Thursday, May 31, 2012

A winning essay on national media coverage of the 2011 federal election

This is a brilliant piece of writing by Mark Brister: "National media coverage of the 2011 federal election was a failure." Not sure if it's getting much coverage but there's a lot of good stuff there. If this is the runner-up for the 2012 Dalton Camp Award on links between democracy and the media, I'd like to read the winner!

Here's one excerpt, on polling during the election, which the author titles, "the carnival mirror":
Funnelling the bewildering cacophony into a rubric of empirical order, 76 national polls ranking the relative standing of political parties and leaders were published during the 37-day campaign period.

CTV News and the Globe and Mail hired Nanos Research to conduct almost daily tracking, and pollsters like EKOS President Frank Graves were featured in regular appearances on current affairs shows like CBC’s Power and Politics. Increasing competition among polling firms, differences in methodology, and sampling problems produced wild variations during the campaign — on at least three occasions polls conducted during overlapping periods produced a 10-point spread in their estimation of Conservative support. Reporting on these results was occasionally submitted to scrutiny, but print and television reports routinely omitted information required to properly interpret these polls, such as the chasm of difference between national and regional margins of error, giving the impression of a race where there was none. Amidst the fervour to forecast the election (as if it were an inevitable weather system), seat projection sites like rose in popularity, utilizing models later devalued by actual election results.

Through their ostensible representative function, metrics of public opinion can serve democratic purposes. Nik Nanos, president of Nanos Research, argues that daily surveys conducted by his firm gave voters a voice by allowing them to identify the issue of greatest concern, setting a trajectory for public discussion. Yet the overwhelming aim of polling during the election was to gauge the relative standing of parties and party leaders. “I’m totally depressed,” complained an exasperated Graves, “[public opinion firms are] trying to explain the underlying social forces that are producing political change, and the media, despite protestations to the contrary, are much more interested in the horse-race side of things.” More than a “snapshot,” horse-race polls have become a ubiquitous electoral hermeneutic, reducing an intricate tapestry of collaborative visions into a sterile, competitive ordinal. A carnival mirror, this imagery entertains and distorts, crowding our limited repertoire of political images, warping the conception of our role in the democratic process from contemplative agents to nominal units.
Must read.

Today in secret deliberations

Something to watch for today as the Conservatives keep digging their democratic deficit, the Commons public accounts committee meets to decide the future of the F-35 hearings. Not in public, mind you! Where do you think you are?
The committee is scheduled to meet again Thursday behind closed doors. The effort to shut down the hearings, led by Conservative MP Andrew Saxton, comes after about seven hours of testimony from witnesses.
Liberal and NDP members of Parliament had expected the hearings to continue this week, but Saxton introduced a motion during the committee’s May 17 meeting to stop calling witnesses and have the panel prepare a report.
Seven hours to assess one of the biggest so-called "accounting errors" in Canadian political history, i.e., the $10 billion gap between the cost of the F-35s that was represented to the public during the federal election by the Harper Conservatives and the true cost set out in the Auditor General's report. Seven hours is all the Conservatives want to devote to this, less than a full day's work. If they are successful, they will be preventing Conservative ministers and key witnesses from appearing. That is scandalous.

Meanwhile, at DND:
There are some in the Canadian Forces who see the Harper government’s move to shut down House of Commons hearings into the auditor general’s report on the F-35 project as a public relations windfall for those opposing the jet purchase.[...] At DND the talk is that the Conservatives have given the opposition MPs another PR windfall on the F-35 file. There has been widespread disbelief that the poor communications strategy has allowed the purchase to become a major political issue. This latest move will not help the situation at all, say NDHQ insiders.
They're on to something!


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

On keeping elections out of court

Now that Conservative Ted Opitz has launched his appeal of the nullification of the Etobicoke-Centre election result, it looks like a bit of a public relations effort has started by Conservative friendlies to raise doubt about the judgment. See Tom Flanagan in the Globe today fixating on the 79 votes that the judge found to be irregular and therefore a sufficient margin to overturn a 26 vote election margin.

Flanagan applies the vote distribution obtained in the election to the 79 votes and thinks it's unlikely that the election result would have been different. There's an issue with fixating on the 79 votes though.

Those 79 vote irregularities were found as a result of a consent process during the application in order to allow it to proceed "in a summary way" as the Elections Act contemplates. Wrzesnewskyj agreed to limit his case to an examination of just 10 polls in the riding (para. 22 of judgment). So finding 79 voting irregularities in just 10 polls suggests that there were many more to be found. Applying a strict test to how those 79 votes might have gone misses this context. (Wrzesnewskyj attended our Parkdale-High Park federal meeting this past Saturday and he related how his lawyer wanted him to push to include more polls but Wrzesnewskyj consented to the narrowing of the case regardless.)

It also seems wrong, on its face, to presume that votes would go just as the election percentages went. It's a fair bet but you just don't know. The irregular votes are just that and are indeterminate. Each vote should be assessed on its own, if that's possible in the face of whatever the irregularity is. But arguing to apply the election percentage results retroactively is arbitrary.

Further, it seems to me that the answer is not to to be spending time arguing for narrow mathematical certainty in the legal tests to be applied at the back-end when you're counting votes in court. That doesn't seem a likely thing for the Supreme Court to do at this stage in any event. It has been acknowledged throughout the discussion of the Etobicoke-Centre case (and the robocall lawsuits) that the election irregularities part of the Elections Act has not been widely litigated. So it is unlikely that the Supreme Court would seek to narrow the standards to be applied from here on out. They're more likely to be cautious and leave room for the law to develop.

The larger answer, really, is to properly resource Elections Canada up front so elections are run in as air tight a manner as humanly possible so that we don't end up with election irregularities - including preventing election agitators from shutting down polling stations - that lead us to court challenges. That's a better way to keep elections out of court.

Anyway, we await the Supreme Court's determination and should not be so fussed with opinion maker speculation.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Paul Godfrey's big public push on newspaper ownership

Today, the Globe gets a copy of this: "Paul Godfrey memo to staff." Long story short, Postmedia newspapers are having great difficulty financially. Precious advertising dollars are going to online competition and print media is feeling the effects. This is not a new development for print media, we've been hearing about it for years. We also recently heard about the Globe itself going through some difficulties this summer and their contemplation of a paywall.

What is new in Godfrey's publicity push is something he said last week that should grab the attention of Canadians:
But now, at a time when print advertising revenue is dropping, Canadian newspapers are competing with foreign websites for online advertising, Godfrey said. "Corporations like Google, corporations like Facebook, corporations like the Huffington Post and AOL have all come to Canada. They are getting — without providing the content — more than 50 per cent of all the advertising revenue going to the digital world," Godfrey said.
He suggested two possible solutions. "We should either remove the foreign-ownership rules that protected us 60 plus years ago and are not needed today. Or provide the same rules to Google, Facebook, the Huffington Post and others that if they're not controlled by Canadians the advertising that goes on there should not allowed to be deducted as a legitimate business expense."(emphasis added)
Godfrey will be lobbying the Heritage Department on his proposed solutions.

As things stand today, as noted in the report: "...if a newspaper or a chain falls into foreign ownership in Canada, the new owner has one year to ensure the majority owner is Canadian — otherwise those who advertise with that publication cannot deduct it as a business expense, which means "they're out of business." (Private companies must be 75 per cent Canadian-owned while it's 50.1 per cent for public ones.)"

