Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday night



Something different this week. This is a young British singer, Laura Marling, performing at the Glastonbury festival at the end of June (above). She's only 20 and has a phenomenal voice. Here's another one that's live, from January of this year. It's a little rough/bumpy, but the live version brings out the power in her voice on this song better than the recorded version, IMHO. Enjoy!

Just can't help themselves

What a difference a few hours make. Peter MacKay quoted in the Sun Media piece on the Wednesday Russian jet incident:
Asked if he was playing up this Russian incursion to boost support for the F-35 purchase, MacKay said no.

"Surely even the most cynical, partisan person would not suggest that we engineered the visit of a Russian bomber to boost support for our air force," said MacKay.
Cue MacKay's party making hay with the incident to bolster the fighter jet purchase later today:
While similar incidents occur 12 to 18 times a year, a story on the confrontation appeared on Friday morning in the Sun Media chain. Within a few hours, the Conservative Party issued talking points on the matter designed to boost the Harper government’s plan to buy Joint Strike Fighter F-35 fighter jets to start replacing the CF-18s in 2017.

“This incident demonstrates why it is vitally important for the Canadian Armed Forces to have the best technology and equipment available,” the Conservative Party said.
So predictable, of course this is why the incident was hyped in Sun Media. Maybe MacKay should make sure the party has his back before he makes such statements in the national media.

If this were indeed a serious incident, surely the governing party wouldn't be playing politics with it the way they are, hyping it with press releases. But they are. Speaks for itself.

The return of the red menace

Oh look, the Russians are coming, again: "Canadian jets repel Russian bombers." There is word to Sun Media (QMI) from Peter "uniform" MacKay that two Canadian jets scrambled to meet Russian bombers on Wednesday. That sounds so familiar.

Now, apparently these Russian bombers did not enter Canadian airspace, on the one hand:
"The response as always was a rapid, effective deterrent," Defence Minister Peter MacKay told QMI Agency.

"They were in the buffer zone," said MacKay, stressing that although the planes did not enter Canada's sovereign airspace, the bombers did come inside the 300 nautical mile zone that Canada claims.
Yet on the other hand, just a bit later in the report it reads thusly:
After the CF-18s made contact with the Russians the pilots shadowed them until the bombers turned northeast and headed out of Canadian airspace.
So which is it, Sun Media? I'm confused. Were they in our airspace or in Peter's 300 mile "buffer zone?" Sounds like they're trying to have it both ways here and play up this incident as an incursion. Which we know they've tried before and have been debunked for so doing. The buffer zone doesn't seem to count to the big military types (see statement by U.S. General at preceding link - update: and here too). Here's a good overview of the most recent Canada-Russia fighter jet interaction and the hyping of it from April of 2009:
Last week the Standing Committee on Defence heard from Maj.-Gen. Marcel Duval, who is in charge of NORAD’s Canadian region. It was an interesting exchange that could leave some with more questions than answers about why the Harper government made such a big big deal recently about the two Russian aircraft that approached Canada and were intercepted by NORAD aircraft.

A few officers that I have talked to are still wondering why the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and parliamentary defence secretary Laurie Hawn reacted --in the words of one --like “World War 3 just started.” That is an overstatement but I must admit the exchanges at the time were reminiscent of the Cold War. The Russians seem to be totally puzzled why such a big deal had been made by Mr. Harper, Mr. MacKay and Mr. Hawn.

During his appearance at the committee Maj.-Gen. Duval said the flights were no different than what has been going on since 2007….and he considered it good practice for his crews.

“It was in line with the level of activity and the type of activity that we have seen since August 07,” the general noted.
Back to today's report which rather mischievously also goes on to suggest these Russian craft this week possibly carried nuclear weapons on board, simply because the craft are capable of carrying them. Yet there is no evidence that this was the case, as the report admits. The great, fearful spectre of nuclear cargo on a Russian plane outside our airspace is dangled without any evidence whatsoever.

This news of the return of the red menace wouldn't have anything to do with the recent F-35 fighter jet purchase announcement now would it? The question is asked:
Asked if he was playing up this Russian incursion to boost support for the F-35 purchase, MacKay said no.

"Surely even the most cynical, partisan person would not suggest that we engineered the visit of a Russian bomber to boost support for our air force," said MacKay.
No, but it can very well be said that this government has exaggerated the proximity and significance of these encounters. For what purpose and to what degree, readers can judge for themselves.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Iggy busts a move



Behold. Summer time in Toronto means Caribana and that's what you'll be seeing all weekend. Iggy is just days ahead of the crowd.

I suggest a dance-off with a certain other political leader who is presently MIA to settle this census thing.

I give him his due, fully, for courage in this moment and to the Liberal crew who came through on posting it. Limiting it to 17 seconds, excellent judgment on display. This bodes well for a future campaign. Well done:)

JSF hijinks at DND

Well this sounds like all kinds of badness courtesy of some unknown DND personnel, mucking around with a wikipedia entry on the government's purchase of the new Lockheed Martin joint strike fighters:
Defence Department computers in Ottawa have been used to alter information on a Wikipedia page critical of the Conservative government’s decision to spend billions on a new stealth fighter.

Nine attempts have been made to change the online encyclopedia’s entry on the Joint Strike Fighter, including the removal of any information critical of the Harper government’s plan to spend at least $16-billion on the new aircraft.

Defence Department computers were also used to insert insults, aimed at Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, into the Wikipedia Joint Strike Fighter page. Mr. Ignatieff has questioned the proposed purchase.

Quotes from news articles outlining opposition to the purchase by University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers, a former NDP candidate, were also removed.

Wikipedia traced the alterations to three computers owned by Defence Research and Development Canada’s Ottawa offices. The online site has labelled the July 20-21 alterations as vandalism.

The attempts to change the web page, made during work hours, stopped when Wikipedia administrators locked down the entry on the Joint Strike Fighter, or JSF. That allowed only recognized editors to work on the page. That particular Wikipedia site is popular, with more than 78,000 page views in the first three weeks of July.
A DND spokesperson is characterizing the alterations tracked to DND computers as "freelancing."
“It sounds to me like someone was freelancing,” said Martin Champoux, DRDC’s manager of public affairs. “This is not behaviour we commonly condone.”
No, I'm sure they don't and will make sure it ceases. Here's one page on the F-35s with a Canada entry and the version of the page that may have been so altered as described above.

The Harper government has entered the online communications world, hiring a firm to monitor online discussion about the seal hunt, as a pilot project. There has been no word, however, on whether any online DND project exists in respect of the JSF.

Clearly what is described above is line crossing that shouldn't be happening. Any user with any degree of sophistication should have known that ham-handed attempts to manage the information would be caught-out. There have been enough incidents over the years of attempted self-interested management on Wikipedia that are quickly found out and corrected. So it's a little surprising in that respect for someone at DND to even attempt this information management.

Not to blow this up too much, because it just might be a few rogues involved but it should be said...DND employees taking shots at a political leader is also something that just shouldn't be happening. A United States General just resigned over such an incident. The military is subject to civilian leadership, no matter the stripe. It would be open to a new government to indeed review that JSF deal and make its own decision down the road.

In the meantime, the military spokesperson confirmed that they don't condone such activity, good enough and let's hope that's the end of it.

Oh, it's a controversial one all right...

Update: Here's a second version of Pugliese's report, more detailed and with additional reaction.

