Monday, February 28, 2011

Libya, CF-18s and F-35s

Updated below.

Canadian Press has a report tonight about a possible military build up in connection with Libya that Canada might be somehow involved in although it's not clear what's going to happen and how we might be involved if at all. The report nevertheless speculates about CF-18s, our present day jet fighters, being mentioned as possible participants in a possible NATO enforced no-fly zone.

The possibility of the CF-18s being used seems to be raised by just one person, an academic, Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary, with this perspective:
Use of an air force squadron enforcing a humanitarian no-fly zone would "certainly bolster the government's side of the argument" over the F-35, said Huebert.
A brief point on that below. But first, a quick look at Huebert's credentials that should be taken into account when assessing his aforementioned view. Here's his "Honorary Colonel" page on the Canadian Air Force website:
Dr. Rob Huebert, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, is a member of the Air Command Advisory Council. He is also the associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.
How does one get to be an Honorary Colonel? Additionally, the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies received $140,000 per year from the Canadian military through the Security and Defence Forum as of 2009. That is all information going to the issue of expert independence that is not included in the CP report that readers can judge for themselves as to the weight his view should be given.

So why would deployment of the CF-18s bolster the government's case for the F-35? I mean, the CF-18s will be used until their lifespan ends some time around 2020. Every time they are used this will support the Conservative case for the choice of the F-35? I suppose Huebert is just saying that the fact of their use will remind Canadians about the importance of jet fighters. But that presumes that there are people saying Canada should have no jet fighter capabilities. Which, as far as I know at the federal level, there aren't. There is a debate about the choice of the F-35, that's for sure, given its problems in terms of cost and delay. And there has been no competition and no disclosure to the Canadian public about the "Statement of Operational Requirements" supporting the case for the F-35. Those are issues yet to be resolved, despite the hard sell by the Conservatives and the occasional plug in such reports.

Update: No word on CF-18s elsewhere, including this Globe update or this Star report late Monday night.

Elections Act charges make Pierre Poilievre a very shy parliamentarian

Be very, very quiet about the Elections Act charges. Do not get heated in responding to opposition questions. Do not inflame the very delicate situation that finds the Conservative party embroiled in a situation where a number of its 2006 election campaign officials have been charged with Elections Act offences. Charges which make them look like they don't play by the rules of our democracy, some of the most foundational rules that there are. So be very, very quiet as they carry along their merry way to an election campaign where they think that Canadians won't care about such matters.

That is the Conservative strategy, quite comically executed in Question Period today. Pierre Poilievre whispered away the afternoon, meekly transmitting the Conservative talking point line on the Elections Act charges:
...A QUESTION FOR THE PRIME MINISTER AND THE GOVERNMENT, IS DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND THAT PLAYING FAST AND LOOSE WITH CANADA'S ELECTION LAW UNDERMINES CANADIAN DEMOCRACY?

The Speaker: THE HONOURABLE; ORDER. THE HONOURABLE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE PRIME MINISTER.

Mr. SPEAKER, I THANK THE HONOURABLE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION FOR HIS QUESTION. THIS, OF COURSE, IS A FIVE-YEAR-OLD ACCOUNTING DISPUTE. UNFORTUNATELY, THE FEDERAL COURT HAS RULED IN FAVOUR OF THE CONSERVATIVE -- FORTUNATELY, THE FEDERAL COURT HAS RULED IN FAVOUR OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY AND AGAINST ELECTIONS CANADA. THANKS VERY MUCH.
"Thanks very much." Thank you twice over in fact. A new leaf of pleasantry from the Conservatives. Smile away and thanks for the question. Oh, and one line, that's all you get, Canada.

Now about that one line, it's not so hunky dory for the Conservatives, no matter how much they keep hyping that win at the Federal Court trial division. The case is under appeal. As part of the appeal process, Elections Canada moved for a stay on the trial ruling. Why? Well, here's how fantastic the lower court victory that Poilievre repeatedly touted today actually is for the Conservatives. The Conservatives are actually appealing part of that judgment because it leaves them in great jeopardy:
But now the Tories are also appealing, hoping to strike down a little-noticed section of the judgment that would mean up to 10 candidates — including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner and former minister Maxime Bernier — exceeded their campaign spending limits in 2006.

If the ruling is allowed to stand, the four sitting Tories and up to six former candidates could face charges. If convicted, they could be barred from running again or even be barred from sitting in the House of Commons, much less cabinet.

Because of the potentially grave consequences, Elections Canada is asking that Justice Luc Martineau’s ruling be stayed until the appeals are completed.

“These nine or 10 candidates could face prosecution and, if convicted, face significant consequences,” the independent elections watchdog argued in an affidavit filed with the Federal Court of Appeal late last month.

“In particular, three could lose their current appointments as ministers.”

“Apart from any conviction, this option would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election of the four candidates . . . who are current members of Parliament.”
Not so good. If the Conservatives lose that part of the appeal, see above. Prosecution. Among those who would face consequences, some very high profile Conservatives, Bernier, Verner, Cannon, Paradis. Something to remember as we hear all about the goodness of the Federal Court ruling. This is an aspect of this judgment that needs much more attention.

What else have they been spinning the past few days?

1. That this is a "long running accounting dispute," that's a good one. When you have disputes with your accountant, do they make it beyond the accountant's office? Not likely. Do you have to traipse off to the Ontario Court Provincial Division for a date with a judge to answer to charges carrying penalty of fines and jail time? Not likely. Do you claim solicitor/client privilege over 5 million documents? Maybe if you are a behemoth operation, well-financed and litigation friendly, like the Conservative Party of Canada. And you would like to contribute to the "long running" nature of the dispute so that you can keep it tied up in court for years and obfuscate to the general public. The time tested strategy of corporate giants. Interesting look on a supposedly little-guy friendly political party.

2. That the civil suit and the Elections Act charges can and should be intermingled. No. There is the Elections Canada investigation conducted by the Commissioner of Elections which has now produced these charges against Conservative party officials. Then there is the separate in-and-out civil lawsuit over candidate expenses, initiated by the Conservatives themselves, that has been going on for years as well. While both proceedings arise from the same broad set of facts, they're separate. The early Conservative spin suggested that these charges shouldn't have been laid by the director of public prosecutions while the appeal is pending in the separate civil matter. No. That undercuts the separate nature of the proceedings. One doesn't depend on the other. Indeed, see that Canadian Press report from May, 2010 where we were reminded at that time that the Commissioner's investigation was still kicking around and that it could produce charges. It told us that the matter had been referred to the director of public prosecutions in June 2009, well before the lower court ruling in the in-and-out civil lawsuit in January 2010. Again, separate and apart. These charges shouldn't be minimized by Conservative spin efforts to intermingle them with the civil suit.

A question that some of us would like to know is why exactly it took a year and a half for the Director of Public Prosecutions to make the decision to prosecute? Is that normal? Doesn't seem like it. "It's a complex matter" doesn't really cut it. In the U.S. they have no such problems dealing with complex matters. This aspect also seems to deserve some attention.

Oda, Elections Act charges...no wonder the Prime Minister doesn't want to speak about these things, skipped Question Period, and is kicking the can down the hill to his underling. Very courageous, as always. He has television ads to make, don't ya know.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday is cover off the environment PR blitz day

Hard to keep up with the very busy public relations and campaign firm of Harper & Associates, but this is what they were up to on Sunday: "Harper Government Invests in Clean Energy." They be all about the clean energy today. It's election season and all. Vulnerabilities must be covered off. By the time they're done, this will be the most environmentally friendly government of Canada in history, baby. It's all about the events and the ads.

