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.

Canadians support carbon tax

That's what a new Environics poll finds, well-timed as a backdrop for the Durban climate change conference: "Support for climate action still strong in Canada, poll finds." See near the end, 57% of British Columbians support the carbon tax, where they actually have one, which is important. The poll finds majority support for a carbon tax in the rest of Canada as well. It shows that there is opportunity to pitch a carbon tax, if parties decide to be bold, as economically beneficial in a time of economic uncertainty as well.

I would take issue with the way the Globe frames their reporting of this poll though. This part in particular which suggests Canadians are aligned with the government on their environmental views:
Mr. Kent insists Ottawa would support a new treaty that includes commitments from the United States and large emerging countries such as China and India to reduce emissions. However, negotiators have failed to make much progress on a new deal. And emerging economies and poorer ones want Kyoto principles to form the basis of any successor treaty.

While critics say the Harper government is retrograde in its climate change policy, the Conservatives have balanced their opposition to Kyoto and backing for the emissions-intensive oil sands with support for a new global deal and promised regulatory action at home.

It’s an approach that appears to resonate with Canadians, Mr. Neuman said.

“It is not clear to Canadians what the right treaty is or what the right approach is, but they want something done,” he said in an interview.
That latter point is the key. Canadians want something done. They want leadership. It's not that surprising on an issue like this that they don't know what the right treaty is or what the right approach is. That's where a government that is committed to getting something done steps in.

What's not clear here is whether the notion of doing little to nothing for years while you wait for the big emitters to sign on to a new global deal is acceptable to Canadians. Presumably not if they "want something done" and are expressing support for mechanisms like a carbon tax which has been, ahem, highly controversial in our recent past. So to say Canadians are aligned with the government is not necessarily the case. There may be agreement with the apple pie goals, but not how the government is going about doing it.

At least the strong support for action on climate change that appears to be in this poll is a good counter to the Harper government's intransigence on the file and their international retreat. That's the strong takeaway that is well-timed.

Update (7:40 p.m.): I should clarify one part of this post. I take issue with the way the pollster frames the results of the poll, more so than the Globe.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Harperized

Canadian Press follows up on its ongoing reporting of the use of the "Harper Government" moniker in government communications. The government is shown to have lied about its denials that a formal directive on the use of "Harper Government" existed.
Industry Canada's emails and edited releases from autumn 2010 make a mockery of Conservative government denials offered when The Canadian Press first published reports of the name-change orders last March.

"The directive we have from the (director general's office) is that if PCO adds the Harper Government reference, then we leave it in," says an email to communications officials at Industry, dated Oct. 5, 2010. "Please proceed with this approach. Sorry — it is what PCO has instructed."

An editor responded: "Given this directive, and with mild distress, I have reinstalled the phrasing."

"French release harperized and good to go," quipped another.
Excellent reporting from Canadian Press, must read. Civil servants have objected and are apparently still objecting to this bizarre, egomaniacal, blatantly wrong re-branding of the government. This practice is in breach of "both communications policy and the civil service ethics policy." So who will stop it? Anyone?

Lawrence Martin has more on this theme today as well.

Late night astroturfing

This Topp team member should probably have been identified as such on Sun News' report from this evening. At the end of a report which featured David Akin interviewing Brian Topp on his tax plan, and following an interview with Mike Moffatt, Akin read off some comments received on Facebook. Among them, one Erin Sikora. But Sikora works on Team Topp and is explicitly identified as such on BrianTopp.ca. The point, she was represented to be just a random commenter when clearly she was not.

Screenshot of the comment from Erin Sikora on the video:


Screenshot of BrianTopp.ca:


Screenshot of tweet:


It doesn't appear that Akin was aware of her official status with the Topp campaign.

Heads up to the news departments of the nation...

Monday, November 28, 2011

A new poll

"Federal Liberals gain on NDP, Conservatives, poll finds."

Let's fight the "it doesn't mean anything" meme before it starts, shall we? I will venture to say it means something. It's a psychological boost, let's not kid ourselves amidst all the Liberal party is dead doom and gloom. It's also a reflection of a decent spell for Liberals, more on that below. So it's a pleasant surprise to see a poll that reflects a bit of movement:
The federal Liberals have picked up support from both parties and are now in a dead heat with the NDP, a new poll shows, as concern over the economy returns to the fore for Canadians.

The Nanos Research Poll, conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV, shows the Liberals with 28.1 per cent, up from 23.4 per cent last month.

The Liberals were bolstered by added support in vote-rich Ontario, where the party is now in a statistical tie with the Conservatives, the poll shows.

The Tories, meanwhile, edged down to 35.6 per cent from 37.7 per cent in last month’s poll, and the NDP dropped to 27.3 per cent from 30 per cent.
What might have contributed to the spike in Liberal numbers? Is it all just a question of gaining by default, as Nik Nanos puts it? Or, maybe Liberals actually deserve a little bit of credit?

There was Rae's speech in Toronto that was well-received and spoke directly to economic issues. The poll was taken a week after that speech. Rae himself has been a bright likable light in drab, negative Ottawa. He is doing yeoman's work as interim leader and media coverage has been favourable for the most part.

The poll notes the issue of primary concern among respondents is the economy. Canada's relatively good economic performance as compared to the rest of the world is frequently tied during such discussions to the economic stewardship during the Chretien/Martin era. That gets a lot of play as conditions worsen around the world and you have to wonder about residual good will for Liberals being in the Canadian psyche and coming to the fore as they think about economic questions. If there's anything to that thesis at all, it's not good news for the NDP who face a climb in proving themselves as economically capable at the federal level.

Not coincidental to the mid-November poll time, but from earlier in the fall in October was the unanimous agreement in the Commons to a national suicide prevention strategy. It was a good moment that surpassed partisanship. That day struck an emotional chord with me, I wonder how many Canadians felt the same and whether a bit of good will may have taken root.  

Regarding the NDP, their higher profile MPs vacating the scene for a leadership race has likely had some impact here. Nycole Turmel has not been strong as opposition leader. And, as noted above, economic issues might be more of a hurdle for the NDP. The fact that the Liberals are strong in the poll in Ontario where there is a Liberal government who are trusted more on the economy may have something to do with it too.

A little bit of fun in the mix. Not a bad way to start the week at all.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Alberta Tories talk taxes

Very interesting debate going on in Alberta: "Alta. Tories defend talk about provincial sales tax." The Alberta PCs are finding themselves in a budget bind, with dwindling revenues from energy sources and are looking for new ones. Yes, they are looking at increasing revenues. It sounds as if they are getting the predictable push back, with the Wild Rose Alliance waiting in the right wing to pounce.

This could be good news. It would be a positive development in Canada for a PC government to get this done, to either implement a health care premium (that was removed by former premier Stelmach) or whatever other form of tax they're eyeing, although the health care one seems to be most likely based on this read. I wouldn't say Nixon to China, let's not get carried away, but it's that kind of feel. Times are tough and yes, all measures need to be on the table for a responsible government. Redford should stick to her guns in saying so.

What's a little funny is the language being used as they contort themselves away from the "t" word. They're using clinical words like "attachment" and "connection" which are a little weird and are not going to convince anyone. They seem to be more concerned with minimizing the discussion rather than saying the right things to convincingly win the argument, and they can:
Liepert said his government will not bring back health-care premiums as they existed before, but perhaps Albertans should have “an attachment” to health-care costs.

