Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Twitter Olympics

What the Olympics have been like for a lot of us...:) Except maybe a little hipper in Montreal. The phenomenon was noted in the NY Times this week as well:
Blogs and social Web sites like Facebook and Twitter enable an online water-cooler conversation, encouraging people to split their time between the computer screen and the big-screen TV.

The Nielsen Company, which measures television viewership and Web traffic, noticed this month that one in seven people who were watching the Super Bowl and the Olympics opening ceremony were surfing the Web at the same time.
One more Olympic item, the Times also had a cool audio representation of just how close the gold, silver and bronze medallists were in a number of sports. Try the Men's Skeleton, John Montgomery's race, to listen to how close the top two were. Also fun, the Women's 1000m speedskating results show just how competitive that race was and therefore how great a win it was for the Canadian, Christine Nesbitt. Clever ideas these Times people come up with.

One more day, then back to normality...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday night

More from Massive Attack, still listening to this new one. Can't decide which of the two I like better, so there you go. Have a good night.

Circus act

The Conservative tax rhetoric is out of control, they're tying themselves in ridiculous knots in order to maintain the illusion that they're not raising taxes. This is their second recent tax hike plan, they're just counting, as always, on voter apathy as they massage away with their expensive communications strategies. The messaging, not the substance of what they're doing, is all: "New airport security fee not a tax, Tories insist."
The government describes the new charges as “user fees,” rather than taxes. Some current government members once attacked the very item as an “air tax” while in opposition, but Mr. Baird dismissed such language Thursday.
Oh John Baird, why must you be

What say you, opposition benches?
"A tax is a tax is a tax," said New Democrat finance critic Thomas Mulcair (Outremont), calling Baird's airport announcement one week before the budget a bald-faced "communications effort."

"If Baird can get away with putting lipstick on this pig, then they figure maybe next week they can announce a whole bunch of new tariffs and fees and say that they haven't raised taxes, they've just raised tariffs and fees?"

What? That's not a pig wearing a Conservative sweater. It's a porcine creature wearing a Conservative sweater. They're totally different beasts. I'm sure Mr. Baird would agree.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dear Larry: No to Latulippe

Dear Larry,

Please get a clue on behalf of the Canadian people and provide us with good government. Is that too much to ask from you people?



The eloquent version (fave paragraph emphasized):
Dear Minister Cannon:

I am writing in reply to your consultation letter of February 22, 2010 informing me of your government’s intention to appoint Mr. Gérard Latulippe as the President of Rights & Democracy (the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development).

I regret to inform you that I am unable to support your proposal to appoint Mr. Latulippe as I believe he is not suitable for this role at this critical time for this particular organization.

Rights & Democracy has had a proud and renowned international reputation - a reputation that has been seriously damaged by the current chaos that has befallen the organization. It seems clear that the best road forward would be to end all attempts to politicize this organization and restore it to its proud tradition of transcending partisanship. In this regard it seems counterproductive, to say the least, to appoint as its president an individual like Mr. Latulippe who has such strong ties to the government and its Ministers.

The curriculum vitae you provided for Mr.Latulippe appears to omit many of the more partisan aspects of his career. I note that in 2000 Mr. Latulippe was a candidate for the Canadian Alliance, one of the political parties that merged to create the current Conservative Party of Canada. I note that he was also the Co-Chair in Quebec for the party during the 2000 election campaign and prior to that was a key advisor and leadership campaign chair in Quebec for Stockwell Day, the current President of the Treasury Board.

There many other issues regarding this candidate. The CV you provided includes as part of Mr. Latulippe’s professional experience the following: “1985-1989 Solicitor General (Minister of Public Security) and Member of Parliament”. This could be seen as an overstatement since we all recall that Mr. Latulippe was forced to resign as Quebec‘s Solicitor General in 1987 due to conflict of interest allegations. Neither does his CV mention his public declaration in support of Quebec’s separation in 1994.

I further note that some of Mr. Latulippe’s publicly stated views on immigration and gay rights call into question whether he is the right person to head up an organization where tolerance and openness should not be optional.

These stated views and Mr. Latulippe’s political career path raises legitimate questions about his capacity to be a principled president for Rights & Democracy.

I strongly believe that given the ongoing scandal the government should nominate a president for Rights and Democracy who does not have obvious ties to any political party. I am confident that there are many distinguished Canadians who could meet this standard and who also could bring considerable experience in the field of human rights and democratization.

Mr. Cannon, your government has demonstrated time and again that it aims to impose on our country's independent institutions the most extreme views espoused within your own political party. This is not only contrary to the wishes of Canadians, it is contrary to the political traditions of our country. And when this approach is applied to an independent organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy, it is particularly offensive.

I therefore respectfully request that the government reconsider the appointment of Mr. Latulippe and instead urge the government to put forward a nominee who clearly transcends political partisanship and whose only agenda is restoring the good work and reputation of Rights & Democracy.

Yours truly,

Michael Ignatieff
Leader of the Opposition

Chalk River restart pushed back again

A new hedging sentence appears in the AECL updates about the Chalk River reactor repairs. Can you spot the fresh meat in these staid updates?
NRU’s earliest return-to-service is the end of April. Technical challenges with the repair sequence, as described above, continue to pose risk of schedule slippage. Further guidance on the return-to-service date will be provided when more information becomes available.
If you guessed sentence number two, you'd be correct. So now the restart has been pushed back again, now to the "end of April." The previous update on February 17th said the restart date was "April." Throughout January, the targeted restart date was end of March. Not a good trend.

As the old reactor repair is underway, still no word from the government on what their ultimate back-up plan is for this clearly significant problem. The budget next week is unlikely to contain any spending for a new project. The spin Wednesday night on the budget has morphed from no new spending to no new spending on significant measures. Sounds like the long term panel's advice to build a new NRU replacement is in purgatory for the foreseeable future. If that is true, the government is demonstrating an interesting risk management philosophy, sticking with the old equipment without making any choices to mitigate the risk of further future breakdowns. Nowhere else but in government would such choices be possible.

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

Big leak in Afghan detainee file

From Travers today:"Were we complicit in "disappearing" Afghan prisoners?"

Travers writes about a further impetus for prorogation, that there are documents in the government's possession that speak of concerns about three missing insurgents captured in the winter of 2007 by our "top-secret Joint Task Force Two," operating in conjunction with the Americans.
As a source familiar with its work put it this week, the force works side-by-side with the U.S. "to pick up or pick off " top Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders.

There's little startling in what JTF2 and CSIS are doing in Afghanistan. Most Canadians will accept commando raids and civilian spying as particularly necessary in a war against an enemy fighting outside the accepted rules of engagement.

Much more troubling is the implication that this country was complicit in Afghans "disappearing" prisoners, or that Canada became a partner in the U.S. rendition scheme that trampled legal and human rights. (emphasis added)
How's that for more fortuitous timing with the resumption of Parliament?

Maxime Bernier: strike nineteen

We had a lot of fun here at the blog cataloguing Maxime's exploits while Foreign Affairs Minister. Some long time readers may remember the strike watch, which started out innocently enough. Strike one, strike two, strike three, you're out was the idea. Little did we know that the tally would climb so high. It took sixteen strikes for Maxime to be finally called out although we were really losing count during the tumultuous Couillard era. So here we are, hauling it out for old time's sake and a special occasion.

This has to be one of his all time greatest hits: "Maxime Bernier challenges climate science." I mean, this is like Clouseau going after Stephen Hawking or some other better analogy you might conjure up in your head. Gilles Duceppe had the line of the day on this one:
"Mr. Bernier's expertise lies more in Joe Louis than climate change," Duceppe said, referring to the sweet, chocolate-coated vanilla pastries invented in the Beauce region that Bernier represents.

