — I have obligations.”

Senators are paid an annual salary of $132,300.
A bit of incredible insight into Mr. Smith's worldview. Throw in that he seems to castigate the philanthropic "stuff" he's done as perhaps small potatoes to date as well. Terrible optics for Smith given the hardship we've seen in the news recently.

On Tuesday, he had offered this:
"I will not be appointed as a cabinet minister [right now]," he told reporters Tuesday evening after speaking to supporters at a meeting of the Lac-Saint-Louis Conservative riding association. "I've had that discussion with the prime minister because in my sense you have to earn your spot at the table."
The irony is also strong with this one. You have to earn your spot at the cabinet table, but he'll just be having his Senate seat in the interim along the way to running for MP, thank you very much. Interesting version of sportsmanship and fair play that they learn in the CFL.

What else is going on here beyond the gaffes? With all the problems facing the nation, the issues of the day, do we need a football player/football executive/football commissioner in the House of Commons or in any other federal position at the moment do we think? Are these the kinds of skills, experiences, competencies that are lacking at the federal level? Harper's picked Nancy Greene, Jacques Demers, he's made a few sports picks. Seems like it was enough already.

Hopefully the voters of Lac-Saint-Louis will be taking note of all this, whenever that election comes, and send Mr. Smith back to his pre-catastrophic lifestyle.

(Video of Smith on CBC Politics yesterday).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Flaherty's zombie pension reform

Explanation for that zombie reference below. But first...what did we see on Monday at that First Minister's meeting? An agreement to pursue the private pension plan and just a sliver of hope for CPP reform. Private prevailed over the public. Any enhancement of CPP has been put off to a future June meeting:
“We agreed that our officials should continue their work on the CPP,” said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty after the talks in Kananaskis, Alta. “We will come back at our June meeting to discuss options and concerns.”
Not so good on the CPP enhancement front. On this private plan, there may have been a big development: "New pension plan would require employers to offer it but allow opt-out." This mandatory aspect was new yesterday:
The criticism of the pooled system was that it was voluntary, and therefore unlikely to make much more of a difference to retirement savings than existing savings programs such as RRSPs.

But Mr. Flaherty argued that by forcing employers to offer the new PRPP – without forcing them to contribute – and by forcing employers to automatically enroll workers into the system with an opt-out provision, millions more Canadians will start putting away extra cash for retirement.

But employees, who under CPP must match employer contributions to the plan, would be under no obligation to contribute to PRPP.
Stated elsewhere:
"It would be mandatory for employees to participate in the plan unless they specifically opted out," said Flaherty.
It sounds like Flaherty is making it up as he goes. In that "Draft Framework for Pooled Registered Pension Plans" there was no mention of forcing employers to offer a plan. It said employers would be given a choice of whether to offer a plan to their employees (p. 5-6). Otherwise, employees would be on their own to sign up for one at the bank or insurance company or wherever these things would be purchased. Suddenly it's morphed into a requirement for employers. Sounds like it's just Quebec and Flaherty as early supporters of that development, so it may not ultimately fly.

How exactly a mandatory offering with an opt-out would boost enrollment is another question. They must be counting on people not opting out. There are shades of negative billing tactics there though, could be some fallout. And who would a presumptive mandatory employee enrollment benefit? A big winner would likely be the financial industry offering the plans.

This needs to be looked at long and hard, by those First Ministers of Finance of the nation and the federal opposition parties. With a view to how it might affect CPP in particular. Is this a burgeoning competitor that's being set up?

Here's some interesting early online reaction to the Harper government's direction to throw into the mix. In response to the question, "Would you support a shift to privately managed pensions," 17% (1122 votes) said "Yes. I trust the private sector to earn greater returns, even if it comes with greater risk." Yet 83% (5572 votes) said "No. I support an enhanced federally run Canada Pension Plan."

Those 83% supporting CPP there, in opposition to Flaherty's preferred route, bring to mind what Paul Krugman was talking about yesterday in his column, "When Zombies Win":
When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.
But such failures don’t seem to matter. To borrow the title of a recent book by the Australian economist John Quiggin on doctrines that the crisis should have killed but didn’t, we’re still — perhaps more than ever — ruled by “zombie economics.” Why?
Why indeed. Exhibit A: Jim Flaherty and his private pension plan while he casually puts off CPP reform.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And here is where we juxtapose...

Friday: "No time to 'screw around' with an election: PM."

Monday: "Tories target 190 ridings."

That is all.

Pension meeting, many questions

As this pension issue heats up today, let's look first at Flaherty on CPP reform, a bit of then and now. Here's how it was in the summer:
Speaking in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where he’s meeting with his provincial counterparts, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the “substantive majority view” among his provincial colleagues was that the hikes were needed.

