Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kenney's bogus stats on refugee health care

Jason Kenney has come out with some stats on refugee claimants from 'safe' countries and the cost of their using Canadian health care. They will likely come off as sounding high and will serve the political purpose of getting the usual base riled up, but they need to be considered more carefully. Here is what his office is serving up:
Between Jan. 17 and Dec. 31, 2011, 8,819 Mexicans racked up nearly $7 million in health care costs under the Interim Federal Health Program. Some 6,749 Hungarians charged more than $4.4 million, while 4,583 Columbians racked up more than $2.6 million in costs. Meanwhile, 3,790 Americans received more than $1.4 million in free health care. Jamaican claimants round out the top five with 809 health care users receiving more than $808,000 worth of health services.
So, first off, Kenney's office has selected to show us the stats from the above four countries, to the exclusion of other countries whose stats may make the numbers look not so bad at all. But his office has the numbers and this is what they are choosing to release. Why, for example, do they not include the stats from Haiti and China and Nigeria who have high claimant numbers and higher rates of acceptance? Are those figures more positive? See this 2011 chart (click to enlarge):

Another point, while the Conservative government seeks to characterize nations like Hungary as a "safe" country, that choice has been disputed. See Amnesty International on the Hungarian Roma refugees as well.

Further, even if you break down those Kenney numbers by doing the simple division, it's not clear at all that they support so-called abuse. Does $651 in 2011 per Hungarian refugee sound high to you? What about $567 for a Colombian refugee? And so on with all the countries. What is the average Canadian's health care usage? I don't know but Canada's per capita spending on the average Canadian was $5,800 in 2011.

As for Kenney's relating of "stories" he's heard, later on in that Gazette report, that seems unsubstantiated hearsay and it should be considered as such. He even admits, "It's hard for us to quantify exactly how many false asylum claimants have come because of pull factors like the Interim Federal Health Program, but we shouldn't be naive...." Nor should we Canadians about the information he presents us.

There's a very basic point to be made about what Kenney's office is doing here as well. You could argue that these stats could always be framed as abuses of the system. That is, in the sense that there will inherently be more claims than acceptances in our system. So any time you report the health care dollars spent on those who have claimed refugee status but have been rejected will look wasteful to those seeking ammunition.

That's not the point though. This is not just about dollars, it is a moral argument about Canadian values. We as Canadians have chosen, for years now, to say that we will provide basic health care needs to refugees. Until they have been adjudged, we care for them. Because they are fleeing nations in dire circumstances and until they have been adjudged, as the least among us, we care for them. At least, we used to care for them until the Harper majority occurred.

Canvassing: There's an App for that

Canvassing gets with modernity courtesy of the Obama campaign: "Obama Campaign Releases iPhone App for Canvassing."
The app, which is available on Tuesday, will allow supporters of Mr. Obama’s to download a list of names in their neighborhood from the campaign’s central database.
No longer will they have to stop by the local campaign headquarters to get started. And once they knock on a door, the response — positive, negative, on-the-fence — can be wirelessly slung back to the campaign’s computer system instantly.
Volunteers can add notes and e-mail addresses. When they click a button, the app says the finished information will be sent to “VoteBuilder,” the Obama campaign’s central database of supporters.

In the old days, volunteers would pick up paper lists at a local office, returning them to the office at the end of the day. Other volunteers would enter the information collected into a computer. Now, that process will be largely automated.
"In the old days," aka known as present day Canada. I've heard of some iPad/iPhone canvassing being done in one riding in Toronto but it's not widespread.

What a totally common sense next step and great innovation.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ranked ballot system a possibility in Toronto's future

A significant democratic reform initiative could be on its way in Canada's biggest city: "Ranked ballots for 2018? Toronto city council may vote on changing its election system." This would have a few advantages, some cited in the report:
At present, a widely disliked councillor can be re-elected with the support of even a quarter of the vote because several lesser-known challengers split the opposition vote. The ranked ballot, Meslin said, would ensure that the victor is truly the pick of the people while also weakening the powerful advantage enjoyed by municipal incumbents.
With vote-splitting a non-concern, underdog fresh faces would face less backroom pressure to drop out of the running to make way for a like-minded candidate perceived as stronger, Meslin said. Voters would no longer feel compelled to vote strategically, to prevent a certain candidate from winning, rather than for the candidate they truly prefer most.
Votes would no longer be “wasted,” Meslin said. And because candidates would vie to become the second choice of their opponents’ supporters, said Ainslie, there would be far less “mudslinging” and a new focus on substantive issues.
Even reluctant councillors might consider supporting this given that it looks like the time frame is 2018 and therefore might be beyond their time in office. There could be a vote on it in the fall.

