Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday night

Something different, a departure from the house music tonight.

Have a great night!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012 corporate tax cuts in the spotlight today

Good question posed here: "Will 2012 corporate tax cuts fuel or weaken Canadian economy?" The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the cuts, which Flaherty's office claims will take most corporate combined tax rates down to 25% by 2013, will not help the economy nor is there evidence that reductions to date have helped:
Hugh Mackenzie, a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, argued that there is little evidence that corporate tax cuts have stimulated economic activity.

“In fact, the evidence suggests that the investment incentives that have been delivered through the tax system in the form of lower tax rates have simply gone into corporate cash flow and really had no economic benefit,” Mr. Mackenzie said.

He added that agreements between Canada and the U.S. require that American companies must pay federal and state governments in their home country the difference between any lower income-tax rate they are paying on their Canadian operations and what they would pay at home.

“When we reduce our tax rates below those of the United States, what we end up doing is transferring money to the U.S. Treasury,” he said.

Mr. Mackenzie acknowledged that the Canadian economy has performed better than other industrialized countries, such as the U.S., in recent years. But he credited that to tighter regulations in the banking sector — in effect before the Harper government came to power in 2006 — rather than tax cuts.
A Flaherty spokesperson responds citing business interest groups who, not surprisingly, like corporate tax cuts. But, Flaherty spokesperson, isn't the government supposed to represent the people, not business? That's a rhetorical question.

Glad to see an alternative voice being prominently featured and challenging the tax cut orthodoxy.

Related reading which is very informative but from a U.S. perspective, caution: "Mission Impossible: Cutting the Corporate Tax Rate to 25 Percent." [An excerpt: "But cutting corporate rates is much tougher. There, JCT finds there are simply not enough dollars in preferences to get the rate below 28 percent. But even getting to 28 percent is a huge political challenge: Many heavy-hitting businesses such as Google and General Electric already pay effective U.S. tax rates far below that—in fact many pay effective rates well south of 10 percent. They will not willingly give up the tax breaks that make this possible in return for a rate of 28 percent with no subsidies."]

Nothing to see here

"All about the economy, says Harper." Yes, yes, what else would he say in an interview on what to expect in 2012. Anyhoo, this is an interesting reassurance being rolled out:
Harper said Canadians can expect modest cuts to federal spending in the budget to be tabled later in the year. But he says the impact won't be jarring.

"We're talking about maybe 2% or 3% of the federal budget ... not a drastic reduction," said Harper, who won his first majority government on May 2 after five years in minority power.
I don't know what he means, exactly, by 2 or 3% of the federal budget. But if the 2011 budget had about $250 billion in total program expenses projected for 2011-12, a 2 or 3% reduction would represent between 5 and 7.5 billion.

Not drastic he says. It will be interesting to see how this magic will be performed. A reduction of that order would not be so easy.

RIM takeover talk

This is a very good overview of the prospect of a Research in Motion takeover by the New York Times' Ian Austen: "Despite RIM Takeover Talk, Hurdles Would Be High." The piece sets out the many variables, among them the suitors who might line up, RIM's adapting strategy and difficulties, the stubbornness of the co-CEOs who were named the worst CEOs of 2011, etc.

Interesting to note that apparently Microsoft approached RIM last summer but was rebuffed. Amazon and Facebook are also mentioned suitors as is a Chinese company, ZTE, the latter being viewed as a candidate who would raise the objection of the U.S. government.

If it does become a possibility, the piece suggests that the Harper government would nix a foreign takeover.
RIM is also a point of pride for the Canadian government, which has been increasingly reluctant to let foreign companies buy major domestic corporations. In a recent news conference, Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, offered a note of support for RIM, saying “we all know this is an important Canadian company.”
Despite the many hurdles and considerations, it could yet become a political issue in 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today in nickelling & diming

A news story tonight that will no doubt galvanize attention: "CBC’s 75th-birthday celebrations cost at least $6.6-million."

A news story earlier this month: "War of 1812 anniversary funding questioned." $28 million being spent on the 1812 celebrations.

So for those who are inclined to jump all over the CBC for the celebration of this milestone, that's some perspective on the issue. In proportion to the 1812 warfest, the CBC celebration costs seems like a bargoon to me.

The costs have been disclosed, it's open and accountable and entirely appropriate in this era. But it's important to see this beyond the dollar costs. CBC is part of our heritage and is a national institution that is an ongoing part of the Canadian identity. It's worth celebrating and supporting. We're not just a nation of bean counters, no matter how much many voices from the right would like us to be.

(Un)Lawful Access

This looks like a great event for those in Vancouver on January 12th: (Un)Lawful Access: Premiere & Panel Discussion. It's a premiere of a mini-documentary on the Harper government's coming lawful access legislation. Additionally, the BC Civil Liberties Association is releasing a report they've done on the proposed law. Here's hoping that both will be widely available for sharing in the rest of the country too.

Great to see events and efforts like this drawing much deserved attention to this troubling legislation.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday drive-by blogging

A collection of items noted in the past week or so.

1. Canadian Press had a good year end type piece on the 24th. It captured what was, to me, the quote of the year from Stephen Harper. CP used it as a metaphor and it does indeed work:
No simpler summary of Stephen Harper's style as majority prime minister was offered in 2011.

"It's time for the wheat board and others who have been standing in the way to realize that this train is barrelling down a Prairie track," Harper warned during an October stop in Regina.

"You're much better to get on it than to lie on the tracks, because this is going ahead."

The Canadian Wheat Board's seven-decade monopoly was indeed steamrolled, leaving behind a cloud of chaff and a spray of court challenges.

But the prime minister's locomotive imagery applied straight across his majority government's agenda. It was also an apt description for his Conservative party's persona.
A post-election statement that Harper never would have made in minority government days that signified the coming out of the majority era. Unfortunately for Mr. Harper, he's still going to have opposition. We just need to get creative about it.

2. I guess this is going to be a bit of a theme here, not surprisingly! This too was notable language from a Canadian Prime Minister:
“I am very serious about selling our oil off this continent, selling our energy products off to Asia. I think we have to do that,” Harper said in the Monday interview with CTV National News.
I can't recall a prime minister stepping so eagerly, personally, into the role of oil salesman or the salesman on behalf of any other industry, for that matter. He is very serious about selling oil. He and his team no doubt view it as a patriotic thing, in their own way. It does elevate certain interests over others, we know the choices that are inherent in such statements. Harper stepping up so personally seems to have been all prompted by the Keystone pipeline back and forth in the U.S.. Still, it was striking. Our oil salesman-in-chief.

3. One other item on the Harper watch, this little dropped item at the Harper Christmas party for the national media was insightful: "Harper said he frankly he doesn’t have a clue how to fix the health system, but believes that provinces do have ideas and many are already scaling back spending." Doesn't have a clue? That's quite an admission, some would even say abdication, on the part of a prime minister. Something to keep in mind.

4. Finally, two op-eds on Russia that are worth a read. Who knows, 2012 may see Putin's strongman days coming to an end: Jeffrey Sachs: Gorbachev and the Struggle for Democracy and "Vladimir Putin's world is falling apart."

Update: An afterthought here, reading number 2 & 3 above, together, gives a pretty good perspective on this Prime Minister's priorities.

Riley on marketing

That little girl rocks. That is all.

It's falling apart! Yay.


Friday, December 23, 2011

On the lighter side

Hope your holiday preparations are as exciting as this!