Any excuse to haul out that one, any excuse at all.

On the climate denial aspect of Bernier's salvo, here's a good read from the Pembina Institute that was making its way around twitter the other day. And a good take on what might be done as a counter measure to those planting seeds of doubt, particularly now that a prominent member of the Harper government is dallying with denial.

Bernier really timed this well, what with Jim "Clean Energy Superpower" Prentice in Washington yesterday. His day there was largely overshadowed and his effort to make amends with Charest was probably thrown off too. Bernier sure knows when to make a splash.

Now if this does indeed mark the commencement of some kind of Conservative leadership jockeying among Prentice, Jean Charest and yes, Maxime Bernier, this blog would heartily endorse this development. Please, carry on with all the jockeying.

Harper's respect for Parliament failing another test

It looks like all of the opposition parties will oppose the appointment of Gérard Latulippe to head the embattled Rights & Democracy group. Yet the Harper government is obliged to consult with Parliament on the choice. So the question: will that requirement to consult mean anything, substantively, to Stephen Harper's practice of minority government?
The federal government is obligated to consult with Parliament, aka the opposition, on Latulippe's appointment, but that doesn't mean that the other parties have a veto, or that Latulippe need be subjected to some kind of confirmation hearing.
It should mean something. But it likely won't. That requirement was clearly placed in the law which created the group in order to encourage the selection of a nonpartisan leadership choice. Such quaint requirements in Canadian law, meeting their match these days in the form of the Harper government who care not a whit about the intent of such provisions.

Gilles Duceppe even went so far as to suggest a number of choices yesterday for consideration, including Flora MacDonald, Joe Clark and Barbara McDougall. They're all likely too independent minded for a Harper stamp of approval though. This government is, at the end of the day, unreasonable. They don't do reason.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Elections Canada appeals the in-and-out ruling

This news was pretty much expected, no matter who won the lower court ruling regarding the in-and-out advertising litigation that's been going on since about 2006: "Elections Canada appeals ruling that OK'd Tory ad spending in 2006 campaign." From the preliminary report, which doesn't contain any Conservative reaction, but we can guess as to what that might be:
Elections Canada is appealing a court ruling that rejected its claim of illegal spending by the Conservative party during the 2006 federal election campaign.

Federal Court Judge Luc Martineau last month dismissed the watchdog's allegation that 67 Tory candidates illegally claimed advertising costs that should have been reported as national campaign expenses.

The ruling allowed the Tories to dodge the prospect of having illegally exceeded their national campaign spending limit by more than $1 million.

However, Elections Canada says it will appeal, arguing that campaign spending limits will be rendered meaningless if the ruling is allowed to stand.
That last part is the nub of it and a principle worth pursuing. Elections law experts have found over time that Canadians support spending limits in our elections regime as opposed to the American system which is becoming an unrestrained corporate playground. Do we want an elections regime where the party with the most money has the loudest voice or do we want an equal playing field? That's what the in-and-out challenge represents, a test of that principle. Theoretically, the in-and-out game could net a party millions in election spending advantage over other parties. How that situation might be allowed to stand when our Elections Act contains national party spending limits is the big question.

This case is likely to make it to the Supreme Court of Canada so it is far from over.

As for the Harper government, I would expect them to respectfully defer to Election Canada's right of appeal, Elections Canada being an independent institution of government and all. After all, Lawrence Cannon was instructing Afghanistan just yesterday on the need to respect electoral institutions:
“While we have yet to receive the official translation of President Karzai’s decree amending Afghanistan’s electoral law, we are troubled by early reports that the decree could diminish the level of independence of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). A strong and independent ECC is vital for the future of a democratic Afghanistan, and any efforts to weaken this body are disturbing. (emphasis added)
Probably wishful thinking. What's more likely is that the government is preparing to launch another attack on Elections Canada's impartiality. But I guess we shall see.

Update (6:50 p.m.): The Citizen updates its report with a bit more detail of the appeal, including that 30 errors in the judgment are alleged. Still no reaction from Conservative land.

Update (6:55 p.m.): Here they are:
Conservative party spokesman Fred DeLorey expressed disappointment that Elections Canada is appealing the ruling.

"Although we are not surprised, it is disappointing that Elections Canada is continuing this after the courts said they were wrong," DeLorey said.

"They've already wasted millions of dollars on this."

DeLorey maintained Martineau's ruling does nothing to change spending limits on national or local campaigns.
Predictable slag on Elections Canada, there you go.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Much ado about some solid constituency work

Just a brief post here before the world goes hockey crazy...

Wanted to follow up on a post Far&Wide did yesterday in reaction to this column by Adam Radwanski: "With friends like Kennedy, McGuinty needs no enemies." You can read Far&Wide's post for the point that Gerard Kennedy, doing effective constituency representation for the people in Parkdale-High Park over a big issue in the riding, was being unfairly tagged by Radwanski as some kind of rogue Liberal for doing so, causing headaches for his former provincial counterparts. Radwanski cited Kennedy's recent GST comments as well, clearly suggesting that Kennedy's railway advocacy was of a piece with some kind of lone ranger presentation. The rest of the column did have some fair coverage of the nuts and bolts of the railway issue, however.

As someone who lives in the riding and who attended a town hall hosted by Kennedy last week, I would vouch for the fact that this is indeed a big issue in the riding that Kennedy has necessarily taken up. The noise in the affected area is said to be unbearable and shaking house foundations. I'm sure the residents there are quite happy that Kennedy has advanced their cause and helped to obtain that federal ruling which seems to support a rational principle, that affected neighbourhoods have to be consulted and less noisier methods be used "wherever possible." There's little in the way of political intrigue involved in what is a very basic life-in-the-riding issue.

Radwanski has clarified his intent toward Kennedy today:
That said, I feel obliged to correct the perception out there that yesterday's column was a hit-job on Gerard Kennedy.* It wasn't. And neither was it a defence of either Metrolinx or Dalton McGuinty, even if the headline may have tilted slightly in that direction.
I'm not entirely sure why it was assumed that, in telling that story, I was picking sides. Maybe I should have told it better. But rest assured that, on this and other stories, explaining perspectives doesn't necessarily mean that I share them.
Think it was the inclusion of the GST issue that did it. Plus that headline didn't help. Maybe Radwanski might want to seek veto approval over the headline aspect:) Anyway, good for Radwanski for clarifying.

At the end of the day, just some solid constituency work. And maybe all the fuss is another telling indication of Kennedy's growing stature on the national scene.

Ujjal Dosanjh on Colbert show

Courtesy of this Globe story which links to the interview clip.

A hilarious few minutes and Colbert at his best.

Memories of predictions

Now is as good a moment as any to haul out some of the predicted conventional wisdom surrounding the Olympics and their political impact. Remember this oldie but goodie from L. Ian MacDonald at the end of July:
There are three reasons why Harper should do everything in his power to remain in office until the fall of 2010, which might be the very reasons for the Liberals to hasten the downfall of this minority House.

The first is the economy. The second is the Vancouver Winter Games. And the third is next year's G8 summit, to be hosted by Canada at Muskoka.
The Vancouver Games loom as a feel-good moment for the country, with an impressive harvest of medals in the offing. Harper and his ministers should spend a good part of those 17 days in Vancouver and Whistler, basking in the reflected glow of that good feeling. Harper could even do some on-site research for his forthcoming book on hockey, a work in progress that has been delayed by his current job.
Oh the perils of plotting long term strategery on paper in Canadian politics these days. Now granted, MacDonald was arguing for a fall 2010 election, not spring 2010, but his take on the Olympic effect that the Harper crew were supposed to latch onto and factor into election planning just doesn't seem to be panning out. There's not likely to be any Olympic effect for spring 2010 let alone fall 2010.