What Toronto does might focus some national attention on the issue and add to its legitimacy as an option for national democratic reform. A very intriguing development.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Koch funded climate change study making news in a good way

Big climate change news that is making a splash, this New York Times op-ed by Richard Muller that gives an overview of a Berkeley study which he led: "The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic." It is garnering attention because the study was funded by the Koch brothers and, well, see the title of the op-ed. Joe Romm at Climate Progress has the details on that aspect of this study. The lead excerpt from the op-ed:
CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.
These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming. In its 2007 report, the I.P.C.C. concluded only that most of the warming of the prior 50 years could be attributed to humans.
That latter point is also of note, that the findings of this Berkeley study are even stronger in attributing warming to human activity than have been the findings of the IPCC. More:
How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does.
Still more, a troubling suggestion regarding China and its impact in coming years:
What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.
Muller's conclusion:
I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.
Speaking of the political, here in Canada the latest reporting indicates the feds are working on an update on Canada's progress toward meeting our 2020 emissions targets. They are set to report that we're almost 50% of the way toward them but the factors they are relying upon - and their own continued inaction - will raise questions. Our government seems preoccupied with gaming our stats when they should be more concerned with doing as much as possible, taking into account studies like the above.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Quote of the day

From Dimitri Soudas on the PMO staffer who is taking a leave of absence from the PMO in order to be the official photographer for Canada's Olympic team:
"Jason before joining the prime minister's office was an award-winning photo journalist, so we're extremely lucky to have him," Soudas said Thursday at a reception in London.
"He actually got this cleared by the ethics commissioner. People take a leave of absence from the PMO all the time, to do something called the partisan election campaign every few years. So joining to support that one unifying factor that Canada has, which is our Olympic athletes, it's a badge of honour for all of those who have taken a leave of absence and joined our teams. We're really happy to have all of them."
Look forward to the photos.


Friday night

Let's go with the new Crystal Castles song, Plague, by popular demand! 280,000 plus listens in 3 days and a free download too, how can you not like that? They're from Toronto, highly acclaimed. More on the band.

Other recs from the week, some new some old: Hot Mouth, Cubic Zirconia and Bingo Players.

Have a good night!

Olympic inspiration

This is not political in content, just a bit of inspiration as the Olympics gets underway. From a piece on Clara Hughes and her preparations for these games, this blog excerpt of hers from April:
On quitting
The race began and I wanted to quit. Less than 50 km into the race I wanted to quit. I could have quit and everyone would have understood. The team was fine without me and the race situation we set was more than ideal. I could pull out and stop the bone-chilling rain from settling into my core and it would be okay.
But it would not be okay with me. There’s something about quitting that just does not sit well. I always think about what I would say to a kid at the finish area if they asked, “Why did you stop?” There are no words to justify this other than broken bones or a catastrophic situation that has myriad forms in bike racing. Cold rain does not qualify. Fatigue does not qualify.
My teeth still hurt from the chattering. But I finished that race.
You go, Clara!

P.S. In the #cdnpoli world, the major thing going seems to be that health deal the Premiers have come up with which looks good at first glance but leaves many questions in its wake...another day.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The PMO designer boys and their plane

Update (Friday a.m.) below.

This is kind of a fun read in so many ways: "Stephen Harper's Plane: PM's Staff Fussed Over New Design With Few Results." Scroll to the bottom to see the many iterations of design that the boys considered before settling on the final choices.

My fave part, the consideration of the maple leaf from the Conservative campaign bus as a possibility for a Government of Canada plane. Also, the prioritization of how the photo-ops would look for the big cahuna as he disembarks from the plane. Should they sprinkle the door exit with pretty maple leaves in order to create some kind of effect, for example. Yet those didn't make the cut.

It's all so...presidential. Or something like that. And yet another mark of how Canadian politics is being changed, symbolically, under Mr. Harper.

Update (Friday a.m.): Boris' perspective on Air Harper.

Housing market at tipping point?

Sleeper report: "Canadian home prices could fall 25 per cent." More on this prediction by economist David Madani at Capital Economics in the Globe:
“Overall, the willingness of buyers to pay these historically high house prices now looks to be proving fragile against the increasingly disappointing macroeconomic backdrop. The housing bubble in Vancouver already appears to be deflating, with only Toronto defying the inevitable. Accordingly, we expect substantial declines in house prices over the next year or two,” Mr. Madani says.
Ouch. That's a much bigger drop than the recently predicted 10 to 15% overvaluation by TD's Craig Alexander. While other stories are occupying the news cycle, this could be a big development on the horizon for Canadians.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kenney's recent appointment to the CRRF

Updated (Thursday a.m.) below.

Missed his first meeting as a board member of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation on Friday 'cuz he was clubbing in Ibiza:

Ah well, at least he phoned in.

Update: It looks like the first tweet above has been deleted from Nembhard's tweet stream.

Harper calls on the courts

Harper yesterday in Toronto skated over the line in one of his remarks on the shootings in Toronto and his plug for his government's mandatory minimum sentences:
One is of course much tougher penalties for gun offences. As you know, we’ve passed a number of things through the federal Parliament. Some of those things are before the courts. Some courts have been attempting to strike down some of the tough sentences we’ve imposed. I think these events in Toronto underscore why these penalties are essential, why it is essential to have tough and certain penalties for gun crime. I’m pleased that all three levels of government have supported those kinds of initiatives, and I certainly call on the courts to take these penalties seriously. This is not a theoretical problem. That’s one of the things we’re doing.
The part that is questionable is his calling on the courts "to take these penalties seriously." It's not for a Prime Minister to call on the courts to do anything. He said it in his earnest, understated manner in order to sound perfectly reasonable. But his attempt to influence the courts is there.

The notion that the courts aren't taking the penalties seriously, even if we indulge him, is silly. The fact that judges are disagreeing with his government's proposed sentences doesn't mean that judges aren't acting seriously or considering these mandatory minimums seriously. Justice Molloy took the penalty proposed by the Harper government and carefully analyzed it in a thorough 50 page judgment. She included this statement which underscores how seriously she took the issue of the mandatory minimum sentence presented to her as an all or nothing sentencing option: “As a trial judge in Toronto,” she said, “I am painfully aware, and am reminded almost daily, of the deadly scourge represented by handguns in our community.” Reads like a judge taking the issue quite seriously to me.

