Thursday, September 30, 2010

Onward Christian's meddlers

"Tory staffer meddled repeatedly in release of government information." Repeatedly, as in at least four times on access to information requests, according to the CP report. Why is this significant? Because Harper minister Christian Paradis' staffer, Sebastien Togneri, gave testimony to a House of Commons committee on the extent of his actions:
An aide to a Conservative cabinet minister meddled with at least four access-to-information requests on touchy subjects — such as Barack Obama's visit to Canada and asbestos — despite testimony he acted improperly only one time.

Documents recently provided to a House of Commons committee, and obtained by The Canadian Press, show Sebastien Togneri directed bureaucrats to remove material that was destined for release.
Togneri testified to the committee in May that it was the only time he had intervened in an access request. He also called his actions "stupid" and a "mistake."

A senior bureaucrat in the department later called it "an extraordinary circumstance."
Although reviewing what's about to be made public is accepted practice in ministerial offices, partly to prepare the minister for questions about controversial revelations, altering or blocking the release of documents is forbidden by law.
Over to you, law and order Harper government.


New Ekos

The new Ekos is out, taken coincidental to and immediately after the gun registry vote: Cons 33.1, Libs 29.9, NDP 13.5, Green 10.9, Bloc 10.1.

There are some interesting questions posed this week about election outcomes. For example, support for a minority (16%) or majority (22%) Liberal government is gauged versus support for a minority (10%) or majority (26%) Conservative government. I.e., 38% prefer a Liberal government of some type to 36% preferring the Conservative type. Low level support for a Conservative minority, you don't say.

Hark! A coalition question enters the picture this week. 41% prefer a hypothetical coalition government of Liberals and New Democrats led by Michael Ignatieff versus 39% for a "Conservative government led by Stephen Harper." A very high 20% "don't know" on that one, probably due to the unfamiliarity of respondents with a coalition style government. So, it's a close split but still satisfying to read a poll result like this given the cartoonish Harper led rhetoric that has been attempting to demonize coalitions ever since the 2008 constitutional crisis. Whether this will give the PMO pause on their antics, who knows.

Election fever (if anyone has it) is probably unchanged. Might be an OK time to go for Liberals though.

And this delightful Harperland might even shake the landscape up a bit more. Sounds like a must read this fall.

Tax increase time for Tories?

Update (6:15 p.m.) below.

Postmedia reports yes:
The Harper government is expected to announce Thursday it is lifting its freeze on employment insurance premiums, but not raising them as high as recommended by a rate-setting board appointed by the government.
Essentially the same thing is being reported in the Globe. Much will be made by the government (and sympathetic columnists) of the fact that their EI payroll tax hike is apparently not going to be as much as that recommended by the independent EI panel, that the Harper cabinet will ride to the rescue with a smaller increase. That looks to be the big sell we'll hear, judging by the headlines in those papers and the early spin. But a hike is still a hike that will show up on paycheque stubs across the nation. Every little bit matters these days.

This increase comes as Jim Flaherty reveals that the deficit from last year will exceed $53.8 billion, much higher than the anticipated $47 billion they projected this summer. The deficit increase is being attributed to unforeseen "accounting issues" in the form of having to account for the billions paid to the provinces (B.C. and Ontario) for HST adjustments, all within one financial year. Yes, that sounds unforeseeable, that a major expense like the HST billions would suddenly have to be booked in an entirely different manner than they'd planned, cough, cough.

It should be a difficult moment for a government that has dined out on portraying their opponents as the tax raisers. But watch the big sell.

Update (6:15 p.m.): Tories raise taxes.

On the bright side

Gillian Duffy, pensioner and minor celebrity during the U.K. election this past summer returns! At least no one called her a bigot this time around. You can't do that when you're asleep.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Parliamentary procedure question

This was stated yesterday in the House of Commons during the census debate:
"Let me put this question ... to any member of the Liberal-Bloc or NDP coalition partners: If someone in one of your ridings does not want to complete the 40 pages of personal, private questions ... is it the appropriate government response to harass them until they relent and comply?" Clement said in the Commons.
Clement is referring to a "coalition" by name. But as we know, that's misinformation, there is no official or formal "coalition." He's not making an argument or debating the point, he's stating that one exists. This has been cropping up frequently from the government members of late.

It's worth asking then whether one of the opposition members should raise this in the proper manner, whatever that may be, whether as a matter of parliamentary privilege or seeking a Speaker's ruling that the Conservatives cease and desist from using the word in this manner. Or, perhaps, seek to have the Speaker enforce his earlier ruling that might cover this situation. They have been warned twice in recent memory to refrain from playing partisan games in the House of Commons with personal attacks, this seems to be a variation on their similar tactics.

(h/t to a certain blogger out there presently on hiatus)

Bandwagon Blackburn

Just head shaking, the instincts of the Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn that were on display yesterday. Reeling from the revelations about breaches of veterans' privacy in his ministry, where private medical records have apparently been widely accessed in respect of at least two critics, Sean Bruyea and Pat Stogran, bandwagon Blackburn tried to jump on board an investigative train that had already left the station:
A statement by Jennifer Stoddard's office, released to The Canadian Press, contradicts Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn who earlier in the day told a news conference that he asked for a wide-ranging probe.

"The Commissioner has advised Minister Blackburn’s office that her investigation into a complaint about the handling of one veteran’s personal information has raised concerns about the possibility of systemic privacy issues," said Valerie Lawton, a spokeswoman for Stoddard in a prepared statement.

"As a result, she had already decided to initiate an audit of the department’s privacy practices."

Lawton said Stoddard welcomed the minister's invitation.

Blackburn made it sound as if he initiated the more comprehensive probe during a news conference to announce improved support for the families of the most severely wounded soldiers.

"I'm very concerned about what's happening there," he said at National Defence Headquarters.

"This morning we have a discussion with the privacy commissioner and I thought with all that news is coming, that it would be appropriate for the commissioner, the privacy commissioner, to look further in the department to see what's going on, to enlarge what she has done up to now, to look further into the department to be sure that what's going on there." (emphasis added)
In other words, it appears that the Veterans Affairs minister, having discovered the existence of a wide ranging privacy investigation being conducted into the conduct of officials in his ministry, tried to make it appear that he and his government were the driving force behind the investigation. He should have just acknowledged the investigation and pledged support.

To make matters worse, Blackburn inexplicably tried to lay fault for the burgeoning privacy issues at Pat Stogran's feet. Blaming the veterans ombudsman for not raising the problem with Blackburn and not looking into the issue. This is Stogran he's blaming, whose own medical files have allegedly been widely breached as well. Does this minister have any concept of where the buck stops? Doesn't appear to and maybe he shouldn't be in charge.

The Privacy Commissioner's office shouldn't be faulted here at all for issuing their statement of clarification. I imagine some will try. News of alleged privacy breaches of a significant nature had arisen, they were assuring people the office is on the job and didn't require any prompting to get on it. Blackburn left the impression that maybe they needed that prompting. The Privacy Commissioner is also an independent officer of Parliament and the statement provided that extra clarification that the investigation was independent from government influence. Again, Blackburn's statement might have left the opposite impression.

This government is fatally preoccupied with optics and making itself look good, even on a subject matter as sensitive as veterans' privacy.

Political theatre

Update (below).