$64 million was dropped today "across the country to support renewable and clean energy projects that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions." The nice round figure of $10 billion since 2006 on reducing GHGs is a key point in their releases. That seems like a figure worth checking in terms of the projects, their prospects for impact and the real record.

Here were the Conservative MPs lining up to ride the announcement train today, happily for them, announcing projects near and dear to their home ridings: Mark Warawa, MP for Langley, in Vancouver; Greg Kerr, MP for West Nova, in Digby, N.S.; and Ed Komarnicki, MP for Souris-Moose Mountain, in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Looking forward to "strengthening our democracy" day, coming soon to Conservative ridings near you.

Annals of shocking columns

Updated (5:50 p.m.) below.

The sun rose in the east today. Here's another predictable Sunday touchstone. Persichilli writes about...guess! Yeah, you got it, his regular drumbeat which doesn't even need to be articulated at this point. Dion's leadership (first link), Ignatieff's now...it's a never-ending and predictable source of material for Mr. Persichilli and today's is more of the same.

He runs down some of the factors that might predict whether or not we have an election, issues like MP pensions and polls rate a few lines. But there's nothing in here about Mr. Harper and his calculations on achieving a majority and the obvious spectacle we've seen of this government running taxpayer funded ads to the tune of millions, party funded attack ads or the public relations blitz around the country, doling out millions. If we have an election, you see, it's largely about Bob Rae and the Liberal leadership. Uh huh. But check what Persichilli writes:
One of these factors is the role Bob Rae will play in the Liberal party. I’m not saying Rae wants his party to defeat the government and force an election to accelerate the departure of his friend Michael Ignatieff. I don’t know what he wants, and that’s not even the point.
Not the point? Well, it's kind of an important point. Rather than just listening to some random strategist who is apparently a Liberal and who has whispered rather ominously and importantly in Persichilli's ear:
In fact, last week a respected Liberal strategist told me that “even if we don’t like it, we have to start looking at Bob Rae as the only person who can successfully lead the Liberal party in the near future.”
This feeling is shared by many other Liberals who have lost hope in the once-heralded prophet from the south.
Really. This is the kind of thing that probably gives a lot of people pause. Not only because supposed Liberals, who may have axes to grind, for whatever reasons, are stupidly saying things like this to willing scribes. Advertising works on all kinds I suppose.

It's also unfortunate because the readers of the Toronto Star probably don't possess much familiarity with Persichilli's record. For example, here's a Persichilli line from December 2009 after another one of his mysterious and dubious Liberal sources disclosed a - debunked - coup plot by the likes of Glen Pearson, Carolyn Bennett et al (remarkable, I know): 
"I wouldn't be surprised if Ignatieff were to reconsider his political future and go back to his beloved academic world before the end of the year." 
Well, here we are, almost March 2011 and just as that one fell flat, the same fate is likely to befall this one. It's all very old and tired. Maybe some new sources or topics might be in order.

Update (5:50 p.m.): Had to add this from Rob Silver's take on Persichilli's column as a bookend:
As an aside, once, just once, even if just for shits and giggles, can a journalist call an unnamed Liberal strategist “a douchebag Liberal strategist” or a “Liberal strategist who was clearly drunk while talking to me” or at the very least, give a descriptor like “an old white guy Liberal strategist in his 60s whose best before date was 24 years ago” Please, someone?
That would be fun. Interest in Canadian politics just might pick up.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday night



Sorry for lack of posting today. I blame the Twitter vortex. This group, Wye Oak, is attracting a bit of attention and they are talented indie rockers. Here's NPR on the group and "Civilian," the song above:
There are so many adjectives worth applying to Wye Oak's music — dark, brooding, mysterious and so on — that don't come close to capturing the Baltimore duo's stormy, booming power. As much as Jenn Wasner's sweetly moody, vaguely sinister slurring dominates the surface of the band's songs, everything else in the mix has been placed perfectly to achieve maximum conflict and combustibility. Given that Andy Stack plays drums and keyboards simultaneously at Wye Oak's shows, there's more stuffed into this music than two people should be able to muster.

A highlight from the excellent new album of the same name, "Civilian" perfectly captures Wye Oak's distinctive mix of bluster and beauty, as Wasner obliquely examines the push-and-pull between a complex mind and a desire for the comforts of normalcy. As "Civilian" builds to the point of near-implosion, Wasner searches for certainty — "I wanted to love you like my mother's mother's mother did" — but finds such stability elusive. Then again, if discomfort consistently produces art this gripping, why be normal?
Good question.

One more, here they are covering The Kinks:



Have a good night.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Black out worthy?

There is nothing too small for the black pen of the Harper government:
The government website's partisan and personal promotion of Harper became an issue in the autumn of 2009, when The Canadian Press reported that the site was plastered with literally dozens of Harper photos.

After critics lampooned the site's self-aggrandizing appearance, many of the Harper photos disappeared.

The PMO claimed no photos had been removed, and even issued talking points to MPs and supporters citing The Canadian Press story as "false." Prominent party supporters claimed the site was simply undergoing routine technical revisions.

If it was routine site maintenance, the government does not want Canadians to know. An access request asking what happened to the missing photos elicited a two-page, internal explanation from PCO technicians — a response that was entirely blacked out before it was released.
The bar has fallen to a new low. This is not top secret information, what could possibly warrant blacking out here on maintenance of the Economic Action Plan site? It's probably just plain old embarrassing material related to the excessive Harper imagery. Can't have that kind of information being released in the Harper era.

Just the latest symptom of their information stifling modus operandi that is just not acceptable in a democratic nation.

Some job numbers perspective on economic PR blitz day

Today is Conservative economic pr blitz day: "More than 70 Conservative MPs, ministers, and senators will fan out across the country Thursday to push the virtues of their so-called Economic Action Plan." The Harper government that claims not to want an "opportunistic election" will act today as if there is actually an election underway. At our expense and on a grand scale. 

To mark the occasion and maybe to push back against some of the glowing accounts of government economic self-love, let's look at some job numbers as perspective! These are the numbers the government uses these days to fend off criticism of the Economic Action Plan (from Sun link):
"The government, though, shrugs off that kind of criticism by pointing to the latest job numbers. Statistics Canada says that 460,000 new jobs have been created since the depth of the recession in July, 2009 - that's the strongest job growth in the G7 - and the economy has grown now for five straight quarters. So far as jobs go, the economy is pretty much back to where it was before the recession.
But then there are the other troubling numbers that become apparent after a deeper look at the situation:
Employment has bounced back from the recession, but behind that rosier picture lies a labour market still in the midst of a painful healing process.
...
But today’s employment landscape looks dramatically different than it did before the downturn: The number of jobless people rose by 800,000 between October, 2008, and October of last year. More people are involuntarily working part-time, and long-term unemployment has surged – to nearly a quarter of jobless people, from 15 per cent before the downturn.
...
Canada’s official jobless rate has ebbed to 7.8 per cent. But a broader measure, which captures discouraged workers and involuntary part-timers and is also known as the “underutilization” rate, was 10 per cent in October, 2010 – not much improved from a year earlier.
...
There were 113,000 fewer full-time positions in October, 2010, than two years prior, and the number of involuntary part-time workers swelled by 20 per cent in the two years.
...
The number of “non-participants” in the labour market rose by nearly half a million people, with students and seniors accounting for the bulk of that gain.
Those numbers from the Globe report are found in the original source, the Statistics Canada study released yesterday, "Inside the labour market downturn" (see also full article).