Will the Harper government lift foreign-ownership rules for the newspaper bidness? With Postmedia and the Globe making such loud noises about financial hurt? Wouldn't that make for a radical change for Canada.

Just think of the possibilities.

Conservatives appeal in Etobicoke-Centre

"Tory in overturned Toronto election to go to Supreme Court."
Under the Canada Elections Act, the Supreme Court is required to hear an appeal of a contested election result “without delay and in a summary manner.” Andres Garin, the court’s executive legal officer, couldn’t give firm details of how the case will be handled, noting this is the first time the top court has been involved in a contested election. But he said he imagines the court will set a date for a hearing after consulting both parties in the case. The court is sitting in June but Garin suspected the parties might want more time to prepare, which would most likely mean no hearing until the fall. He said a hearing during the summer, when the court normally does not sit, is possible but “highly unlikely.”
"Without delay and in a summary manner" suggests to me, as a standard, that the Supreme Court should be taking this up sooner rather than later. A riding's result has been declared null and void. If that's not something requiring urgency to settle, then what is? As noted in the report, Wrzesnewskyj is requesting a hearing in June.

On the appeal, of course the Conservatives would take the opportunity. They have the money and they're going to use it to exhaust any possible appeal route they have. This is what they did with the in-and-out civil litigation that they dragged out for years, from 2006 until 2012, until they achieved majority government status.

The appeal also sends a message to any challenger that this is how far you will have to be prepared to go with the Conservatives. To the Supreme Court of Canada. That costs a lot of money and few have it to finance litigation that far. Makes me think a bursary fund of some sort might be contemplated, by people who care about the integrity of the electoral system, as a resource for candidates in this situation. Party funding is being squeezed, it's an idea.

Hope the Supreme Court gets its appeal calendar cleared and sends a message to Canadians that our electoral system is a priority!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday night

Alesso & Dirty South - City Of Dreams - Exclusive Preview

Yeah, more house music...have a good one!

Lockheed Martin pulls out the big guns

This report today just says so much about the whole F-35 program. Lockheed Martin is now publicly threatening that Canadian firms that have received F-35 industrial contracts to date may not get continued work in the future if our government goes with another jet. Heck of a way to run a business, don't you think? For what is essentially a petty, vengeful rationale, not a decision that has to do with choosing the best company to do the job, Canadian firms may lose out.

Canada, however, is a signatory to a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU"), along with other "Partner" nations, that sets out our rights to bid on contracts. Those provisions are a little different from what you hear from the Lockheed Martin rep in this main excerpt from Postmedia:
F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin is warning that Canadian companies will lose out if the Conservative government decides not to purchase the stealth fighter. "Right now we will honour all existing contracts that we have," Lockheed Martin vice-president Steve O'Bryan told Postmedia News on Thursday. "After that, all F-35 work will be directed into countries that are buying the airplane."
But O'Bryan also said his company has not received any indication Canada won't buy the aircraft. "What we have is the official statement out of the government and we're working with the government," he said. "They're committed to the F-35, they've selected it, and we haven't had any change in that official position."
That will likely come as a surprise to many Canadians as the Conservative government has said since last month that it has not committed to purchasing the F-35 and that all options are still on the table when it comes to replacing Canada's aging fleet of CF-18 fighters.
That latter part is also news, in a sense. Some of us actually wouldn't be surprised at all that the government is telling we the Canadian public that they're going to consider other jet options but haven't yet clarified anything with Lockheed Martin. But back to the main point here. The Memorandum of Understanding includes these provisions on Industrial Benefits:
SECTION VII INDUSTRIAL PARTICIPATION 7.1 The Participants, through their Contracting Agencies, will require their Contractors to select subcontractors (which term includes subcontractors from all of the Participants’ nations) on a competitive, Best Value basis to the maximum practical extent consistent with the objectives and requirements of the Contracts and this MOU.
7.3 The Participants acknowledge that, subject to the submission of Best Value offers, industries that are in the nations of Participants procuring JSF Air Systems under this MOU and that were awarded SDD subcontracts will normally also be awarded subcontracts for low rate initial production and full rate production work, as well as for related sustainment and follow-on development work.
I think those are the main provisions that are relevant here. They essentially say that companies in Canada can bid and the contracts will be awarded on a competitive, best value basis. The wrinkle is that the nations that procure the jets, according to 7.3, will "normally" also get subcontracts and work for the jets. Emphasis on "normally." There is clearly room for participant nations who do not procure F-35s to still get work. What Mr. Lockheed Martin is saying in this media interview, however, is that unless Canada buys, Canada will not get any contracts. So in that way, what he is saying is absolute. But the provisions are not so absolute. We did pay money to participate in this MOU regime, as well. Further, combine the above industrial benefits provisions with section of the MOU:
"Actual procurement of JSF Air Vehicles by the Participants will be subject to the Participants’ national laws and regulations and the outcome of the Participants’ national procurement decision-making processes."
The two provisions seem to run contrary to one another and challenge the Lockheed Martin approach as articulated in this Postmedia report. Why would a document like this give nations the freedom to hold their own procurement processes, which might lead to the purchase of a separate jet? And yet at the same time allow those participant nations to still bid on contractual work? Maybe because it's good business sense? Nations who buy other jets, strangely enough, still might possess capable industrial expertise that could help build your F-35.

If you were Lockheed Martin, you might want to make decisions on who should help build the F-35 based on who those best companies are. And how expensive it might be to break ties with existing suppliers, like Canadian ones, and move on to new ones. But what do we know anyway? Lockheed Martin have run up the F-35 building and design costs to such an unprecedented extent that the very existence of the program has been called into question many times over. So I guess we can presume they know what they're doing in threatening job losses in Canada.

What this does, however, is ratchet up pressure in Canada and cause uncertainty about future contracts and jobs. It helps the Harper government who no doubt will continue to pursue the F-35, despite the establishment of that new fighter jet secretariat and all their damage control in the wake of the Auditor General establishing that they kept $10 billion in costs of this deal from the public during a general election.

Lockheed's warning should also be taken with the knowledge that if Canada does pursue another jet in a competitive process, there would be other industrial benefits in store for Canadian industry as a result of that competition. That's a big if given this government's continued commitment to the F-35 to date.

It would be nice to think that whatever is decided on jets for Canada, it will be done in Canada's interests though, not in response to threats by a foreign multinational.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Harper's extra-Parliamentary internet surveillance committee

This news is a new low in the Harper government's ongoing debasement of Parliament's role in Canadian democracy:
In the months leading up to the introduction Bill C-30, Canada’s telecom companies worked actively with government officials to identify key issues and to develop a secret industry-government collaborative forum on lawful access.
The working group includes virtually all the major telecom and cable companies, whose representatives have signed nondisclosure agreements and been granted secret-level security clearance. The group is led by Bell Canada on the industry side and Public Safety for the government.
The inaugural meeting, held just three weeks before Bill C-30 was introduced, included invitations to 11 companies (Bell Canada, Cogeco, Eagle, MTS Allstream, Quebecor, Research In Motion, Rogers, Sasktel, Telus, Vidéotron, and Wind Mobile) along with two industry associations (the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and the Canadian Network Operators Consortium).
Essentially, the government was, and may still be, working with this group of telecom businesses to develop C-30, the intrusive lawful access/internet surveillance law that is supposedly in abeyance. This private working group has been privy to information, like draft regulations, that has not been provided to Parliament.

