Thursday, October 28, 2010

Order, order

In the news today, Question Period reform! The group Canadians Advocating Political Participation are supporting M-517, Conservative MP Michael Chong's Question Period reform initiative. More from CAPP here on their campaign and you can read the details of Chong's motion here.

Note that element (i) of Chong's motion proposes that the Speaker's role be fortified:
(i) elevating decorum and fortifying the use of discipline by the Speaker, to strengthen the dignity and authority of the House
We've seen some steps down that road in the past year or so but not really enough.

Here's a bit of fun. A twitter friend just put this bug in my ear on Betty Boothroyd, former Speaker in the British House of Commons. Educational to watch as a contrast to our proceedings.





Betty Boothroyd is probably, as you can see, one of a kind. As the Commons committee looks at this motion, it will be interesting to see what kind of uniquely Canadian evolution in the Speaker's institution might be considered. Also important, who the successor to Peter Milliken will be.

Fun with Question Period reform, who knew.

(h/t)

Veterans day of protest may have one more reason

Good question: Has the government issued orders prohibiting military personnel and DND civilian staff from taking part in the November 6 Veterans protest? David Pugliese reports that may be the case:
Some veterans have voiced concern that military personnel and DND employees are being ordered to stay away from the Saturday, Nov. 6 nation-wide veterans protest and march…..even though they want to attend on their own time and not in uniform (for military personnel).
If this is true, it's remarkably intrusive and against their right to freedom of assembly.

When asked yesterday in the House of Commons about whether any orders had been so given, Harper replied:
Of course not, Mr. Speaker. But the government does not have to issue any such orders, because the truth of the matter is this: when it comes to standing up for the men and women in uniform, getting them the equipment they need, these people understand that there is only one party in this Parliament that supports them. It is this government. When it comes to improving benefits for our veterans, there is only one party that has not voted against those things, as the NDP has done. It is this party. We will continue to protect our men and women in uniform today and in the future.
No orders necessary when you're the most veteran supporting government ever. Who happens to be facing a national day of protest from veterans.

That is one awesome disconnect.

Just take them at their word

Well surely this settles it. Peter MacKay's spokesperson assures us in the Globe today of the per plane price of the F-35s: "Government says cost of F-35 fighters on a par with Hornets." They're saying, without a contract being in place remember, that "...the average cost to Canada for each F-35 over the 2016-2022 period will be about $74.5-million (U.S.)" and that this is the same price as what we paid for our present jets, the CF-18s. What they are relying on, other than Lockheed Martin's say so, is unclear. Their numbers are in dispute too. Here was Ignatieff's response, in part, raising doubt about any certainty with this plane's costs:
“This plane went from a $50-million unit cost in the United States in 2002 to a $91-million unit cost in 2008.”
We've just been reminded this week by the Auditor General, via her highly critical report on helicopter purchases, of the need to get certainty about original cost estimates, ongoing costs and being "...fair, open and transparent" in these processes. In the wake of that report, taking people's word on such matters just doesn't seem prudent, especially on what will be the largest military purchase in Canadian history. And especially not through numbers disseminated in the media.

Elsewhere, Tony Clement had this strange thing to say yesterday on the U.K.'s F-35 commitment:
Clement noted that in Britain, despite "the deepest cuts across the board in funding since the Second World War, reaffirmed its commitments to the F-35."
Well, technically they did. Anyone following what the U.K. has in fact decided would have noted that the word is that the U.K. is reducing and putting off its F-35 purchase. See this latest analysis of the U.K.'s defence spending review which puts their F-35 buy at a reduction down from 138 to a possible 50-70. Others say it could be 40. There is a Jane's analyst quoted here who thinks the U.K. will actually end up buying none once they've lived without them on their aircraft carriers for a spell. So that "buyer's club" referenced in the Globe report is pulling back and reducing.

On the heels of the Liberal opposing stance, we've seen leaked documents to one media outlet and too cute price costing to another. It's a suddenly busy time on this F-35 file.

Early morning humour



Don't think Jim Flaherty's record deficit was commemorated sufficiently around here.

Fixed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Contractual conflict?

Interesting timing on this one. Sun Media has been leaked a document with contractual terms pertaining to F-35 supplier deals in Canada that appear to conflict with the terms of the 2006 Memorandum of Understanding signed by Canada, at the national level. Appear to. Not so sure they do but they are being spun that way. Here's what Sun Media is reporting:
A copy of the Memorandum of Agreement that jet maker Lockheed Martin uses with its Canadian suppliers states clearly that Canada must be a partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program for Canadian suppliers to be able to bid.

In a section on requirements for a supply contract to remain in force, the memo lists several stipulations including: “C. the Government of Canada remains a Level 3 participant and procures JSF Aircraft as currently reflected in the JSF PSFD MOU dated December 31st, 2006.”

The document was provided to QMI Agency by an industry source on the same day Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff promised to cancel the order of 65 jets if he forms government after the next election.
Not having read the whole thing, it's hard to say whether any other terms expand upon the clause "C" above.

But it is possible to read that clause as consistent with the 2006 MOU. The term of that agreement is 49 years (I believe) and its purpose is indeed to permit Canadian companies to bid on JSF work with Canada as a participant. So Canada can remain a participant, irrespective of whether it buys the F-35 or not (see post this a.m. for more). The latter part of that clause, that reads Canada "...procures JSF Aircraft as currently reflected in the JSF PSFD MOU dated December 31st, 2006," means that yes, Canada, if it procures, procures in accordance with that MOU. I can see why indeed companies and those seeking to press on with the sole-sourced deal are reading this clause "C" as a mandatory requirement to buy the F-35s.

But the MOU provides for Canada and any other nation to engage in its own particular procurement process (clause 3.2.1.1.1). The Conservatives have chosen to indicate that they will sole-source the F-35s from Lockheed Martin. The Liberals are saying that if they form government, they will hold a competitive process. So I'm not sure how this clause above changes that. Here is 3.2.1.1.1:

That reads that actual procurement is subject to the outcome of each participants' national procurement decision-making processes. The outcome in any given nation might be to say no. Or to buy less. Like the British seem to be doing and the Dutch and Norway. But Canada seems to be skipping this step of having a procurement process. Recall that the Department of National Defence was contemplating having a competition for the jet purchase, planning for one, according to its own documents. That is something we can do because as we know, there is no contract to buy the F-35s in existence right now and won't be until at least 2013. A lot of the media reporting, including the Sun Media report, seems premised on the fact that a deal would be cancelled. There is no deal.

Something else to think about is just what is being apparently floated here. That Lockheed Martin, presently under tremendous cost pressures from the Pentagon, would be likely to axe current suppliers in the JSF programme, including the Canadian ones, and re-obtain new suppliers from elsewhere. That would seem to be an additionally costly proposition but anything's possible.

Beyond all the contractual interpretation is the dynamic we're seeing here. These contracts between Lockheed Martin and the suppliers seem designed to pressure the government of Canada into buying the F-35. Locking us in, in a sense. But the 2006 MOU is the governing agreement Canada has. Lockheed Martin and its suppliers are free, obviously, to contract for whatever stipulations they want. What a Canadian government will ultimately do is up to the government, not the contractual requirements of third parties.