More speculation that we heard on the Olympic halo effect:
...the game plan is to keep Parliament quiet while the Vancouver Olympics are on and hope Canadian athletes do well in the medal parade.

By their own internal logic, Conservative strategists think gold medals by the men's and women's hockey teams in particular will translate into that kind of feel-good moment that will lead to a majority government.
"[Former Prime Minister Brian] Mulroney has allegedly told them that the Olympics will be worth five or six points to the [Conservatives]"
The Conservatives may still be looking for a boost from the Olympics:
The Conservatives are looking to the Olympics, the Speech from the Throne and the budget to restore their fortunes after a dreadful month.
The Duffy/Nancy Greene video effort to exploit the moment suggests that may be so.

Yet where are we today? Reading headlines like this: "Tory hopes for Olympic 'bounce' are likely to fall flat." Probably more like that to come as the end of the Olympics nears and that dynamic settles in. This notion that there would be beneficial political fallout from the Games transferred over to the government has seemed far-fetched from the beginning. Just too cute a script to expect to come true.

Update: Letter to the editor of the Globe today:
The Olympic video campaign starring Mike Duffy and Nancy Greene Raine is a crass attempt by the Conservatives to link their fortunes to the work of others (Tories Push Patriotism – And Possibly Procure Votes – Feb. 20). The over-the-top banter comparing Stephen Harper, as their “strong leader,” with the Olympic athletes is political opportunism written in a style reminiscent of the self-glorifying propaganda we see from China or North Korea. The Conservatives should be ashamed, but we know they won’t be.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Great Recalibration of 2010: coming next week

And being spun by a PMO official near you, always a noteworthy occasion. All that recalibration spin and we're not really hearing inklings of a particularly innovative or prorogation-worthy budget. Here is the messaging:
Federal spending growth will be reined in across the board to help slay the deficit with the exceptions of funding for pensions, health care and education.

A senior government official said Monday the key themes of next week's Speech from the Throne and federal budget will be creating jobs and recovering from the recession. The budget will include a plan for Canada to climb out of deficit, but will not balance the books "on the backs" of Canadians by raising taxes, the official said.
The Conservative official said there will be no new measures in the budget as the government embarks on the second of a two-year fiscal stimulus plan.
It is sounding like a non-boat rocking budget, in political terms. All that recalibration talk as rationale for the prorogation and it's sounding like predictable themes and predictable talking point positioning in advance of the budget, albeit with the detail to come. Can't help but have that feeling that the prorogation break has not gone according to plan, that the Olympic halo has not ascended, they're going to play it safe.

Wrote the highly skeptical blogger...

Update (5:20 p.m.): The Globe points out, no new spending means no extension of the Home Renovation Tax Credit.

Access to information breakdown

More access to information manipulation in the news yesterday:
A series of internal emails in the NAFTAgate scandal were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act. Many of the emails were heavily censored, and the released file does not include a response from Brodie to Wilson.

The records were provided to the news agency more than 19 months after they were requested - and more than a year later than required by law.

Wilson and Brodie have since left government. (emphasis added)
A year later than required by law. Almost two years after the date they were requested. It's your anti-democratic, lawless Harper government in action, delaying an access to information request over a very politically embarrassing incident.

No wonder they wanted to keep these documents far removed from the incident, time-wise. Former ambassador Michael Wilson seemed to rebuke Harper's chief of staff and the PMO in an email at the time for the way the NAFTAgate incident was unfolding. He thought he was being made a scapegoat for NAFTAgate by the PMO. That's quite a nugget, that our ambassador in the U.S. thought he was being undermined by the PMO, a former Mulroney Progressive Conservative learning how the Harper Conservatives roll. That's the big political revelation here. The initial jubilation over the damaging memo to Obama's campaign, followed by CYA efforts and concern about the Obama team's reaction that are also disclosed in these emails are quite insightful as well. When caught, say whatever it takes, irrespective of the truth, to cover.

This report is also yet another illustration of how toothless the Access to Information Act is when it comes to enforcing timely disclosure of requested documents. This is a statute that is begging for an amendment or two - or ten - to bring it into the modern era. Why isn't it an offence under this Act for a government to so egregiously breach the time requirements? The ongoing breaches we are witnessing seem to cry out for a severe penalty in order to deter the behaviour in the future. Stale information becomes useless information. NAFTAgate is like an historical curiosity now.

The offence section is limited to obstruction of the Information Commissioner (or its representatives) and then wilful breaches, where there is some intent to refuse access via destruction, falsifying, or concealing of documents (s. 67). Recall that there is an investigation of Christian Paradis' office, as former Public Works Minister, going on pursuant to the obstruction offence provision in respect of one of his aides overruling the access to information officials in the Public Works department. There was a delay beyond the time requirement for disclosure in that case too: "82 days later than allowed under the law."

Time delay is considered, for all intents and purposes, as a "refusal of access" (s. 10(3)) for which the remedy is a complaint to the Information Commissioner (s. 30) and then beyond that, it may end up in Federal Court. So while there is a process to deal with time delay, you can see how a government can game such provisions, as the Harper government has indeed been doing.

It's not clear in the Canadian Press story here whether they did file a complaint on the NAFTAgate documents or whether there has been any kind of investigation undertaken by the Information Commissioner's office on this situation. It's certainly a situation that warrants one.

Access to information is one of the pillars of any democratic system. There's no excuse for a modern democracy to enable delay as a tactic to "rag the puck," to use some Olympic vernacular, in order to defeat the intent of the Act. Nor is there any excuse for the political pressure from the PMO driving it all. For more on that, see the Hill Times today. A Conservative staffer is singing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday funnies

Cough, cough:
The federal Tories admit that they did not anticipate the blowback from prorogation.

The Prime Minister has never minded criticism, but in this case all the flak he's taken since the start of the year must be galling, since he had to be talked into prorogation against his will, according to a number of senior Conservatives.

"If it had been down to him, Parliament would have taken a 10-day break and come back to work," revealed one MP. (emphasis added)
One of the funniest things you will read all year. What a collection we have running the country.

One might be more inclined to believe such spin if the tactical move in question, here prorogation, was out of character with the PM's modus operandi. But we know the record, the obstruction of parliamentary committees for which they created a manual, the neutering, firing and driving out of parliamentary officers, the refusal to cooperate with the Afghan Special Commons Committee, etc., ad infinitum. The p-bomb is Harper's to own, it's true to his character.

What else do we read? Oh, the recalibration effort is struggling to prove itself worthy of the extended break:
One Conservative said he was shocked to receive an email from the PMO last week calling for ideas for the Speech for the Throne, which will come down in less than two weeks. "I couldn't believe it. Has the tank really run dry?"
Hey guys, here are some ideas. How about a made-in-Canada climate change plan for starters? How about a replacement for the NRU, a long term solution to the isotope situation? There's plenty to be done, if only our government had a clue.

Poor put upon Stephen Harper, it's the scene.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday night

Happen to like this rapper and found it personally motivating this week. Apparently NBC has been using it in conjunction with the Olympics, blasted. Hate when that happens. Anyway, not why I'm posting, it's just an excellent anthem of hope.

The hackery

Joining those who are posting this, a video that deserves to be widely seen.