Ignatieff has it right, the largest military purchase in Canadian history deserves scrutiny:
“The costs are skyrocketing, we are in the middle of a $54-billion [deficit], the bid was not competitive,” Mr. Ignatieff said. “How can we go to a town hall anywhere in Canada and explain this choice to Canadians when there are so many other priorities that are pressing on hard-pressed Canadian families?”
Or, here's a better statement of the point:
Mr. Speaker, yesterday evening at a public forum in Outremont, a woman asked why the government was spending $16 billion on airplanes when there is a serious shortage of funding for affordable housing in Quebec. My question is for the Prime Minister. Can he explain to this woman why he needs to buy this particular plane at this price on an untendered contract while ordinary Canadian families are having trouble making ends meet?
On the point of economic priorities, see this report from yesterday, for example, on Canadians taking on second jobs, dipping into savings, adjusting their retirement savings due to the recession.

Meanwhile, we had the contrast yesterday of the Conservatives lining up with industry, putting the pressure on, trying to essentially scare Canadians into believing that jobs are on the line if we don't hang with the Conservatives'sole-sourced F-35 purchase decision. There was no mention in the Globe reporting, however, of the fact that the PMO was the organizing force behind yesterday's aerospace industry p.r. event.

As for the content of the event, the admonishments from the business leaders for political opposition to get on board, while understandable, coming from their perspective, are irrelevant in terms of the democratic process. Canadians have a right to know that the right choice has been made, that the right amount of dollars are being expended and that we actually need these planes. There are competing budgetary priorities and our representatives have the right to put forth their own. There has been no debate over these planes, just a decree issued on a lazy, hot Friday in July and instructions ever since to get on board and ask no questions. In a minority government situation. A competitive bid process had been planned by National Defence. Just as is done with other military purchases. These aerospace leaders are familiar with those processes and if this jet issue had been handled competitively from the start, as Peter MacKay stated it would be in May, they'd likely have no issue with it.

As an aside, the US Navy just ordered 124 Super Hornets from Boeing. The Australians are getting a version of new Super Hornets as well. Are these Super Hornets options for us? We don't know. We have no competitive bid, despite Boeing being interested in participating.

Yesterday's event was predictable and didn't really tell us anything we don't already know. Industry wants to maintain jobs, as does everybody. And the Conservative talking points are being pushed relentlessly.

Update: See also Pogge, TGB for more perspective on the aerospace industry's participation in the Tuesday F-35 p.r. event.

When human rights tribunals go not so wild

This seems a little over the top in its presentation: "Human Rights Tribunal rules it can name university deans." Front page banner headline worthy on the National Post site tonight. The headline suggests a tribunal with visions of grandeur, an unchecked administrative colossus that might pick off university deans left, right and center. The report, however, deals with one human rights complaint emanating out of a decanal struggle at the University of Windsor's law school. A remedy sought by the professor in question is to have the present search for a new dean halted and to have her appointed to the typical term as dean. She had been a finalist for the position when a colleague raised plagiarism allegations against her. The search was started anew and the professor launched a human rights complaint over the allegations, alleging sexism and racism. In human rights complaints, it's not uncommon for a remedy that's sought to be reinstatement to a job. The remedy sought will clearly seek to make the complainant whole, to in fact remedy the perceived wrong.

The report indicates that the Human Rights Tribunal has only given an interim decision affirming that while it hasn't ruled on the specific discrimination allegations in this case, it does have the power to appoint the aggrieved professor as dean should a finding of discrimination be made down the road. The tribunal doesn't say that it will, and it even downplays the option by saying that if there's a new dean in place, that could affect the tribunal actually going ahead with a decanal appointment. But it does reserve the right. I would think that would be a strong message to the law school now, who appear to have hopelessly bungled this one, to try anew to settle the case. 

This sounds like a very rare case with the remedy being sensationalized here a bit, no doubt given the ongoing present day scrutiny of human rights tribunals that the right has been sowing. There may be a desire here to pump up the case as the latest example of human rights tribunals gone wild. But it just so happens that the woman here is a professor vying for a deanship who claims she's been unfairly discriminated against. The remedy may very well be warranted and all parties involved agree it's available.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

10 years later

A perspective.

Creeping conventional wisdom on the Senate

There seems to be a bit of conventional wisdom creeping into discussions about legislation on Parliament Hill and the role of the Senate. As we know, as a matter of practice (and from years of Conservative braying), the Senate is unelected and it has no legitimacy to block legislation from the House of Commons. If a bill passes the Commons, it should pass the Senate. Consider this CP report yesterday on the census and an apparent quote attributed to Ralph Goodale:
Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale acknowledged it will be an uphill fight to get the bill through the Commons and then through the Senate, where the Tories are on the cusp of a clear majority.
It's not clear that Goodale said the latter part or whether it was a descriptive add on in the report meant to amplify why there might be delay. A private member's bill will be difficult to push through quickly in time to save the long form census, that's true. And the Senate does take time to do its work, also adding to the time constraints on an urgent matter. But passage has nothing to do with the Conservatives being on the cusp of a majority there (and Goodale's not the House Leader anymore, as an aside).

It was seen yesterday as well in a report on the stimulus debate, with respect to a Bloc bill on EI benefits that's to be voted upon Wednesday:
Because of the party numbers in the Senate, the Bloc bill is unlikely to become law even if it survives Wednesday’s vote...
So what are we saying here? That parties now have to marshal enough support in the Senate to get a bill into law? Since when is it becoming conventional wisdom that the Senate has legitimacy to block the will of the House of Commons? It doesn't and it's a little surprising to see that view creeping into our everyday discourse as if it's a truth.

Promises, promises

Update (5:20 p.m.) below.

New Brunswick has a new government, of the blue stripe. Being bold too. This caught the eye:
"The Progressive Conservative government will provide you with an open and inclusive government. We will not leave you on the outside looking in."
In Harper's Canada, a Progressive Conservative government uttering such sentiments is just adorable. After all, at the federal level, open and inclusive government are like kryptonite to the federal Conservative cousins. We will see what happens and whether this is just early goings rah rah stuff.

Is it an anti-incumbency streak in the air? Who knows. The NB Power debacle certainly was a major factor in this result.

Segueing over to the Toronto mayoralty race...this is Rob Ford's video released late last night and much discussed on twitter:

He's sounding like a bit of a broken record at this point, possibly explaining how he's stalled in the most recent poll and looks to be vulnerable. Plus, I mean, just watch the video. The front runner glare demands a little more from a leading mayoralty candidate of one of North America's largest cities, no? The dynamic's finally starting to turn, should get real interesting now.

Update (5:20 p.m.): The flag behind Ford spawned an inquiry, whether it was a blue Canadian flag? It's probably the Canadian flag draped over the Toronto flag which is very blue. That's my guess. (Isn't that Toronto flag a thing of beauty?)

F-35 industrial benefits in the spotlight again

If you've been following the early debate on the issue of the Harper government's announced intent to purchase, untendered, 65 F-35s from Lockheed Martin for $16 billion, you'll know that Tony Clement keeps invoking the "preferential" aspects of the deal as a rationale for Canada going ahead with a purchase on an untendered basis. Clement's position is that Canadian industry will see industrial benefits by becoming part of a preferred group of nations who are buying and therefore whose industries get preference on bidding for contracts (he relies upon section 7.3 of the Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU")). There's a report from last night that blows a bit of a hole in Clement and his government's argument that Canadian companies are better off, or at least have little to worry about, under their government's untendered route.