Update II: To be clear, the "good enough" remark above was not to suggest nothing should happen to the hijinks perpetrators. Just that the reporting made it clear that the military is reviewing the issue and what they are doing sounded "good enough" to me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Conservative astroturfing follow-up

As a follow-up to this post from yesterday morning, regarding this letter in response to this editorial, The Ottawa Citizen would like you to know...
Letter-writer Krystyna Rudko is the executive assistant to Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton. Rudko's letter, "No hidden agenda," was published on Tuesday in a Citizen package of letters about the long-form census.
Conservative astroturfing, ees confirmo. Thank you, Ottawa Citizen.

Next time, Conservative auteurs, you might want to ixnay on the awesomeness of the Prime Ministerial brain. Just sayin'.

Official languages census concession

The damage to official languages counting that the Conservatives' census change would have brought on looks to have been a breach too far for even these Harper Conservatives. Note from yesterday an apparent concession made by Tony Clement at the Industry Committee hearing:
Clement did tell the committee he was willing to compromise before the change comes into effect for the 2011 census, saying he's willing to include questions on official languages on the mandatory short census that were about to be part of the new volunteer long-from survey.
We'll see what they do to follow through (phrasing elsewhere:"government was determined to take into account the priorities of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages regarding the development and implementation of its policies, programs and services").

This apparent concession comes only after the Official Languages Commissioner has opened an investigation into the census change and after the initiation of a lawsuit by francophone groups concerned with the future of French government service delivery should francophone speakers no longer be counted properly. Here's a view that the lawsuit would have merit, quite possibly a view shared by Clement et al. given their bending on the issue:
The long-form census questionnaire provides data on knowledge of the two official languages that are essential to determine where the federal government must provide services in English and French, as required by the Official Languages Act and its regulations on services to the public. Those enactments have a quasi-constitutional character because they give effect to the official languages provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Without reliable data from the census, it would be impossible to determine which federal offices must provide bilingual services.

For this reason, a strong case can be made that the government decision to scrap the compulsory form is invalid and unconstitutional. Short of repealing the Official Languages Regulations, the Harper government could not have found a better way to preclude their proper application.

Louis Reynolds, Ottawa
It's just remarkable that they missed this, that they could have risked damaging this fundamental and foundational Canadian attribute. The chess master who takes pride in speaking French first at government appearances might have bungled it all with this tragically stupid census escapade. Who knows, he still might. We'll see what they do with the short form changes and whether they satisfy. Meanwhile, of course, all the other harm this census move will bring goes unaddressed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The case for a competitive process on the F-35s

For those interested in following the F-35 procurement story, one of the big issues that's arisen is clearly the question of whether or not the process has been appropriate here. This letter, written by a former senior Defence department procurement official, essentially makes the case for an open competition on the fighter jet purchase.

I'm not sure whether Senator Wallin would like me to refer to Williams, the author of the above letter, as a hawk or a dove. Let's just call him an owl, watching the process, ok?

In the U.S., seems they're having a bit of a debate over a competition on this plane too, but with respect to an alternate engine for the jet being produced. Reining in military spending is affecting whether that option survives.

About that cerebral approach to governance...

The big census showdown is today at the Industry Committee...Tony versus the world. A thrilla on the Hilla, and it's July at that.

Speaking of the ongoing great census war of summer 2010...there was a very forceful Ottawa Citizen editorial on the census Friday which was very much in opposition to the government's move. For example, its conclusion was this:
No one knows for sure why the Conservatives have surprised the country with this unexpected crusade. All we can say is that this government can no longer claim to be a pragmatic one, or even one looking out for Canada's best interests.
Pretty strong stuff. So today we see an equally forceful letter to the editor by one Krystyna Rudko of Ottawa defending the government's decision vigorously. My favourite part (you can go read the rest):
...the assertion of an "anti-intellectual" penchant flies in the face of endless stories about our prime minister's cerebral approaches to governance.
Yeah. Red flag. So we jump on the Google for a minute or two and we must ask: is this the same Krystyna Rudko employed by Conservative Senator Nicole Eaton and whose name appears on a Senate phone list? If indeed it is, it's not that such individuals can't write letters. As we have learned, it's the identification that's lacking and deprives the reader of a sense of how much weight should be accorded what's being said.

If this is the Senator's employee penning missives, might be an indication of how this is getting under the Conservatives' skin up there in Ottawa.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A few must reads for the day: fighter jets, the census...and theme parks

1. David Pugliese with some clarifications on the fighter jet announcement that Harper ministers made just over a week ago: "No contract means future government can cancel fighter deal." The contract doesn't need to be signed until 2013, meaning a review of the deal would indeed be possible, as is the Liberal position, should there be a change in government. As also noted in Pugliese's piece, the present contractual arrangement the Canadian government has with the JSF program provides for an out with minimal penalties, contrary to some of the talking going on out there:
That memorandum allows for a country to pull out of the agreement, with aerospace industry officials noting the penalties at this point would be small as Canada has yet to order aircraft.
Also of note, that last paragraph with its suggestion that the Canadian military may not be uniformly behind the purchase.

Sounds like the Conservatives' announcement may have been a political boost to the U.S. program which is perceived to be in trouble due to cost overruns which are in turn translating into countries having second thoughts about their purchase of these jets. Anyway, this report is welcome clarification of some of the terms and parameters we're dealing with on this issue and is worth a read.

2. Michael Valpy with more background on Harper's one-man census decision. Lots of interesting stuff there, where to start. First, the news that Harper decided in December to junk the mandatory long form census. In December. So he waited until Parliament was out of session, to avoid any, you know, opposition galvanizing in the seat of our government. Likely because he knew his decision was controversial. The change was made under cover of the G20 weekend, if I recall the history on this one correctly. And with this six month delay in implementing his decision, he's possibly jeopardized that anything could be done to save the mandatory long form census, given the lateness of the hour. So this timing issue is big, breeding distrust as it does.

There's also further itemization of the opposition within the government that Harper has overruled. Stats Canada officials told him "that important data would likely be lost or impaired as a result" of the decision. Also mention here of officials in the Privy Council Office objecting as well as senior finance department staff. Opposition to a political decision by bureaucrats is not a new phenomenon and is not necessarily determinative of an issue. Those voices should count, one would think, given their expertise and seniority. Not the case, apparently. So we see a picture here of internal opposition to this decision along with the many groups outside of government that are being completely dismissed. Yet one man's views do not a democracy make.

Also interesting there, the disclosure of a cabinet confidence. Valpy writes of a cabinet meeting "at least 18 months ago" where Maxime Bernier proposed "major cuts" to Statistics Canada and Harper was on board. Kevin Lynch, the clerk of the Privy Council was not, however, and the cuts weren't implemented then, clearly. I think this timing is wrong, as a side note, Bernier wasn't in cabinet 18 months ago, he resigned in May of 2008. So, even if it's true that Bernier made the suggestion & Harper was on board, in some venue (caucus?), it would make the point that this census axing may have been a long time coming. If the mulling of cuts to Stats Canada was going on 18 months ago, that would have been at the time of the January 2009 crisis budget, clearly not an opportune time to be going all ideological in the budget. But maybe they were thinking about it in the background. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose with these people and all that.

This is Harper, with a contempt for Parliament, a penchant for secrecy and an unwillingness to listen. This issue has got it all.

3. Oh, and then there's Presto with a capital idea, pardon the pun. Just go. I laughed and I laughed...

4. Finally, BCL reads & debunks the Neil Reynolds piece in the Globe so you don't have to. You're welcome.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Netroots Nation 2010 this weekend



That's MSNBC's Ed Schultz in a brief excerpt of his opening address to the Netroots Nation conference going on in Las Vegas this weekend. It's an annual gathering of progressive bloggers from across the U.S.. Schultz hits a few interesting notes that resonate for us, not so much the Fox News stuff but his rallying cry is getting a little more appropriate for us these days.

