Monday, April 30, 2012

"People just don't care about (political) labels"

From Stephen Carter, Alison Redford's now former chief of staff who was instrumental in her campaign win:
He was, however, willing to talk about the three campaigns that established his reputation — Naheed Nenshi's successful out-of-nowhere bid for Calgary's mayoralty, Redford's bid for the Tory leadership, which she started with the backing of only one sitting Tory, and the recent drubbing of all other parties in an election that polls and pundits had picked the Progressive Conservatives to lose.

"People just don't care about (political) labels," is Carter's conclusion.

"Imagine going to your kids' soccer game and asking people what they are. They're not going to answer the question with, 'I'm a conservative or I'm a liberal or I'm a neo-con.'

"I think we're in the middle of the next great shift in political decision-making, and it's essentially ideological freedom. People are not going to allow themselves to be typecast."

He was also willing to compare the three campaigns — campaigns that have been pointed to nationally as marking sea changes in Alberta's political climate.

"They were all very different," Carter said.

"Nenshi's victory was such a coming together of non-ideological people who just wanted a better system. It was just fabulous to work with.

"(Redford's) leadership campaign became far more partisan, but we were able to bring in so many people from outside the party — which I think is ultimately the success of any campaign, appealing to people outside your stripe.

"This (provincial) election, to be written off in the first week, was just frustrating. It showed such a lack of understanding of that campaign." (emphasis added)
Worth thinking about. And he's got some choice words about reporters and polls, if you care to read on.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Good reporting

A great report by Postmedia of that chronicling style that lets the facts speak for themselves: "Three days from Alberta vote, cracks in Wildrose were showing." It really stands out when you see it, there's not that much of it these days. It's not surprising that it emanates out of an election campaign when reporters have fuller access.

There are notes about the long rides in between stops during those last few days for the Wildrose bus: "While the Redford team blitzes through Calgary on whistle-stops, the Wildrose schedule appears to have less urgency." That anecdote is ironic given another one the reporter relates about Smith saying she'd learned a lesson from Ralph Klein's winning leadership campaign, where he came from behind, of not "measuring the drapes" when you're ahead.

There's the bubble atmosphere of the bus: "The bus acts as a cocoon, connected to the outside world by media reports and blogs, fickle Twitter, and by phone calls to friends and volunteers."

There's the visit with a Wildrose candidate: "He looks like the shiest man in the room. "I'm a businessman, not a politician," he says. "I'm not what you would call a flashy, upfront, type of guy."

There are the repeated appearances of Ron Leech with the campaign on that last weekend, not to mention Smith's calling attention to the issue at that press conference she held on the Friday.

It's a hindsight read but still a really interesting inside window on what might have been some of the issues on that campaign. It's not always the opinion journalism that tells the story...

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday night

Also, if you are a Kaskade fan, he released his Coachella set and it's available for download.

Have a good night!

Harper hitting new lows

The talk of the day, the Nanos poll on leadership numbers. Nice to see Canadians seem to be factoring in the major scandals of the past month or so on F35s and Robocon and Harper's leadership numbers, that have been his strength, are taking a hit. I say "seem to be" there because polls these days are so iffy.

Mulcair's numbers are rising, no doubt due to a bounce from their convention and the major ad buy. An ad buy that has to date gone unchallenged by the Conservatives.

None of the leadership numbers are that high in this poll, really. Further, this part of the reporting was notable, as far as these things go:
Canadians don't seem all that pleased with any of the leaders, however: asked who was most trustworthy, 15.8 per cent said "none of them" and 20.6 per cent were undecided. Those answers added together are more popular than any of the leaders. Asked which leader is the most competent, 15.8 per cent said no one and 24.4 per cent said they were undecided. As for who has the best vision for Canada, 15.2 per cent said none of them and 27.1 were undecided.
Looks like there is still a great untapped market out there for someone who can think & lead differently.

Also in new lows, this itler-Hay nonsense is apparently more than a one-day wonder. Seriously, Conservatives?

Late night

This is not the sexy issue of the day but it's a biggie. The F-35 scandal saw new key information disclosed on what the Prime Minister and cabinet knew about the price of the deal and when they knew it. You'd never know that of course from the Prime Ministerial demeanour in the House of Commons today. He seems to be on auto-pilot at this point.

A $25 billion budget for the F-35s was approved by the Harper cabinet in 2008. $25 billion approved by the cabinet. Yet the Canadian public was sold a purchase price of $15 billion after the purchase choice was announced in July 2010.

And our Prime Minister stands in the House of Commons, with all his nodders in the background, and mumbles about implementing the Auditor General's conclusions. Why anyone would believe that is beyond me.

“When Parliament is misled . . . where are we supposed to go except to this place and say, a government that persistently gives us inaccurate information is a government that has been in contempt of Parliament?”

The Tories, meanwhile, are keen to turn the page on the damaging audit, repeating that they have frozen the fighter jet budget at $9 billion and struck a panel of bureaucrats to manage the purchase properly.

Of course they're keen to turn the page.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Riddle me this. How many days does it take a Harper cabinet minister to do the right thing? If you're Bev Oda, too many! "Bev Oda coughs up cash for 'ad hoc' London limo rides."
International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda has agreed to repay almost $3,000 she charged taxpayers for “ad hoc requests” of a luxury car and driver while staying at a posh hotel in London. The beleaguered Conservative minister already coughed up $1,353.81 in extra hotel charges this week after The Canadian Press reported she upgraded to the five-star-plus Savoy Hotel for unknown reasons during a conference last June.
The London conference at which Bev ran up the egregious tab occurred in June of last year. It was exposed this week by Canadian Press. So that's close to 11 months. Not good enough.

Well done in dragging it out for a week after being caught and highlighting the Harper crew's hypocrisy though! Splendid.

Against the Woodworth motion

Obviously, I am against the motion brought forth by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth who is indeed reopening the abortion debate, despite Harper's blather that his government would not do so. That was lip service and to be expected. If Mr. Harper didn't want to reopen the debate and stir up divisive emotions in the country, he wouldn't be turning a blind eye when an MP of his brings a motion before the House of Commons. But here we are, debate reopened.

Note the way Woodworth is couching his motion:
“The abortion debate has actually never been closed,” Woodworth said Wednesday after a caucus meeting. “My motion is designed specifically to look at the question of how we decide what is a human being and who we decide is a human being. That debate has been left hanging by almost every court that has adjudicated on the subject.”
He is using a surreptitious framing that is intentional. When the discussion is channelled in this way toward "what is a human being" and when does life begin, etc., then the waters start getting muddied. People take their eye off the real issue which is interference with a woman's right to choose. The motion's request that a committee be struck to pursue the issue as entirely framed by Woodworth will further that muddying.