The U.S. government is trying to control the costs of producing the F-35, a new agreement with Lockheed Martin to do so was in American reports last week. From the Postmedia report, a hint of how that might play out for Canada:
Ashton Carter, the U.S. defence undersecretary, sent out a recent memo to acquisition officials outlining the need for more efficient methods of purchasing military equipment, highlighting efforts to drive down the cost of the F-35 being built by Lockheed Martin.

An "analysis is being done in association with the negotiation of the early lot production contract," Carter wrote. "The Department is scrubbing costs with the aim of identifying unneeded cost and rewarding its elimination over time."

Lockheed Martin spokesman Jeffery Adams said the firm is studying the details of 23 initiatives announced by U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Carter regarding affordability and efficiency in military procurement.

Asked what impact the initiatives will have on F-35 contracts now being carried out by Canadian firms, as well as potential future contracts, Adams said "it's too soon to provide a detailed assessment of the implications and potential impacts on our programs and business."
What do you think the odds are that the Lockheed Martin spokesman would say that Canadian firms will be affected? With a purchase of 65 jets hanging in the balance? Not good.

There's also an analyst cited in the report who believes that the overall production numbers of JSFs (approximately 3173) might be reduced in order to cut costs, with implications for the work available for Canadian firms. So, there's a little bit of risk creeping in to the facts on the F-35 industrial contracts. But I'm sure we'll hear very thorough talking points to rebut it all away at the PMO managed F-35 industrial event apparently going on in Ottawa today.

One other pesky thing here, at the risk of this post getting too long. As pointed out above, this is the government's line on the untendered purchase rationale:
Canada is purchasing this fifth generation fighter aircraft through the preferential mechanisms of the multinational JSF PSFD Memorandum of Understanding and delivery of the new aircraft is expected to start in 2016. (emphasis added)
They take that, I guess, from 7.3 of the MOU. At least, this is the section that Tony Clement relied upon quite heavily on an appearance on Power & Politics recently:

Note the word "normally" and that the awarding is subject to "Best Value offers," i.e., could be non-"preferred" nations' companies. And then read

The government seems to be ignoring the above section in favour of its interpretation that we're squeezed into buying due to the preferential industrial benefit clause. So on the one hand, countries are free to have their own normal procurement processes and National Defence was indeed planning for that. But on the other hand, there's this industrial benefits clause that seemingly grants some kind of preference for nations buying F-35s, but with the caveats noted above that undermine its preferential nature.

I don't get the government's narrow interpretation and heavy reliance upon 7.3, unless there are provisions in this MOU that are more relevant than those above that I've missed (or that are found in other agreements, although this MOU seems to be the governing document). It just looks like the government is leaning on industry as cover for the choice to sole-source when, contrary to what they're telling us, they could have had a competition. With the largest military expenditure in our history at hand, that still seems like the wise route to take.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Context for the Flaherty stimulus report today

As we watch Finance Minister Jim Flaherty deliver his hunky dory, rosy, shiny and sixth status report on the Economic Action Plan today, here is some context as to what a few other nations have been doing, infrastructure wise.

China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.
Not entirely fair to compare ourselves to mammoth, authoritarian China but still, that is serious infrastructure with clear goals. 

The U.S. is not quite keeping up with China, but still you get some sense of a vision with their infrastructure choices:
...the Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S. The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet.
The stimulus is also stocked with nonenergy game changers, like a tenfold increase in funding to expand access to broadband and an effort to sequence more than 2,300 complete human genomes — when only 34 were sequenced with all previous aid. There's $8 billion for a high-speed passenger rail network, the boldest federal transportation initiative since the interstate highways.
And so on. Not to hold it up as perfection, the Americans have been criticized as not doing enough, but this overview of the Recovery Act does give a sense of the direction there (and see the later Biden quote on items rejected and why:"...some 260 skate parks, picnic tables and highway beautifications that flunked his what-would-your-mom-think test. "Imagine they could have proved we wasted a billion dollars," Biden says. "Gone, man. Gone!")

Now, today, here in Canada, you will hear Jim Flaherty talking up 22,000 or so projects started across the country, as if there is magic in that number as opposed to the quality of projects undertaken. And as this columnist in the Globe today suggests, there are questions about how the stimulus has been spent that underscore the comparison between us and other nations:
It’s hard to imagine there’s much Canada envy over the millions Ottawa has thrown at local pet projects over the past two years, including Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest ($700,000), an indoor skateboard park and climbing wall in Winnipeg ($3.2-million), a motorized orchestra pit at a concert hall in Rimouski, Que. ($153,000), or repairing a busted hockey rink in Iqaluit ($2.5-million).

No one begrudges Canadians’ right to knock back some Schnapps or play a little hockey. But to throw billions into a hodge-podge of boondoggles and call it world-beating economic policy is a bit of a stretch.
Throw in the reporting yesterday from CP on the intricate communication requirements imposed by the federal government on local infrastructure partners, with emphasis on signs, plaques, ribbon-cutting events and other assorted political aspects of the process, all the while leaving local groups in the lurch on the interest costs...and it reinforces the point of a skewed sense of priorities and a celebration of arguably inferior choices. Tom Friedman made an observation on his country's inability to get its act together to make better choices and it's relevant to us as well:
Studying China’s ability to invest for the future doesn’t make me feel we have the wrong system. It makes me feel that we are abusing our right system. There is absolutely no reason our democracy should not be able to generate the kind of focus, legitimacy, unity and stick-to-it-iveness to do big things — democratically — that China does autocratically. We’ve done it before. But we’re not doing it now because too many of our poll-driven, toxically partisan, cable-TV-addicted, money-corrupted political class are more interested in what keeps them in power than what would again make America powerful, more interested in defeating each other than saving the country.
Deflate some of the rhetoric and the key point reverberates here.

Has our stimulus been a wasted opportunity? In part? This is likely to be part of the coming debate, with the Auditor General's report forthcoming as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Elephants in the photo op staging area

Excellent point made on the occasion of the prime ministerial visit to fair Newfoundland, devastated by Hurricane Igor:
A politician chose to take the spotlight and act as a spokesman for somebody else. He doesn't know where the flood waters were; someone else told him. And since Harper was being so authoritative in his assessment and analysis why didn't some reporter simply nail him right then? Question: Isn't it a bit odd for mid-latitude Newfoundland to take a direct hit from a tropical Atlantic Category 1 hurricane? Since you're providing details would you explain how that meteorological event evolved?

Think about it. We've got intact tropical hurricanes, still with all their tropical characteristics, making direct hits on landmass at 47 degrees north latitude. The federal government's head politician says he's never seen anything like it. The same politician who refuses to take any action to curb, or even acknowledge the existence of the anthropogenic contribution to global warming.

Never seen anything like it before in Canada? Wait for it; there's a lot more to come.
Of course the Prime Minister should have visited, that's not the issue. But as he travels the country of late, it is worth pointing out these elephants in the room that are silently stalking these photo-ops. Recall his end of August trip to the Arctic.
During his visit, a massive chunk of ice broke off Ellsemere Island in Nunavut — a 5,000-year-old peninsula of ice so large that it's disappearance will cause a redrawing of Canada's map, according to federal officials.

