Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday night

Summer's over, kids! Not the weather, going by the 30° temperature at this moment here in Toronto. But by the calendar, it's back to school time and all that. Thought this was a good way to say it with Kaskade's wrap up video of his summer tour. Good song too.

What did you do in the summer of 2012? Did you have a good one? Do everything you thought you'd do? See everyone you thought you'd see? Things to ponder over a Labour Day weekend.

Have a good night!

"We want a country"

Who really thought the Quebec election would end up here? At a rally last night in Montreal, the separatists were unabashed and evidently feeling quite confident going into the weekend: "Not about changing government, about changing countries, says PQ leader Pauline Marois."
“I need a majority mandate to make Quebec a country,” she said, setting off a thunder of applause and heart-pounding chants of “We want a country" and “We are going to win!”
Naming two of her candidates, Maka Kotto, from Cameroon and Djemila Benhabib, who grew up in Algeria, Marois said when Quebec became an independent country, “we will all be part of the founding people of a sovereign Quebec.” “Together we will build a ‘tightly mixed’ country,” she said.
As a federalist, you might look at this optimistically. Marois is pushing it too far and there may be some recoil over the weekend.

Or you can look at it pessimistically, with the sense that Marois is smelling victory and taking advantage. The time for a change vote is splitting in a way that is advantageous to her. The change voters may not be intending to give her a mandate for separation and the numbers won't support it, but by her words, she's not showing she'll be restrained by such interpretations.

Best to hope for a minority government at this point and as Ibbitson suggests, maybe we will see yet another election in the near future.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Toronto-Centre's rejigging

Interesting post by Chris Tindal today on the proposed re-drawing of Toronto riding boundaries and how it affects Toronto-Centre in particular. The upshot of his blog item is in its title: "New boundaries could turn a safe Liberal seat into one apiece for the NDP and Conservatives." Tindal ran as the Green candidate in the 2008 by-election that elected Bob Rae and it is worth a read for the map, the stats and its overall fair commentary.

As he notes, though, "Anything could still happen," in a closing header. That is very true, as we lived during the 2011 federal election. The colours of the Toronto map changed dramatically in 2011 from 2008 and there's no reason it couldn't again in 2015. We will have a more unpopular Harper party and a Mulcair who is still in early days as a leader but who will be a known commodity by then. Then there will be the impact of a Liberal leader yet to come. The issues of the day in 2015 are unknowns. We have a mayoralty election in 2014, that could impact the landscape as well.

For what it's worth, I don't recall, post 2008, a level of interest so keen in what would happen in the next election. At least, not at this micro-level among politicos, publicly pouring over maps and gaming the angles. It's a whole new era, that's for sure. It's also the public process of this riding re-drawing that is sparking this attention. It may be a possibly rude awakening for parties who need to get their ducks in a row yet ultimately a very helpful exercise.

More Justin

Further to WK's post yesterday, a source I trust told me the same thing last night. That is, Justin is running. This comes from a source separate and apart from Warren's.

I know, I know. Worst kept secret but until you hear it from peeps you trust, I keep it all in the wait-and-see file.

I suppose someone could always change their mind but that's the word as of now.

Carry on!

Atlantic Canada 'Conservative country?'

The PM really is obsessed:
But while Mulcair was Harper’s main target, the butt of his speech was clearly the Liberals. Harper congratulated the crowd, many of them party volunteers, on helping to bring down the Liberal dynasty of the 1990s.
“Think back, 10 years ago this summer, the Liberal party looked so strong that people were telling us they would govern forever,” the prime minister said.
“The same people used to smirk and say Canada’s right could never unite. Well, you and people like you across this country got to it. Volunteers, taxpayers, citizens who loved this country and hated what the other parties were doing to it.”
Let it go, man. You won your majority. Let go of the hate. Hated, he says.

He should also be careful about being too confident and oblivious to the history he's relating. His party may be the strong one now, but my how things can change.

Parks Canada cuts and the Rideau Canal

A late summerish item this morning. This is a great local paper report on the Rideau Canal and the challenges being faced by users, small businesses that depend on it, local residents, cottagers, etc. Parks Canada's budget has been cut by about $30 million and the impact on the Canal's operating hours and infrastructure are becoming issues. The report covers a local meeting Bob Rae happened to attend given that he summers on a lake in the riding of Leeds-Grenville. Rae mentions that the Rideau could possibly lose its UNESCO designation due to the infrastructure cuts. The article gives you a good sense of how this issue is affecting the communities there and the frustrations from local residents. The political upshot:
Rae added that he did not feel that cuts along the canal were a done deal and pointed out the political reality that, save for Liberal seats like Ottawa South, Ottawa-Vanier and Kingston and the Islands and the NDP's sole seat in Ottawa Centre, all of the waterway's other ridings, like Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington and Leeds-Grenville, are held by the federal Conservatives. Cuts along the canal would likely alienate traditional Conservative voters like small businesses, which could make Brown and MP Scott Reid's re-elections somewhat more difficult come 2015.
Elsewhere on a related issue, Dean Del Mastro in Peterborough (and three other local Conservative MPs in that neck of the woods) has been getting some heat on $3 million in cuts that will be hitting the Trent-Severn waterway as well. In this August 22nd report the idea of user fees on "day visitors, cottagers and permanent residents along the waterway, boaters who do not use the locks but operate their boats on lakes in the system, and anglers" to generate funds for the waterway is raised as a solution by Del Mastro, but the Parks Canada CEO says that's a no-go for people who are not using the system (i.e., the non-boaters).

Sounds like Del Mastro and his Conservative MP buds are in a bind given that the cuts to the waterway are causing concern and are scrambling to come up with solutions. Can't imagine local residents are going to appreciate being slapped with user fees or, dare we say, taxes to replace cuts to Parks Canada funding that probably shouldn't be made in the first place. Sounds like a great issue to run on against Del Mastro and his whole gang there.

