Wednesday, March 31, 2010

One of these things...

Update (7:45 p.m.) below. not like the other.

...Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said family planning — including safe abortion — must be among the services that are included and an array of development and health-care organizations have agreed.
David Miliband:
U.K. foreign secretary David Miliband endorsed Clinton's view in a CBC television interview later, saying his government would fund initiative that included access to safe abortion.

"We think it's very important to have a comprehensive family planning aspect as part of the development strategy," Miliband said.
"You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health and reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortions," Clinton said at a news conference after a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized countries. "This is an issue of great concern to me and to my government."
Harper emphasized nutrition, clean water and inoculations as the kind of programs he is looking for.
Harper has tried to exclude those three elements from his initiative. He agreed that contraception may be a part of it only when he faced a growing backlash two weeks ago, but has maintained a strong stance against the initiative having anything to do with abortion.
That's all. I think the point has been made loudly and clearly for Canadians after the helpful G8 foreign minister session. Thanks for coming, G8 types.

Update: Video from CBC last night wrapping up the visit...

Timmy's crowd now eligible for war medals

The Harper government is going to give Tim Hortons employees war medals: "A Medal for Canada’s Frontline Donut-Vendors?"
According to CanWest news service, Canada’s Department of National Defence has clarified the rules for how it recognizes overseas service. The changes, the news service states, “will include the controversial decision to allow Tim Hortons employees at Kandahar Airfield to receive medals from the Afghan war.”
More from the above referenced Canwest report:
A major overhaul of how the Canadian Forces recognizes overseas service will include the controversial decision to allow Tim Hortons employees at Kandahar Airfield to receive medals from the Afghan war.

The changes involve clarifying the type of support eligible for the military's General Service Medal, which will now be awarded to both civilian as well as allied and Canadian military personnel deployed outside the country to provide direct support to operations in the "presence of an armed enemy."

The decision, which has raised eyebrows in the military community, echoes similar methods of recognition applied during the Second World War, according to the Department of Defence.

Medals were awarded during the Second World War to civilians working for Salvation Army, Knights of Columbus, the Canadian Legion and the YMCA.

"I'm not sure it's quite the same here," said Jack Granatstein, a senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. "They were authorized by the government and they were doing a job that the government thought they could do better. I suppose you could say that's not all that dissimilar than Tim Hortons, but Tim Hortons is commercial as opposed to a service group. It doesn't make me whoop and cheer."
Why are they doing this? Here's a possibility. It's the ultimate fantasy blending for the Harper government, Tim Hortons and the military, all rolled up into one double-double extravaganza of excellent photo-opportunities. Imagine the potential...Harper (or the GG) pinning war medals on Tim's employees.

Or, it may be that there's legitimate support for the notion that working at the Tim Hortons at the Kandahar airfield is the equivalent of the work being done by CIDA members in the field, or Foreign Affairs personnel in Afghanistan. Is it? They are facing danger by virtue of being there, maybe that's enough. There's the morale boost that the presence of the shop provides. But the question lingers as to whether all of these personnel should be put on equivalent service footings.

Not sure there'll be much made of this ceremonial development, this is one of those choices that the Conservatives like to make, putting the opposition in the position of arguing against an "apple pie" type of policy, even though there may be legitimate reasons to question it.

(h/t Massachusetts)

Update: Quick afterthought question, if Burger King and KFC were there, would those employees be getting war medals too?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Clinton says what our government won't

In no uncertain terms today, at the G8 foreign ministers news conference, one of the big headlines coming out of it: "Clinton: Contraception must be part of maternal health plan."
Any global plan to enhance maternal health must include strategies to boost access to birth control, says U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"You can not have maternal health without reproductive health," Clinton said during a news conference with G8 foreign ministers Tuesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to make maternal health a top priority for the G8, touching off a raging domestic debate over whether access to contraception and abortion should be part of the plan.

Clinton said the American position is to promote contraception as a way to avoid abortion. But she insisted governments should steer clear from intervening in "areas of such intimacy."
More direct talk from Clinton:
"Reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal safe abortions," she said during a news conference.

"If we are concerned about abortion, then women should have access to family planning.
Clinton knows what's been going on in our national political debate over the past week or so. With every word she speaks while present here she demonstrates a sophisticated sense and knowledge of Canada and its political issues. The explicit mention of abortion, without mincing words, likely an intentional strong message to the Harper government. It's head shaking time when the government of Canada can't even plainly commit to contraception being part of a major overseas maternal health initiative.

Time for the Harper government to stop couching the issue in cute metaphors such as no doors being closed, etc. and fully get on board with the broad consensus of G8 nations that of course, family planning services must be part of any rational, effective initiative. More science and less politics, in other words.

Lawrence Cannon's very bad day

How many countries can Lawrence Cannon tick off in one day? Many, it appears. First, there's the U.S.: "Clinton blasts Canada for exclusivity of Arctic talks." Then there are the nations excluded from yesterday's "Arctic Five" meeting of Arctic coastal nations but who do belong to the preeminent Arctic decision making body, the Arctic Council: Iceland, Finland and Sweden. Then there would be Greenland, who agreed with the U.S. on the exclusion of the preceding 3 nations. Also cited in the Canwest report, "many in the European Union" and at least one British EU representative who characterized the narrowing of Arctic nations to 5 at such meetings as yesterday's as "worrying." Then there are the Inuit leaders in Canada who have expressed condemnation of their exclusion from the meeting, being the people who actually, you know, live there. All in all, quite the list. Lawrence Cannon has to have set some kind of record in international diplomacy with the fallout from his Arctic Five gathering on Monday.

Details from the CBC's reporting on the incident:
In her prepared remarks to open the meeting, Clinton said she had been contacted by representatives of indigenous groups, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, who all had similar concerns about not being invited.

"Significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region, and I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions," Clinton said.
So where does the Harper government's hesitation about being inclusive toward the Arctic come from? It's likely one more example of a partisan bias clouding their policy judgment. The Ottawa Declaration of 1996 established the Arctic Council, i.e., it was a Chretien government initiative. The Harper government, however, has preferred to emphasize military posturing in the north versus a multilateral diplomatic approach through the Arctic Council:
In his first year in office, Harper eliminated the position of ambassador of circumpolar affairs, who represented Canada at meetings of international bodies such as the Arctic Council.
We are represented now by a bureaucrat within DFAIT as our representative to the Council while a number of the other nations continue to have ambassadors, suggesting a difference in priorities. So this reluctance to support the Arctic Council, the larger body, has been characteristic of the Harper government from the start, despite Lawrence Cannon's defensive protestations yesterday:
"Canada does respect the Arctic Council," said Cannon, the sole participant in the closing news conference. "Canada was one of the co-founders of the Arctic Council."
We may have founded it, but the many ticked off nations, including the U.S. and the other nations who didn't show at Cannon's closing "joint" news conference yesterday, don't seem to be feeling the respect these days. Quite the development for the U.S. Secretary of State to purposely avoid a joint press conference in Canada.

Magnifying all of the above, Clinton's appeal during a CTV interview for Canadian troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the 2011 pullout date that we've set. The fact that the request came in this manner, as a matter of public pressure beyond diplomatic niceties, was also a notable event yesterday. It may, however, simply have been a reflection of the U.S. knowing our position is fixed and deciding to have a go at exerting pressure, going around it and to the public. But Clinton was nuanced in her statement and did explicitly recognize this is a Canadian decision, if there is to be one, that is. So I'm not sure there's much to be made of this. The Harper government last night was sticking to the position that the military mission ends in 2011 last night. Maybe we'll be hearing more about this issue today as the Clinton visit continues.

The Arctic meeting flub was enough to say it was not a great day Monday for Lawrence Cannon or Canadian foreign affairs leadership on the Arctic issue. The many countries that have weighed in are proof of that.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Viral video success

This viral video has had tremendous success - "over 14 million unique visits within 8 weeks" - and its appeal is obviously the ability to upload any person into it that you want, including yourself or a comic choice, as above. The video was made to encourage Swedes to pay for their broadcast fees (have no idea why it's voluntary) by either guilting people into it, or playing to their ego in order to get them to do it. Interesting and fun stuff, isn't it?