“What we heard and what I think we have to discuss at the caucus level is, is there a way that we should have an attachment to the cost of health care. And that’s all we’re talking about,” Liepert said on Friday.

Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths also said last week that many jurisdictions outside of Alberta are trying to build a “connection” between the taxation system and the provision of services.

“They have a health tax to pay for health care, or an education tax to pay for education — to try to get people an idea of why they’re paying those taxes,” Griffiths said this week.

“It makes it more meaningful. They realize that this is for a service, this isn’t just the bad, old government taxing me.”
They should try talking about investments in health care, health care being a necessity, the province's wealth not just being monetary but about the well-being of their citizens, hence the need for investments in the health care system, etc. They seem defensive in the piece, only Redford seems firm. If they believe they're doing the right thing for their province, they need to convince the people in a much better fashion than they're demonstrating here.

It's a tough environment in Canada to make these arguments right now. People are feeling stretched, worried about the economy here and in the rest of the world and how that might affect us. In Alberta's political climate, the opposition and media are all over this, the Wild Rose with a view to a fall election. Further, as we well know, the federal government is leading the way in establishing a Canadian anti-tax orthodoxy. Yet when revenue shortfalls produce deficits, something has to give, even in Alberta it seems.

This is something to watch, let's see if one party in the Canadian conservative family can break the mould on taxes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday night



Missed last night's music, so here it is, Chris Lake's "Sundown."

Have a good night!

Housing bubble for Canada?

The Economist thinks Canada is vulnerable:
To assess the risks of a further slump, we track two measures of valuation. The first is the price-to-income ratio, a gauge of affordability. The second is the price-to-rent ratio, which is a bit like the price-to-earnings ratio used to value companies. Just as the value of a share should reflect future profits that a company is expected to earn, house prices should reflect the expected benefits from home ownership: namely the rents earned by property investors (or those saved by owner-occupiers). If both of these measures are well above their long-term average, which we have calculated since 1975 for most countries, this could signal that property is overvalued.

Based on the average of the two measures, home prices are overvalued by about 25% or more in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, New Zealand, Britain, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden (see table). Indeed, in the first four of those countries housing looks more overvalued than it was in America at the peak of its bubble.
...
American prices fell sharply, even though homes were less overvalued than they were in many other countries, because high-risk mortgages and a surge in unemployment caused distressed sales. In most other countries, lenders avoided the worst excesses of subprime lending, and unemployment rose by less, so there were fewer forced sales dragging prices down. America is also unusual in having non-recourse mortgages that let borrowers walk away with no liability.

An optimist could therefore argue that our gauges overstate the extent to which house prices are overvalued, and that if markets are only a bit too expensive they can adjust gradually without a sharp fall. It is important to remember, however, that lower interest rates and rising populations were used to justify higher prices in America and Ireland before their bubbles burst so spectacularly.

Another concern is that Australia, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and Sweden all have even higher household-debt burdens in relation to income than America did at the peak of its bubble. Overvalued prices and large debts leave households vulnerable to a rise in unemployment or higher mortgage rates. A credit crunch or recession could cause house prices to tumble in many more countries.
In other financial news this week, Jim Flaherty imposed new requirements on the banks, saying it was just prudential and part of a normal review, which caught the banks totally by surprise. "Move to have more power over banks ‘prudential:’ Flaherty": "Under the proposed legislation, any bank or insurance company that increased its consolidated assets by more than 10 per cent through an acquisition outside Canada would need the minister’s approval." "Flaherty sets updates to financial laws": "As well, the government proposes to increase the threshold that requires large banks to be widely held to $12 billion in equity from $8 billion." Pretty big moves for a normal or "prudential" review, no?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 22, 1963

Yesterday was the anniversary of JFK's assassination. This short video by acclaimed film maker Errol Morris is at the New York Times' site as part of their commemoration of the day: "The Umbrella Man." It's the story behind the man holding the black umbrella on that sunny fateful day in Dallas. A great little history lesson that also makes a good point about speculation.

(h/t)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Auditor general's report on federal tobacco program

The 2008 era $284-million federal tobacco program designed to transition farmers out of tobacco growing was reviewed by the Auditor General. Looks like it was a total failure.
A $284-million Agriculture Canada program to change the Ontario tobacco industry and encourage farmers to leave the business was poorly planned and ended up falling short in some of its goals, says a new report.
...
More than half the people who received money weren't active tobacco farmers at the time, although they were entitled to grow it under the quota system run by the provincial Tobacco Marketing Board.
...
Some farmers ended up taking money to get out of the business, then shifted their land and equipment to relatives who kept on growing tobacco.

Tobacco production doubled the next year.

"Design of the Tobacco Transition Program was rushed, making its delivery challenging," Wiersema said.

"In some cases, recipients who received money for exiting the industry continued to produce tobacco, undermining one of the program’s objectives.

"This underscores the importance of sound program design, including considering what could go wrong and how to prevent it."
They doubled tobacco production! That's a remarkable achievement.

As for what drove the poor program design, whatever could have been the causes of that?

Nonsensical defence of the program as well. That anyone entitled to grow tobacco, but not growing it, should have been compensated because they had the right to grow it. Those people clearly didn't need transitional help.

Seems like those who have received money for exiting the industry, but who continued to produce tobacco, should be made to pay back the funds. But maybe that's not possible due to the poor program design done within a "short time frame."

Infighting

A rare occasion where I'll agree with John Ibbitson today. He goes at both Liberals and NDP, so I'll just point out the Liberal part I agree with:
Someone should tell these malcontents that the one thing the Liberals absolutely cannot afford is a divisive, faction-ridden convention in January. Either the third-place party unites, or it dies.
Fair enough. I don't know if it's come to Jesus time yet or not, but it's a good phrase to keep in mind.

Hey, we're not overtaxed


Came across this chart posted on Henry Blodget's blog as he made a comparative point to Americans that their tax revenues could stand to be raised. As Harper et al. push their tax cutting philosophy to the nation, it's helpful to see exactly where Canada ranks among western nations in terms of the taxes we pay as a percentage of our GDP. The U.S. is at just over 20% while we are at just over 30%. Look up the row above us and you'll see the U.K., Germany, France. Look below and you'll see some of those problem nations, Spain, Greece, Ireland and then, again, the U.S.

Facts to note for austerity and tax debates to come. And you go, Denmark. Woot.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Worth noting

A view on Liberal renewal from Andrew Coyne:
How then to carve out a distinctive case for the Grits?

The answer will lie as much in the way the party develops policies as in the policies it ultimately adopts. On both scores, it will need to capitalize on its own misfortune—to seize the opportunity that defeat affords. Parties that are in close contention for power tend to have little room for dissent, or for that matter democracy. The Liberals, being nowhere near power, have an opportunity to build a truly grassroots, democratic party, one that holds its leaders closely to account, and to let its own example serve as a model of democratic reform for the country.
With emphasis on the last clause of the last sentence in particular.

He was a skater boy...

24 hours in the life of Tony Clement. Let's see how it shapes up these days. First, there's more bad news on the G8 file:
The Canadian Press came out with new revelations Monday detailing the $2-million spent to renovate Deerhurst Resort, the venue for the summit. This included $3,000 to raise a large chandelier and $1,600 to move a king-sized bed.
But it's no worry for Clement:
The Treasury Board President does not answer questions related to the G8. Rather, he sits in his seat while Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stickhandles the issues. (Mr. Baird was infrastructure minister at the time of the summit and so was responsible for approving the spending.)
Nope, no questions answered there. What he will do, however, is a spiffy 15 minute webcast with a media outlet tomorrow. Smartly giving the appearance of accessibility via social media, which we know Clement loves, to counter the lack of responsiveness in the House of Commons. Good luck to the participants in their efforts to penetrate the expert talking points that will likely ensue, particularly on the G8!