Big sell on F-35 continues

The Lockheed Martin executive on the Canadian beat, Tom Burbage, was in Montreal yesterday to continue the sell on the F-35: "Lockheed Martin: Spinoffs from F-35 contract." He was speaking at an aerospace industry conference, so it was a case of preaching to the converted. The emphasis in the report is the money that can be made by industry from the F-35. No mention there, however, of the matters raised by Auditor General Sheila Fraser yesterday on the risks of cost escalations that Canada has seen on recent large sole-sourced military buys. So there's a bit of a disconnect that was at play yesterday, with the aerospace companies chiming in with Lockheed Martin yet our Auditor General raising serious questions about military procurement costs by our federal government.

Also no mention in the report of the fact that these aerospace companies would be free to bid for work on the F-35 even if we did not end up buying it. That's permitted under the Memorandum of Understanding we are a participant in. And even if we buy the F-35, then these companies will still be subject to a "best value" competition with companies in other countries. It's just that our companies would "normally" get an advantage in contracting decisions if we buy. "Normally," but no guarantees. And there are questions now about the long term viability and size of the F-35 programme in any event.

It really is quite the structured plan that Lockheed Martin came up with. As we are seeing, it is enticing companies to pressure their governments to buy.

Nevertheless, interesting that this meeting is going on in Montreal, where outside of those walls, as we know, the people recently weighed in heavily against the F-35 purchase.

More renogate, an update

A follow-up here to yesterday's post. There was a committee hearing where Public Works officials appeared yesterday which should be addressed.

First of all, the big issue this week, as a reminder, is the situation pointed out in this report on the weekend. A change was made in the bid process on a $9 million Parliament Hill renovation contract which ended up working to the benefit of the smallest contractor in the process. That change happened one week before the bid closed. Here was the answer provided by the officials on the reason for the change:
Tom Ring, assistant deputy minister at the acquisitions branch of the department, said changes to criteria for contracts are a normal part of the contract process in exchanges with industry,

“We looked at the request from LM Sauve and found that it was reasonable, and in fact, we had made a similar change in the criteria for the southeast towers so there was no reason to not accept that request,” Mr. Ring said, in response to questions from Diane Bourgeois, public works critic for the Bloc Quebecois.

Mr. Ring said the changes were posted seven or eight days before the closing date and there were no subsequent questions or complaints.

“In fact, our view is if we had not made that change, we would have left ourselves subject to legal review from LM Sauve for making an unreasonable request and a more stringent requirement than was necessary,” said Mr. Ring, who appeared at the committee alongside Pierre-Marc Mongeau, assistant deputy minister at the parliamentary precinct branch; Robert Wright, director general of major Crown projects and Jacques Leclerc, senior director of the real property contracting directorate.
That cool, matter of fact response by the Public Works officials on why the change was made was a real contrast to how the other contractors bidding on the contract viewed the change:
"That amendment blindsided all the other pre-qualified general contractors, and it came out of nowhere," he said. "Who asked for it? Why was that amendment even created? Making a new amendment to benefit only one of the people who applied is pretty strange."
It was perfectly normal according to the officials yet it wasn't perceived that way. I assume these contractors have been around the block a few times?

It does seem strange that a contractor can make such a request for a rule change and it goes into effect one week before the bid closes. And further, that the government feels it'll be in for legal problems if they don't go along, when it's that late in the process.

Also of note yesterday, the Public Works officials testified that they have assessed emails, documents and all the other written records for evidence of any interactions in connection with the bidding process change with political personnel. None were found.

The hearings continue next week and the RCMP investigation continues. So there'll be more "Renogate" blogging in our future. The whole thing is too odd not to wonder about. How did that firm, said to be less qualified than the other bidders and the one who gave $140,000 to a Conservative-linked politico, end up winning that contract anyway? 

P.S. How can people not like "Renogate?" I don't get that at all. But for one letter in the word, we have renovate. Renogate/renovate, it's just perfection. (And just a label, folks, the details are what's important...)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Auditor General waving red flag

The report she issued today on recent helicopter purchases also serves as a warning on the F-35 sole-source process. Sole-sourcing on a military purchase of magnitude is a recipe for cost overruns and flawed accountability and transparency from our government. Here is some useful reading on the subject this evening which speaks for itself: "Auditor slams Ottawa’s helicopter purchase and warns of fighter-jet risk," "New look needed at F-35s," and pogge's take.

While Peter MacKay professed in the House of Commons today that his department is taking in the Auditor General's criticisms of the helicopter purchases, it's not clear how or whether they will go about remedying what is shaping up to be history repeating itself in a bad way. There is no evidence that the F35 process the government is undertaking is anything but a recipe for pain for taxpayers in coming years.

Here's one part of her report which speaks to the helicopter cost overrun problems and why they occurred:
National Defence did not develop full life-cycle plans and costs for these helicopters in a complete or timely way. In addition, total estimated costs were not disclosed to decision makers at key decision points. Some costs have yet to be completely estimated and some elements needed for the capability are not in place. Without adequate cost information, National Defence cannot plan to have sufficient funds available for long-term operation and support of the helicopters. Moreover, without sufficient funds, National Defence may have to curtail planned training and operations.
This is what would need to be properly done in an F35/fighter jet competitive bid process with integrity. That basic cost diligence has not been demonstrated by the government and it could significantly impact the Defence budget down the road. In other words, the government that claims to be doing what's right for the military may not be at all.

I'll also point you to this recent Commons committee testimony on point from Alan Williams , former defence procurement official, which also speaks to the issues today in a straightforward manner:
It is very important, in my estimation, for the public to understand why the requirements we select are necessary. To continue--and here I'm going to give you the credit--if I went to a car dealership again and wanted to buy a mode of transportation, I would first have to decide if this mode of transportation was for myself; my wife; myself, my wife, and my ten kids; or whether I need to transport furniture and equipment. The requirements are very specific to the role and the need.

It may be that we need a fifth generation. If so, let's be able to articulate why we need a fifth generation, how that fits into the defence policy we have, and how that fits into the role we see our military performing in the future. If it gets by that hurdle and it turns out that's the only one, that's fine. But we can do that openly. Having someone sitting behind closed doors and saying this is what we need because they say so is frankly not acceptable when you're spending $16 billion of our money. That's the key point you want to make.

Secondly--and this is another point I didn't mention in my oral presentation, but it's in the notes--if after I chose my requirements and went to the dealers that had what I wanted to meet those requirements someone said to me, “Monsieur Williams, it's going to be $1,000 down now, but I'm not going to tell you what the monthly payment will be”, would I buy the car? Of course I wouldn't buy the car. To buy something, commit to something right now when you don't even know the costs, to me is the height of absurdity.

I think the Joint Strike Fighter is a great program and it may turn out to be the perfect aircraft. But we're sole-sourcing a product that right now is four years late in development, its cost has escalated dramatically, and it's under the Nunn-McCurdy compliance review test in the States, where the Senate is cutting back on the numbers it is producing year over year right now because they're missing all the deadlines. It seems to me that we're getting ahead of ourselves. Why are we committing to something now when there are so many risks with this program? I really don't understand it. It may turn out to be the perfect aircraft for us, but I don't think there's any evidence for that today.
The questions about the F35 process have been accumulating since the government made its announcement, throw in all the allies hedging on their purchases. With the Auditor General waving a red flag now, will this Prime Minister listen? Do they listen to anybody?

Renogate expanding today

Update (5:20 p.m.) below. 

More today on the the burgeoning Parliament Hill renovation brouhaha affectionately termed "renogate."