About all that sudden coalition talk...

People might want to read this column relating an interview with Ignatieff that occurred in Winnipeg last week on the subject of a possible coalition. It's not favourable toward the idea but exhibited a co-operative stance toward parliamentary governance in the future:
"Unlike (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper, I will play the hand that the Canadian public deals me. He never talks to other party leaders. He never consults. He smacks his cards down on the table and says my way or the highway. That's not the way I would run a minority Parliament."
"I've never ruled out co-operative, collaborative arrangements with other parties, particularly the NDP... There are countless areas where the Liberal party and the NDP have shown they can work together, so I don't have any problem... But let's be clear. I'm running in the next election to win a Liberal government, period...
Raising the prospect of a coalition at this moment in time, in the wake of this weekend based solely on the corporate tax freeze proposal, seems like an out of place, forced consideration. There is a lot of optimism coming out of this weekend in the Liberal party, to inject coalition talk into the mix right now just doesn't seem to speak to the mood. It also seems unwise politically to telegraph your intentions well in advance of any outcome where the issue might actually be ripe. What's the political advantage to Liberals in terms of attracting votes in saying they'd welcome a coalition? It would harden the fragmented voting spectrum.

The above referenced piece is an interesting read for other reasons now, in the wake of Canada 150, as it kind of presaged the highlights. In particular this last quote:
"The Conservatives are saying there's only one question in Canadian politics and that's the deficit. And we're saying there's another question. What must we do to get ready for tomorrow. There's a deficit in education. There's a deficit in learning. There's a deficit in justice... I've put all the emphasis on learning because I think it is the most important investment government can make..."

He promises the Liberals will go into the next federal election with a "credible" plan to erase the deficit, but also with proposals for new programs in critical areas. "There are investments we must make... How do we clean up the mess and how do we prepare for tomorrow. We've got to create the fiscal room without increasing the burden on Canadians."
(h/t pb for the Free Press article)

Update: To be more clear, I don't think Wells was suggesting a coalition be actively considered now by the Liberals. But raising the concept immediately on the heels of the weekend does seem to have the effect of putting it out there as an issue right now, well in advance of an election and therefore begging for an answer.

Hitting the trifecta

This report today is one that's got it all in terms of the Conservative governing philosophy: "Tory aide tried to suppress $5-million Olympic ad bill."

There's the self-interested political opportunism in using $5 million taxpayer dollars to engage in extensive self-promotional hype during a major national sporting event.

There's the wasteful aspect that's a recurring theme for this government these days (see Flaherty, Jim for example and his double-double jaunt the day after the budget's release). The government preaches restraint on the one hand in its recent budget yet manages to find $5 million to spend over a one month period on advertising. If it's truly a time of restraint, such measures as advertising, not core to government operations or programmes, should clearly come in for scrutiny. But they don't.

Then there's the secretive Conservative style of governing that's been clearly called out in the reporting, the inappropriate abuse of access to information that we're seeing all too often from them now:
A senior Conservative official repeatedly intervened last month to try and suppress the revelation that Ottawa spent $5-million on a TV advertising blitz surrounding the Vancouver Olympics, new records show.

In a tense exchange of e-mails over a two-day period, ministerial aide Ryan Sparrow blocked attempts by bureaucrats to reveal the price tag of the ads that aimed to promote Conservative budgetary measures.

The civil service had prepared the numbers in response to a question from The Globe and Mail, but records just released under the Access to Information Act show that Mr. Sparrow managed to temporarily hold back on their release.

“No figures,” bureaucrats were told by Mr. Sparrow, the director of communications in the office of Diane Finley, the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development.

The department went on to suggest the information was simply unavailable.
Almost duplicating the recent example of the aide to Harper Minister Christian Paradis running down the hall to put the clamps on another release of information. And recall that three Harper ministers, including Paradis, are being actively investigated by the Information Commissioner for abuses of access to information. "No figures," said Ryan Sparrow. That's a keeper.

Of note in the Globe report, an aspect of information access that needs to be cut out:
Bureaucrats calculated the value of the advertising campaign and prepared an answer the same day. Before making it public, however, they consulted Mr. Sparrow and other political officials on the proposed response.
The public has a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent. That's a principle that the access to information laws should support and political interference should not be given any opportunities to blossom. The Conservatives mouthed some platitudes about the impropriety of such access to information interference recently but it's been exposed as rhetoric, nothing more. Conservative political operatives like Ryan Sparrow are the gatekeepers to the public's right to know. Awesome.

Self-interest, waste & secrecy, a bulls-eye hit on that trifecta in this one.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The afternoon "buzz"

I think you can prepare yourself for some reporting in the national media about the afternoon sessions here, two of which had an environmental and energy theme. (And here's one of the first reports. Sitting in the room here, looks like the media are all off writing/filing their stories.) Needless to say, if you've been following the twitter streams at #can150 or watching the proceedings, then you know that a subject that came up repeatedly was the idea of once again, at some point, Liberals supporting a carbon tax as policy. Yes, a carbon tax. And so, needless to say, you can imagine the reaction.

It's an idea that a few of the speakers were strongly in favour of, including Satya Brata Das, Steven Guilbeault and Nicholas Parker. And it can't be totally dismissed in future environmental discussions, nothing new in saying that.

One commenter in particular at the mike was very incredulous at the idea. Pressing the panel on its idealism, the difficulties that there are in selling the idea and of course, one of the big externalities that will totally enjoy a re-attachment to a carbon tax by Liberals, the Conservatives. He injected a dose of realism into the room, in terms of the vocal participants anyway. There's enough realism in the room in terms of the Green Shift hangover.

The discussion evoked once again a recurring theme of the weekend as we discuss a number of issues, the sheer difficulty that is presented in discussing legitimate ideas substantively in this Harper era. It's the era of attack ads, oily the splotch anyone? It's the era of dumbing down tax policy debates in particular into simplistic knee-jerk positioning. It's a recipe for the status quo or Canada falling behind, if we can't engage ideas and have our democratic institutions execute them. It's a dynamic that's throttling some very credible ideas. Busting out of that dynamic still the question.

On another note, which may have some bearing on the above, at the end of the two prior environmental sessions, Michael Ignatieff was taking some questions from the online crowd. He commented on the success of the technology aspect of this weekend, with the online streaming and the satellite sessions across the country. It may be something to pick up on, this notion of "networked governance" in a democratic, participatory context. It's a term that's coming up repeatedly this weekend, yesterday cited in terms of cities sharing the benefit of what they're doing locally that works but on national level. Ignatieff also said something to the effect that "command and control" from Ottawa, in terms of governance, is not on anymore. There may be a connection between the two, greater participatory inputs and increasing the appetite for the tougher sells.

Whether the carbon tax discussion was a "buzz kill" as some would put it or a helpful wake-up call for the national debate, and kind of fun to listen to in the room, will leave that to others to decide.

Expectations and other notes from Can150

Just thought I'd offer up a few thoughts and notes on the proceedings thus far and what's in the air.

I have been hanging with the blogging compadres, we do naturally congregate, after all. We have been candidly dissecting and hashing out the sessions, the people we're seeing, all around. That's a great part of such events and it really gives you a sense of where other bloggers are coming from, particularly when we don't get to see each other in person so much but live in our online worlds. So that's always a great aspect of these things.

In surveying some of the media analysis this morning, Travers, Ibbitson, Simpson, Martin, etc., some of it provoked a bit of a whoa reaction from me. It's natural that these columns are gravitating toward the "big" questions, what the conference, its substance/speakers say about Liberals at the moment and where the party is going. The Liberals need a vision, Liberals are looking to catch the next wave, Liberals searching for new life, etc.. Yes, that's what the weekend is supposed to stimulate, such thinking and the very fact of the conference and its theme drives that weight of expectation.