Check in there tomorrow to ask your pesky questions and to see if anything newsworthy occurs.

Update: I should add that yes, Clement appeared before a parliamentary committee early this month. That was a one-timer. There remains no day-in-day-out responsiveness as should be the case in the House of Commons when a question is asked of a minister.

The dollar costs of lawful access

"Surveillance law could close small ISPs: Lawyer." The ISP operators of the nation are concerned about the impact of the coming Harper government lawful access legislation. Most are assuming it will be similar to previous iterations and we shall see. Here are some of the latest comments from those in the industry. Small and large operators are worried about the costs:
Assuming it will be the same act introduced in the last Parliament, “this isn’t going to be sustainable,” Chris Tacit, who acts for the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (CNOC), said Wednesday during a regulatory panel discussion at a conference in Toronto for independent ISPs.

“If a smaller ISP has to make major network changes it could be game over.”
...
Jonathan Daniels, vice-president of regulatory law at BCE Inc., which owns Bell Canada [TSX, NYSE: BCE], said the carrier wants to see the final act and the accompanying regulations, which might outline government compensation for complying with the act. Regulations weren’t published when the proposed act was introduced in the last parliament.

“We have big concerns about the capital requirements” for equipment, Daniels, said as well for possible high annual operating costs of maintaining a real-time data surveillance system across the country.
Lawful access is not just bad for privacy right violations reasons, it's bad for business too.

The HGRCMP

A new public relations protocol comes into being for the RCMP and it is leaked to the Toronto Star: "Government puts tighter leash on RCMP public statements." So what are the Harper government inappropriately up to with the RCMP? A lengthy excerpt but warranted:
The Star obtained a copy of a new communications protocol that requires the RCMP to flag anything that might “garner national media attention” to Public Safety Canada.

Everything from “media advisories, news releases, background info, media lines and talking points for spokespersons and senior officials/members” must be vetted.

Statements by RCMP members who appear before parliamentary committees would likely be massaged by the federal government beforehand, as the document clearly defines a “major event” as “an incident, event, announcement, and/or speaking engagement likely to garner national media attention.”

Signed Sept. 20 and effective immediately, the policy says the Mounties must consult and get approval from Public Safety for communications regarding non-operational matters “PRIOR (emphasis in original) to public use” for almost everything.

On “major operational events,” all communications need to be shared with Public Safety Canada officials “for information only” prior to public use.

According to the document, the goal is to ensure advance notice of “communications activities,” “consistent” interdepartmental co-ordination, better “strategic” communications planning, and more “integrated Government of Canada messaging.”

“The circulation of the information provided will be treated with sensitivity and, as appropriate, will be limited to a select few senior officials at Public Safety Canada.”
So there seem to be two strains of communications dealt with in this wonderful new policy, RCMP communications on "major operational events" and RCMP communications on non-operational matters. In the case of the major operational events, the government will be tipped off in advance by the RCMP, albeit for "information only" purposes before any public communications take place. In the case of non-operational events, the government will be vetting everything! Imagine. The government is overreaching here and should not be inserting itself into police communications in any respect.

For one thing, in democratic countries, the police are independent entities from government, albeit subject to proper civilian oversight. But proper civilian oversight is carefully limited. It surely does not involve the elected branch of government writing federal police communications. Yet that's what it looks like the Public Safety department will be doing in all the instances cited above on non-operational matters. Correction, have been doing, since this has been in effect since late September.

This will detract from the RCMP's credibility as it speaks to the public. Not what that embattled agency needs to begin with, but adding this political element of communications vetting is not going to help at all. It'll be as if the government is speaking.

Now how might these rules apply to a situation where the government itself is being investigated? I assume such an event would be a major operational matter. If such situations arise, and they do, why should the government be tipped off by the RCMP "for information only" prior to the public being alerted? Their rationalization seems to be that it's for a strategic communications purpose. But how are we going to know what information is passed on to the government, internally? How are we to be assured that this information passing won't compromise the investigation? 

There also seems to be the opportunity here for the government to pursue their tough on crime political agenda by capitalizing on police investigations as they are announced. It's as if the business of government, policing included, is one giant public relations opportunity for this government.

The principal point here is that policing matters, operational or non-operational, are not political matters. The government should be keeping their nose and hands out of all of it.

No wonder someone has leaked the policy and various RCMP officials are anonymously speaking to the media. There are red flags here and it is something the public needs to know about. During a majority government, public opinion and media are key countervailing checks on such blatantly wrong developments.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The #OWS bat signal



This was one of the best things of the week, the projection that was done on to the Verizon building in New York City on Thursday night while Occupy Wall Street protesters were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. This was the message flashed over the span of a few minutes:
"99% / MIC CHECK! / LOOK AROUND / YOU ARE A PART / OF A GLOBAL UPRISING / WE ARE A CRY / FROM THE HEART / OF THE WORLD / WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE / ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / #OCCUPY MOVEMENT / OCCUPY WALL STREET / list of cities, states and countries / OCCUPY EARTH / WE ARE WINNING / IT IS THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING / DO NOT BE AFRAID / LOVE."
A few great pics and an interview with the creator of the bat signal message at BoingBoing.

Really stunning and memorable. Technology is enabling creative and impactful forms of political action that we have not seen before.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday night



To make up for having missed music posting time last night. Going with another Deadmau5 because funnily enough, my mother emailed me after I last posted one of his tracks to say that she really liked it. My mother the hipster! She was sick this week with the flu so I thought I'd post another one to see if she'll like this one too. I think this is one of his best, I hear Mozart when I listen to this! That's right, not kidding.

Have a good night.

Update: The verdict is in, Mom liked this one too. Said it reminded her of "Yanni at the Acropolis." Yikes.

Elizabeth Warren and leaderitis

A very intelligent piece in the NY Times on Elizabeth Warren's run for Senate and in particular the expectations that are being placed on her: "Heaven Is a Place Called Elizabeth Warren." I liked this part at the end that is a fair description of an affliction that happens in politics, too much investment in one person and not enough in the surrounding political structures:
Having the right person in the room can mean something. It just doesn’t change everything.

It’s not that Warren’s supporters shouldn’t get lathered up about her. Staid appreciation for competent candidates has never made ballot boxes burst, and political dedication by its nature requires a degree of magical thinking: a privileging of optimism over lived experience.

But many of the people looking to Warren, as they did to Obama before her, are expecting material things — like readable credit-card pitches or safe bridges or jobs or a vote on a bill to create jobs — that are, at the moment, figments as imaginative as dragons and their slayers. And that’s dangerous, because when the person we decided was going to fix it all isn’t able to change much, it’s not just that we get blue but also that we give up. We mistake the errors of our own overblown estimations for broken promises. And instead of learning, reasonably, that one person can’t do everything, we persuade ourselves that no person can do anything.

The key is not just emotional investment in election-year saviors but also an engagement with policy. A commitment to organized expressions of political desire — like those that have been harnessed so effectively in recent years on the right — have been absent for far too long in Democratic politics. Now, with labor protests, campaigns to block voter suppression and personhood measures and the occupations of cities around the nation, there seem to be some small signs that liberals are remembering that politics requires more of them, that they need movements, not just messiahs. But their engagement must deepen, broaden and persist beyond last week’s elections and well beyond next year’s elections if there is any chance for politicians like Warren to succeed.