The event went unremarked upon by the prime minister, even as he reannounced federal funding for Radarsat satellite technology that's key to mapping Canada's Arctic.
Unremarked. Oblivious. The elephants are north, east, all around us these days.

There was something else bugging me too about this Newfoundland trip, the lack of a photo showing Harper assisting in the aftermath of the devastation. Oh wait...found one:

(h/t pmoharper)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday night

Since I missed last night's music contribution to the blogging meme that we are a few more from the week. Best thing I've heard in ages though is still last week's pick of the new Jamiroquai. Anyway...

Techno pick of the week...

And a throwback, again. Lots of Marvin Gaye being reworked these days, don't know why but it's all good.

Have a good night.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday odds and ends: NHL funding, jets and isotopes

1. A new poll suggests Canadians don't like the prospect of providing funds to help bring new NHL teams to Canada. Presumably, that would include federal funds being disbursed for arenas to entice the NHL to consider relocating teams to those interested Canadian cities. It's just an indicator but it does confirm the blow back we've seen. It's a losing issue.

2. David Pugliese gives a heads up that there will be yet another p.r. push from the government - aka the PMO - to bolster its sole-sourced F-35 purchase, this time involving the Aerospace Industries Association:
"Sources say that aerospace firms, some with contracts on the F-35, others who might have contracts on the aircraft, had received calls from the Prime Minister’s Office “inviting” them to the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada event, although one industry executive and myself had a chuckle over the term invite since receiving one of those from the PMO is akin to receiving an “invite” from Don Corleone - No one turns down as “invite” from the PMO, the industry representative laughingly told Defence Watch.

However, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada now says the event will not be happening today. But it will be rescheduled for a later date."
The big push continues, with the hint of the heavy hand of the PMO driving the public relations. Not that we wouldn't have guessed that this would be handled out of the PMO.

3. There is also news that one of the principal Canadian companies involved in Canada's supply of medical isotopes is contracting with Russia to get back-up supply in the event of another shutdown at Chalk River or other disruption. Distance matters with these isotopes, having a short shelf life and all. Whether this development is cause for any concern in this government, probably not, judging by the way this issue has been treated, basically as something to be swept under the rug and not spoken about much at all.

There's a reminder in the report too about Chalk River's licence shelf life being until 2016 and that the back-up the government has chosen is experimental technology, cyclotrons and such. A new reactor is a proven choice, that's what the Dutch are doing. It would cost about $1 billion. Much less costly than the haul of $9-$16 billion in fighter jets we're getting to replace the present CF-18s. That CF-18 hardware will also be expiring but later this decade, beyond Chalk River's date.

So to sum up here, on the isotope front, a fairly important health matter, it's experimental technology and back-ups from Russia. It's another interesting comparison in terms of the choices this government is making.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Then and now

John Ivison on September 1st: the wake of the Vancouver Olympics and the G8/G20 international summits, Mr. Harper stands on the brink of a foreign policy coup that would deliver on his promise to restore Canada’s influence on the world stage – namely a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Ivison today:
Mr. Harper better hope there is sufficient recognition of our international efforts in Afghanistan and Haiti to win us a seat around the horse-shoe shaped Security Council table. He could justifiably claim that Canada will have influence when big and binding decisions are made on, for example, Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Yet, victory is unlikely to have any domestic political consequences. As foreign policy veterans like former UN ambassador Paul Heinbecker have pointed out, Canada has run for the council once a decade since 1948, and no Canadian government has ever lost such an election.

Domestic fall out will occur if Canada loses — an embarrassment that would hand Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff a very large stick with which to beat Conservative foreign policy. “The real news would occur if Harper managed to ruin our 1.000 bating average, not if he manages to maintain it,” said Mr. Heinbecker.

As Ms. Frechette put it: “If we lose, it will be a real diplomatic humiliation.”
Quite a notable turnaround. What ever might be going on.

Pictures that speak a thousand words

Incredible comparative pictures of the size of the audience for world leaders who are speaking at the UN, including Mr. Harper.

Canada's back, baby!

Update (10:10 p.m.): CTV's report tonight on the depleted audience:
Harper's speech was designed to drive home the country's bid.
However, he spoke before a relatively small group of UN delegates, CTV's CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported from New York. The session ran longer than expected after a number of leaders spoke for longer than their allotted time. When Harper took the podium, U.S. President Barack Obama and many other world leaders had left for lunch, Fife said.

Canadian blogger in need of help

This Iranian-Canadian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, has been imprisoned in Iran for almost two years now, caught up in the Iranian regime's draconian justice system. He's said now to be facing the death penalty after a trial on charges that stem essentially from his great crime of helping introduce blogging capabilities to Iranians a few years ago and exercising his right to free speech while outside Iran.

The Canadian government is pressing for consular access and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and PEN Canada are actively advocating on his behalf as well:
"This is a dark day for all who value human rights and free expression," said Ellen Seligman, President of PEN Canada. "We are deeply disturbed and dismayed to learn that, after nearly two years in prison for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, Hossein Derakhshan may now face a death sentence. We ask that all measures be taken by the government of Iran to prevent this action from proceeding further."

CJFE and PEN Canada urge the government of Iran to uphold the human rights of its citizens, ensure that this heinous sentence does not go forward, and provide Derakhshan with his basic rights including complete access to his lawyer, visits from his family and humane treatment. The organizations also join with Derakhshan's family in asking for the Canadian government's intervention.
There is a petition that can be signed and there is a Facebook group as well. Circulating the information and raising awareness is the least that we Canadian bloggers can do.


Foggy scenario at the U.N.

According to this report, "Canada fears loss in UN Security Council race," we're either in jeopardy of losing that Security Council seat to Portugal or the government is trying to hopelessly lower expectations so it can get a win out of what should be a routine slot on the Council each decade for Canada:
Canada could lose to Germany in the first round of voting, and might not win a tough fight on a second ballot against Portugal, say government sources.
And while many observers have pegged Canada as an easy favourite to beat Portugal for the second seat, the official said he is worried that won't happen.
This columnist is putting Canada's chance of getting the seat at 60%, to Portugal's 40%. CTV reports greater confidence among government officials.

Whatever the real case is, the fact that there is indeed concern circulating that Canada might not get that seat is a remarkable achievement for the Harper government. This tenuous situation is something to keep in mind as Harper speaks at the U.N. today and we watch what he has to say.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The big vote

It was a close vote tonight in a high drama House of Commons: "Long-gun registry survives tight Commons vote." 153 to 151 as we all know at this point. What else to say here?

Lots of spin making the rounds as to what this means for future election results, who's at risk due to their vote, etc. There are lots of avowals of living to fight another day but it's hard to say what life this one issue will have and what other pressing issues will intervene. In the 24/7 news cycle, it's very tough for any issue to predominate, it's more likely a narrative woven up into many issues that will prevail.

There was a lot of wishing on the part of Conservatives and NDP for the Liberal caucus to crack. That didn't happen. On that score, you have to call it a good moment for Michael Ignatieff who did take a risk in whipping the vote.

The biggest impact from this issue and this vote, to me, is a very general point. This has been a real gut check moment for parties all around. While the vote has been largely a divisive force in Canadian politics for many months now, I think that gut check has done some good, coming early in the fall parliamentary session as it has. It should be interesting to see what kind of momentum builds from it now.