“We agreed to consider a modest, phased-in and fully funded enhancement to defined benefits under the CPP in order to increase coverage and adequacy,” said Flaherty. “We were not unanimous, but the substantive majority view was that we should proceed.”
A "substantive majority" was good enough then to go ahead with CPP reform. Those were pretty strong statements from Flaherty. Also:
"A couple of ministers need to go back to their governments to have further discussions on that option, but we are going to go ahead and mandate our senior officials to work collaboratively on technical and implementation issues … and to complete this work by the fall," Flaherty said.
More of the kind of statement that created expectations on the part of Flaherty and the federal government. Now, things have changed in terms of the required substantive majority:
...the finance ministers of B.C., P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Ontario issued a joint statement Sunday asking Flaherty to keep CPP expansion on the table alongside the private-sector changes he's proposing.
"The letter, if it is a letter, from the six provinces just confirms what I said Thursday, that there is no consensus on the issue," Flaherty told reporters.
What a turnaround and abdication of leadership at the same time.

In terms of the substance, in the summer, the private version of pension reform was raised and made part of a three-pronged approach to pension reform that everyone was getting on board with (i.e., a private plan initiative, financial literacy plus enhanced CPP). Now, however, Flaherty's upset the balance and is essentially walking away from the CPP enhancement, focusing on the private plan option. All of the talk from the summer, about working well with the Finance Ministers, the sincere desire to work together, all gone. So that's where we are, with a credibility-challenged Finance Minister going into these meetings skewing all discussion towards a private option.

Flaherty is relying upon Alberta and Saskatchewan's opposition along with Quebec's. Here's the Quebec Finance Minister:
“This is not the year to add on to the burden of employees,” Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand told The Globe and Mail in Calgary on Sunday, pointing to the continuing fragility of the Canadian economy. “These are the kinds of changes that you do once in a generation.”
Boy, there are all kinds of things we're prohibited from doing these days due to the great spectre of economic uncertainty. The Harper government likes to tell us most days that Canada is doing well, a model of stability in a sea of uncertainty. Yet when it comes to pension reform, or, say, elections, the no-fly zones suddenly appear. Exactly when the magic moment will be in coming years when the sea of financial calm sets upon us is anyone's guess. The baby boomer retiree generation isn't getting any smaller in the meantime.

Besides, doesn't the argument from the Quebec Finance Minister and Flaherty et al. cut both ways? These past few years of uncertainty are exactly why you consider big changes. Because we've seen that things that are too big to fail can in fact fail. In Canada, somehow we think we are exempt from that proposition and can put off big decisions to future happier times.

Why the big turnaround from Flaherty and Harper? The prospect of CPP premiums going up is a likely hitch for the Harper government with an eye on an election. Second, the choice to shift dollars into private institutions rather than expand the CPP is a natural ideological choice for these conservative striped governments.

Yet there will be questions. How will these private plans solve the problem with Canadians not saving enough? Voluntary private options are not likely to change that dynamic. Above all, is this the choice Canadians want to make with pension reform? Going the private route versus bolstering the trusted CPP? Could make for some interesting political debates going forward.

Here is the Draft "Framework for Pooled Registered Pension Plans." A few preliminary questions on it follow.
Framework for Pooled Registered Pension Plans

First off...9 pages? This seems surprisingly short. As for the details...

The administrator of the plan (p. 3-4) will owe a fiduciary duty to plan members. Do they mean in the same way that the Nortel trustee overseeing the disability funds owed a fiduciary duty to those employees? That didn't work out so well.

The requirements for plain language disclosure (and the choices members are to make upon enrolment) (both p. 4) seem to presume a level of investment sophistication that may be challenging to overcome. Yes, disclosure is necessary and good but some of the items there, including the rights to portable plans as people change jobs and the exercising of different options in that eventuality would require some sophistication. Then there are such routine disclosures as notice of amendments to the plan, for example. It doesn't really sit well following what we've seen with the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the U.S. where people just did not understand what deals they were getting into. Where are they going to get help? The employer? The bank? The insurance company?

The "Responsibilities of Employers" section (p. 5) will raise questions about employer contributions, which appear to be optional and employers' residual administration of these plans, including the very important task of "collecting and remitting contributions to the plan."

The "Individual Members" (p. 6) of these plans, i.e., the self-employed and those who work in companies not offering a plan but who individually opt into one, will have the burden of those administrative tasks an employer would otherwise bear, e.g., deciding on a level of contribution and remitting contributions. The highly disciplined among us would be fine with that. Many others, not so much.