Because while she might provide her supporters and her constituents a voice that, if properly tuned, will rattle doors that are now gummed shut, what Elizabeth Warren cannot do is fix this mess herself.
This was her ad released this week, to counter the Karl Rove guided attack on her candidacy:



(h/t)

Speech of the week



A must see speech from the European parliament, November 16th. It's Nigel Farage a member of the UK Independence Party who holds nothing back. It's entertaining, sure, but they're not laughing much in the EU these days.

It is a good point that he raises, about the democratic legitimacy of the successors installed in both Greece and Italy. Will they have support in coming months as austerity measures start to really hurt? Can professors run a government? That will be an interesting experiment in Italy, for sure.

(h/t)

Optimistic enthusiasm

Optimistic enthusiasm as a form of realism:
How does your organization respond to new opportunities?

Most companies launch new things, try out new initiatives, brainstorm new approaches. The internal response (or reaction) to these ventures is a cultural choice, one that often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If your organization is both pessimistic and operationally focused, then every new idea is a threat. It represents more work, something that could go wrong, a chance for disaster. People work to protect against the downside, to insulate against the market, to be sure that they won't get blamed for anything that challenges the system. In organizations like this, a new idea has to be proven to be better than the current status quo in all situations before it gets launched.

On the other hand, an organization filled with people who are rewarded for shaking things up and generating game-changing products and services just might discover that outcomes they are dreaming of are in fact what happen. The enthusiasm that comes from believing that this one might just resonate with the market is precisely the ingredient that's required to make something resonate.

One more thing: outsiders are way more likely to approach your organization with fabulous projects if they think they're likely to both get a good reception and succeed when they get to market.
Does business guru advice apply to the political world? It's possible.

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Mustard please

Dalton McGuinty on Fraser Mustard:
Dr. Fraser Mustard’s impassioned campaign calling attention to the crucial first years of life — and how brain development during that time sets the stage for health and wellbeing — inspired economists, educators and politicians around the globe.

Closer to home, the Ontario government’s recent move to full-day kindergarten can also be traced to his influence.

Mustard died at home Wednesday night after battling cancer. He was 84.

Premier Dalton McGuinty called Mustard a “personal hero” and said his death is a major loss to the education community in Ontario and abroad.

“He was such a strong, articulate champion on behalf of children and early childhood education,” said McGuinty, who first met Mustard in 1996.

“He was one of the first ones to make the connection, if we make the early years right, a child is set for life. If we get them wrong, it takes a lot of investment to turn them around,” McGuinty said.

“He was ahead of his time.”
What a great Canadian life.

And on the political aspect of this story, it's a good example of the way government in Canada should be going about its policy enactment: from places of expertise and empathy.

Toronto Danforth watch

As we know, Harper has yet to call the by-election in Toronto Danforth. Given that we're nearing the end of November, it's unlikely to be called now until early in the new year. It must be called by February 26th.

The last prominent mention of the by-election came around October 21st, just about a month ago, when Brian Topp was interviewed by Canadian Press on his campaign and it included this line: "Whether he'd run in Layton's vacant Toronto-Danforth riding depends on whether Harper calls a by-election before the leadership race is over." The leadership is on March 24th. Clearly, if Harper calls it in early January, Topp could run but it would be during the leadership and would detract from his campaign, or, at least carrying on like the rest of the field. It would also be a bit of a risk. While Toronto-Danforth has been strongly NDP and it would be expected to stay that way, you never can predict how an election will turn out, absolutely. There would be a lot of attention on the race, that's for sure. And maybe that attention might help boost Topp's chances of a win in the leadership race if Topp were to win a by-election. So the timing of the by-election will be interesting to watch from that perspective. My theory is that this scenario is way too interesting and so, Harper will deprive us of the possibility.

Also interested in the Toronto-Danforth by-election would be Liberals. An open-primary type experiment in that riding was floated in August and it could still be tried. Now if the by-election had been held by this point and Liberals had gone this route, it might have been a selling point for the debate going on right now over adding open primaries into the leadership mix. Or, who knows, maybe it might have been a mixed result with the experiment. But, of course, we haven't had the by-election and it won't happen now until the first quarter of 2012. So there hasn't been an opportunity to experiment. It still could provide a good look at a primary process, albeit in 2012. Just beyond the convention, unfortunately.

Who knows, maybe Christmas in Toronto-Danforth will be extra special this year...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A day - and era - for Dummies

Couldn't let this one pass: "MPs hit new low in Question Period "for Dummies." The Harper government has taken us to new lows, yes. But the "for Dummies" characterization is not the stuff to galvanize the Canadian imagination. Imagine the eye rolling across the country on reading this stuff in the Taber column and sighs emitting. I plead guilty to this kind of fun on occasion too. But hey, I am not a national platform person in either the media or in parliament. Some of us have to use certain characterizations to garner attention to certain activities or events or statements being made. That MPs are doing so suggests they are feeling that need to be heard to an ever increasing degree as well. It all can get lost in the noise of the 24/7 news cycle of news, blogs, twitter, facebook, and so on.

In all, this week's events, just another symptom of life in Harper majorityland where our democratic deficit is ever increasing. Frances Russell quoted a number of scholars on the issue, yesterday:
"Canada's Parliament," according to the director of the Constitution Unit at University College, London, "is more dysfunctional than any of the other Westminster parliaments," he continues. "No prime minister in any Commonwealth country with a governor general, until Harper, has ever sought prorogation to avoid a vote of confidence. Only in Canada has a government secured the prorogation of Parliament to save itself from political defeat and only in Canada has the governor general been party to it."

University of Manitoba professor emeritus of political studies Paul Thomas says Harper has "extended and deepened" existing trends "toward more concentration of power and more techniques to protect the reputation of the prime minister and the standing of the government." He warns that "degrees matter in these things."
...
"Harper seems to want to have a sort of all-pervasive unification and direction of policy-making so nothing gets announced without prior knowledge and approval from the centre," Thomas continued in an interview. "There is the emergence of this new political class that occupies a kind of constitutional twilight zone. They're not accounted for in our constitutional order."
The fraying of Ottawa's civility and commitment to inclusionary democracy continues. The question, as always, what are we going to do about it. We will continue to kvetch, sure. What will be interesting in coming years is how roadblocked Ottawa will be challenged from within and without.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Late night

There is a free mini-album download by the Canadian group, First Rate People at this link. Their song that is recommended by the Guardian is "Someone Else Can Make a Work of Art," the one above, which is a goodie.

Apologies for light posting, it's a busy week.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Krugman vs Summers

Update (8:30 p.m.) below.

Probably the best read on last night's Munk debate in Toronto that you will find: "Krugman vs Summers: The debate." Felix Salmon, the great blogger at Reuters, was here for the event. Salmon, who can make even the topic of online advertising interesting, sums it up in his unique way. As a bit of a spoiler though, you'll see that the optimistic view prevailed on the question of whether “North America faces a Japan-style era of high unemployment and slow growth.”