Remember when Duff was the reluctant Senator: "I said 'I'm not much of a partisan.' Hilarious.

Nice to see the Olympics become a fundraising opportunity for the high tech Conservative machine. James Moore should be asked for a comment on the above.

Bouchard fallout

A bit of a survey here of the fallout from Lucien Bouchard's earthquake of a message earlier this week, that sovereignty is unattainable for the foreseeable future and that it should be set aside in favour of more concrete goals to build Quebec.

Pauline Marois gave a speech, predictably affirming the PQ's commitment to the cause:
“Our party's project for Quebec is to give ourselves a country for fundamental reasons that have to do with our identity, our culture and who we are as francophones in North America,” Ms. Marois said at a business luncheon on Thursday. “Those of you here who are entrepreneurs and business leaders ... I'm sure you will one day want this region to take its place in an independent Quebec.”
The editor of Le Devoir seems wistful, framing Bouchard's remarks as something to be grappled with. He seems to cling to the notion that sovereignty is attainable, "who knows" if winning conditions might not present themselves again, he writes, separatism has been written off before. The notion of relegating sovereignty to the back burner is very consequential to him, it's been such a force underlying many Quebecers' political commitment, its absence something to contemplate. A very philosophical yet somewhat stubborn response to Bouchard.

Bernard Drainville, a PQ MNA with leadership aspirations, wrote a letter to Bouchard in Le Devoir, respectfully disagreeing and citing independence as the very reason he entered Quebec politics. He gives three main reasons for the pursuit of sovereignty: Canada's environmental policy and the need to have control over both EI and immigration policy. Not really insurmountable issues, they could be addressed.

Chantal Hebert writes that support for sovereignty has been stagnant and refers to a poll:
Support for sovereignty ebbed back to pre-Meech levels – around the 40 per cent mark – while he was still premier and in 15 years there has never been enough momentum for a winning referendum for the Yes side.

Even if Bouchard had not rained on the upcoming anniversary parade, it would have taken more than a double-barrelled commemoration of federalist and sovereignist failures to send Quebecers back to the referendum barricades. A poll published Thursday showed two-thirds of respondents agreed with Bouchard's call to put sovereignty on the back burner indefinitely and more than half did not believe the province would ever secede from Canada.
So, some predictable clinging to the mantle by PQ stalwarts. Some feeling of regret from the intelligentsia. Some rationality in the form of polls indicating that Bouchard is correct, a large majority do want to put the issue on the back burner.

Additionally, Michael Ignatieff has weighed in with a letter to Quebecers, reaching out and addressing the moment. Speaking up for the federalist option to Quebecers, nothing to be shied away from. As a bonus, Ignatieff's letter, coincidentally, happens to be responsive to some of Bernard Drainville's rationales for sovereignty, as outlined above.

The Prime Minister, however, seems to be MIA on the occasion of Bouchard's significant statement about the future of the sovereignty movement in Quebec. Not exactly what you want in a federal leader on such issues.

The budget games begin

And the nation rolled its collective eyes: Layton and Harper meet to discuss the upcoming budget. Had the distinct feeling when reading these reports on Harper and Layton meeting that this minority parliament play acting is just sooo over. How many times have we seen this from Harper? I suppose we could be nice, but come on. Harper tries to look like he's being cooperative, the NDP tries to boost itself among the opposition parties. What would be really nice would be if there were a governing party that genuinely worked with the others instead of engaging in four years of gamesmanship and partisanship.

Apparently there was some loosey-goosey feel good agreement verbalized about the need to create jobs. Uh huh. The question is what the budget will do about that task. What are we at, about 300,000 jobs lost since late fall of 2008? And an expensive, deficit creating Economic Action Plan that's created an unknown number of jobs along the way. There's no progress reporting from the government on that. That's the record. So let's wait for the specifics rather than putting much stock in present machinations.

One other item to take note of here:
Conservatives say that while Harper has never struck a deal with a political opponent to win support for any of his government's previous four budgets, there may be more of a willingness to include something in the budget that could provide other parties with the political cover they might need to vote in favour of the budget.

"There is some appetite to incorporate something the opposition parties could hug on to and say, well, at least there's this," said a Conservative political aide, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Note that first highlighted part. Why hasn't he ever sought cooperation on his prior budgets? It's not a point of pride in a minority parliament. The my way or the highway thing has never gotten him closer to the promised majority land but he has never learned. On the latter point, that they're supposedly willing, now, to extend olive branches at this budget time, it's just so difficult to believe any signals from this government. We've seen this movie before and we still don't like it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Joe Biden: infatuation worthy

Who knew? Must be the teeth.

Apparently no Canadian politicians are infatuation worthy. I bet someone is jealous.

The bureaucrats made them do it

Funny what's trickling out of the access to information channels these days. Things like this:
Senior bureaucrats told the Harper government shortly after the last election that its infrastructure plan could be used as a "strategically important" communications tool that would provide "excellent visibility" for local ministers and MPs, Canwest News Service has learned.

The advice was included in briefing notes released through Access to Information legislation. They were prepared for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister John Baird in the fall of 2008, shortly before opposition MPs started questioning whether the government was using its economic stimulus spending to raise its profile and boost its popularity.
It looks like a bit of spin on the issue of infrastructure, an attempt to suggest that bureaucrats paved the way for the Conservatives to skew their infrastructure funding.

The briefing notes by bureaucrats cited in the report from the fall of 2008 are banal enough, however, touting the merits of an infrastructure program already in place, the Building Canada fund, and how Canadians could be informed about it. It looks like the bureaucracy doing its job, weighing in on an existing infrastructure fund and how it was doing, how it could be improved.

If the upshot of reporting on these notes now is to suggest that bureaucrats were responsible for how the Conservatives proceeded to dole out infrastructure moneys and advertise the plan, sorry, not buying.

Less fear mongering, more rationality

A reminder from the archives of the rehabilitation plan for Omar Khadr. It's become relevant as Conservatives seem to be embarking upon a cause of fear mongering about the eventual return of Khadr to Canada, the rehabilitation plan and what that might mean. This may be a matter of changing the subject to a more inflammatory topic, raising the spectre of radical individuals with whom Khadr might associate upon return. Perhaps they hope to taint political parties in support of Khadr's repatriation with some of that radicalism. Easier for them to focus on that than the minimal response of the Harper government to the Supreme Court decision ordering that Khadr be provided a remedy for the ongoing breach of his rights as he remains detained, for seven years without trial, at Guantanamo Bay. But if you review what we know about the plan filed with the U.S. commission and have faith in the Canadian court system to put in place a comprehensive and regimented plan, the facts rather than the fear should prevail.

Here's what's been put forth previously, likely instructive about what we could expect to upon Khadr's return in the future:
According to the proposed repatriation and rehabilitation program filed at the military commission where Khadr is being tried, the young Toronto-born man would spend years undergoing psychological treatment, formal education and a special deradicalization program.

The plan would provide him with help developing basic life skills missed out on during his past six years behind bars and seek to prevent him from falling back into extremist circles, including with his own al-Qaeda-linked family.
The Canadian government would also require some legal process to keep Khadr in check. One option would be to use a so-called "control order" under Canada's anti-terrorism law, which is a form of house arrest that places restrictions on suspects' movements and requires them to report daily to a police station.

Anthony Doob, a University of Toronto criminologist, says the order may include mental health treatment, restrictions on associating with certain people and instructions to obtain a certain kind of education as part of the process of re-integrating the person in Canadian society.

An order would impose incarceration on someone who violated the strict conditions, said Doob. "It is a pretty powerful set of controls that can be put on him," said Doob.