Here's the programme for the weekend, as you can see, it's fairly massive. Speakers today include Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren, Alan Grayson and Al Franken is closing it off tonight (starts at 9:15 EST, video link or try links at this page).

The focus of the weekend is pretty varied, lots to choose from. There are the blogging oriented panels ("Muckraking 101: Online Investigative Tools" with Joe Conason sounded pretty cool). There are also plenty of meet-up and organizing opportunities, with state and group caucuses meeting throughout the weekend. There are the substantive issue panels (tried watching a bit of the Marcy Wheeler/Jerrold Nadler panel on Gitmo but they seemed to be bickering & not accomplishing a heck of a lot, although it could have just been the part I saw). Running through it all, a real connection to achieving change where it counts, connecting the online world to real political races.

Here's more video addressed to the netroots, President Obama addressing the conference directly (thanking Nancy Pelosi at the beginning). Smartly deploying video of progressive hero Rachel Maddow at 1:15 too:



"Change doesn't come from the top down. It comes from the bottom up. It comes from the netroots, the grassroots..." The Obama hope machine tries to push on, looking for support in the upcoming midterms.

One more, the most tweeted parts of Friday's conference laid out in video:



Always interesting to see what's going on in the U.S. Man, we're pikers.

Old whatshisname weighs in on the census

You know, that guy Shelly Glover has never heard of before, playing Conservative with a conscience:
Tom Flanagan, a former chief of staff to Harper who has a long history with the Reform, Canadian Alliance and Conservative parties, is among those puzzled by the government's motivation behind the census decision.

"It's just never been an issue in the Conservative movement," he said in an interview. "It just literally comes out of nowhere as far as I can see."

Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said while some of the privacy concerns may be legitimate, the way the Conservatives have handled this is completely misguided.

"I think it was an exercise in bad government to suddenly spring this on the public without any previous discussion, no consultation at all," he said. "You don't deal with the public that way in a democracy."
...
Flanagan and others predict the Conservatives will alienate more supporters than they will appease with this decision.

"They are alienating a lot of people who have supported the government and would like to continue supporting the government, people who are fundamentally Conservatives but see this as just bad government," said Flanagan. "It's not clear to me what they're going to pick up from this politically and they're irritating a lot of people who would like to be their friends."
Flanagan has played contrarian from time to time with Conservative moves but any little bit of Conservative opposition might help turn this decision around. Could be an interesting week on that front, Flanagan's view comes on the heels of an Andre Pratte editorial calling for cabinet members to stand up to Mr. Harper. Someone who might be able to help the cause along might be this guy. Assuming all that science guy talk actually means something, that is. Well, never say never, right?

As this piece indicates, some are saying it's getting late in the day for the decision to be reversed in order for the long form to be made mandatory again in preparation for next year's census. All the more reason to encourage Conservative voices to stand and be counted now (pardon the pun).

Trouble in Simcoe-Grey

Word out of Simcoe-Grey last night courtesy of CTV (video) that Helena Guergis is expressing a firm intent to run as an independent in that riding should she not be permitted to run again as a Conservative.
"My name will be on the ballot."
How that will play out in an election is anyone's guess but a split vote among the right-spectrum of candidates could help Liberal chances in the riding in particular. Could be just like old times.

Second point here, this word from the backrooms of the Conservative brain trust that is being fed to reporters to the effect that Guergis should concentrate on her personal life at this point in time seems entirely patronizing (Fife report on Thursday night and last night's Hamamdjian report too). If you watch the report from last night, you'll see that Guergis is clearly pregnant. Now if she chooses to pursue her political career at the same time, and she is still a sitting MP after all, this Conservative line risks making them look quite bad. Sure, there is still an Ethics investigation open on Guergis and that may yet prove to be an obstacle for her. But why the Conservatives have decided to additionally go down the road of dealing out the father knows best stuff is beyond even this frequent Guergis critic.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday night



Dedicated to the Minister of Disgraceful Jigs. An existential pondering for him (and maybe for the rest of us too).

By the way, have been pretty much out of commission all week. A fateful, subtle reach into an evil, evil deep cupboard in my kitchen led me to throw out my back on Tuesday night. The majority of the week since then has been comprised of icing & muscle relaxants. From devastating pain on Wednesday to today's onset of recovery and ability to actually sit at my computer chair for the first time all week...the human body is a miraculous thing. First back pain in years, a very rude awakening and reminder to do those ab/back exercises with my brand new gym mat that has languished in a corner for over a month and to my great regret all week long. Running alone does not a healthy core make, at least for this individual.

Hopefully blogging to resume in a semi-normal fashion sometime soon. Have been surveying the wreckage of Canadian politics throughout the afternoon to get back on track/inspired. Blasted wreckage that it is...but with some bright spots too.

Have a good night...:)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Halted for teabaggers?

This op-ed piece in Le Devoir today (translation) seems to make some sense with the rationale it offers for the Harper government's decision to cancel the mandatory long form census. The author suggests that the driving force behind the decision would have been the recent American census experience, where the teabagger crowd and Republican right wing pols, media and citizens objected to the intrusiveness of the census and publicly agitated for people not to fill it out. The theory is that Harper et al. feared that the same thing might happen here, that there could be a similar public campaign waged against the census. So, sensing that this American precedent might move north, the Harper brain trust decided to make a pre-emptive move. Just cancel the mandatory long form census, make it voluntary instead and increase the sample size. This pre-empted the need, were a U.S. style teabagger anti-census movement to spring up, for a Conservative government to have to enforce census participation and against those who are inclined to vote Conservative. Problem avoided.

This has a ring of truth to it. There is the echo of the chess master being too clever by half in making a decision by picking over such events and not seeing the Canadian backlash that might ensue. That this government would be so influenced by American goings on rather than the Canadian census experience that has been peaceful, without significant privacy complaints or uproar, also seems to be quite plausible.

But, as is suggested by the piece, it's perhaps turning out that the backlash, where group after group is rising up to oppose the government's census change, is leading to a convenient polarization that suits Harper's wedge politics in any event. The political opposition lines up reinforcing a commitment to a mandatory long form. They're becoming the baddies in the eyes of any census resenters, not Harper. And the Conservatives are now seizing the moment to reinforce that dynamic with op-eds like this one from Tony Clement.

Maybe. At the moment it certainly doesn't seem like the issue is necessarily going to pay off in Harper's political interests given the voices speaking out against the move. There seems to be a serious level of discontent in the air that's growing.

An interesting theory, that's for sure, especially for what it might say about the influences driving the decider-in-chief.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Canada, bucking the trends

Tony Clement's abroad today, speaking at the big Farnborough International Airshow, promoting Canada's aerospace industry, all fine. And timely given the Friday announcement of Canada's purchase of F35s from Lockheed Martin to the tune of $9 billion plus. Here's a weekend analysis in the New York Times of the show and the economic undercurrents driving the international aerospace industry. Some highlights:
...for those who supply the world’s militaries, the environment has grown decidedly more challenging, with governments in the United States and Europe preparing sharp cuts in military spending as they seek to rein in ballooning budget deficits.