The companies also raised questions about getting compensation for surveillance and disclosing subscriber info. Could be big business and obviously, with this group, that would be a natural concern. Not so concerned about democratic and privacy rights which blew up publicly once C-30 was introduced.

You can imagine the government's spin that will be forthcoming. "It is natural to consult with stakeholders who will be affected by legislation," for example. Not in this secretive manner, though, to the exclusion of the public, other stakeholders and Parliament itself. We knew some privatization would be on the agenda during a Harper majority, but I don't think anyone thought that Parliament's core functions could be up for grabs too.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday night

How can you not like that with all the kids around the world and all the athletics and the dancing, so fun. Great pump up song.

Have a good night!

Judge overturns Etobicoke-Centre election result

"I declare the election null and void as contemplated under s.531(2) of the Canada Elections Act." (para. 154)

The overturned result is making the rounds all over, reported here at CBC & Canadian Press. Described as "rare" and "groundbreaking." In other words, it suits the times considering the new, highly organized electoral challenges we have never seen before.

I agree with Calgary Grit, that it's likely to be appealed. It would be very surprising for these Conservatives not to appeal. That's been their track record for years now, pursuing legal issues to the last appeal route possible. They certainly have the funds to do so. Besides, the time frame for the appeal is a shorter one: From the Libs:
“I was pleased with the Ontario Superior Court’s decision to declare the 2011 election results in Etobicoke Centre null and void. Liberal Member of Parliament Borys Wrzesnewskyj lost his seat by 26 votes and had outlined numerous irregularities that were, in the end, found by Justice Lederer to have undermined the results.

It has become clear to many Canadians that our democracy was tested and perhaps undermined during the last election. Reports and allegations of election fraud are widespread and there are many cases still under investigation. This has cast serious doubts on the integrity of our electoral system, but we are confident that a by-election in Etobicoke Centre would help greatly in reaffirming the strength of our electoral system and Canada’s democracy.”
Kudos to Borys for standing up for electoral integrity.

Redford on Mulcair

A popular, recently re-elected Redford speaks in a manner that is non-partisan, clear and likable on the dust-up that has escalated this week over Mulcair's "Dutch Disease" comments. Contrast it with Mulcair's posture yesterday and on a level of visuals alone, it's not difficult to see how this week has gone.

And that's the thing. This has become less about the substance of the argument than the politics of it. Most reasonable people support a price on carbon, yes. But it's a sizable political battle that national leaders who want to realize it have to go about carefully and smartly. Stephane Dion was probably right this week when he said that Mulcair may have set that cause back. Now Mulcair's got bridges to mend in the west.

When Redford expresses surprise that Mulcair would dismiss her as a premier, as he did with the "Harper's messengers" remark, and that "he simply didn't think it was appropriate to have a conversation with us about resources that we have jurisdiction over," Mulcair seems aloof, stubborn. He's insistent that his argument is in Ottawa with Stephen Harper over the Fisheries Act and the Migratory Birds Act, as if that's a good talking point to the cameras.

The fact that he hasn't been to the oilsands adds to the picture of the Ottawa-Quebec leader who is out of touch with the west. Redford's polite but firm statement is ouch-worthy: "Once he's actually seen the oilsands, once he's actually been briefed, then I'm prepared to try to have a constructive conversation with him," she said. "So we'll see how it goes, but I think he's got some work to do first."

Maybe the NDP will be fortunate in continued support in the polls as the default opposition choice to the Harper Conservatives. It may be that opposition to the Harper government has finally ripened to a broader swath of the electorate. The government seems tired, stepping in controversies now on a semi-regular basis. Or, maybe we got a few glimpses this week of how things could turn. As a result of a leader who does indeed have some flaws that will out. To be continued, that's for sure.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fun political video

"I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said. Whatever it was." What he said, for the record, that he is standing by even though he doesn't remember it, is here.

Go, Mittster!

Arctic drilling on the horizon

About this: "Ottawa to auction exploration rights in massive area in the North." Looks like it's go time in the Arctic: "...the sheer magnitude of what is on the block is a clear signal that some in the oil patch are contemplating a return north, because parcels aren’t made available unless companies request them. In that sense, the current bidding round is a remarkable turnaround for an industry whose plans were, until late last year, halted by a National Energy Board review into offshore Arctic drilling."

The Globe report is missing a major angle, however, the environmental one. In that vein, try this New York Times op-ed that argues against drilling in the north being permitted mostly due to its remoteness and the lack of resources up there to contain a spill. The resources that were on hand for the BP spill just aren't there and the weather would pose an additional hurdle.

See also this report, "Arctic oil spill cleanup would be badly hindered," where it is noted that even the consultant hired by the National Energy Board "found that an emergency response to a spill would be impossible between 15 and 78 per cent of the time, due to weather and other environmental conditions."

Finally, the National Energy Board's own report, the "Review of offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic" from December 2011 is the key reference in relation to the subject of Arctic drilling. There are a lot of vows of disclosure of safety reports by companies, notions of ensuring a culture of safety, learning lessons from others spills, etc. There is also acknowledgment that "When open water is not present, active response would have to be deferred until the following melt season." Further, this on the current lack of infrastructure in the north: "The absence of offshore spill response infrastructure reflects the fact that there is currently no Arctic offshore drilling activity."

There seems to be a lot of wishful thinking here and no resources to deal with problems. Not good.

The #G20 Office of the Independent Police Review Director report

The National's report above is a good overview of yesterday's release of the G20 report by Ontario's Office of the Independent Police Review. You can read it here and while it is lengthy, the executive summary and ensuing recommendations are not a very taxing read. It is a tale of incompetence in so many respects.

Here are some of the excerpts that stood out from the report.

There are the night shift Incident Commander's comments on the Saturday night of the weekend:
"The night shift Incident Commander said Deputy Police Chief Warr told him that he wanted him to take back the streets. “I understood his instructions to mean that he wanted me to make the streets of Toronto safe again,” he explained. “He wanted the streets that had been made unsafe by the terrorists that were attacking our city to be made safe again by restoring order.” When the night shift Incident Commander took over Incident Command, he immediately informed command staff that they were going to take steps to restore order and that the process might involve mass arrests.
It was too late at that point, the Black Bloc had done their damage and this "terrorists" language indicates the panic that had set in. That language also suggested a police mindset that escalated the situation against citizens who didn't deserve it:
This attitude resulted in the decision to contain and arrest approximately 1,100 people during the summit, most of whom were peaceful protesters.
There's more from the same person on why there were mass arrests of about 260 persons at the Esplanade location that night:
The night shift Incident Commander explained that he ordered the crowd to be boxed in and arrested because, as he said, “I wasn’t able to box in Queen’s Park, so the mobility was there and, again, highlighted my concern and the need for this boxing in.” He said he did not disperse the crowd because he needed to isolate the protesters and arrest them. They were in a “riot situation,” and he had to break with normal TPS procedures, “to go outside the box,” and not disperse the crowd.
That is an incomprehensible rationale. Was the Saturday night shift Incident Commander the same one who is referred to as "maniacal" by an officer on the ground at the Sunday Queen & Spadina kettling ("In an audio recording, one police officer on the line can be heard saying, “He’s maniacal this MICC, he’s maniacal.”)? Are these individuals going to be held accountable?