Harper government flips and flops on Europe

Yesterday: "Canada could pay into IMF Europe fund, Flaherty says." Hmmm, maybe they should have been a little more open-minded initially. Here in early November was Harper's shortsighted message at the G20: "Harper says no Canadian money for European bailout." Harper was pretty definitive at the time:
"We see absolutely no reason why Canada, or frankly why any range of other countries, would need to contribute to such a bailout," he said following the conclusion of the two G20 meeting in Cannes, France.
"These are wealthy countries … who do have, and have got to have, the means of dealing with their own problems," Harper told reporters.
Was it so difficult to anticipate that this moment might come? Not really. Maybe if they tried some constructive international leadership and engagement on financial issues, their supposed strong suit, instead of waiting until they have to act, things might be a little different internationally. Maybe. Other countries, allies, might appreciate it a little more. But they seem to have staked us out in the role of the international scold instead.

One other thing, there's a crowd at the CBC site objecting to this or encouraging people to write their MPs and demand that no money go to Europe or the IMF. This reaction could have been a political motivation for Harper's initial position. But unfortunately, we're not a financial island, as much as those people would like us to be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Team Summerville update

Just a quick note here to highlight a positive development in relation to the upcoming Liberal biennial convention in Ottawa. Candidate for the National Policy Chair position, Paul Summerville, whom I am supporting, recently put forth a constitutional amendment proposal to the party to democratize a number of policy related elements in the party's constitution. These proposals were co-authored by party member Sheila Gervais.

Notably, items 12 (iii), (iv) and (v) of today's renewal document includes their proposals which will come before the convention for consideration:

The most important proposal being 12 (iii) which makes eminent sense in a democratic political organization. Encouraging member involvement in policy development should be an obvious goal and the removal of a leader's veto over the policy platform helps to remove a key item that has perhaps inhibited such participation.

Coincidentally, there is an op-ed in iPolitics today by Summerville and Gervais which provides a rationale for the proposals. A shorter rationale for removal of the leader's veto can be found here.

Such efforts indicate a willingness to identify obstacles to democratic renewal in the party and an ability to grapple with them head on by proposing solutions for the party to address. It's a key reason why I'm supporting Paul for Policy Chair.

Now it's up to members for their consideration of all of the proposals.

Merry Christmas Jean Chretien

Continuing on in the festive spirit around here today, it's another pre-Christmas story to note:
Ottawa has to pay $200,000 in legal costs incurred by Jean Chrétien in his fight to restore his name after being blamed for the sponsorship scandal by the Gomery inquiry in 2005.

However, the Prime Minister’s Office called the ruling “disappointing,” and said the money rightly belongs to taxpayers.
Mr. Chrétien’s reputation was clearly tarnished by the final report of the Gomery inquiry, which stated he created a program that was secretive and circumvented normal administrative safeguards.

However, the former prime minister convinced the Federal Court in 2008 to strike out the negative findings against him, arguing that Mr. Gomery, through a series of public comments during the hearings, showed a clear bias. The Federal Court of Appeal later upheld the ruling, and last week, the Federal Court ruled in Mr. Chrétien’s favour on the issue of legal costs.
That's not so surprising at all and is a correct legal result. When you win in court in Canada, you win your costs too, generally speaking. The courts have discretion but this was a clear win for Chretien in the Federal Courts. So the griping from the PMO is not so classy, of course, but it's also off base on that count.

We also want our public figures, particularly those on the national stage, to have such legal protections given the nature of the business and what happened here with Chretien. 

And I don't know what Mr. Harper et al. are complaining about. They extensively partake in taxpayer funds to litigate. They're the most litigious of the lot in recent years. Cadman, In-and-Out that is on its way to the Supreme Court, the Khadr litigation that went to the Supreme Court...and so on. Hopefully some day we have a total of their litigation costs paid for via the taxpayer, just for comparison's sake of course.

Merry Christmas Stephen Harper and Christian Paradis

News today of a possible Conservative rebellion on asbestos:
Les députés conservateurs, en particulier ceux de l'extérieur du Québec, sont de plus en plus mal à l'aise de voir leur gouvernement défendre bec et ongles l'industrie de l'amiante.

Le malaise est tel que, si l'occasion se présente de nouveau à la Chambre des communes, plusieurs députés n'hésiteront pas à voter en faveur d'une motion interdisant la vente de ce produit que décrient plusieurs pays et organisations, a appris La Presse.

«Je ne comprends pas pourquoi on continue à défendre cette industrie. Tout le monde sait que l'amiante est néfaste pour la santé. On fait tout cela pour protéger une circonscription, mais sur le plan moral, cela va à l'encontre de nos principes», a affirmé un député conservateur qui a requis l'anonymat.
«C'est probablement l'enjeu qui crée le plus de division au sein du caucus à l'heure actuelle. Il y aurait pas mal de députés qui exprimeraient leur dissidence avec la position du gouvernement s'il y avait un vote aux Communes», a affirmé le député à La Presse.
Good for these anonymous Conservative MPs. Let's hope there are plenty of them, first of all, and that secondly, they don't lose their nerve if the opportunity presents itself to vote on a motion to ban the sale in developing countries. And irrespective of what might happen here, it's a nice little reminder to Mr. Harper that he has this possible additional check in his midst.

Love to see a little Conservative on Conservative turmoil in the morning. While they're at it, they might also want to take a look at this...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not the Canada they voted for

Sandy White, a former aide to Christian Paradis, writes in the Globe in opposition to the omnibus crime bill. While he or she (sorry, don't know Sandy's gender) still claims to support Harper near the end of the op-ed, these are the seeds of doubt about his agenda from within the Conservative base that need to be sown. It's very helpful for that reason.

White takes issue with the crime bill's emphasis on punishment over rehabilitation. The op-ed is framed in terms of values. The writer is questioning whether it sits well with the Canada they know:
With the government’s omnibus crime bill set to become law, a critical question we should ask is whether we are becoming a society that fosters hope or one that extinguishes it. While Canada is a country of promise in many ways, the government’s course of enacting legislation that favours incarceration and punishment over treatment and rehabilitation stands in conflict to the values that make it such a formidable nation.
I am a Tory, but like many others who cast their ballot the same way I did not vote for the draconian and misguided measures in this regressive legislation.
This suggests that on the crime bill and perhaps on other issues (the Kyoto withdrawal, for example), the Conservatives are interpreting their electoral mandate too broadly and may continue to do so. As a result, some of their own voters may question their support in coming years when they actually start to feel the difference between what they thought they were voting for and what they're getting instead. That's what is jarring about the White op-ed. This person is saying hey, I didn't vote to go this far and this is not what we do in Canada. The value system is being shaken up.

In this era of information overload and busy lives, getting more people to feel that difference and have it stick, something that has not happened to date, will be key.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cooperative federalism in action

Updated 8:15 p.m. below.

As exercised by one of our intrepid cabinet ministers:
Mr. Duncan described the provinces as being blindsided by Mr. Flaherty behind closed doors. “He put the document in front of us and said, ‘This is the way it's going to be,’” the Ontario Finance Minister said. “We all kind of paused; we all looked at each other.”
Oh to be a fly on the wall in that room. Welcome to the majority government roll out of Harper's federalism!

The health care deal from on high runs until 2024, when we may possibly be driving flying cars or commuting with jet packs, who knows.
Mr. Flaherty told reporters health transfers will continue to increase at 6 per cent a year until 2016-17 before moving to a system that ties increases to the growth in nominal Gross Domestic Product, which is a measure of GDP plus inflation.

Mr. Flaherty noted that nominal GDP is currently above 4 per cent. He also promised there would be a “floor” that ensures transfers will not fall below three per cent during the period of the agreement.
Dwight Duncan states in reaction that this means "removing $36-billion in national support for health care."

