Sunday, September 30, 2007

On election timing

It's a toughie, all right. But I'm not yet decided on what's the best course of action. I just wrote a post on the Ontario election and how the Liberals are running a good, solid campaign here that suggests some merit in coat tailing on its success. Harper and the federal Conservatives though are completely different animals, so it's not exactly an entirely persuasive argument.

The idea of front benchers voting against the throne speech is not without its merits. I recognize many have said that this plays into the "not a leader" meme we'd hear from Conservatives. But, you know, we're going to hear that anyway. And I'm not big on acknowledging that the "not a leader" hooey is something that ought to be driving Dion's electoral timing considerations.

The problem is that the Outremont loss was timed as it was. With other by-elections that could also have been held, Harper instead held back on their dates. He's manufactured this focus on Dion, in that respect. And so, should he be rewarded for it by being permitted to capitalize on any possible momentum that might be there in Quebec, for Conservatives and the NDP? No, ideally, he should not. Should Dion give in to his being "cornered" by Harper in this way when the party has questionable financial resources versus the Conservatives? No, ideally he should not.

So what's going to change between now and the spring? Well, I would suggest that a federal Liberal ad campaign should occur, not heavily so, but enough to give voters more of a sense of who Dion is. Biography ads that draw a clear contrast with Harper. Show how he's fought for his country while Harper was calling Kyoto a socialist scheme and appealing for Alberta to build firewalls around it. Could be done on the radio, as well, if costs are an issue. But that could be a step, in conjunction with solidifying a policy platform, that would boost Liberal chances. And go on a major fundraising push.

I don't buy that Harper will be stronger in the spring. He has not gotten more popular in over a year and a half in office. What's going to change? Is he going to sign on to Kyoto? No. Is he going to fix the income trust or Atlantic Accord issues? No. Is he going to change who he is? I'd like to see him try! Is he going to change his controlling and inaccessible media strategy? No. Are they going to be less partisan in the House of Commons? No. Is the Conservative adscam issue going to be perhaps more "fulsome" by the spring after a Parliamentary committee has had a chance to look into it? Oh yes it might. Will Parliament back in session be a boost or a hindrance to Harper? Very likely a hindrance. He's in a minority situation right now and it's been very painful for him. Why give him the chance for a majority now?

I recognize the opposing arguments as well. On the environmental front, for example, it's hurtful to wait on an election as long as Harper's in power. But the Clean Air Act was achieved until the proroguation showing the power of the opposition...is it possible Harper might amend it slightly in the throne speech? I think it's slim, but not impossible. He might not want an election.

Deep down, he's a shrewd guy. He knows his majority is a difficult shot right now given the polls that have kept him in a low 30's position. He knows he's not resonating. So he may craft a throne speech that doesn't cause an election. I've said it before, in my view, it's not Dion's call to make on whether we have an election, no matter how much the spotlight is on him. He's not the one writing the throne speech. If Harper wants an election, we're having an election.

So, there you go, a few more off the cuff thoughts on the ongoing election drama extravaganza to throw into the mix...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Just how important is the environment to the ADQ?

The ADQ, the Conservatives' supposed natural provincial ally, is choosing environmental policy that affirms how out of step the Harper government's environmental plans are. The ADQ is choosing Kyoto 1990 benchmark levels as policy this weekend, in complete contrast to the 2006 levels Harper and Baird have irresponsibly deemed appropriate. It seems awfully inconsistent then, for the ADQ to be helping to get Harper's party elected in Quebec if they truly support such environmental efforts:
On Saturday, conference delegates adopted a resolution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by six per cent from 1990 levels before 2012.

Party members voted in favour of strict vehicle emission standards similar to those in California, an inspection program for used vehicles, private participation in public transport and a high-speed train for the Quebec City-Windsor, Ont. corridor.
The ADQ's following Kyoto targets for Canada and wants to look greener. They can't do so by helping to elect Harper.

Very smart politics from McGuinty and crew

A timely step up from McGuinty on the heels of Harper's showy billion dollar surplus junket to Toronto the other day:
Premier Dalton McGuinty has sent a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding that one percentage point of the GST be given to Toronto and other Ontario cities faced with massive budget problems, the Star has learned.

In the wake of Harper's Thursday announcement of a $13.8 billion federal budget surplus, McGuinty wrote a three-page letter to the Prime Minister urging Ottawa to help Ontario's cash-strapped municipalities with new funding for infrastructure and public transit.

"By providing the equivalent of one cent of the Goods and Services Tax, the federal government would add more than $1.9 billion per year to the financial foundations of municipalities large and small across Ontario," the premier wrote.

"The City of Toronto would receive an additional $400 million a year from this initiative, helping them address major transit funding pressures that the Toronto Transit Commission is currently facing," McGuinty continued.

Toronto Mayor David Miller has been pushing for a one cent share of the GST ever since he was re-elected last November.
Timely and on the pulse of what people are thinking. Toronto's in the red and Harpie rides in and out to announce his billions? Wtf?

This would be a huge issue for the Toronto area in a federal election, if one's coming. Dion should pick up this mantle and correct his earlier stance. It's a great issue to draw a clear contrast between the Liberals and Conservatives in the GTA. Dion needs more issues like this.

Harpie can't possibly say yes right now since he'd be ditching his boy John. And it makes Dalton look good in standing up to a Conservative PM who's not that popular in Ontario.

Geez, this Ontario election might be turning into something Harpie did not anticipate at all. After all, they allegedly took the fall off from Parliament to help their boy John.

Very smart indeed...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Wha?



Newt Gingrich saying something I actually agree with...:)

Speaking of implosion

There's a humdinger of a quote from John Tory in the Globe today. Read the surrounding context too, but still, it's bad:
Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory says he blames strong resistance to his religious-schools policy on his own failure to explain it better and on anxiety about change among many Ontarians.

Several Conservatives campaigning for Mr. Tory say they have heard repeated concerns that publicly funding faith-based schools would direct tax dollars to Islamic schools that foment terrorism. Mr. Tory acknowledged that there is lingering uneasiness about religious schools, and not just those of the Muslim faith.

"People are generally ill informed and they speculate a lot about what they think goes on in these schools," Mr. Tory told The Globe and Mail's editorial board yesterday.

He said he has not done a good enough job convincing Ontarians that it is better to have all schools part of the public system rather than operate without scrutiny. He also said his message that it is unfair to fund Catholic schools without extending the same privileges to Jewish, Muslim and other religious institutions is not resonating with Ontarians.
I'm sure Kinsella will be moonwalking around his office today.

And by the way, is there any chance that Stephane Dion could please call Warren Kinsella?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

How will you spend your $35?