Update: Krugman's brief take on the debate that is out tonight, linking to Salmon and clearing up the characterization of him as a pessimist: "Larry and Paul and Dave and Ian." (h/t)

Monday, November 14, 2011

CBC takes the high road

Today the CBC turned over documents to the Commons ethics committee "under protest":
In a speech before the National Press Club Foundation, CBC President Hubert Lacroix confirmed what NDP House Leader Joe Comartin had already revealed to the House of Commons earlier today -- specifically, that, "after serious consideration," the corporation had decided to comply with the request and had delivered the documents to the committee -- albeit in one case, in a sealed envelope with the request that it not be opened until after the legal case has concluded -- along with a legal opinion penned by Guy Pratte and Barbara McIsaac that lays out some of the constitutional and jurisdictional concerns, and a cover letter highlighting the "serious misgivings" under which it has complied with the request.
Despite two legal opinions, then, the CBC has decided to nevertheless comply with the Del Mastro led committee request for the documents that are the subject of a court dispute between CBC and the information commissioner.

Meanwhile, the Speaker is going to be ruling on the ethics committee's work in response to a point of order raised in the House of Commons by Joe Comartin asking that the committee be ordered to suspend its CBC pursuit.

Looks like the CBC is giving the Del Mastro led Conservatives an honourable exit rather than ratcheting up constitutional tensions to unnecessary levels. Hopefully this will be resolved now.

Harper's former SIRC Chair

A follow-up to the news of the past week that Arthur Porter, the chairman of the civilian CSIS oversight board (Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC)), has resigned that SIRC post "amid revelations of his business dealings with a notorious international lobbyist and his own close ties to the president of Sierra Leone." Today there's news that he's also leaving his post at McGill although this seems to have been in the works since the spring: "Arthur Porter to step down as director of McGill University Health Centre."
At the same time, many began questioning Porter’s increasing absences from the MUHC, which has 12,000 employees and is building a $2.3-billion hospital. Concerns were raised about whether the board had approved his involvement in so many outside organizations, from SIRC to Air Canada.
The bigger question, beyond the McGill focus, is why the Canadian government did not tweak to this concern about Porter's availability when it appointed him as chair in the summer of 2010. Beyond SIRC, he's been sitting on numerous other boards:
They include Air Canada, Golden Valley Mines — which has mining interests in Sierra Leone — CancerPartners UK, a private cancer treatment provider in the United Kingdom, and a cancer centre in the Bahamas.
Additionally, he was appointed by the Harper government to the governing council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The chair of SIRC, the position here that is of the utmost concern, is a post that requires serious attention and time commitment. For Harper to have appointed Porter as chair of this body was highly questionable given Porter's other commitments, in particular his full-time job as a CEO, let alone the other engagements. Presumably, a government that postures as being tough on crime and national security issues would want to ensure that the actions it takes, with such appointments, would reflect their rhetoric. 

While the attention is on Porter and McGill, let's not forget whose judgment is also in issue and that is deserving of a little attention.

The Conservatives' strained relationship with the rule of law continues

The parliamentary law clerk has written a strong opinion on the legality of the Conservative push at the ethics committee to compel CBC to provide documents to the committee while the CBC is in the midst of a court dispute over those documents with the information commissioner: "Tory bid for CBC documents likely unlawful, lawyer says." Basically, the advice is that the Dean Del Mastro led effort to force CBC to turn over documents should be halted because the committee would be jeopardizing the independence of the courts. Parliament should respect that independence. It's a foundational aspect of our democratic system, that each branch respects the other branches and doesn't start stepping in and doing what the other does. So, in other words, Del Mastro should not, indeed, be judge, jury and information commissioner in this case. Because he and the Conservatives are seeking to have the committee make a legal determination on the sufficiency of the CBC's response to the information commissioner. Further, if he and his committee confreres decide to pursue the issue, and the matter goes to court, they will likely lose.

There's a remarkable passage in the clerk's letter which should give people a sense of the overreach and what's really at issue here:
That really jumped out. A detached observer of the fight at committee with the CBC might not get what's going on. But how about if the Conservatives demanded your tax return to examine it at committee to see if you're all paid up? People might really get it then.

It's line-crossing in a constitutional sense. And it's intimidatory in a political sense. A committee can seek documents to assist it in the legitimate work it does, legislating, holding the government to account, etc. But not for the making of legal determinations.

And finally, note what the clerk says in conclusion, in terms of big picture considerations:
"I feel that the … principle of the separation of powers … is sufficiently important in constitutional terms that a court might see the merits of the argument and rule against the House," he writes.

"In my view, respect for the constitutional framework of our parliamentary system of government is part of the rule of law which is the over-riding legal principle that makes a democratic system of government such as ours workable and credible."
Over to you, Conservatives...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday reading

Jeffrey Sachs on a new force in the U.S. that has begun with Occupy Wall Street: "The New Progressive Movement." After reviewing the influence of Reagan on the modern era, historical pendulum swings and the present day U.S. state of affairs, he ends with a focus on what needs to be done. This is how he believes the agenda will be enacted:
Finally, the new progressive era will need a fresh and gutsy generation of candidates to seek election victories not through wealthy campaign financiers but through free social media. A new generation of politicians will prove that they can win on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog sites, rather than with corporate-financed TV ads. By lowering the cost of political campaigning, the free social media can liberate Washington from the current state of endemic corruption. And the candidates that turn down large campaign checks, political action committees, Super PACs and bundlers will be well positioned to call out their opponents who are on the corporate take.

Those who think that the cold weather will end the protests should think again. A new generation of leaders is just getting started. The new progressive age has begun.
That might be a little on the optimistic side of things as campaigns stand now with the heavy influence of TV in the U.S. But in coming years, he just might be right.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Every leader gets their day

Mr. Berlusconi is departing as leader of Italy and the citizenry reacts:



From the New York Times' coverage:
“This is the most dramatic moment of our recent history,” Ferruccio de Bortoli, the editor of the Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, said earlier on national television.

The streets of Rome pulsed with a sense of historic change. Many cheered Mr. Berlusconi’s exit. Outside the Palazzo del Quirinale, the presidential palace, a choir and orchestra performed Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus.
An economist, Mario Monti, is thought to be his successor but he has the appearance of the market approved candidate and it looks like there is going to be a struggle over that. You go, Italians.

Also of interest today on this, Nouriel Roubini predicted Italy's fate in 2006.

Meanwhile, our economist is in Hawaii, at APEC, hoping for scraps off Obama's table. Or something like that.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday night



I go with Avicii's Levels this week. Huge song this year.

Also recommend this and this, good ones from the week.

Have a good night!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Renewal: For Paul Summerville, candidate for National Policy Chair

In connection with the upcoming Liberal Biennial Convention in Ottawa in January, part of the proceedings will involve elections of new party officers to the national executive. Jumping right in here, as today is the day that nominations draw to a close, I'd like to share with Liberals who will be attending as delegates why I've decided to support Paul Summerville for the position of National Policy Chair.

Paul was gracious enough to speak with me last week from Victoria, where he is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria. We had a lengthy - but fun - conversation about his background, why he's running and what his specific plans are. I knew he'd run for the NDP in 2006 and so this was one of my questions, how did this evolution take place that he's now running for a national executive position. A little more on that below.

Beyond that point, I wanted to see if this was someone who might be able to add strategic value to the national executive. Was this someone who could skillfully fill this particular role of Policy Chair but also bring a little something more. A bigger picture perspective on where the party is and what it needs to do, not only in terms of policy, but in terms of getting elected in the future. Did he offer an interesting and impressive background. And would he give a sense that he was committed to it, beyond the typical commitment that individuals often do when running for such posts. Not just the tick the box answers that you come to expect. Sound like a tall order? Well, he passed my multi-part test and our conversation left me with a distinct feeling of optimism.