There are the completely wrong and unconstitutional stop and search orders police believed they had that weekend:
Many police officers believed they were obeying orders in stopping and searching people arbitrarily.
The officers told the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) that they were ordered to investigate anyone who was carrying a backpack and anyone who was wearing a disguise – gas masks, balaclavas, bandanas.
Many police officers ignored the basic rights citizens have under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, by stopping and searching people arbitrarily, they overstepped their authority. Wearing bandanas and carrying heavy backpacks are not reasonable grounds to stop and search, and police should have used much more discretion.
There is the description of the Prisoner Processing Centre nightmare:
The Prisoner Processing Centre was poorly planned, designed, and operated. This detention facility was not operationally prepared for the mass arrests that took place on the Saturday night and on Sunday, leading to gross violations of prisoner rights, including detaining breach-of-peace arrestees for over 24 hours and with no access to a lawyer or a justice of the peace. In some cases the decision to detain those on a breach of the peace for more than 24 hours was ordered by the Superintendent in charge of the facility.
Even more disturbing, the lack of appropriate paperwork resulted at the PPC in several violations of human rights, including unlawful detention and arrest, no access to prescription medication or medical attention, and little or no access to food and water.
To boot, the poor paperwork meant that there is no exact figure of how many were arrested on G20 weekend. The OIPRD puts the number at 1,140.

There are a number of good recommendations, including:

10: that names and badge numbers of police officers be prominently displayed at all times on their clothing/equipment;

12: officer training in relation to large protests should include "a clear understanding of parameters of a legal protest and the rights of protesters";

15: officers should get refresher training in those legal parameters;

16: those who run the "Incident Command" systems should be well trained in doing so;

22: on the "kettling" or containment of protesters, police should be given discretion on the ground to permit access and exit from the area;

23: there has to be a connection between those being contained and a containment;

26: the Police Services Act and Code of Conduct should be amended to include a new offence expanding the "unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority" to include an unlawful or excessive detention where no physical force was used.

The calls for accountability need to be heeded. Chief Blair seemed to acknowledge that when he was reacting yesterday to the report:
"“I am quite prepared to hold people accountable,” he said. “If there is misconduct, we’ll deal with that.”

Blair said he accepts the recommendations made by Gerry McNeilly of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.
But given the contents of this report, the Toronto Police Services Board needs to be heard from on accountability as well, including with respect to Chief Blair. It is not clear at all why he should be exempted.

This was the largest mass arrest incident in Canadian history. You cannot roll along and simply vow that procedures will change for next time. There needs to be accountability and that needs to mean something real.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tendencies at the top

This is a troubling story that deserves attention: "RCMP conducted five-month national security probe into leaked F-35 story."
The Harper government called in the RCMP to investigate a politically embarrassing story involving the decision to sole-source the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter, claiming it was a breach of national security, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Mounties conducted a five-month review into an alleged leak of cabinet documents under the Security of Information Act, recently used to charge a naval intelligence officer in an apparent spy case.

Records obtained under the Access to Information Act show investigators had doubts almost from the outset in July 2010 that any laws were broken in the Globe and Mail story.
The report notes that the complaint was launched by Privy Council clerk Wayne Wouters.
Wesley Wark, an expert in security and intelligence at the University of Ottawa, said he was concerned by the revelations in the file. He described the probe as a misuse of not only the RCMP, but of the security legislation, one of the most serious laws on the book.

"This has the whiff, well more than a whiff, of a politically inspired move," said Wark.

"The complaint was coming from an odd place, an admittedly senior place within the government. The fact the clerk would ask the commissioner to do this is in of itself very unusual." He said it would not have been so unusual had the request for an investigation come from either the deputy ministers at Defence or Foreign Affairs — departments that would have had a more direct say whether the story contained classified information.

But even in those cases, Wark said, departments have their own security officers who track media leaks and those rarely amount to criminal investigations.

He said it is also unusual in that the government would have known that media leak provisions of the legislation were struck down a few years ago in the aftermath of the case where Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill's home was raided following stories she wrote about the Maher Arar affair.
How and why did Wouters get involved in this, then? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Last week and really, since the budget was introduced, the question of the Canada Revenue Agency being used for political purposes has been raised given what appears to be selective targeting of environmental groups with respect to their political advocacy (which is permitted under the law, to the 10% threshold of their activities).

This reporting has a similar air about it. The RCMP should not be used as an investigative body to create an environment of "politically inspired chill" in the media, to use the term at the end of the report. The RCMP needs to be independent and guard against approaches like what happened here.

Kudos to Canadian Press for their ongoing vigilance in pursuing stories like this one.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New CRTC chair said to be appointed any day now

There has been some buzz on an imminent CRTC chair appointment in the past week.

The Globe had a report that the Harper government was leaning toward a relative unknown, a public servant by the name of Jean-Pierre Blais. This is how his appointment was characterized: "Unlike former chair Konrad von Finckenstein, telecom insiders predict Mr. Blais would be relatively compliant with Conservative government policy leanings and endeavour to keep the CRTC out of the headlines. Those who know Mr. Blais say he is more of a conciliation-minded type who would seek compromise on issues rather than strike out independently with bold initiatives." Said to have a working relationship with Heritage Minister James Moore. I.e., Blais doesn't seem as independent as you would want in a Chair of a body of such importance to Canadian telecommunications and broadcasting. They should get along professionally, fine. But that relationship element should not be a proper consideration for this position.

Also of interest, this item in the Hill Times yesterday that set out other possible candidates and some who have already applied. Tom Pentefountas, the Vice-Chair that the government appointed to that position in February 2011 has applied. Recall that Pentefountas was a heavily criticized appointment at the time due to a lack of industry experience and also because Senator Leo Housakos essentially applied for the job on Pentefountas' behalf, raising patronage criticisms. Nevertheless, Pentefountas has now, incredibly, applied for the top job.

Also named in that list, Luc Lavoie, "a senior executive at Quebecor and a former spokesperson for Brian Mulroney, who is seen as too partisan in the industry. But he also has an inside track." Would Harper dare? Do these two smiling chums, pictured below on May 9th at the Quebecor board meeting, know something? Probably not but it's a fun picture so I'm posting it anyway. It would be a great accompanying photo for any news report should Lavoie happen to get the appointment, so I offer it up for that reason too. I don't think Lavoie will get the appointment though, despite his having been rumoured to be in the mix since summer 2010. Way too out front on the partisan scale even for Harper. It would be an infamous appointment.

There are other names listed that will attract attention. John Manley? Nah, despite his former duty in taking on the Afghan commission report thing a few years back, he's likely not malleable enough. Which ultimately, is likely to be a consideration with this appointment. See floating of Blais, above.


This is a refreshing political tone:
In a dignified ceremony in a red and gold hall in the Élysée Palace, François Hollande, 57, was invested Tuesday morning as president of France, the first Socialist to hold the office since François Mitterrand left office in 1995.