That case, Smickle, is under appeal, so it is also inappropriate for Harper to have made his comment for that reason as well.

This excerpt from a speech captures well why the PM's comment should have been more carefully worded:
Unlike the other two branches, the judiciary is not accountable to any electorate or government for its decisions. Instead, the primary obligation of judges is to the law which is designed to protect all citizens. It is for this reason that judges occupy a uniquely protected place within our system of government, one which is designed to guarantee their independence from political or other influences. Indeed, judicial independence from both government influence and from other sources, including public opinion, is a constitutional right of every individual in Canada. It is the right to know that all legal questions which are brought before the courts will be resolved impartially and according to the law, without extraneous influence and intervention.
Without the politics of the day interfering. I'm sure the judges will be carrying on regardless of the PM's comments in any event.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday night

Think escapist music is a good tonic for the end of this crazy week. I go with R3hab remixing the goddess. Yep.

Have a good night.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Robocalls lawsuits will proceed

Late news out of the Federal Court: "Federal Court rejects Tory effort to prevent overturning of election results."
The Federal Court has rejected a bid by the Conservatives to prevent federal election results in a handful of tightly contested ridings from being overturned. The Tories argued in court last month that an application by the Council of Canadians to review the May 2011 election results in seven ridings is baseless and too late.
The court said the application raises serious issues about the integrity of Canada's electoral process.
The Conservatives have the right to argue that lawsuits should be tossed, under court rules, but I am glad to see that their tactic has been turfed here and the issues and evidence raised will get their hearing.

From the decision (h/t) (click to enlarge):

Just had a quick scan, reads as if the judge is acting out of caution so as to let the allegations be fully tried on their merits, in this novel proceeding, rather than putting a halt to the analysis at this stage.

The judge mentions the need to assess the admissibility of the evidence that has been presented (the statistical evidence that the Conservatives are challenging, for e.g.) in a full hearing (paras. 14, 41). The question of whether the applications were commenced "out of time" or not (paras. 15, 28) is also one best left to a full evidentiary record, said the judge.

Good news for now.

Dear Health Canada - part II

From a long time friend of the blog who has written to Health Canada in the wake of news of their study on wind turbines, this letter below. He advises he has "absolutely no financial or corporate involvement in any wind project. My interest social, economic and environmental."

These are the kind of concerns I'm sure Health Canada will be hearing much more about. For submissions to Health Canada, comments are open until September 7th and you can find more information at this link.
18 July 2012

To: David S. Michaud
Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau
Health Canada

Comment on Health Canada’s Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study Design

It is commendable that Health Canada is undertaking a study on wind turbine noise and health It is appropriate that Statistics Canada is involved to assist in providing balanced information. As the study guidelines appear superficial, these comments are made to improve the quality and acceptance of study results. My experience with wind turbines comes from examination of wind farms across Canada, Europe, Caribbean and Central America. I have no financial or corporate interest in any wind farm.

1. Misleading study title: For most residents living near wind turbines the whooshing sound is quite pleasant and is comparable to rustling leaves in a breeze or waves on a beach. The use of ‘noise’ in the study title prejudices the methodology and results.

2. Ontario Disease - As most of the health aspects of Wind Turbine Noise relate to complaints from Ontario residents, there is concern that situation is mainly an ‘ Ontario disease’ and that the study design could concentrate only on Ontario communities. There many operating wind farms across Canada operating for several years that should be included. Also, it would be helpful to evaluate the wind turbine experience in other countries producing 20% or more of the electrical needs.

3. Non-impacted Residents - For statistical validity residents in communities far away from any wind turbines should be included to provide a comparative base for study results and to eliminate social opinions and common ailments across Canada whether there are wind turbines or not. An identical questionnaire should be presented to those near a wind farm as well as those living far away.

4. Not a study of opinions - The evaluation of any health concerns due to wind turbines should be based on medical evidence with a physicians certificate in order to filter out the psychosomatic nocebo effects from an existing illness occurring without the presence of wind turbines.

5. Other continuous residential sounds - Measurements for wind turbine noise in a residence should be compared and evaluated with other continuous sound producing units such as refrigerators, air conditioners, fans, ticking clocks, TV and radios.

6. Type of Wind Turbine - As the sound effect of individual wind turbines varies greatly, the Health Study design should include both older and recent turbines, tall and short turbines and number of blades. Wind direction relative to a turbine and a residence is a significant factor.

7. Sound Modification: Where distant sounds are perceived to cause health problems, the study should evaluate simple corrections such as ear plugs, shutting windows and economical sound canceling devices.

8. Compare with other energy sources - The health effects of other electricity sources should be considered such as nuclear, coal, oil sands, natural gas and hydro.

9. Compare with other health problems - Compare with other health problems arising from alcohol, tobacco, air pollution and water pollution.

10. Population Balance - The age, sex and general health condition of the study respondents should be statistically balanced.

11. Legal Jurisdiction - As medical matters and energy production are a provincial responsibility, the study should provide justification for federal involvement.
Related: Dear Health Canada.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Quebec ridings lose Liberal Prime Minister's names

James Morton notes today that in the proposed new Quebec ridings, the names of two former Liberal Prime Ministers have been dropped: Laurier and Louis Saint-Laurent.