Update (9:40 p.m.): Here was the vote:

Mid-week check in

Tom Flanagan was quoted in the Hill Times on Monday, concerned about Harper losing control of his caucus and various issues:
"He's got to figure out what's wrong and fix the machine," Prof. Flanagan said. "I'm sure his hold hasn't dangerously weakened at this point, but if this kind of stuff continues, it could."
The usual list of suspect subjects were listed, most prominently the Quebec City arena funding. Well, we're at day three of the return to Parliament and there's a bit more evidence for this story line already.

First, this story is now making the rounds everywhere, as it should: "Medical files of veterans critic improperly accessed." A veteran's medical confidential files being used for political purposes? There are the legal questions but also ones of morality there. That department is already under fire for veterans' funding issues, this is only going to amplify its problems. And yes it sounds like this issue spans a good number of years but Minister Blackburn is the responsible minister today and this government needs to answer some serious questions. Pat Stogran is quoted in that CP report suggesting that his own files seem to have been accessed too. Is this a widespread practice in that department? Sounds like a third party investigation needs to occur, to say the least.

Second, the PM has apparently yanked back, within a day, the "mass arrivals" refugee proposals that had been circulated:
A proposal to create a new category of “mass arrival” refugee claimants who could be held in detention for two weeks while authorities investigated their backgrounds is off the table after Mr. Harper vetoed it at cabinet on Tuesday, government sources said.
Ah, word of the presidential veto makes its way out of the cabinet room. The changes were reported to be Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's to oversee, and were quickly criticized by experts as discriminatory and ineffectual:"Experts pan draft human smuggling plan." Now it seems Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is going to be in charge and it's back to the drawing board. I'm sure Jason doesn't mind, "...even though changing refugee policy would ordinarily be in Mr. Kenney’s court." Word also leaked out of Harper's instruction:"He told them to focus more on stopping the people who bring the migrants here." What he proposes to do exactly about offshore smugglers should be interesting to watch given the challenges inherent in that. And overall here, this little refugee proposal episode doesn't sound like typical legislative process. It sounds quite presidential.

Then there was the news of course about the record advertising dollars to the tune of $130 million. Not much really needs to be said about that one, the optics are terrible despite the spin. The Finance Minister was termed "berserk." And they could lose a big vote tonight.

Not the greatest start to the session but...I guess it's early.

UK poised for more big change?

There is an idea floating in Britain now which would see tuition fees abolished in favour of a "graduate tax" that university students would pay on their earnings once they graduate: "Graduate tax 'could hit UK's competitiveness'." It is being seriously considered in a review that's going on and is set to report in October. Under the graduate tax, one could end up paying much more in the long run than they currently do in tuition fees in the U.K. (presently about $5200 Cdn). No sense is given of how long this post-graduation tax would be in place. This change has been prompted by a Liberal Democrat election promise, funding issues and it might perhaps be brought in under the Tory coalition government.

You can see the immediate attraction for current students, free tuition, who doesn't love that. It would encourage accessibility to education, a good thing that's for sure. Yet the post-graduation costs would be there. You get a break yet the tax grab beyond could be much more significant than the present pay as you go model. Theoretically, progressive tax brackets account for higher earnings once you're out of school at present, in any event. So wouldn't this set up a system of almost double-taxation? Create greater cost burdens on business with graduates looking to account for that extra hit? All kinds of questions raised by this one but with the U.K. facing hard times, they're looking at it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Conservative priorities, front and center

My, a blitz! When was the last time we saw an issue light such a fire under this government? Hard to say, but this is telling stuff:
Their bid to kill the long-gun registry in peril, the Harper Conservatives are ramping up their campaign machine to blitz key ridings before a decisive Wednesday Commons vote on the matter – one that could reverberate into the next election.

The Conservatives are expanding the use of live callers and robo-dialers – automated calling systems – to contact voters across 20 federal ridings where they believe opposition MPs face the greatest pressure to help sink the registry. They’re also boosting Internet advertising on top of radio ads already running in these constituencies.
Live callers and robo-dialers! Wonder what the final accounting will be for the Hoeppner bill and her broad based campaign, complete with matching van. It's U.S. style riding by riding targeting of members, the exact dynamic a private member's bill plays to, where members theoretically have freedom to vote as they like and thus enable such targeting. Wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Conservatives line up private member bills on other hot button issues of a social conservative nature in the future. This one's been close, heck, why not? We may have been witnessing a dry run of a whole new era in Canadian politics. Who says the Conservatives are running on empty? They're innovating in their own interests quite handily. We're just looking at their accomplishments all wrong.

A few other points on this. The spin is really remarkable, irrespective of what happens, the Conservatives seem to win. If they lose the vote on Wednesday, they get to keep the issue alive as a fundraiser. Never mind that they'll have blown it big time after getting ever so close to dismantling the great bugaboo. There'll be no consequences from that? Why didn't Harper make it a government bill at any time during his minority mandates? No reckoning, not even in the slightest for this great missed opportunity?

Then there's the second "upside" of them losing. They get to use it as a wedge in those Liberal and NDP ridings, and, of course, it's worse for the Liberals. Hmmm. What about that poll on Saturday showing that actually, there's not as much of a rural/urban divide as the reporting would have us believe ("...the urban/rural chasm, according to a Harris/Decima research poll released on Sept. 8, has narrowed to a small crack")? Maybe the Canadian people aren't as facile as many would like them to be.

We've also seen populist lectures on campaigns, promises made and pious admonitions from Hoeppner, rookie parliamentarian, to the likes of Peter Stoffer about keeping to them. This is rich coming from Conservatives, they of the axing of political party subsidies (platform reference please) and the long-form census (platform reference please).

What must Canadians be thinking as they watched the news coverage focussing on a gun registry battle of all things. Out of touch? Are these people out to lunch? Probably. The Harper Conservatives may have thought this was a good one to push, to feed the base and all, yet it's taken on more life than they likely anticipated. Front and center as Parliament returns, this can't be the big kick off that any party governing at the moment would have wanted. Guns, guns and more guns.

Day 1

Now I know the old hand columnists are all aflutter after the first day's events of the big Parliamentary return and they all have their takes, some making a little sense, more so than others. But I thought I'd contribute one secret thing I picked up this summer that I don't seem to see anyone talking about. Everything changed this summer when Iggy started to do his patented knee bend. When an important point of emphasis needs to be made, the knee bend kicks in. It means he's into it, body and soul. As you can see in the video below, it made its way to Parliament Hill as well (@ 0:57 min mark) after he got off the bus. This bodes well. Only problem, I'm not sure it made its way inside to the floor of Question Period. I would strongly advise that it make an appearance, Question Period needs a certain je ne sais quoi these days and while interesting and probably a far away remedy, it's not Michael Chong's overhyped reforms that will save us all at the moment. So bring it, Iggy, let's see those summer knee bends continue, the nation awaits.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Government's rationales for F-35 sole-sourcing collapsing

The Harper government's latest talking points on the need to sole-source their $16 billion fighter jet contract have been undercut by news last night that National Defence was actually making plans for a competitive bid process.