That's the amount Canadians will likely be able to put in their pockets as a result of today's announcement on debt reduction. Wow. $35 whole dollars. The possibilities are endless. Hmmmm...maybe I'll pay the phone bill and thank Steve for this blessing. Oops. It won't cover the phone bill. Or maybe dinner for 2 at the favourite Indian restarurant? Yeah, that would be nice. It's usually about that amount. But somehow, the fruits of the "Tax Back Guarantee" seem to cry out for something more meaningful.

Hmmmm...there's got to be something better to do with it...maybe I'll give my "refund" to the National Association of Women and the Law that Harper has decided should die rather than challenge the status quo and stand up for women. Yeah, funding a group that should not be on the chopping block as this obscene surplus gets socked away entirely on the debt. I think that's just what is needed until a government is elected who will restore such cuts.

Give here.

Ungracious Steve showed up today

He can't help himself, his inner mean streak just oozes up to the surface repeatedly when making off the cuff remarks:
Mr. Harper, who travelled to Toronto to make the announcement while Parliament Hill readies for a possible election, extolled the virtues of debt repayment while taking a swipe at the Liberals.

“We're not going to use this extra savings the way the previous government did to . . . well, we can talk about how they spent money and who got it,” said Mr. Harper, a reference to the federal Liberal sponsorship scandal.

“Obviously, we're using it to reduce taxes.”

Mr. Harper answered a few questions from the media before abruptly leaving the news conference, leaving his financial deputy to field the rest of the queries.
Yes, let's talk about the billions shaved off the federal debt by the Liberals, shall we? A graphic for clarity's sake covering the last ten years:



Yes, those terrible awful Liberals. Doing all the heavy lifting for Steve. See how that debt to GDP ratio just dwindles and dwindles over these years? Yet he mocks them so callously. Canadians know the deal.

And another nice touch...coming to Toronto to make the announcement. Toronto that is struggling with its finances mightily. Look at me over here, Steve says, I'm flush with cash. But you're not getting any help, Toronto.

Is that why Steve cut off the media? Or is that just his typical, inaccessible self who demonstrates such disdain for the Canadian media...

Surplus yes, compassion no

So the word on the street is that Harpie and Finance Jim are about to announce a surplus in the neighbourhood of $10 billion today in Toronto. No sh*% sherlock. The finely oiled machine they inherited continues to hum.

But as they preen and politic over the booty today and try to use it for every electoral advantage possible, let's keep in mind everything they are not doing or say they cannot do, despite such bounty before them.

Witness the news of Monte Solberg's concession that the Conservatives are MIA on child care:
A much-touted promise by the federal Conservatives to create 125,000 new child-care spaces may not be doable, suggests Social Development Minister Monte Solberg.

The Conservatives have been slammed by critics who say the government's approach won't create nearly that many spaces over five years.

"We have to be realistic," Solberg said Wednesday when asked if an election vow made 18 months ago can be kept.
Yes, parents out there, please be realistic. $10 billion surplus but bupkus from the Conservatives. The pittance in allowance - $1200 per year before taxes for children under 6 - that the Conservatives are doling out is nowhere near the amounts needed to pay for child care in Canada. Where do they live? The spaces aren't there and their symbolic payoff of $600/year is misguided at best.

The environment? The Conservatives preach about devastation to the Canadian economy should tough measures be taken. Isn't that what a nation is supposed to do at a time when it is reaping such surpluses?

We've also witnessed unnecessary cuts in advocacy programs for the disadvantaged and those in need of legal representation: the Court Challenges Program, gone - amount saved, just over $2 million (see report below); the National Association for Women and the Law, closed - amount saved, annual budget of $300,000; the Childcare Resource and Research Unit, budget gone - amount saved, annual budget of $250,000; Status of Women Canada, $5 million cut. Think we can afford these things with a $10 billion surplus? Yeah, I think we can.

Danny Williams is talking up a storm on the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program this week, by the way. Attaboy, Danny:
Premier Danny Williams vowed Monday to pressure Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reinstate the court challenges program, saying last year's cancellation went against the fundamental principles of justice.

Williams, who is in the midst of a provincial election campaign, called on other premiers to join him in demanding that Harper reverse his decision.

"That's something that, whether he likes or dislikes Danny Williams, he should be doing," Williams said after a campaign stop at the headquarters of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

"Just because people don't have the cash to challenge something that's wrong in a court, Stephen Harper is going to say, 'Well, we're not going to give you the money to find out whether the government is right or wrong.' ... Of all the things that he's done, I think that's one of the most significant things."

The federal legal-aid program, which allowed minority groups to mount constitutional challenges, was axed last year. (emphasis added)
If you're poor, and the government takes action that breaches your Charter rights in this country right now, you've got little to no recourse on that front. Unless you can find a lawyer who will act pro bono or a privately funded legal association who will take the case, and they're declining under Harper, it's open season. This is a major issue that has not received the attention it deserves and that has the potential to diminish the jurisprudence coming out of the appellate courts in Canada. Good for Danny Williams for again shining the light on this travesty.

So while Harper and Finance Jim prattle on about surpluses, and possibly tax cuts today, let's not forget their excuse making on child care, the environment and their petty ideological cuts to the programs set out above.

Steve goes golfing, kind of

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

Pick your own caption, I'll start: "Good Mini Bush, good Mini Bush."

And note to psychic dresser, you don't wear this on a golf course...:)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Harper's coming out moment

He's completely out of the closet now. It started with APEC and now he's leading the anti-Kyoto, anti-hard target forces, just as he likely always dreamed he would. Fortunately, it seems that most world leaders blew him off:
Canada is vigorously campaigning for an international deal that rejects the central foundation of the Kyoto Protocol, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday.

He said that instead of capping greenhouse-gas emissions at specific levels as called for under Kyoto, he wants the world to adopt a completely different system of measuring success for reducing emissions.

That view is in stark contrast to European countries and is more in line with the preferred approach of the United States.

Mr. Harper said measuring results with "intensity targets" is the best way to engage major polluters such as the U.S. and China.

He said he made this pitch Monday during a private dinner with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. President George W. Bush and other world leaders.

The dinner took place at the end of a special one-day meeting of the United Nations on climate change called by Mr. Ban, who in his closing remarks declared an international "breakthrough" in global talks toward extending Kyoto.
Harper's way of saying no one listened to him:
"If you go for hard caps [on emissions] as the only kind of target, by definition, the only kinds of countries that will sign on are countries that have no population growth and fairly limited economic growth."

"I happen to believe strongly that if one takes this seriously, you'll conclude that you need targets based on intensity of emission per unit of economic output," Mr. Harper said. "That's the only kind of target I think that will work globally, but certainly not all other countries share that view.

"And from the dinner last night, I would still say there is still a wide range of disagreement on where we need to go." (emphasis added)
Oh to have been a fly on the wall in that room. To see Harper lay it all out and see just who else was agreeing in tandem with him. And I take it Harper puts Britain and Germany in his category of no population growth and fairly limited economic growth? This subtle elitist knocking of other countries who are in favour of hard caps as being weak and therefore less credible in taking the positions they have does not strike me as the way to go about making friends and advancing one's position. And doing this in our name as well.