Employment is a key indicator of the economic health of the nation and the stats as presented by the government deserve that extra context. What is the government's plan to deal with the still substantial numbers of jobless and the loss of full-time jobs, i.e., the higher paying ones? What is the plan beyond the one that is in our rear view mirror? Will there be any questions allowed at any of the stage managed and very pretty events today? Consider that last one a rhetorical question.

Maybe they all should be at work solving such matters rather than blitzing the country with all the photo ops and patting themselves on the back.

We call him "Loose" Cannon for good reason: part II

Canadian Press reported this yesterday:
Despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper's oft-repeated support for freedom, human rights and the rule of law abroad, his Conservative cabinet rejected a proposal in the fall to create a Canadian centre for promoting democracy.

And people within Canada's international assistance community say they are getting a less-than-enthusiastic response from the government for projects that help promote democracy and good governance. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) even struck "governance" from its main priorities in 2009.
It was interesting then to hear Lawrence Cannon in the question and answer session following his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday in terms of what Canada could do in the Arab world along with its allies to influence that part of the world at this critical moment. Here's the video, scroll to the 13 minute mark where Cannon answers by raising "shared values," saying that "democracy means building the institutions," that this is an area where Canada can work with its allies. It certainly sounded like a Foreign Minister representing to that esteemed audience that Canada actually values governance initiatives and will support them:



So maybe they're turning over a new leaf? Probably not. Read the Canadian Press report above in full for multiple accounts from groups doing governance work aka promoting democratic initiatives who speak of support from the government for such initiatives drying up.

Other notes...in the speech he cited the Reagan/Mulroney "Shamrock Summit" favourably and played up economic integration along with a plea for the U.S. to reject "green protectionism."

A headline from AFP on the speech: "Cannon seeks greater economic integration with US." One of the few headlines from Canada on the speech, Postmedia: "Respect and work with us on the global stage, Cannon tells U.S." Bit of a difference there.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mercer on Harper and the truth

Canada helps the Wisconsin debate

Economics professor Stephen Williamson provides this comparative perspective on U.S. and Canadian public sector unions and their impact on government spending:
In general, union organization is not an easy thing in the United States, relative to what happens in other rich countries. Twenty two states, mainly in the south and in the middle of the country have right-to-work laws. In some states, state employees have much less power to form unions relative to what exists in the private sector. However, in Western Europe, unions tend to be relatively powerful. In Canada, labor law is much more conducive to union formation and power. For example, most (if not all) Canadian provinces do not allow the hiring of permanent replacement workers during a strike, and some will not permit the hiring of temporary replacement workers. Strikes of public service workers in Canada are infamous, from old-time disruption in the post office to more recent strikes involving garbage collectors and transit workers in Toronto. The difference in labor laws in Canada and the US is reflected in unionization rates. The US has a unionization rate of only 7% in the private sector, and 29% in the public sector. In Canada, the comparable statistics are 16% in the private sector and 71% in the public sector.

Now, if we believe Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, public spending in Canada should be wildly out of control. We know, of course, that government is doing much more redistribution in Canada than is the case generally in the United States. But in Canada actual expenditures of all levels of government on goods and services amounted to 21.2% of GDP in Canada in 2009, and 20.6% of GDP in the US. Not much difference there. Further, in spite of union power in the public sector, the Canadian federal government was able to turn around a deficit which had exceeded 5% of GDP in the mid-1990s. Before the recent recession, the Canadian federal government had been running surpluses for several years.
You could probably fine tune the last sentence a bit with some perspective on the Conservative spending record just before the recession hit and there are of course questions about their plans going forward, but this is nevertheless a big picture helpful contribution to the debate going on in Wisconsin (and perhaps to future debates in Canada).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Superstar: an awfully high bar to set

Paging Feschuk, there's more toadying going on: "‘Superstar’ status in global economic poll strengthens Harper’s hand." "Superstar," my. That's quite a headline. Having Mary Katherine Gallagher flashbacks. Look at the lede too, the opposition may as well pack up and go home, it's all over folks:
A new international survey shows Canadians are in a very positive mood about the state of the economy, suggesting the opposition parties face an uphill battle pushing for change on the eve of a possible federal election.

Describing Canada as a “superstar,” an Ipsos online survey of citizens in 24 countries finds 68 per cent of Canadians are feeling good about the economy. Those January numbers are up six points from a month earlier.
Because one online poll is definitive in Canadian politics after all. Well, maybe until tomorrow's poll, or the one the day after, as we surely know they will come. This one involved 1,000 Canadians, for the record.

An election is framed in the piece as entirely about the economy and how great it is in these here global parts. It's clearly one of the biggest issues, yes, but elections do have a way of taking on a life of their own. Individual issues with economic implications will be spliced off from the vague economy talk. Then there's Ms. Oda and the subject of honesty, integrity, democracy, yadda, yadda, yadda, such matters will come up.

Back to the article, the poll is cited, then Ipsos pollster John Wright goes on to relate how this is good news for the Conservatives, further "The flurry of Conservative ads criticizing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have also proven to be “very, very effective.” What's more, Wright doesn't feel political change will happen "...because the Conservatives poll so strongly on economic matters. “People may feel good, but they want to keep the goodness going,” he said." It's all coming up roses, a singular issue focus with no context offered up here, as in actual economic facts on the ground in Canada.

So here are a few items off the top of the heap...from February 2nd, just a few weeks ago:
A slower-growing economy is offering little hope to Canada’s 1.4 million unemployed, economists told Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in talks in advance of the March budget.

Unemployment, now standing at 7.6 per cent, will average a slightly higher 7.7-per cent through 2011, according to the average forecast of the dozen economists who met with Flaherty.
And recall this from mid-January on the we're-so-internationally-special-talking-point:
“There is this real kind of anxiety – ‘I don’t want to hear one more time,’ they say, ‘that we’ve done better than other G7 countries, because my life is worse,’ ” said the official. “The more Harper talks about macroeconomic numbers, the more it bothers them.”
"Superstar" is an awfully high bar to set. Nice coverage in the pages of a national paper if you can get it. Whether people feel all the superstar goodness on the ground as they canvass all the issues? Guessing that they're not quite at that level of agreement but we shall see.

Stephen Harper Hard At Work - Director's Cut

Monday in Conservative election machinations

So let's check in on what the Harper Conservatives were up to on Monday given that the PM supposedly does not want an "opportunistic election" (as of Friday anyway).

The Prime Minister was out striking a rather contradictory pose in light of the above position:
The federal government will listen to opposition requests for next month's budget but won't "engage in horse trading or negotiations," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.

"We listen to the views of other parties in Parliament whether we agree with them or not," Harper told reporters in Vancouver.

"In the end, after listening to the pitches of the other parties, we will make the decisions we think are in the best interest of Canadians."
He'll listen but then he'll do what he wants, thank you very much. What the point of listening is, then, remains to be seen. They may act upon suggestions from other parties, namely the NDP, the only party they're meeting with, but it sounds like a take it or leave it scenario shaping up. Way to make things work, oh opportunistic-election-naysayer!

An urgent Conservative fundraising appeal to members was reported as well:
In a fundraising letter stamped “URGENT,” the Harper Conservatives are appealing for money to help finance an election they say is imminent.
The letter from top Tory fundraiser Sen. Irving Gerstein, obtained by iPolitics.ca, says the party needs another $243,900 for an election “we will likely face in the next few weeks.”
The sum, Gerstein says, will “pay for two weeks of campaign preparedness action before an election is called.”
They'll be the boys who cried wolf if we don't have one then, that stuff gets old real fast. Or do Conservatives just fall for the "urgent" appeal every time and enjoy the theatre of it all?