Here was Peter MacKay last week, offering us the spin that military morale was being hurt by those pressing to review the deal:
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's call for review of the government's $16 billion plan to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets demoralizes the Armed Forces and undermines confidence in Canada among military allies, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.
Yet here was the news from last night on Defence department internal documents showing that the military wasn't so demoralized at all and were going about their business planning for a review process:
Air force officers working on the purchase of Canada’s new fighter planes expected there would a competition this year for the multibillion-dollar deal, according to Defence Department documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.

The plan written by officers for the Next Generation Fighter Capability project called for a “competitive process” for both the aircraft and the long-term maintenance contract, according to a project outline developed in the summer of 2009.

That schedule planned for the competition to be run in 2010, with a contract to be awarded by 2012, according to the project documents.

Instead, the Conservative government decided to proceed without a competition and select the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter built by U.S. aerospace firm Lockheed Martin.
But we kind of knew that old morale chestnut wouldn't hold up in any event. Still, nice to see this bit of confirmation, that a competition was expected, being planned for...and was then apparently thrown into the trash can by the Harper government.

Another argument the government is offering up for the sole-sourcing, that there's not enough time for a competitive process, is also being exposed as questionable by this reporting:
According to MacKay, the government had to move on the F-35 purchase to avoid any gap between the arrival of a new planes and the phasing out of the current fleet of CF-18 fighter jets.

But the fighter-replacement timeline, obtained by the Ottawa Citizen through access-to-information law, suggested there would be no issues with a gap.

According to that timeline, running a competitive process this year would allow for a contract to be signed in 2012, with aircraft delivered in 2015-16. Those planes would become operational between 2018 and 2023, according to the document.
The CF-18 fighters can continue flying until 2018-20, according to the air force.
A third rationale is the talking point that was offered up by Rona Ambrose repeatedly at last week's Defence committee hearings, that when you know what product you want, it's unproductive and a waste of money to have a competitive bidding process. But, again, that competitive process is exactly what National Defence anticipated going through despite the air force supposedly knowing so well what it wants, the F-35.

Also of interest in the Pugliese report, if you have not taken note in the various discussions yet of what might be our other options, other aircraft manufacturers are mentioned. Saab with its Gripen, Boeing with its F-18 Super Hornet and BAE with its Typhoon, all of whom could have participated in a competitive bid process to get Canadian business.

The case to have a competitive process and to review this deal seems to have gotten stronger with this news.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Quote of the day

Here is a big problem for the Conservatives as Parliament heads back to school tomorrow, what this veteran said in response to the hobbled together Sunday afternoon MacKay/Blackburn press conference:
Veteran's advocate Dennis Manuge, who was injured in an accident at CFB Petawawa just before being deployed to Bosnia in 2001, said he wasn't impressed with the announcement in light of recent government spending.

"Two billion — well, nice, thanks, but how about $9 to $16 billion for jets, and $1 billion on G8 and G20?" Manuge said from his home in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S.
Conservative priorities are out of whack and people get it. Very easy to grasp.

Good luck with the session, kids! Going to be a fun one.

P.S. Almost forgot, Orwellian backdrop...check!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday night

OK, three more from what I've been listening to this week...

This one is really growing on me...

Techno! Pick of the week. A little more quiet but long and nice when you're surfing, thinking, whatever...

And one more of the throwback variety, no political messaging intended!

Canada cutting it close at the UN

Countries have taken note of Harper's domestic politicking as the UN Security Council seat vote approaches on October 12th and may be factoring it in to their choices:
But some countries say they are leaning toward Canada's two rivals in the contest — Germany and Portugal — with one Western European ally questioning Harper's true commitment to the UN given that he chose a Tim Hortons photo-op last year over addressing the General Assembly.
Harper came under political fire at home last year for choosing to be at Tim Hortons photo-op in Oakville, Ont., rather than the assembly. But some foreign governments also questioned the choice.

Most countries would like to see Canada succeed, the Western European diplomat said. "But you can't take it for granted. You have to want something. That's what we find a bit lacking."
Given that Harper and his ministers are jetting in and out of New York again this week for a Canadian domestic issue, to wit, the anti-gun registry private member's bill, will that impression be reinforced?

Still seems hard to believe that Canada will lose out to Portugal in the end. But it sounds like we're cutting it close when it really shouldn't be.
Canadian officials are reluctant to talk about the country's campaign, even anonymously. They don't want to raise expectations, and they don't want to jinx the final weeks of the campaign.
Somebody forgot to tell the National "PM on brink of world-stage coup" Post.

Wrong Orwellians

Nifty but totally misguided headline in the Post today: "‘Orwellian’ bureaucrats shielding PM from media surprises: documents." Really? Bureaucrats are driving the bus in Harper's Ottawa? News to anyone who's been following along. In 2010 Ottawa the Orwellians are those executing the Harper command and control style which emanates right out of the PMO. The Natural Resources director of communications seems to be driving the incredible tale of information management and vetting in the report, not the bureaucrats who are just doing what the ministers office wants.

If you read it, you'll see that a painstaking "zero-surprise environment" is what's being set up in the Natural Resources department (and likely elsewhere) to handle media requests. Taking seven or more "...“subject matter experts,” including media officers, senior bureaucrats and political staff, to craft and approve responses." Yes, it's the p.r. obsessed government in action, focusing so much time on handling media requests lest the government be embarrassed. And it all comes at the direction of Harper ministerial staff. Or, if you're the National Post writing headlines, "Orwellian bureaucrats."

Not fooling anybody.

Carney on the census

Mark Carney talks to The Globe on the axing of the long-form census and how it will affect the Bank of Canada's work:
On changes to the long-form census:

The proposed adjustments in the long-form census could have implications for some of the data that we use. We’re going to work through with StatsCan to understand them, so that Canadians can be assured that we’re using reliable data to fulfill our important responsibilities.

Which census data could be affected?

A series of surveys on the household side, the potential implications for the Labour Force Survey, it’s not absolutely clear. [There] could be issues around the productivity data, some of the national accounts, then you get into more granular data … some of our longer-term research that could be affected by that. The honest answer is, we don’t fully know … We can conceptually sketch it out, but we’ll really start to know once the information is in. But it’s, you know, non-trivial.

We need to work through and understand the implications of the change, and we’ll do that in a very deliberate way. That there’s a non-trivial range of data that could be affected. It’s an analytic question, it’s data, it’s a substantive question in the end. I don’t want to speculate on the net impact ex ante. We’ll take the change, work with [Statistics Canada], figure out where we need to supplement the data, and do our best to do that within the constraints of our budget.(emphasis added)
So throw the Governor of the Bank of Canada into the mix of census critics. Hinted at earlier in the summer but now fully confirmed. Stating diplomatic and careful yet weighty criticism of the government's census changes. Not that any of the other critiques to date are less weighty, but this is significant. Stephen Harper, by all accounts acting alone, is destabilizing the information base of our central bank. And will, as Carney suggests, put the Bank of Canada to great expense to compensate for the informational changes. That Harper is prepared to proceed, despite such knowledge, with this decision that could actually harm the ability of the Bank to do its work is almost farcical.