Wonder what else is going to be tied to GDP growth? This is a new formula that is being applied to how government services should be measured and something that deserves some scrutiny. We are, by many accounts, heading into a low growth era. While it may sound quite prudent, tying health care funding to economic growth might prove to be a flawed mechanism. It might make sense for more discretionary spending but not core government services.

Update (8:15 p.m.): From CBC's report:
The provincial and territorial ministers were informed of the new federal formula over lunch.

Six of them lined up to speak out against the decision, citing a lack of negotiation with two years left to reach a new agreement.

They also complained that they didn't expect to be handed the new funding arrangement at this round of talks — they thought they were going to touch on how the talks would be set up.

Flaherty said there was one hour set aside to discuss the 2015-24 health transfers.
It's hard to understand why the federal government would be so high handed with a few years to go before the present accord expires. One hour of discussion on such a major issue, practically cutting out the major stakeholders in the decision making, seems quite negligent.

The blogging life

This confession comes from the brilliant Mark Thoma who writes Economist's View:
A recent email prompts me to explain something.

I post lots of excerpts from articles about economics, but one thing you can't read at this site is the stuff I write for other outlets, instead I mostly link (e.g. the links to CBS, The Economist, and FDL from the last day or so in the posts below, and there will be a link to a column tomorrow).

I should explain the reason, because it may not be what you think. It's not an attempt to send traffic to the other sites. It's because I am one of those people who never, ever thinks the things they write are any good. Thus, when I'm done with a piece I never think it is good enough to post here. So I try to hide behind links. And sometimes, I don't even link (occasionally I find the courage to post things, but mostly I don't, and I can hardly read the comments when I do).

Deep down I hope you'll click through and not hate what you read, and it's always a big relief when the response is positive. That keeps me going. But I always fear otherwise -- that the dumb-ass of the day award is surely coming my way (perhaps for this post).

Anyway, because of the email I thought I should explain why I mostly link to my own stuff instead of highlighting it on my site. It's just me and my silly self-consciousness -- me thinking my stuff isn't good enough to post on my site.
My reaction upon reading that is essentially: !!!!! I've never thought twice about Thoma's practice. I just assumed that he wrote elsewhere and he was happy to point others to the sites that he posts at and just didn't want to duplicate the exercise. To think that a respected economist who writes at the CBS site and The Economist site is so humble and self-critical about his writing is refreshing and admirable. He clearly cares about what he is doing and how it is received. Kudos to him.

If you don't read his site, I recommend it. One of my faves from 2011. The linking that he does is quite valuable in and of itself. Some of the best stuff on the web from a progressive economics perspective. I am also someone who subscribes to the view that blogging is free style. A post can be a simple link here and there, it can be highlighting material from elsewhere with interspersed commentary, it can be essay style. Andrew Sullivan is one of the best bloggers in the world, IMHO, and his blog is largely sharing information. I guess it depends on what you are interested in, what you like to see, but that's my view anyway. Thoma's blog is in that vein and is valuable for that reason. Almost 50,000 Google Reader subscribers can't be wrong!

And I share in his sentiment, by the way. I too am "one of those people who never, ever thinks the things they write are any good." True story. There are probably a lot of us out here!

Health care trial balloon

I think that's what today's Ibbitson column on future health care funding must be, a trial balloon. It is probably positioning by the Harper pros in advance of health care discussions starting this week between Flaherty and provincial finance ministers and that continue early in the new year with Harper. This is hard line: ministers meeting in Victoria on Monday will receive a stark message from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty: The second decade of the 21st century is turning into a mess. Everyone is going to suffer; no government can afford to spend more money; every government must instead spend less.
The fact remains that Ottawa simply doesn’t have the money to continue funding health care at present levels. The Harper government now confronts projections of economic stagnation as far as the eye can see.
Provinces looking to fund health care while paying down their deficit before Moody’s comes knocking on their door should not look to Ottawa for help. The feds have got enough problems of their own.
Any provinces in particular he might be referencing there? Just screams kumbaya, doesn't it?

Coming from a government that is spending questionably, it's all a bit rich. We don't have to rhyme off the programs over and over, we all know them by now. They may claim they have a mandate for such spending given the election but in times of financial "mess," they can't have it both ways. It's not credible to carry on spending regardless with certain programs then ask others to suffer. It's certainly not going to be a winner to take this position on cuts to health care while the usual Conservative priorities blossom. Which is why it seems a little hard to believe.

It seems more likely that they're softening up the public for changes in health care delivery, and it's early in these discussions: "My hope is that we can actually get the next accord done by this time next year," Duncan said." So, factor that in to the view via Ibbitson.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday night

Another good one: Guy J & Henry Saiz - Meridian (Pryda Remix). That should do it for anyone looking for their progressive house fix!

Have a great night!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Late night

Here's one take on that Newt paper at
Ultimately, however, the most frightening thing about Gingrich’s proposal isn’t its direct conflict with the Constitution, but the implications of such a violation of the Constitution for a fair and impartial judiciary. The framers protected judges from exactly this kind of intimidation because they knew that judges cannot be trusted to enforce unpopular laws or to extend the law’s protection over unpopular groups if they constantly have to watch their backs. At the end of the day, Gingrich’s proposal is nothing more than another sign of the right’s utter contempt for the Constitution and the law.
Smartest-guy-in-the-room-itis. Look at him go.

Update (Friday a.m.): An excerpt from Jeffrey Simpson's column today, a fitting reminder of how such right wing hostility toward the courts is playing out here:
Speaking of judges, the Conservative chair of the parliamentary witch-hunt committee into the CBC and its expenses – a committee egged on by the ravers at Sun TV and its owner, Pierre Karl Péladeau – had the audacity, presumably born of a mixture of ignorance and arrogance, to insist that a judge whose ruling displeased him be hauled before the committee to explain the ruling.

There's open government & then there's not so open government

So Tony Clement was on the Twitter this late afternoon, having his picture taken while at the keyboard, tweeting on the #opengovchat stream during a Treasury Board Secretariat sponsored chat on open government. Open government to the datafiles has a specific meaning, where the objective is to enable open access to government data, documents, proceedings, in order to encourage greater citizen oversight, participation and even to promote innovation in society. Where citizens can access troves of public data and create useful applications, for example. So there's that technical meaning.

Not surprisingly, the chat also prompted other perspectives on open government as practiced by the Conservatives. There's little doubt that they intend to play on the open government terminology, knowing their susceptibilities.

Case in point, this week, here's Ivison on the Conservative's latest parliamentary committee tactics:
The Harper government is even more arrogant and obsessed with control since it won its majority, according to Liberal House Leader Marc Garneau. “The Conservatives are relying far too heavily on moving committees in camera wherever possible. That means Canadians are being shut out of discussions about laws that affect them and their families. This is fundamentally wrong.”

Does he have a point? In this instance, yes.

There is no doubt the Conservatives are pushing for more in camera sessions during committee meetings, to determine which witnesses to call and what subjects to examine. The Tories hold a majority on all committees and can pretty much do whatever they please. They maintain that they want to ensure that they are not hijacked by the opposition and used as a platform to embarrass the government, as was the case during much of the past seven years. But it is not clear why they need to meet in camera to hammer out an agenda. It’s an unwelcome development and should be re-considered.
So there's one kind of technical form of open government, yet to be really put in practice by the Tories. Then there's the kind they live every day. We're not dumb, contrary to what their public relations machine thinks.

Late night

What exactly is Fox News trying to say about Mitt Romney anyway? Another fine moment in journamalism.

(h/t to a little birdie)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Camera government

Beyond all the excitement on the Hill today, there is an important development that Kady O'Malley has noted at the parliamentary committee level that is worth a look.