Late night

Neil deGrasse Tyson makes the case for NASA, space exploration, and essentially, the use of government funds for science programmes. Some incredible footage here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Legault raises the notwithstanding clause

This may sow some sober second thoughts during the last week of this Quebec campaign: "Quebec party mulls notwithstanding clause to retain MDs." One of CAQ leader Francois Legault's major promises in the election campaign is to ensure that all Quebecers have a family doctor within a year of the election. That's a sweeping promise that many are having trouble believing and may have driven him to say this in an editorial meeting with Le Devoir:
"I won't rule out, if necessary, using the notwithstanding clause to be able to keep more doctors who are studying at McGill," Legault told the Montreal-based daily. "It doesn't make sense that from McGill, after five years, half the doctors have left Quebec."
He raised the possibility of having medical graduates who opt to leave the province being required to repay the amount of money it has cost Quebec taxpayers to educate them in Quebec. The figures cited are about $160,000 plus to educate a doctor. Legault also spoke to the Montreal Gazette editorial board today and maintained the use of the notwithstanding clause as an option to deal with the problem, but seemed to tone it down a bit:"“Honestly, that would be a last option,” Legault said."

Nevertheless, you have to think this will give some voters pause this week.

That's very controversial terrain he is on and he likely knows it. Thus the subtle walk back. Invoking the notwithstanding clause to restrain anyone's mobility rights has got to raise a feeling of uneasiness about Legault's leadership instincts and choices he is prepared to make. To send such a signal about restraining people's livelihood decisions in this way is particularly intrusive in its message.

The notwithstanding clause is not a casual option. It's rarely been used and there is history and sensitivity in Quebec over its usage. More sensitivity in the anglophone community, for sure. But great awareness in the population as well over its historical use by the PQ. So it may resonate.

There is a common sense appeal Legault has made in this election. He's the practical guy, the post-politics guy. He's different from the rest of them. But this doesn't have that ring to it. He's the same old PQ pol is what this type of solution suggests. He may have undercut his campaign themes.

By singling out McGill in particular in connection with this issue, he's likely succeeded in perking up the anglophone community's attention once again during this final last week. It can't help with their votes.

I find it hard to predict how this crazy campaign will go. The rhetoric has been so heated. But this, I think, cannot help him with a last push.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Today in Joe Oliver

While there is deserved attention on Harper’s chief of staff over Barrick Gold links today, let's also ask some questions about what Minister Joe "Responsible Resource Development™" Oliver is up to in his late summer travels. Today he was on site in Cambridge at the Aecon Group Inc. facility. There was, of course, a political motive behind this photo-op. Beyond their political priorities, however, there are questions about the role of a government minister and whether Oliver, in his ministerial capacity, should be so actively promoting a corporate interest like Aecon. From the ministerial press release:
“Aecon is an excellent example of how important the energy sector is to Canada’s economy, generating jobs for Canadians in every region of our great nation,” said Minister Oliver. “Like Aecon, our Government is focused on making the most of economic opportunities — opportunities for jobs, growth and prosperity — for all Canadians. Through the Government’s plan for Responsible Resource Development, we will help Canada develop its tremendous natural resources to the benefit of Canadians in communities from coast to coast to coast.”
Over the next 10 years, more than $500 billion could be invested in 500 resource development projects across Canada.
“This represents a huge potential for companies, like Aecon, which service our abundant natural resources industry,” said Minister Oliver. “Responsible Resource Development will ensure we capitalize on these investments to provide opportunities to Canadian companies, their workers and their families.”
Aecon is a company that bids regularly on government work. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Lots of companies bid on government work. But a minister should be careful to keep distance from those who do bid regularly on government work.

And even more particular to Oliver, Aecon is also in the business of building oil pipelines. This is something that Oliver oversees in his role as minister as a matter of regulation. Should the minister be speaking in a way that actively promotes a company who bids on projects and activities under his ministry's watch?

Secret buds fishing trip

Update (6:50 p.m.) below.

Shh, be very quiet, no one wants us to know about this: "Stephen Harper lures Rob Ford to Harrington Lake." No comment all around, from the PMO and from the Mayor's office. What gives? Why is this a state secret?

Could it be that the PM is a little shy about whom he chooses, above all others in this fine nation of ours, to grant precious exclusive Prime Ministerial one-on-one fishing time with? Harper won't invite any of the premiers there or go to their meetings. But Rob Ford gets a mini-summit à la Merkel at the Prime Minister's official summer home at Harrington Lake.

Is it a political calculation, as always, by the PM? Is Harper conscious of Ford's toxicity to Torontonians and makes it a condition of the trip that nada be disclosed about it? But then, Harper is not exactly a fave of we Toronto residents either.

Could it be that the recent report of Ford's light mayoral schedule might be a factor?

Whatever the case, it is a strange, over-managed state of affairs where a PM and the mayor of the country's largest city don't want to be seen together in public and it's all hush hush. They protest too much.

Oh, and they are two of the top elected public officials in Canada meeting together. When they do, the public has a right to know about it.

Update (6:50 p.m.): Ford spoke about the trip during a radio interview today. The PMO still not commenting. What did they talk about, other than standing up in the boat hijinks? 
As they floated around the quiet lake, Ford said, the two politicians talked about the proposed redistribution of federal ridings that would add two new ridings to Toronto, 15 in all across Ontario.
Of course they did.

Nomination battles these days

Joan Crockatt's winning numbers at Saturday's Calgary Centre nomination meeting:
Two sources indicated that three candidates were dropped and their votes redistributed before Crockatt emerged with more than 50 per cent of the vote. She had 445 votes on the fourth and final tally followed by investment manager Greg McLean with 283 votes and former alderman and MLA Jon Lord with 119 votes, according to the sources.
Lawyer Rick Billington, Quebec Tory organizer Joe Soares and businessman Stefan Spargo made up the rest of the field.
More than 900 party members cast ballots out of approximately 1,850 eligible members.
A Conservative nomination battle in the heart of Calgary produces 900 members voting.