Once Khadr was back in the country, the proposed rehabilitation program would begin, starting with six to 12 months in a secure residential facility for an evaluation of his mental state, followed by another six to 18 months in a minimum-security facility for treatment.

Dr. Howard Barbaree has offered up his institution, Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, to conduct the psychological assessment and admit Khadr for treatment, in what may be a first for the clinic.

"Never in our history, I don't think we have done an assessment of risk for terrorist activity," said Barbaree.

The centre's assessment and triage unit — an inpatient unit that deals mostly with treatment of criminals — would complete the review and would keep Khadr in a secure facility with TV cameras monitoring his moves, said Barbaree.

"I think we can assure that Mr. Khadr would be safe there and the chances of escape are almost zero," said Barbaree.

The psychological assessment would also seek to determine whether Khadr would pose a future terrorism threat.
Are you getting a sense of the thoroughness of proposed planning and the range of options a Canadian court will have at its disposal to oversee such a rehabilitation plan? A second version of a proposed rehabilitation plan, with alterations of the above stages, is discussed in this subsequent CBC report. It includes a home-schooling component and psychiatric care with a Toronto torture expert.

What's important in all of this is the knowledge that whatever program Khadr will follow will be legally sanctioned by a Canadian court and its content fashioned to ensure it's appropriate. The government will be represented and can make submissions objecting to the inclusion of certain aspects or involvement of certain individuals if there are legitimate grounds to do so. But fear mongering now about the possible influences of individual(s) upon Khadr while being rehabilitated seems to be ludicrous and gratuitously inflammatory knowing the safeguards and planning that will be in place. That is, assuming we get to that place in the near future when such discussions aren't just hypothetical.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For the can't help himself file

Here are a few must reads on Harper's political shots at former Liberal governments over military aircraft, made while in Haiti yesterday. Not the time to deliver a Conservative hack partisan speech, a speech which must have sounded so good as it was dreamt up in the amateurish halls of the PMO. Major judgment fail.

Try "Politicizing Misery" and "Harper plays politics with tragedy...TYPICAL!" on for size. Better judgments at work.

Another blast from the past

Just a hunch here, but it really seems like a certain prominent somebody in Conservative circles doesn't seem to like how the organization created during his tenure as Prime Minister, Rights and Democracy, is being treated: "Mulroney goes to bat for Foreign Affairs." That is what one could reasonably take from this very veiled comment from Mulroney about the need for governments to respect the Foreign Affairs department. One could equally apply these comments to an independent agency under its auspices that has been wracked with governance problems due to Harper political appointments:
Canada's foreign service got a surprise pat on the back Monday night from former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Speaking at an event that commemorated the Open Skies Conference of 1990, and the role it — and his government — ultimately and unexpectedly played in the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Mulroney took a break from his speaking notes to encourage his successors to use the department's expertise.

"I say parenthetically, to any government elected in Canada, that if you don't take full advantage of the brilliance and the innovation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and (International) Trade, you're making a mistake," he told his audience.

"All of the major initiatives associated with my government, including the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, to joining the Organization of American States, to the fight against apartheid and you name it, came from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade."
Reached in his office in Montreal Tuesday, he said every prime minister does the job his or her own way.

"It was just a statement of fact," Mulroney said.

"I was simply basing it on my own experience that the common denominator in the following not-insignificant accomplishments for a government — the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Canada-U.S. Acid Rain Treaty, the fight against apartheid for (Nelson) Mandela, the first Gulf War — all involved Foreign Affairs and a lot of the expert talent available in the department . . . I was simply pointing out to anybody that they should be involved. And I was talking about an incident — namely Open Skies — that involved a lot of work by Foreign Affairs."

Mulroney said each government chooses its own path, and then "after they leave, people don't hesitate to judge you.

"I'm simply saying that with almost 200 countries at the UN, and all of them seeking access to the leaders and a definition of roles for themselves internationally, nothing is guaranteed. If Canada wants to continue to play a major role, then it has to use the talent available to it and a lot of that is in the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, as I have learned."
Again, like Lucien Bouchard's remarks, here's one that makes an impact in its message about the Harper foreign affairs style, yet the tire marks are faint due to his explanation.

What else is one to think but that Mulroney is not impressed with the Harper foreign affairs approach, led from the PMO. Why on earth would he be talking, contemporaneously away from his notes, about some hypothetical government ignoring foreign affairs expertise. Of course it's about Harper and his dysfunctional relationship with the Foreign Affairs department. With the G8/G20 approaching now too, and the Harper government floundering from one goal (dirty bombs, maternal health, Afghanistan) to another in advance, it's reasonable to read into Mulroney's criticism. There's a message there about valuing objective expertise and by implication, leaving aside the politics that is so heavily influencing this government's foreign affairs choices. E.g., see earlier post on Khadr, it's the domestic political considerations of the Harper Conservatives driving the decision-making there. If Foreign Affairs were to lead, what would they choose?

A welcome jab from Mulroney, yet the present crop is unlikely to take the hint.

Khadr response delivered as nation preoccupied with...

Note the time of this press release. It came as Canada was about to play its first men's Olympic hockey game. Yes, it's another profile in courage from the Harper government:
Feb 16, 2010 18:32 ET
Statement by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson Regarding the Supreme Court of Canada Decision on Omar Khadr

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Feb. 16, 2010) - The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., Q.C., M.P. for Niagara Falls, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, made the following statement today regarding the Government of Canada's response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Prime Minister of Canada, et al. v. Omar Ahmed Khadr:

"In its ruling, the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional responsibility of the executive to make decisions on matters of foreign affairs, given the complex and ever-changing circumstances of diplomacy, and the need to take into account Canada's broader interests. The Supreme Court did not require the Government to ask for accused terrorist Omar Khadr's return.

"In response to the Supreme Court's ruling, the Government of Canada today delivered a diplomatic note to the Government of the United States formally seeking assurances that any evidence or statements shared with U.S. authorities as a result of the interviews of Mr. Khadr by Canadian agents and officials in 2003 and 2004 not be used against him by U.S. authorities in the context of proceedings before the Military Commission or elsewhere.

"Omar Khadr faces very serious charges, including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support for terrorism, and spying. The Government of Canada continues to provide consular services to Mr. Khadr."
Needless to say, the move is not going over well with Khadr's lawyers and some legal commentators. The question is whether simply requesting that the U.S. ignore the fruits of the tainted interviews is responsive to the Supreme Court's judgment that held Khadr is entitled to "an appropriate and just remedy." Not going to hazard a guess on that one but it does look like legal action will be taken now that the government has responded in this manner.

What might be interesting is the American reaction. Do these interviews form enough of a basis in the case against Khadr that they could decide that the case has been weakened and seek to have Canada take him back? Might it be enough cover for the Obama administration? Something to consider. There's going to be some reaction from the U.S. to this diplomatic note that we'll presumably be hearing about.

What else to say about this government, issuing their formal response to an historic Supreme Court judgment during the Olympics, by press release, during game one for Canada's men's hockey team. The thing speaks for itself.

Lucien Bouchard: "La souveraineté n'est pas réalisable"

At a conference yesterday, described as his first major public appearance since his resignation in 2001, former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard made quite a splash, stating that sovereignty for Quebec is not feasible:
L'ancien premier ministre Lucien Bouchard croit que le Québec doit embrasser un nouveau rêve, trouver «le tremplin de notre nouveau départ». Mais ce n'est pas la souveraineté: ce projet n'est pas une solution puisqu'il n'est pas réalisable.