Apparently Conservative MP Mike Wallace of Burlington has put forth a motion at the Government Operations Committee that would mean that all future committee business conducted there would automatically be conducted in camera. I.e., without public viewing. The Conservatives want this to be the operating presumption at that committee which is antithetical to what a parliamentary committee's operations should be in a, you know, democracy.
...while much of yesterday afternoon's Hill chatter was -- again, rightly -- consumed by the Cotler ruling, something else was going on at committee that, depending on the ultimate outcome, could have a far more profound effect on the ability of Members of Parliament to do their job, not to mention the ability of the voters they represent to watch them do it.
Now, it's worth noting that going in camera for all discussion of committee business would not necessary result in all future meetings being held behind closed doors. (I say "likely" because it wasn't clear from Wallace's motion, which was tabled without notice, and, as such, not available in written form.)

If passed, the Wallace motion would still allow witnesses to testify in public -- but all other proceedings, including but not limited to debate over all future motions, ad hoc or substantial, would be held in secret by default.

It would also prevent opposition members from distributing copies of motions, since any matter scheduled to be dealt with in camera is considered confidential.
As several procedural experts have pointed out, the minutes will only reflect motions passed during an in camera session, not those that are ultimately defeated, which means we'll never know just what motions may have been nixed by the government majority.
What on earth is going on?

Flaherty commits to 6% health care increases

Look who's on SoundCloud! Excellent to see this use of audio media:

In light of Flaherty's musings this week on tying health care transfers to the umbrella and unrelated concept of economic growth, that promise is one to keep in mind.

Note also that Flaherty's musings came on the heels of Preston Manning and Tim Powers making noise about private health care.

(h/t 3mendous)

Cotler incident may harm Conservative case for lawful access legislation

In the wake of the Speaker's privilege ruling yesterday, the Conservatives are saying that "there will be no more phone calls to voters in Cotler’s riding, spreading the word that he was about to step down." Take that for whatever it's worth from these Conservatives. Until they're caught in the midst of the next wonderful iteration of their permanent campaign.

So while this despicable little incident may be over, for the time being, one important point to keep in mind is that they've arguably harmed their case with the lawful access legislation that will be brought before Parliament in the near future. With that legislation, as we know, they are seeking enhanced powers to obtain online subscriber information of Canadian citizens, without a warrant. They've never demonstrated that they need those powers on a warrantless basis. There is a high degree of trust that goes along with that request. So their behaviour means that this legislation in particular requires a much harder look. As Bob Rae suggested in the Star piece, that behaviour raises serious questions:
“We rely on governments to respect information. We rely on governments to respect the due process of law. Citizens give up a lot of their rights in order to give information to people,” Rae said.

“If you condone telling lies and making phone calls into somebody’s riding and playing those games, what would stop you from being similarly abusive in situations where you’re keeping confidential information?”
Now to the eye-rolling crowd out there who are still ready to defend this government even after such tactics are exposed and are reprimanded, the ones who will say, well, this was only politics and all the parties do it, it's activity that's limited to this political, not really. It's about the character of the Conservatives. Why would we believe that they would only behave immorally in the political sphere but morally in the governmental sphere?

Even before this incident it has been clear that the lawful access legislation should rightfully include a real system of checks to prevent potential abuses. One of those checks is the requirement that a warrant be obtained when online subscriber information is sought. That the argument for such inclusions may have been helped by this ugly political mess may be one lonely upside to take from it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Late night

"The decision to quit will not help Canada's international reputation...critics say is becoming a climate renegade."

Monday, December 12, 2011


Here in Canada we have media reports on Rahim Jaffer breaking the lobbying rules but there being absolutely no consequences.
Shepherd says she sent the file to the RCMP because she had reasonable grounds to believe Jaffer and Glémaud broke the rules, and the RCMP decided not to proceed.

"The file was returned to me and I continued because I had sufficient grounds with the Lobbyist Code of Conduct investigation and as you can see I found that they had breached the Lobbyist Code of Conduct, which is why I am tabling this report today," she said.
So at least we get to read about it.

New kid on the Bloc

Chantal Hébert had an interesting column yesterday. She raised the possibility of a future Quebec by-election scenario featuring new Bloc leader Daniel Paillé versus Brian "I'm a Quebec kid" Topp. Whoa. Which is why I won't be holding my breath. Not enough fun things happen in Canadian politics and that would be a fun one.

I agree with her analysis on the questionable strategy at play in Topp's decision to run in Quebec. Someone is going to have to step aside for him, barring any illness or retirements. Hébert is right that it won't be a cakewalk. Topp will be viewed as a Torontonian, IMHO. Not good! Anyway, he has a leadership to win and then seat considerations would follow, depending.

Now about this Paillé fella. He is an old school sovereignist. Not a good look in Quebec these days. Why I thought Maria Mourani might be an interesting and better choice for them. A young woman who is in Parliament and who had at least one interesting and possibly quite smart idea: "Mourani vows to distance Bloc from PQ if elected leader." Paillé's smarts may prove to be a force in any event. He did run circles around the Conservatives way back but times have clearly changed for the Bloc.

Renewal: Constitutional proposals on removal of leader's policy veto, etc.

Time to provide a bit of an update on renewal matters. Specifically, I would like to refer you to a few constitutional amendment proposals that have been submitted to the party and will likely be before delegates for consideration at the upcoming biennial convention in January (the full slate of constitutional amendments will be posted on December 23rd according to the party website). These are significant proposals that speak to the democratic character of the party and are in keeping with one of the major themes/priorities expressed in the Roadmap to Renewal document: re-establishing a framework of organizational trust (1.1 (3)). These proposals are in relation to the policy development and implementation process in particular.

The proposals have been put forth by Paul Summerville, candidate for National Policy Chair of the Liberal executive and member from Victoria, and Sheila Gervais, member from Ottawa South. I would refer you to their websites respectively for both the text and background of all of their proposed amendments. The two principal proposals that I will refer to here are these:
Removal of the Leader’s veto over the Platform;

Altering the mandatory review of the Leader from occurring only after losing elections to occurring at each Biennial Convention of the Party;
If you have been following any of the renewal discussions, particularly pertaining to policy issues, you will detect an undercurrent of frustration from members that rings through it. I don't think it's a generalization to say that members feel that they’ve been left on the outside of the policy process looking in. Perhaps they have participated in good faith in the past but they haven't seen their participation come to any meaningful fruition. So they naturally wonder why they should continue to participate in the party’s policy process, something that should be part of the lifeblood of a political organization.

Part of the reason for that frustration is a quasi-presidential mechanism that exists in article 33(2)(e) of the party constitution. It permits the leader a line by line veto over the party platform. Such a veto seems strange within a functional democratic political organization. It may be one of those elements that has unwittingly fed a sense of leader-itis within the party.

The proposal to remove the veto provides an opportunity to reinvigorate a democratic sense within the party on policy matters. To do as the roadmap documents states in its invocation of organizational trust and allow for the “mass participation party” to be just that. Indeed, why would members participate in good faith in a policy process if they know their efforts may be for naught? Why would Canadians trust Liberals on issues of democratic reform, for example, if we don't live it internally?

In terms of the other principal proposal mentioned above, the leader's review being made to coincide with biennial conventions, that really goes hand in hand with the leader being in sync with the party's membership and particularly on the policy level. As the two movers of the proposal put it: "We believe that a review of the Leader's performance with respect to their ongoing role as Speaker for the Party should occur at the same time that the Party contemplates new policies and political directions."