A shout out to my new blog roll members

I thought I'd follow the Wingnuterer's lead and give a shout out to my new blog roll peeps, added over the weekend. Blogger's made it a lightning quick thing to do now, so I've been a little remiss in not adding some of these folks sooner. So please welcome the following varied crew of bloggers, for varied reasons, to my humble little blog:

the unrepentant old hippie (one of the best blog names going), Creekside, Dawg's Blawg, the Canadian Cynic (like the Cynic needs help from me...:)), Hope & Onions, bastard logic, DeSmog Blog, In the House and Senate and last but not least, Red Tory.

Harper on tour, in the place he loves best

So it looks like Mini Bush was right at home today, havin' a fireside chat with the Council on Foreign Relations. This wonky academic and past president of an interest group fit right in with the stodgy but influential American foreign policy types. Described in this report as "relaxed and frank" during a lengthy question and answer session, Canadians might ask themselves, why doesn't this happen on Canadian soil? Why is Steve so afraid to open up at home? Is it because he distrusts the media so? Or is it that he just isn't comfortable with Canadians? All we get are sound bites from Harper in the House of Commons that are typically vitriolic and uber partisan or controlled speeches with limited access by the media. That's observation number one about today's Harper event.

Observation number two...the more you see of Harper abroad, the more the perception is that he's most at home when playing right wing to George W. Bush (to use a hockey analogy, one of Steve's favourite tricks). Giving a big assist to W today by advocating for the free trade deal with Colombia. Taking a swing at the U.S. in doing so? Hardly. He's taking a swing at the Democratic congress who are thinking twice about free trade, rightfully, given human rights abuses in Colombia. Steve and Bush say plow right on, never mind the inconvenient facts. How would we like it if Bush came here and told us we should pass a free trade deal we had concerns about? Wouldn't like it one bit. But whatever he can do to help George, by all means. If that includes inserting himself into U.S. domestic politics by attacking Democrats, he's W's man.

And observation three (I'll keep it neat with three), he just can't help himself in slagging our country abroad. The theme today, "Canada is back as a middle power." Middle? That's kind of insulting. I think a lot of Canadians like to think of our nation as leaders in many respects. And always implicit in such framings is the notion that Canada has been f*%#ing the dog until he came into power. I've harped on this before, but it's always irritating to hear his put down of the country in this way, especially when he does it on foreign soil. Canada's reputation world-wide and in particular as a peace-loving, decent, honest country needed no rescue from this guy. What's his evidence that Canada wasn't respected? I think we earned bloody bucketloads of respect around the world from our decision not to go to war in Iraq with the U.S. Had Harper been PM at the time, I think we all know where our troops would be right now. Let's not kid ourselves.

Yep, I think he's got something there with his minority government pick...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Quebec separatist leader trounces the ADQ candidate

While provincial politics is certainly not federal, it's worthwhile to consider a result like this one tonight. Pauline Marois trounced her ADQ opponent. Or, another way of looking at it, the separatist party handily beat the small"c" conservative opponent in a Quebec election. What might this say to Gilles Duceppe and Stephen Harper tonight? It could be minimized as just a reflection of a popular leader winning handily, as expected. But it could also underline continued support for nationalist representation. It's a show of strength for Marois that might give a certain federal leader something to think about.

Odd strategery

You know, I just can't see what Mini Bush is thinking with his go-slow approach on climate change. He continues to get out there on his limb with Bush et al. today. He's being widely criticized in the Canadian reaction to his speech today and positioning in the world community on this issue. He's out of step on Kyoto, with the European Union who appear to be leading the world. Canadians are going to have to decide whether Harper's "can't do" approach that synchronizes us with the Bush administration is what we want going forward. Most of us are likely with these young Canadians who sent a much better message today, to the U.N. body:
Harper drew sharp criticism from two Canadian youths participating in the one-day event. They said the Conservative government's emission targets are way too low.

"I, for one, am sick of being ashamed of my country and its poor behaviour on the world stage," P.J. Partington of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition told a news conference.

"The government keeps saying Canada's playing a bridging role in the negotiations, but with our current plan we're on the road to nowhere."

Catherine Gauthier, who told leaders the future is in their hands and that too many world capitals are "spinning" their positions, was equally scathing.

"Canada needs to step up our action on climate change or get out of the way of progress," said Gauthier, a member of the Quebec-based Environnement Jeunesse.

"Our current targets won't yield real action until I am about to retire, which is completely out of line with the urgency of the science. We cannot play a constructive role in the international negotiations with our current plan."
Get out of the way say the youth of today...:) Now if we can only get them to vote in droves to give the out of step Harper and his crew the boot.

Sleeper issue in the next federal election

The federal spending power. Ah, yes, that arcane constitutional concept that has been a longstanding source of tension between the federal government and Quebec in particular. And the cause of eyes across the country glazing over at its very mention. But get ready. Gilles Duceppe's demand on the weekend that the federal government eliminate its spending powers in provincial jurisdictions has put it front and center as a possible issue in a coming federal election. While it will no doubt be overshadowed by other high profile issues such as Afghanistan and the environment, this one's a sleeper due to its potential impact on our federation and for its potential to galvanize latent support for the Liberals. This Canadian Press article, which is actually quite a good summary of the issue and its implications if raised during an election, canvasses the difficulties the issue poses for Harper:
He could easily find himself at odds again with the small, poorer provinces which have traditionally welcomed a strong central government using its spending power to invest in social programs they can't afford to fund on their own even though they are technically within sole provincial jurisdiction.

So far Harper has appeared to conclude that electoral gains in Quebec outweigh the potential losses elsewhere. But this time the stakes are higher; he could well find himself offside with the country's largest province, courting a much more devastating electoral impact.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has signalled his wariness of anything that would weaken the federal government's ability to create new national social programs.

"Are we talking about preventing the federal government from, at some point in the future, setting up social programs like day care or pharmacare? Because I don't support that," McGuinty warned in August.

"I"m a proud Ontarian, proud to lead this province. But I'm a proud Canadian first."
The traditional split between those who favour a strong federal government retaining its powers in full and not conceding power to the provinces, primarily Quebec, and those who favour such decentralizing moves would pretty quickly fall into place. We would likely see the Dion Liberals asserting the strong national government side with the Harper Conservatives on the other. The Liberals might lose seats in Quebec but would be buffered elsewhere. Harper might pick up seats in Quebec, but would lose elsewhere, notably in Ontario and possibly in the West. That's the conventional wisdom, if it's still operative in this day and age.