But there's a bit too much of a frenzied worry, almost, permeating this analysis. I don't think anyone here thinks this weekend is a determinative policy moment for the Liberal party. It's a milestone along the way and a necessary one. The policy, the vision, the positions are coming, there's plenty of discussion this weekend that's going to supplement ongoing debates that are happening within the party. Pension reform is a good example of an issue on which there's been a year or more of work by many within the party (and which I heard about in the hall yesterday). Putting the conference into that kind of ongoing perspective might be a bit frustrating for those seeking instant gratification and an immediate alternative to the Conservatives. Jeffrey Simpson put it well today:
Two days of high-minded ideas in Montreal does not a party platform make. Ahead lies the task of crafting something on which the Liberals can run and win, which likely means forgetting all the hard messages of the weekend and plucking from among them those with soft political appeal.
The bigger question seems to me is what Ignatieff put his finger on yesterday during his press conference, whether our political system can address the problems facing the country. That political system includes Parliament in which debate theoretically takes place. It includes the dialogue among political parties which can be vicious and ultra-competitive these days and which is not kind to legitimate substantive issues that are brought forth for consideration. It includes the media lens that is applied and that is thriving, day to day, on the highs and lows of Ottawa intrigue. It includes an active polling industry that is always on hand to lock in the perceptions of Canadians and sometimes contribute to stifling debate. All of this makes it tough, but not impossible, to be truth telling, to be legitimately inspiring, to break out and grab people's imaginations.

Can big ideas survive in this atmosphere, inspire people like the big ideas of old? Open questions, maybe not so new. But this latter aspect, the quality of our discourse and our political system's ability to let ideas that may come out of such endeavours as this weekend actually breathe and get some life, that is the big question.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Half the sky too much to ask for in Ottawa?

Just finished listening to a keynote speaker here, Sheryl WuDunn, who is the co-author of "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." Probably sounding like a broken record here, but if you don't know, she co-authored the book with Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, to whom she is married. WuDunn, is of course, accomplished in her own right.

Her talk was mostly comprised of examples of girls struggling around the world. Whether it's to gain an education in China, to eat in Ethiopia when one's brothers do but you don't, to overcome horrific disfiguring medical problems such as fistulas suffered during childbirth at 13 which lead to your ostracization from your village, the examples were inspiring stories of challenge overcome.

Her point, to inspire us to take on one of the most significant challenges of this century, gender inequality around the world. Education is a key to remedying the imbalances.

A bit of an elephant in the room today, unspoken, the current debate we've had in Canada in connection with the federal government's maternal and child health initiative overseas. Implicit in Wu Dunn's presentation, in citing these examples, thinking in particular of the 13 year old forced into early marriage and suffering a fistula as a result of childbirth, is the common sense inclusion of contraception along with such initiatives. That our federal government has hemmed and hawed over this point, refusing to commit to it publicly and clearly, reluctant to state that such aspects would of course be included in our assistance has been a frustrating and disappointing experience. It took them days to even concede that they wouldn't be "closing doors" to these options.

Hearing Wu Dunn speak and articulate such striking examples and then to think of the almost comical debate we've had in Canada over the past few weeks is sobering. It's partly the level of discourse, the competitive environment in Ottawa. The environment in which we are politicking isn't doing justice to such issues.

A thought from Wu Dunn offered as her conclusion that's worth repeating:
"We've all won the lottery of life, how do we make a difference? Here's the cause, join the movement."

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Update (Friday 12:50 a.m.) below.

Going to Montreal this weekend for the much discussed event, Can150. Will be blogging, twittering, etc. as warranted. Could be a lot of material along the lines of "Hmmm, that sounds interesting" or "Hmmm, that's a good idea," depending.

A quote for the naysayers: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." We could do with more graciousness and less cynicism. Maybe for a few days anyway. It's never a bad thing when people get together to discuss ideas.

OK, there's a suitcase with my name on it that's entirely empty at the moment...see you there or see you online!

Update (12:50 a.m., Fri): Jennifer makes a good point that I should have included in the earlier post, that there are web events across the country in ridings like hers, Halton. Two others I've heard of, Gerard Kennedy's riding of Parkdale-High Park on Saturday afternoon from 1:00-5:00 (details) and Martha Hall Findlay's in Willowdale (details).

Transparently redacted dumpage

With the Speaker's ruling on the privilege question still to come and with the possibility that the ruling may lead to contempt proceedings within the next month, the Harper crew has decided to do a "surprise document dump" today. They have released about 2,500 or so redacted documents today. Word is that these are not the documents required by the parliamentary order that is looming in the background. So this seems to be a p.r. episode, and see this message brought to you by the PMO:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, said the release is a show of "transparency" on the government's part.

"It's ensuring that Parliament gets the information that it needs," he said. "We've always said that we're going to make available all information that can be made available."
Yes, you do always say things like that. It's government by p.r. agency, it's not serious.

This is clearly meant to influence the Speaker, to give the appearance of compliance, as he wrestles with his ruling. I'm sure he can see that.

P.S. I wonder what other "surprise" releases/news events/announcements will occur this weekend...

Some daylight on the Afghan file

The military trial of Canadian soldier Robert Semrau began yesterday and the Star had a report on the opening by the prosecution in the case: "Prosecutor: Battlefield execution was mercy killing." Semrau has been charged with the murder of an Afghan insurgent in October, 2008. The suggestion is that this was a mercy killing, but the facts are all to come. Semrau pleaded not guilty.

This public proceeding, with all of the allegations and rebuttals as to what transpired on that Afghan battlefield to come, stands in contrast to the government's handling of the Afghan detainee allegations from the start. Here are some of the facts that were raised yesterday:
Before the alleged killing of an unarmed Taliban fighter, Capt. Robert Semrau told a young comrade to look away, a military prosecutor says.

Two gunshots and several moments later, the experienced officer is alleged to have admitted to putting the wounded man out of his suffering.
Prosecutors also foretold of a nine-minute video recorded on the mobile telephone of an Afghan National Army soldier showing the wounded fighter removed of his rifle, vest and ammunition, being assaulted, spat upon and kicked with sand, all while Semrau, the senior Canadian officer on the scene, stood some five feet away.

An Afghan soldier decides against treating the insurgent, saying fatalistically that his life or death is “in Allah’s hands.”

Then, prosecutors said, Semrau made a similar decision not to provide lifesaving medical care, a violation of the rules instilled in Canadian soldiers to treat friend or foe alike wherever they’re found on the battlefield.
There will be more facts coming to light as the trial proceeds. And again, it's all going to occur in public for the world to see. It may sound trite yet it's quite a contrast to the government invoking the safety and security of the Canadian forces serving in Afghanistan as a rationale for their continued unwillingness to comply with the parliamentary order requiring disclosure of documents pertaining to Afghan detainees. None of what's alleged above likely helps the safety and security of forces serving in Afghanistan, yet we're reading about it.

It may not be so simple as drawing a straight line from one process to the other, but the transparency of one compared to the curtain pulled over the other is striking. The rule of law is being served in one case, in the other, it's not looked very good to date.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Conservative MP still saying there will be a new reactor built at Chalk River

Gallant continues to make this representation to her constituents:
Firing back, MP Gallant told the Daily Observer there are line by line items in the budget that have not been determined yet, however, at this time no funding has been specifically allocated. Nevertheless, she repeated Ottawa's intent to replace the NRU with a multi-purpose reactor that is capable of different functions beyond the production of medical isotopes.

"We are going to have to have a replacement for the NRU," MP Gallant said from Ottawa.
Gallant had previously stated that she hoped some of the AECL budget funds from this year were to support a new reactor at Chalk River. So she is retreating from that. As she should. Minister of Natural Resources Christian Paradis was asked about those funds at the Natural Resources Committee meeting on the 18th and he confirmed that there are no funds for a new reactor in the budget:
At the House of Commons Natural Resources Committee, Mr. Regan asked Natural Resources Minister Paradis, “Is anything in the 2010 budget set aside to lay the groundwork for a new research reactor at Chalk River?” Minister Paradis’ minister’s reply was: “No.”
Gallant still seems to be engaged in wishful thinking and raising the hopes of her constituents in stating that it is her government's intent to have a replacement reactor for the Chalk River NRU. That's a big expectation to be putting out there unless there's something to back it up.

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

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Clarity part II

Update (10:30 p.m.) below. And 11:45 p.m, 12:30 a.m.

So that earlier post needs a bit of an updating, I'd say. Pressed for time here so this may not be the most complete item...