An employer has the ability to move to a new plan at its discretion. Or, it can cease offering one altogether. (p. 7) There seem to be options in the draft for what happens with employees when an employer chooses a new plan. It doesn't seem to say what happens when the employer just ceases offering a plan. (?)

Just a few questions for starters, sure there are lots more to be asked arising out of that document.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

About all those Pratt & Whitney jobs Clement promised

Recall this past Monday, Tony Clement went out to Pratt & Whitney in Mississauga and made a big p.r. show out of a government funding announcement for that company. Job promises were the big feature, with Clement and the government spin making it seem to all watching that thousands of jobs would be the result. The numbers didn't really hold up though, with even Pratt & Whitney not matching the government's job number rhetoric. It turned out that about 200 new jobs might be created as a result of that announcement instead of the thousands the government wanted to portray. That was Monday though.

There was word on Friday afternoon that Pratt & Whitney is going to lay off 70 workers in Montreal. Coming so soon on the heels of that big funding announcement, this is a real slap in the face:
Aerospace giant Pratt & Whitney will lay off 70 employees in the new year, QMI Agency has learned.

This comes just days after the federal government announced it would inject $300 million for the firm’s $1-billion research and development project.
“In this period of economic uncertainty, it is extremely important that our customers remain our priority, that we continue to invest in our future and that we remain competitive by improving our costs structure,” employees were told in an e-mail sent in November by company president John Saabas.

The Montreal-area firm benefited from $1.5 billion from taxpayers between 1993 and 2006.
Not an auspicious start to the job creation that was supposed to result from the major government announcement. What an embarrassment to see that within a week.

Way to fight for Canadian jobs, Harper government! 


Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday night

A remix of one of Deadmau5's new songs which just might be better than the original.

One more from the faves of the year category...Four Tet's remix of the xx's VCR.

Have a good night!

On the lighter side

End of session goings on

Thought things were supposed to be quieting down now that the session has are a bunch of items worth noting today.

Pensions: Flaherty has flip-flopped again! Signalling, contrary to his summer position, that in terms of pension reform, CPP enhancements are off the table and instead the Harper government will pursue private Pooled Registered Pension Plans (PRPPs). Could be a trial balloon, positioning going into that finance ministers next week. Whatever it is, there's an obvious question. Why no help for the Nortel disabled workers as the pension issue is discussed? Is that not an elephant in the room here? Also, the thought of CPP premium increases may be driving this development, reflexively for Harper. Not possible as an election becomes discussed so increasingly (which might make this an indicator). At this point they do seem to be throwing in with a riskier private option rather than the established, reliable CPP. Makes for one more of those striking political contrasts.

Harper to the UN? The UN announces the formation of a Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health. Stephen Harper is named as co-chair of the commission. Yes, Stephen Harper. This appointment no doubt stems from the G8 Muskoka initiative which Canada led, on maternal and children's health funding. While this looks on its face to be an ironic appointment given the ideological bent the Harper government has taken in excluding abortion as part of Canada's funding of this initiative, the "accountability framework" looks like something Harper as co-chair can't bring his ideology to bear on. Every country has its own contributions they are making, with their own funding choices having been made at the country level, on such matters as reproductive health funding. This commission looks like it's all about the after-monitoring of decisions already made and it has a short reporting time frame for establishing that "accountability framework." It also looks like there are a raft of commissioners on that body from around the world in addition to the vice-chairs who will likely have more to do with the work done than the co-chairs, if it works the way most bodies do. Still, for many Canadians, there is an irony here of Harper being appointed to any body with the words "Information and Accountability" as its mandate, let alone one having to do with women.

Image enhancement? Or co-opting issues? News yesterday that Harper wrote a letter of December 8th to the Assembly of First Nations on education reform for first-nations and proposing to meet on other issues as well. Or is it all very genuine? See next item.

Fear the iPod Tax extravaganza: It's been a while, the Conservatives were due. This aggressive iPod tax radio ad nonsense is blatantly false and has a ring of desperation in it. You read about the letter to the First Nations then you see this, we're back to the heavy-handed partisan slamming Harper typifies. Why the ads? This quote from Craig Oliver on year-end partisan jostling was striking: "He is stronger. The Liberals are in the game in a very serious way when this campaign comes and I believe it will before the snow melts," Oliver said."

F-35s: How can we do a round-up without an F-35 entry. Here's a good one: "F-35 Target Prices Revealed." The latest low rate initial production models are targeted to be $111 million, without the engine cost, presently pegged at about $19 million, leading to about $130 million per plane (for the version we're proposing to buy).