For those wondering about the leader's role in the policy process in light of these amendments, and if it is being overly clamped down upon, there is a further companion proposal to add an offsetting power to the leader. That is, to permit the leader to "propose policy resolutions for consideration by the Party in accordance with Subsection 61(4)(d)." This would be a new addition to article 48 ("Responsibilities and powers of the Leader") of the party constitution. It is also noted in their background discussion that article 33(5) gives much weight to the leader as a part of the Policy Approval Subcommittee, further rationale for removing the line by line veto that the leader has over the platform presently.

Bob Rae said this, just over a month ago: "“A successful political party is not a debating society or a social club,” Mr. Rae told Liberals at a convention of the party's British Columbia wing in Victoria. He reminded Liberals that the purpose of their party is to elect enough MPs to form a government." That is true. And you can’t get elected if you don't have a strong foundation to stand upon, i.e., a vibrant policy process that is ongoing, that connects all stakeholders within (and outside) the party as an integral part of the getting elected equation.

I would encourage you to give their thinking and proposals a read for further explanation. They go into some detail but these are significant contributions to the party's debate that merit serious consideration.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fun Saturday reading

Update (6:30 p.m.) below.

This has to be one of the most epic smack downs of a politician in recent memory:
It may be months before the implications of David Cameron's Europe raspberry become clear; it may be days. Then again they may become clear before going fuzzy again, before suddenly crystallising six weeks down the line in horrifying or mildly encouraging detail. My gut instinct is that this is Not Good, and that Britain appears to have bolstered its lack of economic policy with a lack of foreign policy, but in truth I'm in many more minds than the Conservative party about it all.

Of one thing I can be absolutely sure, however, and that is that it doesn't look great for Mr Nicholas Clegg. How he and his pro-Europe party can remain in the coalition after this I do not know – and yet I feel absolutely sure that we shall discover it, in what will go down as his greatest feat of Quislingery yet. He may well be enabling the very destruction of Europe at the same time as remaining its most reedy cheerleader.

It is now clear that the tuition fees U-turn was merely the gateway drug to the big one. Clegg is now mainlining U. His story arc is like some Westminster version of Trainspotting, featuring grotesque scenes of personal degradation in pursuit of what must surely now be an ever-diminishing high. Perhaps a physicist would care to get in touch to explain whether there is a theoretical point at which a being has switch-backed on so many positions that he might simply atomise, leaving nothing but a thin coating of yellow dust and a pair of shoes he never grew into.
Recent history suggests that the next term in the sequence is an extended interview with Clegg placed somewhere or other, in which the deputy prime minister begins lots of sentences with "Look", and says "If you think I'm enjoying this" quite a bit, then explains about "incredibly hard decisions" that he "believes" in, before returning to the womb-like comfort of his ministerial car and shooting up some more U on the back seat.
This relationship dynamic may well have secured Britain's destruction in Europe, and it has almost certainly secured the Liberal Democrats' destruction for the foreseeable. Whether their MPs will be able to fill a taxi after the next general election is a matter of debate.

Of more ghoulish fascination, though, is the next Lib Dem manifesto. What could this document possibly include? There are whole areas that in any sane universe it would be literally too embarrassing to mention, and given that these include major planks of what used to be called Liberal Democrat policy, such as Europe and education, I've genuinely no idea where they'll go with this one. Blank pages? Something nice and inclusive about fish? The mere fact of something appearing as a Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge has come to symbolise that it is terminally doomed as an idea. Perhaps the best way to eradicate poverty would be to draft up a Lib Dem manifesto commitment to perpetuating it.
Ouch, ouch, ouch. Not much you can add to that and what a great piece of writing by Hyde. 

The coalition was going to be hard irrespective of issues that came up and the Lib Dems are committed to the full term. But just what they are getting out of it remains unclear. See above.

As for David Cameron's keeping them out of the new EU treaty, while it's hard for anyone to say what's going to happen with the EU now that they've come to a new agreement, the move by Britain does seem to be going over for the most part like a lead balloon.

Update (6:30 p.m.): Nick Clegg gets it! Could be interesting times ahead for the coalition government in the UK.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Toronto-Danforth goings on

The NDP candidates are lining up. There are two now, a former assistant to Jack Layton, Claire Prashaw, and as of today, an Osgoode Hall law professor, Craig Scott.

Not running, and really the big news of the day, is one Brian Topp:
NDP leadership hopeful Brian Topp has ruled out running in a byelection to fill the Toronto seat left vacant by Jack Layton's death.

Instead, Topp says he wants to run in Quebec, the province that delivered more than half the NDP's 103 seats last May and vaulted the party into official Opposition status for the first time in its history.

Topp, the presumed front-runner in the race to succeed Layton, had flirted with the idea of running in Toronto-Danforth, but the timing was always problematic.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper must call a byelection in the riding by Feb. 22, a month before New Democrats are to choose their new leader on Mar. 24.

Topp now says he wants to focus on the leadership contest until it's over.

After that, he says his strong preference is to look for an opportunity to run for a seat in Quebec, the province where he was born and cut his political teeth, although he now lives in Toronto.

Topp says he's chosen Quebec because maintaining the NDP's breakthrough in the province "is fundamental to defeating and replacing Mr. Harper in the next election."

Topp supports Craig Scott, a law professor and human rights activist, for the nomination in Layton's old riding.
I think this has come together nicely so that Topp doesn't have to run during the leadership. It does, however, make eminent sense for Topp to run in Toronto-Danforth. Topp lives in Parkdale-High Park, from what I understand. And since Nash is the MP from PHP, you'd think he'd want to run nearby, at least, not parachute in to another province where he will indeed be susceptible to the parachute argument. Guess someone has decided that they really need to concentrate on the leadership race a hundred percent at this point as front runner status-ish seems to have subsided.

Wheat Board update

The latest on the Wheat Board issue: "The Canadian Wheat Board and its supporters said on Friday they may seek an injunction to stop the federal government's move to end the board's monopoly on sales of Western Canadian wheat and barley." It's like an economic action plan for lawyers, of sorts. Also quoted in that piece, Ned Franks:
"That ruling of the court stands, it's the law," said Ned Franks, professor emeritus of political studies at Queen's University. "As long as that appeal process is underway, the government cannot implement the provisions of the law."

Parliament has the authority to pass legislation without court interference, but there are a few limits, Franks said. In particular, it must adhere to "manner and form" - that is, the law currently in effect. The government failed to do that when it introduced its bill to break the monopoly without holding a farmer vote, Franks said.
Here's a little light Friday quote to round out the picture in view of the Harper government's reaction to the ruling, i.e., to carry on regardless:
“67 The consent of the governed is a value that is basic to our understanding of a free and democratic society. Yet democracy in any real sense of the word cannot exist without the rule of law. It is the law that creates the framework within which the "sovereign will" is to be ascertained and implemented. To be accorded legitimacy, democratic institutions must rest, ultimately, on a legal foundation. That is, they must allow for the participation of, and accountability to, the people, through public institutions created under the Constitution. Equally, however, a system of government cannot survive through adherence to the law alone. A political system must also possess legitimacy, and in our political culture, that requires an interaction between the rule of law and the democratic principle. The system must be capable of reflecting the aspirations of the people. But there is more. Our law's claim to legitimacy also rests on an appeal to moral values, many of which are imbedded in our constitutional structure. It would be a grave mistake to equate legitimacy with the "sovereign will" or majority rule alone, to the exclusion of other constitutional values.”
That's from the Secession Reference on the interaction between democracy and the rule of law, two of the principal underlying principles of our Canadian constitutional order. It was cited in paragraph 27 of the Federal Court ruling.