The vote on the maternal health motion failed by a margin of 144-138. The main point of the earlier post is still true, the Conservatives are now on record against that motion, one upside of having brought it. If this issue is of concern to Canadian women, they can judge how all the parties voted, in their entirety and take that into account next time at the ballot box. There is one party that voted entirely against the motion.

As for the Liberals, I'm not clear on whether this was a whipped vote or not. This CP report from earlier this afternoon noted that the vote was a conscience vote, not whipped. CBC says it was whipped. If this was a conscience vote, that should have been made clearer from the get go with this one. With a few successful opposition votes having been taken in the past week with clear positions resulting, e.g., the prorogation and ten percenter votes, which we should not lose sight of, expectations may have been created that a similar result would occur on this vote. Given the number of MPs who were absent, the 3 Liberals who did vote against the motion and the 2 who abstained, it appears there was no way to have won this motion. So whether or not it should have been brought is a debatable question. I'm inclined to say the outcome is still worthwhile to see, based on the Conservative position having been established.

As that CP report notes as well, it's still unclear what exactly the government's position on funding family planning initiatives is. Funding is still being held up for the Canadian wing of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. It's limbo time, still, from this government. That's worth smoking out.

So yes, disappointing, but with so many of these issues, if you want a government that doesn't play politics with such issues and that will unabashedly say yes to family planning support, we all know what we need to do.

Update (10:30 p.m.): Dimitri Soudas playing games tonight:
"...we thank those Liberal MPs for their support of our Conservative government on an important confidence motion tonight."
I wasn't around much today but if this was declared a "confidence vote" in advance of the vote by the government then I'm a monkey's uncle. Soudas' comment tonight is irresponsibly labelling the vote as such when it wasn't. Not the things a PMO should be playing around with.

Also, clarification on the status of the vote:
Earlier Tuesday, Ignatieff's office had told The Canadian Press it was a free vote of "conscience" for Liberal MPs, but the vote was subsequently whipped — with little effect.
Update II (11:45 p.m.): OK, apparently Soudas' "confidence motion" comment was directed toward momentarily incorrect Liberal votes made in favour of the budget estimates, which would be a confidence matter. Sorry about that. Those votes were corrected with the permission of the Speaker. But the initial CBC report I took Soudas' comment from was all about the maternal health initiative with no indication that Soudas' remark pertained to a separate vote. You can find that in this separate story. My apologies and my comments on Soudas in the previous update are now, what is it they say, inoperative. Except he was still being a weasel, really.

Update III (12:30 a.m.): Oh please. See NDP votes on gun registry. Principle has its moments I guess.

Is there any doubt on what a Liberal government's position would be? No. A handful of members might differ from the government's position, but it would be clearly in support of family planning support in conjunction with such a maternal health initiative.


This is the motion being voted on in the House of Commons today that arises out of the twisting and turning government position on family planning as a component of their maternal health initiative. But for that twisting and turning, such a motion would likely not have come forward. So here it is:
March 19, 2010 — Mr. Rae (Toronto Centre) — That, in the opinion of the House, the government’s G8 maternal and child health initiative for the world’s poorest regions must include the full range of family planning, sexual and reproductive health options, including contraception, consistent with the policy of previous Liberal and Conservative governments, and all other G8 governments last year in L’Aquila, Italy;

that the approach of the Government of Canada must be based on scientific evidence, which proves that education and family planning can prevent as many as one in every three maternal deaths; and

that the Canadian government should refrain from advancing the failed right-wing ideologies previously imposed by the George W. Bush administration in the United States, which made humanitarian assistance conditional upon a “global gag rule” that required all non-governmental organizations receiving federal funding to refrain from promoting medically-sound family planning.
That is what the Conservatives have now confirmed they will vote no to, following their emergency caucus to strategize about what to do:
The Conservative caucus held an emergency meeting Tuesday morning while debate was getting started to co-ordinate strategy on the potentially divisive issue of contraception and head off any potential dissent in the Tory ranks, according to unnamed officials in the party.
Emergency! Whatever to do when Canada is already committed to supporting family planning measures as agreed to at the last G8? Apparently for the Conservatives, it's to vote no. And to characterize wording in the above motion, critical of the Bush gag law, as "rash, extreme anti-American rhetoric that we cannot, as a matter of foreign policy, support."
Putting the Conservatives on the defensive for their lack of clarity and their playing politics with the issue throughout last week? Seems like fitting and appropriate karma for them this week.

Torture allegations in U.K. ringing a bell

There's a bit of symmetry going on in terms of our present debate over Afghan detainees and what the Canadian government knew about torture allegations, what they did in response, document disclosure, etc., and similar issues coming to a head in the U.K. From today's Guardian:
The British government is today accused of involvement in a catalogue of "grave human rights violations" since the September 2001 al-Qaida attacks, in a report published by Amnesty International.

In the most damning Amnesty report on the UK's human rights record for a generation, the organisation says there is "credible evidence" that the government is implicated in torture, unlawful detentions, rendition, the concealment of victims' complaints and a failure to disclose evidence of torture.
Human rights groups and British MPs are calling for...wait for it...a public inquiry:
Human rights groups have joined forces with a group of British MPs to campaign for an independent inquiry into the UK's role in torture and rendition during the so-called war on terror.

Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Watch, Liberty and Reprieve have joined members of the all-party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition in writing an open letter calling for an inquiry to examine the role played by MI5, MI6 and members of the British armed forces, and the use of British territory and airspace.

The demand comes five days after Gordon Brown reneged on his pledge to publish new guidelines for British intelligence officers dealing with the torture and abuse of detainees held abroad.
Look who's supporting the inquiry in the U.K., the Conservative leader:
Andrew Tyrie, chair of the all-party group, said: "The case for an inquiry is supported by almost everybody except the government, including Lord Carlile, the government's own independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, the joint committee on human rights, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and other experts in this field. This proposal offers a clear way forward. The government should take it.
Opposition calls for an inquiry, sounds familiar. As does the rhetoric surrounding the issues from those seeking transparency and a public resolution versus those opposing:
"Every time a new revelation emerges, it is damaging for public confidence in the Security Services and for the reputation of the UK. We must be sure that we have got to the truth in order to be able to move on. A short, judge-led inquiry would be quicker, cheaper and far more effective in restoring the public's trust than allowing this corrosive state of affairs to continue. It is a mistake to imagine that this issue will – or should – go away on its own."

The government denied that a policy of complicity in torture had been in place, and said no wrongdoing had been covered up. A spokeswoman said: "It would be inappropriate to hold any inquiry while a number of legal processes are already under way. The Metropolitan police is investigating allegations of possible criminal wrongdoing. The UK courts are also examining these issues. Through these procedures, the allegations will be fully tested and the evidence assessed."(emphasis added)
The issue is not going away for the U.K., the same way it is not going away for Canada. We are still waiting on the Speaker's ruling on parliamentary privilege.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The not so awesome Conservative attack on Elections Canada continues

Remarkable article in the Hill Times today on Harper's parliamentary secretary, Pierre Poilievre, attending the Procedure and House Affairs Committee meeting last Thursday basically in order to guest star for the Conservatives in badgering and impugning Elections Canada: "Poilievre says Elections Canada using money to 'awesomely lose' two court cases involving Tories." The committee meeting dealt with Elections Canada's request for funding for the next election and to pay for the fall byelections. Poilievre showed up, however, to poke at Elections Canada CEO Marc Mayrand about the cost of the litigation battles that the Conservatives and Elections Canada have been engaged in, on the "in and out" funding, a case under appeal and a second case regarding GST rebates.

Missing from Poilievre's presentation, however, was any context to those battles. Poilievre's questioning was meant to suggest that Elections Canada was somehow acting improperly by taking legal steps to challenge Conservative party maneuvers in both of those cases. Despite the fact that those maneuvers were being used to gain tactical spending advantages over their opponents by adopting new interpretations of the elections law provisions in question. The uncertainty over the Conservatives' novel interpretations of those provisions warranted Elections Canada's scrutiny of the Conservatives' actions. For Poilievre to now show up at committee and essentially harass the Elections Canada CEO for having done so tells you what respect they have for one of our foundational democratic institutions. They can't just leave well enough alone and let the legal proceedings speak for themselves.