“We are a single France, undivided,” Mr. Hollande said after his investiture, promising a presidency of “dignity, simplicity and soberness.” He vowed that “the state will be impartial because it belongs to all of its citizens” and insisted that a united France could meet its difficult social and economic challenges, but warned that the country “cannot have sacrifices on one side and privilege on the other.”

He said he wanted “to open a new path for Europe,” based on economic growth as well as fiscal discipline.
Video of Hollande's speech is worth a look too. Speaks throughout about justice, the planet rates a mention (environment) and there is that commitment about the impartiality of the state.

Meanwhile, just to point to yesterday's goings on in Conservative Canada, we must endure the ongoing uber-partisanship of the Harper government ministers such as Baird and his cartoonish silliness about a carbon tax. And we must endure an arrogant Finance Minister who has little time for details apparently. Might be $10 billion in cuts from OAS, might be $12 billion. He hears different things. Maybe they'll get around to clearing that up at some point, if we're important enough to them.

Quite a contrast.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

I came across this speech that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave after receiving an award form a New York Women's group on Thursday and it seemed like a good read for Mother's Day. Here is the main excerpt, with a little bit of politics, philosophy of governance and a little bit of her speaking about her mother's life.
I am so privileged to travel around the world right now as your Secretary of State, and to go – (applause) – to countries where we have the business of State to conduct – to go to official meetings, to sit across from tables, to go in and out of government buildings, parliaments, palaces, and do the best we can to promote American values and interests and promote our security.

But I try, whenever possible, to find time to meet with women who are trying to do, often under very difficult circumstances, what we celebrate here today – the work of this foundation. Because in places around the world, it’s almost unimaginable that there could be this large room of women and men who are supporting a foundation devoted to uplifting, empowering, helping, supporting, comforting women and girls as they make their journeys through life.

And so when I go somewhere, like I did last week to West Bengal in East India and had two remarkable experiences – meeting the newly elected chief minister, a woman who, on her own, started a new political party and built that political party over many years, and just successfully ousted the incumbent Communist Party that had been in office for 30, 34 years or so, and who is trying now to govern a state with 90 million people in it. And then I met with a group of women – mostly Indian, some American – who, along with some of the men who were running organizations to rescue girls from having been trafficked into prostitution – and I met some of the girls and the young women, and their stories sounded remarkably like the ones we heard this morning. And in particular, the very last line of one of our last presenters that change takes time and love makes the difference.

So when I – (applause) – was introduced to a young girl, probably about 10, who had, with her mother, been rescued from a brothel, who was dressed in her karate outfit and she asked me, “Do you want to see me do karate -- ” (laughter) – I said, “I really do.” (Laughter.) And she proceeded to perform a karate move. But it wasn’t so much the karate as it was the way she stood so straight, looked me in the eye, had a sense of pride and accomplishment about her. And that’s what we saw on this stage here, so many thousands of miles away.

The work that the foundation does is part of this remarkable combination of actors and institutions that we sometimes take for granted in New York and in our country. Many years ago, I talked about society really being a three-legged stool: You need an accountable, responsible government; you need an effective job-creating, prosperity-increasing private sector; and you need an active, dynamic civil society. And the civil society really fills the space that most of us live in every day – family and friendships and faith and volunteerism and all the community efforts that we are celebrating here today.

So I’m especially proud when I see what has been done in just 25 years, which is a blink of an eye in any historical sense, but I’m even prouder of what it represents and says about us as active, engaged, caring people who use our skills, our resources, to try to give back. And sometimes it is hard to see the changes. Maybe it is incremental, maybe it’s glacial, or maybe it’s like the Grand Canyon, but the cumulative effect makes such a difference. Those individual lives that are touched because of the outreach that your contributions make possible are irreplaceable. Even though we are living in a world of virtual reality, nothing substitutes for personal relationships. Nothing can replace that caring from one person passed on to another and another and another.

I learned this lesson very early from my mother, and since we are approaching Mother’s Day, I’ve been thinking about her a lot, since I lost her last November. And I was always struck at how despite a life that was much more difficult than anything I’ve ever experienced – abandonment and abuse and just really unfortunate kinds of early experiences – my mother had a resilience and a commitment to her family that she worked hard on every single day. And I often wondered – how did that happen? How could it be that you would be abandoned by your young parents and given responsibility at the age of eight to get on a train in Chicago with your six-year-old sister and take her all by yourselves to California to live with your paternal grandparents? How do you emerge from that emotional turmoil, that vacuum that still today too many children are placed into?

And when I got old enough to understand I remember asking my mother – how did you do this? How did you really survive without being paralyzed or embittered, being able to find from somewhere within the love that you shared and gave to others? And I’ll never forget what she said. She said at critical points in my life somebody showed me kindness; somebody gave me help. (Applause.)

Sometimes it would seem so small, but it would mean so much – the teacher in elementary school who would notice that she never had money to buy milk, who every day would buy two cartons of milk and then say to my mother, “Dorothy, I can’t drink this other carton of milk. Would you like it?” Or the woman who gave her a job in her house when my mother was 13 or 14 because she had to leave her grandparents’ home, and so she went to work as a full-time babysitter. But the deal was that if she got the children up and ready to go to school, then she could still go to high school, and so that’s what she did. And then the woman of this house where she lived would notice that she had only one blouse that she had to wash every day. All of a sudden, the woman would say, “Dorothy, I can’t fit into this blouse anymore and I’d hate to throw it away. Would you like it?”

Now, we think of those things as the kind of just personal connection and kindnesses that we take for granted. And in a time back in the 1920s when there weren’t a lot of formal organizations doing this kind of work, that’s what really mattered. Well, certainly today we still are primarily dependent upon individuals and institutions that are conveying the same level of kindness and caring.

And not all of us will be able to do what the groups behind us do every day, but all of us can support them and all of us can perhaps find a moment in every day when a kind word can make a difference, when a supportive pat on the shoulder can really speak volumes. Because in today’s world, which is so complex, so stressful, people need each other more than ever. (Applause.)
Have a good one.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Not our Canada

Here are some excerpts from yesterday's coverage of doctors across the country protesting refugee health care cuts. The doctors say it all. This is an incredibly indecent, uncaring and maddening development we are witnessing:
Costs won’t be the only thing that spikes after the cuts are made, according to Tyndall, who says disease rates will increase as well. “This is the worst thing you can do for public safety,” he said. “If you are really concerned that someone from Africa or Asia is going to spread tuberculosis the worst thing you can do is isolate them from health care.”
"Does this mean it's OK that a person seeking refuge in Canada dies from heart disease or from untreated diabetes, as long as they don't infect the rest of us with tuberculosis?" asked Dr. Tatiana Friere-Lizama, a perinatologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Friere-Lizama came to Canada as a refugee from Chile when she was seven. She said her family came with nothing but benefited from the country's generosity. "These changes to refugee health are an attack on our beliefs," she said. "As doctors, we've got to speak up for our refugee patients. They deserve to land in a Canada that cares about them."
Bruyere Medical Centre family physician Dr. Doug Gruner, who works with a program that helps introduce refugees to the medical system, said much of the care provided to refugees is preventative. "We are saving the system lots and lots of money," said Gruner. "We provide vaccinations. Under minister's Kenney's plan ... vaccinations would not be covered unless they're a public health threat," he said.
“This is supposedly a cost-saving measure for the government, but the cost of delaying treatment will result in more emergency visits, more intensive care visits,” said pediatrician Anna Banerji, an Order of Ontario recipient.“They say it’s a deterrent for refugees,” she added. “We have to stop the rhetoric. These refugees are some of the poorest people on earth. They come with the clothes on their backs and they cannot afford to go to see doctors.”
“My biggest concern is they won’t have access to medications,” Rashid says. “Some people will get very sick and we hope no one dies from this, but it is certainly a possibility.”