Now what about the Conservative gang in the ridings, what might they have been up to on Monday in their home bases? Surely it must all be nose to the grindstone constituency work were they to be following the PM's no opportunistic election dictum. To the announcements!

Conservative Minister of State Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Seniors Julian Fantino, $4.2 million in program funding to small-medium sized manufacturers in southern Ontario, Brampton, Ontario.

Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, $600,000 loan to Wakefield Mill Inn, Wakefield, Quebec. Cannon had time for photo-ops as the Libya situation developed all day? Amazing. Looks like more time was spent preparing the Wakefield Inn news release than the Libya statement.

Christian Paradis, Minister of Natural Resources, $250,000 loan to L.S. Finition Industrielle Inc.

Christian Paradis, $317,900 loan, Fibres Lyster, Lyster, Quebec.

Christian Paradis, $191,000, job funding, Montreal, Quebec.

Conservative MP Gerald Keddy, MP for South Shore-St. Margaret's, N.S., $52,000 for seaside park at Vogler's Cove, N.S., also $90,000 in other area funding.

Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, $200,000 for a Community Hall and Fire Rescue Centre, Port Bickerton, N.S.

Peter MacKay, $500,000 loan to Canso Seafoods Limited, N.S.

Peter MacKay, $93,000, job funding, St. John's, Nfld.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Veterans Affairs, $175,000 in Funding to Société d'histoire du Lac-Saint-Jean, Alma, Quebec.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, $94,000, job funding, Alma, Quebec.

Jacques Gourde, Member of Parliament for Lotbinière-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and Mr. Steven Blaney, Member of Parliament for Lévis-Bellechase, $476,000 in federal skills funding, Saint Romuald, Quebec.

Conservative MP James Lunney, MP for Nanaimo-Alberni, $15,000 Nanaimo African Heritage Society.

Conservative Senator Don Meredith, Toronto, $12,500, Ontario Black History Society, Toronto, Ontario.

Just your ordinary Monday bonanza of government of Canada funding brought to you by Conservative MPs and Ministers, most of it in their own ridings or in the case of the ministers, in their home provinces. Designed to show they're bringing home the bacon, baby. Could be a very expensive week.

Watch what they do, as always...

Late night Oda

"Very funny, guys. But this is NOT the way to keep the issue out of the news this week."
(Source for this wonderfully spontaneous & photo-shoppable moment )

Is there really any possibility of this occurring in Harperland?
The second decision is Oda’s. Does she want her reputation to be dragged through the mud over an extended period of time? Let’s not forget the PMO would have tightly scripted her comments, does she want to risk censure for saying what she was told to say? When you leave politics either as an MP or minister, all you have left is your reputation and history’s judgement. Oda has already done enough for the team on this issue. Now it’s time for her to think about herself.
Interesting that a Conservative is raising this idea. Thought that was what the Globe editorial might have been getting at last week too. Not that it seems the least bit realistic that Ms. Oda would somehow sing, to the Foreign Affairs Commitee or elsewhere, on what really occurred.

Nice to keep the Oda ado in the public eye though, it certainly deserves to remain there. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lakoff, Krugman on Wisconsin

Worth a read today in its entirety, here is the beginning of Lakoff's weekend piece on Conservatives and what is at stake in the Wisconsin conflict:
--Dedicated to the peaceful protestors in Wisconsin, February 19, 2011.

The central issue in our political life is not being discussed. At stake is the moral basis of American democracy.

The individual issues are all too real: assaults on unions, public employees, women's rights, immigrants, the environment, health care, voting rights, food safety, pensions, prenatal care, science, public broadcasting, and on and on.

Budget deficits are a ruse, as we've seen in Wisconsin, where the governor turned a surplus into a deficit by providing corporate tax breaks, and then used the deficit as a ploy to break the unions, not just in Wisconsin, but seeking to be the first domino in a nationwide conservative movement.

Deficits can be addressed by raising revenue, plugging tax loopholes, putting people to work, and developing the economy long-term in all the ways the president has discussed. But deficits are not what really matters to conservatives.

Conservatives really want to change the basis of American life, to make America run according to the conservative moral worldview in all areas of life.
Paul Krugman writes today about the power play that is at work in Wisconsin in trying to bust the unions:
In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.
For more background on this conflict, see Ezra Klein on the budget impact of the Governor's tax cuts and this piece on the billionaire Koch brothers backing the Governor's anti-union moves.

Worth paying attention to what is going on in this struggle as it plays out. We too have a very large budget deficit and a very right wing federal leader who likely sees similar opportunities to exploit as we grapple with that deficit in coming years.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

We call him "Loose" Cannon for good reason

Cannon at work in the Arctic, spring 2010.

Canadian Press has done some...research! Yes! On the funny incident in the Arctic in the spring when Cannon seemed to go off on the Russians in a highly dramatic fashion. The Russians, you see, were planning a sovereignty exercise of their own, a paratrooper drop that had historical significance for them. Apparently, we learn, the talking points from Canadian officialdom were quite restrained, actually, and Cannon went off script with his "stunt" talk.
"The landing of Russian paratroopers on the frozen surface around the North Pole does not affect Canadian sovereignty," says one of the prepared talking points in an April 16 briefing note.

"Canada co-operates closely with Russia on a bilateral basis in multilateral forums such as the Arctic Council."
But Cannon took leave, referring to to it as a stunt and propaganda:
“It’s another stunt like the flag planting some years ago. It doesn’t affect Canada’s sovereignty,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Tuesday, referring to the planting of a flag on the North Pole seabed by a Russian submarine in 2007.
...
“Obviously, I’ll talk about it and I’ll brush it off. People have been going to Mount Everest and planting flags on Mount Everest since Jesus wore short pants,” Cannon said from the remote Canadian research station about 1,100 kilometres from the North Pole.
Maybe we can forgive a minister for being confused about what line to toe. What with all the posturing from the top that's been the order of the day when it comes to the Arctic.

For more recent confusion of the Cannon variety, this blog has been following the Tunisian issue this week as well. The Cannon Foreign Affairs adventure rolls on...

Goodbye to a friend

Not the usual political entry this morning, something more personal instead. As many bloggers out there in the Canadian political blogosphere know, one of our friends died recently. We learned of it about a week and a half ago from another of our friends, Liberal Arts And Minds, who was good enough to find out for all of us who were wondering, just what had happened to Penny Lankshear. Penny was ever present among us, a blog friend, a pal on Twitter, someone we communicated with through email, through all of what can seem like very impersonal mediums. Except it turns out that they're not so impersonal at all as you discover with the many people you meet and sometimes lose.

I knew Penny for about four years, at least, that's as far back as I traced our emails. Hey, did you see this, she would write. Or, what do you think about this? Always friendly and on at least a few occasions, her emails picked me up on those occasional moments when the blogging blues had set in. She was without a doubt one of my favourite blog friends.

Her obituary appeared yesterday in the Toronto Star so this goodbye, that turned out to be very hard to do, couldn't be put off any longer. Luckily, a few weeks before she died, we had the kind of exchange between us that you'd wish to have had after losing someone. For that I am thankful.

I think Penny was always one of the first to read my posts in the morning, so this goodbye comes in the morning too. Goodbye to my friend, I miss her very much.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday night

Well this is an easy one this week...brand new Radiohead:



Yes.

Have a good night.

Word of the day

Or should we say drink of the day? Courtesy of the much ballyhooed Harper/Layton meeting this afternoon.

(Source)

Which meeting may mean something or nothing, depending on the weeks ahead and various significant issues.