What Harper might yet do in a throne speech on this point is set out in the CP article:
But there are other options, including introducing a federal law to constrain the spending power, an administrative agreement with Quebec alone or with some or all provinces, or calling a first ministers' meeting to try to find some consensus on the issue. For that matter, Harper could simply issue a policy statement specifying the rules by which he intends to use - or not use - the spending power in future.
...
If Harper now hopes to satisfy Quebec, provincial officials suggest he might agree to the province's long-standing contention that it should be able to opt out of national cost-shared programs and still get its share of federal booty with no strings attached. He might also agree to extend any limitations to federal-only programs. (emphasis added)
The latter "no strings attached" scenarios would really be controversial. It would take him much further from his election platform in 2006. Harper generally reiterated his willingness to constrain the federal government's spending power over provincial jurisdictions in the run up to the Quebec provincial election to curry favour for Charest's government. But he's yet to commit as to how far he's willing to go. The suggestion in this article, in the excerpt just above, suggests that provincial officials in Quebec have an inkling that it's pretty far.

This is likely to be controversial nation-wide, as the article suggests, as there would be room to criticize Harper for giving up the federal government's power to create social programs that function from coast to coast with national standards. That may be OK with Stephen Harper. It's not going to be OK with a lot of voters who think it's not necessary to concede anything away to a separatist movement on the decline.

And it won't likely be easily explained away as a symbolic, "don't worry about it" kind of gesture. Once a federal government starts down this road with Quebec, it'll be very difficult for any future federal government to take back any concessions made.

If Harper goes in the direction of diluting the federal spending power, it won't be out of necessity. This is not a time of crisis which would push the federal government to consider such a major adjustment in the federation. Instead, it'll be borne out of sheer political opportunism.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

About those throne speech shopping lists...

There is only one party writing a throne speech for October 16th. And that's the Harpie party. If he wants an election, he'll write a throne speech that gives him an election. The opposition parties can prance around and set out all the conditions they want, but they're not setting the agenda.

"In politics you take risks," said Mini Bush, doing his best Brian Mulroney imitation. We'll see just how much of a risk-taker he is this fall...

"The political dynasty the Prime Minister has in mind"

This is quite the Saturday morning read. Tom Flanagan in the Globe today:
...Stephen Harper is trying to do what no Conservative leader since Sir John A. Macdonald has been able to do – build a viable, long-term political coalition with a broad enough appeal to win elections and, if it falls short, enough strength of character and self-discipline to avoid immolating itself on a bonfire of recrimination. In other words, he wants the Conservatives to replace the Liberals as the natural governing party of Canada.
Recall Karl Rove's dreams of a "permanent Republican majority." That's turning out real well at this point, isn't it? The problem with such goals? They're inherently anti-democratic. Unless you live in Alberta, of course. These conservative pols seem to get inflamed by power when they're given a turn at the wheel. Being entrusted with the levers of government for a mandate isn't enough for these guys. It has to be permanent.

This is quite the insight into the Harper agenda. Canada is not "yet" a Conservative country, "conservatism is not yet dominant,""people...vote for potential rulers" this leading Conservative and long time Harper campaign manager writes...

I suppose we should thank Tom Flanagan for laying it all out. Most of the Conservative game plan has been readily apparent but this is a useful, synthesized reminder of how aggressively and desperately the Conservatives are pursuing their "political dynasty."

Friday, September 21, 2007

Steve's environmental plans get a big thumbs down

The Conservatives are spinning this bit of bad news on their environmental plans but an independent Environment Canada report damning the Harper plans tells us the opposite. Who are you going to believe? The scientists or Harper and John Baird?
Stephen Harper's climate-change plan was shredded by his own government's environment watchdog just as the prime minister prepared to trumpet it at a United Nations conference next week.

An Environment Canada body gave a passing grade to zero of nine programs in the Conservative climate-change plan and accused the government of exaggerating its potential impact.

The National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy also accused the government of using misleading methods to arrive at false conclusions, such as double-accounting.

The report comes at a less-than-ideal moment for the prime minister, who heads to New York on Monday to deliver a speech before 80 world leaders about his approach to climate change.

The report accuses his government of "systematic" exaggeration, "double-accounting," "not accurately reflecting" emissions reductions, "important inconsistency," and "overestimated" reductions.

It concluded that of nine federal climate-change programs, the government had exaggerated the benefits of three and failed to produce sufficient information to support the other six.
Released on a Friday, with high hopes from the Conservatives that it'll be buried and no one will notice. And no Parliament sitting to deal with the substance of it. It's quite the democracy that these fellas are running up there.

So Harper's heading to New York this week to speak to world leaders, hey? We'll be watching for his trashing of Canada's reputation in front of the world and his disappointing enabling of "aspirational" emission standards...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Karl, hang up my jacket"

Sidney Blumenthal writes today that Bush has entered a new phase of "decadent perversity"...:) And he provides some comic episodes from one of the new books on Bush, "Dead Certain" by Robert Draper. They're laugh-out-loud killer:
In his interviews with Draper, he is constantly worried about weakness and passivity. "If you're weak internally? This job will run you all over town." He fears being controlled and talks about it relentlessly, feeling he's being watched. "And part of being a leader is: people watch you." He casts his anxiety as a matter of self-discipline. "I don't think I'd be sitting here if not for the discipline ... And they look at me -- they want to know whether I've got the resolution necessary to see this through. And I do. I believe -- I know we'll succeed." He is sensitive about asserting his supremacy over others, but especially his father. "He knows as an ex-president, he doesn't have nearly the amount of knowledge I've got on current things," he told Draper.

Bush is a classic insecure authoritarian who imposes humiliating tests of obedience on others in order to prove his superiority and their inferiority. In 1999, according to Draper, at a meeting of economic experts at the Texas governor's mansion, Bush interrupted Rove when he joined in the discussion, saying, "Karl, hang up my jacket." In front of other aides, Bush joked repeatedly that he would fire Rove. (Laura Bush's attitude toward Rove was pointedly disdainful. She nicknamed him "Pigpen," for wallowing in dirty politics. He was staff, not family -- certainly not people like them.)

Bush's deployed his fetish for punctuality as a punitive weapon. When Colin Powell was several minutes late to a Cabinet meeting, Bush ordered that the door to the Cabinet Room be locked. Aides have been fearful of raising problems with him. In his 2004 debates with Sen. John Kerry, no one felt comfortable or confident enough to discuss with Bush the importance of his personal demeanor. Doing poorly in his first debate, he turned his anger on his communications director, Dan Bartlett, for showing him a tape afterward. When his trusted old public relations handler, Karen Hughes, tried gently to tell him, "You looked mad," he shot back, "I wasn't mad! Tell them that!"

At a political strategy meeting in May 2004, when Matthew Dowd and Rove explained to him that he was not likely to win in a Reagan-like landslide, as Bush had imagined, he lashed out at Rove: "KARL!" Rove, according to Draper, was Bush's "favorite punching bag," and the president often threw futile and meaningless questions at him, and shouted, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."