1. The latest and potentially big story on this file that popped up on the weekend is worthy of some attention. It was reported that the week before a crucial competitive bid process closed, the one that contractor LM Sauve won for $9 million, the criteria that contractors had to meet were suddenly changed. As in, downgraded in a way that would benefit LM Sauve in particular, being a smaller firm. We know the allegation that the LM Sauve firm owner paid a lobbyist "with ties to the Conservatives" the sum of $140,000 to help win the contract. And we also know that LM Sauve did go on to win the contract but went bankrupt and couldn't complete the work.

So why did the criteria for the bidders change and who instigated that change? The questions were asked yesterday in Question Period and rather shockingly, here was the response: "Tories point to bureaucrats in renovation contract."

The government must be worried, however. Get a load of the explanation that came last night from this government, the one that wants to sole-source $16 billion in fighter jets.

Last night came word from a "senior government official" admitting that yes, the changes were to the benefit of LM Sauve, but the contracting process needed to be filled up with extra bidders. Yep, they needed to dot the i's and cross the t's to make sure the bid was competitive enough. See, on some matters, competitive bids seem to matter to this government. Seem to, anyway.

I'm not familiar with exactly how many contractors they needed in order to satisfy a competitive process here, but based on the Maher report on the weekend, it certainly sounded like they had enough other and larger reputable firms bidding:
"The other four companies that pre-qualified — PCL, Daoust, EllisDon and Thomas Fuller — are large, corporate general contractors."
All of those firms qualified for the bid without the loosened bid criteria. So why was there a need for more? The senior government official pleads that the bid became more competitive and "...had the change not been made, the government’s tendering process would have been vulnerable to a legal challenge."

Surely there must be some provision to maintain integrity in the process where you don't open up bids to just anybody simply out of a need for bodies to fill your quota. On the Parliament buildings? Look at what happened to the project by adding this unqualified bidder to the process.

Now that's the government spin in any event. The cause of the change to the bid criteria remains a question mark. Whether there was political interference is still a question to be answered. You have to love the irony of these Conservatives citing the need for competitive bids though! Their actions as a government suggest they value such processes only when it's convenient to them.

2. There is also a report by CBC's Greg Weston on the cost of temporary meeting rooms while Parliament Hill is under all this renovation. An expense of $24 million for four meeting rooms is being reported when the budgeting was apparently in the $11 million range for those facilities ($11 million figure from Weston video on that CBC page link).

Guess we'll be hearing the explanations today, variations on parliamentary needs and, well, given the tendency to buck pass, possibly that public servants were in charge. Explaining the costs will be the big issue though. Especially since we're all against gravy trains these days. Aren't we?

Apparently we're building a big new parliamentary building too. Out of the blue, an old plan that was buried has been resurrected. Look forward to hearing the explanation on that one. Not necessarily a bad thing if it's needed and can be justified. However, this is a government that is repeatedly pointing at the opposition as having big spending plans and nickels and dimes the opposition on its policy plans. How they can justify not disclosing this plan, which must be for hundreds of millions, is a glaring question.

All in all, "renogate" seems to be serving up some very sloppy financial management from these Conservatives. Who would hire these people?

P.S. Don Martin doesn't like the renogate term ("Please, no"). I'm going to keep using it anyway, because really, there's nothing better on tap and we need to capture this one in some neat label. BCL likes it too, good enough for me.

Update (5:20 p.m.): A little birdie suggests to me that there is a flip side to the government's explanation above, that they needed to get more bidders in the contract bidding in order to avoid a legal challenge to the process. In changing the criteria, did they open themselves up to possible legal action? Those who prepared their bids based on the original criteria spent time and money in reliance upon those criteria. I don't know if there's a cause of action but it's worth considering.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Profiles in courage all around

From an exchange in Question Period in the House of Commons today (the rough translation):
The Speaker: (Voice of Translator): THE HONOURABLE MEMBER FOR LAURENTIDES-LABELLE.

JOHANNE DESCHAMPS (BQ): (Voice of Translator): Mr. SPEAKER, AFTER EIGHT LONG YEARS OF IMPRISONMENT IN GUANTANAMO, OWE KMAR 4-MARCH KHADR HAS FINALLY PLEADED GUILTY. HAD THE GOVERNMENT ASSUMED ITS RESPONSIBILITIES, THIS TRIAL OF THIS YOUNG CANADIAN BY A U.S. MILITARY TRIBUNAL WOULD NEVER HAVE STARTED. IS THE GOVERNMENT GOING TO FINALLY RECOGNIZE THAT CANADA IS A SIGNATORY TO THE CHILD SOLDIER TREATY AND THAT THIS SHOULD HAVE APPLIED TO THE YOUNG KHADR?

The Speaker: (Voice of Translator): THE HONOURABLE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS.

Hon. LAWRENCE CANNON (C): (Voice of Translator): THANK YOU Mr. SPEAKER. Mr. KHADR HAS PLED GUILTY OF MURDER AND IT IS A CONTRAVENTION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, ATTEMPTED MURDER -- OF CONSPIRACY, OF SUPPORTING TERRORISTS AND SPYING. SO, AND ACCORDING TO THE MEDIA, Mr. KHADR HAS ALSO CLAIMED -- PLED GUILTY TO BEING A MEMBER OF al QAEDA, OF HAVING MADE IEDs AND OF HAVING KNOWINGLY CREATED CIVILIAN VICTIMS. SO THIS ISSUE CONCERNS Mr. CHARGED AND ARE THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT. THANK YOU.

The Speaker: (Voice of Translator): THE HONOURABLE MEMBER FOR LAURENTIDES-LABELLE.

JOHANNE DESCHAMPS (BQ): TRAP (Voice of Translator): UP UNTIL NOW, CANADA HAS FAILED IN ITS OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE CHILD SOLDIER TREATY BY REFUSING TO DEMAND THE REPATRIATION OF OMAR KHADR. NOW THAT THE YOUNG KHADR HAS PLED GUILTY ABOUT THE CANADIAN TRIBUNAL, WILL THE CANADIAN GOVERNMENT AT LEAST SEEK HIS REPATRIATION TO CANADA?

The Speaker: (Voice of Translator): THE FORM OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS.

Hon. LAWRENCE CANNON (C): (Voice of Translator): Mr. SPEAKER, THIS ISSUE, I REMIND YOU; Mr. SPEAKER; THIS ISSUE;

The Speaker: ORDER. ORDER! ORDER. (Voice of Translator): ORDER. THE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS HAS THE FLOOR. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO HEAR HIM.

Hon. LAWRENCE CANNON (C): (Voice of Translator): THANK YOU Mr. SPEAKER. AS I REMIND THE MEMBERS IN THE HOUSE, THIS ISSUE CONCERNS PRIMARILY Mr. KHADR'S LAWYERS, AS WELL AS THE LAWYERS FOR THE AMERICAN GOVERNMENT.
I think you can get the gist of it from that. The Harper government is happily trumpeting the plea deal as if this vindicates their inaction. That plea deal, despite the touting of it today as if it is some kind of glorious example of a just result emanating from a just process, is nevertheless tainted. By years of Khadr's detention without a trial, by the torture that has occurred at Guantanamo Bay, by the disrepute the military trial system there has come under.

But there's more political milking to be had out of it from our government, by remaining silent on his ultimate return to Canada:
The plea deal followed a flurry of complex negotiations, including a side deal between the United States and Canada. Reached on Saturday, it says that the Canadian government will treat the results of a military commission trial in the same way as a regular civilian court’s, under a prisoner transfer treaty.