Compare to the Toronto Danforth nomination meeting numbers from the Liberals and NDP, respectively, in early 2012:
There were 355 votes cast out of 833 eligible voters, compared with about 500 cast at last month’s NDP nomination held in a cramped east-end church.
You'd expect the Conservatives to have the biggest numbers in what was a hotly contested nomination in a city like Calgary. Crockatt winning with 445 votes, however, is really not that much more than the winning Liberal and NDP nominees garnered in Toronto Danforth.

Interesting to note what it takes these days, in terms of numbers, to win a by-election nomination.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday night

Anything could happen, indeed. On an Ellie Goulding kick this week. Great voice, super talented. 

Have a great night!

On the lighter side

Operation Nanook is in full swing in the north and there are, of course, plenty of photos being shared by the PM's spokesperson for we citizens to observe.

The PM and MacKay observe a Chinook. Aka MacKay's fishing resort ride.

Special ops being observed by the commander-in-chief-wannabe and MacKay. Aka planting seed on how MacKay's fishing buds can also be hoisted on to said Chinook next time.
Couldn't resist.

How much does all this pageantry cost us, by the way?

Jason Kenney's week

From a Toronto Star editorial on refugee health care cuts on Wednesday:
Daniel Garcia Rodriguez has experienced some of the best, and worst, that Canada can offer. The best includes St. Michael’s Hospital eye surgeon Dr. David Wong, who saved this Columbian refugee claimant’s vision in an operation largely funded through his own practice and by the hospital. Among the worst is the heartless federal policy that robbed Garcia Rodriguez of medical coverage in the first place.

This case puts a human face to the hardship blindly imposed on many asylum seekers by Bill C-31, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s ill-judged effort to get tough with “bogus refugees.”
A real black eye on the government with this latest news of the refugee who almost lost vision in one eye due to Mr. Kenney's cuts.

From a Globe editorial on refugee health care cuts today:
...taking away health-care benefits from people who are waiting for a hearing or an appeal, as he has also done, is not smart public policy. As long as these claimants remain in Canada, the government should pay for their health care – both for humanitarian reasons, and in the interest of Canadians.

The decision to restrict the Interim Federal Health Program means that refugee claimants from designated countries are no longer able to receive medical care, except in emergencies. Prescriptions for insulin or heart medication are not covered, pregnant women have no access to prenatal care, and the children of asylum seekers cannot receive immunizations.

Those with heart disease or diabetes will be forced to withstand unnecessary suffering, and many could end up in emergency wards. And those with infectious diseases who cannot afford treatment could put the health of others at risk. While some refugees will receive emergency care if their condition is deemed to be a threat to public health, there is confusion over how this is defined.

“Regular, preventive health care is cheaper and more effective than emergency treatment,” notes Audrey Macklin, a University of Toronto law professor who specializes in immigration. “The federal government may save money, but only by shifting and increasing the health-care cost to the provinces, the hospitals and ultimately the Canadian public.”
The two largest dailies in the country smacking the minister on this asinine policy. It's clearly an issue that's not going away, if that's what the Conservatives are banking on.

Not such a good week for the minister.

Late night

Oh Muse, why must you be so catchy?

Have a good late night!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Benchquest: The what to do with Vic Toews saga rolls on

Updated (9:15 p.m.) below.

Just reading Tim Harper's latest, hot off the internets: "Vic Toews and his quest for the bench." This part jumped out:
The Court of Appeal post is a federal appointment and Harper is believed to have told Toews that he would not appoint his minister directly to the bench.
Instead, he would be expected to take a cooling-off period before any appointment to the bench.
If that was the PM's initial instinct, that Toews would not be appointed "directly to the bench," that is a good instinct and he should stick with it. The column goes on to note Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's recent comments to the Canadian Bar Association on the matter as representing a possible change in Harper's view. These remarks in particular:
“I’ve never gone out of my way to say that certain groups of individuals — people who have served, for instance, in political office — should be eliminated or sit out or anything else,” he told delegates. “On a hypothetical basis, I have never gotten into the business of eliminating any individuals or groups of individuals.’’
I think people may be attributing too much emphasis to the inclusion of the words "sit out" and are reading into them the notion of a cooling off period and that it is now out the window. I heard "eliminated" and "sit out" as synonyms there.

Mr. Harper seems to be aware of the blow back that would be imminent and he should indeed be wary. It's not something to shrug shoulders about. Mr. Harper has to know that an immediate appointment of Toews to the bench would be an infamous appointment.

If he does go the cooling off route, Mr. Toews would require a significant cooling off period. Entry back into the legal profession for some time would be a starter, for example, where he might demonstrate even-handedness in his activities. Some of us, as you might guess, would forever have doubts about the impartiality of Mr. Toews as a future judge and would prefer an indefinite cooling off period.

The mentioned possibility of a restart on the internet surveillance legislation would also be very welcome. Like all things with this government, even that is to be carefully watched.

And in terms of other political calculations, if Mr. Toews does depart, we could be talking five federal by-elections in the offing. Durham (Oda), Calgary-Centre (Richardson), today's news on Victoria (Savoie), possibly Etobicoke-Centre depending on the Supreme Court, and...Provencher? Enhancing the optics and possibly setting up the Conservatives to take three of five might have occurred to someone.

Update (9:15 p.m.): The riding of Bourassa might also be in play, depending on a November announcement by Denis Coderre.

Also, when considering a Toews bench appointment and the need for a cooling-off period, the concept of recusal should also be factored in. Presumably there would be a long list of cases for a sitting Public Safety Minister to recuse himself from.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer in the city

Deadmau5 does Dundas Square. Nice break.


Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic yesterday, citing his Sunday New York Times op-ed and the debate it generated, threw in this bit at the end of the blog item:
As a small aside, I will say that people who write columns for the Times catch a lot from people like me. That will continue. But doing this now for a second summer, I have to say it is extraordinarily difficult to come up with something smart to say, say it exactly right, and make it sound good in 800 words. I can't really imagine having to do that twice a week. I just don't have enough ideas or, frankly, the skills. It is a really hard job. I actually think the entire form could use some fresh thinking.
What an admirably honest admission. And a great idea there in the last sentence.

On great national dreams

Aw, is Harp making the inspiration meter go thud again?
“Those who want to see the future of this country should look north,” the prime minister told a gathering of Conservative supporters.
“Because that great national dream — the development of northern resources — no longer sleeps. It is not down the road. It is happening now,” Harper said in a speech at this small outpost south of Whitehorse. “The North’s time has come, my friends, and you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
That great national dream of developing northern resources no longer sleeps, yes. Gotta tell ya, when I think great national dreams, that one is not on the list. Building a national railway, check. Building a high speed railway? Maybe. Finding a Canadian researched cure for cancer? Maybe. Growing the country to 100 million in population? Also a possible rallying great national dream.

But extracting northern resources, which would, let's face it, be carried out by resource companies for profit, just doesn't seem to have the same ring to it.

Also, is anybody going to ask Mr. Photo Op with the Many Jackets about the melting Arctic ice while he's up there this week? The predictions of open sea water in the summer Arctic in a few years? That's kind of important. Say, come to think of it, how about we do our darnedest, as a nation, TO STOP THE ARCTIC ICE FROM MELTING. Now that's a national dream a lot of us could get behind.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The German view of the Harper-Merkel bunfest

Despite all the hype in much of the Canadian media about this Harper-Merkel meeting featuring Canada-EU trade talks, the Germans are playing it right down:
Mr. Jürgens said he doesn't expect Mr. Harper and Ms. Merkel to have much detailed discussion about the ongoing trade talks between Canada and the European Union. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was briefly touched upon, but it definitely is a thing that belongs to a multilateral arena and is not of main interest if you have bilateral talks," he said. "We cannot talk for 26 other countries, that's kind of the mandate of the [European Union]."
We cannot know what will come up behind those closed Harrington Lake doors and trade likely will. But in public, for what it's worth, that's the German position on trade.

Note what other item might come up behind closed doors. In this CBC report, tension between Germany and Canada is also referenced, with a German official calling Canada's refusal to contribute to the Euro IMF fund "the elephant in the room."

Also on the German agenda, favouring climate science during the Canada trek with a stop in Halifax at Dalhousie on Thursday. Something we, the vast majority of Canadians who are concerned about climate change, don't see from our national leadership, what a concept. Merkel the physicist leads a nation committed to renewable energy. Her stop at Dal might be a good one to watch.

Update (Thursday a.m.): Here is video of Harper and Merkel as they "talk trade." I don't hear that part at all but it is how it is headlined. 

Today in monument naming

The Harper guys are doing important bidness this summer. In addition to all the expensive and very relevant 1812 war pageantry that ministers far and wide are glorifying in this time of supposed careful fiscal management, they're off renaming an Ottawa thoroughfare today. The Ottawa River Parkway gets re-named...and after a Conservative Prime Minister, of course! Sir John A gets the memorial tribute on this one. Just another day in the Harper era's emphasis on symbolism as a key part of its governing philosophy.

The Conservatives don't have a lot to choose from in the well known former PM field. There is Diefenbaker though and they do love them some Diefenbaker. Renamed the former Ottawa city hall for Dief in 2011. Wonder how much they can milk out of Sir John A and Dief?

No word on what possible legacies might be in store for Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney and Kim Campbell. Maybe if there's ever a casino in the capitol area, one of the three might get the nod?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

To overspend or not to overspend, that is a Conservative question

Kudos to the reporter who pursued Penashue here. What a rare treat to see a politician, in Canada, quizzed like this. It really should happen more often and ideally, to the Prime Minister. A gal can dream, hey?

Really, the questions could have gotten even more aggressive with Penashue. If you are curious as to the issue, it is significant:
Newfoundland and Labrador's federal cabinet representative still has little to say on how he funded his 2011 election campaign, including an Elections Canada finding that he spent more than allowed.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue was found not only to have spent almost $4,000 over his limit, but that his campaign also had several irregularities, including cheques with no names, handwritten receipts and a donation with no name attached.
As well, Elections Canada found that Penashue had obtained a loan for $25,000 from the Innu Development Limited Partnership - a firm managed at the time by Penashue's brother-in-law - after some cheques written by his own campaign had bounced.
This is not a small matter. These rules have to mean something if we are to have fair play in our elections. We had the national Conservative campaign in 2006 who overspent on the national federal campaign spending limit, setting the rotten tone at the top for the Conservative approach to election rules. We have the allegations of Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro overspending. And now we've got Conservative MP Penashue facing his own allegations. All from the supposed law and order Conservative party of Canada.

Also a leading problem, the Elections Act regime does not have enough teeth to ensure that the rules will be followed. For example: "Overspending in a campaign carries a fine of $1,000 and/or three months in jail to be served by the official agent, Enright said." That's ridiculous and is not deterring. Not deterring some political parties, that is.

Nicholson on a Toews appointment

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was attending the Canadian Bar Association meeting yesterday in Vancouver and he was asked a hot button question given rumours about Public Safety Minister Vic Toews possibly retiring for a judicial appointment. This Globe headline captures Nicholson's non-answer: "Politicians should not be ruled out for judicial appointments: Justice Minister." He answered the question generally, without specific reference to Toews.