I also think people may be glossing over paragraph 28 of that ruling where the judge ties the democratic structure of s. 47.1 of the Wheat Board legislation to Canada's NAFTA trade obligations. It's not really fleshed out by the judge, but I would expect to hear a little more about that on appeal. Something to think about.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Hillary's historic speech

You go, Hillary! You can watch the rest of her historic speech here and the transcript is here.

High times in Canadian politics

This quote from a Liberal Senator goes to a key question with this government:
Liberal Senator Robert Peterson said he thinks the closure motion was brought in because the Tories feared an extended debate over the court ruling. But he saw no practical way to derail the bill.

“If they're going to ignore the law, then I guess they'll ignore it,” he said. “It's a matter of whether we respect the laws of the land or we don't. I guess if you want to pick and choose which ones you like, which ones you don't like, I guess you can do that.

“When a federal judge says you've acted improperly and you can't do this, what more can you do?”
I think there's a slight tone of resignation there that doesn't necessarily reflect what's going on in Ottawa in response to the Conservative push to carry on with the Wheat Board legislation. It's noted in this iPolitics report that Liberal Senators attempted to argue the Senate shouldn't be hearing the bill given the Federal Court decision yesterday. Further, Frank Valeriote and James Cowan, opposition leader in the Senate, have raised a question of parliamentary privilege as another route of opposition:
“The government can change the law, but can’t breach the law when it changes it,” Valeriote said. He accused the government of violating the rights of MPs by forcing them to debate and vote on a bill that the court has found to be illegal.

The issue comes down to the rule of law, he told Speaker Andrew Scheer, who earlier rejected opposition complaints about the bill’s legality. Valeriote wants the matter referred to a committee.
It's another one of the grey areas exploited by Conservatives. Where a choice is permitted, because it is technically not prohibited, but where the choice should not be prudently exercised. There is the possibility that the Federal Court decision may ultimately rule the day following all appeals. So there's doubt presently cast over the government's course of action. Prudent governments respect accountability mechanisms and such legal decisions. This one clearly doesn't. See prorogation, winter of '09. I honestly don't know where this goes from here but it can be said that they're showing themselves, boldly, and reactions will be spawned.

Trackable you

Tell the kids to become experts in data management, more news in the form of yesterday's Canada-U.S. deal that says there's going to be a lot of use for the skill in the Canada of the near future. The tracking of exits from the country is a brand new feature we will be living with courtesy of Stephen Harper, making us less free:
Airlines in Canada will be required to divulge passenger lists to Canadian security agencies with the names of everyone leaving the country, a practice already in place in the United States. Information gathered in Canada will be shared with U.S. agencies even for flights bound for other countries.
Here's how the Star puts it:
And personal information on a Canadian or anyone else flying out of a Canadian airport — regardless of destination — will be made available to Canadian authorities by the airline and can be obtained by the Americans on request.
So if you fly Toronto to Europe, or anywhere of a non-U.S. destination, the Canadian government will know about it, something that is new. Americans will know about it too, despite your Canadian citizenship and despite the fact you won't even be landing there.

To track this information along with the border exit-entry information, apparently a gigantic new database is going to be required:
"Ex-diplomat Colin Robertson told the Canadian Press this week that implementing the data collection for the entry-exit system could cost Canadian taxpayers up to $1-billion."
Right now there are many unanswered questions about how the entry-exit data of individual travellers would treated. How much will police get to tap into what are, migration databases? Will tax collectors get access? How far could U.S. agents reach into Canadian systems and vice versa? Will the data exist permanently? None of these details are clear at this time.
Here's a few more questions: On what basis is this sweeping new exit-entry database being justified? What is the threat that requires us to give up our freedom to be just that, free, to come and go as we please without our governments prying down our necks? Are these measures proportional to the threat? Or are we giving up our individual freedoms for the sake of eased border controls for business?

And why don't Conservatives track the things that they should?

I'm sure there will be lots more questions to come...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Judge says Ritz breached Wheat Board Act

Marking the moment here with a bit of the media coverage and some highlights from the judgment.

"Judge says Ritz breached wheat board act."

"Government broke the law when dismantling Wheat Board: Federal Court."

You can read the decision of the Federal Court judge here. The order states:
The Minister failed to comply with his statutory duty pursuant to section 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, RSC 1985, c C-24, to consult with the Board and to hold a Producer vote, prior to the causing to be introduced in Parliament Bill C-18, An Act to reorganize the Canadian Wheat Board and to make consequential and related amendments to certain Acts
While the government has said it will appeal this decision, it's clear that their course of action has been rebuked and they should listen by taking that judgment into account. A court order declaring that a Minister of the Crown has breached his duty under the law is a serious matter. A halt to their legislative process should be undertaken until this court proceeding is finished.

In terms of the judgment's highlights, the court was clear with its characterizations of Ritz's actions:
[1] The present Applications concern the rule of law and the disregard for it by the Respondent Minister of Agriculture (the Minister).

[2] The law concerned is s. 47.1 of the Canadian Wheat Board Act, RSC 1985, c C-24 (the Act) which requires the Minister to engage in a consultative process with the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and to gain the consent of Western Canadian wheat and barley producers with respect to proposed changes to the currently well-established process of marketing the grains in Canada. At the present time, contrary to the requirements of s. 47.1, the Minister is unilaterally proceeding to revolutionize the process by securing the imminent passage of legislation.

[4] The Applicants each request a Declaration that the Minister’s conduct is an affront to the rule of law. For the reasons that follow, I have no hesitation in granting this request.
You don't get much bolder than that. Unilaterally revolutionizing the process.

See also paragraph [9] as one that goes to the core of the problem for the government here. Professor Hogg is cited for the principle that "manner and form" limitations that a Parliament places on a future Parliament's actions are perfectly legitimate in law. Parliaments can't bind future Parliaments on substantive legislative choices. But they can bind a future Parliament on "manner and form" aspects of future laws. The 1998 amendments to the Wheat Board regime were essentially changes of the "manner and form" variety. The court reviews the statements made on intent at the time those changes were made. The law was changed then to assure farmers certain participatory rights under section 47.1 of the Act.

In paragraph [30], the judge points out the lunacy of Ritz's argument in steamrolling those participatory rights:
By construing the liberal interpretation of the Act which best ensures the attainment of its objects, I find that the Act was intended to require the Minister to consult and gain consent where an addition or subtraction of particular grains or types of grain from the marketing regime is contemplated, and also in respect of a change to the democratic structure of the CWB. As the Applicants argue, it is unreasonable to interpret the Act to conclude that while the Minister must consult and gain consent when extracting or extending a grain, she or he is not required to consult or gain consent when dismantling the CWB..."
In other words, you can't give farmers the right to say how they'll sell their grain, then just repeal the entire act and say you're not making a change to those consultative rights. It's absurd.

The judge's conclusions are also worth a look, not just for what they say about this case, but for what they say about the state of democratic governance under the Harper government:
[33] The Minister argues that the declarations should not be granted because their effect would be meaningless. In response, I say that there are two meaningful effects of granting the Breach Declarations.
[34] The first effect is that a lesson can be learned from what has just occurred. Section 47.1 speaks, it says: “engage in a consultative process and work together to find a solution.” The change process is threatening and should be approached with caution. Generally speaking, when advancing a significant change to an established management scheme, the failure to provide a meaningful opportunity for dissenting voices to be heard and accommodated forces resort to legal means to have them heard. In the present piece, simply pushing ahead without engaging such a process has resulted in the present Applications being launched. Had a meaningful consultative process been engaged to find a solution which meets the concerns of the majority, the present legal action might not have been necessary. Judicial review serves an important function; in the present Applications the voices have been heard, which, in my opinion, is fundamentally importantly because it is the message that s. 47.1 conveys.
[35] The second and most important effect is that the Minister will be held accountable for his disregard for the rule of law.
Lesson: Don't tell courts that their orders may be meaningless!