Lucien Bouchard participait à un forum sur les 100 dernières années de vie politique au Québec, organisé par l'Institut du Nouveau Monde dans le cadre du centenaire du Devoir. C'était pour l'ancien premier ministre une première sortie publique importante depuis sa démission en 2001. Il a insisté sur la puissance du rêve pour une nation, de l'importance de voir grand comme ce fut le cas lors de la Révolution tranquille, le moment clé des 100 dernières années au Québec, selon lui.

Mais ce rêve libérateur, ce n'est pas celui de la souveraineté. «À vue de nez, non. Pauline Marois ne veut pas faire de référendum. Elle sait que ce n'est pas le temps. Le monde n'en veut pas à court terme; ça veut dire plusieurs années», a-t-il dit en réponse aux questions des journalistes. M. Bouchard est persuadé qu'il ne verra pas un autre référendum sur la souveraineté de son vivant. L'ancien chef péquiste est toujours souverainiste, mais la souveraineté est devenue une question hypothétique; elle n'est donc pas une solution aux problèmes du Québec.

Reprenant des éléments du discours des Lucides, Lucien Bouchard a dit qu'il fallait que le Québec «secoue sa torpeur et se remette en marche», qu'il accepte de voir les obstacles qui lui barrent la route, comme le fort taux de décrochage scolaire, le piètre financement des universités et les tarifs d'électricité trop bas. (Translated version)
Bottom line? Quebec needs a new collective dream to embrace but in his view, sovereignty is not the answer. Sovereignty, he says, has become a hypothetical question, not a solution to the problems of Quebec. He doesn't believe he'll see another referendum on the question in his lifetime.

This is a welcome thing to hear coming as it does from one of the lions of the sovereignty movement over the past twenty years, that makes it all the more significant. It was also delivered in a diplomatic enough manner that makes it difficult for the PQ and the Bloc to be in too much disagreement with the statement. He affirms that he is "toujours souverainiste," as would they, yet puts it in the realm of the hypothetical. In a candid freebie moment, would Marois and Duceppe not do the same? Bouchard is probably just speaking to an undercurrent in Quebec, a belief that the sovereignty movement remains a defining core element for the PQ and the Bloc yet largely in a symbolic way. The federal Clarity Act entered the picture and has forever altered the landscape for the separation question. It's not smart to ever write separatism off as a factor in Quebec, but Bouchard's characterization of the goal as a hypothetical maintains the ongoing calm on that front. It's a big statement yet it really just affirms the status quo.

The other big news out of Bouchard's appearance is a dig at the PQ for their present dalliance with intolerance, characterizing the party as wanting to pick up where the ADQ left off. That aspect may get more attention given its immediacy as an issue as opposed to the above.

No reporting here on whether the Bloc's role in Ottawa came up or not, the forum being devoted to the past 100 years of political life in Quebec. Seems like that would have been a logical topic of discussion, how the Bloc's presence in Ottawa has shifted the federal voting dynamic in Quebec and its future. Oh well. Sounds like Bouchard was in a mood to make waves too. Guess we politicos will have to be content with the above pronouncement, in and of itself quite remarkable.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The aides pay for the policy

"Top adviser leaves Bev Oda's office." This one:
A Conservative political adviser caught up in the fracas between the Harper government and aid groups has left his job at CIDA minister Bev Oda’s office.
Keith Fountain, who served as policy director for Ms. Oda, the Minister of International Co-operation, no longer works for her, a spokesman said today.
Last week, an official with a mainstream non-governmental group fingered Mr. Fountain as a example of what they are worried about.
The official, who did not want to be identified out of concern it might jeopardize their group’s funding, told The Globe and Mail last week that the senior Conservative aide had warned them against such activities.
According to the NGO official, Mr. Fountain gave them a verbal warning that the organization’s policy positions were under scrutiny: “Be careful about your advocacy.”
So Mr. Fountain has suddenly left in the wake of the disclosure of this reported direction to aid groups. The spin from Oda's office is that the departure had nothing at all to do with the Globe report on political interference in aid groups. It's just a happy coincidence. And if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you in Alaska.

The Harper ministerial aides are the scapegoats. It's a fair bet that this Oda aide has been pitched overboard to attempt to localize the wound, to minimize the Harper government's politicization of aid and overseas development efforts and where possible, portray it as the result of such freelanced acts by aides. There's a gathering storm on this file, from KAIROS to Rights & Democracy, this is part of the damage control.

The same dynamic was presented to us last week. Former Minister of Public Works Christian Paradis' aide was caught out having stifled a legitimate access to information request. The aide was subsequently portrayed by his Minister as having acted without ministerial knowledge, it was just a disappointing, isolated staffer action. This is the pattern. When trouble brews, watch out aides.

We know where the policies are set, it's not these aides who are running the show. The buck is passed way down the line in the Harper government.

We go left

Wonder if this fun bit of information will be in the PM's infamous hockey book that never manages to get written:
According to sales figures from stick manufacturers, a majority of Canadian hockey players shoot left-handed, and a majority of American players shoot right-handed. No reason is known for this disparity, which cuts across all age groups and has persisted for decades.
Roughly 60 percent of the Easton hockey sticks sold in Canada are for left-handed shots, Mountain said. In the United States, he said, about 60 percent of sticks sold are for right-handed shots. Figures over the years from other manufacturers have put the ratio discrepancy between the two countries as high as 70 to 30.
On the women’s 2010 Olympic teams, which feature 21-player rosters, 15 members of Team Canada shoot left-handed compared with 10 on Team U.S.A.
Europeans also tend to be left-handed shooters. The International Ice Hockey Federation does not keep figures by European nationality, the communications director Szymon Szemberg said. But, he said, lefty shooters have predominated. “For long spells, the great Soviet teams of the ’80s never had a player who shot right,” Szemberg said.
Blasted lefty-shooting hockey playing Canadians!

There it is. We go left, in all the important respects. Happy to have come across some very convincing and ultra-scientific evidence of this fundamental predisposition.

I think I may enjoy the hockey a little more now:)

(h/t NG)

Weekend flash mob in Vancouver

In case you missed this bit of street theatre, kind of a cool event that was sprung on Saturday in Vancouver. About 1500 participated. (Official video.) Almost as many turned out for this as did for the Vancouver prorogation rally, which is said to have attracted 2000. Makes one wonder how flash mobs could be creatively and inspirationally used during a Canadian political campaign.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stephen Harper: International Player

Is that a thud we hear? Why yes, I do believe it is:
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced he would like maternal health and children to be the focus of the summits.

If the United States is at all enthusiastic about that proposal, Jacobson is revealing little of it.

'That one is still under debate,' he says. 'I think there is some sense that on the financial side of things, that that needs to be the primary focus at the G20 because there are some major members of the financial community that are not members of the G8. And the question then becomes what should be the primary focus on the G8 in the meeting that precedes the G20 ... The Prime Minister has made a suggestion. I think that there are a number of other suggestions. That's not to say the Prime Minister's is not a good one. But there are a number of other suggestions.'"
Gee, it's not like ol' Steve doesn't have the chairship of those aforementioned G-shindigs. You'd think there'd be some respect for his agenda setting priorities because he holds that chair position. But then again...on the world stage, when seeking to build a consensus on an issue, it probably helps if you have a record of acting on such issues. You know, demonstrated caring in the field to which one aspires to lead others. That gives one credibility to persuade other nations to buy into the effort. If not, then you hear this kind of polite recognition thing, as we do here. As in, that's all very nice and it's important but really, this is all new to us coming from Canada. The Americans are in wait and see mode, hedging. That can't be the somewhat argumentative response the Harper crew had in mind, is it?