Conservative MP Kelly Block's appearance at a Commons committee yesterday. It was the usual frustrating effort at accountability with one hour divided up among four parties asking questions. Alison has been blogging this thoroughly this week and is a must read. Can you imagine being escorted to a committee by John Baird as some kind of protector? Bizarre and patronizing all at once. One of the most intriguing aspects of this story:
Parliamentary rules do not allow MPs’ offices to be used for activities that are clearly of a private interest, and a secretive all-party Commons body called the Board of Internal Economy is investigating whether Mr. Ullyatt was running a business out of Ms. Block’s office.
No questions answered by Block on that matter though. What was all the printing business Mulcair witnessed? Some off the grid printed partisan activity?

AECL: The bid process is melting down with SNC-Lavalin apparently getting cold feet, denying it though. So, we're left with Bruce Power still in the mix and an unsolicited bid from entrepreneur Day? The government assures us: "The process is being conducted in such a manner as to protect the economic interests of the government of Canada and potential investors," a department official said Thursday in an email."

Government announcement of the day: In case of Arctic spill, citizens of the Arctic communities, open the seal on your Arctic Community Pack!
From Tuktoyaktuk to Iqaluit, Resolute Bay to Churchill, Arctic Community Packs were delivered to nineteen Northern communities this summer and fall. A total of 55 steel sealift-sized containers, assembled by Coast Guard personnel in Prescott Ontario, are each packed with specific pollution control equipment tailored to the needs of each community. The new kits will complement the existing stockpile of pollution countermeasures equipment in the Arctic. Each of the new Arctic Community Packs contains surface booms and accessories, shoreline cleanup kits, small vessels and outboard motors and trailers, and in select communities, beach flushing kits.
That all sounds so...after the fact and, frankly, futile. Damage control p.r. from the government in response to the Environmental Commissioner saying we're not prepared for an oil spill, particularly in the North. Steel containers filled with booms for everybody!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bravo National Post

They're busy elevating the political discourse this evening. Can you see the difference?

The original John Ivison column published earlier tonight.

The edited version which appeared approximately 20 minutes after the previous version.

Nothing like a political columnist pushing boundaries with creative analogies, hey? Mr. Ivison is known as a Liberal critic, that's obvious to anyone who reads his stuff. But, in my view, there is a callousness at play here, almost an intent to demean which is worth noting. Not everything goes in Canadian politics these days, at least it shouldn't. Seems the National Post editors may have recognized this and good for them if they did. The second time, anyway.

Will leave it to others to form their own views, based on the editing that's occurred.

Iggy busts a tune

(You can watch the video here, removed since it keeps loading without a start/stop button.)

Singing leaders at Christmas time, it's all the rage this year. Ignatieff gives it an all too brief whirl, thankfully. You don't even have time to get uncomfortable. That's the beauty of this performance. Again, as with the dancing, this bodes well for future campaign-like efforts. Whenever those may be.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The clamps are on!

"Fantino sticks to Conservative script upon swearing-in." It looks like Mr. F will be dispensing colourful tidbits like his Hitler theory no more:
In his first foray before the microphones after being sworn in as the new federal MP for Vaughn, former OPP chief Julian Fantino said as little as possible, other than to boost the government’s Conservative law-and-order agenda.

Flanked by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, a former Manitoba crown attorney, Fantino was asked about Opposition demands that all costs associated with the G20 summit in Toronto be made public.

Fantino dismissed the Opposition’s criticisms as “just a red herring.”

“All of those issues were addressed, they’re addressed, it’s totally transparent and there’s no way in any way, shape or form that those criticisms were valid.”

Toews interjected as reporters tried to ask Fantino a follow-up. “Look, we’ve indicated very clearly that those numbers are going to be available to the press.”

“The by-election is over. Mr. Fantino is here. The numbers are coming,” said Toews. “Relax.”

Pressed further, Toews would only respond the tallies would be made public “soon.”
His much-touted arrival on Parliament Hill was brief. Fantino turned and was whisked away from further questions by the minister and at least two aides.
Yes, the content edicts have been issued and he now has a travel buddy at the mikes! That has got to chafe.

You gotta be tougher than that, Mr. F!

A "lost year" in Ottawa

The read of the day given the end of session and that Governor General's bill signing ceremony taking place later today, Helene Buzzetti of Le Devoir breaks down the impact of last year's prorogation on this year's legislative accomplishments. The analysis refers to 2010 as essentially a "lost year" in terms of having to re-do a lot of the work that had been done legislatively in 2009, particularly on the Conservatives' much vaunted crime agenda. They keep hurling accusations at others for holding up that set of laws in particular, yet when you look at the numbers, those accusations seem laughable.