I agree that as a general principle politicians should not be ruled out for judicial appointments. See Roy McMurtry in Ontario, for example. You would find very few people who would be critical of McMurtry's tenure as a judge. I doubt there were any objectors at the time to his appointment. And notably, he was appointed to the bench six years after his retirement from active politics.

This is a new era for Conservative politicians in Canada though. Toews is no McMurtry. Toews, representing this federal government's law and order agenda, would be much more difficult to see on the bench as a fair adjudicator. Imagine yourself as a criminal defendant appearing before him and ask yourself if you'd be confident you'd get a fair trial. Or, ask yourself whether you'd feel confident that Toews was competent to be a decent judge. Serious questions.

The former reason, the appearance of a lack of impartiality in particular would likely mean he's not going to be on anyone's list for an appointment any time soon or at all.

It's good to see the CBA pressing Nicholson on it though. Serves as a warning to the powers that be that such an appointment would not be well-received by a very vocal and politically active community. Jumping from Toews' very partisan positioning to an immediate spot on the bench would bring the system into disrepute. It wouldn't be helpful to the notion of an impartial judiciary in Canada.

Late night

Rough first day for Paul Ryan on the campaign trail in Iowa. This footage shows a bit more of the mayhem than the head on footage of Ryan on the stage. Protesters pursued him on his walk out as well. More on the scene.

I don't get any likability factor with this guy. His speech came off more as a lecture, with little caring coming through when speaking about the jobless, for example. Maybe it was the crowd environment but the monotone virtual yelling thing he was doing did not grab me. He seems like a pol who has the intellectual smarts but does he have the empathy? The instincts? The heft for a VP or possible President?

The outing suggested that the Republicans might be in for an awakening this campaign, underestimating unrest that is directed less toward Obama but toward growing inequality in the U.S. that is perceived to be fostered by corporate America, Wall Street and those aligned with the Republicans. Yeah, it's early with Ryan, but that was the impression from this day.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Baseball and politics

Two columns today with similar themes. Tim Harper's in the Star.

And this one in the Hill Times that is a letter to the editor but is really like an op-ed. Written by William Cowie of Ottawa who is not just your run of the mill letter writer, look him up. I liked the baseball metaphor here very much, although I'm not quite sure it's exactly right. I will reproduce it here since it's behind the paywall and deserves a read:
Bob Rae’s impending departure as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada in one year’s time bears the hallmarks of a party narrative gone wrong, not just as reflected in its recent defeat, but in the more recent story it tells itself about the kind of leadership Liberals see as required to rebuild and renew. This leader narrative is drawn from the Liberal historical record in recognition that they have been down before; and that despite seeming crushing defeats—Diefenbaker in 1958, Mulroney in 1984, they come back again. It is believed a game plan can be reconstructed and with proper field play, supplemented with modern Obama-like political mobilization techniques, the power contest can be won.

For Liberals, what is the leadership narrative that is drawn from the historical record? It is, no surprise, the Pierre Trudeau narrative. It is the story of a charismatic, populist leader who promoted a modern Canada that was seen as cosmopolitan; displaying of youthful vigour; that had a touch of irreverence for an old order with a firm and steely will—“just watch me”—anchored in a strong vision for a forward looking and internationally engaged Canada. An activist/intellectual, he represented a modern form of late 20th century renaissance man in the political arena.

Ultimately, youth and vigour drove the Trudeau Liberal surge, facilitated by a ’60s generation that was looking to change the order of things. Symbolically, the Liberal Party’s, and Trudeau’s, legacy was ultimately expressed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the consummate statement of the spirit of individual rights that was so much the message of his time. It is an attractive story line.

But there is another leadership history. It is the history of baseball loving Lester Pearson. It was the history of a leader who was a First World War veteran engaged in political trench warfare with the Conservatives from 1958 to 1968. He was the non-Trudeau.

Lester Pearson came on the scene as an experienced international diplomat after being immersed, at the very highest level, in the geopolitics of his time. No media star, he was the able and mild-mannered bureaucrat who spent 10 years between 1958 and 1968 rebuilding the Liberal Party while engaging in pitched battles with the Conservatives for the hearts and minds of the nation. In that period he laid the groundwork for modern Canada, but more significantly provided the fertile ground for the training of a next generation of politicians that came to govern Canada for the next 28 of 44 years since 1968. Pearson was an opening pitcher on a weaker side in a high stakes political game, but he kept the team in the game when it was down, slowly built it into a contender and eventually saw it turned over to a closer—Pierre Trudeau. Pearson loaded the bases and Trudeau hit the home run.

As the Liberals look to rebuild one needs to ask if they are not learning from the wrong history. Today, experience is seen as a liability (masked in the jargon of being ‘too old’). At a time in Canadian history when competitive threats and global repositioning pose the most severe challenge to Canada since the Second World War media star presence seems more important for Liberals than gravitas. Rather than turn to seasoned veterans of the domestic and international political scene like Bob Rae who have power bases from which to draw and know the strengths and weaknesses of a system that is in desperate need of changing, the preference is for a younger less politically rooted neophyte who will not have the political constituency and savvy to manage a very complex power game for many more years.

In short the Liberals are drawing on the wrong history. They need Pearsonian depth and sophistication in a leader with an ability to handle the media. They need a new opening pitcher, not a closer. They had it in Bob Rae, but he was forced off the mound.
I mean, I like the opening pitcher metaphor too but there are good young starters who do come along. Think Mark Buehrle, for example. (I do know some baseball, cough.) Pretty much good from the start and over the long haul.

Anyway, I don't think the baseball analogy is a perfect one. If the suggestion here is that Justin is a closer, maybe no. Maybe he's actually a Buehrle type.