The other international aspect to today's mini-review of political goings on, of course, the "big" trip. Harper heads to Haiti to tell them how to reconstruct. Listen up, world:
"We are continuing to work with the government of Haiti to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance,'' Harper said in a statement Sunday.

''At the same time, we now need to address the long-term challenges of reconstruction, based on the principles of sustainability, effectiveness and accountability."
Find anything odd about that latter statement? From Mr. Harper, uttering the words sustainability and accountability as organizing principles for anything seems a bit rich. We're not exactly paragons of virtue in either category these days. Not to take away from Canadian leadership efforts to ensure that the Haitian people get needed reconstruction efforts that are indeed integrity laden and productive. But the irony of hearing about accountability, in particular, from Harper just begs the question, might we get some of that up here?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Calling out Harper's isotopes inaction

Excellent editorial in the Star today: "The search for isotope answers." The Star catalogues a number of the big questions that remain outstanding on this issue:
Canadians need some straight answers:

When will Ottawa put forward its long-promised plan to ensure Canadians access to vital medical tests?

If global isotope production remains unpredictable – as all the evidence suggests – Canada needs a strategy to cope with the shortfall. That may include using research reactors, cyclotrons and particle accelerators, or making more PET scans available, or negotiating backup agreements with the dwindling number of isotope suppliers.

When will the government respond to the report of its Expert Review Panel, which delivered its findings in December?

The four-member team – drawn from the top ranks of the medical and scientific communities – urged the Conservatives to rethink their decision to get out of isotope production and invest in a new multi-purpose reactor, capable of providing 10 to 12 years of certainty and performing other functions. Estimated cost: $1.2 billion.

Will Ottawa take a second look at the mothballed MAPLE reactors, built to replace the 52-year reactor at Chalk River?

The Harper government pulled the plug on the two reactors in May 2008, after years of cost overruns and delays. But numerous scientists have said the reactors can be brought into service.

Will Ottawa at least provide the provinces with the resources to improvise ways of coping with the predicament it placed them in? They're already out millions of dollars.

After two years of turmoil, nuclear scientists are leaving the country, Canadians have lost faith in the ability of their health-care system to deliver prompt cancer and cardiac care, and the international medical community has lost confidence in Canada.

Worst of all, the Prime Minister appears to think this is acceptable.
So much of this file really speaks to a simple point, this issue is about basic governmental competence that's lacking in the Harper government. The government had a problem staring it in the face in the form of an aging reactor that failed in December 2007. Yet they've dawdled on taking any action since then. Sure there's been a recent expert panel that's weighed in on options. But it was only appointed in the summer of 2009 after that 2007 shutdown. They even waited to appoint that 2009 panel after they'd been previously warned by their own earlier "lessons learned" expert panel in the spring of 2008 that there needed to be urgent action given the serious medical consequences that occurred surrounding the 2007 failure. What action there has been - mothballing the Maples back-ups in the spring of 2008 without a concerted effort to study their issues - has exacerbated the situation we're now in.

The big question is what is the Harper agenda here? Harper pronounces we're getting out of the business yet still appoints a panel to weigh in on the future after he's prejudged it. That glaring contradiction has never been reconciled.

The plan may very well be to let the old reactor wind down in 2016 or maybe a bit beyond that and then start buying our isotope supplies from around the world, become reliant upon the U.S. in particular, for example. Which is really not a very good plan at all. The demand for nuclear diagnostic tests is only going up and isotopes have a short shelf life, they don't travel well. It's not an ideal product to be importing. It's expensive for hospitals to be dependent on foreign suppliers, it stretches resources. Is that what they foresee for Canadian patients in our aging population? A future of dependence on foreign suppliers for such a high demand health care product?

It's high time these issues got more attention. Sitting on their hands for over two years is just not cutting it.

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

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday night

It still comes out at night

As we settle into our national Olympic haze, a contrast to remember.

There's this:
“Patriotism, ladies and gentlemen, patriotism as Canadians should not make us feel the least bit shy or embarrassed. I know that thoughts of grandeur and boisterous displays of nationalism we tend to associate with others. And, over the centuries, things have been done around the world in the name of national pride or love of country that would have been better left undone. Yet, we should never cast aside our pride in a country so wonderful in a land we are so fortunate to call home, merely because the notion has sometimes been abused.

“There is nothing wrong, and there is much that is right, in celebrating together when our fellow citizens, perceiving some splendid star high above us willingly pay the cost and take the chance to stretch forth their hands to try to touch it for that one shining moment. For, no good thing is without risk, no ideal can be reached without sacrifice. Ask any Olympian who wears the Maple Leaf. But that Maple Leaf, we must remember, symbolizes more than just the athletes who wear it symbolizes the country we love.

“It symbolizes the Canada, our Canada that has shown during this global recession and will show during these Games that it can compete and win against the very best. The Canada – our Canada – where those other citizens who wear the Maple Leaf – our Armed Forces – serve, never for conquest and advantage, but simply to spread our gifts of freedom, democracy and justice to make the world a little safer and a little better; as they are doing in Afghanistan, and to give some hope to others and to rescue our fellow citizens; and as they have done so spectacularly in Haiti. That Canada – our Canada – that has given so generously to Haiti, not because we think we will gain some power or some return, but because our country is at its heart compassionate and generous, not only with our fellow citizens, but with our fellow human beings as well.
And then there is all of this: "Canadian aid groups told to keep quiet on policy issues:"
Aid groups say the federal government is casting a chill over advocacy work that takes positions on policy or political issues – and one claims a senior Conservative aide warned them against such activities.

An official with a mainstream non-governmental aid group said that Keith Fountain, policy director for International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, gave a verbal warning that the organization's policy positions were under scrutiny: “Be careful about your advocacy.”

The official did not want to be identified out of concern that it might jeopardize funding for the group's aid projects from the Canadian International Development Agency, or CIDA.
"T.D. chief caught in deficit crossfire:"
According to a senior banker at another one of the five big banks, the Conservatives are creating an environment in which corporate leaders are scared to speak up about policy.
And the effort to marginalize academic expertise and characterize it as partisan continues:
Further, for names such as Amir Attaran and Errol Mendes which have been heavily bandied about as non-partisan experts for too long, let’s start providing some broader context shall we?
No, let's not disqualify their expertise, as the Harper PMO would like. That's what such questions, seemingly innocent and cloaked in an appeal to fairness, seek to do. This is an intense effort to discredit such views by discounting them as partisan and it is very telling.

There are two faces of this government, as has been famously pointed out before. Just a little reminder.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hey Victoria residents, go say hello to the PM today

Seconding Woman At Mile 0 who has details on the Victoria CAPP rally today at 1:30 p.m. and a brilliant poster too.

Last I checked, the Victoria FB page indicated a pretty good number of confirmed "guests" for the rally. If you're on the fence, go! Tell that proroguing PM what you think of what he's done! And for those who can't go, Woman at Mile O will have video at some point after the rally.

The politics of intimidation

This PMO really needs some adult supervision. Caught this item in the Globe yesterday about Professor Amir Attaran hitting back at the PMO over talking points issued about him. Attaran, you see, had the temerity to share his knowledge on Canadians' rights abroad with a Liberal sponsored panel this past week. Professor Errol Mendes has also come under fire for having attended at the informal meeting of the Afghan Special Commons committee last week. Both are respected academics whose views are not partisan but are grounded in the law.

The Conservative talking points on Attaran read that Attaran had accused Canadian troops of war crimes. He didn't. A statement that he made on the issue of war crimes was instead twisted into a Harper troop-shield p.r. special.