This motion does indeed seek to create a national parliamentary venue in which a Conservative controlled majority will choose the witnesses, skew the terms of the discussion toward the pro-life position and ultimately choose their preferred outcome: "the membership of the special committee consist of twelve members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair shall be from the government party..." Imagine watching that committee in action.

Read Woodworth's motion and you will see how skewed the questions are that he seeks to have a parliamentary committee spend public time and resources pursuing. It is crafty in that way in that a special committee would garner national attention, if it were to be struck, with all the attendant ability to start changing the national conversation. It is not so crafty though, in how lop-sided his terms of reference are. Putting aside any of the substantive issues, the terms of his motion are highly objectionable on that basis alone.

Of course, what would not be adequately presented in such a special so-con committee, the overwhelming view of Canadians who are pro-choice, recently put at a strong 2-1 margin. When the discussion is about a woman's right to choose, Canadian opinions are strongly in support and have remained so over a decade. This is why Woodworth obfuscates in framing all his public statements as he does above.

And needless to say, the Harper Conservatives are playing with fire, letting women and all pro-choice supporters twist in the wind while their backbencher appeals to the base.

I hope MPs from all sides will strongly reject this effort, whenever the vote occurs (June or September based on a few of the reports).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Conservatives and their very small Canada

You can see it today in this initiative: "Refugee health benefits scaled back by Tories." It's an appeal to people's me-first instincts, asking Canadians to be insular and resentful of the foreigner among us. Asking Canadians to be ungenerous toward some of the most vulnerable peoples in the world, refugees who are fleeing oppression elsewhere. "They" should not be getting better health benefits than the everyday Canadian.
The federal government is putting an end to paying for certain health-care benefits for refugee claimants, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Wednesday.
"Canadians are a very generous people and Canada has a generous immigration system," Kenney said in a news release. "However, we do not want to ask Canadians to pay for benefits for protected persons and refugee claimants that are more generous than what they are entitled to themselves."
The Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP) gives basic health-care coverage to protected persons, refugee claimants and others who don't qualify for provincial or territorial coverage. The program cost $84 million last year. The program also covers the costs for supplemental health services: medications, dentistry, vision care and mobility devices.
Those services aren't covered for most Canadians through their provincial and territorial health plans, and that's where the government is making the cuts.
Yes, why should refugees be able to have glasses. Surely those refugee types can finance this excess on their own given the equal footing they have when fleeing to Canada.

It is laughable to portray such benefits as an incentive to file refugee claims. If there is a genuine issue with fraud, target that.

This is Harper's Canada. It encourages resentment among Canadians toward those who may be truly less fortunate. Lowest common denominator stuff.

An Oda apology and other notes


The cheeky folks at the Globe who do the celebrity photos have some fun with the Bev Oda Savoy swank affair. Slide 3 is devoted to Bev as well. And others, scroll through for all the fun.

Also in Oda related reporting, CBC has this retrospective of sorts of great moments in expense over-indulgence. It must please Harper to no end to see that his minister, Bev Oda, is inspiring such "jet-set celebrity" photo spoofs and reviews of public expense cock-ups. The first one there, the expense of "cleaning the moat" is my personal fave. 

Speaking of the big cahuna, apparently he is letting the word trickle out from on high:
CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not spoken directly to Oda since the uproar over her expenses began.

There is also speculation that a cabinet shuffle will be coming before the House of Commons breaks for summer.
Not the cone of silence! This is supposed to impress us. Shouldn't a leader be speaking to one of his ministers in such a situation? 

As for the cabinet shuffle, let's just call it for what it is. It's the weak mark of a leader who cannot implement effective accountability. Oda should have been gone long ago given her "not" transgression and the limo rides that have been racked up in the past. No wonder they don't change their behaviour, there's no accountability. See also Christian Paradis, ethics investigation poster boy.

And about that "unreserved" apology, it's not unreserved in repaying the expenses: "Bad move, Bev. If you weren’t going to reimburse us for those limo rides, you shouldn’t have bothered to reimburse us at all. We taxpayers have feelings, too."

Late night

Irrespective of how you feel about the Vikileaks episode, you have to recognize in today's hearing that the Conservatives were hoist on their own petard.  (Yes, I did see Veep this week.)

Check out Kady O'Malley's liveblog as well. It draws out the point, in its entirety, that Del Mastro's witch hunt, fishing around the Liberal research bureau in particular, was an exercise in sideshow politics.

Also, note a few references there to "key Liberal bloggers" and a "specific Liberal blogger" who apparently pointed the finger at the NDP at some point (11:23 mark). I don't remember bloggers in particular who wrote about this but I'm sure the issue was discussed in all corners of the blogosphere as the story developed over the days.

Anyway, one lesson from the day, Liberal bloggers are apparently quite influential and read all around Parliament Hill. (You knew that anyway.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Financial disclosure for bloggers and others

Noted in the Globe, this headline is, shall we say, a little misleading in the Canadian context: "Why don’t political bloggers want us to know who’s funding them?"The vast majority of Canadian political bloggers receive bupkus for blogging. It is simply not the case that there are bloggers actively denying information on who is funding them for that reason. At least in Canada and as far as I know.

This report seems to bounce from group to group though and conflate it all under the header's misleading pointing of the finger at political bloggers. The author mentions charities and the new scrutiny from CRA of foreign contributions. The author mentions Ethical Oil, which is a private lobby group and which refuses to disclose their donors. The author cites a California proposal that would require political bloggers to reveal the source of their funds. Those are all very different categories of actors. So why the header zeroed in on "political bloggers" is beyond me.

Most bloggers would be happy to disclose any funding, if they had it. Words would be judged in tandem with their funding and everyone could see if what they're saying is compromised. If you are seeking to influence the public debate on policy, it's fair for people to see where your funding comes from. That is a fair principle to be applied to any group seeking to influence public policy.

Another group to consider, the opinion makers on the op-ed pages of the nation should be included in this discussion, if we are going to have it. Disclosing their extra-curricular funds for speeches and appearances and such. The Ethics Guidelines of the Canadian Association of Journalists indicate: "We generally do not accept payment for speaking to groups we report on or comment on." Generally. If they do, where is that disclosed? Is it all voluntary? If so, I hope they're all doing it. If not, it should be part of this conversation.

Alberta election thoughts

Wow. Just wow. Now that the epic Alberta PC win is in the books, it's hard not to have some fun with it. A few observations here from an outsider.

The time for a change dynamic can be beaten. It's a rarity but it happened here and is one of the truly astounding things about this election. There did seem to be that air of change to this election, I don't think that can really be disputed. At least, that is what the commentary, polls and social media all seemed to indicate, that it was about change and as far as conventional wisdom goes, I buy it. The switch to Alison Redford blunted that change dynamic though. For a new leader that's really something, to step in and seal the deal under the weight of that history. She has earned a lot of respect and political capital for the win for this reason.