It remains unclear, however, whether the government of the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, which has declined to seek Mr. Khadr’s repatriation, would accept any bid by Mr. Khadr to serve out the remainder of his sentence in Canada.
Vic Toews was careful to leave Khadr's future hanging in the air this afternoon as were all others speaking on behalf of the government today. Must not upset the political base, after all. But Dennis Edney, Khadr's lawyer, believes the deal will allow Khadr's return to Canada:
"Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty this morning …in exchange for the Canadian government agreeing to repatriate him back to Canada after one year," Edney said. "Canada's language is sufficiently satisfactory to uphold Canada to its position, that it will take Omar Khadr back after one year."

Edney said the lawyers received the note from Canadian government Sunday afternoon.

"We have diplomatic notes … which set out Canada's position and set out the United States' position," Edney added.

Those notes will be released later this week, along with the specifics of Khadr's plea deal.
I suspect Edney is going to need those notes and that language. A year is a long time in politics though.

It's on in Vaughan

I know, I know, everyone's all excited about the big T.O. mayoralty election today. At least, those of us in this neck of the woods. Will it be Ford or will it be the Smitherman, we shall see this evening. Good luck to everyone out there working hard to get out the vote.

In the background, yesterday, the writ was dropped for three federal by-elections to take place on November 29th and among them is the Vaughan riding which has attracted much attention. A few thoughts here...

First, this Postmedia report had a quote offering a reasonable take on the big picture for that race, devoid of spin:
“The opposition does well in byelections because it’s often a way for people who are disenchanted to voice that, but there can also be times where an individual candidate with a lot of name recognition can have a lot of media prominence.”
That seems to be a reasonable statement of the conventional wisdom that opposition parties tend to do well but with the proviso that a star candidate can upset the apple cart. That's what might happen in Vaughan given the obvious high profile candidacy of Conservative Julian Fantino. The rest of the spin we've been seeing, largely driven by Conservatives seeking to set expectations high for the Liberals, is just that. The Conservative 2010 spin is similar to their 2009 spin, by the way.

Speaking of which...the most recent federal by-election precedents, the four held last November, are probably the most useful to determine what might happen in Vaughan. And among those results, the Montmagny race in particular is a helpful parallel. That was a strong Bloc riding, the conventional wisdom said it would stay Bloc, yet it ended up in Conservative hands. How? They recruited a star for that area, a former local mayor who proved popular, Bernard Genereux. Then the Harper Conservatives flooded the riding with federal dollars. That play from the 2009 playbook seems to be on again. Will they exceed the $242 million that poured into the Montmagny riding on the eve of that vote? Something to watch for.

The Prime Minister has already kicked off the federal business intermingling with the partisan with his same day Fantino announcement/small business innovation programme announcement. ("The Prime Minister's Office insisted the press conference was about showcasing a successful and innovative small business, and not about boosting support for Fantino.") Let's count the Vaughan announcements over the next month.

As for what this race might mean for Michael Ignatieff, that's not really the issue in Vaughan and it's hard to see how it will be coming out of it. With respect to the Outremont suggestion and more portents of Liberal unrest, fall 2007 Dion circumstances seem quite different from fall 2010 Ignatieff circumstances. Fall of 2010 is a better place for a Liberal leader. The summer bus tour was a success and the fall, thus far, has seen the defeat of the gun registry repeal effort. Policies are being rolled out and are being well received. Choices are shaping up, there's a more concrete sense of alternatives on offer. Narratives against this government are beginning to take hold. That's much tougher to accomplish in this internet, hyped up news cycle era. But overall, the air feels much different and even if there were to be a loss in Vaughan, the doomsaying present in that Hebert column doesn't seem to capture the moment.

The parallel with Outremont is not a neat one geographically either. The NDP broke through in the middle of a Liberal fortress. An orange shot amidst the red that was a real breakthrough. That's not what we'd see with this race in the GTA. Conservative Peter Kent holds Thornhill which borders Vaughan and he won it by 10 points. The blue is there, neighbouring Vaughan, so a Conservative win wouldn't be as shocking.

Now having said all that, there's going to be a fight for that seat. Ignatieff has said so and is not shying away. There is a good locally rooted Liberal candidate, Tony Genco who is now nominated and ready to go. If the Liberals fight hard in Vaughan and lose, they'll have lost to a star candidate and put up a good fight. If the Liberals fight hard and win, they'll have maintained the seat. Either way, certainly no cause for doom.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Asleep at the switch

There is more on the veterans' privacy breach story today: "PMO knew about 'security breaches': government documents." Veteran Sean Bruyea had dealings with the PMO in 2006 on the subject of intrusions into his privacy and abuse of it by Veterans Affairs yet the PMO doesn't seem to have done much about it other than refer it back to Veterans Affairs.

This is very newsworthy because Mr. Harper spoke quite indignantly about the situation on October 7th (video of Harper is at that link, 4th down, 1st question asked):
"The government has absolutely no tolerance for the behaviour that went on here," Harper told reporters following a press conference at an aerospace plant in Winnipeg.

"The fact that some of the bureaucracy had been abusing these files and not following appropriate process is completely unacceptable. And we will ensure that rules are followed, that the recommendations of the privacy commissioner are implemented -- that if this behaviour continues there will be strong action against it.
Yet it does look like his office - and he is responsible for the staff in his office, accountability wise - had four years notice to do something about it yet failed to act.

The report notes that most of the abuses of Bruyea's confidential information occurred in the last four years.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Leakorama

The nervous Nellies all around are agitating behind the scenes of the Khadr trial. This one's got a bunch of anonymous sourcing: "Canada can scrap Khadr plea deal: source." Yep, that's one of the big angles, someone floating trial balloons about not going along with a possible plea deal between the prosecution and defence by refusing to let Khadr serve in Canada. Because of the crafty lawyers:
What’s more, once Khadr is back in Canada, his Canadian lawyers are expected to search for any loopholes in the repatriation terms, assessing the applicability of legislation such as the Young Offenders Act to try to ensure his early release, sources in the Canadian government have confided.
Then there are the U.S. voices now expressing remarkable concerns about what the world will be missing out on:
“The world may now be deprived of the opportunity to witness a trial on the guilt or innocence (of the accused) in front of a well-conceived tribunal that’s composed of a fair and scholarly judge, prosecutors who are operating with the highest professional ethics, and a defence team that’s presenting the facts to a competent jury,” said one person close to the case.
Never mind that Khadr has been waiting onwards of 8 years without trial, for what this unknown source presents as some kind of model of justice for the world. How quickly they forget the tortured legal history of that place

The Post report goes on from there, with others having a stake in the proceedings weighing in as well. Lots of politics and wrangling still to go in this one it appears.

People who cannot resist a subsidy

Here was Pierre Karl Peladeau speaking in Calgary yesterday on Canadian media and offering some insights:
“There is no connection of any sort between Sun TV News and Fox News,” Peladeau said, “although, let me tell you, if our channel could be as successful as Fox News, our shareholders would be very pleased.”

Fox News is one of the most-watched news channels in the U.S.

“What is particularly irritating in these attacks is the condescending tone,” Peladeau said.

“I think you Albertans know what I’m talking about. Even today, you have to regularly put up with lectures from the little group in central Canada, mostly made up of people who cannot resist a subsidy when they see one.”
Entertaining stuff for the lunch crowd and surely we need not take it seriously! Well, ok...