Here is the list of proposed new boundaries and riding names. There is not an easy cross-referencing of the old and new ridings, it appears you just have to scroll through the lists. But if you look at the proposed list and then back at the existing list, you can easily see that Laurier-Sainte Marie and Louis Saint-Laurent are indeed gone as named ridings.

New riding names that are apparently warranted according to the persons in charge of name picking: Gilles Villeneuve and Maurice-Richard.

There are public hearings in the fall on these proposals. Perhaps there might be some historical sense injected into them?

It is worth asking, what exactly are the criteria that are being applied here when it comes to the name choices? And do such choices signify that other choices are being affected by perhaps political considerations?

More at the Gazette.

Toews' comments on mandatory minimums

In the wake of the Toronto shootings on Monday night, Vic Toews took the opportunity to criticize the courts for rejecting his government's mandatory minimum sentences of late:
Mr. Toews said Tuesday, during an interview on Golden West Radio, which operates a number of stations across the prairies, that he is concerned about the courts rejecting minimum sentences, especially given the problem of guns smuggled in from the United States.
It's worth asking then, just what kind of concern and care his government has demonstrated in order to enact those mandatory minimum sentences. If you look at the recent Smickle case, in which a three year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal possession of a loaded firearm was struck down, the kind of dedication to careful governing the Harper Conservatives embody is evident.

Here is the upshot of the arbitrary legislative situation they created in 2008. If the Crown proceeds by way of summary conviction on the offence, there's a maximum sentence of one year. If the Crown proceeds by way of indictment, the minimum sentence is three years. As the judge points out then, there is a gap that is created. There are no sentences permitted in the 1 to 3 year range:

And here's Justice Molloy's review of the legislative history of the provisions in question, with emphasis added throughout. There used to be no gap in the legislation. Now there is a gap and nothing was offered by the governing Conservatives to explain why that change was made:
(ii) Legislative history

[29] The existing scheme came into force on May 1, 2008.3 Prior to its enactment, the s. 95 offence of possession of a loaded restricted firearm existed, but with different penalties. This offence was first added to the Criminal Code in 1995, but did not come into force until December 1, 1998.4 Before 1998, simple possession of such a firearm was an offence and a trial judge could consider the fact that the weapon was loaded to be an aggravating circumstance on sentencing, but there was no separate offence of possession of a loaded firearm. The 1998 amendment also created a hybrid offence for possession of a loaded weapon, but without a gap in the sentencing options between the two forms of the offence. The maximum sentence for a summary conviction offence was one year and there was no min- imum (which provision remains unchanged in the current scheme). However, where the Crown proceeded by indictment, the 1998 legislative changes provided for a minimum sentence of one year and a maximum of ten years. Thus, the minimum sentence for the indictable offence picked up where the maximum sentence for the summary conviction offence left off, providing a full range of sentencing options between the two modes of the offence.

[30] The principal change in 2008 was to increase the previous minimum sentence for the indictable offence from one year to three years for a first offence. This change was initially intro- duced in s. 7 of Bill C-10, which received first reading in the House of Commons on May 4, 2006, followed by second reading and referral to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on June 13, 2006. On February 21, 2007, after studying the proposed amendment and hearing from a broad range of experts, the Standing Committee recommended that s. 7 be deleted from the bill. When the bill came back before the House, that recommendation was not accepted. However, before final enactment, the prime minister prorogued Parliament and Bill C-10 died on the order paper before becoming law.

[31] The same proposed amendments were re-introduced in Bill C-2, which was presented to the Legislative Committee as a confidence measure in 2007. It passed third reading on Novem- ber 28, 2007, received royal assent on February 8, 2008, and with that, the Tackling Violent Crime Act came into force on May 1, 2008.

[32] There appears to have been no consideration at any stage of this process as to the rationale for, or even the implications of, the two-year gap in the sentences available as between the summary conviction and indictment regimes. As was stated by Code J. in Nur, at para. 128:
There is nothing in the record of proceedings before Parliament to indicate that this two year “gap” was the result of some advertent decision or some rational policy, as opposed to mere oversight.
If they want their legislation to withstand constitutional scrutiny, they should perhaps listen and amend their legislation when a parliamentary committee recommends that it be done. See paragraph 30 above.

Alternatively, they might provide a rationale that a court might refer to in order to see what the legislative intent was. The courts were looking here, see paragraph 32, and they found nothing. During all the time these provisions were kicked around Parliament, through a prorogation, as part of a confidence measure, etc. They didn't help themselves.

Not that such actions would necessarily save these mandatory minimums from being struck down. The provisions are still analyzed by the courts in terms of whether they constitute cruel and unusual punishment, as prohibited by the Charter.

The overall point is that if Toews is going to profess to be concerned with courts striking down their mandatory minimums, they're not really doing the work to live up to their end of the bargain.

They should be considering more resources for the underlying causes of gun violence in any event.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Public Works protects itself from future ministers

Behold the Christian Paradis legacy to Public Works from his time as minister:
Public Works said Saturday that action had been taken to address situations where the minister wants civil servants to meet with companies from the local riding, but didn't elaborate.
"Policies and procedures on this matter have been communicated to staff through training initiatives," said an emailed statement.
The department also said it introduced guidelines for meetings in 2011, which includes a section on what to do if the minister requests a meeting with a third-party. Public Works also developed an "organizational code of conduct" in 2012, which features "ethical scenarios," but it did not provide a copy of that document.
They should call it the Christian Paradis Commemorative Code of Conduct.