Harper is not a good look on anyone. The Danielle Smith and Tom Flanagan led Wildrosers, along with all the other Harper acolytes in that crew, seemed to be drinking the Stephen Harper Kool-aid to an unwise extent. The not apologizing bit going into the last weekend of the campaign was Harper-esque. Smith said this on Friday: "I take it personally when accusations of racism and bigotry are aimed at me and at my party," Smith said at a campaign stop in Calgary. "Let me be perfectly clear — a Wildrose government will not tolerate discrimination against any individual on the basis of ethnicity, religion, beliefs, background, disability or sexual orientation ... period." But her actions - or lack of them - with respect to bigoted and homophobic statements from her candidates said otherwise. Her statement raised doubt. If they were channelling Harper in refusing to back down, it backfired.

Danielle Smith overplayed her hand as a possible premier. Tim Harper's column from Sunday's Star was a very unsettling read. The more you read in Canadian politics, given the volumes of commentary, you tend to get a little immunized to things. This, though, really struck me as something qualitatively different. There were quotes from Danielle Smith he cited that were brazenly provocative toward Ontario and Quebec. Taunting Ontario as being less progressive than Alberta due to the long ago Famous Five and the ethnic qualities of the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary (both of whom had criticized her) was unprecedented coming from a premier wannabe. Taunting Quebec for its daycare program and condescendingly intoning about equalization reform was chutzpah of the highest order: “I think we need to have a tough conversation with Quebec.’’ These remarks, and I'm sure they weren't the first indication of her approach to federalism during the campaign, indicated that Smith was not up to the job. Was this factor a cause of the great recoil from Wildrose? Alison Redford's victory speech last night, with her nods to Albertans choosing to build bridges and such, makes me think that she believes that is a key part of what happened as well.

Be careful with those gimmicks seeking to buy voters. The Alberta Energy Dividend or "Dani dollars" ploy clearly failed. The $300 dividend promise was not enough for voters. Listen to the lines in the video below, it was pure modern conservative orthodoxy that was being sold. Yet its anti-government rhetoric did not prevail. The voters cared about other considerations to a greater extent and that is a cause for optimism.

We need to be more skeptical of the conventional Canadian political wisdom. See election result last night.

In a short Canadian election campaign, anything is possible in this modern political era. OK, well maybe not anything. But see May 2011. And now April 2012. You can probably throw the fall 2011 Ontario election into that mix too. Keep heart all you supposedly lost parties. You can surprise.

There is probably a lot more to say on topics like polls, strategic voting, etc. I'm sure you will be able to find lots of commentary on those issues in the flood that this phenomenal result will unleash.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Savoy swank for Oda

Bet someone wishes they could insert a "not" into this one..."Bev Oda's Savoy Hotel Stay: International Aid Minister Declines 5-Star Hotel For Another At Twice The Cost."

Austerity for thee CBC, public servants, international aid agencies, and so on and so on, but not for Bev. She'll stay at the Savoy, thanks, a few kilometres away from the hotel hosting the conference she was attending. My oh my.

 It's anoda piece of the always expanding hypocrites narrative for the Harper government...

An assessment of the op-ed pages of the nation

Left-wing media bias? Doesn't look like it...

From The Sixth Estate, "how guest space gets allocated on the op-ed pages of the nation’s major newspapers":
1. Business associations, consultants, and free-market think tanks — 21%
2. Conservative politicians and insiders — 16%
3. Progressive NGOs, unions, and environmentalists — 12%
4. Liberals politicians and insiders — 7%
5. Social conservative and religious groups — 7%
6. NDP politicians and insiders — 4%
Data in support will be posted on the site.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Wild Rose Earth Day note

A fun little oddity from the WildRose Alliance party's 2011 financial statements...a $2,750 contribution from "Halliburton," presumably the Calgary branch of the one and only Halliburton of Dick Cheney fame.

The Alberta PCs did not get the Halliburton dough, by contrast. At least, not in the $375 and above range.

Both parties are well funded by the oil patch, of course. Notably, they're not far off in terms of total funds raised for 2011 as between them.

Hope everyone had a good Earth Day!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday night

A no-brainer tonight, new Deadmau5 just released today, very nice! A vocal track, it's melodic, upbeat, what more could a Deadmau5 fan ask for?

Have a good night!

Flaherty's no to the IMF

Update (Friday 8:35 p.m.) below.

From Canadian Press last night: "Flaherty digs in heels on calls to pony up more bailout money for euro zone." Jim is all talk to the hand, Eurozone:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty had some tough talk on Thursday for the 17 euro zone countries, saying Canada and other non-euro nations shouldn't be expected to commit any more bailout funds to the region and even publicly challenging a top European Central Bank official.
Tough talk from Flaherty on Thursday. Preceded by tough talk from Tim Geithner on Wednesday where on behalf of the U.S., he too said no more funds to the IMF. Why is the U.S. balking?
The United States, the IMF’s largest shareholder, is refusing to offer more cash, in part because of skepticism that Europe has done enough, the view that the IMF has substantial resources already and reluctance to seek more money from Congress in an election year.
That latter point, that the U.S. position is election year politics, is more explicitly emphasized here. All of this U.S. backdrop kind of giving us a little bit more context to the portrayal of the situation as Jim vs. the European Central Bank Executive Board and Jim vs. Christine Lagarde. Really, it's more likely that it's a case of Jim standing behind Tim Geithner and taking license from that freedom.

So why do we care? Well, Canada doesn't hesitate to skip around the world these days telling anyone who will listen how well our economy has done and held up through the recession years. Like Harper did in Colombia this week:
Canada is right now one of the few strongly recovering, growth-oriented, developed economies.

The relative strength of the Canadian economy has been shown through the recent worldwide recession and nascent recovery.

It is based on a secure banking system, solid macroeconomic policies, open and transparent government institutions, and stable parliamentary politics.

That is not just our opinion.

The World Economic Forum considers Canada’s banks to be the soundest in the world, and of course, earlier this week Moody’s came out and said the same thing.

Forbes magazine ranks Canada as the best place on earth to invest, and the OECD and IMF continue to predict that the Canadian economy will be among the leaders of the industrialized world over the next two years.
So you'd think we'd be capable, like other nations, of stepping up when the IMF is seeking funds in case European economies go under. We don't face election year politics, after all, the Canadian public likely wouldn't bat an eye at us making a contribution. But since the U.S. isn't, easier for us not to do so. Never mind all the glowing talk from Harper on us leading the industrialized world.