But isn't this a little rich from Mr. Peladeau, whose network was recently seeking special treatment from the CRTC? The "must offer" channel status until abandoning it just a few weeks ago? Which status would have obliged we citizens to have likely paid for his channel without our approval? What do we call that? The word subsidy comes to mind. Sure, it was dressed up as a choice matter, but we know the way the bundling works with the cable companies, news packages, etc. The odds were good that we would have paid, irrespective of the illusion of choice, if that strategy had been pursued and approved. But, that's water under the bridge. Now it's specialty channel status being sought for Sun TV and as far as we know, that would be a one-off buy for each of us to add to our viewing if we want.

And what of the arena proposal in Quebec City? Peladeau was on the Plains of Abraham, marching in support of the return of the Nordiques, voicing an openness to Quebecor financially participating in some way although we know that federal funding is being sought for that arena and would be sizable. What do we call that funding anyway? The word subsidy comes to mind. Sure it's all dressed up as what's good for Quebecor is good for the tax revenues of Quebec, but we know who would be benefiting from yes, that taxpayer subsidy. Maybe Harper should factor into his arena funding decision this anti-subsidy talk from Mr. Peladeau.

Then there was the whole 2009 outstretched hand to the federal government thing. But that's so 2009.

One other item from yesterday, on the Levant hire:
The outspoken Calgarian said he will bring a national and western perspective to what often is an Toronto-centric arena of political and news commentary during the future hour-long show.

Levant will be moving to Toronto for the job.
But do they know that Toronto is in...condescending central Canada? Too funny.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday night



Have a good night.

Bumbling along toward a Khadr resolution

What's been rumoured all week finally occurred today: "Clinton, Cannon discuss Khadr case." This discussion apparently came after Lawrence "Loose" Cannon was quoted early today, helpfully stating this:
"It's not up to me to determine how the U.S. government is going to be working in this case," Cannon said in interview with CBC News on Friday from Beijing. "These are issues, of course, that are of concern to the United States. It deals with their judicial system, their legal system."
Hands off, deference to the end. But hey, Larry, as you guys like to forget, it also deals with our legal system.

Maybe Hillary got on the phone after hearing that remark from Cannon. Because if there is a deal and the U.S. is trying to resolve this case, Cannon's comments weren't exactly encouraging, the U.S. will need our help. Michelle Shephard reported on the rumoured deal again late today:
Sources told the Star and other news agencies that Khadr has agreed to plead guilty to murder and four other war crimes in return for a sentence of eight years.

But part of the deal involves Khadr serving seven of those years in Canada (or less if granted early parole).

That’s not something the Pentagon can guarantee without Ottawa’s behind-the-scenes assurance that Khadr’s application for transfer will be accepted — presumably the subject of Clinton’s call.
There definitely seems to be uber-heightened sensitivity over who's leading this possible resolution and who is seen to be leading it. Canada wants none of it, publicly, and clearly wants to lay it all in American hands. Not exactly news to us but it is interesting to watch how it's all being managed.

Strange turn of events

Ethics are a hallmark for John Baird's Conservative party:
Mr. Speaker, this government, when it comes to administrating the public's business, always acts with great, high ethical standards, openness, transparency and fairness. Those are all the principles. When it comes to standing up for Canada, this government has no price. We will always do what is right for this great country.
This is a puzzler then:
A Conservative riding association that hosted a controversial fundraiser involving Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Quebec lieutenant last year will be shut down by the end of the month.

The party's Bourassa riding association in Montreal hosted one of two events, attended by Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, that have prompted questions about whether there are links between financial contributions to the Conservative party and multimillion-dollar contracts awarded by the government.

The Tory riding association raised nearly $16,000 after hosting a fundraising event in January 2009 that was attended by several business leaders, including some from out of town.

Elections Canada announced this month that it would be deregistered for not complying with annual reporting requirements.
...
The Conservative party said it was reorganizing and building a new riding association executive for Bourassa, but did not have further details.
Surely the "great, high ethical standards, openness, transparency and fairness" of this government warrant an explanation here.

Late night humour



If you've never seen the British political satire series, Bird & Fortune, this is what they do, hilarious takes on current events. This one's from 2008 but amazingly relevant to the UK's present budget constraints where they'll be ending up with two newly built aircraft carriers but there'll be a gap before they have British planes upon them. That predicament is neatly explained here:
Even by the low standards of defence procurement, the continued muddle is madness. Rather than fashioning defence forces around real needs, Britain continues to pretend it is capable of providing the full spectrum of military roles.
That ridiculous situation in Britain is not a perfect parallel for us but the point of making choices based on military needs rather than job considerations, etc. is an apt one in that editorial. Making decisions carefully, in processes with integrity, helps you avoid white elephants. The UK looks to have two big ones on its hands now.

And you may not think it's possible but the British Joint Strike Fighter purchase, as it stood in 2008, gets some comic attention in the video too.

(h/t)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

More census litigation on the way

On the heels of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne's decision not to appeal their census case loss at the Federal Court, we have a new effort that's sprung up. The Canadian Council on Social Development is "...joined in its challenge by a dozen social, community and legal organizations." The cause of action is not explicitly stated in the report but it sounds like a Charter equality challenge:
The Canadian Council on Social Development is spearheading the case in Federal Court to defend what it calls “the equal right of all Canadians to be counted.”
You can see the theoretical equality argument. That the move from the mandatory long-form census to a voluntary one undermines the ability of the government to make policy decisions with a legitimate statistical underpinning. The data that will now be collected will skew to certain demographics over others, meaning that government decisions made on the basis of that information would also be unequally skewed.

They're claiming there's time to still halt the axing:
“While the decision remains unchanged, this battle is far from over,” the group said, adding that despite “misinformation” from the Conservative government, the decision can be changed well into 2011. “It's not over until the surveys hit our mail boxes.”
Any effort to maintain the long-form census should be applauded, best of luck to them.

Khadr negotiation rumours

The Star today expands on CNN reporting that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now involved in plea negotiations over Omar Khadr's case. She was reportedly to speak with Lawrence "Loose" Cannon last night while he is in China but Cannon's spokesperson is loudly denying it.

Whatever the case, the reports seem detailed, suggesting a plea deal with an eight year sentence, seven of which would be served in Canada. Whether Khadr would agree to plead guilty is a key unknown. As is this:
It is likely Ottawa would not formally become involved in the case until there is a guilty plea and sentence, and Khadr applied for a transfer here. But sources said behind the scenes there has been a flurry of diplomatic notes and discussions between the countries, seeking assurances that Canada would not block the transfer.
The Harper government acquiescing to Khadr serving his sentence in Canada has been, throughout, a question mark and speculation even as recently as the weekend was that Harper would be inclined to say no unless there was a specific plea made by the U.S.. As always with this government, we shall see. Their denials that anything is taking place behind the scenes may be domestic posturing. After all the intransigence, a deal for Khadr's return might be tough to sell to the Conservative faithful.

In the backdrop of any dealings with the U.S., that debacle of a situation with our having to get out of Camp Mirage, our military base in the UAE by early November. Here was some perspective on the UAE situation from a column by Scott Taylor yesterday:
While Canadian officials may now be attempting to diminish the importance of the loss of Camp Mirage, the fact is that, without this staging area in the Persian Gulf, there is no way we could have maintained our successive battle groups in Afghanistan.
...
What will be a difficult challenge for the Canadian Forces to overcome will be carrying on business as usual in terms of supporting the troops in Kandahar, processing soldiers through their leave cycles and beginning preparations for the planned withdrawal in July 2011—all while breaking down, packing, shipping and re-establishing another regional staging area.