And of course, by needling Elections Canada for having the audacity to spend money to respond to Conservative efforts to strike down different aspects of the elections laws that they find too constraining, the message coming from the Harper government was that the Conservatives would prefer if Elections Canada would just drop the litigation and stop spending money on it. What else are we to infer?

For the record, from the report, some of Mayrand's response on the issues raised:
Mr. Mayrand explained that Parliament can approve Elections Canada's budget, but under the Canada Elections Act, there are legal appropriations for the agency that are statutory and therefore the money would always be available.

"What we're dealing with is the salaries of people in indeterminate positions. Under the act, Elections Canada has a legal appropriation. Now we must make sure that the administration of elections are not subject to political fluctuations," he told the committee. "It's a delicate matter. I just want to say that all of our compliance efforts are more focused on education, awareness communication and prevention. Once in a while, there is litigation. It's rare. If you take the long view, Elections Canada has been involved very rarely in litigation. However, legitimate issues might arise and political parties have diametrically opposed views and that's why we have a legal system."
Imagine if the Conservatives had a majority on that committee, and in Parliament, of course. Wonder what would be presently happening to Elections Canada's budget and its ability to appropriate moneys for legal fees to respond to unconventional Conservative election spending tactics. I think we can guess, based on Poilievre's outlandish and ongoing efforts to attack the agency's impartiality.


Canada's G8/G20 leadership in the spotlight

The coming G8/G20 set of meetings is shaping up to be a test of leadership for Stephen Harper. Focussing on economic issues in particular, this should be an occasion for Stephen Harper, Economist™ to shine. This is what they've been telling us, setting expectations quite high. So, let's accept those high expectations and see what's in store...

As this CP report from last night notes, "G20 struggles to deal with China, U.S.," there are wide differences of opinion on the Chinese and American sides as to future economic directions, namely in terms of the global trade imbalance. As host nation, Canada seemingly has an influential role to play in managing those differences:
"As the summit's host, and because it is seen as an honest broker, many G20 countries are looking to Canada to sort out the differences, which are rapidly escalating, sources tell The Canadian Press."
The key goal of June's G20 summit in Toronto is to stabilize the global economy for years to come, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated last week in an address to G20 negotiators in Ottawa.

Central to that goal is finding ways for China to do less global selling, and the United States to do less buying and borrowing.

Unless China lets its currency appreciate and unless the United States brings down its debt load, the future of the global economy is up in the air, explained Dobson in an e-mail exchange.

Both countries, however, are digging in their heels, increasingly reluctant to make the wholesale changes that many believe are necessary for the fundamental rebalancing of global forces.

And now the G20, in Canada's hands, is perplexed at how to move forward.
Since Mr. Harper does such an impeccable job domestically of playing peacemaker, working cooperatively with others, yada yada yada, this should be just another day at the office. We should expect Harper to provide skilled, statesmanlike leadership and actually help to resolve such differences within the G20. And then during the meetings, hopefully refrain from taking partisan shots at domestic political opponents...oh, wait.

Not assisting the situation facing Harper, however, is the point that the report makes, that there are Asian, European and North American factions growing within the G20. Additionally, there's that pesky, festering problem in terms of the logistics. The Harper government's decision to hold the G8 in Huntsville, separate and apart from the G20 Toronto location, due to its stubborn commitment to making all that cash dumped into Tony Clement's riding actually worthwhile, is irking those nations not in the G8:
Canada's decision to hold the G8 summit in Huntsville, Ont., right before the G20 meeting in Toronto at the end of June is still not sitting well with emerging markets. They feel the smaller group is "dictating the show" and "cooperating and colluding to set the agenda" for the G20, sources say.
We've spent $50 million for Tony's riding for international meetings that never should have been properly scheduled there in the first place due to an obvious lack of hosting facilities. But heck, who cares about ticking off members of the G20 as long as Clement wins his seat next time, right? They are nothing if not stubborn.

Climate change is also lurking in the background as an issue and apparently there's little progress on it out of this working group that's been set up to try to steer the G20 in advance of the meeting. Canada co-chairs that group. So it's an open question then as to how hard Canada is pushing to make progress on the climate change issue as a G20 agenda item. Given this government's track record, we can well imagine how hard they are pushing it, if at all.

Harper's effort to steer this meeting toward financial sector regulatory reform without considering a tax on banks in order to provide a bailout fund of sorts in the event of future meltdowns is a further issue to watch. British PM Gordon Brown is pushing that tax, France supports it, the U.S. is considering it as well. Notably, David Cameron, the British Tory leader came out on the weekend in support of a bank tax too, even if one is not agreed to internationally: "Tory leader David Cameron details plan for bank tax." Cameron is electorally motivated, to prove he's a common man type and not the Etonian (he's #2) he really is. Still, an interesting contrast to Harper and the idea is worth consideration. Canada is not an economic island, the downfall of other international banking institutions impacted us all. An internationally agreed to bank tax in order to hedge against such harm in the future seems to be common sense. The anti-tax ideology that Harper brings to the table, however, doesn't seem to fathom any flexibility or foresight even for such a tax that other nations and his political confreres are seriously considering in the wake of an international debacle.

Then there's the whole maternal and child health issue that is supposed to be a leading priority from Canada at the G8. We know what happened in the past week, the Harper government decided to play politics with whether or not it was committed to family planning as part of the initiative, in contrast to the explicit commitments to it from other leading G8 nations. Not to mention our own commitment to the concept as articulated in the G8 summit communique last year. Not exactly a good harbinger of leadership and international same-pagedness coming through on that issue for Harper. He may even have damaged his credibility on other issues.

Lots going on around this G8/G20 meeting. It's supposed to be one of those tick the box items for the Conservatives that bolsters Harper's standing, the whole international stature thing, in a similar way we were told that the Olympics would. We shall see how that conventional wisdom pans out too. Looks like a host of issues, pardon the pun, that could prove problematic and the conventional wisdom just doesn't seem to be holding up this year.

The law and order Conservatives in action

Granting amnesty once again, for the fourth time in four years, to gun owners who do not register their guns:
Les conservateurs n'en démordent pas. Pour la quatrième fois en quatre ans, ils prolongent l'amnistie accordée aux personnes qui refusent d'enregistrer leurs armes d'épaule et de chasse.

Le raisonnement offert pour accorder cette amnistie est surréaliste. «Le gouvernement du Canada entend prolonger de nouveau la période d'amnistie à l'égard des armes à feu, afin de permettre aux propriétaires d'armes à feu de se conformer à la loi», dit le communiqué diffusé vendredi par le ministre de la Sécurité publique, Vic Toews. «Le gouvernement tient à exercer un contrôle efficace des armes à feu. Nous envisageons de prolonger la période d'amnistie actuelle, afin qu'un nombre encore plus élevé de Canadiens se conforment au système actuel.»

Des citoyens refusent de se plier à la loi sur l'enregistrement des armes à feu, et le gouvernement, compatissant, les relève de leur obligation. On croit rêver. En même temps, on n'est pas surpris, les conservateurs s'opposant à cette loi depuis le début, mais tant qu'ils n'obtiennent pas l'approbation du Parlement pour la changer, elle reste valide, et le rôle du gouvernement est d'en assurer le respect. (translation at link)
The government's bizarro press release, here. As Cornellier points out, the law is still on the books, it's a government's job to enforce it. Instead, it's amnesty time again.

Law and order, it's just a slogan you know...


Updated (3:30 p.m.) below.

Just a quick post to say yay for the Americans in getting health care reform legislation passed. By all accounts, it's a big step that's going to make a big difference for a lot of Americans. Hard not to feel influenced by what happened and once again grateful for the health care system we have in this country.

Obama's speech was fairly good and is worth watching. Biden's reactions to Obama make those speeches all the more interesting, even turning them into borderline unpredictable events (will he cry, what's his expression's a study in earnestness).

Nice to see the good guys win a big one.