Ivison:
The talks between the two men were “cordial and respectful”. Mr. Layton said Stephen Harper offered no assurances but he was confident his proposals were “received and well understood.”

Mr. Harper responded in kind and it did not sound as if he thinks the barbarians are at the gate. There was a “positive sharing of views” and the Prime Minister was pleased to hear from the NDP leader.
Canadian Press:
In a statement, Layton said Harper offered no assurances that the Conservative budget will meet the NDP leader's bottom lines. But he said the prime minister gave him a "cordial and respectful" hearing and he's confident his proposals are "well understood."
Sun: "Layton, Harper hold 'cordial' talks on budget."

Globe: "Harper and Layton hold ‘cordial’ talks on budget."

The spin swirls...Harper not wanting an "opportunistic election" (because he has never launched one himself...see 2008, election, federal; the current Conservative attack ad extravaganza; and, various government appointments and announcements)...Layton is in it to achieve results (ignore what is widely believed to be a difficult political situation for the NDP at the moment).

Developing, as they say, for the next few weeks...

The social media & backbones, etc.

Chantal Hebert has a challenging column that's worth a read today: "In defending Oda, Harper stands alone." It's indicting of Harper's democratic stance and how it's being amplified now by the Oda affair. She thinks it's worth an election and steps toward a confidence vote. The thought has probably crossed the mind of more than a few in Ottawa. It's going to be an interesting few weeks ahead.

What's with the slighting of social media though? Or "the social media," as Hebert refers to it?
As it did over the census, the Liberal opposition has turned to the social media to put pressure on the Conservatives. Given the alleged seriousness of the offence, one would think the party would turn its mind to putting its money where its mouth is in Parliament rather than on Facebook and Twitter.
Why wouldn't a party do that? Use all available channels of communication to bolster the point? The belittling is a little irksome. Like it or not, social media tools are part of any party's political arsenal now and there's no reason to set them down when questions are consequential. Especially when there is parliamentary engagement here. There is a contempt motion that's been brought before the House of Commons after all. It's all developing.  

Susan Riley also worth a read today: "Ignatieff finds his backbone."
In fact, some Conservative partisans may have privately felt apprehensive as they watched Ignatieff's informal scrum the other day: this guy, as he finds his bearings, could be formidable.
That was in reference largely to Ignatieff's comments on Conservative crime measures which she spends the majority of the column discussing. She also briefly referred to Ignatieff's comments on the Oda situation in the column. Those were these
“This is about democracy,” Mr. Ignatieff said after the weekly Liberal caucus meeting on Wednesday. “You can’t have democracy if a minister of the Crown fails to tell the truth to the people who have been elected by the people to get at the truth. That is why she has to go. This is not about her, personally. It’s not about Mr. Harper. It’s about the integrity of the democratic system. Of course she has to go.”

Declared Mr. Ignatieff: “A minister cannot go in front of a Parliamentary committee, in front of people elected by the people of Canada and tell them something that isn’t true. That’s the fundamental issue here. Until the Prime Minister acknowledges this, it’s as if this guy doesn’t understand how democracy works. And so we will continue to call for her resignation. It’s unacceptable.”
Yeah, that was pretty darn good. It has spawned a lot of attention.

Update: More opinion today to go to town on, Ibbitson pens a classic. "The Conservatives know that voters – at least, the voters they need – understand and agree with the Tories’ message, and don’t understand or care about opposition contempt-of-Parliament complaints." The height of cynicism in that one. Could not disagree more. 

So how's that cybersecurity effort going, Mr. Toews?


That picture is from Vic Toews' Sunday afternoon cybersecurity public relations event back on October 3, 2010. Remember that? The cybersecurity issue is so important to this government, it warranted a sleepy Sunday afternoon press conference. Rather unfortunate photo-op now, isn't it? Now we're in the midst of news from the past two days (that has actually been circulating for a few weeks now) about a cyber attack against government systems of Chinese origin: "Foreign hackers attack Canadian government,"Chinese hackers targeted House of Commons."

The talking points were deployed, to downplay the attack. Here were Harper and Toews yesterday, Harper with his new, perfected dulcet tones:
But he said at a press conference in Toronto that he recognized cybersecurity was "a growing issue of importance, not just in this country, but across the world."

He added that in anticipating potential cyberattacks, "we have a strategy in place to try and evolve our systems as those who would attack them become more sophisticated."

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he could not speak about details pertaining to security-related incidents, but he said the government takes such threats seriously and has "measures in place" to address them.
Yep, go to sleep. Nothing, really, bothers these guys. Cyber attacks are everywhere, not just in this country. Isn't that comforting? And frankly, they have a strategy in place. The Harper government strategy is so successful, in fact, that the computers of Treasury Board, Finance and National Defence have been attacked and the hackers "also cracked into the computer system of the House of Commons." See the video report from CBC below, which reports the hackers "trolled government networks for weeks without a trace" for example. And this expert: "...even in just a few seconds, if it was properly targeted — and it sounds like it was targeted — information of immense value could have been exchanged." It's a heck of a strategy.

No effect on the budget? No information lost pertinent to it? How can they be so sure? Imagine if the day after it's released there were to be some interesting market moves. Total speculation, but it's something to think about. How the government acts now in respect of the budget is something to watch.

Other points...

A whopping $90 million has been allocated over five years to this task, allotted in the 2010 budget, aka less than one year's worth of promotional advertising for the Harper government.

What's been done prior to and since Toews' hastily arranged Sunday October news conference? Inquiring minds would like to know. Much of anything? Or did the government just have the event so they could point to it in the event of an attack and say, see, we have a strategy we rolled out and we told you this was an issue back in the fall.

These characters like to say they're the tough on crime/law and order crowd. Lots of money to build brick and mortar jails, just like it's the 1950s. But this, as they say in the online community, looks like a big fail.

Must see:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sign the Oda petition, send a message to Mr. Harper

What can you do to give this a push? Sign the petition here.

Stephen Harper is standing by Bev Oda once again today, while in Toronto, vacating himself from the uncomfortable House of Commons. He's predictably sticking to the nonsensical line that Oda's direction to add a "not" to a completed, signed document was an acceptable way for one of his ministers to act. High times in Canadian politics when a Prime Minister stands behind such conduct.

This seems to be the quote of the day, however, from back in Ottawa where the wheels of a contempt motion keep turning. From Liberal MP John McKay's statement as he submitted a motion in the House of Commons this afternoon:
Mr. Speaker, I am rising today under the provisions of Standing Order 48 on a point of privilege alleging contempt of the House by the Minister of International Cooperation, further to the written notice that was submitted to the Clerk this morning.
...
Privilege as you well know exists for good reason. In this instance as all others it is to compel truthfulness – even when embarrassing – even when it doesn't suit the government's agenda. Privilege exists so that M.P.s can make decisions based on fact, not on fiction. Privilege exists as a core value of democracy because M.P.s and their constituents, the People of Canada, have every right to expect that public discourse in this Chamber is without artifice. You Mr. Speaker, are the guardian of that core value – the value of truthfulness between and among Members, Ministers, and the Prime Minister. Any ruling other than a prima facie case of breach of privilege in this case will inevitably lead to another even more egregious abuse. Mr. Speaker, I and my colleagues are calling upon you to put a stop to tampered documents, to blaming others, to casual regard for facts before a Committee of the House. We call on you to uphold the highest standards of discourse by Ministers in their communication to the House.
The contempt motion will be voted upon on the Monday after this coming week's break. Meaning, the issue will continue to hang over this government despite the efforts to change the channel.