This post won't speak in great detail about his particular platform and views, but I would refer you to this statement he wrote this week: "Why I'm Running for the National Policy Chair, Liberal Party of Canada" (French version). I think that succinct statement speaks for itself. I like the idea of a conversation with members that is about liberal values out of which, ultimately, world class policies will flow. It suggests that we need to do something a little different now, as Liberals, because of where we are. It suggests that our policy needs to be connected to something deeper, the liberal values we stand for and that Canadians will recognize as distinctly Liberal values. It suggests that we don't just do this as members of the party as a debating exercise. We do it in order to reclaim a clear Liberal voice and to return to a much better place of political viability, a party that Canadians will choose again in the future. Because our values resonate and they like our policies that are rooted in those values.

In other words, we want our policies to win hearts and minds. But going forward, as Liberals, we want to win more of the hearts part of the equation.

I hope I did justice to his thinking. I'm sure he will be speaking much more to his ideas in coming months, including the question of ensuring member policy contributions are reflected in party positions, although I think his commitment to engage with members speaks to that.

In terms of the interesting background he brings, I'd recommend a look at a few things.

First, there are a bunch of videos you can watch, many of them interviews with Steve Paikin on TVO's The Agenda. This one is from May 2011 on the financial crisis and its hangover:



The point is not so much to take away given positions from the video. It's rather to get a sense of personality and what kind of approach he might bring to the Policy Chair role. There's a command of policy and intellectual heft, yes, but there's also a presentation that suggests integrity and a forthrightness in speaking candidly about a state of affairs, here, economic. And there is good humour present too.

Further, and obviously, that video highlights what Summerville's key offering for the policy position is: a command of economic policy that he brings as a result of a Ph.D. in the subject but also years of practical experience as an economist, in Canada, Japan and the U.S, with various investment firms. Economic issues are driving forces in our public policy now and will be for the foreseeable future. Economic policies are consequently going to be crucial for the party going forward. It will be a crucial way for Liberals to distinguish the party from the NDP. It will also be important to distinguish the party from a Conservative party led by a Prime Minister who claims to be a trained economist and plays up the issue as a strength for his party. See Chantal Hebert's timely column of the last day in this regard.

I would also recommend reading a recent speech he gave in Ottawa, entitled, "This Time is Different." You'll read about his views on the financial crisis and those responsible but you'll also get a clear sense of social justice, an international perspective and an emphasis on education that come through.

Another unique credential that Paul would bring to the Policy Chair role would be the on the ground political experience he gained as a candidate in the 2006 federal election. As noted above, he ran for the NDP in St. Paul's against Carolyn Bennett (and Peter Kent). In every election since then, Paul has endorsed Carolyn and needless to say, the NDP alignment did not take. This is a good story that he has since chosen to become an active Liberal and he gained practical political insight from that experience.

Paul Summerville would be a high caliber addition to the party's national executive. He's someone with years of experience in analyzing and engaging in public policy. That background suggests he would be a great fit to lead and work with members on choosing future policy directions. My impression is that he brings a great deal of enthusiasm to the challenge and wants to help rebuild the Liberal party in this policy role in a consequential way. I hope you will give him strong consideration for National Policy Chair.

Update: Contact info! Paul's email should you wish to get involved or contact him.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

They're not impressed in Peterborough

"No B for behaved" for Dean Del Mastro from the local Peterborough paper in the wake of his attack on Justin Trudeau's religious bona fides. They're embarrassed:
When we endorsed Dean Del Mastro in an editorial last spring, we did so with the explicit expectation that he would work for us as he does at home, collaborating and finding creative solutions for problems. We warned against the potential of him getting caught up in hard-line partisan games that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is so adept at playing.

"Rather than acting as Harper's messenger in the House or in the media, we would like to see our MP be guided more by his own personal ethics, which the party could use as it recovers from being found in contempt of Parliament," we wrote.

So, here's a reminder for MP Del Mastro. We expect better behaviour.

Dean has had some good wins lately. The train looks like it's back on track and the local manufacturers' association is creating jobs thanks to federal seed money. That's the type of news an MP should be generating. However, it is getting overshadowed by silly shenanigans that don't matter in the grand scheme of things.

These are rookie-like mistakes and this six-year MP should know better.

Mr. Del Mastro, watch what you say on Facebook or get rid of your account. Think of potential consequences before you jump to action.

Working so closely with Mr. Harper seems to be rubbing off on you and rubbing your constituents the wrong way. We prefer to see you on national TV as a coherent and responsible voice in your new role as parliamentary secretary to the prime minister and as our elected representative.

Please don't embarrass us again.
Are they watching his judge, jury and information commissioner act? It's bigger than the Facebook account and the Trudeau confrontation.

It's never too early to start organizing to unseat an MP like Del Mastro.

Thanks to a concerned citizen from Peterborough for the item.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Renewal: Liberal primaries

The idea of a primary style system being adopted by Liberals for the next leadership selection is the focus of John Ibbitson's column today. An excerpt:
The party executive will unveil a series of proposed reforms in a report later this week, to be decided upon at the party’s January convention. One of those proposals is for the Liberals to adapt the American system of political primaries to a Canadian setting when the party chooses a new leader in 2013.

“We need to give an opportunity to Canadians to have a voice in choosing who our next leader is,” Interim Leader Bob Rae said Monday in an interview. “We want to break the mould a little bit.”
While the exact proposals are to come, I have to admit to being a little excited on reading this. It could really be a major development in Canadian politics.

Coincidentally, the New York Times did a series yesterday on the issue of mandatory voting. Some of what was covered in the various contributions speaks to the rationale behind the primary idea raised above in the context of the Liberal situation. Law professor Richard Pildes said no to mandatory voting and instead made the point that instead you have to make elections more competitive. He said a few interesting things:
If we care about increasing voter turnout, we ought to care about enhancing political competition.

Increasing competition has other benefits as well. Competitive pressures keep elected officials more accountable and responsive to the average voter; these pressures moderate extremist tendencies in politics and governance; and competition generates more information and discussion among voters about issues and candidates. While presidential elections are typically competitive, the majority of other races, including Congressional, are not.
So beyond what this idea might mean for Liberals, it could have a wider impact on the Canadian political system as well. There might be a cascading effect. Turnout is not exactly setting records in this country and could use some shaking up. At the federal level, Harper and his tactics, including unprecedented year round negative advertising, indicate a tendency more toward voter suppression rather than encouraging voting. This might be a way of countering that tendency.

Back to Pildes, he also voiced support for the primary system itself in calling for what I guess what be a greater expansion of an open or semi-open primary system in the U.S. to the states:
Second, states should consider open or semi-open political primaries, in which voters not registered with a political party can vote in the primary of their choice. Broadening the primary electorate by opening participation to independent voters generates more centrist candidates and helps make general elections more competitive.
That is another angle that would become apparent if there were to be a Liberal primary, the types of candidates who might enter a less closed off system.

One of the other questions that might arise is covered in one of the other contributions in the Times, where political scientist Andrew Gelman writes about understanding nonvoters and what way they might lean if they actually voted. There are a few studies cited there that are worth a look. It would be something people would wonder about if a whole new pool of non-Liberals could vote in a primary, what kind of orientation would they have, what type of candidate would they be inclined to support, etc.