This would be like a hospital at maximum capacity having to continue treating all its patients—including surgery—while preparing the entire facility to be transported to an undisclosed country, somewhere in the vicinity.
...
The enormity of Harper's blunder will soon become apparent as the men and women of the Canadian Forces attempt to deal with the fallout from the Mirage closure. Stay tuned.
If we are seeking American help to dig out of this hole, possibly using a base in Kyrgyzstan or one of theirs in Germany, might be time to stop playing stubborn on the Khadr case. But, then again, we have principles and lose Security Council seats, so who really knows. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Things that aren't surprising

"About a third blame Ignatieff for UN loss: poll." Of course they do. Those would quite likely be the charter members of the kool-aid drinking Conservative base. Lost on the Iggy blamers, as we know, the irony of imputing to him such power on the international stage to upset our bid, years in the planning.

I note that the CP report headline to the link above is different from the remarkably distorted one in the Globe that Far And Wide has blogged. That is just a fascinating headline there.

The majority, however, in the poll know the score:
Fifty per cent of those polled blamed "the government's recent record on international diplomacy" for the loss, but Ignatieff came in a close second.
That really should be the main takeaway for this poll, but that's not really sexy enough in present day Canadian politics.

One other point, I watched a video covering Ignatieff's appearance this week in Guelph for another one of those Open Mike events. The video largely covered the questions that students were asking him at the event, more so than Ignatieff. Pretty impressive bunch of kids. I noticed one who did cite media reports on Ignatieff's UN comment, asking for clarification on it and whether this affected the UN vote (at 3:50).

Despite the talking points that pushed that remark, no credible expert, commentator or reporting in the wake of that Security Council failure has provided any evidence that Ignatieff's comment had any influence at all at the UN. Yet here we have a poll, earnestly putting the proposition to the public to see what they think. High times in Canadian politics.

The Harper diplomacy chronicles

That special brand of Harper diplomacy is on full display with the UAE situation:
The Prime Minister held a private chat with a senior UAE minister recently, but Stephen Harper’s staff refuse to even confirm the meeting took place. It apparently lasted about five tense, unproductive minutes.
...
A reliable source says the UAE ambassador in Ottawa is not having his calls returned or requests for meetings granted.
What might the chess master be trying to teach us with such moves? That it's the quality of the discussion, not the quantity? Canada is back, it just doesn't call back?

There is disagreement with the Prime Ministerial tactics, on all sides, even his own:
MPs of all parties have lined up behind the sister Emirates airlines, going so far as to write testimonials in an airline pamphlet. Even cabinet ministers confide to me they think more direct flights from Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to the economic heart of the Middle East would deliver obvious convenience and spin-off benefits.
Caught in the middle, the military, hustling now to move that crucial military base from the UAE to one of the stans. Huh, that seems like an easy move:

What else do we have here in the fallout...a rumoured "furious" Peter MacKay. The Canadian taxpayer, facing "tens of millions" in unnecessary costs associated with the move. Throw in the prospects of a brewing trade war just as economic indicators again are turning for the worse.

Fresh off that UN Security Council loss with historical ignominy beckoning, lesser mortals would be chastened. Not our Prime Minister. Seems he has learned...well, not much. Maybe he's taking his favourite minister's adulation much too literally.

Amateur hour rolls on. And on. And on....

And then there were three...

Update (Thursday a.m.) below.

Further to a previous post setting out the delays of F-35 purchases by Norway and the Netherlands, the U.K. is reported to be following the same path:
The government also has opted to reduce its F-35 buy. Britain will shift its carrier-based version to the F-35C, away from the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing B version. How many F-35s will be bought, as well as whether the Royal Navy and Air Force will use the same type, remains to be sorted out. A defense official says those decisions may await the next review in five years, leaving a lot of uncertainty about the program.
More:
Future prospects for the F-35 joint strike fighter program got a lot murkier Tuesday after British government officials announced plans to delay and dramatically trim their purchases of the warplane from Lockheed Martin.

The sweeping review of defense programs unveiled by Prime Minister David Cameron envisions cutting purchases of F-35s from 138 planes to as few as 40. It would also delay the first orders until later this decade and switch the type of jet the British navy will operate.

The moves by the British, who for 15 years have been the foremost ally of the Pentagon in planning and paying for development of the F-35, figure to drive up the costs of buying aircraft for the U.S. and other governments and lead to further delays by other nations expected to buy the jets.
Uncertainty about the programme. Driving up costs for "other governments?" How can our government credibly maintain, with all these developments, that our costs would be under control? We have no contract now, it's hard to see the basis for their claims. (The U.K. government ordering fewer also reported here.)

That Star-Telegram report goes on to suggest that the move away from the F-35B (aircraft carrier version) by Britain could put the U.S. Navy's buy of that F-35 version in doubt too, opening the door to increased purchases of the Boeing Super Hornet. One analyst describes the UK's move away from the F-35B as "...disruptive to all aspects of the program schedule and costs."

Meanwhile, what are we hearing in Canada from the one-noters? "F-35 is the only plane in town: Senior official." Perhaps our Conservatives could tell the allies. Instead of jumping on board and signalling large orders like we are, they're delaying and reducing their purchases. You have to wonder what kind of bubble we're living in.

Update (Thursday a.m.): Boris at TGB has more.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quebecers weigh in against F-35

A Leger Marketing-Le Devoir poll out today presents a clear level of opposition in Quebec to the F-35 buy. 62% of respondents say it is an unjustified expense:
Ainsi, 62 % des Québécois estiment que cette dépense fédérale est «injustifiée». Ils sont 21 % à juger que cette acquisition est «justifiée». Environ 17 % des gens ont dit ne pas savoir ou ont refusé de répondre.
Notably, this comes after several federal announcements on the F-35 that have taken place in Quebec. There was MacKay's September 9th announcement of the Bagotville, Quebec basing of the future F-35s, years from now. There was a September 15th industrial visit to Montreal by Ministers Clement and Lebel. And of course, there was also Harper's showy event in Mirabel outside Montreal to award that CF-18 maintenance contract, framed in the context of the F-35 acquisition. That was the event where Harper was described as livid in expressing his demand for the opposition to get on board with the big sole-sourced contract. So clearly, this big Quebec push has paid off handsomely with the voters to date.

The Aerospace Industry Association of Canada, however, led by Claude Lajeunesse has been quite active in pushing the F-35 deal. That's not too surprising, they are the industry association after all. It is, however, a little surprising how much he and the association are allowing themselves to become partisan pawns in this public debate by mimicking Conservative talking points. There is an article in the Hill Times today further debunking those Conservative talking points.

If this is the dynamic taking shape, with industry lining up with the Conservatives and Liberals (and other parties) who are holding the government to account on this proposed deal lining up with voters, that's not such a bad dynamic. As long as the issue is fought vigorously, cognizant of that dynamic and constantly pushing back against this Conservative job-killing fear mongering. The opposition has a job to do in our parliamentary system, despite the pressure from industry and there are many factors, including Alan Williams recent committee testimony, suggesting the need for questions here. The government, by contrast, is operating mostly like a public relations outfit, sprinkling various jet announcements on heavy rotation across the country since the initial July F-35 announcement but with little regard for any democratic debate on this one.

Now we have some reaction to the Harper government's handling of the file. Whether these results will be replicated in the rest of Canada, guess we'll see. But budget difficulties are not going to help the government, as Liberals in particular are going to concertedly argue the point (see these events today for example).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday night






Have a good night.