I wonder if they do role playing in those staff training initiatives. As in, remember the time when Paradis' office emailed all of us to get to the boardroom to meet those guys from his riding? Yeah, that's wrong. And please advise these guys when it happens next time. Or something along those lines.

News of these guidelines, policies and procedures, training initiatives and Code of Conduct comes as a result of Canadian Press digging further into the Ethics Commissioner's most recent report on Paradis. In that March report, you will recall, that focussed on his wrongfully setting up a meeting for old caucus friend, Rahim Jaffer, the Ethics Commissioner also uncovered the meetings Paradis had arranged with Public Works for companies in his riding.

Read on in the Canadian Press report for details of those lovely meetings held in the minister's and deputy minister's Ottawa boardrooms between companies from his riding and many public works civil servants, at the insistence of Paradis' office.

All this and yet Paradis remains as minister, making big judgments (see previous post). Reports like the above don't exactly instill confidence. Over to the grand shuffler...or should we say ditherer?

Just your average Sunday in July

Where the government releases its approval of a $6.1 billion acquisition of a Canadian company: "Minister Paradis Approves Glencore International plc's Acquisition of Viterra Inc."

A little strange to see an announcement of that magnitude in the government news centre on a Sunday. They must not have wanted much attention.

More at CBC. And here are the commitments Glencore is putting in the window for a 5 year period just in case they are needed for future reference.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Peter MacKay and the “Announceables”

No, it's not a band name, it's how MacKay is spending his summer.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay has been racking up the air mile points with his series of announcements this summer. And there’s more to come, Defence Watch has learned. In June the word went out to DND and Canadian Forces organizations that MacKay’s staff was looking for “announceables” for the summer months.
The criteria were lax and almost any project – equipment or infrastructure – that he could announce, no matter what the dollar amount, would be accepted. Even announcements that had been made before would qualify. So you are now seeing the results.
Earlier this week MacKay travelled to CFB Suffield to “re-announce” the construction of a couple of buildings there. But as a local journalist pointed out most of the money for the buildings was coming from the British government, whose troops train at the base. Besides that, the details about the buildings had already been announced in January and in February of this year. (the buildings will be complete in August/Sept.)
Military officers point out that the Harper government has also taken to announcing minor sub-contracts for various equipment projects, complete with a press conference/visit to the company in question from a minister or local MP….something previous governments – both Liberal and Conservative – hadn’t done (a couple of these subcontracts have already been announced for the LAV-lll upgrade, including one this week).
Such big projects like LAV-lll upgrade or the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy will be able to provide hundreds of minor “announceables” over the years.
Just a few observations...the military seem to have no qualms in providing the background to what MacKay's transparent re-announce-arama is all about. Doesn't exactly make MacKay look good so maybe some folks want to ensure he is ushered out the door from Defence whenever that bigger shuffle Harper has in mind occurs.

And how remarkable is it that this kind of politics is viewed as what works, even in this era. It's so 1950s à la Duplessis but with a decidedly Harperesque p.r. emphasis. Announcing things many times over, breaking major announcements down into as many as they possibly can...they're not just a government, they're also the nation's busiest public relations firm.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bad environmental choices, bad economics too

David Suzuki's column today on the government's choice to close the Experimental Lakes Area magnifies the tremendous cost to taxpayers:
The world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area in Southern Ontario has served as an outdoor laboratory for this purpose since 1968. By manipulating and studying conditions in 58 small lakes and their watersheds, scientists there have made many discoveries about the effects of human and natural activity on freshwater ecosystems and fish. Over the past 45 years they've taught us about the impacts of acid rain, mercury pollution, nanoparticles, nitrogen overload, climate change, fish farming and many other issues.
That's about to end. The federal government announced it will close the unique facility in 2013. It's an odd decision, especially considering that it costs just $2-million a year to operate -- one-tenth the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's security detail and about the same amount the government spent during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto to build a tourism pavilion with a fake lake. To make matters worse, it will cost taxpayers $50 million to shut the ELA down!
Maybe I haven't been following this one closely enough but that $50 million cost to shut down this widely valued research space deserves some attention.

If they're intent on closing it, why they would not invest some time to work out a deal to hand it over to someone or some institution in order to stave off such a wasted sunk cost is baffling.

Competent economic managers? In their own minds and in the carefully constructed myth but here's yet another example that shows it's not the case in practice.

Dear Health Canada

News yesterday that Health Canada has decided to do some research: "Health Canada to probe possible health effects of wind turbines." This study is going to be very carefully watched.

Early indications from its rollout are not good on the impartiality front, what with Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre immediately using the announcement to wield it against the McGuinty government to seek a halt to a wind project in the Ottawa area. Further, there was the phone call from the PMO to Wind Concerns, a leading opponent of wind energy who were very active politically during the Ontario election and who sought to defeat Liberal MPPs:
Wind power opponents were celebrating Tuesday after Health Canada announced it will conduct peer-reviewed research, in collaboration with Statistics Canada, into the effect of wind turbine noise on human health.

Jane Wilson, president of the anti-wind group Wind Concerns Ontario, learned of the study in a phone call Tuesday morning from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office.