From the Wheat Board this afternoon:
"We argued strongly that farmers should have the final say over changes to their grain marketing agency," Oberg said. "As farmers, we pay for the CWB, we run it and we should decide what happens to it. We are pleased the court has agreed that the Minister acted in violation of laws created in 1998 to empower farmers and give them a direct say in any changes contemplated to the CWB's marketing mandate. In light of this ruling, the government should stop steamrolling over farmers' democratic rights.

"The Minister now needs to do the right thing, obey the law and hold a vote - as he should have done from the beginning."

Oberg and CWB farmer-elected director Stewart Wells appear tomorrow morning before a Senate committee considering passage of Bill C-18. Oberg said the court ruling brings additional impetus for senators to reject the Bill.
Stay tuned!

Security perimeter deal day

The Harper era, with its formative markers being laid down, continues to roll on through the fall of 2011. Today is border perimeter deal day, negotiated in secret without public input and without parliamentary debate. It all seems to be premised on the principle that what's good for business is good for the country, kind of like the old saying that what's good for GM is good for America. Yes, it does appear to be a guiding principle for the Harper government's approach to the border: "New border deal will change how Canada and U.S. trade goods." We hear lots of talk about how great it is going to be for business to have one inspection point, say, instead of two. But ever more inspected, possibly, will be the Canadian citizen. Biometrics abroad anyone?
A central feature of Wednesday’s agreement will be a pledge by both governments to share far more information between government agencies in an effort to improve North American security. But Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, has laid out several concerns given the two countries’ very different privacy laws.

Ms. Stoddart recently warned of drawing “ever closer to the bleak reality of a surveillance society” if the collection of Canadian biometric data – such as iris scans or fingerprints – end up being stored in U.S. databases.
Guess we'll have to wait and see on that special privacy landmine. In addition to the expansive new surveillance powers Harper et al. will be giving police here in Canada to access online activities, this possible sharing of biometric data with the U.S. will compound the new era of privacy invasions courtesy of the Harper government. The long form census intrusions that they manufactured were piker's play compared to all this.

Also amazing to read Canadian industry groups wishing to "ultimately see Health Canada opting to rely more on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve new food products rather than studying them independently." Yes, why have two separate national departments doing approvals after all when you could just use one? With the scale of lobbying that occurs in the U.S., such a thought is incredible. I mean, what could possibly go wrong

The elevation of business/market interests above the interests of the citizenry as a central theme of the Harper era has begun...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

December 6, 1989

Never forget.

Vic Toews will get way more than your phone number

John Ibbitson had a piece last week, Tories Have Yet to Prove Case for E-Snooping, that raised the temperature on the lawful access debate. A key excerpt was this quote from the federal Privacy Commissioner: “there is not even a requirement for the commission of a crime to justify access to personal information – real names, home address, unlisted numbers, e-mail addresses, IP addresses and much more – without a warrant.”

In response, on Saturday Vic Toews wrote a letter to the editor of the Globe. He compared the amount of information that could be obtained without a warrant from internet service providers to that you would find in the phone book:
We will allow police to access “phone book”-type information from Internet service providers. If it becomes necessary to find a suspect's name, address, phone number or other similar identifier, ISPs will be required to disclose that information. ISPs will be required to have the capacity to allow police to investigate – strictly with a warrant – all communication methods.

Let me be clear: No legislation proposed will create powers for police to read e-mails without a warrant. Our proposed approach of linking an Internet address to subscriber information is on par with a phone book linking phone numbers to a residential address.
The public relations framing they have going is clearly meant to minimize the amount of information they will obtain. People will get a visual of one phone number in a phone book and think it's harmless enough. Except they're wrong.

Law professor Lisa Austin takes on Toews' argument in a Globe op-ed today: "Stop hiding behind the phone book, Mr. Toews." She gives an account of what she did on the internet this week versus what she did on the phone to illustrate the difference between the two: "This is why the digital trail I leave, the one Mr. Toews wants access to, is highly revealing, even if he never reads the content of my e-mail. This is private information and deserves protection through our existing standards of oversight and accountability, not something less." Worth a read. And the title of the op-ed isn't bad in terms of creating a visual to push back against Toews' argument.

Even more successful in demonstrating the falsity of Toews' phone book comparison is the information here: "The Anatomy of Lawful Access Phone Records." There the author breaks down the "eleven descriptively rich fields" in an internet "phone record" that Toews and the government will be able to access without a warrant. It looks like this:

After explaining each element of the subscriber information data, the author explains how those numbers can be used to put together a profile of the user:
Not all telecommunications service providers could make available a full post-lawful access legislation “phone record.” However, once authorities have a single piece of information they can then move to other service providers to develop a full record, one that could subsequently be used to map a person’s presence on the Internet, their habits, and their activities. Using open source intelligence, the email address can be employed to determine what other services are attached to that email address, and using the IP address authorities can determine where a person is accessing the Internet from (i.e. was the IP address leased to a cafe? to a home? to a business? to a mobile network?) and the billing records associated with that IP address. If browsing from Starbucks, the cafe might be able to turn over a log of users who used their wireless network during the time authorities are interested. If browsing from home, or your own mobile device, then the subscriber records associated with that billing address might be available. And, if browsing from a friend’s phone or computer, then their information might be given to police regardless of your friend’s interest to the police.

Remembering back to the discussion of traditional phone records, it is possible that multiple people share the same account and thus what turns up in the phonebook remains somewhat ambiguous. This may remain so when dealing with communal Internet connections but is far less true when dealing with mobile devices. Phones have, for many people, become fetishes that are carried on one’s person and jealously protected from third-party intrusion. Thus, the ability to ascertain who owns, and is using, a particular mobile device is far less ambiguous than who subscribes to, and uses, a landline phone. Using contemporary policing technologies such as IMSI catchers, authorities can de-anonymize a crowd by catching the IMSI associated with each phone and immediately requesting subscriber data from mobile phone providers. While it may not be legal for authorities to engage in ruses to compel individuals to identify themselves when those individuals have done nothing wrong, with IMSI catchers no ruse is needed for the identification process to occur. The term “papers please” is a distinctly analogue notion, one that can be abandoned by authorities in possession of IMSI catchers and lawful access powers.
The information that can be obtained without a warrant is much more extensive than that found in your typical phone book. Online subscriber data creates a living, breathing, ongoing information trail and a profile, all trackable courtesy of the lawful access legislation and all obtainable without a warrant.

The phone book nonsense needs to be thrown right back at the Conservatives. They're not just getting a phone number, they're getting a whole book.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Word of the day: "retasked"

From the annals of great usages of "r" words by the federal Conservatives to haul themselves out of quagmires, joining recalibrate of prorogation fame is "retasked" now of helicopter limo service fame. Say hello to the latest in obfuscatory doublespeak courtesy of Peter MacKay: "Peter MacKay says no helicopter 'retasked' to fly him."
Defence Minister Peter MacKay says it's not true that a search and rescue helicopter was retasked to pick him up at a fishing resort and drop him off at a Gander, Nfld., airport in 2010.

Facing renewed questions in the House of Commons Monday, MacKay repeated his assertion that he left a vacation to go to work. Emails released last week show MacKay's staff requested the helicopter flight to get him to the airport in Gander faster than the two hours it would have taken to travel by boat and car.