And I'm not sure about the historical precedents. It's hard to quibble with the Pearson c.v. and experience as being absolute goods. But how do such persons fare in our modern politics? How did Allan Rock do in leadership? How is Chris Alexander doing? How would a Mark Carney really fare in the rough and tumble? Do such credentials mean as much? I'm not discounting them, not at all. But there is more needed these days and we shouldn't get locked into thinking there is one model of a leader who will work.

Perhaps another question is whether the party machine itself in fact matters much more than the person. Or at least as much.

Great letter, prompting much thought.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Questions for Quebecor

From Gérald Fillion earlier this week in response to Quebecor's public campaign against the Bell acquisition of Astral:
En fait, il faut poser beaucoup de questions sur la transaction BCE-Astral qui donnera un avantage concurrentiel exceptionnel à BCE. Mais on doit aussi poser des questions à Quebecor aujourd’hui, qui lance publiquement une charge contre ses concurrents.
Pourquoi Quebecor peut-elle dominer le marché québécois avec 35 % des parts de marché dans l’écoute télévisuelle et que BCE ne pourrait pas en faire autant avec 37,6 % du marché canadien (et 32 % au Québec)? Pourquoi est-ce deux poids deux mesures entre le Québec et l’ensemble du Canada? Pourquoi Pierre Karl Péladeau considère-t-il qu’au Québec, le marché de la télé se livre à une « saine concurrence », alors qu’un niveau de part de marché semblable pour son concurrent Bell dans l’ensemble du Canada menace la concurrence, le marché de la publicité et les prix pour les consommateurs?
Pierre Karl Péladeau et Louis Audet répondent que le marché a changé depuis l’acquisition de TVA par Vidéotron, puis de Vidéotron par Quebecor. Ils affirment aussi que le débat n’est pas québécois, mais canadien et que c’est l’avenir du pays qui est en jeu. N’empêche, le résultat des transactions Vidéotron-TVA-Quebecor a été le même que celui qui s’annonce avec la transaction Bell-Astral : une plus grande concentration des médias.
Alors, pourquoi c’était bon pour Quebecor et que ce ne le serait pas pour BCE ?
There is plenty to object to in terms of media concentration questions raised by the proposed deal but those who are neck deep in said concentration are lacking in the credibility department. As Fillion suggests, maybe there's a little too much concentration in the Quebec market as well.

For more on the media concentration issues, see this blog post that raises serious questions about the increased levels in Canada in particular mediums that could result from the Bell-Astral deal.

This is going to be an interesting and early test of the new Harper appointed head of the CRTC, Jean-Pierre Blais. Partly why the high visibility of media competitors to Bell on this deal has been notable this week.

Running mate for Romney day

The New York Times is reporting Romney is going to make the big pick today and signs are pointing toward uber fiscal conservative House Representative Paul Ryan.
A confidant of Mr. Ryan’s confirmed early Saturday that aides believed Mr. Romney had settled on the Wisconsin congressman to join the Republican ticket, but all advisers had been sworn to secrecy.
Andrew Sullivan has all the U.S. politico tweet reaction. Dave Weigel has a post with what Republicans are likely to think and some early happy Democratic reaction. Why are they happy?
For liberals, Ryan represents a chance to not just defeat Romney, but an opportunity to discredit, on the biggest stage in politics, the most wide-ranging expression of conservatives' governing principles put forward in recent political memory. Liberals will say that Romney and Ryan want to cut government spending in a way that will hurt the economic recovery and cut assistance to those who need it. Obama himself has already attacked Romney for wanting to "turn Medicare into a voucher program," a reference to Ryan's original proposal for Medicare.
Ryan is a young one at 42. So now stay tuned to see if he's actually the pick.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Friday night

Let's go with what's new and exciting, Muse with a release from their new album. The "Unsustainable" clip above is one of those where Muse goes very orchestral, much in line with their British rock glam act. It has some dub step mixed in, which I'm not necessarily a fan of, depends very much on how it's done and who is doing it. Here, it seems to work with the political message, stop the madness, we are on an unsustainable path.

Also, if you haven't heard it, as a Canadian, since our Olympics coverage is smothered in the "I Believe" song and melody throughout, Muse wrote the official Olympics song which is much better and a very good part of a workout mix, whatever you may be doing.

Have a good night.

Something stinks on the Oshawa waterfront: Let's ask Flaherty

Jim Flaherty is Minister Responsible for the GTA. Also happens to be the MP for Oshawa-Whitby. His wife, Christine Elliott is the MPP for Whitby-Oshawa. And there were big goings on in Oshawa yesterday where an ethanol plant was approved of by the federal port authority over significant local objections:
The Oshawa Port Authority, created earlier this year, voted in a private meeting on Thursday to approve FarmTech Energy Corporation’s bid to build a $200-million facility that will turn corn into ethanol, an alcohol added to gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide emissions.
A port authority created just this year. Interesting. Note that there are Conservative connections crawling all over this:
Gary Valcour, current chair of the Oshawa Port Authority, stepped down this year as president of the Conservative riding association in Whitby-Oshawa, federal finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s seat.
Chris Kluczewski, another port director, also served on the board of the riding association, as did Tim O’Connor, the brother of FarmTech president Dan O’Connor and a former member of the company’s board. Tim O’Connor was campaign manager in the last provincial election for Conservative MPP Christine Elliott, Flaherty’s wife.
Local Oshawa Liberals were on this back in 2011.

This is a decision being made over much objection, by the Oshawa city council, for starters, that strongly opposes this development. There is a petition with 3,300 signatures on it as well, not peanuts for Oshawa. On what basis does a federal port authority ignore the city's wishes? It smacks of arrogance.

Is Flaherty on his way out prior to 2015 or what? Is Elliott?

Jason Kenney's immigration department at work

Heartless, baby, just heartless: "Toronto grandmother, 70, deported to Sri Lanka." This is a 70 year old grandmother who has trouble walking on her own, with no family left back in Sri Lanka, who obviously has a daughter (and grandchildren) here in Canada to care for her. The family made a legal mistake of not applying to sponsor her but applying for refugee status.