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday night

Another no-brainer this week, new Metric released this month. I know a few peeps who will like this one. There is an acoustic version by Emily Haines and James Shaw at Rolling Stone as well.

Have a good night!

On the lighter side

This story isn't funny: "Army struggles with shortage of Arctic parkas, tents..." But the photo accompanying it certainly is! Maybe Harp can lend his parka out to the army, he sure looks warm in that shot. Nice find by Canadian Press.

The Arctic is supposed to be a pet project of the Prime Minister's yet we read about basic shortages like this. Is there anything more ridiculous that we could expect to hear than this?

The emperor has no clothes...oh wait.

Update: Dave picked up on the Mulroney angle in the reporting which he has been blogging about for, well, ages.

Tim Hudak goes to Belleville

And here's a headline he garnered as a result of a town hall he held on Thursday: "Hudak's plans to kill FIT panned." He promised to do away with the feed-in-tariff program and called it a "scam," in fact. A scam. Hudak's position on green energy and doing away with the FIT is not news, but the mayor's reaction is:
Belleville currently has a handful of solar projects including one at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre.

That solar farm — located on the Cannifton Road sports centre — is expected to generate $7 million in revenue over 20 years.

Mayor Neil Ellis, who attended Hudak’s speech, said the program has been a boon to the city.

“When you look at the whole program, municipalities didn’t buy into it,” Ellis said. “Belleville, I believe, was the first municipality to get a big FIT contract and we were able to deliver it and now we’re (seeing) the benefit.”

The mayor said the program has been revamped since it was initially launched and, looking at the price of nuclear plants, governments must be sustainable. Generating revenue through solar energy is one means to do so, he said.

“I think Mr. Hudak isn’t against green power, he’s against the high costs that are paid by to providers or end users. I think if we could have some type of industrial adjustment ...” he said, alluding to a suggestion by the Conservative party leader.
The mayor's being diplomatic there at the end about Hudak. Because it sure sounds like the program has worked out fairly well for Belleville. If Hudak had his way, these solar projects that will bring in revenues to the community never would have gotten off the ground.

The report notes Hudak's going to be issuing a "white paper" on ideas he's hearing as he campaigns is travelling around the province. Maybe he should be listening to people like the Belleville Mayor and not be so absolute with his anti-green energy plans.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sorry for all the incompetent government

A Tory MP backbencher is rebelling in a refreshingly candid fashion. Not here, of course. It's across the pond where the backbenchers appear to be doing more than baaing like sheep: "Tory MP David Davies sorry for 'incompetent government'."
A Conservative MP has written to a newspaper to apologise for the "incompetence" of the UK government.
In his letter to the Newport-based paper, Mr Davies offered his "apologies to those who feel the Conservative-led coalition has let them down".
"I must acknowledge there has been incompetence at the highest levels of government over the last few months in a number of departments," he said.
Those Tories and their incompetence, hey? Same story all over. F-35, ahem.

Maybe the rebel backbencher thing will catch on over here. Lord knows the Canadian Tories have much to apologize for these days.

CRA's impartiality raised

This exchange from Hansard yesterday on the impartiality of the Canada Revenue Agency is well worth paying attention to and keeping in mind:
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, recently the Minister of the Environment referred to the “money laundering” activities of several registered charities in the country. Given the fact that the Canada Revenue Agency is supposed to be politically neutral, is not supposed to be a political arm of the Conservative Party of Canada or of the Government of Canada and is supposed to be objective and confidential, does the Prime Minister not realize that the kinds of comments made by his minister in fact point to a political campaign against a number of registered charities which the government simply does not like? Does he not understand the dangers—
The Speaker: The right hon. Prime Minister.
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Canada Revenue Agency is independent of the government and is tasked with enforcing the law. The laws with respect to registered charities are clear. In fact, we are taking steps to ensure they are crystal clear. However, they are clear that there are limits to political activities for donations that people give on a tax receivable basis for charitable causes.
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister cannot deny that there is a problem. At the end of April, Canadians disclosed their financial information to the Canada Revenue Agency. They expect the agency to be impartial and they expect that the information will not be used for political purposes. Why is the Prime Minister allowing his minister to make personal and political attacks against charities that the minister singles out for the Canada Revenue Agency to attack?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, once again, the Canada Revenue Agency operates independently and is responsible for enforcing the tax laws. There are very clear rules for charities that engage in political activities. There are clear parameters, and the agency is responsible for enforcing the rules.
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is ignoring this by not clearly indicating that the remarks made by the Minister of the Environment are simply unacceptable. He has a Conservative-dominated committee in the Senate that is going after particular environmental charities. It is not going after the Fraser Institute. It is not going after the Manning Institute. It is not mentioning the fact that the Fraser Institute got $0.5 million from the Koch brothers in the United States. It is not doing that. However, it is going after environmental charities which are attempting to protect the lifeblood of Canadians. That is what it is doing.
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Liberal Party suggests that we should pick and choose certain charities. The reality—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
The Speaker: Order, please. The right hon. Prime Minister has the floor.
Right Hon. Stephen Harper: Mr. Speaker, in terms of our own giving and our own political preferences, it is our absolute right to do so. What is incumbent upon all charities is that they respect the laws regarding political activities. Those laws are clear. We will make them even clearer. The Canada Revenue Agency has an excellent record of the non-partisan enforcement of these rules.
We should be watching this very serious business carefully. Certain stripes of charities that are not in favour with the government of the day should not be selectively targeted for enforcement by the CRA.

Harper has vouched for the non-partisan enforcement of the rules by CRA, so that is what we will expect to see.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

All the Conservatives' corporate-like donations

Well, what else would you call this happy set of events? Those SNC-Lavalin execs sure are of a like-mind politically. They all donate to the same two riding associations in Quebec too. So happenstance!

A big Conservative winner from the series of donations, of course, ethics poster boy, Christian Paradis with $30,000 transferred into the former Minister of Public Works' riding association's coffers. Paradis is now Industry Minister.

To be fair, it's not just SNC-Lavalin execs making like-minded donations to the Conservatives. A Harper fundraising event saw donations from execs of Quebec's biggest engineering firms pour in to the Laurier-Sainte-Marie riding association in the spring of 2009, just as the federal government was planning to spend the stimulus billions. BPR, for example, had 19 employees coincidentally donate to the Conservative riding association there on one day, April 17, 2009. Again, so happenstance!

That Canadian Press report is worth a detailed read. And to be fair, again, Liberals also had a large fundraiser in 2009 where similar like-minded employee donations can be seen.

Notably, there have been consequences in Quebec for such fundraising tactics:
The province's elections watchdog discovered the firm had circumvented laws preventing corporate donations by funnelling money through employees.