This accompanying Globe report goes on to remind us of the 350 groups that have opposed the census change, the overwhelming majority of economists, comments by leading academics about the harm to business that will result...all of which is worth noting once again. But it might be an idea for those groups to consider how they can exert greater political pressure, by suggesting concrete electoral consequences. That's the only thing Harper understands. As Parliament resumes, maybe there's another last opportunity to get something going.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hello from elite Toronto

Is it wrong that I burst out in laughter when I read about Mr. Baird sometimes:
Baird discouraged talk of a fall election, saying no one wants one. It's time for steady and stable leadership, he said.
Yes, it's time! It's been, what, four years with the Harper version of "steady" and "stable" leadership. Also known as throttling the House of Commons by starving it of information, forcing countless unnecessary confidence votes, obstructing the operation of parliamentary committees, foisting two undemocratic prorogations on the nation...should I go on?

About this "Toronto elite" bidness:
Baird acknowledged that Tory attempts to abolish the registry will likely fail. He blamed, in part, "the Toronto elites" who lead the opposition parties. His comment appeared clearly aimed at appealing to rural voters, many of whom bristle at registering hunting rifles — and being dictated to by city folk.
Pogge has already pointed out that Mr. Stephen Harper was born in Toronto. On a lark, one day on my elite way to the airport (on my secret route), I actually drove by the earlier-Harper-iteration home. Quite a nice, upper middle class spread, some might even call it elite digs. What on earth evoked his adulthood antipathy toward we good denizens, I'll never get. I quite enjoyed Stephane Dion's words on Mr. Harper today, from Le Devoir:
Selon lui, il sera plus facile pour Michael Ignatieff de faire campagne au Québec que pour lui en 2008. «La principale différence, c'est que le gouvernement conservateur n'avait que deux ans de gouvernance à l'époque. Il était nouveau. Nous étions perçus comme l'ancien gouvernement et on se débattait. Aujourd'hui, les gens voient mieux la couleur de Stephen Harper et ça ne leur plaît pas», estime-t-il.
Yes, the colours are shining through much more clearly now.

To sum up Baird's opening gambit: divisive, combative, pejorative. Their version of steady and stable is not having an auspicious fall start. And I wonder if they're lifting the "stable" talking point from the U.K. and Australian experiences of late, where the word was repeated ad infinitum in the context of settling those minority parliament results. Subliminable stuff, it's not an accident.

All sounds like electioneering to me. With this fall tour of cabinet types, talking an extension now of the March stimulus cutoff deadline...wouldn't put it past them at all.

Except for the Toronto bashing. Not good for those GTA aspirations, Conservatives. Knock. It. Off.

Pan out time

Cue the very well thought out fall plan, it's almost Parliament time:
A senior government official tells the Canadian Press that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his caucus will travel the country as part of a pan-Canadian consultation process on the next phase of the economic action plan.
Hmmm, a few questions.

Consultation on the "next phase of the economic action plan"? Is there one? Thought the next phase was the turning off the infrastructure taps at the end of March. And the new "period of fiscal restraint." So that doesn't sound like a very promising next phase to be touring on! this just going to be more of that Mike Duffy roadshow stuff? With the planted audiences, planted questions, i.e., high gloss fakery? Or will real unscreened Canadians be permitted to take part in the big pan-Canadian consultations coming our way? Serious or for show?

And one last question. Is the cupboard bare in Conservative idea land? Because this little fall preview certainly smacks of it.

Of policies in force

For the record, as we're about to be bamboozled to no end by spin about the F-35 purchase, and a new term is entering Canadians' lexicon, the "industrial and regional benefits" programme, here's a brief statement on it from the DND site:
Not only does funding for new equipment benefit the Canadian Forces, it also benefits Canadians and Canadian industry. The Industrial and Regional Benefits (IRB) program is an applied requirement for all major defence procurements; every dollar the Government of Canada pays a contractor, the contractor must spend an equivalent amount inside Canada. IRBs are mandatory on all defence projects over $100 million, allowing the federal government to lever long-term industrial and regional development from defence investments. This ensures that no matter where defence equipment is from, the Canadian economy benefits from the Government's investment.
The Conservative approach to the F-35 acquisition is an exception to government of Canada policy. There are lengthy lists of projects proceeding under this policy at the DND site. The Conservative choice to abandon IRB in the context of the now debated Lockheed Martin F-35 situation is causing some to engage in economics seminars over the IRB programme's very merit, but otherwise, it's government policy and the fact that it's being ignored is going to continue to dog the Conservatives.

In the backdrop to all of this, news this week of Pentagon cuts that are targeting the F-35 programme in particular:
The Pentagon is also scrutinizing how to cut back on inefficiencies and overhead costs on designing and building the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The price of the highly advanced fighter jet has jumped to $92 million per aircraft in 2010 from $50 million each in 2000.
The Americans are cutting defense spending and looking at their programmes, isn't it appropriate that we ask some questions, at a minimum, about the choices we're making? Some parties are saying yes, some a flat no.

The Kory story

With respect to the Kory Teneycke departure, it is worth noting Richard Madan's CTV report last night that kind of rounds out the picture. The big tidbit there, which I couldn't find anywhere else, that George Soros is suing Quebecor for defamation, presumably for that Ezra Levant column earlier this month which is now nowhere to be found.

Anyway, maybe the high risk appetite of Pierre Karl Peladeau in hiring Teneycke has been curbed through this episode? Luc Lavoie is now going to be heading up the venture for the foreseeable future and will likely be keeping his head down and pursuing the end goal without fanfare.

Onwards with the exciting world of Canadian media goings on...!

Update (7:45 a.m.): Yes, he told us!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A big hitch in the government's F-35 purchase plan

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose gets pretty much a freebie to spread the government's distorted F-35 position in this Postmedia report. The report comes as the F-35 purchase begins to be discussed at a Commons committee today. Might be a much more interesting day now. Industry Minister Tony Clement will be appearing and it looks like he's got a doozy of a new wrinkle to defend. Le Devoir is reporting that the industrial benefits that typically come along with these major contracts will no longer be guaranteed if we proceed with a sole-sourced $9 billion contract with Lockheed Martin. That changes the equation on this story in a big way.

Some of the criticism on the sole-sourcing to date has pointed out that a competitive process on the fighter jet replacements would actually gain more in industrial benefits than under the present route, the sole-sourcing with Lockheed Martin. For example, see this critique which explains how the industrial benefit plan typically works:

Second, ministers say that the government is buying the JSF in order to provide Canadian industry with the opportunity to compete for $12 billion in contracts. Angus Watt makes the statement, "The benefits for Canadian industry associated with the F-35 are staggering."

The fact is these potential benefits pale in comparison with the guaranteed benefits that would accrue to Canadian industry through a competition. In a competition of this size all bidders would be required to provide an Industrial and Regional Benefit plan as part of their bid. This plan would require each bidder to provide a guarantee of benefits equal to or greater than the value of the contract. The total value of the acquisition and support costs would likely be in the $20-$30 billion dollar range. It is this value that would be guaranteed to Canadian industry through a competitive process. As a point of information, to date, Canadian industry has been hugely successful. For our $150-million investment in the JSF program, our industry has garnered over $400 million in business. (emphasis added)

But, it looks like the Conservatives are giving up on the typical way these contracts have worked, with that "guarantee of benefits," as described above. No more, it's going to be open competition for F-35 work among businesses in all the F-35 nations. That's a big change.

There was more on the folly of sole-sourcing from DND sources making news just yesterday:
“The sole-sourcing was stupid. It was in the country’s interests to hold an open competition and invite four manufacturers to hawk their wares. We didn’t go through this process. [Defence Minister] Peter MacKay says there was a competition, but there was only an internal study. That means we’ll never be able to determine how much they would have reduced their price or the scope of industrial benefits they would have offered,” said one DND insider.