Costs of F-35 PR campaign roll in

David Pugliese has another piece on the F-35 issue today, detailing some of the costs thus far for the government's F-35 public relations campaign. Overtime for Defence public servants in Ottawa, travel costs, etc. for the cross-country tour point to a figure of $200,000 thus far which sounds like a conservative estimate.

One of the other intangible costs referenced is the politicization of the military that's going on through their involvement in the F-35 sales job and that is being objected to by some Defence personnel, probably the most notable part of the report:
Senior officers from Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk to air force chief Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps have promoted the Conservative government's decision. In the latest issue of the Canadian Military Journal, Deschamps defends the government's decision not to hold a competition to buy a new plane.

Defence Department sources have told the Ottawa Citizen some officers have been uncomfortable with the situation but the military is being pressured by the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office to spearhead the sales effort.

The presentations being given follow government-approved "talking points" on the F-35 purchase and highlight among other things, the chance for Canadian jobs in the deal.
Of course the military shouldn't be used to sell the jobs aspect on this or really, any aspect of it. It paints them a certain partisan stripe and clearly, they're uncomfortable with it. And it is a sales job, injecting the military into a highly political debate, it's not the innocent information campaign spun by the government spokesman here.

At least the military discontent is being aired publicly and we're told exactly where the pressure is coming from, Stephen Harper's direction. Yes, he's a Defence Minister too.

Like the presidential airs, the attack ad politics, using guns as a wedge issue, politicizing the military in this way is more creeping Americanization. It just doesn't suit us and it's good to learn that there are military objecting to this turn of events as well.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Late night


Just checking in on our friend, making its way around the Montreal area...pucapab, a very appropriate sentiment tonight.

Kenney: "The CBC lies all the time."

When backed into a corner, the last few days on the Bev Oda implosion, the Harper crew flash their true colours:
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday that Ms. Oda has apologized. When pressed by The Canadian Press on whether that was enough after misleading the House of Commons, Mr. Kenney shot back: “The CBC lies all the time. What media are you with?”
Or, as reported here, it might have been a reference to the Quebec sister to the CBC:
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday that Oda has apologized. When pressed on whether that was enough after misleading the Commons, Kenney shot back in French: "Radio-Canada, they lie all the time."
A visceral, gut reaction there from Kenney that speaks volumes about how the Harper Conservatives really feel about the public broadcaster.

Update (6:50 p.m.): Beyond the hostility toward the CBC, which Conservatives have exhibited for years really, there's the distrust the government is sowing in the broadcaster as well with such remarks. That may be the stuff of various allies but for a minister to be officially crowing it, that's quite something. The government is supposed to represent all of us and a good many of us support the public broadcaster. It's another can of worms to be opened up in a future election.

Update (8:00 p.m.): Some further context. Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Heritage, mused at the Heritage Committee in November about the future of CBC's funding. There was a resulting demonstration of opposition against those ominous musings in his riding ("I Love CBC - Peterborough").

Moore was pressed today, while testifying at the Heritage Committee, to defend the CBC in view of Kenney's comments.

Update (11:15 p.m.): See Scott & BCL on Kenney's back-handed defence of Oda.

Odd Globe editorial on Oda

Here: "Bev Oda’s serious transgression." It's a weak call for Oda to sit down with the Foreign Affairs Committee, explain her actions and apologize. Essentially the Globe suggesting a light punishment for Oda's conduct here in order to make it go away and stave off what seems to be an inevitable contempt finding. Today the Foreign Affairs Committee is to decide on sending its report on to the Commons recommending a contempt ruling from the Speaker. With Ned Franks calling it a clear case of contempt and the Speaker's preliminary ruling suggesting a contempt finding may well be in store, the train is moving in that direction.

The problem with the Globe idea is that Oda's credibility is in question. How could the Committee trust what she would say in a return appearance? That is the nub of the whole issue here. Credibility, ethics, trust. Plus it's a debatable question whether she'd have any free choice of her own on whether to appear, if invited, back at the committee. Particularly if there's any sense that this would be some kind of a whistle blowing appearance by Oda, if that's what the Globe is really getting at.  

Probably best for the Foreign Affairs Committee to reject the Globe's advice and move the matter on over to the Speaker. Not the time to be backing down and giving the weasels a way out.

Media skirmish watch

This item appeared in the Toronto Sun Monday night: "Former reporter, Liberal to head CTV News Channel."
A former high-ranking Liberal with a long career in television has been appointed to run CTV News Channel.

Jack Fleischmann, a former reporter who began his career covering Parliament Hill for CJOH and has recently run BNN, CTV’s business channel, also has a history with the Liberal party. During the 2004 and 2006 election campaigns, Fleischmann took a leave of absence from CTV to work for Red Leaf, the Liberal Party’s election advertising agency.
...
“Jack Fleischmann has not been involved with the Liberal Party since he took an unpaid leave of absence from CTV five years ago. He will not be working on future Liberal campaigns,” CTV spokesman Scott Henderson told QMI Agency.
Fleischmann sounds like a journalist first, part-time political volunteer second, and with the second part going back five years. Some might even call that a "cooling off" period if there were any such rules about the intermingling of the political and journalistic trades. Nevertheless, it grabbed the Sun's attention.

In Sun Media's case, they have made some interesting hires recently as well. Not as cooled off though. This has been kicking around for a week or so but it seems timely, in light of the above report, to note the abundant opportunities at Sun Media for much more recently employed partisans of the PMO staffer variety:
Former PMO issues management adviser Matt Wolf recently joined the Sun TV News Channel in Toronto as an editorial producer.
...
Mr. Wolf left government last fall after a temporary stint as Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz's communications director. He is better known for working in the PMO issues management unit since July 2008, alongside former directors Jenni Byrne and Jasmine Igneski.

At Sun News, he works in the same location as Dennis Matthews, a former PMO advertising manager. Mr. Matthews left government last year, after more than two years in his PMO ad job, which was originally under the strategic planning division led by former staffer Patrick Muttart. Mr. Matthews had worked his way into the job from starting as an executive assistant to Mr. Muttart in the winter of 2006, soon after the Conservatives were elected.

He could not be reached for comment last week through his office voicemail. A LinkedIn profile matching his name and work history indicates he is director of marketing and brand development at Sun TV.

A third former exempt staffer, Jason Plotz, left PMO in early summer to do media monitoring for Sun Media. As a past issues management researcher, Mr. Plotz had developed a reputation as a guy who could dig up any dirt on the opposition in a jiffy.
The fourth would be, of course, Kory Teneycke.

Sun Media might have flogged the CTV information as a little push back because they are a little sensitive during the lead-in to their own launch over accusations about their own partisan bias. And perhaps because the news of all the PMO hires did make its way around over the past week. Or, maybe it was a timely item offered up this week while the CRTC false news submissions roll in and they wanted a little company on the firing line (Avaaz submission at link which is quite good).

Anyway, all those hires do raise those questions. People can weigh the facts for themselves about all of the above and who might be more vulnerable to bias accusations going forward.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ethically challenged

It's the Prime Ministerial judgment, stupid:
The Speaker: ORAL QUESTIONS. (Voice of Translator): THE HONOURABLE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION.
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, LEADER OF THE LIBERAL PARTY: Mr. SPEAKER, THE MINISTER FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION CUT FUNDING TO A REPUTABLE CHURCH ORGANIZATION. THEN DOCTORED A DOCUMENT FROM HER OFFICIALS TO MAKE IT LOOK AS IF SHE AGREED WITH HER JUDGMENT WHEN THEY DID NOT. AND THEN SHE MISLED THE HOUSE. THIS IS CONDUCT UNWORTHY OF A MINISTER. SO, THE QUESTION TO THE PRIME MINISTER IS, WHAT CONSEQUENCE WILL THIS MINISTER FACE FOR MISLEADING THIS HOUSE AND MISLEADING THE CANADIAN PEOPLE?