Update (3:30 p.m.): From a reader in Massachusetts, a reminder that there may be some hurdles and a friendly note for we Canadians:)
Thanks for the post this morning on the U.S.'s healthcare overhaul.  The battle isn't done yet, however.  A few state Attorneys General are already suing to have the law (or parts of it) declared unconstitutional.  The federal circuit courts are generally inclined to give Congress leeway on legislation and rarely strike down major laws.  But the Supreme Court has a slightly conservative bent, and the possibility of another nomination fight this summer could exacerbate the problem.  It's most likely attempts by state governments to boost their own approval ratings.

And also, on behalf of my silly country, I feel like I should apologize for all the anti-Canadian sentiment that gets stirred up in the public debate whenever we talk about things like taxes, marriage equality, and healthcare.  People seem to forget that Canada outranks the U.S. in most rankings of national development.  I think it's hilarious, because the threat is always, "DO YOU WANT US TO BE LIKE CANADA?"  Uh, yes, I do want us to be like Canada.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Annals of airport tantrums

About that Harper Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn and his very own airport dust-up, what is there to say except that on the heels of the Guergis incident there's clearly an attitude on display among some of these ministers that suggests they think they're invulnerable. The Ottawa atmosphere where the Conservatives have avoided mucho accountability over the past few years, led by the great unaccountable one at the top who sets the tone, has perhaps led some of them to think that the rules just don't apply to them. It's the scene.

Here's a neat part of the reporting which states that the PM is going to issue an "edict" for his ministers:
The PMO says Prime Minister Stephen Harper will issue an edict to his ministers, reminding them that they're not above the law.
Did you fall off your chair just there or what? That has to be one of the most comical things that's been offered up to the media in recent memory. Mr. Prorogation who breaks parliamentary convention with ease, Mr. Not-So-Fixed-Election-Date Law, Mr. Defy-Parliamentary-Order-on-Document-Production, Mr. PMO-Instructs-Ministries-to-Disobey-Access-to-Information-Laws...Mr. all of these things is going to issue an edict to his ministers reminding them that they're not above the law. Uh huh. What is it they say, the fish rots from the head. Or do as I say, not as I do?

As for Blackburn and the airport drama, it's been drummed into every citizen's head that liquids just can't go on board. A cardinal rule of travel nowadays. Yet he apparently thought it wouldn't apply to him. He also seems to have gotten a wee bit exercised over the bottle of tequila at issue, quite bizarre and with no sense of the poor optics for a cabinet minister. It's all grist for the mill, the double standard narrative that's not going away these days.

Favourite headline out of the incident has to be this one: "Cabinet Minister Has Bottle of Booze Confiscated: CTV." Or maybe this one: "Second minister in airport dispute after alleged tequila tiff." How evocative, the old "tequila tiff."

Well, this has been one of the most enjoyable little blog posts of the week, hope you had as much fun as I did. It is Friday after all.

If tweeting on twitter about this, last night a few of us were using the hash tag #MinistersBehavingBadly. Feel free to use when discussing the tribulations of yet another Harper minister today.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Late night...

Throw Cannon under the bus

They're such good sports, these Conservative Ministers. Lawrence "Loose" Cannon dutifully read the talking points this week on the government's maternal health initiative, refusing to entertain the notion that contraception would be part of the deal:
"It does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning. Indeed, the purpose of this is to be able to save lives," Mr. Cannon told the Foreign Affairs committee.
Not in any way, shape or form, sounded pretty definitive to anyone listening. Yet today, Harper was all about doors not being closed to said family planning:
"We are not closing doors against any options, including contraception, but we do not want a debate here or elsewhere on abortion," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in French in the House of Commons on Thursday.
Bev Oda was also parroting the door metaphor today, unclear why Larry wasn't let in on the door thingy:
“Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite knows, the G8 leaders will discuss and chart the way forward to tackle child and maternal health at the upcoming summit,” she told the House. “As we have been saying all along, we are not closing the door on any options that will save the lives of mothers and children, including contraception. And as we have been saying all along, we are not opening the abortion debate.”
Ah, they've been saying all along that the door was open to contraception in connection with this initiative. Just not in any words strung together that would actually signify that that is what indeed was meant. Decode, people!

Sounds like they will be very hard pressed not to follow through on such statements. Opening the door to contraception in connection with this initiative, particularly when other major nations are wide open to it and committed to it means that the Harper government will have to go along with the consensus at the G8. Who are we kidding anyway? But up to today, they've demonstrated they're willing to play politics with the issue and it's hard to see how this doesn't undermine their position with women. They've caused doubt about their commitment to modernity and such.

As for the roadkill in all this, you gotta think it's a little uncomfortable being Lawrence Cannon today ("As the controversy spiralled, Conservatives sources began to whisper that Mr. Cannon had been freelancing when he ruled out improved access to condoms.") Heard he was grilled to the well done state by Tom Clark this afternoon, trying to weave his way out of what he said versus what is now being said at the behest of the boss. When it's up later, will post a link to it. In the meantime, there is this from the CTV site where Cannon dials his own statement back and assists in the cause of throwing himself under the bus:
Speaking on CTV's Power Play, Cannon said: "I did make a mistake in making that determination."

Cannon said that putting women's health first is of the utmost importance.

Still, he clarified his position, saying the plan "doesn't deal with abortion, (but) it doesn't exclude contraception."

In regards to abortion, Cannon said that the other G8 partners can set their own agendas: "If other states are involved in that area, then fine."
So Cannon says he made a mistake in making those statements, above, where he avowed there would be no family planning involved in this maternal health initiative to a Commons committee. Cannon's taken a big credibility hit. How can a Commons committee listen to him again and take him at his word? Oh the problems that occur when a Prime Minister won't let his ministers think and speak for themselves.

The rudderless PMO is in fine form this week, that's for sure.

Saying one thing and doing another

Watch Pierre Poilievre on Power Play yesterday, it was yet another great moment in unserious Conservative political gamesmanship. In response to the Commons vote cancelling the ten percenter fliers, a frivolous propaganda program, he "announced" with great fanfare, that the Conservatives are prepared to support the abolition of political party financing. It went over like a lead balloon. The thought that the Conservatives would, within two weeks of returning after prorogation, introduce a poison pill into the House of Commons dynamic is astounding. Especially a poison pill that previously contributed to a constitutional showdown. This is how out of tune they are. It's this week's sideshow, this week's change to the national anthem.

What the Prime Minister's partisan front man Poilievre would not do, however, was to say whether the Conservatives would introduce a motion or legislation in the House of Commons to that end, proposing to axe political party subsidies, a common feature of any western democratic nation. In other words, Poilievre was presenting more silly games on behalf of the Conservatives. They stated in early January that they would not place this proposal in the budget and claimed that it would form part of their next election platform. But they would not bring it back before that time:
There has been some opposition speculation that Harper might use the budget to reintroduce the idea of scrapping public subsidies for political parties - a move that would financially cripple the Tories' rivals and almost certainly compel them to defeat the government.

Harper first floated the idea in the 2008 fall economic update, triggering a parliamentary crisis that nearly saw his government toppled by an enraged opposition coalition.

Tory insiders say Harper remains committed to the idea but won't revisit it in the budget.

"This is something we're going to put to the people of Canada in the next election but not before," said the source.
So unless that was all hooha, Poilievre was simply blowing smoke to taunt his opponents, that's all. Amazing how the Prime Minister just can't seem to keep himself away from the anti-democratic narrative that's building.

What's likely going on here is a frantic reaction to the growing perception of harm to the Conservative brand, that the Conservatives are entitled to their entitlements. See Guergis, Jaffer, Flaherty's double double jaunt, the news of the big budget boost to the Prime Minister's bureaucracy, etc. Combine those p.r. incidents with an agenda that has been exposed as lacking in all that hyped up recalibration. Throw in poll numbers, transitory as they are, that are starting to get uncomfortable. Thus, the Prime Minister's Poilievre move was likely a desperate ploy to change the channel. And maybe the ten percenter move hit the Conservatives a little too close to home. No more free ten percenters, something that really hurts them as the biggest users and they lashed out with the party subsidy threat. This seems to be the juvenile thinking at the top of our government.