Meanwhile, Japan, that was rocked with a tsunami and nuclear disaster that is still unsettled, has stepped up with $60 billion, along with Denmark, Norway and Sweden chipping in $26 billion. Lagarde now claims to have about $320 billion in pledges of the $400 billion she is seeking.

We're more of an international outlier now, such developments tend to confirm it. Sure hope we won't need the world's assistance for anything in the future.

Update (Friday 8:35 p.m.): Here's the Canadian Press update on Friday night. The IMF has raised $430 billion in pledges, excluding Canada and the U.S. Just wanted to add the Japanese official's quote here:
Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi said his country wanted to make a significant contribution in part to say thanks for the support the world provided Japan last year.

"Last year we were hit by a great earthquake and a large number of countries provided assistance," Azumi told reporters at a briefing following the G-20 meetings. "Now we are heading toward reconstruction and we are moving solidly so we have to help (other) people who are in need."

Late night: Scenes from a literature drop

Thought I'd just do a quick post here and upload some pictures taken during a literature drop in Parkdale-High Park by a few of we federal Liberals on a balmy Thursday evening in connection with an event we have coming up on the afternoon of April 28th, a "Spring Forward" political renewal fair.

Some musically topical graffiti: 

Thanks to the folks above who were very kind to put up a few of our flyers! (Top right, sorry not the greatest shot with the Blackberry) Mmmm, food looked good too!

And who doesn't love a UFO or skeleton themed mailbox ornament? I know I do.

Response was good from the folks at the doors who happened to be in the midst of arriving home or on their way out. It's always a heartening thing to see people on the doorsteps and get a reality check outside of the online world. It's different, to say the least. Now if only we can cover enough ground to get lots of people out...

Beyond this event, we have a fundraiser coming up in May and no doubt other events through the summer to be announced.

Have a good one!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Canada's lack of consistency on death penalty policy getting attention

"Tories criticized for vastly divergent reactions to Canadians on death row." As well they should be.
The Canadian government's urgent appeal to stop Iran from executing a Canadian citizen imprisoned there may be blunted by its "grudging" support for another condemned Canadian — Montana death-row inmate Ronald Smith — says the former top federal bureaucrat responsible for protecting Canadian citizens abroad.

Gar Pardy, the retired head of the consular affairs division at the Department of Foreign Affairs, said the Conservative government's "hypocritical" approach to death-penalty cases in different countries is sending a mixed message to the world and potentially impairing the efforts of diplomats to effectively lobby other jurisdictions to spare the lives of Canadians facing execution beyond our borders.

That view is echoed by the Canadian arm of Amnesty International, which is also pressing Iran to commute the death sentence of Hamid Ghassemi-Shall, an Iranian-born Canadian citizen accused of espionage in his birth country and held in jail there since 2008.
This haphazard - and really, immoral - policy where the Canadian government is picking and choosing the nations in which they will fight for Canadians facing the death penalty clearly deserves reconsideration. It should not be the fact of the nation in which a Canadian citizen sits that determines whether they get the help of the Canadian government. It should be the fact of Canadian citizenship that our government considers in making the determination to assist. That will lead to consistent application of clemency policy by our government, irrespective of the nation in which a Canadian citizen finds themself. The Irans of the world will not be able to look at us and say we are cherry picking which Canadians we stand up for.

Maybe Mr. Baird and his Foreign Affairs department should amend their position on the Smith case in Montana, by publicly indicating now that they will speak at and support the Smith clemency case at the upcoming hearing on May 2nd, in order to send a signal to Iran on Hamid Ghassemi-Shall's case. Canada would be showing some needed consistency in its international approach to the death penalty at a critical time. 

Related: Death penalty: Canada needs to be consistent.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

24 hours in legal politics

First, on the Racknine suit against Martin and the NDP...NDP MP Pat Martin issued an apology yesterday for the statements he made regarding Racknine when the issue appeared in the news around late February. His apology was unequivocal, offering no defence, making it appear to be an attempt to mitigate damages in the lawsuit. Note that the request for an apology was made on February 24th and Martin did so just yesterday on his own behalf and on behalf of the NDP. Almost two months after the request. The apology is also figuring prominently on the NDP website.

The original claim was for $5 million with $2.5 million of it being claimed for lost business income. As Racknine's lawyer notes here in his comments to CBC, Racknine still intends to pursue the case given the damages suffered: "Defamation is easily done yet difficult to repair. My clients have been damaged and it remains to be seen if those damages can be corrected. The court action will continue until such time that the damages my clients have suffered are recognized and repaired," Matthews said.

There's no way to know, from the outside, what the actual losses were to Racknine as a result of the comments made, $2.5 million or something much less, but they figure to be known at some point once this suit is resolved (I'm discounting the possibility of the punitive damage claim that would take it up to possibly $5 million). These are the kinds of mistakes political parties can't afford to be making in this era of diminishing funds.

Elsewhere in litigious political developments, the Conservatives are coming out fighting against the Robocon lawsuits filed in 7 ridings across the country. Sounds like they will try to strike the lawsuits as disclosing no reasonable cause of action, as Jim Morton suggested last night, based on the comments of Arthur Hamilton in this Star report. Of course the Conservatives would try to forcefully beat back these lawsuits. The prospect of by-elections being ordered in any of the ridings would be very unsettling for the Conservatives and unprecedented.

As the original reporting on these suits suggested, the motion(s) the Conservatives are bringing might have something to do with the novelty of these applications: "Shrybman said these cases test new ground by asking the court to weigh the effects of a pattern of voter suppression, not just specific acts that have characterized the few legal challenges of past election results." Hamilton stated in the report last night, virtually in response to that Shrybman point: "“They don’t have any back-up,” Hamilton said. “This is a publicity stunt.” Guess we'll see.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Harper on celebrating the Charter

Harper can't celebrate the Charter 'cause it's too divisive and all. This is weak tea for a Canadian Prime Minister:
“In terms of this as an anniversary, I think it's an interesting and important step, but I would point out that the Charter remains inextricably linked to the patriation of the Constitution and the divisions around that matter, which as you know are still very real in some parts of the country,” Mr. Harper said.
See Chretien on that supposed division in a CBC interview today.

Recall that Harper didn't seem to care so much about such divisions back in 2008 during the constitutional crisis he invoked by proroguing a confidence vote in order to save his own political skin:
Normally Canadian prime ministers work toward encouraging national unity and a common sense of purpose among Canada's French and English populations. Not so Mr. Harper in this political dogfight. His rhetoric was the most anti-Quebec, and by inference anti-French, of any major party, let alone a government, of at least the post—Second World War period. Perhaps, having failed to increase his support there in the election, he felt it expedient to abandon Quebec and appeal to the latent hostility toward bilingualism and Quebec in his political heartland of the west. Perhaps his party's polling had indicated that this line of attack was a winner outside Quebec.