The Speaker: THE RIGHT HONOURABLE PRIME MINISTER. ORDER!
Rt. Hon. STEPHEN HARPER, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: ON THE CONTRARY, Mr. SPEAKER. THE MINISTER OF INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION HAS BEEN VERY CLEAR THAT SHE TOOK THIS DECISION. THESE ARE THE -- THESE KINDS OF DECISIONS ARE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MINISTERS, Mr. SPEAKER. WHEN WE SPEND MONEY ON FOREIGN AID, WE EXPECT IT TO BE USED EFFECTIVELY FOR FOREIGN AID AND THAT'S THE DECISION THE MINISTER TOOK.

The Speaker: THE HONOURABLE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION.
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, LEADER OF THE LIBERAL PARTY: (Voice of Translator): Mr. SPEAKER, I DIDN'T GET AN ANSWER. THE MINISTER CUT OFF A RELIGIOUS CHRISTIAN ORGANIZATION THAT DOES GOOD WORK. THEN SHE DOCTORED A DOCUMENT, WHICH DISTORTED HER RELATIONSHIP WITH HER OFFICIALS. THEN SHE MISLED THE HOUSE. HOW CAN SHE CONTINUE TO SIT IN CABINET?

The Speaker: (Voice of Translator): THE RIGHT HONOURABLE PRIME MINISTER. ORDER! THE RIGHT HONOURABLE PRIME MINISTER.
Rt. Hon. STEPHEN HARPER, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: (Voice of Translator): Mr. SPEAKER, HERE IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, THE MINISTER WAS CLEAR THAT IT WAS HER DECISION AND IT'S HER RESPONSIBILITY, Mr. SPEAKER, TO ENSURE THAT TAXPAYER MONEY IS SPENT EFFICIENTLY FOR HUMANITARIAN AID AND THAT'S WHAT SHE DID IN THIS CASE.

The Speaker: (Voice of Translator): THE HONOURABLE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION.
MICHAEL IGNATIEFF, LEADER OF THE LIBERAL PARTY: Mr. SPEAKER, THIS MINISTER IS TIED UP IN KNOTS. SHE DID NOT LISTEN TO HER OFFICIALS. SHE DID NOT TAKE RESPONSIBILITY. SHE DID NOT TELL THE TRUTH. SHE DID NOT HAVE THE INTEGRITY TO RESIGN. HOW CAN THE PRIME MINISTER NOT DEMAND HER RESIGNATION?

The Speaker: ORDER. ORDER. THE RIGHT HONOURABLE PRIME MINISTER.
Rt. Hon. STEPHEN HARPER, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA: Mr. SPEAKER, AS I'VE SAID, THE MINISTER HAS BEEN CLEAR HERE AND IN COMMITTEE REPEATEDLY, THAT WHEN WAS HER DECISION. Mr. SPEAKER, AS IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE. WHEN THE GOVERNMENT SPENDS MONEY, IT GIVES OUT GRANTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS, THOSE ARE DECISIONS THAT MINISTERS HAVE TO MAKE, THAT THEY HAVE TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR, Mr. SPEAKER. IT IS NOT THE DECISION OF APPOINTED OFFICIALS. IT IS NOT THE ENTITLEMENT OF OUTSIDE ORGANIZATIONS. IT'S A DECISION OF THE MINISTER TO MAKE SURE THAT TAXPAYERS' DOLLARS ARE USED EFFECTIVELY FOR FOREIGN AID, AND THAT'S WHAT SHE'S DONE.
The government is indeed free to make the ultimate decisions on grant moneys to organizations. The KAIROS funding application was not, however, the simple, clean, wonderful instance of government decision making that the PM has made it out to be here. The Prime Minister is always skilled at changing the subject, getting people to look in another direction. So we should ignore his misdirections.

Harper is turning us away from the ethical elephant in the room. The minister has admitted she ordered a document that had been signed by one of her officials to be altered. Governments and its ministers have the final say on such funding decisions, yes. But the execution here was improper and unethical. And yet we see the Prime Minister standing by that act. That matters. And frankly, it is why he will likely never get a majority government. How can you trust a leader who stands by such an act, after all?

Maybe, just maybe, he might listen to his media allies since he seems to be in finger to the wind governing mode:
For now, Mr. Harper is sticking by Ms. Oda: He has responded to the controversy by airily declaring “It is the minister’s responsibility to ensure that humanitarian aid objectives are met with the efficient use of taxpayer’s dollars.” But she has another responsibility, too: to act ethically and tell the truth. Her failure in this regard means she is no longer fit for Cabinet.
Integrity matters because when the chips are down we must count on a leader to do the right thing, at the expense of - and cost to - him or her self. Oh the tangled webs he weaves.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bev, Bev, Bev

Update (Tues. 8:15 a.m.) below.

Today in the House of Commons, International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda made quite an admission:
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda has admitted that she ordered a document to be altered to deny funding to the church-backed aid group Karois.

“The 'not' was inserted at my direction,” Ms. Oda said in the House of Commons Monday. “Given the way the document was formatted allowing only for concurrence this was the only way to reflect my decision.”

Documents that emerged last December show CIDA’s top officials signed a memorandum recommending new funding for Kairos before someone – until Monday the government wouldn’t say who – inserted the word “not,” overruling the recommendation.

Ms. Oda told the Commons foreign affairs committee in December she did not know who inserted the word “not” into the documents. Then, last week, Speaker Peter Milliken rebuked the minister for the incident, calling it a “very troubling” matter.
Her full statement to the House of Commons is here.

Oda's Committee testimony, where she was thoroughly questioned on who inserted the handwritten "not" into the Kairos funding recommendation document was not forthcoming at all. The word of the Minister is in question, to say the least.

A breach of privilege report is now moving from the Foreign Affairs Committee to the House of Commons, based on this afternoon's meeting. Looks like the Speaker will actually get the chance to rule on the question now. His preliminary ruling does not bode well for the Minister and the government should take note:
Any reasonable person confronted withwhat appears to have transpired would necessarily be extremely concerned, if not shocked, and might well begin to doubt theintegrity of certain decision-making processes. In particular, the senior CIDA officials concerned must be deeply disturbed by the doctored document they have been made to appear to have signed.
What Oda's fate will be, firing, resignation, hanging in there to await a Speaker's ruling...who knows. She really should resign, if there were any modicum of respect for the institution of Parliament on the part of these Conservatives.

Update (Tues. 8:15 a.m.): Stephen Harper misses the correct leadership decision once again:
So far, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is standing behind his minister, CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reports.

"A senior official said Harper will not throw (Oda) under the bus for an isolated incident and he think she's doing a good job as minister and she's apologized," Fife said.
It's not a tough one either.

More fun with polls: Ontario version

A Nanos poll features quite prominently in the Globe today: "Poll finds Ontarians turning against McGuinty."

So let's check the track record from Nanos polls during the 2007 Ontario election held on October 10th of that year...

Two polls close to the election date...

Tory and McGuinty Statistically Tied as Best Premier, September 25, 2007.

Tory and McGuinty statistically tied in trust, September 27, 2007.

And one from earlier that summer...

Ontario Liberals and PCs in Dead Heat, June 3, 2007.

The result in that election, a Liberal majority with 71 out of 107 seats and Mr. Tory lost his own seat.