Some analysts have begun to describe the downsizing of Western military budgets as the “new normal,” a trend that may have manufacturers looking to export more to emerging markets or to branch out into areas like space, security and civil nuclear businesses.
...
The British Treasury Department asked Defense Minister Liam Fox this month for proposals to cut 10 percent to 20 percent from his $16 billion budget over the next four years. The German defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, said he was looking for long-term budget savings of about €1 billion, or $1.29 billion, a year. France is also looking at cuts of more than €3 billion between 2011 and 2013.
...
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is another troubled plane that will most likely face order reductions, analysts say. Its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, is in negotiations to cut the price of some of the 2,457 planes it has contracted to build for the U.S. Defense Department over the next 25 years.

The plane is more than two years late in development and 64 percent over budget. Eight other nations, including Britain, Italy and the Netherlands, have invested in developing the F-35, but some have recently wavered in their commitment to ordering the plane.

“I don’t believe any major program will be canceled, but they will probably be stretched” over a longer period of time, Mr. Lasou of Accenture said.

As military budgets shrink, competition among manufacturers for new contracts will continue to grow more intense and in some cases more acrimonious, analysts say.
Lucky Canada seems to be avoiding the need for competition among manufacturers and is sending a high profile international signal that it doesn't have any concerns over the F-35's production. Clement's probably a pretty popular guy over there right about now.

Mr. Bernier, you are no Pierre Trudeau



"There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." 43 years ago, Trudeau made that courageous statement about decriminalizing homosexual acts in Canada. That was a genuine leadership moment in Canadian political history, a line remembered even today which captures succinctly the spirit of what progressive Canada is all about. Not intruding on people's personal relationships behind closed doors, supporting equality for all.

To poach that statement, as backbencher Maxime Bernier did yesterday, in support of the government's almost universally condemned axing of the mandatory long census, just says so much.

Shameless unoriginality, of course, which allows for the most unfortunate of comparisons to be made between Trudeau and Bernier. To demonstrate so clearly how small some of our politicians are these days, how they just don't measure up to such raw charisma and intellect. Trudeau dared to say - and do - something hard, to fight for a minority's equality rights as he did, 43 years ago. Bernier is hardly doing anything hard or heroic. He's fighting for the right not to say how many bedrooms you have in your house. That's just boring and is not worth the damage this census move will cause.

What Bernier really meant is not what Trudeau said, that "there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation." No, what Bernier really should have said is this: "there is no place for the state in the nation." Be original Conservatives, have the courage of your convictions.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

PBS News Hour video report on our new $16 billion F-35 jet fighters

Here's a report from PBS' News Hour on the F-35 fighter jet that the Harper government announced yesterday that we would be buying at a cost of $9 billion ($16 billion with servicing is the widely reported total cost estimate). This report, "Pentagon's F-35 Fighter Under Fire in Congress," aired on April 21, 2010, just 3 months ago and raises a number of serious questions about our purchase of this jet. It's described as a "complicated aircraft," its project manager was fired by the Pentagon in February of this year. It's a jet that one critic here says may never be affordable and should be cancelled.



Granted, it's just one report but the need for Canada to have at least gone through a competitive bidding process and canvassed other options becomes much more apparent after watching it. It certainly provides helpful context for the statements made by the Harper ministers at the announcement yesterday, from MacKay's bold reassurance that the F-35's single engine won't fail, to his statement that this is the best aircraft for our men and women in uniform and to Ambrose's understandable reluctance to say how much these jets will ultimately cost.

Note that the Harper government's announcement is being played in the Washington Post as a timely lifeline for Lockheed Martin's F-35 programme amidst the cost overruns and when some allies are hedging on buying these jets.

Transcript for the PBS video is here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Friday night



More Muse from Glastonbury, why not? Rock stahs! Uprising for a bit of an uprising tomorrow...:)

Happy untendered $16 billion jet fighter contract day

It's fighter jet day, Canada! On a lazy Friday in July, the Conservatives are set to announce the historic and behemoth sized purchase of 65 fighter jets at a cost of $16 billion in total for the jets and their servicing. A few things to keep in mind as you watch the big showy reveal up there in Ottawa in the hangar...

This announcement is taking place beyond the parliamentary session and taking the form of an untendered contract. Peter MacKay's spokesthingy's latest spin, however, would have you believe this was a competitive process. But that's not the case:
In May, MacKay announced in the Commons that Canada would buy the Joint Strike Fighter. He later backtracked, stating that a competition for a new aircraft would be held. That position, however, was also undercut a day later by the Defence Department, which stated that no decision on whether a competition would be held had yet been made.
This is a sole-sourced contract, despite Conservative confusion and present spin. The calls to have the Conservatives appear before a parliamentary committee to explain this unchecked expenditure are completely appropriate. $16 billion deserves a review.

The New York Times report today also makes a few points that raise some pretty simple questions for us on these jets:
Canada’s air force rarely flies combat missions, arguably making some of the F-35’s advanced features, like radar-evading stealth, seem like frills.

Unlike the twin-engine CF-18, the F-35 has only one engine. Its failure could leave pilots exposed to the harsh Arctic environment as they await rescue. (emphasis added)
That first point is kind of important and getting lost here. It underscores the need to review this purchase, to say the least. So does the second one about the one engine jet model. So our politicians shouldn't be afraid to take on the conventional wisdom machismo the Conservatives are roiling up here and ask hard questions. The onus is on the government to justify this historic, luxurious purchase.

The Times article also suggests that we (along with other allies) may be becoming entwined with an American military project with significant cost overruns. Lockheed Martin is under pressure to reduce the production costs of the jet by the Pentagon. This Conservative announcement today is seen as a boon to the programme. So what is going on? Is this a decision best for Canada's military (and other) needs or is it best for the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin and the U.S.?

We might also hear the Conservatives playing up the point that a Liberal government got Canada into this fighter jet programme initially, so they can inoculate themselves, but...
The F-35s are the product of the Joint Strike Fighter program launched in the 1990s by the United States and eight other nations, including Canada; the Liberal government of the day signed on to the development program, but didn’t commit to buying the planes.
There are lots of questions about the process and the substance here, it's perfectly reasonable for Liberals to say they'd take a hard look at this contract if they form the next government and in the meantime demand explanations be made to Parliament. It would be negligent not to push the government on this $16 billion commitment when the Conservatives are simultaneously musing about cuts to the Veterans Affairs department and looking to slash other parts of government. Conservatives can't have it both ways.

And just remember, as you watch the big "reveal" in that hangar in Ottawa today ("The unveiling will also include a mockup of the F-35 Lightning II"), "Canada’s air force rarely flies combat missions."

Update: See Jeffrey Simpson with big questions on this purchase today as well.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Harper's one-man census decision

Haroon Siddiqui has the read of the day, with fascinating information on Harper's controversial decision to dial back the census. Oh yes, you knew that was coming. Two points from the piece...

First, sources are saying this decision has been driven by Harper's disdain for StatsCan and the analytical work that it does. Why? Because it provides a factual basis to oppose the government:
“Harper does not like StatsCan, that’s what we kept hearing,” according to a longtime employee of the agency. “In particular, he does not like the analytical work we’ve done for years.” The Prime Minister thinks of it as fodder for critics.

Sure enough, it’s the analytical work that he has been decimating. Gone, truncated or privatized are surveys that kept track of pensions and benefits at our places of work; the proportion of our incomes going to housing, vacation, medical expenses to see how well or badly we all were doing; the level of inequality among Canadians; the economic integration of immigrants; and how people with physical and mental disabilities were coping.

“When these surveys were being cut back, the concerned federal departments were told not to comment on how that might muck up their work,” said the source. “They were told to shut up. The message had come from the top.”
That seems to fit the pattern with this secretive government.