"Any suggestion that there was a retasking or a diversion of search and rescue aircraft from their actual tasking is simply untrue," MacKay said.
So why is this little rewording worth paying attention to? It suggests that MacKay et al. are sensitive to the charge that his sweet ride diverted a Cormorant away from its principal search and rescue tasking. As we saw in some coverage on the weekend, MacKay's helicopter limo ride is not going over well in Newfoundland. There, search and rescue operations are taken quite seriously and the issue is doubly sensitive given that they are being cut back in some respects by the Harper government. For a minister to be using a helicopter that has a search and rescue designation as a taxi to the airport embodies optics of the worst kind. It's a poke in the eye to Newfoundlanders in particular. And it's not just optics, really. It looks bad, sure. Because it is bad, in and of itself. Diverting a search and rescue helicopter for ministerial scheduling ease is right up there in the ranks of offensive perks that a minister could possibly pursue.

MacKay's use of retasking is not helping him either. No, he didn't snag a helicopter away from an imminent rescue mission. But it was a search and rescue helicopter he was hoisted into. The helicopter was retasked away from its search and rescue work which is to stand by for search and rescue missions.

Perhaps hoisting a federal minister who is on a fishing getaway is now to be classified as search and rescue work. Maybe that's what MacKay is suggesting by saying the helicopter wasn't retasked. And who knows, maybe in MacKay's case, that is true.

The use of the word retasking is also a helpful reminder that there is a certain someone who deserves to be retasked just about now...

Opposition MP part of official delegation in Durban

Yep, Green Party MP Elizabeth May is an official delegate for Papua New Guinea. It's another bizarre moment on the world stage brought to you by the Harper government. It means that in addition to the Canadian government officials who have delegate status, May will also be able to access the major discussions, etc.

As the linked item mentions, apparently beyond the delegate accreditation issue, things are otherwise carrying on: "She was however welcomed by the Canadian delegation at the international conference centre and met with the government officials after arriving on site." It's the new Canadian normal that is not so normal at all.

Delegation accreditation should have happened for all opposition parties, of course, based on precedent. Precedent and the way Canada has typically conducted itself on the world stage, where we include the range of our political parties and viewpoints at such events as the mark of a supposedly mature democracy. Moving on...

In other news, also mentioned at the link, Peter Kent will be making an announcement today about our contribution to developing country funds for climate change adaptation. While clearly much more needs to be done, particularly by countries like Canada, some are saying that short-term goals like "creating the framework for helping developing countries actually meet their voluntary targets through better financing mechanisms, technology transfer arrangements, and programs to prevent deforestation" might be considered a "success."

So while on the world stage our government acts pettily on politics and intransigently on working toward a new binding agreement, at least there's that. Assuming we don't throw any wrenches into the works on it, that is.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday night

Bluesy techno goodness with excellent vocal.

Have a good night!

Party like it's 1812

Can you feel the 1812 commemorative vibe, people? It's coming, get ready. A Conservative MP, Gord Brown, on his riding's 1812 re-enactment plans, somewhat lacking in specificity:
Here's a description of some of the plans, from his release:

The Lions Club of Gananoque will present a community commemoration of the first battle that took place in Gananoque on September 21, 1812. Activities will include historical re-enactments, music and theatre performances, and a heritage walk by local artists and historical heritage performers.

In addition to this celebration, the Lions Club has also undertaken the development of Joel Stone Park into an 1812 heritage park that will feature, among other elements, a bronze diorama representing the town as it was in 1812, an amphitheatre for small theatrical events, and the beginning of a one kilometre heritage trail.
A commemoration of the first battle, interesting. As noted later on in the pesky blog item, however, it may be more interesting than is let on by said Conservative MP:
The St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance website describes the event that actually happened at Gananoque this way:

An incursion of regulars and militia led by the Captain Forsyth of the 1st US Rifle regiment made an attack here (September 1812). A detachment of the 2nd Leeds militia, under Colonel Joel Stone, offered some resistance, but withdrew its force of two subalterns and about 40 soldiers. American forces seized the stores, burned the government depot, and withdrew.
A fine moment to re-enact. Look forward to the burning amidst the period costumes et al. Surely it will be toned down for the kids, think of the kids.

And whatevs. As long as $28 million can be sprinkled around Canada, commemorating war-like events, it's all good. I mean, what better to spend $28 million on anyway?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The PM's not so bold meeting announcement

From the PM's site: "PM announces meeting with First Nations early in new year." Looking like an executive in charge, scheduling a major meeting to respond to the unfolding crisis in Attawapiskat. Except the word Attawapiskat doesn't appear in the PM's press release. Strange. Why not?

As noted by the Globe, this meeting was scheduled last year, in any event. It will only be his first meeting with first-nations leaders:
The Prime Minister and the head of Canada’s largest aboriginal group have agreed to sit down together in late January to discuss ways to increase the social and economic participation of first-nations members in Canadian society and to improve living conditions on reserves.

It will be the first time that Stephen Harper has met officially with a gathering of first-nations leaders since his Conservative Party took office in 2006. The long-expected announcement comes as the eyes of the nation are turned on an impoverished Ontario Cree reserve that declared a state of emergency over the deplorable state of its housing.
Although the situation in Attawapiskat, and the other reserves that are in similar condition, will undoubtedly be raised, the meeting – which Mr. Harper agreed to a year ago – is expected to take a hard look at on-reserve education, one of the Conservative government’s top priorities.

“I look forward to meeting with first nations representatives early in the new year to determine how we can work together to further improve the quality of life and long-term economic prosperity of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples,” Mr. Harper said in a statement.
Come back in January everybody.

Looking at Harper's performance in the Commons today and his photo-op (pictured at Globe report), this is clearly not an issue that sparks much passion in the man. Not like this for example: "It’s an absolute disgrace. It’s the single biggest moral issue we face as a country,” he said." 

Harper's response is all too clinical, like the response of the managing partner of an accounting firm. Which is likely the strategy, when emotional issues present, bland and bore it all away.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Late night

Great message.

Update (11:55 p.m.): Also a great message.

Update (Thursday 6:20 p.m.): For more context on this issue, there is a good post at Xtra that provides all the nuances and what the issue is exactly. The wording of the proposed bill is being interpreted by the president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association as permitting Catholic schools to prevent the terminology choice by students of "gay-straight alliance." Laurel Broten, Ontario Education Minister specifically denies that is the intent of the legislation.
Education minister Laurel Broten tells Xtra there is “no more debate” on GSAs. “If students want a GSA, it must be provided.”

Until now, most Ontario Catholic schools have banned GSAs. Broten says Bill 13 will require school boards to allow students to start queer support groups and name them whatever they wish, including, "gay-straight alliance,” Broten vows. A “general equity group,” which is what some Catholic schools have offered students, is not sufficient, she says.

“I’m confident our Catholic schools will work with students on this,” she says. “’Gay-straight alliance’ is language and terminology we all understand and support. Students will call the groups what they want.”
This is the provision that has caused the controversy with its inclusion of "or another name" at the end of subsection (d):
303.1 Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead,

(a) activities or organizations that promote gender equity;

(b) activities or organizations that promote anti-racism;

(c) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities; or

(d) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.
Broten's words indicate the intent of the legislation is to require the gay-straight alliance name and that's what the statute says.

Update (Sunday a.m.): One last update here. I may have overstated in my last sentence above on Broten's words and what they meant. Re-reading what she said in combination with s. 303.1, it's the club that is required by the statute, first and foremost, not the name. But, I don't see how the schools can get away with denying the students their name choice. The statute is mandatory in its language, requiring that "Every board shall support pupils" who want to establish and lead organizations including those that have the gay-straight alliance name choice. The government's intent is clear as to what they want to see the schools do, i.e., work with and let the students have the group that they want, including under whatever name they choose.