Those around him have learned how to manipulate him through the art of flattery. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld played Bush like a Stradivarius, exploiting his grandiosity. "Rumsfeld would later tell his lieutenants that if you wanted the president's support for an initiative, it was always best to frame it as a 'Big New Thing.'" Other aides played on Bush's self-conception as "the Decider." "To sell him on an idea," writes Draper, "aides were now learning, the best approach was to tell the president, This is going to be a really tough decision." But flattery always requires deference. Every morning, Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, greets Bush with the same words: "Thank you for the privilege of serving today."
"Karl, hang up my jacket..." Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States...:)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is Harper pro-Gitmo or against it?

It doesn't matter how odious Omar Khadr's activities were, or who his family was. He's being held in a modern day gulag, Guantanamo Bay, and all rights respecting western nations have stood up to the Americans and insisted on getting their citizens out. We haven't. So the question is, are the Conservatives going to let a Canadian be subjected to the sham military commission process of Gitmo, a process where Khadr's "trial" has already been thrown out by a military judge? Or are they going to stand up to the Americans and insist that Canadian citizens be subject to a fair process governed by the rule of law? Ball's in Harper's court and thus far, he and Maxime Bernier are failing.

Another kick in the pants for Conservatives

Hey, I don't do the polls, I just gleefully report them: "Poll shows Tory support waning in 905." This poll is principally to do with the Ontario election but surely these findings are not good for their federal counterparts either:
The 905 is the fastest-growing region in Ontario and is making the transition from a suburban to a urban area. The survey suggests that the Conservative Party has not kept up with this change and has not been able to broaden its base of support under leader John Tory. It remains the party of choice for older, wealthier, less-educated men who predominantly live in rural and small-town Ontario, the survey says.

"The problems of the inner city are becoming more prevalent there," the Strategic Counsel's Tim Woolstencroft said. "It's becoming less suburban, so it's much more receptive to Liberal messaging."
Yes, that's all very informative. I wonder also about the impact of John Tory's promise to fund religious schools on the federal Conservatives down the road:
Mr. Woolstencroft said support for the Conservatives could slip across the province because Mr. Tory's unpopular proposal to bring faith-based schools into the public system is "dead on arrival" for a large majority of Ontarians. The survey shows that 71 per cent of voters oppose it, including a majority of Conservatives.
There has been such a visceral reaction to this proposal that methinks it just can't help but taint the Conservative brand in Ontario. And if this boneheaded false step costs Tory the election, the hoped for Conservative victory in Ontario will not be making Harper's fall highlight list, as he had planned.

And to think he kept Parliament away so we could all focus on his boy imploding...:)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Well ain't that a kick in the pants

"Liberals, Tories tied in popular support, new poll suggests."

Mini Bush, you might have won Roberval, but you haven't won our hearts. In over a year and a half. Very telling. Some grist for the Conservatives to mull over as they eye their magical majority...national numbers remain in minority government territory.

Can't wait for the Conservatives to get back to Parliament. The more we see of them, the more their numbers tank.

Royal still not careful enough on the "nation" issue

The "nation" motion instigated by Harper again is mischaracterized, this time by a visiting foreign politician. And the Globe goes right along, compounding the mistake in its report. Going to show the confusion that this thing has sown. But hey, as we witnessed last night, it's getting Stephen Harper support in Quebec, right? And surely that's all that matters:
Defeated French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal carefully manoeuvred around the sensitive issue of Quebec sovereignty yesterday, distancing herself from controversial earlier comments that appeared to sympathize with the province's quest for independence.

During her first visit to Quebec, Ms. Royal said yesterday that the situation in the province had changed and that sovereignty is an issue she no longer wants to discuss publicly.

"Things have evolved. A motion was voted recognizing Quebec as a nation. So I believe that with respect to the differences of opinion, there is an established fact on which I have nothing more to add," Ms. Royal said after a private meeting with Premier Jean Charest.

Last January in Paris, after a meeting with former Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair, Ms. Royal created an uproar in Canada after stating that France shared common values with the province, "namely the freedom and sovereignty of Quebec."

Two months earlier, Parliament had adopted a motion recognizing Quebec as a nation within Canada. (emphasis added)
Can you spot the mistakes? Hint, they're italicized. Here is the motion that Parliament passed:
The motion states: "That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada."
The use of the word "Quebecois" is supposed to signify a sociological recognition, not a territorial one. The word "Quebec" was purposely not used. But when people speak, conventionally, about the motion, they say "Quebec," like Ms. Royal.

So we see reports like this, where Ms. Royal and the Globe essentially pronounced Quebec, the territorial province, a nation. And it's done in passing and no one notices. And it's wrong.

Confusing, yes. And that's why it shouldn't have been done in the first place.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Just for fun...

Have you ever been to this disclosure page of the federal government? Find out where all your faves love to eat. And learn interesting facts, like Sandra Buckler's got no travel expenses listed for 2007. Just sayin...:)

Dimwits

In an article published today, election day, touting Thomas Mulcair's high name recognition in Quebec, the CanWest people repeatedly spell Jocelyn Coulon's name wrong. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Or is it something more?

The partisan and controlling PCO

The Globe has reviewed documents and correspondence flowing from the government's handling of the arrests of the terror suspects in Toronto last summer. The PM's public service staffers, the Privy Council Office, were heavily involved in crafting and vetting the media message for all responding to the media. The picture presented is a window into a government with a fierce focus on communications and media strategy. They have learned well from their Republican brethren to the south. Also notable is the role that the PCO office is playing here, arguably a partisan one, and a deviation from its traditional role as a non-partisan, policy oriented bureaucracy for the PM and Cabinet. Whether the PMO is fusing with the PCO is an issue to watch going forward.
This detailed picture of the government's reaction to the arrests is contained in more than 1,700 pages of correspondence and other documents obtained by The Globe and Mail. The records, obtained through an access to information request to Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, reveal scenes of controlled chaos - a small army of communications officers crafting talking points, hurriedly updating speeches and correcting their bosses' miscues.

They also reveal meticulous government monitoring of virtually every media account of the arrests, as well as a consistent focus on getting all key players in Ottawa to echo the same talking points about the Conservative government's dedication to fighting terror.

And approving virtually every major decision along the way was the PCO, as the Prime Minister's top bureaucrats kept a tight grip on the message being delivered.
...
And while Public Safety and the RCMP took the lead on the two priorities, final direction constantly came from higher up. Documents show that Privy Council Office staff approved or rejected, among other details, talking points for various department spokespeople about the arrests, as well as Mr. Day's interviews with international media and what U.S. Ambassador Michael Wilson told an American audience about the arrests.