In the meantime, the country is starting to take to the notion that this government says one thing and does another. It's seeping into the culture, see below. When today's truth tellers, the Jon Stewarts and Rick Mercers, have your number, that's a sign your government is in trouble and apparently it's time to haul out the big ammo, as they futilely did yesterday, just two weeks into the returned session. Amazing.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What are you carrying?

Desktop wallpaper of the day

For today's "Enough" moment: "Tories say they'll ignore vote to ban tax-funded mailings." That should be a neat trick. Presumably the Board of Internal Economy will take up the Commons vote to eliminate the ten percenters at some point, to enforce the directive that "...the House directs its Board of Internal Economy to take all necessary steps to end immediately..." the mailers. The Speaker is the tie-breaker on that board, so unless he's inclined to ignore a majority vote of the House of Commons, I don't see how this rogue government gets its way on this one.

Update: Oh, maybe I do see how. More here from CP on NDP position.

Update (9:10 p.m.): Star article sheds more light on the parties' machinations over the ten percenters today. Conservative whip Jay Hill now saying they'll conditionally abide by the move:
...the Conservatives say they’ll support ending the mailings on the condition that other parties agree too when a secret all-party Commons’ committee meets Monday to discuss the issue.

“We’re not going to unilaterally disarm. But if it applies to everyone, we will support that,” Government house Leader Jay Hill said Wednesday.
Time for everybody to put up...

Dear Lawrence Cannon

Since we're all writing letters these days...this post is addressed to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence "Loose" Cannon on the occasion of his confirmation that maternal health funding from Canada will not include family planning:
The Conservative government has offered an explanation for why it will exclude contraception from its initiative to improve the health of mothers in poor countries: Birth control doesn't fit with saving lives.

In no uncertain terms, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon yesterday ruled out any kind of family-planning programs being included in Canada's "signature" initiative at June's G8 summit - a strategy to improve the health of mothers and young children in poor countries.

"It does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning. Indeed, the purpose of this is to be able to save lives," Mr. Cannon told the Foreign Affairs committee.
Let's listen to Hillary Clinton by way of response to Mr. Cannon:

The Harper ten percenters: the epilogue?


This news, "MPs vote to trash ten percenters," is a solid showing of principle by the Liberals and opposition who supported the Liberal motion, the principle being that the taxpayer should not be paying for wasteful party propaganda to be disseminated by MPs across Canada. It's a hard point of principle to swallow because it's going to hurt the opposition parties more than the Conservatives who, being more cash rich, are better able to withstand the loss of this communications tool. Could be risky in that vein. Still, the Conservatives who were abusing ten percenter flyer privileges to the tune of a ratio of 2:1 over the larger opposition, will feel the loss. See above chart that handily demonstrates who's been lining up at the trough. No more blanket propaganda and data mining across the nation via ten percenters, unless they pay for it.

Here is the motion that was proposed and passed yesterday:
March 12, 2010 — Mr. Easter (Malpeque) — That, in the opinion of this House, the government should show leadership in reducing government waste by rolling-back its own expenditures on massive amounts of partisan, taxpayer-paid government advertising, ministerial use of government aircraft, the hiring of external “consultants”, and the size of the Cabinet, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, which together could represent a saving to taxpayers of more than a billion dollars; and to show its own leadership in this regard, the House directs its Board of Internal Economy to take all necessary steps to end immediately the wasteful practice of Members sending mass mailings, known as “ten-percenters”, into ridings other than their own, which could represent another saving to taxpayers of more than $10 million.
The direction to the Board of Internal Economy, the "governing body of the House of Commons," seems to cut out the possibility of the Harper government obstructing or ignoring the direction on ten percenters:
The membership of the Board consists of the Speaker, who acts as its Chair, two Ministers of the Crown (appointed to the Board by the Governor in Council), the Leader of the Opposition or his or her representative, and additional Members appointed in numbers resulting in an overall equality of government and opposition representatives (apart from the Speaker), regardless of the composition of the House of Commons.
It is the body that oversees the ten percenters, as the Globe report notes.

Now was this a mode of free speech being trampled, as the Conservatives protested too much? Maybe, but we have a federal regime that imposes limits in the political spending context anyway. It's also not a particularly attractive argument to rely upon when your party has been using taxpayer funds to suggest fellow MPs are anti-semites and soft on pedophiles. It's a step toward greater civility in our politics by doing away with these increasingly poisonous mailings. Arguably, the freedom of speech point is enriched by an upping of the quality factor. We'll see.

At $10 million a year, the opposition has made a symbolic and decent contribution toward deficit reduction. It can act as a shield in the bona fides department when the Conservatives hurl tax and spend accusations around. These Conservative emperors have no clothes when it comes to expenditure responsibility, this is one more way of making that point.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


A Nanos poll in La Presse, more for your dog's breakfast of polls that we're inundated with on a weekly basis. This one has the Conservatives and Liberals in a tie, 34.7-34.6. Blasted 0.1%, come over to the good side, won't you?
Les 14 médailles d'or remportées par le Canada aux Jeux olympiques d'hiver, la présentation d'un nouveau discours du Trône et le dépôt d'un budget sans hausse de taxe ou d'impôt n'ont pas profité aux conservateurs de Stephen Harper.

Si des élections fédérales avaient lieu aujourd'hui, les conservateurs obtiendraient 34,7% des voix, presque exactement le même score que les libéraux de Michael Ignatieff (34,6%), démontre un sondage Nanos réalisé pour le compte de La Presse auprès de 1000 Canadiens.

Le NPD récolterait pour sa part 17,8% des voix, soit essentiellement le même pourcentage qu'aux élections générales d'octobre 2008. Le Parti vert devrait quant à lui se contenter de 5,2% des votes.

Au Québec, le Bloc québécois demeure en tête avec 31,5% des voix, mais il commence à se faire de nouveau chauffer par les libéraux, qui obtiendraient 31%. Les appuis au Parti conservateur sont stables à 21,8%, et le NPD récolte 11,7%. La marge d'erreur au Québec est toutefois plus élevée, à 7 points de pourcentage. Dans l'ensemble du pays, la marge d'erreur est de 3,1 points, 19 fois sur 20.
Au Quebec, 31.5-31? Are you kidding me?

Polls are not to be obsessed over, no. Not at all.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A deal in the works on Khadr's repatriation?

Newsweek had an interesting item this week, following up on that Canwest report earlier in the week about the U.S. whispering that they want Canada to repatriate Omar Khadr: "A Deal to Send Home a Canadian Gitmo Inmate?"
U.S. and Canadian government officials deny it, but the lawyer for one of the most controversial inmates at Guantánamo Bay says some members of the Obama administration are working on a possible plan to send his client home to Canada.

Nevertheless, Khadr's Washington-based defense lawyer, Barry Coburn, says he trusts recent Canadian media reports of a possible U.S. move to send Khadr home, such as a story circulated by the Canwest News Service. "I believe this report has substance to it," Coburn told Declassified in a telephone interview from Guantánamo, where military authorities are scheduled to begin hearings next month on defense motions seeking to have key elements of the prosecution's case against Khadr declared inadmissible. "I believe there is sensitivity in the U.S. government about not going through with this trial," he added, although he declined to say just who in the administration might be considering such a plan.
The rumours about a deal in the works come alongside new pressure from human rights groups on the Obama administration about the spectacle of the U.S. being the first western nation to bring a child soldier to trial in decades: "Letter to Holder and Gates urging repatriation of Omar Khadr." The letter references the Supreme Court of Canada's decision and argues that repatriation of Khadr to Canada is the appropriate next step.
In its recent judgment, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that a request for repatriation would be a logical and appropriate remedy for the Charter violations committed by Canadian officials against Omar Khadr. Negotiations toward eventual repatriation may be initiated by Canada or by the United States. The Supreme Court of Canada's judgment supplements Canada's international legal obligation to admit Khadr whenever the United States decides to repatriate him, with the additional legal stimulus that Khadr's repatriation would also remedy Canada's ongoing violations of his constitutional rights.
We urge you to drop all charges against Omar Khadr and repatriate him to Canada, or alternatively, to transfer him to US federal court for prosecution. The first trial in the discredited military commission system under President Obama should not be that of a child taken to a conflict zone by his family and subsequently mistreated for years in US detention.
What to make of more rumours, pressure being ratcheted up, who knows. Sure does seem like that Supreme Court of Canada decision has set something in motion though...