Similarly, Mendes was the object of an attempt at marginalization last week by a Conservative spokesperson Fred DeLorey. For his appearance at the Afghan committee meeting, Mendes was framed as a Liberal, as if his views would be less persuasive, relevant or correct as a result of a supposed partisan affiliation. A Conservative Senator has even gotten in on the act, writing letters to the editor across the country about Mendes. Here's another one.

The Conservatives should have the decency to have their Afghan committee members show up at that committee and engage in the substance with these thought leaders. Instead, they hide behind PMO talking points. These professors are not politicians. They are respected individual academics that our Prime Minister's Office should not be targeting with talking points in an effort to discredit their views. They share their expertise willingly, not for personal aggrandizement or enrichment. To have the machinery of the PMO and the Conservative party used against them is a blatant and inappropriate exercise of intimidation tactics.

Update: In the Star this morning, more of the politics of intimidation. The PMO also going after the TD Bank President in the same manner as above. The Star report also makes note of a similar attack on former Finance Department official Scott Clark last week. Read Ignatieff's comments there as well about some persons not wanting to attend such roundtables due to these kinds of attacks. Welcome to Harper's Canada.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Living under the hyperspin of the PMO

A bit of a brouhaha erupted out in Vancouver this afternoon. So here is some coverage of the protest and surrounding partisan fluffing which occurred in Vancouver this afternoon. Supporters of Insite, the Vancouver safe-injection site held a protest at a Chinese Cultural Centre that the Prime Minister was supposed to attend: "Stephen Harper targeted by Insite supporters." Here's an overview:
A protest by supporters of Vancouver's safe-injection site has been called off by organizers, who say they have made their point.

Nathan Allen, representing a coalition of community groups supporting INSITE, told about 100 activists to leave and saluted police.

The activists left, though police officers remain around the Chinese Cultural Centre on the edge of the Downtown Eastside.

Mr. Allen dismissed suggestions from the PMO that the protest was engineered by NDP MP Libby Davies.

He promised INSITE supporters would find Mr. Harper for protest reasons wherever he goes in downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver police officers converged on the Chinese Cultural Centre in downtown Vancouver Wednesday, as protesters rallied over a scheduled photo op by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

More than three-dozen officers surrounded the building, target of a peaceful but noisy protest that saw activists chain the doors, ring the complex with yellow police tape and target it with portable police sirens.

“Hey, Hey. Ho Ho. Insite stays and Harper goes,” protesters chanted.

It was not clear if the prime minister was on site.
Peaceful but noisy. Three-dozen officers surrounding the building. It certainly sounds, after the fact, as if the site was secure and there were no concerns at all about any safety threats posed by the protest. In fact, it sounds like your typical protest. Yet it wasn't. The Prime Minister's spokesperson Dimitri Soudas was on site and began to publicly stoke the event by sending out emails, inflaming the situation:
"Veterans, seniors and young children are currently being prevented from exiting or entering the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver because of the libby davies "welcoming committee" has taped all exits shut. This is a lack of respect for seniors, veterans canadians of chinese origin and the young kids inside the building. The situation has created a security risk for all the people currently in the building. Some doors have been chained or taped shut while people were preparing for a Chinese New Year rehearsal."

Dimitri N. Soudas
Associate Director | Press Secretary
Directeur associé | Attaché de presse
"Veterans, seniors and young children," clearly a bit of crafting going on there. It wasn't clear what basis Soudas had for saying there was a security risk given what we read in the Globe report. And if there was, why was the Press Secretary hyping the issue through media channels and not devoting attention to that security risk? It's very difficult to imagine that there was some kind of legitimate risk here. Prime Ministerial security, we have been told, has been greatly heightened in recent years. How could this major breach have occurred? If the PM was supposed to be there, surely the security detail fell down on the job, if we accept Soudas' framing of the situation.

Further, Soudas immediately jumped the gun, blaming NDP MP Libby Davies for putting these people at some kind of risk. Davies rebutted Soudas' accusations on twitter:
@LibbyDavies: It was a peaceful protest in support of Insite (I didn't organize). Didn't see chains on doors. Police moved in&out freely
She also did so later on CBC's Power & Politics. More at the rabble site.

What to make of all this? The Prime Minister's Office was clearly hyped for the day, perhaps expecting such a demonstration in the wake of Justice Minister Nicholson's announcement yesterday of an appeal on the Insite case to the Supreme Court, well-timed on the eve of a Prime Ministerial visit to Vancouver. Knowing that they might face visible public opposition to that decision while in Vancouver, what better way to deflect from the real substantive issue than to cause a diversion and fluff up a protest event into some kind of security situation. The slightest hint that this protest went offside - a bike chain, it appears, looped around one set of door handles (how many entrances were there?) - was used to pump the situation into a security scare and even an effort to pit the Insite supporters and the NDP against the Chinese community. That's what Taylor's blog post title - and Soudas' email - suggests.

Civility. That's the issue here. The Prime Minister's Office should be better than this. There's a level of professionalism, calm and good governance that is just not evident in this PMO. Today's incident was one more example of that.

Olympic pavilion as metaphor

Christopher Hume reviews the Canada pavilion at the Vancouver Olympics:
But, in fact, the pavilion is as illustrative of this administration as is prorogation. Both show a government whose responses meet the barest technical requirements of acceptable conduct, but not one iota more. This is a regime that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. But even if this pavilion had been built for free, it would still be worth as little.
The whole thing is well worth a read, maybe one of the best of the week. Hume is persuasive.

It remains to be seen what the wider reaction to this pavilion will be once it is opened on the weekend.

Transparent spin

Some more follow up today in Le Devoir on the Information Commissioner's investigation of Christian Pardis' office over an access to information breach. Now that a Harper minister's office has been caught red-handed suppressing a legitimate and approved access to information request, all hands are on deck. The PM's chief of staff sent out a sternly worded memo to ministerial offices reminding them of the need not to meddle in access to information requests. And Former Minister of Public Works Christian Paradis is in the media and very apologetic over his aide. Getting some sympathetic headline action as a result: "Censored report incident 'isolated'."

Paradis is shocked, just shocked, by the incident that occurred in his office because: "Transparency is one of my core values." Really? Some would probably beg to differ. Nevertheless, the aide, as it turns out and in his boss' eyes, is a super parliamentary affairs director. So in spite of Paradis' shock, they're just keeping him away from access to information issues, that's it. They're pawning this one off to an "error in judgment" by the aide. Yet we know that it's Paradis and the access to information directives of this government that bear ultimate responsibility for what goes on in his office. The effort to shunt responsibility off to the aide is transparent too.

The Information Commissioner should do her investigation and ignore the heavy p.r. job that's going on around her and will no doubt continue to swirl in an attempt to influence the airwaves in Ottawa. If anything, she should probably be quite motivated by it all. She's on the right track. The Harper gang is concerned, that's what memos from the PM's chief of staff and a round of sudden media availability for Paradis indicate.

A stiff penalty applied by the Information Commissioner when the year has started off on such a negative footing for the government in respect of its anti-democratic tendencies would be fuel for the fire. And access to information constraints might be eased up as a result. Because even if the Commissioner limits her investigation to this one case, the result would send an important message about this kind of behaviour. That may be happening already with the news of this investigation.

Update: That concluding part may be a bit optimistic, given this government's track record. Not to get too far ahead on this. But there are going to be a lot of eyes on this process now. You have to think that pushback against the Harper efforts will be a little more emboldened by these developments.