Anyway, interesting coincidence that all that material presented itself as a backdrop to possible primary proposals being in the Liberal mix for discussion. We'll see what they are and it should be an interesting debate.

See also: "Liberal Party executive at last proposes substantive change."

Monday, November 07, 2011

Consistency on merit based appointments

In the news this past week, we have seen that Senator Leo Housakos is not thrilled with the Auditor General appointment: "Tory senator remains critical of unilingual AG appointment." He's against the unilingual appointment, fair enough, the job requirement was not met and he joins many in that criticism.

But the Senator doesn't exactly come from a place of high credibility on the matter of government appointments: "Conservative Senator Leo Housakos has been in the upper chamber for only two years, but in that time a half-dozen of his friends and former associates have turned up in government posts -- including the No. 2 job at the CRTC." Defending this raft of appointments that coincidentally have links to him hasn't exactly been believable. For example, Housakos applied for his friend, Pentefountas to become CRTC vice-chair and yet Pentefountas' qualifications for that post at a highly specialized tribunal were panned at the time.

Maybe if Senator Housakos pushed for a fully reformed appointments process, his comments on the Auditor General might be more interesting. Otherwise, you might think he's just doing damage control for Conservatives in Quebec by being the Conservative Senator tapped to fly the bilingualism flag during the fallout from that appointment.

It's well past time that government appointments be made solely on the basis of merit. It's the way the rest of the world operates and the fact that Ottawa continues to be in the business of avoiding such professionalism helps to undermine our politics. Not that some of us really expect the Harper government at this point to act much differently. But it always deserves to be pointed out.

The "new politics"

This doesn't feel new at all:
Scrapping the long-gun registry has been a particularly controversial issue for Ashton as MP for a northern Manitoba riding, one that has a heavy aboriginal population. She has sided with the government before and voted to abolish the registry when a private member's bill on it was before the House of Commons. But she has since changed her mind and on the government's new bill to eliminate the registry she voted last week with her party and against the government.

Ashton addressed the flip-flop Monday.

"I support the fact that Quebec wants a registry, that it is very important that the federal government be there to support Quebec and other regions that want a registry. That is why I voted the way I did last week in the House of Commons. Prior to that it has also been very important for me to bring forward the fact that regions and people, such as northern and aboriginal people have real concerns with the registry," she said.
She said as she launched her campaign in Quebec.

Oh, I know, all parties and members have their flip flops from time to time. But if you're going to claim to be all about the new politics, your glaring record that speaks the opposite is not exactly helpful.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Friday night



I go with new Deadmau5 tonight. If you need your Kaskade fix, llove this one this week.

Have a good night!

"I certainly make no allegations"

So, this happened today: "Veteran public servant quits in protest because new AG can't speak French."
A veteran of the federal public service has quit in protest because the country's new government watchdog can't speak French.

Former deputy minister Michel Dorais resigned from the committee that oversees the auditor general's office because the Conservatives chose a unilingual Anglophone for the top job.
...
"I sincerely find it difficult to continue to serve as an independent member of your audit committee while accepting that the incoming auditor general does not meet an essential requirement for the position."

The government sought candidates that could speak both English and French. "Proficiency in both official languages is essential," said a job notice posted in October 2010.
Minister of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement, reacted today by making a statement in the House of Commons:
Dorais donated $500 to former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in February 2009, a fact not lost on Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who tabled documents at the end of question period showing the donation.

"I certainly make no allegations of the partisan leanings of the individual," Clement said. "I simply find that the House should be informed of these facts."
No, he's not making any allegations, he's just helping out the nation on a national stage with this information. He's a veritable boy scout in his intentions.

I think 900ftJesus has summed it up well on why Clement's action is highly questionable. That Clement was...
...obviously trying to imply that Dorais only acted as he did because he secretly works for the Liberals.

That’s a very harmful and dangerous implication, and utterly ridiculous. It more than suggests that anyone who makes a donation to a party cannot make any decision or perform any action without those decisions or actions being partisan-driven.

It also sends a bullying message to people who donate to parties that should they cross the ruling party, they had better not donate to any other party or they could be publicly attacked.
That is a fair characterization of the impact of a Minister doing what Clement did today.

Shortsighted

This may come back to bite: "Harper says no Canadian money for European bailout." Pay some now or will we be paying much more later? We'll see.

Great photo accompanying that story too. That look on Obama's face as he interacts with Harper is priceless.

Doing your bit



This video was put together in connection with an award Paul Krugman recently received. I'm posting it for three reasons beyond the fact that it's well done and is a great overview of Krugman's work. First and primarily, the content from about the 5:00 to 6:00 minute mark where he says what he's learned from writing his column for over 10 years. But I'm not going to say it, you have to watch! It's a great point to keep in mind.

Second, it's a good reminder of the contribution that such individuals, public intellectuals, can make to the political process by planting a flag and writing, speaking and making a difference in whatever capacity they choose to do so. He does so in a very concerted way.

Third, it's Friday, so lighter fare is in order. Have a great day!

"You bring me down but way to go Paul..."

(h/t)

An alliance for useful evidence

You can't speak a much plainer truth than Jeffrey Simpson does today on the Harper government's criminal justice policies that are not rationally connected to the facts and are commandeering disproportionate and unwarranted sums of dollars: "There is no crime epidemic."
Without any of these measures, almost all crime rates in Canada are falling, and not just homicide. The way to keep them falling is not only to insist on excellent police work but also to target policies at troubled areas and to work on the causes of crime, causes often rooted in social dislocation, mental illness and economic conditions.

Canada doesn’t have an epidemic of crime, no matter how much the media play up criminal acts and how often the government talks up the peril. Canada has a challenge of crime, the response to which from this government is almost completely counterproductive.
Well said. In the UK this week, there was an interesting launch that speaks to this very situation of a government making decisions that are disconnected from the evidence staring them in the face:
A drive to ensure that scarce public money is spent only on policies that produce measurable results has been launched by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, a think-tank headed by the former No 10 policy adviser Geoff Mulgan.

It is establishing the UK Alliance for Useful Evidence, in collaboration with the Economic and Social Research Council, to act as a catalyst to both generate and promote use of evidence on interventions that work and those that don’t, as policymakers struggle to squeeze maximum value from a shrinking public purse.
...
“If you are in charge of money in the public sector [and] if you aren’t aware of the evidence base in your field you aren’t doing your job.“
You could add to that quote something to the effect that willfully ignoring the evidence also means that you're not doing your job. Particularly in this era where supposed leaders preach austerity.

That Alliance sounds useful, doesn't it? It is intended to be a global organization. Maybe we could use a branch here in Canada over the coming years to lend a hand. Somebody send a bat signal or something.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Can't trust 'em

This story is on fire at the Globe site today: "Liberals storm out of House vote on unilingual Auditor-General." A lot of predictable comments there, irrelevant Liberals, the third party, etc. Whatever the boo bots will bring in typical inflammatory fashion. It is telling how much emotion and attention has been whipped up in reaction to the Liberal move today.

Seems that Mr. Harper didn't learn from failing to disclose the G8 funds for Clement's riding but instead couching them under a border infrastructure fund that no one would have looked at. It's a similar thing here. If there's a requirement in the job description that the Auditor General be bilingual, you expect the government to live up to the rules. Not that the opposition become soothsayers on what this government will do on any given issue. Although maybe they should consider consulting some, along with constitutional lawyers, just in case.

See also Blunt Objects.