The Privy Council's central role was made clear in an e-mail from Privy Council staff member Jodi Redmond, sent to officials at various government departments the day after the arrests: "Just so we're all clear...in particular on issues of this nature with many depts involved, ALL electronic media interviews must be coordinated + OK'd by pco."
I don't think people would find it so strange that the public service staffers in the PM's office would be so concerned about the government being "unified" in its external response to the circumstances. But the picture here is a bit obsessive. One might be suspicious that the efforts to control the media message by tightly scripting Ministers and tightly controlling what information was becoming public borders on excessive. The distrust of Ministers to say the right thing and the public to handle the truth is what comes through.

The effort to tack on a note about the Toronto arrests to a coincidental press release about an Al Qaeda leader's death in Iraq, that is noted in this report, is curious as well. It looks to have been an inappropriate conflation of events that were not linked in any way. We've seen such linking done by the Bush administration time and again for no purpose other than to elevate the terror threat in the public's consciousness. The inkling that it might have been done for political reasons, under the direction of the PCO, is not a welcome thought.

Interesting insight confirming the perception that the PM's office is micro-managing and stepping into the work of its Ministers. And confirming a penchant for control and secrecy. And what is new, it seems, is the more partisan direction for the PCO with its apparent emphasis on media control and messaging...all at the behest of the PM, no doubt.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Greenspan with praise for Bill Clinton

No surprise here, from Greenspan's forthcoming book:
Of the presidents he worked with, Mr. Greenspan reserves his highest praise for Bill Clinton, whom he described in his book as a sponge for economic data who maintained “a consistent, disciplined focus on long-term economic growth.”

It was a presidency marred by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he writes, but he fondly describes his alliance with two of Mr. Clinton’s Treasury secretaries, Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers, in battling financial crises in Latin America and then Asia.

By contrast, Mr. Greenspan paints a picture of Mr. Bush as a man driven more by ideology and the desire to fulfill campaign promises made in 2000, incurious about the effects of his economic policy, and an administration incapable of executing policy.
And Greenspan adds his voice to the chorus documenting the damage done by the powerful Rove in Bush's White House:
“My friend,” he writes of Mr. O’Neill, “soon found himself to be the odd man out; much to my disappointment, economic policymaking in the Bush administration remained firmly in the hands of the White House staff.”

He was clearly referring to the political team led by Karl Rove at the White House. Mr. Rove was a neighbor of Mr. Greenspan in a leafy enclave near the Potomac River, but the two men almost never had a conversation.
More unfavourable history being written of the Bush administration, that's a shame...:)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stockwell with my info? No, I don't think so

This story is getting deservedly pummelled by bloggers who are doing a fine job dismantling the government's national security guise for invading individual privacy: "Feds push for greater access to private info." See Another Point of View for example...Mentarch has been on the case for months...pressed for time at the moment, but I will say, privacy and constitutional rights should not be up for grabs during public consultations. We have constitutional protection of our rights and freedoms for a reason, notably that they're not to be mucked about with due to prevailing popular and/or political whims.

Hooray, we're not a banana republic

It was LAW 101 today in Parliament as Marc Mayrand explained to a House Committee that gee, yes, the text of the law is actually important. One of the biggest offenders who really should get a grip and think real hard about the fact that he is a "law maker" was Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski. Get a load of this stunning exchange:
In a tense hearing held in Ottawa on Thursday morning, MPs countered by saying it was the committee's will that veiled women be forced to show their faces.

By not enforcing such a rule, Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski said, Elections Canada was going against the will of Parliament.

“With all due respect,” Mr. Mayrand replied, “... we must rely on the will of Parliament as expressed by Parliament.”

So the will of this committee is not the will of Parliament?” Mr. Lukiwski asked.

With all due respect, I cannot accept the position that a committee can adapt and amend an Act of Parliament,” Mr. Mayrand answered. “That would be a request for me to amend the Act, not uphold the law.”
Um, Lukiwski, I take it you're not a lawyer? Once again, we should be thankful we have Marc Mayrand to stand up to such hooey and prevent the bozo crowd from running roughshod over the text of the laws that have been passed when the mood strikes them.

Also of interest in Mayrand's testimony:
The option to vote without showing face “is clear and unambiguous” in context of the legislative scheme, he told the committee Thursday morning.

He had raised the issue with the Prime Minister's office in August, but received no response, the committee heard.

The question was raised during debate in the Senate as well, Mr. Mayrand said, but no amendment was made. (emphasis added)
So you see, Canadians, Steve apparently picks his moments to flail against convenient targets quite carefully.

We'll see what result this comes to, if any, in the coming by-elections.

Hopefully we're next...

Bizarre APEC aftermath:

Leadership Contagion?

Prime ministerial precariousness seems to be a theme for the day. Hours after Mr. Abe's announcement, Australian Premier John Howard said he will retire before the end of his next three-year term if he wins elections this year. And then in Moscow, according to Russian news agencies, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov asked President Vladimir Putin to dissolve his government.
Might we be so lucky?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Maybe Harper should be mad at these guys instead of Elections Canada

Instead of directing his invective at Elections Canada over not only the veil issue, but also over some other "case where Elections Canada is giving the rulings on the laws they wish they had rather than the laws that actually are on the books," Harper might want to consider the Conservative officials dishing to Elections Canada about the national advertising that was diverted through their ridings. The Globe has a report today reiterating the point that it was Conservatives who provided the initial evidence of the Conservative's $1.2 million ad overspending from the last federal election. And Elections Canada has some nifty telephone logs of what these Conservatives spilled:
[]... a case in Federal Court is revealing some details, including Elections Canada logs of telephone conversations that show the agency was alerted by the protests of two Tories - one a candidate in Quebec, another the official agent for British Columbia MP Dick Harris.

When Elections Canada auditors asked Mr. Harris's official agent, Ken Brownridge, to send documents proving the local campaign spent the ad money they claimed for advertising, he complained.

"He repeated three to four times that this was purely an in-and-out, that the campaign did not pay for it as it was national advertising. He understood that all ridings were invoiced for it," a log of telephone calls kept by Elections Canada records Mr. Brownridge as saying on Jan. 16 of this year.

Mr. Brownridge, still piqued by the lengthy audit, confirmed the essence of the conversation yesterday, and said the money was transferred from the party and back to pay for the riding's share of a national campaign. "None of them were specific ads mentioning Dick, it was just Conservative advertising," he said.

Jean Landry, the 2006 Conservative candidate in the Quebec riding of Richmond-Arthabaska, had also been frustrated in December, 2006, when Elections Canada asked for the same type of proof.

"He said that this was purely an 'in-and-out' transaction (he mentioned it twice)," the call log states. "He said he has no clue about the advertising itself or how many times they appeared. He said, 'I'm 178 kilometres away from Montreal, how would I know when they took place?' "
Yes, indeed, how would he know?