The government introduced 61 bills this year, 33 of which had to be re-introduced since they were lost due to prorogation. Of those 33, only 3 have received Royal Assent. Of the 28 new bills, 5 have received Royal Assent.

There's a bit of a cataloguing done in the report, bill by bill, to show how much delay the Conservatives added into the mix themselves, beyond prorogation. 8 months delay, for example, on re-introducing those bills on enhanced police powers over internet eavesdropping, which has meant little accomplished on those. There are 11 measures, Buzzetti notes, which Conservatives claim as being key pieces of their law and order agenda but which have just made it back to their pre-prorogation stage now. Included among these would be C-16 on ending house arrest for violent criminals, and C-39 limiting the early release of offenders. It's actually bordering on high farce that they're able to get away with all this made-for-TV tough on crime pandering.

All to be kept in mind as a few bills are granted Royal Assent today. The numbers and analysis are excellent reminders but we have a strong sense about all this in any event. Harper is into executive power, not legislative power. And advertising much more than legislating.

Atomic Energy Canada Limited up for late grabs

News circulated on November 15th that an entrepreneur by the name of Andrew Day was seeking to put together a late bid for AECL in the government's privatization process. It appears he has now done so: "EXCLUSIVE: Entrepreneur mounts 11th-hour bid for AECL's Candu reactor unit."

Day (and unknown investors) wants to buy the part of AECL that builds new reactors because, being an entrepreneur, he sees potential in other markets for the Candu business to grow. China and India are named as the most likely markets. The other reported bidders for AECL to date, leaked out in a Globe report on November 10th, just 5 days before Day's initial interest became public, are Bruce Power and SNC-Lavalin. Both are reportedly only interested in the reactor maintenance business, i.e., the servicing of existing Candu reactors, of which there are 32, with 20 in Canada. The union is asking how this could work, the separating out of different parts of AECL, namely the Candu building part and the maintenance/refurbishing part.

So it's worth asking just what kind of bidding process the government is running here, when latecomers might ride in, after hearing leaks about the extent of the offers that are supposedly on the table and outside the parameters of whatever the initial formal bid rules were. Seems like a shoddy process that isn't going to get best value for these assets, it's looking like more of a fire-sale. Maybe the leaked news of SNC-Lavalin and Bruce Power's limited interest in AECL was in fact designed to spawn additional offers such as Day's. Just speculation but given that it's all being done under wraps, other than these leaks and occasional news reports, that's all we can do.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Clement and Moore heart the iPod Tax™

Update (10:25 p.m.) below.

A statement released today by the two ministers, out on a shopping date at the Rideau Centre apparently, smacks of protesting too much about this newly branded iPod Tax™, whatever that actually is or has been cooked up to mean by the Conservative brain trust:
Today, the Honourable Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, and the Honourable James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, issued the following statement from the Rideau Centre, a popular holiday shopping destination:

“We are here to confirm that the Harper Government will not bring in an iPod tax as part of its copyright legislation. The iPod Tax has been proposed and supported by all opposition parties.
"The iPod Tax!" Awww, dudes, you went all the way over to the Rideau Centre just for that bit of nonsense? Note that "iPod Tax" is done with a capital "T" for special marketing effect no doubt. It rates a mention 8 times in the release and is dropped squarely into the lap of the opposition.

But, as we know, James Moore is actually not so against an iPod tax. As was reported last month: "Heritage minister says he’d consider an MP3 levy." MP3=iPod. Levy=tax.

The last sentence of the release needs an amendment or two. Here it is:
During this fragile economic recovery, the last thing Canadian families and consumers need is a massive new tax on iPods.
How about instead...during this fragile economic recovery, the last thing Canadian families and consumers need are unserious Harper Ministers going to shopping malls to engage in silly partisan games.

Another p.r. special meted out at Christmas time since that iPod thingy is the popular gift after all. This is what they do.

Update (10:25 p.m.): Here is a useful fact-check on the Minister's "iPod tax" event. Also, Michael Geist's take. Some opposition reaction:
"I think today, Minister Moore and Clement, they, they crossed the line. They basically lied to Canadians," said Quebec Liberal MP Pablo Rodriquez. "Our position is to keep working with the artists to make sure we find a better solution than the levy, a long-term solution, technologically neutral."
Moore is "obviously sending a message that he doesn't really give much of a damn about getting the copyright legislation through," said NDP MP Charlie Angus. "James Moore knows that the $75 is a fiction. They've been making this up."