It's that time again

It's G20 time, that is. Here is POTUS' G20 Schedule for the day. They're very forthcoming, the Americans about such things. Us, not so much. So what can we say about what to expect?

We'll probably see another nation showing us that it really doesn't cost that much to host one of these shindigs.

If you read POTUS' schedule, you will note that the G20 "family" photo takes place at 4:05 CET. Always a bit of intrigue surrounding Harper and those photos.

Harper will hold forth to the other nations
:
-He will implore the Euro-peans to end months, if not years, of economic foot-dragging and to finally make some tough decisions. He says they must realize that it will involve "pain;"

--He will remind all G20 part-ners, most notably the United States, of the need to make good on their commitment to reach targets for deficit and debt reduction;

--To the emerging economic powerhouse of China, he will not back away from a message that has fallen on deaf ears - it's time for that country to pull away from its fixed currency so that the global economic trading imbalance can be resolved.

--He will urge all countries to implement financial-sector reforms agreed to in previous summits; and finally

--He will emphasize the im-portance of resisting protectionist trade measures.
It's a very serious meeting, actually. But we certainly seem to always be the ones pointing fingers at others these days, not so much in the boat rowing along with them.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Late night



R.E.M. called it quits but they have a new song on a forthcoming retrospective album thingy. Accompanying video above is the effect of a camera on Kirsten Dunst for three plus minutes. That's it. The alternate version, totally different reaction. Not a bad song either.

Leadership fundraising rules a changin' again - but just for some

Updated 11:30 p.m. below.

The Conservatives love to change the rules surrounding financing of leadership contests while their opponents are ensconced in them. They did it in 2006 to trip up the Liberal leadership candidates then, putting a squeeze on their future fundraising abilities by drastically dialling back the amounts candidates could raise (to a one-time $1,100 amount). This time, however, they're being lenient to the NDP and the new rules will not affect their race. My, isn't that interesting. "Conservative bill will limit loans to political candidates."
The Conservative government introduced new legislation Wednesday that establishes tougher rules around political loans, treating them similar to political donations.
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The Political Loans Accountability Act will ban unions and corporations from making loans to political parties, associations, candidates and contestants. They are already banned from making donations. The new legislation also limits total loans individuals can make to $1,100 — the same maximum amount that individuals are allowed to make in annual donations. Only financial institutions and political entities, such as parties or associations, can make loans beyond that amount.

In addition, the bill establishes a strict reporting regime for loans given, and puts the onus on riding associations or parties to repay loans taken out by candidates if they fail to pay them. It also alters the contribution limits for leadership contestants from a per-event basis to a per-year basis.
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The bill will come into force six months after the it receives royal assent. It will not be retroactive, which means it will not apply to the current NDP leadership race. But Uppal urged the candidates to “follow through on the spirit of this bill” anyway.

The new rules are expected to apply to the Liberal leadership race, which will occur sometime in 2013.
The NDP critic doesn't see anything wrong with the legislation, not a surprise. But he should. This is unnecessarily restrictive and in a system which is transparent and rigorous, $1,100 loan limits are ridiculous and the narrowing of the sources to finance leadership campaigns is also excessive.

So the limits will apply to Liberals down the road. The decision to put off the Liberal leadership was one that the party agreed upon in order to engage in renewal and it was one that had a good deal of consensus behind it. And there is still plenty of upside to the decision and taking the time to engage in that renewal process. There are some good candidates coming forth for the national executive positions to be decided at the convention in January who are and will be speaking to that process.

Obviously, events occurred in the last six months that were not foreseen at the time of the decision making to put off leadership, let's not kid ourselves. There's nothing to be done about that now. And irrespective of when Liberals would have held their leadership, this loan legislation would have been forthcoming. The NDP is quite fortunate Liberals aren't having theirs now. Otherwise, you can bet this loan legislation would have been fast and furious and applicable to them as well.

Update (11:30 p.m.): Greg points out that the donations to leadership candidates - not loans - will indeed be changed from a one-time global $1,100 donation to $1,100 per year for leadership candidates. As the above excerpt does mention. Which change is somewhat helpful (Update: after many Liberal leadership candidates struggled under the $1,100 one time amount repayment limit for years now, thanks). But I don't think there's much disputing that the new $1,100 limit on loans by individuals (financial institutions and political entities can make loans > than $1,100) and the narrowing of loan sources will indeed be ground shifting.

Update (11:40 p.m.): CBC item on the 2006 changes versus the 2011 changes.

Final update of the night: If the NDP has been in support of these loan principles for years, I don't see why they wouldn't live up to those principles right now.

Dean Del Mastro: Judge, jury and information commissioner

What is going on at the ethics committee under Dean Del Mastro's leadership deserves plenty of sunlight. From a Liberal release this afternoon:
Liberal Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics critic Scott Andrews made the following statement today on the Conservative’s attack on the CBC at the Ethics Committee:

“The Prime Minister’s own Parliamentary Secretary, Dean Del Mastro’s attempt to hold a vote on the production of documents by the CBC behind closed doors is an abuse of power. I will be recusing myself from this debate and the vote. Furthermore, I will be seeking a legal opinion from the Law Clerk of the House of Commons with respect to the appropriateness of Mr. Del Mastro’s motion.

The Conservatives know that Canadians do not support their attack on the CBC, so they want to hide it from public scrutiny. First, they wanted to drag a judge before committee. Now they want to secretly force the production of documents that are before the Supreme Court into the committee process. This is a fundamental shift in the way Parliament works and an attempt to do an end run around the courts. Mr. Del Mastro wants to be judge, jury and the Information Commissioner all wrapped in one.

Canadians do not support this unprecedented attack on the CBC. It is unacceptable to turn the lights off on proceedings to avoid scrutiny.”
Here is the motion as of the end of last week on the material Del Mastro et al. are trying to produce. It is worth the reminder that CBC has argued that it is withholding materials as they may compromise journalistic activities. In other words, things like sources, journalistic methods, whatever it is that they are arguing in their legal dispute with the information commissioner. Which is where the dispute should properly be resolved. And there are legitimate grounds for that argument to be taking place, the provisions in the access law that the Harper government passed are ambiguous:
Von Finckenstein says he doesn't take sides in the legal dispute between Legault and CBC — "both are perfectly legitimate positions," he told the committee — but he pointed to unclear wording of the law.

He noted that the law the Tories implemented seems to both exclude journalistic and creative records from the Access to Information Act altogether, yet it is unclear whether that means the information commissioner cannot use her powers under the open-records law to examine the records, as the CBC maintains.

"The easiest way to fix is it to establish by legislation whether she can look at the documents or she cannot," von Finckenstein said. Until then, it will be left to courts to decide, he added. "That's why we have courts — to resolve it."

The Conservative government in 2006 extended the Access to Information Act to the CBC and other federal Crown corporations, while giving the CBC the journalistic and creative exemption.
Yes, that's why we have courts, to resolve such disputes in legislation. The rule of law, not men.

And note the irony in that preceding linked report, the Conservatives are fighting access to information requests to the Department of Justice and Public Safety and are funding litigation in support of those claims. Yet they decry others pursuing the same course of litigation, like the CBC, and then seek to compel production through parliamentary committee under the force of their majority government position.

Do Canadians support the possibility of Dean Del Mastro and his Conservative confreres on the committee prying into journalistic materials? Politicians leafing through the CBC's materials? There are freedom of the press implications that stem from the Conservatives' actions and they deserve plenty of attention.