Second, the more interesting part of Siddiqui's piece is the finger pointing at Harper that's emerging now in the face of the tremendous widespread opposition to the decision:
Another source said that Clement had, in fact, advised against the decision, as had Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. Both were overruled. “It was a one-man decision,” Harper’s.

“The PMO thought nobody would care,” added the source. But now, it’s said to be stunned by the range and depth of the backlash, from right across the political spectrum.
Caution! Ministers jumping overboard! What's he going to do now? Siddiqui wonders if Harper will dig in and pay a political price or whether he'll reverse the decision. Now that the spotlight turns toward him courtesy of these internal sources and away from Clement, we'll see.

Also worth a look on the census issue from yesterday, here was MP Marc Garneau speaking forcefully on the issue in a short video that hits some of the key points.

The bright side of ambushes

This stuff, to me, is not the big story today (next blog post) but for what it's worth...

Jim Travers has a column today on some alleged U of T exit plan for Ignatieff, an academic refuge should things not work out electorally. Travers writes that any "overtures were informal."

It's being immediately denied:
"It is complete bullsh--," a senior Ignatieff advisor told QMI Agency.
So, this is a summer trial run, an election style campaign, right? This is the kind of thing to expect from all sides, internal and external, during the real deal. The denial was fast and firm, not something that's happened consistently of late and exactly what needed to be done (the NDP-Lib coalition thing festered for a bit before being denounced by the leader's office).

You can very well imagine that someone (or two) from U of T might have reached out to Ignatieff to give him an out. It's no big secret that it hasn't been all smooth sailing for Ignatieff. But the question then is...so what? Do we think no one has mentioned a corporate board seat to Stephen Harper, informally of course, after he's through as PM (he sure is doing yeoman's work for those banks, wink, wink)? Or suggested some other opportunity, at a think tank, for example, be it American or Canadian, informally of course. These things happen.

Best to go through these things in a trial run and the immediate firm response rings true.

Splitting the national securities regulator: part II

A follow-up here on the big, juicy national securities regulator story. OK, maybe not so exciting. But a fascinating little political power struggle lies within the issue, which is why we are interested. That struggle that is being fed by the Harper government is on the issue of where the new head office of the Canadian Securities Regulatory Authority (CSRA) should be.

A Globe editorial weighed in yesterday on that issue. They view the planned splitting of the regulator's offices across the country as just not on:
The rest of Canada – beyond Bay Street, that is – will not be deceived by the tokenistic gestures of a securities commission with no physical centre. The CSRA should have an avowed head office in Toronto.
A university centre has also released a new study on the national securities regulator, they support putting the regulator in Toronto:
In the wake of a blueprint for the new regulator released Tuesday by the Canadian Securities Transition Office, which dodged the question of a head office locale, the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance weighed in with a new study.

The 13-page report concluded “that in order to deliver the full benefits of a national regulator, regulatory authority and capacity should be concentrated in a ‘legitimate’ head office in Toronto, where market activity is concentrated.”
And here's the Star:

In summary, the proposed “national” regulator might not be much better than what we have today. “The federal government has opted to allow regional politics to trump good policy,” says Josh Hjartarson of the University of Toronto’s Mowat Centre.

Ottawa needs to take this plan back to the drawing board to create a more robust regulator with a real head office, preferably in Toronto.

And the Sun:
Obviously, the logical place is Toronto, the financial capital of Canada, home of the country’s largest stock market and the third largest in North America, after New York and Chicago. [...]

This is as dumb as a bag of hammers, since the whole idea is to have one national regulator instead of the existing 13 provincial and territorial ones.

Scrapping those offices and then creating up to 13 new regional offices representing a national regulator, would defeat the whole purpose of having one regulator. It would be a purely political decision and an utterly absurd one.
Probably not the last in coming months who will support the same position.

As Benzie's report notes and as we might well imagine with this federal government, Stephen Harper may be the force driving this present reluctance to just do the obvious thing here:
"...Prime Minister Stephen Harper, born and raised in Toronto, told the Commons in May that “as an Albertan, I have no interest in seeing this sector centralized in Toronto.”"
It's understandable that provinces would vie for a head office to be located in their province, that's what they do, premiers are responsible for one territory under their jurisdiction. But it's not understandable when a PM acts like he's got provincial geographical turf to protect. Particularly in a case that's not really close, where there is a clear national choice based on objective facts ("...Toronto, the nation’s financial capital and the third largest banking centre in North America, behind New York and Chicago...").

Even if you give the federal government the benefit of the doubt here and consider that they might be reluctant to choose a head office at this point given that there is a Supreme Court of Canada reference case coming, that they might be holding off until after that occurs...that just doesn't make sense. Alberta and Quebec are going to oppose the federal government's single regulator plan anyway. Besides, Harper certainly doesn't sound like he's just holding off on a choice of a head office, his words say he's decided that it won't be in Toronto. And his planners have proceeded with a blueprint that's giving effect to those words.

This looks like the beginning of a mess that really doesn't need to be, if this government just had it in them to make decisions based on the clear facts before them.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Help wanted at Conservative HQ

Job opportunity alert for denizens of the Ottawa region! Conservative HQ is looking for a "Customer Service Officer." Preston Manning would be so proud, members are now quaintly being categorized as "customers." The grassroots feel of it all is overwhelming! It's all so...commercial!
Position Title: Customer Service Officer
Department: Administration
Position FTE: Full-Time, Permanent Employee
Reporting Structure: Reports to:Manager, Membership Services

Summary:

The Customer Service Officer is responsible for providing communications support to advance the principles and policies of the Conservative Party of Canada. The Customer Service Officer will provide the highest level of customer service to those calling from Electoral District Associations, donors, members, and the inquiring public in a timely and professional manner.

Duties and Responsibilities:

* Responds to requests by phone on routine issues in accordance with procedures and scripts provided.
* Composes routine correspondence in response to written and electronic communications.
* Tracks and reports significant issues from Party members, donors and the inquiring public.
* Ability to independently complete daily tasks including but not limited to the compilation of letters, printing of tax receipts and membership cards, and data cleaning processes.
* Updates donor and membership database as required.
* Meets productivity standards as determined by the Manager.
* Records the night service message on the main line and toll-free line.
* Other duties and projects as assigned.

Knowledge, Skills, And Abilities Required:

* Ability to communicate fluently and persuasively in French and English with the ability to write clearly and concisely in both English and French
* Excellent customer service skills - you are positive, professional, courteous and service-oriented
* Possesses strong investigative and problem-solving skills with the ability to follow a problem through to its conclusion
* Ability to clarify inquires, research issues and respond accordingly
* Must be a team player and have the ability to establish effective interpersonal relationships
* Must be familiar with the Canadian federal political system and the principles, policies and culture of the Conservative Party of Canada
* Must demonstrate the ability to multi task in a fast-paced environment
* Self-starter and takes initiative (hands on style)
* Exercises sound professional judgment
Must be able to read the scripts! Must be familiar with the "culture of the Conservative Party of Canada!" Interesting interview questions on that one, I'll bet! At least they didn't farm it out overseas, that would be something. Maybe down the road.



(h/t a little birdie)

Poll-a-palooza

Well this is interesting. Apparently CBC is reporting other polls beyond Ekos now? If they are, good development. The emphasis on a given pollster per media outlet is really bad practice and I wish they'd all get away from it. Anyway, the goods today are from Environics and they show a closer race than we've seen in other polls of late:

Cons 35, Libs 32, NDP 15, Greens 6.

So how 'bout that 3 point spread? As the report notes, others have a wider spread between the Conservatives and Liberals but it notes the methodological differences too. Who knows what's at play and these polls will yet make us all batty. Taken from July 5-8, the big items in the news would have been the end of the Queen's visit and the aftermath of the G20.