On the lighter side

This was a serious event but the ending is kind of hilarious: "RCMP response to Newfoundland standoff to be reviewed."
A man slipped away from the scene of a week-long armed standoff in Newfoundland and got a lift out of town to buy smokes while police guarded what turned out to be an empty house for nearly 16 more hours, the RCMP said Monday.

The Mounties said the man snuck past their security perimeter on Friday night after they gathered on one side of his house to pump water into it with high-pressure hoses in an effort to resolve the standoff in Bay Bulls, N.L.

“In essence, we had one side of the house fully covered and positioned and another side that wasn’t,” Sgt. Boyd Merrill said in an interview.
The National's coverage last night is worth watching simply for the RCMP officer and his quotes, for example, "Police work is not an exact science." No kidding.

Clement's Monday spending announcement not what it seemed

Tony Clement in the House of Commons yesterday, putting on record for the nation the "Harper Government's" big funding announcement in Mississauga yesterday afternoon with specific references to job creation figures:
Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Industry, CPC): The hon. member is quite correct, Mr. Speaker. That is exactly what I and the member for Mississauga—Erindale did earlier today. We announced a major investment by the Government of Canada through a repayable contribution but also by the industry itself, a $1 billion R and D investment in the aerospace sector. That translates into 700 jobs for research and development and over 2,000 jobs when it comes to the actual production phase.

We are in favour of research and development, whether it comes to F-35s or whether it comes to the aerospace industry. We are onside with the aerospace sector. When will the Liberals do the same?
700 jobs for R & D, Tony? And "over 2,000 jobs when it comes to the actual production phase?" That sounds like 2,700 new jobs. Hmmm. Lucky us. Reporters actually did the work of following up on the big show: "Pratt & Whitney deal not quite as advertised." That's right, not quite:
The government announcement also claims the deal will "create and maintain an average of more than 700 highly skilled jobs during the project work phase, and more than 2,000 jobs during the 15-year benefits phase."

The company later explained that it hopes to hire about 200 new staff for the research and development project, expected to take about five years.

At $300 million from taxpayers, that works out to $300,000 a year per job.

As for the rest of the jobs, Clement's press secretary, Lynn Meahan, explained that "hypothetically, without the project, the workforce would have shrunk."

She said the promised 2,000 long-term jobs would come from manufacturing the new engines yet to be developed, and it is not clear how many of those positions, if any, would be new.
More from another CBC report on the actual job creation numbers:
A company spokeswoman, however, said just 200 new jobs will be created, while the rest will be "maintained." It wasn't immediately clear whether some of the remaining 500 jobs might have otherwise disappeared. Pratt & Whitney laid off employees last year because of weak markets.
So it's not really 700 new R & D jobs, as the government is representing. It's more like 200 new jobs. It's an average of 700 highly skilled jobs that will be "created" and "maintained" over the life of this project in the government's clever-speak that nevertheless gives the distinct impression to all listening that the number they should fixate on is 700. Yet the company is saying 200. In other reporting, CTV, Canadian Press and the Sun, the company is also described as currently hiring 200 engineers.

So where does the 700 figure even come from? It's not in the Pratt & Whitney company announcement either. Why not? Shouldn't the government numbers match the company's?

As for the 2,000 additional jobs, it's sounding like they're not new at all, just a stopgap to ensure that existing jobs don't depart. But that's certainly not the way it was portrayed yesterday by Clement in the House of Commons. Nor in the media.

From 2,700 to 200.

You have to wonder whether, as a condition of the largesse, the government is allowed to say whatever it likes and the company execs go along and politely clap. Meanwhile, those workers sitting there in the hangar have the wool pulled completely over their eyes. As does the public.

Speaking of favouritism

So the latest in-and-out elections expenses developments have been in the news the last few days, with the news of national campaign offices having been set up by the Conservatives in Quebec during the 2006 federal campaign but with expenses for those offices having been attributed to the local candidates. That's become part of the dispute with the Conservative Party having been ordered to amend its 2006 return accordingly.

Anyhow, this spawned some back and forth in Question Period yesterday and now some Conservative spin that is pushing back against Liberals who raised it. The spin is the very wrongheaded and irresponsible notion that Elections Canada is biased against the Conservatives and treats Liberals much differently. The oft-cited pass given to Liberals and mentioned in the Lilley piece? That past leadership candidates have been given extensions on repayment of their debt. Extensions are provided for in the Elections Act and further, earlier this year, a Federal Court did grant another extension on the paying back of the leadership debt for many of the candidates.

What is not mentioned in the Lilley piece and by Conservatives, however, is that Conservative candidates have similarly benefited from such extensions and there is indeed even-handed treatment that occurs.
The law allows candidates to seek court sanction for any further extensions, which have now been granted to six contenders.