Regardless, there was no doubt that Mr. Harper's inflammatory and tendentious rhetoric was stunningly effective in mobilizing public opinion against the proposed coalition. The opposition parties and their leaders seemed unable to counteract it.
Whatever works for the occasion, that's how Stephen Harper rolls as a national leader.

Best read on the Charter today? Louise Arbour, for all your Harper-counteracting needs.

Death penalty: Canada needs to be consistent

It is good to see this news of the Canadian government pleading for clemency for a Canadian in Iran facing execution:
"Canada is gravely concerned by indications that the execution of Mr. Ghassemi-Shall may be carried out imminently," Baird said in a joint statement Sunday with Diane Ablonczy, the junior minister for foreign affairs.

Baird called on the Iranian government to grant clemency to Ghassemi-Shall on compassionate and humanitarian grounds and to respect its international human rights obligations.
The move is being criticized, however, for coming at a late date in Hamid Ghassemi-Shall's detention and in the face of imminent execution (see CTV report here). Still, it is good to see.

No such plea, however, with another high profile case that has been in the news, where Canadian Ronald Smith is facing the death penalty in Montana. Smith's clemency hearing is on May 2nd and the Harper government has signalled that they won't speak during the hearing despite having the opportunity to do so. The government has sent a tick the box form of letter and had to be ordered to do so. There is no compelling plea from our government given their view of the facts of the case and the fact that it is the U.S. in which Smith was convicted. The state of Montana is even thinking of doing away with the death penalty yet that doesn't move our government.

The two cases highlight how wrong this government has it when it comes to the death penalty and Canadian citizens who face it abroad. Our government should be actively pursuing clemency for Canadian citizens abroad whenever required, consistently, and wherever Canadian citizens are. Does the Harper government think that other nations don't notice our inconsistent application of our clemency policy?

Here is a letter sent to Montana's Governor that speaks to Canada's traditional position on the death penalty abroad. Canada's moral authority on the death penalty, when speaking to Iran, would be so much improved if, as a matter of principle, we opposed it thoroughly in all cases on the international level.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday night

A big new remix of "The Naked and Famous." I don't know which one I like better.

What else...have also been listening to Foo Fighters this week, this is a good acoustic version of one of their best. So a little bit of new and old tonight.

Have a good one!

SNC-Lavalin in the news, an overlooked angle

SNC-Lavalin is in the news today in a big way: "RCMP raids SNC-Lavalin’s Montreal headquarters." Thought I would raise an angle on this that might be overlooked. Recall the Government of Canada's rationale for selling off Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's commercial reactor division to said SNC Lavalin:
The Government of Canada has reached an agreement with SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. under which the Canadian engineering firm will acquire the CANDU Reactor Division of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).

Under the terms of the agreement, SNC-Lavalin, through its wholly owned subsidiary CANDU Energy, will take over the CANDU Reactor Division’s three business lines: services to the existing fleet, life-extension projects and reactor new builds.

“The CANDU commercial reactor business will benefit greatly from SNC-Lavalin’s entrepreneurial capacity and global scale,” said the Honourable Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources. “The transaction will place CANDU technology in proven, competent hands to be serviced and deployed in Canada and abroad, meeting energy needs and stimulating a supply chain located largely in Canada.”

“As one of the world’s largest engineering/construction firms with offices in over 35 countries worldwide, we’re looking forward to developing new business opportunities using CANDU’s renowned technology on projects around the globe,” said Pierre Duhaime, President and CEO, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. “We’re also very happy to welcome the new employees this acquisition will bring to our ranks, and to work together to realize our vision for this industry.”

The Government of Canada will retain ownership of all CANDU intellectual property, while providing an exclusive licence to CANDU Energy to grow its business. In addition to an upfront payment of $15 million from SNC-Lavalin, this will create an opportunity for Canadian taxpayers to benefit from royalties on future sales of reactors, future life-extension projects and certain products and services.
What has transpired since June of 2011 when the above deal was reached? Beyond today's events, here was David Olive a week ago with an overview of recent major problems at SNC-Lavalin:
You wouldn’t guess from the sanguine mood at SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., the Montreal-based global engineering giant, that it has just lost the services of its CEO amid an improper-payments scandal.

And that the $7.2-billion firm (sales) just suffered a black eye after one of its subsidiaries was banned by the World Bank from bidding on Bank-financed projects until allegations that SNC bribed officials in the bidding on a controversial Bangladeshi bridge project are resolved.

And that SNC is facing a $250-million class-action lawsuit from shareholders over the company’s alleged mishandling of its funds.
The Harper government's sale of AECL for a song was criticized at the time. It takes on a whole new light these days given what has transpired and calls into question again this government's supposed claim to be competent economic managers.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pentagon ups #F35 costs again

From one of the leading aviation publications in the U.S., Aviation Week, the latest on the F-35's increasing costs sees Canada in its headline: "Canada Concerned As F-35 Cost Estimate Rises." The article's main point is to highlight still more increasing costs of the F-35 program as announced by the Pentagon:
In what is becoming an annual event, the Pentagon has again revised the estimated cost of developing, buying and operating the Lockheed Martin F-35. In this latest pricing increase, the Defense Department estimates the program will total $124.2 billion (9%) more than the $1.385 trillion forecast only a year ago through a projected 55-year fleet life.
You know, at least the Americans are up front about costs for all to see no matter how bad this program's escalation gets. Their media and citizens wouldn't stand for it if they weren't. Do we trust in the Department of Defence or our government to be so forthcoming up here? No, we certainly don't, not in the wake of the Auditor General's report.

What else do we learn from Aviation Week? Costs are increasing because operating and fuel costs are being included in the total cost estimates:
The preponderance of the cost increase—$107.9 billion—falls into the “operating and support cost” account, which will pay for flying hours and spares once the F-35 enters service. This estimate was derived from the Pentagon’s Capability Assessment and Program Evaluation office and is 6% higher than the F-35 Joint Program Office’s. Fuel costs consume about 14% of the projected operating and support cost increase.
The Americans include those costs, as do we. When we follow the rules, that is.