Auditing of elections expenses. This seems to me to be the kind of thing that people interested in accountability, and who ran on the concept in a federal election, should be welcoming, not demonizing.

Come with me to the depths of the internets

A little birdie brought this to my attention and I think it needs to see the light of day. These comments were actually posted on the internets this week about Marc Mayrand, here:
The point is that it's not up to Mayrand to interpret the law (e.g., through analyzing the will of the legislators when they drafted the bill). When the PM says that's what Parliament wants, then Mayrand is in no position to object and must comply.
And here:
The rules of legal interpretation are quite clear. The will of legislators, i.e., what they wanted to achieve with a specific law, normally takes precedence. Once Harper had clarified what the law was to achieve (not to mention that Dion agreed with Harper!), it was Mayrand's duty to backpedal and comply.

The legislators have spoken, in other words: even if the wording wasn't perfect (at least not perfect enough for the nimrod Mayrand to make sense of it), Harper, Dion and others have sufficiently clarified their intentions, and therefore Mayrand is bound to comply with these intentions.
It's astounding that a person could write this when we've all been bludgeoned to death this week with the fact that the Canada Elections Act provides 3 ways for an elector to prove their identity.

The person who wrote the above comments seems to be of the view that if Stephen Harper says there's only 1 way, despite the LAW stating there are 3 ways, then Harper's verbal statements override the law that has been passed. I'm sure that many wish that would be so. Fortunately for the rest of us, we live under the rule of law, not men, and we can file away such musings as misguided and extremely unfortunate.

If there were to be a legal dispute over uncertain wording in a statute, it would happen in a court procedure. Or, the esteemed legislators who passed the amendments a few months ago that they now view to be defective can change them. Otherwise, we're all stuck with the law we've got and no PM or politician can change it by mouthing off for political gain.

Thankfully.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

This is exactly the guy we need running Elections Canada

Someone who can't be bullied by politicians into applying the laws in manners that they deem fit to suit the prevailing political winds. Bravo to Marc Mayrand and I hope he is summoned before a Parliamentary Committee so that he can explain the law to these bozos who passed it but apparently didn't know what it would mean. Namely, that when they amended the Canada Elections Act just this summer, they gave voters 3 ways to identify themselves, only one of which included photo ID. And that option WAS NOT MANDATORY:
Elections Canada refused Monday to bow to political pressure and force veiled women to uncover their faces before voting, putting the blame on Parliament and the Harper government for the legal confusion surrounding the issue.

But MPs from all parties continued to put the heat on the agency, calling on Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand to reverse his decision or appear before committee if he refuses.

At a news conference Monday, Mr. Mayrand said his duty is to apply the law, explaining that nothing in the Elections Act forces voters to show their faces before casting a ballot. He said the government was twice informed of this fact this year, including last May before the current act became law.
Let's not forget the other pressure that's being exerted on Mayrand, quite heavily now by the Prime Minister, simultaneous to his party suing Elections Canada in the Con Air scandal.
Mr. Mayrand is engaged in tough battles with the Conservative government. In addition to the issue of veiled voters, Elections Canada is in a legal fight with the Conservative Party over the accounting of $1.2-million in advertising spending in the last election. Mr. Mayrand refused to comment on the dispute, saying it is before the Federal Court.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Stephen Harper took hard shots at Mr. Mayrand.

“The role of Elections Canada is not to make its own laws, it's to put into place the laws that Parliament has passed. So, I hope they'll reconsider this decision,” Mr. Harper said.
And Harper took another opportunity to mislead Canadians, following Mayrand's press conference:
"Parliament's just passed a law in this regard. The intention has been very clear. The intention is to have photographic identification of voters," Harper said at a news conference in Canberra with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

"I'm disappointed with Elections Canada. I don't think it's the only case where Elections Canada is giving the rulings on the laws they wish they had rather than the laws that actually are on the books."

Harper said the government will be looking at options "very quickly."

"I anticipate that our party will be discussing those options with the other parties in Parliament."
Now that would be a very neat trick since Parliament is not in session. And how wrong can Harper get here? His intent, it appears, is to inflame this issue throughout the week, leading up to the September 17th by-elections. And did you notice the extra gratuitous shot at Elections Canada he threw in there about this not being "the only case" where he's at odds with Elections Canada. How inappropriate.

How'd you like to be Marc Mayrand right now? The weight of the federal government coming down upon him, making it appear that he's doing something wrong when he's just doing his job, applying the law that Parliament passed.

Every once in a while you get a glimpse of the fine line separating a democracy from a banana republic. We're in the midst of one of those moments. Here's hoping that Mayrand withstands the intense pressure he's under and that we don't become a banana republic where electoral officials are manipulated for political concerns by strongarming pols.

Btw, the Star gets it exactly right today. H/t to Red Tory for leading on this.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Why is the Prime Minister trashing Canadian institutions while abroad?

Still wondering why his domestic political agenda is being pettily laid bare for all the world to see:
“As one Canadian political scientist I know likes to say, when we look at Australia, we suffer from ‘Senate envy,' ” Mr. Harper told Australian senators and members of Parliament, to their great amusement, in the opening lines of his speech this morning.

“In Canada, senators remain appointed, not elected. They don't have to retire until age 75, and may warm their seats for as long as 45 years. By the nature of the system, they're not accountable to voters.”

Australian senators, on the other hand, are elected – something Mr. Harper described as a minimum condition of 21st-century democracy.

“Australia's Senate shows how a reformed upper house can function in our parliamentary system,” he said, “And Canadians understand that our Senate, as it stands today, must either change, or, like the old upper houses of our provinces, vanish.”
Who's the political scientist? His Chief of Staff?

Ah yes, an elected Senate...the U.S. model remains ever omni-present on Mini Bush's mind...

And don't be doing that "Canadians understand" thing...all of a sudden Canadians are going to rise up and abolish the Senate? Hardly. And talk about a can of constitutional worms being opened up...

Workin' late in the PCO

Read up boys:

Our trusty MP's swing into action to repair their incompetence

Cloaking themselves with righteous indignation in the halls of an empty Parliament that the Prime Minister refuses to allow to sit in session, the committee investigating the Conservatives' election overspending is adding the veil issue to its agenda. Priorities, priorities. Yes, let's let the Con Air scandal take a back seat to the PM's political machinations. The willing opposition is letting us down. Maybe the second time around they'll write the law so it reflects their supposed original intent:
In a unanimous vote on Monday afternoon, the Commons Committee on Procedure and House Affairs decided to conduct a study into Elections Canada's decision to allow veiled individuals to vote.

The study is to be completed by this Friday, Sept. 14.

Initially meeting on Monday to meet to discuss allegations of Tory election spending misconduct in the 2006 election, the committee belatedly added the veil issue to its agenda.
Too bad they can't get a "study" done on the Conservatives' overspending as quickly. After all, it's not nearly as important, right? And shame on Karen Redman for perpetuating this fraudulent outrage:
“I think it's fairly clear in the media that members of parliament don't view the interpretation that's been made as the correct one,” said committee member Karen Redman, who was not listed as part of the vote.