Might as well throw it on the barbie and fire up that bus, BCL says the big mo is with the Liberals and I'm ok with that.

Census move ticks off Manitoba Francophones

A follow-up to yesterday's post on the census changes and the possible impact on the federal government's commitment to bilingual services:
The federal government's decision to scrap the mandatory long census form for the 2011 census and replace it with a voluntary national household survey isn't sitting well with Manitoba's Francophone community.

Francophone leaders said Tuesday that they fear the new, voluntary system won't accurately track how many non-English speaking people there are in the country.

As a result, government programming and policy may be impacted, Daniel Boucher, President and Executive Director of the Société franco-manitobaine, said.

"You don't just fiddle with that kind of stuff – you can cut a bunch of other things that don't reflect our values or who we are," he said.

West of Quebec, Manitoba has Canada's largest number of French-speaking people. Boucher said adding bilingual services provided by the federal government could be cut if all people who speak French aren't properly tallied.

"In terms of the last census, there were 47,000 Francophones in Manitoba who were identified … but the statistic that would be left out [is] there are over 100,000 people in Manitoba that speak both French and English," Boucher said.
That emphasized quote is the key on this aspect of the census change to me. Can't you just hear the issue going right to the heart of a key part of Canadian identity in those words. There's a fear of abandonment coming through toward the federal government. Clement's statement released late yesterday briefly touched on the language issue:
"The census and the NHS will continue to supply data reflective of the attitudes and opinions of Canadians for the use of governments and public policy-makers. The census and NHS will also continue to respect the government's commitment to official languages. For these reasons, the government believes the NHS is a more appropriate survey and will not be revisiting the issue of the old long form.
How that commitment to official languages will be kept if the "...short census form, which will remain mandatory, does not feature questions about knowledge or use of official languages in households," is unanswered by Clement's statement.

This seems like a sleeper issue with great potential to grow.

Beyond the language issue, you have to wonder how many groups, such as those represented at that press conference yesterday, this government has contemplated it can safely offend without starting to lose seats. I mean, don't these groups all have mailing lists and stuff?

One other point on this today, the Harper government's father-knows-best governance ignored a panel that should have been consulted and that might have stopped this train wreck of a decision (from preceding link):
Don Drummond, former chief economist for TD Bank and a member of the National Statistics Council, Statistics Canada's national advisory body, said these changes to the 2011 census will leave Canada "in a fog" for years to come.

"You would think as an advisory panel, this would be the kind of thing you'd give advice on," he said of the fact that the council was not consulted on the change. "We were not aware of it; we were only informed of it two days before the decision was announced."
You would think being the operative words there.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The great bus incident of summer 2010

This was too bad but c'est la vie, from a CP report tonight: "Ignatieff's Liberal Express bus breaks down." Good line from Ignatieff to add some humour to the night:
"We had a little bump in the road near Hawkesbury," Ignatieff told the supporters. "There's a little rumour circulating that Stephen Harper was seen stealing away in the night with motor oil on his hands."
The report goes on to remind us of bus incidents in the past that have become metaphors for failed campaigns, Duceppe & McGuinty are cited. OK. But this is not 1997 or 1999. This is the new media era of 2010 with a 24/7 news cycle that's on speed. Give it a few days of decent events and the bus incident will be in the rear view mirror like ancient history.

Ignatieff seems to be in a good mood, having fun so what more do you want out of this? Make some gaffes, get it out of the way during the hazy days of summer. Ramp up for the real run, ignore the naysayers who are aplenty. They're not the target. People like this are:
Lucille Pichet, a Liberal from Embrun, Ont., said she had come to support the local candidate, but also to get a closer look at Ignatieff. She took about a dozen photos on her cellphone as he walked by.

"I think he's a very good person. It's fun to see him in the flesh, in jeans, he looks younger than on TV," said Duval. "He's dynamic. I think he's more open than Mr. Harper, and more transparent leader too."

Janine Duval, also from Embrun, Ont., acknowledged that Ignatieff had a tough road ahead if he wanted to become prime minister.

"There's always a chance, I would never say never. You have to be positive to be in this game, and if he wasn't positive he wouldn't have gotten into it."
The curious voters who want a look. Who have an open mind. There just might be some of those left out there.

The census mistake & bilingualism

This development yesterday may take the Harper government into a whole new world of trouble on their census decision, beyond the growing chorus of voices opposing the government's short-sightedness: "Languages watchdog launches census investigation."
Canada's languages watchdog launched an investigation Monday into the axing of the mandatory long census form, fearing the impact of the change on the country's English and French minority communities.

Graham Fraser, commissioner of official languages, said he would examine whether the government respected its obligations under the Official Languages Act when it made the decision late last month. The mandatory long census form is being replaced with a voluntary survey next year.

Critics from a wide range of sectors say the voluntary survey will not be a reliable source of detailed data because certain groups are unlikely to respond, creating a strong bias in the statistics.

"This credible national source of data has been a critical tool for the government to assess the vitality of official language communities," Fraser said in a statement.

"Federal departments and agencies, along with the communities themselves, have used this information to evaluate how they have evolved and determine where services need to be provided in the language of the minority community."

The Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities had filed a complaint with Fraser's office about the census change. It noted that the short census form, which will remain mandatory, does not feature questions about knowledge or use of official languages in households.
Removing the ability to keep track of the numbers in "official language communities" could hamper the government's ability to serve those communities. It's not a stretch then to consider that a by-product of this census move could be to undermine the federal government's commitment to official bilingualism. It's hard to imagine that this was an issue the Harper government wanted to open up, with all its potent symbolism. But they may well be doing so.

More GG-palooza

Bit of a delay on this one from me but it's worth noting...this has to be one of the most defensive sounding government statements in recent memory, it really stands out, from the PMO yesterday: "Governor General Consultation Committee." Consider the first three lines:
There has never been a robust consultation process on the appointment of a Governor General. Past consultations have been ad hoc and perfunctory.

Recognizing the significant role the Governor General fills as the Crown’s representative in Canada, Prime Minister Harper appointed an expert advisory committee to lead an unprecedented national consultation effort.
Overstate much about one's own efforts? Who says there's never been a robust consultation process in the past? Maybe never formally documented and trumpeted by defensive press release the way this one was, but on what authority do they say this?

The release of the above statement by the Prime Minister's Office on Monday (posted online Monday) and not in conjunction with last week's announcement is an oddity which underscores the defensiveness of it all. Especially when they really didn't have to be so defensive. There were a few columnists taking shots but the majority of reaction has been positive. The issuing of that statement suggests a jumpiness, a sensitivity on the PMO's part that's noticeable and surprising. They seem kind of worried.

For more context on what may be driving the PMO's jumpiness, Travers' column today is a good read.

Splitting the national securities regulator

That special brand of national leadership failure is on display again from the Harper Conservatives. They can't make a decision on where the office should be for a new federal securities regulator, the one who would be taking the place of all the provincial securities commissions, so they're hatching more patented excellent Conservative strategery: "Ottawa's new securities pitch: One watchdog, several offices." Brilliant. Many offices, spread 'em around. Two to begin, one in Toronto, one in Vancouver, with more offices to come as other provinces sign on. What nonsense. For cost reasons alone there should be one office. Remember, cost? Deficit? And the obvious location is the financial capital of the country. Furthermore:
The plan drafted by Mr. Hyndman’s Canadian Securities Transition Office raises questions about the power structure for the proposed regulator, which on the face of it appears to defeat the purpose of having a single regulator by dispersing decision-making authority in different offices.
Improved enforcement is supposed to be another goal of the national regulator, the dispersed decision-making isn't going to help that cause either.