Today in Lawrence Cannon foreign affairs prowess

Keep the UN Security Council failed bid in the news, Mr. Cannon: "U.S. pledged to back Canada UN bid: Cannon." By coming off as whining that we may not have had U.S. backing. Seeming to sign on to right wing commentary in the U.S. that has been pushed by Fox News to the effect that the Obama administration sat on its hands when it came to the Canadian bid. Which commentary went off into conspiracy theory about North American liberal backroom dealing to make the Harper government look bad. And really, as we know, you don't need any special backroom dealing to make that happen, as we are learning quite frequently these days.

Capital idea to venture down this road. Fostering tension between Canada and the U.S., just top shelf stuff for a Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister. We don't call him Lawrence "Loose" Cannon for nothin'!

The Harper government: why accept responsibility when you can blame someone - anyone - else?

Quite the political specimen

That specimen would be Rob Ford. Must see highlight video at Curran's blog that all Torontonians (and other interested Canadians) should see. Laughter guaranteed. And not the kind of laughter a candidate really wants.

Privy Council Office felt need to remind PM of CRTC independence

This is a story that I don't believe got much attention yesterday but deserves some. La Presse has obtained briefs classified as "secret" sent from the Privy Council Office to the Prime Minister. The briefs are informational on the Sun TV application to the CRTC, from the summer. The highlight of yesterday's story is the note added to the documents by the clerk of the Privy Council, Wayne Wouters. Here's the French:
«Tel que demandé par votre bureau, la raison de cette note est de vous fournir une mise à jour de l'état de la demande de licence pour une nouvelle chaîne spécialisée pour Sun TV News», dit le document, daté du 8 juillet et signé par le greffier du Conseil privé lui-même, Wayne G. Wouters. «Étant donné que le CRTC est un organe de réglementation public et indépendant, le ministre du Patrimoine et le gouverneur en conseil n'ont pas de rôle direct dans l'étude des demandes de licence de radiodiffusion», prend-on soin d'ajouter.
And the translation:
"As requested by your office, the reason for this note is to provide an update on the status of the license application for a new specialty channel for Sun TV News," says the document dated 8 July signed by the Clerk of the Privy Council itself, Wayne G. Wouters. Wouters. "Given that the CRTC is a regulatory body independent and public, the Heritage Minister and the Governor in Council has no direct role in assessing applications for a broadcasting license," we take care to add .
The upshot is that it appears as though Wouters felt the need to issue this reminder of the CRTC's independence to Harper. While it's not explicitly stated, the implicit message from Wouters seemed to be that the PM really didn't need to have the information, in light of that independence. 

Also of some note in the report, that it was not just Harper personally asking to be informed but additionally, the wider PMO. Which fact would suggest perhaps greater interest at the political level in this file than previously publicly disclosed.

Good reporting.

Amateur hour rolls on

Maybe the boys all need to get in the same room and get their stories straight before they speak in public on the UAE landing rights/military base/clusterfrack situation. Here was Van Loan speaking to Reuters at one point on Thursday suggesting that negotiations on those landing rights might be back on the table:
The Conservative minister said talks are continuing.

“I don’t think there has been a ‘no’ per se. I think it’s an ongoing negotiation,” Mr. Van Loan told Reuters.

“We’ve been speaking in the past, and I hope we will be speaking again in the future. If we keep working at it and keep talking, I’m confident our positive relationship will continue.”
(Reuters)

Well that sounds promising, like an adult approach might be surfacing to salvage that base's crucial operation in the coming year. An olive branch being extended. But wait:
Within hours of Mr. Van Loan’s comments hitting the newswires, another government official denied, on background, that air-negotiation talks were still taking place.

And a spokesman for Transport Minister Chuck Strahl said that his department believes the existing air flight agreement with UAE adequately serves market needs.
So Van Loan has to then dial back his remarks, moving from the active "it's an ongoing negotiation" to the passive "we are always open to discuss these matters... ." Rug pulled out, check.

Not an auspicious effort from the Harper team, at least what's playing out publicly, to fix this situation. A word or two from someone of the in-charge variety might help clear it all up. Someone who has the plan. And assuming there is a plan, that is.

International affairs just keep peskily intruding on that "it's the economy" focus that these Conservatives would prefer. It is called politics and not economics for a reason.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

No love from India

Et tu, India?
When the time came for Canada to count its friends in its bid for a seat at the United Nations Security Council, India wasn’t there.

Those with a close knowledge of how nations voted in the General Assembly say India supported Portugal over Canada in the contest for a temporary seat on the council this week. That vote stings: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has invested a great deal of political capital in improving Indo-Canadian ties. In this instance, at least, his efforts were for naught.
Another shocker in the fallout of the UN Security Council failure. There has indeed been all that political capital invested.

I mean, we have a Bollywood superstar as our new tourism ambassador for India. How much deeper can you get in terms of fostering national ties? I hear Shakira is next up to promote that Columbia-Canada FTA.

And surely that little diplomatic row this summer where we called the Indian border force "...a “notoriously violent unit” that engages in “systematic torture" wouldn't have factored. We apologized for that bungle, profusely.

It all continues to be so puzzling.

USAF comments on the F-35

Updated below.

The U.S.A.F. Chief spoke about the Air Force budget, "U.S.A.F. Chief Makes Stark Budget Predictions," the bad and the good, at a National Press Club luncheon on Tuesday. He put the future of the F-35 in an interesting light:
But there are a few positive trends. Selection of a winning design for the KC-X tanker replacement is expected to be announced next month. The number of Air Force personnel will not decrease, and new systems — despite being fewer — will be designed with more flexibility, versatility and efficiency. The Lockheed Martin F-35 program, for example, could benefit from a multiyear contract, but only if there is a long-term requirement for the aircraft and if there is budget stability, Schwartz says. (emphasis added)
Only if there is a long-term requirement for the aircraft? What does that mean? Obviously, he's saying they might not require it in the long-term. What he means by "long-term" is anyone's guess, whether it's that they might cancel it or whether it's going to go into full production with a limited run as they start developing another option, who knows. But it is put conditionally, that's what we can read. Note also the continuing concern regarding the cost of this plane which we have yet to contract for.

More for the "why this F-35 prospective purchase requires a competitive process" file.

(h/t)

Update: More worthwhile reading on the F-35 today from Glen Pearson (h/t).

The minister who keeps changing his story

Bit of a problem for Harper and his Natural Resources Minister, Christian Paradis. On Wednesday of last week, Paradis said this to the House of Commons:
Mr. Speaker, on January 19, 2009, I attended a fundraiser in the riding of Bourassa. I understand that the member opposite is not happy about such activity in his riding. Fundraising events are indeed held in Quebec ridings. At no time was there any discussion about government business. It was strictly a fundraising event.
So, no discussion about government business. A blanket statement that made a firm representation to the House of Commons. 

The next day, one of the persons who was at the January 2009 fundraiser disagreed with Paradis' representation of events:
...Sauve said Thursday that the pair did discuss the contract at the fundraiser in the Montreal-area riding of Bourassa.

“The minister’s full of s---,” Sauve told The Canadian Press. “He did speak to me about that contract. He congratulated me, actually.

“A good four, five minutes. That there was a huge need for work up there, that it was nice to see Quebec companies. You know, basically just chit-chat, but he did talk about it.

“When I heard him say he didn’t talk about the contract yesterday — why? You talked about it blatantly.”
Now, a week later, Paradis is changing his story:
...a spokesman said Wednesday that the minister now recalls listening to a businessman lay out his gripes with the federal contracting process at the event.