Where's the humanitarian compassion, Minister Kenney?

Not our Canada, that's for sure.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

The #CPC fights back in the #robocalls litigation

News that the Conservatives have filed some evidence in the robocalls litigation: "Affidavit rebuts voter suppression allegations against Conservatives." As the headline suggests, the affidavit submits the Conservative side's evidence on the robocalls allegations. Specifically, it counters the evidence of an RMG call centre worker which is relied upon by the plaintiffs in these cases, among other evidence.

But at this stage, these affidavits are not necessarily the truth of the matter but evidence submitted on behalf of a litigant, under oath, and subject to cross-examinations. Those cross-examinations will get at the truth of the matter. And those cross-examinations, as the report notes, are to take place this month.

Note that the main affidavit referenced in the report is filed by "Andrew Langhorne, chief operating officer of Responsive Marketing Group, the Conservative party’s main voter contact firm." Steven Shrybman, lawyer for the Council of Canadians, makes this point:
“Even though Langhorne describes the critical role the Conservative Party of Canada plays in creating the scripts that were read to voters and deciding who’s going to be called, there’s no one that’s come forward from the Conservative Party of Canada to explain what they were doing or not doing in relation to contacting non-supporters, which is the key issue at the centre of this case.”
That is an interesting point but RMG, by all accounts, is the main fundraising arm for the Conservative party. It's a good thing to have the opportunity to cross-examine its chief operating officer under oath. It might lead to some interesting angles being developed on RMG's relationship with the Conservative party alongside the exploration of all the issues raised in this litigation, like the scripts, the extent of the calls, the oversight by the party, etc. Shining a light on the black box that is RMG may be a very good thing, so I hope this gets to proceed fully.

The jeopardy in the case proceeding fully is the motion mentioned in the report from the Conservatives who have apparently filed security for costs motions. It's been a while for me on arguing one of those so I'm not sure what the latest case law is. Impecunious plaintiffs do have to meet a test on these motions but there is definitely a public interest component here that the judge will be well aware of. This is also a unique proceeding under the Elections Act that doesn't happen every day so it is not your run of the mill commercial civil litigation. Also note that the Elections Act requires $1,000 in security for costs by an applicant, so the burden is on the Conservatives to justify a larger contribution.

It is totally unsurprising that the wealthy Conservative party, like your average corporate behemoth, would attempt to use all the litigation muscle it can, not just on the aforementioned motion but in all the procedural tactics it is mustering in this case. It is telling us something about how serious the case is and how seriously it is viewed by the Conservative party.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Tell us more, Mr. Science

It was quite the chutzpah filled sound bite Harper offered up during yesterday's photo-op in B.C. where the Northern Gateway pipeline is the issue of the day:
Decisions on these kinds of projects are made through an independent evaluation conducted by scientists into the economic costs and risks that are associated with the project. And that's how we conduct our business," Harper said.

"The only way that governments can handle controversial projects of this manner is to ensure that things are evaluated on an independent basis scientifically and not simply on political criteria," the prime minister added.
This is not exactly a science supporting Prime Minister or government so it is an alien thing to hear him use the science word twice in any public appearance. See his government's ozone station cuts, Environmental Lakes Area closure, and their negligent climate change policy writ large. So what was he on about yesterday?

The government may be playing for a win on the project at the Joint Review Panel level so they can point to the "science" as winning the day with no need to be overruled by the cabinet. The panel now has to weigh in by the end of 2013 according to that recent letter from the National Energy Board to the panel of August 3rd. That newly tightened window may be part of putting a squeeze on the panel.

Or, if Harper views the B.C. situation as politically perilous for Conservatives, as James Moore's recent performance suggests, maybe he thinks circumstances surrounding opposition to the pipeline could change by the end of 2013 and into 2014 (if the Harper cabinet did in fact override the panel, it would have six months to do so). It's hard to see that happening but why not dial back the aggression in the mean time and talk up words like science? Recall that poll from last week: "An Angus Reid poll released last week showed more than half of British Columbians oppose the Northern Gateway, but could be swayed to eventually support it, with opposition also strong against the Kinder Morgan line." Harper sounded like he could be playing to those who could be swayed.

In any event, there was another story on Northern Gateway in the news yesterday that is probably just as significant as any remarks made by Harper in B.C. That was the latest report of Enbridge bumbling with First Nations in B.C. First Nations are a huge factor in the pipeline's future and could very well be the determinative factor. Something to be kept in mind irrespective of whatever the evolving Harper strategy may be.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Friday night

This one made my week. Loooove. Bloc Party is set to release their fourth and what could be their last album later this month.

Have a good night.

National Farmers Union adds context to pardons

This is a worthwhile read that clarifies some of the background on the farmers pardoned this week: "Myth: the CWB put farmers in jail for selling wheat." If you read the headlines and coverage this week, the impression given was that the farmers were charged under the Wheat Board legislation. For example: "Harper pardons farmers arrested under old wheat board law."

Here are some excerpts from the NFU post in response to such coverage:
On August 1, 2012, the Prime Minister made a commitment to pardon some farmers who broke the Customs Act by refusing to present grain export licences to Canada Customs (now Canada Border Services). Several of them went to jail and a gullible and lazy media took their word they were sent there by the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB). That the Prime Minister has just repeated this nonsense about the Wheat Board is contemptible.