Conservative MP hoping for new Chalk River reactor

Cheryl wants a new reactor:
There have been ongoing efforts within the scientific community to persuade the federal government to begin groundwork to replace the NRU by financing the construction of a new research reactor on the Chalk River site, estimated to cost around $1 billion.

While there was no specific mention of that within the 2010 federal budget, Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant reported AECL is getting $300 million to support its operations, and she hopes a portion of the research and development funding will go towards laying the groundwork for a new reactor.

There is also a commitment of $222 million over the next five years for nuclear and physics research on medical isotopes, with the goal of shifting the burden of their production away from the NRU reactor. It isn't known at this time if, or how, this will affect future operations in Chalk River. (emphasis added)
A Conservative MP talking up a new reactor in Chalk River, interesting. Unfortunately for her, she's likely out there on that limb all by her lonesome in her party. Suggesting that any of that $300 million to AECL is to seed a new reactor is a misrepresentation of what those funds are for:
Budget 2010 provides $300 million on a cash basis for AECL’s operations in 2010–11 to cover anticipated commercial losses and support the corporation’s operations, including the continued development of the Advanced CANDU Reactor, ensuring a secure supply of medical isotopes and maintaining safe and reliable operations at the Chalk River Laboratories.
Nope, no new reactor funding, quite the stretch for Gallant. If anything, this funding is meant to attract investors to make AECL more attractive for buyers. The Harper government is getting out of the nuclear business, not building new reactors. Gallant is politicking, concerned about her seat and anyone challenging her there should be sure to call her on it.

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

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Saturday night

From Gorillaz new one, Plastic Beach. If you like it when they're funky and a little bit dark, this one might grow on you.

Nicholson's Terms of Reference finally released

Updated (4:30 p.m.) below. And (5:00 p.m.). Why not?

"Backgrounder: Terms of Reference." In full (with some parts emphasized and some comments added in hard brackets):
Whereas the House of Commons has adopted a motion, on December 10, 2009, ordering the production of Government documents related to the transfer of Afghan detainees from the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities, which contain information the disclosure of which would be injurious to national defence, international relations or national security if publicly released;

Whereas the involvement of Canada in Afghanistan commenced in 2001, it is important, in order to understand the transfer arrangements post-2005, that Parliament have available to it relevant Government documents related to the transfer of Afghan detainees from the period 2001 to 2005;

Whereas the security of the nation and the conduct of international relations are fundamental responsibilities of the Government of Canada and there are matters which governments must keep confidential in order that the public interest may be best served, even in the freest and most open of societies;

Whereas the Government acknowledges that it is appropriate that its decisions on the disclosure of information in these circumstances be reviewed in an independent manner to ensure that parliamentarians have as full and complete access to Government information as is necessary to perform the function of holding the Government to account so long as injury to Canada’s national defence, international relations or national security may be minimized;

Therefore, Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, pursuant to paragraph 127.1(1)(c) of the Public Service Employment Act, hereby:

(a) appoints to the position of special adviser to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Frank Iacobucci of Toronto, Ontario, as Independent Adviser, to hold office during pleasure and to advise the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada as early as possible as to the period of time necessary to perform the review on the understanding that the reports set out below are to be completed expeditiously; [up to Iacobucci to set time frame]
(b) specifies the duty of the Independent Adviser is to conduct an independent confidential review of the information that is proposed to be withheld from release by the Government in the following documents related to the transfer of Afghan detainees from the Canadian Forces:
all documents referred to in the affidavit of Richard Colvin, dated October 5, 2009;
all documents within the Department of Foreign Affairs written in response to the documents referred to in the affidavit of Richard Colvin, dated October 5, 2009;
all memoranda for information or memoranda for decision sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs concerning detainees from December 18, 2005 to the present;
all documents produced pursuant to all orders of the Federal Court in Amnesty International Canada and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v. Chief of the Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces, Minister of National Defence and Attorney General of Canada;
all documents produced to the Military Police Complaints Commission in the Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings;
all annual human rights reports by the Department of Foreign Affairs on Afghanistan;
all documents referred to by the Chief of the Defence Staff in his December 9, 2009 press conference; and
all other relevant documents, including those from the period 2001 to 2005
[Note: the latter sentence is the only addition to the December 10, 2009 Order by the House of Commons, as far as I can see. The intent is obvious, dilute the focus beyond the Harper government's tenure, if possible; Liberals have not objected to this anyway but it's clear what the Harper government intends.]
(c) specifies that the Independent Adviser is to submit to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada a report, which shall: [report to Nicholson]
(i) make recommendations as to what information would be injurious to Canada’s international relations, national defence or national security (“injurious information”) if it were disclosed; [takes scrutinizing power away from Committee]
(ii) make recommendations as to whether any injurious information or a summary of it should be disclosed on the basis that the public interest in disclosure, including for the purpose of providing parliamentarians with Government information necessary to hold the Government to account on the matter of the transfer of Afghan detainees, outweighs the public interest in non-disclosure for the purpose of preventing injury to Canada’s international relations, national defence or national security, after considering the form of and conditions to disclosure that are most likely to limit any injury to international relations, national defence or national security; and [may be questions about this test that is being injected, whether it is the proper one or not, presumably parliamentarians can make such decisions too and they may or may not accept such constraints]
(iii) advise as to whether any document or information is subject to solicitor-client privilege or otherwise ought not to be disclosed for other reasons of public policy;
(d) specifies that the Independent Adviser will submit a summary report to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, in both official languages, which will include a description of his methodology and general findings and which will be made available to the public by the Minister; [a summary report to be made public but not the initial report above]
(e) authorizes the Independent Adviser to adopt procedures for the comprehensive and proper conduct of the independent review, including reviewing relevant records and documents and consulting as appropriate;
(f) fixes the remuneration of the Independent Adviser as set out in the attached schedule, which per hour rate is within the range ($500 - $650); and
(g) authorizes the payment, in accordance with Treasury Board policies, of the following expenses incurred in the course of his duties:
(i) travel and living expenses while in travel status in Canada while away from his normal place of residence in accordance with the Treasury Board Travel Directive and Special Travel Authorities;
(ii) expert staff, as required; and
(iii) any other reasonable expenses as necessary to conduct the independent review.

March 2010
Just your average Saturday afternoon release.

Update (4:30 p.m.): Here is what Derek Lee said in the House of Commons when Nicholson first announced that Iacobucci would be appointed and terms of reference would be forthcoming. Does the above meet these requirements, albeit initial, on the process that was proposed at that point?
There are two or three things missing and I think the House should be aware of them. I realize we are not in a debate, but I want to point out to the minister and the government that at no point in his remarks today, as far as I could tell, has the minister acknowledged the power of the House to subpoena these documents, to send for persons, papers, and records. At no point did the minister acknowledge that.

Second, in asking a third party to do the government's work, no one could take objection to that, but I would have thought the government would already have people capable of determining which documents needed protection before or after a parliamentary procedure.

The government has not asked Parliament to do this. The government has not asked Parliament to ask Mr. Iacobucci to do this work. There is a very important element missing in this. I invite the government to come forward with something that has a bit more permanence and is more parliamentary.

From my point of view, the minister's statement this morning does not address the fundamental problem of the government having failed totally to acknowledge the power of the House and its committees. If the third party doing this administrative review of the documents that are in need of protection is not informed of this, and it is not made part of his mandate, members will end up having the same problem during and after the exercise.

I invite the minister even now to rise and acknowledge the full, unabridged power of this House to send for persons, papers, and records, the way it has always been for over 300 years.
Update (5:00 p.m.): I don't think this does much to change the dynamic, now that these terms of reference have been released. Terms are probably what was expected, except for the 2001-2005 part which would slow it down, you'd have to think. It's missing the requested parliamentary aspect (Lee), so it could be torpedoed on that basis. But again, it depends on what the opposition parties want to do, whether they can act concertedly, what legal footing they believe they're on, etc.