And we best take note of this, "Full-rate production is slipping to fiscal 2019...," given that the CF-18s are gettin' near retirement age by that date. Underscoring the foolhardiness of the Harper government's insistence on throwing in solely to this risky F-35 scheme.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Renewal: New #LPC Supporter By-Law

Matt Certosimo, the new national Membership Secretary has posted on a request for input on a new by-law on how the party will go about welcoming Supporters into the party, the new category of party participant that was created at the January national convention. Here is his request:
3. There are three areas in which decision-making will occur, and your input in each is critical to the success of this project.
The first being the process by which people sign up and become supporters. This process will be governed by a new “Supporter Bylaw” – I would like to invite your feedback on the draft “Supporter Bylaw”, in the comments below; (For more background, please read our Supporter FAQ here.)
The second is how the Liberal Party will connect and engage with new supporters once they sign up. How do we build that relationship? And how do we engage these supporters to become passionate advocates, members and donors?
The third element is the actual launch of the formal supporter registry and the campaign to recruit thousands, particularly over the summer. We all have a role to play in this campaign to renew our party.
His post went up on April 2nd and the comments there don't seem to speak to the draft of the by-law. I thought I'd draw attention to it here in case it has been missed or people don't visit there often. This is a good effort in open governance on an important initiative and hopefully people will take a look at the by-law and submit their comments as members or through their riding association (as Parkdale-High Park is in the process of doing).

On academic freedom

Jim Balsillie has an op-ed in the Globe today in the wake of the rejection by York University of a major investment by him of about $30 million that was to be matched by the province: "Academic freedom at York University? More like academic myopia." Here's what he says was his condition on the deal:
Regarding Osgoode Hall, our agenda was on the table. Our interest was that York/CIGI become a global centre of excellence in international laws of trade and finance, intellectual property and the environment. For accountability, we needed an undertaking that the research would be in those domains. That was the sole condition. As a donor, I think that was a fair expectation.
Two Osgoode academics wrote an op-ed on the weekend, "York University did the right thing in cancelling CIGI deal," which is a very different read in terms of the strings attached:
First, the deal obliged York to report regularly to the Centre for International Governance Innovation on curriculum and other academic programming matters. York had to consider the centre’s advice before making decisions on these matters. This interference in academic planning was removed by the Osgoode protocol. York administrators allowed it back in.

Second, York resurrected the Centre for International Governance Innovation’s veto over the program’s annual budget, which had been removed by the Osgoode protocol. This veto gave the Centre for International Governance Innovation the power to cut off all funding, public and private, under the program.

Third, the Centre for International Governance Innovation was given alarming rights regarding the appointment, renewal, and termination of faculty, and individual research plans. Language in protocols signed by the centre and York failed to remove these rights in clear terms.

Fourth, the deal relied on a stunted definition of academic freedom, suggesting that the Centre for International Governance Innovation wished to influence teaching and service activities.

Fifth, the deal had a one-sided approach to enforcement. York’s obligations in the original agreement, which gave the Centre for International Governance Innovation an extensive role in academic affairs, were enforceable by binding arbitration. On the other hand, the governance innovation centre’s commitments to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy were not subject to any enforcement mechanism.

Sixth, the deal would have allowed secret amendments by the Centre for International Governance Innovation and York. The Osgoode protocol precluded this and required the relevant documents to be made public. These provisions were not accepted.
Beyond the details, duelling op-eds within days of each other probably tells you why this arrangement just wasn't going to work out.

The professors add:
Governments should not funnel taxpayer money through gatekeepers that are not publicly accountable and whose role jeopardizes academic freedom and institutional autonomy. If allowed to proceed elsewhere, this model will corrode public confidence in universities.

Private funders must recognize that there are important limits to what they can request in exchange for money. Serious academic institutions must ensure that the limits are respected.
That may be "old-think" according to Balsillie, others would call it the underpinnings of the Canadian public university system.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tom in the boardroom

A corporate leader for the NDP? In a subliminable way? Can't help but highlight what stood out in the ad, "Tom," not Thomas, chose to deliver his intro in a modern corporate boardroom looking place. There are no accidents in advertising, after all. Tom is in the skyscrapers with the rest of corporate Canada.

Otherwise, it had the feel of a Ford F-150 ad at the beginning mixed with a touch of Economic Action Plan ad (older guy jogging). Safe.

The bigger question, however, is the elephant in the room...when will the Conservatives respond to Mr. Mulcair's entry on to the national stage now that the NDP are advertising? Or will they bother at all?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Impetus for the push on the #F35

Dave at Galloping Beaver is going to work, picking apart the Harper government's tales over the years on the F-35 acquisition. Go there to read the entire post, which I take it is part of a coming insightful series. Here is an excerpt that speaks to the political backdrop motivating DND:
The problem was the projected lifespan of the Harper government. Inside DND and the CF bets were that it wasn't going to last. Further, they worried that Harper was a one-off event. Most of the middle-ranked CF felt that Harper had a lifespan of about 18 months and that once gone, he would likely be replaced by another Liberal minority, only this time, not led by Martin who had favoured rebuilding the CF as a modern, well-equipped outfit.

So ... they made a run for the end zone. To put it the way one correspondent put it to me, they cut a lot of stuff out, but they highlighted some big ticket items. One of the things they highlighted was the F-35 project and they noted that the 2002 MOU, despite the fact that it did not involve purchasing, had already cost the government over $150 million. The very vague "procurement" line in the MOU was put forward as meaning, we're going to buy. Right? Is there a need for a long, drawn-out competition among planes which really don't measure up to this bright, shiny new thing?
Read on, they thought Liberals would be gun shy after the Chretien helicopter cancellation. They were trying to get the F-35 locked in. All of which is again begging the question on negligent civilian oversight.

Elsewhere today on the F-35 radar: Peter MacKay did his level best to explain why withholding $10 billion in F-35 costs from the Canadian people was justified. It was all about accounting and not including things like pilot salaries and fuel costs and maintenance. Boy, those pilots sure are expensive, hey? What are they, a couple hundred thou a year? A few million? Love the way that one in particular gets curiously itemized out in MacKay's spin. Again with the hiding behind the military thing, in a subtle way, as they nevertheless have been pointing the finger at DND. Just another day of black is white, up is down, day is night for the Harper crew.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Friday night

Madonna at Easter, such an obvious choice, come on. How can you not like that girl, still going strong, with her ear to the ground on what's new and so here she is remixing it up with Avicii.

Have a good night!


On this Easter weekend, let us reflect, yes.

In the 2012 version of this video, let us ask: How is it that a government could fail to disclose to Parliament $10 billion in costs on a major purchase they were planning to make?


Auditor General #F35 fallout

Terry Milewski's report on yesterday's remarks by the Auditor General and the reactions those remarks set off, above. It is helpful to see whose eyes are grave, whose eyes are dead and whose eyes are lit up.

More on the AG's remarks and DND apparently getting restless at holding the bag.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

On the lighter side: Alien minister watch

It's not foreign radicals that are a problem for Canada, it's the alien ministers who walk among us!

"Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (right) gets a demonstration of the Reality Cave from Communitech's Jeff Nesbitt (photo: Anthony Reinhart)"
That's Minister Oliver, who famously and quite ridiculously labelled environmental groups as being radical groups and under the influence of foreign special interests. He's getting a demonstration of the "Reality Cave." That actually sounds like something the whole lot of Harper ministers could do with!

Rae's clever privilege motion on the F-35s

Here it is, the full text:

Liberal Leader Bob Rae's Point of Privilege

(h/t to David Akin for posting)

The most important parts are at pages 5-9. Essentially, Rae's point is that the Auditor General's report says one thing. The Harper ministers, on the other hand, said very different things in the House of Commons this week in speaking to the Auditor General's report. This is important.

In the AG report, there are both facts and conclusions presented. DND, Industry Canada, and Public Works say, in the report, that they agree with the AG's facts. But they collectively disagree with the conclusions of the AG.

The problem for the government is that ministers stated in the House of Commons that they agreed with the conclusions of the report. Those instances are itemized by Rae on pages 7 & 8.

Now if they agreed with the conclusions of the AG, here is what the Harper ministers were agreeing to with respect to DND's role:
2.80 National Defence did not exercise due diligence in managing the process to replace the CF-18 jets. National Defence did not appropriately consult Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) on the procurement implications of the 2006 MOU for the third phase of the JSF Program or develop an appropriate plan for managing the unique aspects of the acquisition. Problems relating to development of the F-35 were not fully communicated to decision makers, and risks presented to decision makers did not reflect the problems the JSF Program was experiencing at the time. Full life-cycle costs were understated in the estimates provided to support the government’s 2010 decision to buy the F-35. Some costs were not fully provided to parliamentarians. There was a lack of timely and complete documentation to support the procurement strategy decision.
That is, publicly, in the House of Commons, the Harper ministers are seeming to accept the AG's report in full. Yet, as Rae points out, they are being contradictory:
"In response the oral questions the Government accepts all conclusions of the Auditor General, while in written submission to the House through their response to the Auditor General‘s report, they reject several conclusions of the AG.

These two versions of reality cannot both be true. One must be a falsehood.

While it is not for the Speaker to determine what is fact what is clear is that the two versions of reality leave this House with significant confusion on this issue. Indeed the two versions seem to be an attempt to deliberately confuse the House."
What is the truth here? There are indeed two versions and Rae has cleverly boxed in the government. Truth matters, parliamentary procedure matters, respect for Parliament matters. This government seems preternaturally unable to act in truthful ways. And it's no wonder, it's getting worse for the government: "Federal cabinet knew F-35’s true $25 billion cost before election: Auditor-General."

Motions like these keep the government on the hook.

Now we await young Scheer's ruling.

P.S. All of the above totally missed by the "Official Opposition," by the way.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Mount Royal "Shadow Tory MP" departs government service

The right thing appears to have been done in the case of Saulie Zajdel, the 'Shadow Tory MP' who ran against Irwin Cotler in Mount Royal but who nevertheless gained a job in the Heritage minister's office and who proceeded to act like a shadow MP in Cotler's riding:
An unsuccessful Conservative candidate from Montreal who was hired as an adviser to the federal heritage minister has mysteriously resigned in the wake of allegations that the government was using him as a "shadow MP" to undermine an elected Liberal MP.

"I'm no longer working for the government," Saulie Zajdel said flatly in a short telephone conversation. "You asked the question. I gave you the answer. That's it. I'm now a private citizen."
Zajdel declined to confirm rumours that he left the government job out of frustration about the Conservative party's approach to the escalating controversy. He also declined to say whether he still supports the Conservatives.

A spokesman for Moore declined to react to the news, explaining the government doesn't comment on internal staffing matters.
James Moore went to bat for Zajdel's role when it was first uncovered and became controversial, only to be tripped up as revelations of Zajdel's political activities continued. And now Zajdel has exited his position.

That is as it should be. If Zajdel wants to run against Cotler in the next election, government dollars should not be paying him to be a candidate and shadow MP in the meantime.

Score one for dogged political reporting.

Memories of Mulcair

This Canadian Press report from Friday is about the use of the debate time in the House of Commons Friday on the reaction to the budget. The NDP took up all the debate time that day to prevent Liberals from getting any of it. Rae pointed it out as being petulant and perhaps a mark of insecurity. The NDP claimed in response that this was all according to the rules.

The shut out continues on into this week.  Mulcair was quoted yesterday as saying the Harper horrors need to be pointed out, so much so that it requires the NDP to go against tradition and prevent other elected representatives from speaking: “These are things that have to be pointed out,” he added. “Their economic management has been abysmal and we’re going to take all the time that we need and use all of the parliamentary tools at our disposal to make sure that we do our jobs as Canadians have elected us to do.”

Here's Rae's latest reaction:

This new NDP style was foreshadowed way back in 2008. There's something between Tom Mulcair and Bob Rae, a vital rivalry. Check out Mulcair's special and warm welcome for Rae to the Commons after Rae was elected in a March 2008 by-election. Rae responds and it's quite a fun exchange. Fun in hindsight, not so sure how fun it was there in the House of Commons. It may give some present day context to what seems to be a deep well of animus between the two, particularly on Mulcair's part, given the language he chose to use then and the tactics on display today.

While we're looking back at Mulcair in the '08 era, this story from Le Devoir from 2008 is apparently still an undercurrent in the environmental movement there. Mulcair, while he was Environment Minister in Quebec, put the kibosh on a $2 million grant that Hydro Quebec was about to make to a climate change action group, le Centre québécois d'actions sur les changements climatiques. It is speculated that Mulcair thought there were separatist sympathies in the group and this was the reason for his quashing of the funds. But in 2008, when Le Devoir obtained the emails and asked him about it, he denied that explanation and was vague, said he didn't remember why. Always interesting when meticulous and rigorous individuals forget why a $2 million grant was quashed. Apparently it is still a sensitive matter among environmentalists in Quebec (last paragraph here) and this advice may be good for Liberals with respect to Quebec in particular.

Harper at the Wilson Center

Harper spoke at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington yesterday following the meeting with Obama and Calderon. The C-Span video at the first link is just under an hour and gives you a bit of insight into Harper's thinking on a range of issues facing Canada.

Some of the moments of note. At around the 25 minute mark, Harper mentions that the Keystone pipeline will be responsible for about 30,000 jobs. That is a remarkable figure that seems to be quite off in terms of the research that's been done on the question. You do hear those kinds of numbers on Fox News though. Here is a concise video that debunks the numbers that Harper touted yesterday:

The U.S. State Department, doing the environmental review, cites a matter of possibly 5-6,000 jobs, at the high range, for construction jobs. Even Trans Canada's representative, at the end of the video above, puts the permanent job numbers in the hundreds, not thousands. Yet Harper casually threw the number out there, nevertheless. Given how he is obviously knowledgeable and steeped in the file and all energy matters he speaks of, it's curious that he is so far off with this number. He did so in front of a venerable audience as well.