"Wow, I said, is it Christmas? It's July!" she said in an interview. "This is exactly what we've been saying all along, that there really wasn't the science there to base policy on."

Wilson is confident the study will confirm the link between wind turbines and human health. "The symptoms that are being reported by people in Ontario are the same as those being reported around the world," she said. "So there really is something there."
Wilson may be confident but others quoted in the report are more measured about what we should expect from this study. To date a link has not been established between turbines and human health impacts. It's fine for Health Canada to do research but it definitely shouldn't be tailored to anyone's political agenda and will need to pass scientific rigour. (The irony is not lost about this announcement being made yesterday while scientists were on Parliament Hill's steps protesting this government's research cuts.)

Anyway, here's some material for Health Canada to help them out with their research. They're going to do field work but this kind of material would also be something they'd surely want to consider in an impartial study: "A disease in search of a cause: a study of self-citation and press release pronouncement in the factoid of wind farms causing “vibroacoustic disease”."

In recent years, claims have proliferated that wind turbines cause a large variety of diseases. Two of these, “Wind Turbine Syndrome” (WTS) and “Vibroacoustic disease” (VAD) are frequently mentioned. Seventeen reviews of the evidence for wind turbines causing harm have concluded the evidence to be poor yet some regulatory authorities are now referencing health concerns as part of the rationale for set-back guidelines from residences, greatly reducing siting opportunities.

Methods and Findings

Google returns 158,000 hits for WTS and 298,000 for VAD. We conducted a search for all papers and citations on WTS or VAD, and searched for evidence for any association between wind turbine exposure and VAD. No papers on WTS were found in indexed journals. Thirty five papers on VAD were found, none reporting on an association between VAD and wind turbines. Of the 35 papers on VAD, 34 had a first author from a single Portuguese research group. Seventy four per cent of citations to these papers were self-citations by the group. Median self-citation rates in science are around 7%. Two unpublished case reports presented at conferences were found alleging that VAD was “irrefutably demonstrated” to be caused by wind turbines.


VAD has received virtually no scientific recognition beyond the group who invented the term. The claim that wind turbines cause VAD is a factoid that has gone “viral” in cyberspace and may be contributing to nocebo effects among those living near turbines.
Hope that helps to get our friends at Health Canada off on the right foot.

(h/t DH for study)

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sunday round-up

Clearing out the dashboard right here and now with this quick list of things that caught the eye this week...

1. Great column by Tom Friedman, "The Rise of Popularism." Nudged on me by a pal and I totally agree with its worthiness as a read. An excerpt:
When you have technologies that promote quick short-term responses and judgments, and when you have a generation that has grown used to short-term gratification -- but you have problems whose solutions require long, hard journeys, like today's global credit crisis or jobs shortage or the need to rebuild Arab countries from the ground up -- you have a real mismatch and leadership challenge. Virtually all leaders today have to ask their people to share burdens, not just benefits, and to both study harder and work smarter just to keep up. That requires extraordinary leadership that has to start with telling people the truth.
2. Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief, Grand Council of the Crees, responds to Andrew Coyne's recent column on Quebec which contained a rather inflammatory line about the Cree but was otherwise a good reminder about the madness and complexity of negotiating secession.

3. This Guardian article, "British democracy in terminal decline," is being discussed at Canadian Progress today.

4. Loved this Rolling Stone piece on Rachel Maddow. Very nuanced look at what she's trying to do with her show and her struggle to do a good one. Heroic girl!

5. "Dean Del Mastro agrees to meet with Elections Canada over donation allegations." Of course he has finally agreed to do so because he really has no choice. Saying you can't meet with Elections Canada because you've been told you can only do so under a legal caution was a ludicrous public position for an MP to take.

6. Have you seen the over the top War of 1812 ad by our Harper government? It has all the hallmarks of trying to militarize our founding by emphasizing 1812 over 1867 Confederation. Harper on Canada Day: "the military struggle that made Canada possible," "It was during the War of 1812 – the battle for Canada – that the very foundations of this great country of ours were laid."

7. "Ontario judge strikes down mandatory minimum sentence for first-offence gun trafficking." Part of a pattern in the courts of late, worth paying attention to how the Charter and the courts are moderating this government's designs - constitutionally.

8. Noticed this: Uniting Calgary Progressives: An Interactive Workshop with Nathan Cullen. An event this week in anticipation of the Calgary-Centre by-election due to Conservative MP Lee Richardson's retirement. Not sure how much traction there is for Cullen's meeting and whatever that effort will be. Elizabeth May is saying her party is serious about the Calgary by-election and the Liberals have two nominees thus far who are expressing interest in the nomination.

9. Yup: "Flanagan credits central management of voter and donor ID for party's continued fundraising success."

10. There is no 10! Can't have a list of 9. Have a good night.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Idle Saturday speculation

Will the real Minister of International Cooperation please stand up?
Chris Alexander, Parliamentary Secretary for National Defence, on behalf of the Honourable Julian Fantino, Minister of International Cooperation, is attending the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, to discuss international development efforts in Afghanistan for the next decade. As part of his trip, Mr. Alexander will make an important announcement about Canada's post-2014 development commitments to the people of Afghanistan, with a focus on the advancement of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.
Please stand up, please stand up.

Sure, Fantino is in the limelight to blather on, if you will, about various government austerity talking points and incomprehensible things:
"I will want to ensure that CIDA's work priorities, if you will, are directly connected to the international policies of the government, which is, as you know, we serve at the will of the people."
But I would watch Alexander who may not have the Ministerial title but practically speaking, may be it. Just speculation and it could just be he's in Afghanistan given his background.