That forced the governing Quebec Liberals to return more than $113,000 in donations collected between 2006 and 2008. Opposition parties, the Parti Québécois and the now defunct Action démocratique du Quebec, returned smaller amounts.

Federal fundraising laws also forbid corporate donations, while limiting individual ones to $1,100 annually, indexed to inflation.
This reporting begs the question of whether there is a need for similar watchdog scrutiny at the federal level.

The ethical appearance stinks. Corporate donations are banned and the Conservatives make a big show of this politically. If Conservatives want to permit corporate donations, they should have the courage of their convictions and bring in legislation.

Update: If possible, and I'm not sure it is, a question that should be pursued is whether there have been any reimbursements to the employees who made these donations. Or, whether non-financial advantages accrued to the employees who made these donations, directly or indirectly from the company (career advancement, etc.) by virtue of the donation. Why would an employee make a donation if there were not advantage accruing to him or her professionally?

Obama endorses same-sex marriage

There you go, Mr. Obama, how hard was that?
"I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."
The Americans still have to deal with retrograde state efforts like the ugliness in North Carolina that passed in an amendment last night, however. And there is likely to be some grumbling that he didn't come out with this statement in advance of that vote. But the vote likely pushed him to make his statement today. Along with an assist from Joe "who do you love" Biden.

As noted in this New York Times report, this is going to motivate his base, so there are political reasons in the backdrop for Obama's move.

While Canada is a same-sex marriage country, this is still, of course, a great moment for progressive people everywhere to celebrate. A leadership moment to be noted.


Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Late night

Another time lapse video, one of the best though. Just beautiful. How that city even exists is remarkable. Please don't sink before I visit you someday.


Not sponge worthy

"‘Sad and pathetic’ anti-Mulcair salvo lacks punch of past Tory attacks." That's the spin from NDP spokesman Karl Belanger on the new Conservative website that was just launched as a putative attack on Mulcair and his NDP cabinet.

To use my favourite phrase of the past few days, this looks like a tick the box effort from the Conservatives. A website that doesn't even warrant a cheapie YouTube ad that might make it fly a little further? Come on, they aren't really trying. They didn't even use up all the shadow figures on the page. They've got room for 6 more, it's weird. And notably, there's just no head on engagement with Mulcair here. The "attack" is diffused.

It doesn't look like this will penetrate beyond the Ottawa bubble. So in that sense, it is sad and pathetic but not in the way that Belanger means it.

While it's early in the life of this majority government term, it's looking like the Conservatives are happy with an NDP opposition. A new soft chew toy that they are happily batting around.

The Conservatives' very small Canada, continued

A follow-up here to a post from a few weeks back. Remember Jason Kenney's announcement on dialing back health care benefits for refugees? It was couched in a way that suggested that refugees were getting better health care benefits than Canadians. It was meant to sow resentment against refugees, people who are least able to help themselves upon arrival in Canada. The Conservatives wanted the story to be understood as refugees somehow taking something from Canadians. As a needless expense we could cut.

Yesterday, doctors held a news conference that put a finer point on what might happen given that refugees will only have access to health care in emergency situations:
Dr. Mark Tyndall, head of infectious diseases at The Ottawa Hospital, said the changes create a serious threat to public health.

"If we are only allowed to offer care to someone when they are spitting up blood in the emergency room, they will most certainly have already infected others (with tuberculosis)," Tyndall said Monday at a news conference held by the Canadian Health Coalition.
"There is not a health economist in the world who would tell you that restricting primary and preventive care is a cost-saver. In fact, waiting until people require urgent care runs contrary to everything we know about sound health economics," Tyndall said, explaining that the changes will create emergency room visits and hospitalizations that could have been avoided — all at a cost to the government.
Runs contrary to everything we know about sound health economics...that seems just about right with these Conservatives.

The cuts kick in at the end of June.

Oliver on the defensive

It was a very lengthy and defensive statement delivered by Joe Oliver yesterday, read it here: "Statement by the Honourable Joe Oliver, P.C., M.P., Minister of Natural Resources, in Response to an Advertising Campaign by Some Environmental Groups."

It was made in response to a campaign launched yesterday at where 11 environmental groups are banding together. Go check it out. June 4th is their day of action.

There was other heat on the government yesterday. There was this Globe editorial ripping the Conservatives on their bashing of environmental groups: "The only nefarious thing in sight at the moment is a government bent on quashing a legitimate debate." Ouch.

Following Oliver's appearance yesterday, it didn't get much better. Even John Ivison piled on:
Someone, somewhere deep within the Prime Minister’s Office took the decision to try to cram as much contentious legislation in one mega-bill to minimize the political fallout. It was a dumb move and it has blown up in their faces.
Ouch again. May the growing backlash fluorish.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Friday night

New Dragonette that you will probably hear alllll summer. A good remix of it here that makes it a lot less fluffy and poppy.

Have a good night!

Friday political fun

A one minute classic. Atta boy!

(h/t a little birdie & Sullivan's site)

P.S. Also in the fun category but of a different kind, this.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Something missing all around

So I watched this 8 minute video version of Harper's speech to caucus yesterday. It was, as many reports have recounted, packed with a consistent economic focus. Of course. He really doesn't seem to enjoy talking about anything else and that's the turf they want everyone focused on.

But the economy is not the sum total of a nation, so there's always so much missing when he gives a speech like this.

The closest he gets to his vision is the stuff about Canadians giving his government a "mandate to secure their prosperity." He repeated that twice. It's not that rousing. It's also devoid in caring. What should prosperous nations do? Guard their prosperity, is that it? A nation of hoarders and me-firsters? Or should they be concerned about the least among us and around the world, for example. Where's the moral fibre in Harper's speech? But, I digress...

The line that stood out in the speech for me was this: "We are the only party in this country with a serious, workable economic plan." That seems to me to be the big challenge in defeating these Harper led Conservatives.

So what's their plan? They talk a lot about having one, for starters. And they have framed the economic debate pretty thoroughly with the Economic Action Plan branding and the low tax lingo. Then there's the part of the plan that sees us as hewers and drawers of our natural resources. There is also the pushing of free trade deals around the world.

Now what are the elements of the economic plan or vision that challenges the Conservative one? Anything coming to mind? What is the alternative to the Harper economic agenda?

Challenging how the government is spending dollars is fine and needs to be done. What the larger plan is as an alternative that is clearly identifiable and credible and resonates with people...that seems to be missing. That's a common critique around the world.

I'm hoping that during the Liberal leadership race there's going to be a fresh and credible challenge on economic grounds to Harper's staking out of this territory. That there is some new thinking that challenges the economic orthodoxy that the nation is being fed. Mulcair and the NDP, for their part, are going to have a high hill to climb in terms of being trusted on economic issues.

There is an opportunity to elbow into the space that Harper is occupying. He's not really doing that well despite newspaper editorials telling you how dreamy he is. Canada is ripe for and is owed an alternative.

Late night

Highlights from Wednesday night's Hollande-Sarkozy debate in France:

Quite the scrap! Name calling, repeated accusations of lying, relentlessly interrupting each other, man. From the New York Times, capturing some of the above:
Mr. Sarkozy, exasperated at one charge of partisanship, burst out: “That’s a lie, it’s a calumny, you are a little calumniator, saying that.” And at one point, he said to Mr. Hollande: “Thank you for your arrogance.”