...he admitted that the taxpayer may not have received the best deal possible because of the absence of an open bidding process. He pointed out that a competition in Brazil for 36 fighter jets between France’s Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, Swedish firm Saab’s Gripen and Boeing’s F-18 SuperHornet has reportedly seen the price come down and the technology transfer to Brazil go up. The French bid, which looks favourite even though it is not the lowest price, has dropped $2-billion to $6-billion, according to published reports.
So if Le Devoir is right, this lack of a competitive process is set to become an even bigger issue given that we are apparently foregoing, for the first time - on the largest military purchase in Canadian history - the industrial benefit policy of the government of Canada. The appearance is going to be that the Harper Conservatives are caving to Lockheed Martin's requirements.

This perception of letting the U.S. dictate on the F-35s is already sinking in because the Conservatives are arguing there's no need for a competitive bid process at all, there's already been one, the American one that occurred in 2001. Ambrose restates that in the Postmedia report. But as this former assistant deputy minister at defence and public works put it:
“The fact there was a U.S. competition for who should build the aircraft has nothing to do with which aircraft 15 or 20 years later would best meet the needs of our Canadian military. They are totally different animals and to link the two is absurd,” he told the Star.
Canada should choose its jets and needs and procurement policies. Not the U.S. That is a real problem, politically, with the Harper government's approach here. This new decision to forego the matching industrial benefit investments will not help that perception.

Kind of puts a whole new spin on the Harper ministers fanning out across the nation today, in an offensive move to tout current F-35 industrial contracts:
The government is pushing back, highlighting industrial benefits Wednesday by sending five other cabinet ministers to hold news conferences at companies with F-35 supply contracts in Montreal, Burlington, Ont., Winnipeg, Vancouver and Lunenberg, N.S.
Those existing contracts are there because we paid for the right to bid on them in a 2006 agreement, separate and apart from any future purchase of jets.

The Conservatives are fighting hard on this issue because they are vulnerable on it. $16 billion in jet fighters plus servicing costs has got to be shaping up as a big, expensive sell when jets likely don't make a top 10 list for most Canadians. Throw in that it's being presented as a my way or the highway Harper special, without a Canadian competition having occurred. And now with news of no guaranteed industrial benefits, it's an even tougher sell.

This issue is not about Liberals, as Ambrose, Harper, et al. would like you to believe. It's about asking the right questions, doing what's right for Canada and proving you have through a process that has integrity. That hasn't happened and now there are these additional major questions about proceeding on a sole-sourced basis. It just doesn't seem like the way a government should be going about spending our money, especially on such an epic scale of $16 billion.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In the alternative...

Don Martin opines on the electoral prospects of Harper's Quebec City MPs if the PM is backing away from funding that arena:
The decision is potentially terminal for the seven giddy Conservative MPs photographed in Nordiques hockey jerseys last week. The Prime Minister’s Office insists those MPs engineered a rogue photo-op, a tough swallow given Mr. Harper’s micromanaging ways, but the MPs clearly aligned their electoral fate with federal arena funding. Which means they’re dead.
Which may explain Harper's alternative sales job last night in Quebec City to Conservative party supporters:
He also tried to reassure voters that Ottawa has already spent millions in the region where the vast majority of the Conservative caucus were elected in the 2008 election.

Mr. Harper went on to list many of the hundreds of infrastructure projects his government has funded in the region.
Elsewhere described this way:
Harper then went on to list contributions by his government to expand the Université Laval football stadium, modernize the airport and money for the city’s 400th anniversary.
Yes, we well know by now that this is what Harper's government has done, ensured that infrastructure funding has been well spread to Conservative ridings. This seems to be a large part of the ongoing Harper strategy, waving federal dollars the government has spent at any given constituency with the implicit expectation of electoral reward in return. We spent for you, elect us. Never mind that it wasn't the Conservative party footing the bill, it was the taxpayers of Canada. It is illuminating to read the blatant pushing of this spending in the context of a partisan appeal. Not that surprising, but still illuminating to see it explicitly pushed.

This is partly what people reacted loudly and negatively to as this NHL arena play has unfolded. It focussed Canadians a bit on questions like whether such projects are worth government expenditure and whether improper partisan motives are at hand. Maybe it was a question of scale that brought that attention. But there Harper was, essentially sustaining the same ploy to the Quebec City audience last night. Sounding very election ready in the process too. Likely a preview of the Harper stump speech across the nation, just interchange the infrastructure projects in the speech.

JTF2 probe

A big report from CBC last night, "Special forces actions in Afghanistan probed":
Canada's Defence Department quietly began a major inquiry into the Afghanistan operations of the military's elite special forces unit two years ago, CBC News has learned.

The investigation began in 2008 after a member of the highly secretive task force, known as Joint Task Force 2 or JTF2, raised serious allegations against another member of the force and the force in general, the military has confirmed.

The allegations centred on events that took place between 2005 and 2008, said navy Capt. David Scanlon, but he would provide no details about them.

The investigation, called Sand Trap I, ended after a few months with no charges laid, but the probe sparked a larger investigation into broader allegations. That investigation, called Sand Trap II, is still underway.

CBC News has learned the handling of detainees may have triggered the initial investigation, although the current probe is much wider than that.
At the time the note was written, Natynczyk wrote that 60 witnesses had testified before the board, and another 40 still needed to give testimony. He expected testimony to be complete by December 2009, with a report submitted by April 2010.

Scanlon said the board of inquiry is focusing on the broader administrative and non-criminal aspects of the allegations at the heart of Sand Trap II.

He said investigators are receiving full co-operation from the special forces unit, and any charges that might arise would be be made public.
During the three year period at the centre of the Sand Trap investigations, 2005 to 2008, the JTF2 unit was attached to an American special forces command based in Kandahar. JTF2 took its tactical direction from the Americans.
I'm going to raise a point here that has nothing to do with the integrity of the forces involved. Just to get that out of the way. It's about how the government has handled the fact of this investigation.

This is a substantial inquiry into our Special Forces in Afghanistan. 100 witnesses, going on two years! Yet we learn of it through media pursuit and access to information channels, not through our government. MacKay was briefed on it by General Natynczyk. Should civilian leadership have disclosed its existence to the Canadian public? Not the classified details, but its very existence. Or should we just be expected to trust that secret military inquiries will be conducted and not disclosed to the public? For comparison's sake, note this additional information from Canadian Press last night:
American special forces have been hauled on the carpet for some of their actions, most notably a botched raid last February in Khataba, a village outside Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. The highly-trained soldiers were accused of killing five people, including two pregnant women, and then trying to cover up the mistake.

Unlike Canada, the U.S. investigation into the allegations was made public.
Unlike Canada. One would think that if we're engaged in conflict overseas, the public would have a right to know how we're conducting it. Otherwise, how can a public, in a democracy, make informed decisions about the conflict? That's the main point that jumped out at me, sort of a threshold democratic issue.

Might this JTF2 inquiry also have something to do with the way Conservatives have handled pressure to hold a public inquiry on the detainee file?

I'm sure there will be lots of further discussion on this to come. Seems like a pretty substantial disclosure as Parliament gets set to return within the week.