It is, however, a nice contrast there for Alexander as opposed to say, Jason Kenney, full on ambitious Minister and who is having a very bad week.

Friday night

I go with more Metric tonight. For the first song here, Artificial Nocturne, in particular, although you can take your pick!

Have a great night!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Elections Canada's new motion at the Supreme Court on Etobicoke-Centre

CBC is reporting this today, based on a motion filed with the Supreme Court earlier this week: "Elections Canada has new evidence in Etobicoke Centre." Apparently Elections Canada has found this:
Elections Canada has found that 44 of the voters who were disqualified in the court hearing are in fact on the National Register of Electors, a permanent and constantly updated list of all 24 million potential voters in Canada.

The heart of the lower court decision was about missing registration certificates, or registration certificates that were not signed by the voter. Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Lederer was concerned that there was no way of determining whether the voters were Canadian citizens, in the absence of the certificates.
Now since there was a 26 vote margin in the Etobicoke-Centre May 2011 result, affirming that 44 voters were qualified might make a difference, right? But the lower court rejected 79 ballots. 79-44 = 35 still in doubt with that 26 vote margin and just based on 10 sample polls from the election.

Further, the residency of the 44 voters is still in question:
Although the names and addresses of those 44 voters are redacted in the court document, a code shows that almost half of them did not live in Etobicoke Centre in the month before the election.

It is possible that these voters could have moved into the riding during the election period, but since their registration certificates are missing, there's no proof that they were residents of Etobicoke Centre when they voted.
Then there is the matter of Wrzesnewskyj's appeal of the election result having been narrowed to assessing only 10 polls from the election. When there have been reports of hijinks that occurred in locations other than those 10 polls scrutinized in this case, one at a seniors' residence that could have affected the vote as well. Wrzesnewskyj narrowed the proceeding on a consensual basis with opposing counsel in order to expedite the hearing. It is true that having agreed to that narrowing the parties are bound by it. But given the uncertainty hanging over this case, as a matter of equity, that should be factored in.

Otherwise, this doesn't look good on Elections Canada. This information should have been found long ago. If they need greater resources, they should apply for them via the funds they are entitled to under the legislation. We need to have confidence in Elections Canada - period. And on many matters before them.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Pearson on Fantino

Glen Pearson writes about the Julian Fantino appointment as Minister of International Cooperation, the ministry that oversees Canada's international aid efforts. He highlights the qualities that those involved in the aid portfolio possess:
• A natural compassion
• A willingness to cooperate with others in the field
• A deep understanding of the link between development and the environment
• A refusal to adopt ideological and simplistic arguments or points of view
• A growing comprehension of the primary importance of the role of women as the key change agents in their respect communities in the developing world.
Pearson's insight into the aid community really brings home how unfortunate it is that Fantino has been thrown into this mix by Harper's appointment. Money quote:
It would be like putting Donald Trump in charge of a micro-enterprise initiative among the poor of Haiti -- the consequences will be devastating because the need to be in charge will surely eclipse the need to be smart.
You might think that the bad press Harper has been getting in light of Patrick Brazeau's latest newsmaking might jar the PM and give him cause to recalibrate his appointment thinking. Actually consider who might have the qualities appropriate for a role like International Cooperation. Nope. Full steam ahead with fitting square pegs into round holes.

A quote of the day

It's early but I'll go with this one from Dean Del Mastro to his local paper yesterday:
Del Mastro has repeatedly said he doesn’t understand why Elections Canada didn’t talk to him during its investigation. On Wednesday, he said he shouldn’t have to be put through this experience, as he’s a member of Parliament.
“I’m not the average person on the street,” he said. “I’m elected by the people of this riding to represent them.”
He's above the average person on the street from the sounds of things. Not a winning quote from a politician.

Lots of other gems there too.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Higgs boson and #cdnpoli

A reminder from Ted Hsu, Liberal MP and physics Ph.D., on the occasion of the Higgs boson scientific news, of the importance of research funding for such endeavours: "Decades of research pays off big with Higgs boson discovery."
While research into high energy physics certainly does not come cheaply, and we don’t always know immediately what practical uses the results of that research will have, understanding the universe we live in is an important activity that has never failed to give us tools by which we might move humanity forward and improve the lives of billions.
Canada has a tremendous history of contributing to basic research that has revolutionized the world. The most famous example is perhaps the discovery of insulin by Dr. Frederick Banting and his research assistant Charles Best working at the University of Toronto.
Sadly under Stephen Harper the Government of Canada is steadily walking away from funding basic research. For instance, the National Research Council has been ordered to turn away from early stage research and focus instead on direct commercial applications.
Granting councils like the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) have increasingly lost funding for basic research. Since 2006 funding for Discovery grants has fallen from $420 million to $360 million.
I’m sure that today we will all see and read many stories about the years of effort it has taken to find the Higgs boson. As we reflect on the significance of this accomplishment, I hope we take a moment to consider the thousands of basic research groups across this country. It is the curiosity and dedication of these researchers, along with funding to test their ideas, and heeding their expert advice and warnings that will help us build a healthier, more prosperous civilization for everyone.
That is a good message on this day of discovery but also a good encapsulation of a central difference between the priorities of conservatives and those of us who disagree. Basic support for such science is part of our infrastructure, like the roads and hospitals we build. Private industry ultimately benefits from the fruits of that research, it's not just about funding the end product commercial applications.