Just a few items to consider when weighing that poll this morning, along with that Canadian Press report on polls of course, covered in the previous blog post.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pollsters advising us to be wary of polls

This Canadian Press report today on polling and the abundance of polls that are littering the Canadian political landscape these days provides some welcome perspective: "Pollsters advise voters to be wary of polls ahead of possible spring vote!" A must read for all following Canadian politics and hopefully it will get some wide coverage due to its importance. Since I somehow got into the act of beating a drum on this issue this week, criticizing what seemed to me a ridiculously early poll on the perimeter deal and as well, criticizing that death penalty poll from late January, thought I would link to it as a good follow-up.

Frank Graves of Ekos, Allan Gregg of Harris-Decima, Andre Turcotte of Carleton University (pollster and communications prof), Jaideep Mukerji of Angus Reid and Michael Marzolini all provide some input to the piece, giving it a good dose of credibility.

There is lots of useful information canvassed in the report, including Gregg's remark that sets the tone: the "dirty little secret of the polling business...is that our ability to yield results accurately from samples that reflect the total population has probably never been worse in the 30 to 35 years that the discipline has been active in Canada." That's significant. The move in the population from land lines to cell phones and difficulties in getting people to respond are all contributing to the dynamic. These polls should be qualified to a much greater extent but the "unholy alliance" between media and pollsters doesn't permit that "dirty little secret" to take hold. Pollsters want coverage, it's good for business. Media want horse races and excitement, it's good for their business. At least the pollsters like Gregg and Graves are being quite honest here about the dynamic that's come to be.

Also raised, the advent of online polling and the difficulties in terms of how they are being presented. The report states that their usage is "...more controversial when it comes to surveys of the general population, which is what political polls purport to be." Online polls "may be skewed" as a result of the selection process for respondents (younger, connected to internet, induced by pay, etc.). Therefore, reporting margins of error with these polls, something that can only be done if you have randomly sampled the entire population, is "misleading and prohibited" according to the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA), the polling industry's "voluntary self-regulating body." But pollsters are doing so. Something to keep in mind when you see an online poll with a reported margin of error. For example, that death penalty poll, raised in the blog post linked to above, was such a case.

Other key points:
  • "Turcotte says political polls for the media are "not research anymore" so much as marketing and promotional tools." (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • the insufficient attention to margins of error in the reporting on polls:
"Take a poll that suggests Tory support stands at 35 per cent, the Liberals at 30. If the MOE is, say, 2 percentage points, that means Tory support could be as high as 37 and the Liberals as low as 28, a nine point gap. Or the Tories could be as low as 33 and the Liberals as high as 32, a one point gap.

If support falls within those ranges the following week, it should be reported as no change — but rarely is. A two or three point change is more likely to be touted as one party surging or the other collapsing."
Marzolini is quoted near the end of the report, touching on what may be the very unfortunate psychological effect that is being created in the population when constant horse race numbers are presented. "...voters, — "just want to get the score for the game; they don't want to watch the game."

A much needed check-up on polling in Canadian politics.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Carville: "It's going to be every time"



Posting this in the wake of that Ekos poll that might have some nervous Nellies spooked. It's just for the first 3 minutes or so, the Carville speech. It's a brief bit about vile attacks that seek to knock off political leaders, to undermine their viability. Thought it had some universal applicability. "That is standard procedure." "It's going to be every time..."

Fun too to see the wise political operator back in his heyday.

The politics of intimidation, again - updated

Updated (Sat. 6:00 p.m.) below.

This post is just to show a bit of solidarity today with University of Ottawa Professors Attaran and Mendes who, as reported here, have become the subject of "unusually massive freedom-of-information requests:" "Tories accused of digging up dirt on ‘Liberal’ profs." Attaran has been outspoken on the Afghan detainee file over the past few years and Mendes speaks out regularly on issues like political party financing, our declining world stage presence and also the detainee issue. As university professors with expertise in some of the consequential issues Canada faces, we should heartily applaud the fact that they stand up and willingly share that knowledge on the public stage. Not all professors bother to do so and we are enriched by those who do.

The requests are "...demanding details of the professors’ employment, expenses and teaching records" but "...the University of Ottawa does not intend to release much of the information requested, since most of it is personal and private and therefore exempt from the disclosure requirements in the legislation."
Like Mendes, Attaran is the subject of freedom of information requests seeking details about his expense claims dating back to January 2006 along with copies of any assessments, reviews or performance reports during his time at the university. The requests about Mendes date back even farther — 16 years — since he is one of the more senior faculty members at U of O.
Amazing that what must be just incredibly extravagant expenses by university professors have engaged the attention of some unknown character(s) out there.

The act of procuring personal and private information about anyone carries with it the implicit motivation of keeping tabs, of letting the subjects know that they're being watched. The message sent to others who might dare speak out as these professors do is sent.

Here's to the progressive voices who keep speaking out, even in the face of such ongoing intimidatory tactics.

Update (Friday 7:50 p.m.): The Star has an update tonight, the professors have a smart offer for the person making the information request.

Update (Sat. 6:00 p.m.): See Dr. Dawg on this today. The Ottawa Citizen covers the issue as well. I will just add the quote from Professor Mendes at the end for some comic relief to this concerning situation:
...both Mendes and Attaran said they'd be happy to hand over all records if the person asking for them reveals his or her identity.

"I'd be happy to share my train ticket to Toronto to attend a conference on the Constitution.

I'll give them the receipts. I'll even share with them the suit I wore, the underwear I wore on the day, the colour of my socks," Mendes said.
BCL thinks the information request might be the work of a lone freelancer. Given the Conservative treatment of critics, their record of intimidation and firing of independent officers of Parliament who disagree with them, the Conservative Senator who has engaged in letter writing campaigns against Mendes in the past, the PMO talking points on Attaran...I tend to believe where there's smoke there's fire. Officialdom has acted directly in respect of these professors. Freelancers are always a possibility but the tone is set at the top by this government.

New story line for the census

The new census story line is being rolled out for us: "Chief statistician asked to rethink census for 2016."
Mr. Smith, who took over from embattled chief statistician Munir Sheikh last summer and was appointed permanently in January, has been asked to study how other countries gather information and report with options that could shape the 2016 census.

Examples range from a register-based census, where governments dip into their records on their citizens, to surveying a different part of the country every year.

“The government wants to step back and say okay, ‘Let's look at those other models: what is possible in Canada,’” the new chief statistician said.
That would be an interesting development had they done this before destroying the value of the 2011 data. Despite the protestations of Mr. Smith about how he doesn't want to prejudge the data the new long form survey will produce. He's been put in a position where he pretty much has to say that.

But really, what is going on here? If the government was really interested in a new and improved census model and cared about the information it produces, they'd have left the 2011 census model in place, the same one we've been operating on for years. Then they could have looked onwards to 2016 for changes, without wrecking the data for 2011. But they didn't. They killed the census quietly when no one was looking. So anyone placing any confidence in a 2016 process with this government would probably be misguided.

It reads as a nice yarn to spin politically, covering off the damage the Conservatives have done for 2011. It was all for a larger purpose, to better the census for the nation in the long run. To believe that though you'd have to believe that there was something wrong with a process that actually suffered little complaint and so many groups supported.

Who knows, they might even yet say a door is being left open to return to the old long form census model. What else does "all options on the table" mean anyway but that it would be a possibility? Magical stuff, possibly something for everybody.

Getting one's census ducks in a row before an election?

Update (3:15 p.m.): Another purpose behind the census debacle of  2011, from the emails: "How about making sure there are no usable metrics to gauge how poorly they performed and how many things they degraded in this timeframe?"