Similar rules exist for candidates in elections and records show scores of Conservative candidates have routinely received extensions after missing the deadline for paying off their campaign debts.
Thank you, Canadian Press. The point is, the Conservative spin that Elections Canada is biased is nonsense. It's even more egregious because throughout the life of this in-and-out court process, going on an incredible four years now, they insist on trying to undermine one of our foundational democratic institutions. If they have a grievance with an interpretation of a law and they're having a court battle, fine. But engage in it professionally and with a sense of respect for the process, their role as the government and Elections Canada's unique position. 

The in-and-out expense case rolls on, unfinished since 2006. That's the real issue here, the ultimate answer on Conservative overspending in that 2006 federal election is yet to be provided while the case is under appeal. It may be a lose-lose for Conservatives, however, contrary to what the other Conservative spin is about all the wins racked up thus far.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Election watch

Some items of interest from the past few days...

$18.1 million for a natural gas pipeline in Thetford Mines announced by Harper today. Christian Paradis' riding.

Tony Clement announces a $300 million contribution to an engine development programme in Mississauga today, likely to shore up Conservative MP Bob Dechert's hold on the Mississauga-Erindale riding.

Harper again, on Friday, announced $19 million to dredge Sydney Harbour in N.S., likely to attempt to gain a seat there for Conservative candidate Cecil Clarke:
Harper singled out Cecil Clarke, the Cape Breton North MLA, for praise.

"I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention your stellar member of the legislative assembly, Cecil Clarke, who has much to do with why I am here," the prime minister said.

Clarke is moving from provincial to federal politics to run for the Conservatives against Liberal MP Mark Eyking in the Sydney-Victoria riding in the next election.
Plenty of others to track as well but those are some of the biggies from the past few days, totalling almost $350 million.

Christmas is clearly the season for giving.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dissecting the F-35 purchase

Update below (Sat. p.m.).

A bit of must read material here on the government's proposed F-35 purchase. David Pugliese is doing a series, the first of which appears here: "F-35 purchase plan based on a wing and a prayer, opposition says." The footnote to that report says the next part of the series will appear on Sunday but it seems to be up at the iPolitics website now:"Selling Canada on the need for new fighter jets." Pugliese picks apart the government's presentation of the purchase and there is new material here that hasn't been reported to date.

Here are some of the highlights from the first report that appear to be new (with some thoughts in parentheses after some points):
  • there is a Defence Department calculation that puts the full cost of the proposed JSF purchase at $21 billion, higher than the $16 billion that's been widely put on it to date (the government has not been up front about this)
  • after the Harper government signed the most recent version of the JSF Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") in 2006, even they were emphasizing at that point that the MOU did not mean Canada would be purchasing the JSF (there hasn't been much reporting on that and it begs the question of the total turnaround in rhetoric now)
  • there seem to have been different approaches within DND over how to go about this purchase, with a pro-F-35 set of advocates on the one hand and on the other, air force officers who went about preparing for and expecting a competitive bid purchase to occur (these factions are noted around the spring and summer of 2009, a year before the July 2010 announcement)
  • Conservative MPs were being lobbied by Boeing on having a competition (in support of the F-18 Super Hornet) with Boeing saying they could provide a cheaper deal with industrial benefits "equal to or exceeding the money the federal government planned to spend" (confirming that the F-35 sole-source proceeded in spite of such information, the government chose to ignore what sounds like an offer that very much deserved consideration)
  • contrary to the unanimity that the Harper government portrays, industry is divided over how widespread the benefits of the JSF will actually be to Canadian industry
  • despite the cost overruns that were coming to the fore particularly in early 2010 in the U.S. JSF program, at DND "there were no such concerns" & it was full steam ahead on the F-35 (why no concerns? why no civilian, i.e., Ministerial concern?)
  • Peter MacKay is viewed at DND as essentially a pushover, asking few questions and not challenging the military's equipment requests (raising questions of lack of oversight, leadership)
  • the U.S. pressured Canada to buy when other allies were asking questions about the F-35 (which would explain why the proposed deal was announced in the summer, when an actual deal is years away from being signed)
  • documents show that the purchase was intended to show Washington that Canada was committed to defence (raising questions about our decision-making criteria, putting reassurance of the U.S. ahead of our own priorities)
  • a DND official flew to the U.S. in early summer 2010 to brief industry representatives and put the maintenance cost of the F-35 at $12 billion whereas MacKay has put it at $5 billion (discrepancy)
  • the Harper cabinet approved the F-35 purchase in early June of this past summer but held off on a planned June announcement until mid-July due to the heat from the cost of the G8/G20 summits (a planned lead-in to the G8/G20 foiled; also, MacKay had said in the House of Commons on May 27th that there would be a competition, meaning he was either not in the loop or rather quickly corrected on that)
  • in the 1980s when Canada was choosing our current CF-18s, extensive tests of competitors occurred here in Canada at the Cold Lake base (clearly, none of that is being done with the F-35 proposed sole-sourcing, why we should be settling for less rigour now goes unexplained)
  • there is a DND criteria dating from 2006 that requires replacement aircraft for the CF-18 to be operational (the F-35 is not operational, it is in test stages and its selection violates this criteria)
In terms of the second part of the series (if this is it), it's a pretty thorough debunking of a number of the government's claims in terms of their sell job on the purchase to date: the notion that there has been a competition, that a prior Liberal government committed us to this purchase and that the Russian menace requires us to buy the F-35. Apparently on that last point, the NORAD stats contradict the Conservative government's claims that 12-18 Russian flights a year are being engaged by Canadian fighters. Turns out, those numbers are too high and Peter MacKay, in an email response, had no answer on the point.