The about-face came after construction company owner Paul Sauve, who organized the fundraiser, claimed that he heard Paradis talking about government contracts with Joseph Broccolini of Broccolini Construction.
Here are the Paradis and Broccolini versions of events, for the record. The issue at hand is the Commons version of what Paradis said above versus these (also from CP link):
"Broccolini initiated the conversation by outlining his company’s activities and then proceeded to explain his grievance with the federal procurement process," Walker said in an email.

"Minister Paradis answered that the procurement process was independent and that all procedural grievances should be made at the administrative level and not political. After this answer, the conversation moved to a more general discussion about politics that lasted a few minutes."

Broccolini had a similar recollection.

"We discussed politics in general. I don't remember precisely the subjects other than that he liked Italian food, it was more the minister who was talking than us, as you can expect," Broccolini said in an email.

"The only question I had time to ask the minister was about a project for which we submitted a proposal to a public bid process and that was cancelled afterwards ...

"I just wanted to know if he was aware of the reason for the cancellation of the (request for proposals). The minister suggested I call his cabinet and someone there could perhaps ask the people at Public Works what the reason was. It was clear that the minister did not know and did not want to talk about it. We didn't discuss any future projects or future work with the federal government."
The minister is now admitting that his initial statement to the House of Commons was not correct. Standing up in the Commons to say what was said above would have opened up many new lines of questioning.

The discrepancy here is why Paradis has been and will likely continue to be the subject of resignation calls. We should be hearing about this contemptuous turn of events once the House of Commons returns.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Splitsville in Harperland

You don't really have to say that much at all these days: "UAE rift exposes division in Harper caucus." The headache that the UAE situation presents to the military is causing dissension in the Conservative caucus. Word continues to leak out that the decision to play hardball with the UAE on landing rights that has caused us to be evicted from our military base there, the one that would have been instrumental in the Afghan exit, is a product of Harper's "pique" but with an assist from the uber partisan former Transport Minister John Baird. Baird gained the ear of the PM on this one, it is said, with his "forceful arguments." (Baird, as noted yesterday, was lobbied by the Air Canada president in April.)

You have to question the wisdom of Harper here, however, in favouring hard line commercial positioning over what is principally a military and foreign affairs issue. Particularly since, as the report notes, Harper had previously decided to indulge the UAE on the landing rights:
The move was a repudiation, a senior Tory MP says, of Mr. Harper’s decision several months ago to allow the UAE more landing slots in recognition of previous negotiations that acknowledged Canada had been a guest in the UAE since 2001.
So all this standing up for Canada stuff is not so relevant if what we're being told is that it was just a question of how many rights/landing slots were going to be given to the UAE.

The big political development here is that some unknown "senior Conservative MP" is dishing in frustration now about cabinet and National Defence HQ disgruntlement. That's big news in typically unified Harperland:
The loss of the base has left some cabinet members frustrated and angry at how Mr. Harper handled it.

“[It’s] all gone because of a fit of pique and a hard [core] position that is truculent and unreasonable against Canada’s short- and long-term interests,” the MP said.
...
With roughly three weeks to leave the United Arab Emirates, the Canadian Forces are preparing to relocate their logistics base for Afghanistan-bound soldiers to somewhere such as Cyprus.

The move – even as the Forces are preparing for a 2011 withdrawal from Afghanistan – is a headache for the military.

The Tory MP said the senior hierarchy at the Department of National Defence is disappointed with how Mr. Harper has handled the dispute – given the initial efforts to reach a settlement as well as the enormous cost and logistical challenges of relocating.
To think of what's going on here with relocating an entire military base in three weeks is mind boggling. The faces of resilience and dutiful contingency plan lines we've been hearing are lipstick on this pig of a situation. It's no wonder the voices are starting to speak up. The message, Harper and his diplomatic crew need to fix this debacle, if they can. It shouldn't be too late to fix this, if someone isn't too stubborn that is.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Lesson learned: Planet before donuts



From the archives, a good video reminder of an event that is said to have factored in to today's Security Council loss.

(h/t)

The foreign policy coup that wasn't

The Harper gang at the UN today.
Another one of those pictures that speaks a thousand words, capturing the day at the UN for the Harper team. Truly an unexpected development, the consensus going into today's vote was that despite the Harper government's foreign policy, we'd get the seat on our longstanding reputation. Despite the efforts on the world stage to hold up concrete work on climate change, we'd get it. Despite a faltering commitment to Africa, we'd get it. Despite our abandonment of Canada's honest broker's position on the Middle East, we'd get it. That ride is over.

There are those major stances that have clearly had repercussions. Throw in this new dust-up with the UAE that has flared in the week leading up to this vote and the world may have gotten another fresh reminder of the Harper government's posture on the world stage. It's described today as another Harper unilateral decision along the lines of the domestic census decision-making: "the Prime Minister would not budge." Spun as not meaningful, but the world has to have taken note.

How it played out is also instructive to gauge the extent of our support:
Based on states present and other considerations, the countries in the group with Canada needed 127 votes to go through on the first ballot. Germany obtained 128, Portugal 122 and Canada 114.
In the second round, Canada obtained only 78 votes while Portugal obtained 113. The required majority in the second round was 128, but Canada’s withdrawal, announced to the assembly by John McNee, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, left the way clear for Portugal.
To round out the day, here's some reaction. From a former Canadian diplomat:
“We’ve suffered a loss that we haven’t previously suffered in our foreign policy,” Paul Heinbecker, a prominent former Canadian diplomat who represented Canada at the UN, commented in an interview. “It’s a significant defeat.”
More:
"It is a reflection not so much on Canada as on the Harper government," said historian Robert Bothwell, an expert on foreign relations at the University of Toronto.
"This is, after all, the prime minister who showed his contempt for the UN by very publicly skipping a session and going to a Tim Hortons to be photographed."
Quipped Bothwell: "Perhaps Harper can get a seat on the Tim Hortons security council."
 
Some additional well-placed reaction to the blame Ignatieff effort:
Une interprétation rejetée par Louise Fréchette, qui a été vice-secrétaire générale de l'ONU de 1998 à 2006. «Ça n’a certainement pas joué. Il y a des raisons plus profondes. Les autres pays ne suivent pas à ce point la politique intérieure du Canada. Je suis triste du résultat et si le gouvernement ne fait que rejeter la faute sur Ignatieff, il va passer à côté du vrai examen de conscience qu’il a besoin de faire sur sa politique étrangère», a-t-elle dit lors d’un entretien téléphonique avec Le Devoir cet après-midi. Mme Fréchette est aujourd'hui associée au Centre pour l'innovation en gouvernance internationale, à Waterloo.
That didn't play, she said. There are deeper reasons, other countries don't follow our internal politics. What they really need to do is wrestle with why Canada lost. Common sense advice.

At the UN, the Ignatieff factor didn't seem to play either:
Several ambassadors who emerged from the vote made no mention of Ignatieff's remarks; one had never even heard of him.
Instead, African ambassadors, in particular, pointed to a series of Canadian stances on issues ranging from African debt relief to the Conservative government cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and accusing it of having terrorist links.
Last word on the Ignatieff blame to this guy:
Mr. Harper promised he would return Canada as a credible player on the world stage. He has now suffered a significant embarrassment on that stage and he has only himself to blame.
That's a full 360 from his early take on this that suggested the PM was on the brink of a "foreign policy coup." Hope the spinners are waking up to brutal reality. Just because the Harper Conservatives spin something does not make it so.

On the heels of the huge gun registry bill defeat, the fall has now seen two major rebukes to the Harper government. Chickens coming home to roost and about time.