There are the comments he makes about Canada needing to diversify away from reliance on the U.S. as an energy market. The Canadian Press report linked to above covers the responses there:
"We cannot be, as a country, where really our one and in many cases almost only partner could say no to our energy products. We just cannot be in that kind of position."
That got some play yesterday but it didn't seem to be particularly new. What was a little different was the tone in which he said it. He came off as a little irritated. For some of our tastes, he also seemed to be a little too much in the shoes of the oil industry for a Prime Minister. At times while watching, you might have found yourself wondering, if you didn't know he was a national leader, what energy company he ran.

Following that thought, there's an interesting answer he gives at the 15:45 mark and following, as well. It's a question about clean energy and how it fits into the mix for Canada as an energy supplier. It's clear that Harper views the question of clean energy not as an environmental issue. It seems to be purely an economic question for him. The truth of the matter, he says, is that it is purely a supply and demand issue. The demand for hydrocarbons is enormous and will continue to be, he says, even with the advent of clean energy sources. The only nod he gives to clean energy sources is as a supplement to hydrocarbons because as a supply and demand matter, he is not sure oil production will be able to keep up with demand. Then, clean energy will come in. Again, this little bit of thinking is rarely on display for Canadians.

He admits at the 18 minute mark, or so, that nuclear has to be part of the the energy mix. You wouldn't quite know that given the Harper government's track record there. The sell off of AECL's commercial reactor division to SNC Lavalin was a risky move (perhaps all the more risky given recent events). Canada did not get much of a return on the sale and whether SNC Lavalin has the ability to support the business remains unknown. Yet, Harper says confidently and cheerfully that nuclear has to be part of the mix. Just not with government resources behind it to ensure that it remains in the mix, as governments happen to be in many countries around the world.

Harper doesn't do these kinds of events in Canada. Domestically, Harper's appearances are all very tightly controlled. There are no wide ranging question and answer sessions to canvass the topics raised here, from Keystone, to Canada's role as an energy supplier, to clean energy, to the Arctic, to immigration, to border crossing, to the Windsor-Detroit bridge, etc. We may see Harper from time to time being interviewed by, say, Peter Mansbridge one-on-one, but it's usually a more tense interaction. Not at the Wilson Center yesterday. Harper is clearly comfortable doing these things in front of an American audience and was relatively candid. It really is a striking thing that Canadians aren't given the same respect.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Late night

Pro-penny elimination video:

Study that says consumers will be bitten:
A 2001 economic analysis by Penn State’s Raymond Lombra found that a post-penny economy—in which we round to the nearest nickel—would probably hurt the poor disproportionately. In theory, rounding would balance itself out over time—with some transactions rounding up and others rounding down. Lombra’s simulations, however, which were based on the price book of a major retail chain, found that between 60 and 93 percent of transactions would round up, costing consumers nearly $600 million a year. Because the poor tend to use cash more often, they would shoulder most of that burden. Penny for your thoughts…

The #TellVicEverything sequel: #TellDaveEverything

I was half joking in my post yesterday about the need for a #TellDaveEverything hashtag in the U.K. on the occasion of the U.K. Tories introducing their own intrusive internet surveillance legislation. Turns out, the fine citizens of the U.K. have got one up and going. Good for them! Hope Dave Cameron and the gang get a taste of the power of the internets.

It would be nice to think, and it's probably with a strong foundation, that we Canadians led the way on this trend. 

Check out the #TellDaveEverything hashtag for some fine British humour!

And may this serve as an additional reminder to Mr. Vic Toews and the Harper government of the #TellVicEverything moment and the ongoing strong opposition to C-30 that remains.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

UK Tories to introduce internet surveillance law

Conservatives worldwide seem to be uniting under a new banner of privacy invasion:
Under legislation expected in next month's Queen's Speech, internet companies will be instructed to install hardware enabling GCHQ – the Government's electronic "listening" agency – to examine "on demand" any phone call made, text message and email sent, and website accessed in "real time", The Sunday Times reported.

A previous attempt to introduce a similar law was abandoned by the former Labour government in 2006 in the face of fierce opposition.

However ministers believe it is essential that the police and security services have access to such communications data in order to tackle terrorism and protect the public.

Although GCHQ would not be able to access the content of such communications without a warrant, the legislation would enable it to trace people individuals or groups are in contact with, and how often and for how long they are in communication.
Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said: "This is an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran.

"This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses.

"If this was such a serious security issue why has the Home Office not ensured these powers were in place before the Olympics?"

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said that both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had resisted the plan when they were in opposition.

"There is an element of whoever you vote for the empire strikes back," she told Sky News's Murnaghan programme.

"This is more ambitious than anything that has been done before. It is a pretty drastic step in a democracy.

"It was resisted under the last government. The coalition bound itself together in the language of civil liberties. Do they still mean it?"
This is true, they are backtracking on their explicit pledges made during the election.

It never ceases to amaze how it is the conservatives around the world who supposedly want to get government off citizens' backs are nevertheless the ones who are looking to expand powers like this so radically.

Expect tremendous opposition to this bill. Maybe they need a #TellDaveEverything hashtag to get it going...

Routine cellphone tracking in the U.S.

There is a must read as context for the Canadian C-30 legislation that is pending, the lead from the New York Times today: "Police Tracking of Cellphones Raises Privacy Fears." The American Civil Liberties Union has put together records from police departments across the U.S. showing widespread cellphone tracking that has become an ordinary thing:
Law enforcement tracking of cellphones, once the province mainly of federal agents, has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.

The practice has become big business for cellphone companies, too, with a handful of carriers marketing a catalog of “surveillance fees” to police departments to determine a suspect’s location, trace phone calls and texts or provide other services. Some departments log dozens of traces a month for both emergencies and routine investigations.
This widespread use of cellphone tracking seems to be a product of the Bush administration's vast NSA eavesdropping for terrorism operations which was quite controversial but somehow still managed to gain Congressional approval, including immunity for phone companies against lawsuits. Apparently what was good at the national level in the U.S. crept down into state and local police departments' ethics.

We have not had the same experience as the Americans so comparisons are never exact. This report is revealing, however, of how things could possibly go for us if we were to travel down a road which created a permissive environment for warrantless internet surveillance with the proposed C-30. The notion that law abiding citizens have nothing to worry about doesn't hold up when you see such evidence of law enforcement tracking cell phones even in non-emergency situations.

C-30 is going before a Commons committee at some point in the next few months. This U.S. experience could be helpful when it does. It's a reminder that there needs to be a check on law enforcement and that check is the judicial warrant.