The facts are straight forward. No farmer was ever charged under the Canadian Wheat Board Act which had its own penalty section. The Manitoba "poster-child" for the border-runners was found guilty of breaking section 94.1(f) of the Immigration Act, sections 11, 31, and 153(c) of the Customs Act, and section 145.3 of the Criminal Code all arising out of smuggling grain into the U.S. from Canada. (R. v. McMechan, March 16, 1998)

In Lethbridge a dozen people were also convicted of violating several sections of the Customs Act for refusing to do what every other exporter of products from Canada does: present an export licence to Canada Customs. These convictions included: failure to report exporting goods, evading the payment of duties, and illegally removing lawfully seized property. (R. v. Duffy, May 17, 2001 AB Court of Appeal 124)

Rather than pay small fines many of them chose to spend a few hours in jail while loudly proclaiming the Wheat Board had put them there. In fact they had put themselves there by willfully and deliberately violating many Canadian laws, then being convicted in a court of law and being sentenced by a judge. Since the Canadian judicial system is independent, the Wheat Board had no control over the process.
From another case cited:
To quote Madam Justice C.L. Kenny’s judgement: “the Appellants were properly charged for violating section 114 of the Customs Act. The trial judge found that customs officers, acting in the scope of their duties, did seize the vehicles, and that the Appellants did willfully evade the customs officers attempts to place those vehicles into custody.” (Harrison v. Canada, Feb. 1998 ABQB 138)
How many people were pardoned by the Harper government this week? What were the details of their offences? The above post suggests, if you read on, that customs officials were intimidated by some of these farmers.

And why did the government seek out the farmers for pardoning? Was it appropriate for the government to do so given the conduct at issue?

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Putin calls on the courts

Putin urges court to go easy on Pussy Riot:
Asked about the case, Putin said the stunt "was no good" and would have entailed a much tougher punishment for its participants if they had performed it at a holy site in Israel or even death if they had done it at some Muslim site in Russia's North Caucasus region.
"If they went to desecrate some Islamic holy site, we wouldn't even have had time to take them into custody," he said before suggesting they had already learned their lessons and mustn't face an especially tough punishment.
"I don't think that a verdict should be very severe," he said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies. "I hope that the court will make a fair, well-founded ruling."
Courts in Russia closely heed signals from the government, and Putin's statement sounded like a clear sign that the verdict for the rockers might be milder than anticipated.
Thankfully, Canadian political leaders steer clear of advising the courts in Canada.

Oh wait...

Lawyer on the Kenney letter

Lawyer Lorne Waldman speaks to CBC about the open letter that he and 80 plus lawyers wrote to Jason Kenney that was published in the Globe today. It's a very good interview and a key part is Waldman's response on the documentary evidence that Kenney's office has produced in order to prove that there was no political involvement with the Conrad Black visa application. Waldman repeats his view that it is not credible that Kenney wouldn't have had any input on the decision, despite this documentary offering that Kenney's office would have been expecting would be reviewed under ATI or at such political hot potato moments.

As for Harper's remarks today, on a rare occasion where he comments on a contemporaneous controversy:
"Minister Kenney took every step to ensure that this matter was handled independently by public servants," Harper said during a news conference in Gimli, Man. "It is not in the government's interest to intervene in this matter in any way, shape or form."
This is not exactly a hands-off government when it comes to major decisions that affect its public perception. Not at all. It's why, irrespective of what may be true here, it is entirely understandable that there is doubt about the notion that they left Conrad Black's visa request to the lone hands of officials in Jason Kenney's department.

Kenney gets a letter

Update (8:40 p.m.) below.

In the Globe today: "An open letter to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney."
Dear Mr. Kenney
We, the undersigned, all members of the Ontario Bar, agree with the statement of Guidy Mamann when he asserted that it was not credible that the decision taken in relation to the Conrad Black Temporary Resident Permit was made without any input from yourself. Given the high degree of control which you exercise over your department, we do not believe that you did not give your consent, either express or tacit, in relation to the request.
The use by an official of your office, of the Law Society of Upper Canada complaint process, in order to try to silence a critic for his opinion was rightly rejected by the Law Society. However, if you believe that our statement violates the Law Society of Upper Canada Rules please feel free to report us to the Law Society.
We find the attempt by you and your officials to muzzle freedom of expression to be reprehensible. We will not succumb.
Yours truly,
Signed by 80 plus immigration lawyers who have some experience working in the Kenney immigration era and who are showing solidarity with their colleague.

When 80 plus immigration lawyers are publishing a letter in the Globe and Mail stating that they don't believe the Immigration Minister, that really should be a problem for the Immigration Minister.

The accompanying Globe report has comments by Kenney's spokesperson which come off like a parody of a reaction. They really are sensitive about this Black matter, aren't they?

Update (8:40 p.m.): Pogge adds more context to Kenney's, ahem, interactions of late with the legal community. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

The pardoner in chief

You may have heard that Harper was doling out pardons today:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today announced that, as a result of the coming into force of Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act, Western farmers now have the freedom to sell their wheat and barley on the open market. He was accompanied by Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board. The Prime Minister also announced pardons for a group of farmers convicted under the old, unjust Canada Wheat Board monopoly. (emphasis added)
More from el Presidente:
To the authority of the Crown falls an ancient power; the Royal Prerogative of Mercy,” Harper said.
“It is a rare and significant thing for this power to be exercised. But ladies and gentlemen, today I am pleased to announce it will be exercised. The group of farmers convicted under the old unjust legislation of the Wheat Board monopoly will be pardoned by the government.
Headlines fit for a king: "Harper pardons farmers convicted years ago of selling grain in the U.S."

A rare and significant thing for the power to be exercised, he says. Well, it's rare and significant for a Prime Minister to make political hay out of it and act as if he is a President of the United States. In Canada, we have a Parole Board that exercises pardon powers and it's why we rarely hear elected politicians making such announcements. Makes it veer into the political and all and send a message that the political causes that a partisan government supports will elicit such results if laws are broken. Wonder if environmental protesters would warrant such mercy from Mr. Harper?

Were these farmers "very exceptional and truly deserving cases," as the Parole Board standard requires? Wonder how the whole process worked here.