They really seem to be big on these King Solomon "splitting the baby" decisions these days, at great cost to the nation. And sometimes national enterprises seem to be truly anathema to them. But here they need to pick an office and stick with it. That means sucking it up and picking Toronto.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tory times are malleable times

That's a riff on the old line, "Tory times are tough times." Turns out these days, Tory times are whatever the Tory brain trust needs them to be. Found these two items in the news over the past 24 hours to be an interesting illustration of the Conservative government's present messaging being all over the map. It's really quite confusing. Are we in tough times, requiring austerity measures, as the Prime Minister is lecturing the world and occasionally us at home given the size of our deficit? Or are we in major purchasing times, budget be damned, where a fleet of elite fighter jets can be purchased from Lockheed Martin at the drop of a hat? Which is it? So let's take a look.

On the one hand, it's so sorry, seniors!
Broad increases to seniors benefits such as the GIS or Old Age Security (OAS) are not on the drawing board however, Ablonczy said.

That's because poverty among seniors has declined dramatically in the past 20 years, and because raising the GIS or OAS is very expensive.

"It's an issue that has a lot of fiscal consequences at a time when, as you know, fiscal resources are under strain."
OAS benefits are increasing at negligible rates.

But on the other hand, it's hello, military!
Department of National Defence officials are preparing for an announcement next Friday on a new fighter aircraft, a project estimated to cost $16 billion.

Sources say since the purchase and its price tag are seen as potentially controversial, the government planned the announcement when Parliament wasn't sitting and public interest would be at its lowest because of summer holidays.
A clear illustration of the priorities these Conservatives have and the conflicting messages they're sending.

Maybe Liberals should consider proposing a rise in OAS benefits and a re-assessment of such Conservative choices. You know, in case that old election rolls around in the next 6 months or so. I don't know if it's a "Zero helicopter, Chretien" moment, but this could be something to look at. Why we need 65 elite "Cadillac" fighter jets at the moment, instead of say 25, or 15, or a gradual phase-in, or none at the moment given that our current fleet of CF-18s just received almost $3 billion in spending, is a question to consider.

P.S. Consider use of "Tory" above as a one-off, just due to the old slogan. They are not Tory. They are now Conservative and there is a big difference.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Governor General appointment follow up

One of the simplest and most interesting comments among all the Johnston Governor General appointment coverage comes in this context:
The position of governor-general has evolved greatly after more than six years of turbulent minority Parliaments. Mr. Johnston’s legal background may soon be put to use, if the next Parliament is as hung as the present one is.

“The government is very fortunate that he would want” the post, said Peter Hogg, one of Canada’s leading constitutional scholars.
Said one of those who advised Governor General Michaelle Jean when Harper came looking to prorogue during his controversial December 2008 request and who is intimately familiar with the bind in which this Prime Minister might place a Governor General. The Governor Generalship is now a position holding risk for any accomplished person who might be sought out for it. Makes you think about how our institutions are evolving these days, to contemplate what used to be historic scenarios. If there were a cooperative parliament functioning, I don't think the Peter Hoggs of the world would be making remarks like that.

Or maybe Hogg was just speaking to Johnston's qualifications. Whatever the case, it made this reader laugh out loud.

Also interesting, from this Globe editorial:
Mr. Harper, who has been widely and justly criticized for misusing the royal prerogative powers around prorogation, approached the appointment of the next governor-general with both rigour and evident respect for the office.
...
The dignified selection process, and the resulting appointment, which takes effect with Mr. Johnston's installation on Oct. 1, are worthy of the office of Governor-General.
While he does get credit for this appointment, there is also a hint here that he might be attempting to correct or make up for what he may be judged very poorly for in history, his two controversial prorogation requests to the Governor General, the 2008 one in particular. But that's all done and they'll be judged on their own facts.

Whether Harper's display of "evident respect for the office" through this appointment and process means anything for tight parliamentary spots in our near future, we'll see.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

G20: "A lot got broken here"

A good column on the G20, raising the role of the RCMP to the fore among other mostly astute observations of where we are now:
So many sources are telling me the RCMP were largely at the helm which, if true, means a federal investigation or inquiry is what is needed — something with the power to subpoena and interview the brass of all of the police services involved, deal with all of the public complaints and hear the individual front-line officers’ point of view, as well.

It would be nice to know, even if it’s muted for investigative reasons, if there was a master play book somewhere with a strategy that states police would avoid appearing aggressive in dealing with the Black Bloc by standing down during their crime spree, but then later try to catch them with video evidence and intelligence?

It did seem like much of Toronto was put into a virtual street line up with coppers at some control centre looking at images from special eye-in-the-sky cameras.

If so, an inquiry could introduce to the public a new style of policing for protests or major events or show what can happen to policing if you let the politically correct politicians control it?

While it’s not right to pile on here it’s also important to note that things should not go back to business as usual, either. A lot got broken here. It’s not just breaches of the peace at play but breaches of trust.

There are questions that need answers.

However, the pressure of “you are with us or against us” is wild. It’s human nature at work but more important than covering one’s butt is that fair-minded, neutral leaders take a hard look at all that has happened to make sure there are lessons learned in a free country.

Unless somebody has changed the rules without telling us, it’s the Canadian way.
Well said, especially the latter part, tapping into the unsettled state of affairs that's in need of resolution and leadership.

Ekos returns

Feel a little bit better about the Ekos poll after reading Kady O'Malley's breakdown of the two weeks of numbers. Week one just before the G20 and through its end plus a few days (June 22-29) had the Cons at 30.6, Libs at 26.2. It's the next week, June 30-July 6, that sees a swing where the Con lead goes to 34.4 to Libs at 23.9. Whether this is the Queen's visit and its halo rubbing off on the Conservatives or a G20 effect, I'm sure everyone has their own opinions. No other party's national numbers really seem to be moving, thus the focus here on the Cons and Libs.

Notably, the numbers in Ontario offer quite a swing too, over those two weeks which you can read at the above (second) link.

Not great kids but at least the two week look gives it a bit of perspective and suggests some volatility.

Tell us more, Mr. Science

First up on the science file, let's go way back with Tony Clement to January, 2008:
“She got it wrong,” Mr. Clement told reporters, defending the government’s decision to fire Ms. Keen for not putting medical isotope production ahead of installing backup pumps to protect against potential radioactive leaks in the event of an earthquake.

“When you balance the health and safety of Canadians versus the possibility of an earthquake never seen in the Ottawa Valley in human history, she got it wrong.”
Yeah, about that human history thing...you knew this was coming:

(Source)

Plus Clement was just way off there, even in January of 2008 there had been two recent earthquakes in December in the Chalk River area and it's a known seismic area. Anyway, this is the ministerial stuff we have to run such files.

Second item here...AECL's privatization is still on the government's agenda at the moment, rolled up in that budget legislation that's in the Senate now, which it really shouldn't be. A prudent government would have separate legislation devoted to such a major sale of a Canadian crown corporation. But not this one. In the minority government situation in which we find ourselves where it's either election or vote down the budget bill, it's the budget bill that's going to pass.

Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis testified before a Senate committee yesterday, confirming that yes, a 100% sale of the crown corporation could occur, meaning a foreign owner could be taking over control of Canada's nuclear agency. He's citing 3 conditions the government is looking to ensure are maintained:
— Ensure nuclear remains a safe, clean, reliable, economic energy source for Canadians. This includes a guarantee that current Candu reactors in operation in Ontario and New Brunswick are serviced and maintained.
— Control costs to government and maximize the return on taxpayers' investment.
— Position the nuclear industry in Canada to seize domestic and global opportunities.
But as critics point out, these talking points are not part of the legislation. Further, we've seen problems with sales to foreign owners of key industries with conditions that have been discarded and spawned lawsuits. The government can fight the company in the courts, in the meantime, the jobs are still gone.

Some of the criticism surrounding Paradis' appearance and the AECL privatization issue is worth highlighting:
"I think what they're doing is preparing the ground for abandoning any responsibility for atomic energy. ... It's going to be catastrophic."
And:
"It's losing all the knowledge, and losing the company to a foreign entity,"said Liberal Senator Celine Hervieux-Payette. "The foreign entities are foreign-owned by governments, so it's another government buying what Canadians and Canadian tax dollars have built over 50 years. "This, for me, would be a tragedy."
And:
...by privatizing AECL, the government is in effect allowing others - in this case foreign governments - to formulate part of Canada's domestic energy policy.

"Privatization is code for, 'We don't have the foggiest idea what to do, so let's dodge the hard decisions, grab some cash now, and let future generations deal with the consequences,'" Cadham said.
With about 30,000 jobs related to the nuclear industry in Canada, what happens with AECL and our nuclear industry is important. The government wants no scrutiny of what they're going to do? They'll wear it fully.

(h/t a little birdie)

David Johnston a good pick for Governor General

I made the mistake of publicly committing the other night to writing a congratulatory blog post were Harper to follow-through on the rumoured pick of David Johnston for Governor General. As expected, Johnston is the choice and, unfortunately, I keep my promises! This is a good pick and I'll repeat what I wrote when Jim Travers first brought up his name just over a month ago: "As for a view...irrespective of the involvement by Johnston in framing the Oliphant commission, he is by all accounts someone of high integrity, a legal scholar to boot. It's a leap to think that there would be any possibility of bias if he were to become Governor General, with all the sensitivity that position now holds in this era of minority governments. He would be a satisfactory pick to be sitting in the Governor General's chair whenever Stephen Harper might come calling."

That last point is the key one to me, why he would be OK to be on the receiving end of a Prime Ministerial visit. Johnston is a lawyer (with lots of law professor colleagues in his past who would likely be a phone call away) and is likely to be very careful in managing the Governor General's role in our era of foreseeable minority governments from here on out. He will likely have to make one or two key decisions, like Jean, and would be fully aware of recent history and the challenges he might be facing.

He's also undoubtedly highly aware of the criticism he took over his framing of the Oliphant terms of reference narrowly. This all provides extra impetus for him to know that he will be scrutinized heavily and that his reputation, his integrity would be on the line should he make a controversial decision that is seen to be unreasonably favouring a given outcome. His c.v. indicates he's clearly someone who has a track record of doing exceptionally well with the institutions he leads, there's no reason to believe he'd do otherwise with the institution of Governor General. So credit to Harper on this choice.

[Regularly scheduled programming returns shortly...:)]

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

"Still waiting for the real public inquiry"

A Star editorial today gives a nod to the Toronto Police Services Board's civilian review of the G20 police conduct of the Toronto Police Service, but is pushing for the provincial and federal roles to be probed as well.
...the proposed review of Toronto police actions is still insufficient in scope to get to the bottom of what happened in our city on the G20 weekend. The decision-makers included not just the Toronto police but also their counterparts from the OPP and RCMP and politicians in all three levels of government.

Collectively, they turned our city into an armed camp with empty streets, secretly invoked special police powers, allowed a few hooligans to run amok burning police cruisers and smashing store windows, and then arrested and incarcerated more than a thousand people, the vast majority of them guilty of no crime. Businesses in the downtown area suffered a big drop in sales. Instead of showcasing the city, the event produced damaging images, broadcast around the world. What is needed is a full public inquiry, called by either the province or Ottawa.
...
A full inquiry could ask what Harper was thinking when he decided to locate the summit in the downtown convention centre rather than (as Mayor David Miller had suggested) the Exhibition Grounds, why McGuinty chose to give police additional powers without telling the public, and why the police appeared first to under-react and then to over-react to events, with the result that constitutional rights were trampled upon.

Tackling all these concerns goes well beyond what a board-appointed review can accomplish. Only through a public inquiry can we be certain to have a forum with a broad enough mandate and sufficient power to address the lingering questions – and give the public confidence in the answers.

So far, we have the police chief’s promise of an internal review of “what we did and how we did it” and the board’s decision to appoint someone to scrutinize “oversight, governance (and) accountability.”

We’re still waiting for the real public inquiry.
The longer Harp tries to run away from any connection to that weekend of record setting mass arrests, hiding behind the Queen's skirts engaging in all of these successive photo-op days, I suspect the longer people will pursue it. It's been a bit of a surreal disconnect to be hearing the unsettling accounts arising out of the G20 while Harper seems to be off in his political Disneyland.

As for McGuinty and a provincial inquiry, there are questions that need to be answered about the Public Works Protection Act, some of them are raised again in this piece and it sounds like a number of ticked off Liberals will be pursuing them with McGuinty (yay to the party member quoted there standing up for civil liberties, by the way). With the G20 having been a federally overseen show, however, with the federal government choosing the venue, funding the security, bringing in officers from all over the country and setting up ISU headquarters to oversee the weekend's security execution, it's hard to see how the province would be the proper entity to launch that inquiry.

EFL has an idea on yet another inquiry that could possibly be pursued, through the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner, with the precedent being the APEC Commission report. If the evidence supported such a request it might be another alternative to think about.

Things that aren't surprising

What to make of this report that Governor General Michaelle Jean's husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond didn't want the Queen to stay at Rideau Hall during her visit, when the GG & he were in China.
“That’s why they were sent off to China, to keep the peace as it were,” said a source close to the government.
Since the Queen did in fact stay at Rideau Hall despite this supposed request by Lafond, what is the relevance of this source's statement at this point if it had no bearing on what actually occurred?

One interpretation is that this government has never liked Michaelle Jean and they're proving it to the end. Putting this word out there after a successful royal visit, trying to suggest some kind of conflict and dislike for the Queen from Jean's spouse seems pointless and classless.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Toronto Police Services Board G20 review a step in the right direction

They seem to be on the road to doing what they can do, creating a needed civilian review of G20 police action, at the municipal level. While there was a brouhaha during the announcement of the review, that was a good strong message to the Board. The Board has been served notice that its review, in terms of who will oversee it, what kind of public input will occur, the terms of reference, etc., will be coming in for a high level of scrutiny once they come forth in two weeks with their proposal.

Toronto Councillor and Board member Adam Vaughan's comments today sounded promising:
Board members ardently defended Mr. Mukherjee’s recommendation, arguing that the public would be given an opportunity to voice their opinions on a proposed review leader and the terms of reference when the Board reconvenes in two weeks.

“It’s a been a very tumultuous time in this city and we all need to afford each other patience and an opportunity to proceed fairly. I recognize for some people the need to speak is immediate and urgent and I respect that,” said Board member Adam Vaughan, who is also city councillor for Trinity-Spadina.

“In two weeks, there will be a presentation to the public, for comment, and for input. We have not made a decision. We are telling you how we are going to make a decision and how we’re going to include public input. I recognize that people want to speak. They will speak and they will be heard.”
Given the seriousness of the allegations that have been pouring out (latest - h/t), this review, along with any others to come, has to have integrity. They must know the pressure they are under.