Update: See FarAndWide's take as well. And the Beav!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday night

One that has been in my rotation this week, mostly because some commercial has put a bug in my head about it. It's also a great re-mix, regardless, of one of the best songs on the Massive Attack album that was a favourite this year. So, kind of an end of year thing with this one.

Second, a new one from Niagara Falls' own Deadmau5:

Lastly, if we must do the Christmas thing, this is how we do it:

Canadian political science: MIA?

You can read some typical fare today on essentially the same old topics. Or, consider this very useful and thought-provoking read on the current state of our politics and a lot of what might be going on with the progressive side of the debate: Canadian Political Science: Missing in Action? by Sylvia Bashevkin.

Bashevkin contrasts the absence of progressive political science voices on the current Canadian scene with the abundance of conservative ones, pointing out the investments that are being made by conservatives in "foundations, think tanks, conferences, media outlets and so on to promote a particular point of view, and to train like-minded folks to sing with impact from the conservative hymnal." That's just one minor but salient offering from the piece. 

She also suggests the absence of the progressive political science part of the spectrum in the public realm (or not enough of it, at least) is hurting the Canadian political debate at the moment:
To demonstrate the extent to which progressive political science is absent in contemporary Canada, let’s pursue three brief counterfactual thought experiments that imagine what public debate would look like if this part of the discipline were present, which in turn permits us to understand why it is weak or entirely absent.

First, if the concepts of power, representation, justice, equality, citizenship and human rights figured more prominently in public debate, then we would have at our fingertips an analytically rigorous set of ideas that both reveal and explain the uneven distribution of influence and resources that undermines democracy at this time. Taking transformative action to rebuild our political fabric would follow from each of those starting points. Yet all six themes have lost traction relative to the totemic markers of our time, notably competitiveness, productivity and economic growth.

Second, with the latter three desiderata depriving the former six of oxygen, it is not surprising that we have to enter the realm of fantasy to imagine a second scenario: reforming the “post-crisis” international economic system in ways that would enhance the well-being of citizens. (I place the phrase post-crisis in quotation marks because the strain on global markets, alongside pressures the world credit collapse and its various knock-on effects have imposed on the legitimacy of democratic governments, arguably continues.) As things stand, discussions of how to move forward usually elevate the regulatory preferences of large financial institutions above all else, leaving little room for the fundamental point that liberal states and markets are ideally tools for improving the lives of human beings.

Third, if the House of Commons operated as a representative chamber that communicated voters’ voices to elected MPs, then the leader of our Official Opposition would not have had to travel roughly 40,000 kilometres this summer to discover that Canadians are worried about the fate of democracy. The same earnest, concerned people who came out to meet Michael Ignatieff from coast to coast to coast would have channelled their views to their local representatives, and then those perspectives would have found their way into party deliberations and parliamentary debates involving all sides of the House.
There is much more to digest from the piece that deserves a full read which I am not doing justice here. She really is saying that there is much that is missing on the progressive side of the spectrum in terms of resources and in terms of meeting conservatives in the present day debate which is skewed to the right.

That skewed debate gives us a climate in which the Nortel disabled workers get the shaft with little public outcry. That skewed debate gives us a climate in which the false choice between the economy and the environment is offered to us and the economy prevails. (My examples, not hers.)

In other words, her piece is not just about the responsibility of political scientists to contribute, it's also about a larger political climate in Canada with multiple ailments, particularly on the progressive side of the spectrum. Arguably, there are bigger undercurrents at play that dwarf who is the leader of any of our political parties at the moment.