Video: Del Mastro on his 2008 election spending allegations

Worth a look. Del Mastro, you see, is at a very important government announcement with mucho Economic Action Plan signage and someone dares to ask him a question about the significant allegations that are in the news about financial contributions to his 2008 campaign.

Del Mastro is a public figure, after all, and he should be prepared to answer questions beyond the narrow scope of his prepared photo-op event. Doesn't go with the happy to answer all questions, I look forward to cooperating with Elections Canada, you know, the whole positive, high road thing that one might - quaintly - expect from the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary.

Instead, he bristles at the unfairness, takes a shot at reporters and Elections Canada. "So when my name is thrown around in the media, especially with allegations that have no process, you have to understand — this is a very unfair thing."

So are we to understand that maybe Del Mastro might be regretting some of his more inflammatory rhetoric about others then? Just to take one example there. And might we see a change in that?

That curious backtrack on refugee health cuts

Jason Kenney offered up some tremendous spin on his controversial refugee health care cuts that came into force on Saturday yet were the subject of a last minute government change at the end of last week: "Refugee health cuts 'clarified,' not reversed, Kenney says." Read the report for his version of how the government intended, all along, to keep health benefit access for some refugees despite the fact that the government communications on the new policy did not in any way manifest that intention.

Canadian Press, however, has tracked the last minute cabinet amendment the government made at the end of last week, just two days before the global cuts to refugee health care were to come into force:"Conservatives forced to quickly amend refugee health cuts."
The Conservatives were forced to amend their policy on cutting off benefits for refugee claimants just forty-eight hours before it came into effect.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Tuesday the end of extended health benefits for refugee claimants was never meant to apply to government-assisted refugees.

But with a June 30 deadline looming on the proposed changes, the department realized that’s exactly how the new rules would apply — and officials were forced to get cabinet approval for an amendment.

The approval came through only at the last minute: the order-in-council making the change was signed on June 28 and published Tuesday.
Kenney says tomahto, reporting says tomayto. Take your pick.

At the end of the day, despite the change that the Harper cabinet scrambled to make, to allow health benefits for government-assisted refugees, there remain many who will still not be eligible for health care: "Despite this reversal, many other refugees will still be denied access to basic health services," a press release issued Tuesday said. "The government's concession for government-assisted refugees is too little and too late. Many other refugees will suffer because of the cuts that are still in place."

The climb down or "clarification" by the government, whatever it was, and I'd bet on the former, is a good sign that they are succumbing to pressure. This remains an issue to watch.

Tone at the top

The Globe editorializes on Bev Oda's resignation: "Bev Oda’s departure: an overdue nod to accountability."
The departure of Bev Oda from the federal cabinet should have happened months ago. Nevertheless, her resignation - effective July 31, apparently prompted by the knowledge or belief that she would be shuffled out later this summer - is a much-needed signal that Prime Miniter [sic] Stephen Harper holds his ministers accountable.
Yes, it's a heck of an accountable operation he's running.

There are no consequences for Christian Paradis, repeat ethics offender. Harper said in March, after the Ethics Commissioner dinged Paradis again, that the punishment is simply for Paradis to learn from his conduct. Right then. Paradis is rumoured to be up for Minister of Environment, see today's Buzzetti column. That should be interesting, selling the environmental policies of this government in Quebec. Maybe he might get some just desserts that way, come to think of it.

There have been no consequences for Tony Clement of G8 spending fiasco fame.

There have been no consequences for Peter MacKay of helicopter ride fame, who has bungled the F-35 file by letting it be represented publicly, during a federal election, that the cost of the jets was $10 billion less than he knew. A massive breach in accountability, documented by the Auditor General, for which Harper offers nothing to the Canadian people in acknowledgement.

Following on that point, Mr. Harper himself doesn't exactly set a convincing ethical tone at the top either. Doesn't really talk to the major Canadian media, a key mechanism through which accountability is made possible in our political system. Presenting himself publicly to answer questions on major files is not something he really does. He provides no real answers in the House of Commons. He institutes a policy whereby the Government of Canada is to be referenced as the Harper Government, indulging in a rebranding that serves a partisan interest. Parliamentary committees increasingly move to in camera sessions. Omnibus bills that can't practically be examined are how legislation is being done.

Harper is not walking the walk on accountability. His ministers get the message through all of this. They take their cues from their leader and they look around at their fellow ministers' behaviour as well. 

There was an interesting column recently, "When Good People Behave Badly," on an ethics phenomenon that could be at work here:
It's an interesting question, how observing the questionable behavior of others affects our own actions.
It turns out that a key determinant on this question is who is the unethical role model? Francesca Gino, now at Harvard, and colleagues investigated this by having students complete a task on which they could cheat in order to earn more money. Upon seeing cheating from another student from their own school -- wearing university paraphernalia -- students became more likely to cheat themselves. It would seem that seeing someone you affiliate with engage in unethical behavior can make you view cheating as less problematic.
Maybe the more you see it, the more you get enured to it. And who is doing it makes a difference. Possibly explains such lenient editorials too.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Let's play 3: Oda retires

A little bit of by-election mania in our near future...




Do I hear Peterborough, anyone? Maybe four in our future.

Or Provencher? Go for 5?