Mr. Hollande attacked the president for political partisanship, and Mr. Sarkozy fiercely responded, “I will take no lessons from a political party who wanted with enthusiasm to come together behind Dominique Strauss-Kahn.” He accused Mr. Hollande, who had run the Socialist Party, of being Pontius Pilate when he claimed not to have known of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s sexual predilections. Mr. Hollande said that it was Mr. Sarkozy who nominated Mr. Strauss-Kahn as director of the International Monetary Fund.

The debate went on passionately for nearly three hours, with the two television journalists who were to moderate it looking nearly paralyzed as the insults and interruptions flew between the two men, each 57, each dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt and dark blue tie.
The election is on Sunday. Aren't they brave to have a debate on the Wednesday of the same week? We're not that brave.

Hollande is ahead in the polls by about 7 points...but, well, Alberta.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


Crikey, you've got to hand it to Sun Media, they've discovered the Elections Canada database apparently: "Media 'experts' are Grit, NDP donors." They've tracked the political donations of three Canadian professors, Attaran, Byers, and Mendes, who have all donated, inter alia, to the NDP and Liberal parties. (And note this tweet from Errol Mendes, mentioning that he's assisted many persons and parties in Canadian politics over the years.)

University professors give donations to political parties. They know that this is all publicly disclosed. And yet they do indeed speak publicly on issues that are part of their expertise. Those who choose to be part of the public debate are prepared to have their words and positions stand, knowing that their donations can be tracked by any citizen. It's called transparency and all are free to judge whether such donations taint their public positions.

Singling out and publicizing the donations of certain individuals in the national media? That's something else.

Flaherty's international diplomacy

Remember the G20 finance ministers meeting recently where Flaherty made a splash?
Canada was one of the few hold-outs in the G20 meetings last month that dissented against the International Monetary Fund's drive to create a $400-billion fund to backstop eurozone debt, and refused to pay its portion when the fund was approved.

The U.S. also did not contribute, but many suggested the decision was taken because President Barack Obama could not succeed in getting approval from a Republican-dominated Congress in an election year.

Canada's decision raised eyebrows in international circles, however, and led to suggestions Canada had isolated itself from the world's pre-eminent decision-making body with its stand. Flaherty flatly denied the charge.
Apparently the conservative newspaper the London Daily Telegraph couldn't get enough of Flaherty's position and requested an op-ed. So he's at it again, repeating the same message today with a less than subtle title and content: "The eurozone should sort out its own mess."

If you read the commenters at the Telegraph, again, keep in mind that it is a conservative newspaper.

The same op-ed appears in the Financial Post today, even more bluntly titled: "Jim Flaherty: Fix your own mess."

Winning hearts and minds the world over, that's us.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Evening roundup

1. This was quick: "Ottawa approves Conrad Black’s request to live in Canada."

Despite Jason Kenney and his doth protesting too much act today, leaking of this news to the Globe today when Black is only to be released from prison on Friday suggests some kind of quick, political framing to the deed. "The Globe and Mail has learned that Lord Black paid a $200 fee for a temporary-resident permit on March 20, 2012. A source familiar with the matter said the Case Management Branch of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration approved the permit in March." Seems fast. A get it out of the way early, don't let it linger kind of thing...

2. DND digs in. They are sticking with their $15 billion F-35 cost despite the Auditor General's report and the news that $25 billion in F-35 costs were known to the Harper cabinet. Guess Canadians will have to weigh whom to believe. Auditor General's typically have mucho sway.

DND disagreed with the Auditor General's findings as reported by the Auditor General in his report, so the DND appearance today with their continued objection was to be expected. (AG, 2.80: "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." 2.82: "Both National Defence and Public Works and Government Services Canada disagree with our conclusion that they did not demonstrate due diligence in their respective roles in the replacement of the CF-18 jets. The departments believe that the level of due diligence was appropriate within the time frame covered by this audit.")

DND also wants to stick with purchasing the F-35, despite the cost escalations. The government shows no signs of budging off the purchase either. Carrying on regardless, with the motto, apparently, when you are in a hole, keep digging.

3. Liked this article. For budding leadership candidates and politicos, a good question raised there: "What if, instead of starting with the current parties, you were precision-engineering a party and manifesto to appeal to the electoral sweet spot, to be the perfect vote-winning machine?" But read the article with a Canadian eye, of course.

4. Agree with last two lines here.


6. Music choice of the day. True story, had never heard that song until this week and probably wouldn't have if it hadn't been remixed by a DJ.

Destabilizing Statistics Canada

This news is really something, another head shaking moment. This comes from a government led by a trained Economist™:
Nearly half of the roughly 5,000 people working at Statistics Canada are being warned that their jobs are at risk, suggesting deep cuts are in store for one of the country’s most trusted sources of information.

The notices to staff that their employment could be affected by cuts are the second major blow to the organization in recent years, after the Conservative government’s 2010 decision to replace the mandatory long-form census with a voluntary one. Canada’s chief statistician resigned in protest over the change.

Everyone from the Bank of Canada to academics, economists, marketers, urban planners and public policy researchers use Statistics Canada surveys.
No wonder they didn't want such news up front in the budget roll-out. It's a drip, drip, drip of attrition and this one is a shocker.

They got away with axing the long form census and so they are proceeding merrily along in gutting a key information and data pillar for Canadian society. What recklessness. Totally inconsistent with their supposed reputation as economic managers.

So what do you do when you have a government bent on destruction of such valuable things government is doing? Go sideways, go around them. Rebuild the Stats Can capacities from elsewhere. Whether it's doable and whether resources exist to fund it, those are the questions. Until you can fix the damage that is being done in the form of a future government's commitments, in this Web 2.0 era of networking and rarefied computer expertise, it's an idea.

Languages shmanguages

Today in Harper government infractions: "Ottawa blâmé par le commissaire aux langues officielles."
Le gouvernement Harper n'a pas respecté la Loi sur les langues officielles en nommant l'anglophone unilingue Michael Ferguson au poste névralgique de vérificateur général, révèle un rapport du commissaire aux langues officielles obtenu en exclusivité par La Presse.

«Le Bureau du Conseil privé du Canada [qui a recommandé le candidat] n'a pas respecté ses obligations en vertu de la Loi», écrit le commissaire dans un rapport préliminaire d'enquête sévère, daté du 30 avril.
Meaning, really, that this one is placed at the doorstep of Mr. Harper.

Ferguson has done a heck of a job on the F-35 file and there's every reason to believe he's going to continue to do so with the rest of his duties as Auditor General going forward. That still doesn't make up for the fact that he isn't able to communicate proficiently with French speaking Canadians, something they are entitled to expect from one of the most important officers of Parliament. They could have found a Ferguson who spoke French.

Harper has made a point of speaking French first at foreign press conferences, he has been conscious of the importance of leading government figures being bilingual. It makes it all the more incomprehensible that this Ferguson appointment was made in the first place.

This is a rap on the knuckles, a significant one, with a recommendation for the future that language requirements be taken into account. Ultimately though, that depends on the person(s) taking those things into account.