Earlier on Monday, Elections Canada said the parliamentary legislation governing how people can cast a vote does not require people to show their faces.

Chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand said that the law does allow for veiled voters to decide whether or not to reveal their faces.
Can't any of our elected members read? The disingenuous political opportunism on this issue apparently knows no bounds...

Kremlin justice in Alabama

Read the first few paragraphs of this piece drawing attention to the case of imprisoned former Democratic Governor of Alabama, Don Siegelman and tell me there isn't something desperately wrong with the American electoral system that allows partisan operatives to get their paws on the ballot boxes and prosecution decisions:
Alberto Gonzales is out as attorney general, but there is still a lot of questionable Justice Department activity for Congress to sort through. The imprisonment of Don Siegelman, a former Democratic governor of Alabama, should be at the top of the list. Jill Simpson, an Alabama lawyer and Republican operative, is heading to Washington this week to tell Congressional investigators that she heard prominent Republicans plotting to use the United States attorneys’ offices to remove Mr. Siegelman as a political threat. The case should be the focus of a probing Congressional hearing this fall.

Mr. Siegelman was a major frustration to Alabama Republicans. The state is bright red, but Mr. Siegelman managed to win the governorship in 1998 with 57 percent of the vote. He was defeated for re-election in 2002 under suspicious circumstances. In the initial returns, Mr. Siegelman appeared to have won by a razor-thin margin. But a late-night change in the tallies in Republican Baldwin County gave the current governor, Bob Riley, a victory of a little more than 3,000 votes out of 1.3 million cast.

Mr. Siegelman has charged that the votes were intentionally shifted by a Republican operative. James Gundlach, an Auburn University professor, did a statistical analysis of the returns and found that the final numbers were clearly the result of intentional manipulation. Mr. Siegelman wanted to take back the governorship in 2006, but his indictment made it impossible.

If Ms. Simpson is telling the truth, she provides important support for Mr. Siegelman’s claim that his prosecution was political. In a sworn affidavit, she says she was on a phone call in November 2002 with Governor Riley’s son, Rob Riley, and Bill Canary, a Republican political operative whose wife, Leura Canary, is the United States attorney for Montgomery. According to Ms. Simpson, they were discussing the political threat Mr. Siegelman posed, and Mr. Canary said his “girls” — his wife and Alice Martin, the United States Attorney in Birmingham — would take care of Mr. Siegelman. Ms. Simpson said Mr. Canary also said the case had been discussed with Karl Rove.
I'm reminded of the prosecution and conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Russia's Yukos Oil whose political aspirations were well known and viewed as a threat by Putin's Kremlin. Sensational comparison? Maybe a little. But the Siegelman case stinks and the fact that you can draw comparisons at all is deeply disturbing.

Good for Mayrand

The Prime Minister should read the law he passed: "Elections Canada chief won't back down on veiled voting."
"I invite Parliament to change the act," Mayrand told reporters Monday at a press conference in Ottawa.

"It's not for the administrator to settle the current societal debate. If I were to do so, I would assume the role that does not belong to me, and above all, usurp the role of Canada's elected politicians."
Hang Elections Canada out to dry for political reasons? No, I don't think so. The law is clear and thankfully we have rational, independent actors like Mayrand around to enforce and enable it.

"Tory house might be rocked"

Now here is some fine Monday morning reading material. Just the thing to kick off one's week on an upbeat note. Nik Nanos of SES writes a piece today on the political implications of the Con Air scandal for Harper's government, underscoring the delicious irony of the Conservatives being in the spotlight for improper spending on political ads in Quebec:
A house built on trust. Those five words more than any others capture the basis on which the Harper government gained its minority victory.

Canadians, and especially Quebecers, turned away from a tired Liberal government that was racked with allegations of impropriety as a result of the advertising and sponsorship scandal.

The Conservative government has placed great emphasis on trust and ethics showcasing the Federal Accountability Act as its pledge to clean up government.

As such, the emerging story from Elections Canada, which tracks the movement of funds between the central Tory campaign and local riding associations, should give the Harper Conservatives pause.

The importance of trust and ethics should not be a big surprise. Cast aside platform, advertising and political strategy -- it was mistrust of the Liberals that drove voters to the Conservatives in the 2006 federal election.

During what was supposed to be a quiet break between Christmas and New Year's during the last federal election, the RCMP launched a bombshell allegation against the Liberals.

The result was immediate. According to the SES Research election tracking on behalf of CPAC, the percentage of Canadians who trusted Paul Martin dropped an astounding 10 points in one night.

This critical juncture changed the landscape, tilting the election from a probable Liberal minority victory to a Conservative minority victory.

With the promise of something different, Harper rode a wave of anger directed at the Liberals and broke their 13-year grip on power.

...

Fast forward to the summer of 2007 and we have Elections Canada questioning a Conservative initiative which transferred money from the national campaign to local ridings to fund advertising.

Regardless of whether anything improper was done or not, the Conservatives should be wary of any perception that they worked around the intent of the rules.

If the Conservatives have trouble arguing that those expenses were legitimately incurred by the local candidates, it may have to account for these funds as part of the national campaign budget.

To do so would mean that the Conservative national campaign exceeded the $18.3-million spending limit and be in violation of Canada's election laws.

...

Unless the Conservatives can quickly and effectively put this behind them, it will play directly into the hands of the separatists, allowing Gilles Duceppe to undermine and discredit both the Conservative and the Liberal federalist options in Quebec.

...

Add a probable fall throne speech, which leads to a confidence vote, and five expected byelections, and we get potential political turmoil for the Tories.

The political house built on trust could be rocked.
Rock away, rock away, rock away...

Piercing the veil of Harper's manufactured outrage

I am in full agreement with Red Tory that there is a brouhaha being manufactured over Elections Canada's supposed "decision" regarding burqas in the upcoming Quebec by-elections. All of this outrage is for show. Because, as RT points out, there was no "decision" cooked up by Elections Canada in their basement to somehow "subvert" the Canada Elections Act, as Harper suggests. And secondly, because the PM's statements of outrage over veils being permitted are inconsistent with the law he passed. Don't you guys read your own laws? If you wanted to require the veil be lifted, you should have written your law differently. Doh! Just another day in watching the incompetent Conservatives pontificate to us on the one hand and then when the scrutiny is applied, watching them fall apart.

So what's behind Harper's hissy fit?

The first political objective Harper has is to play to the sensitivities in Quebec that manifested themselves during the provincial election over the extent of "accommodation" to be extended to minorities and which accrued to the benefit of Mario Dumont who exploited the issue. All parties are guilty of this at this point. How noble a sentiment to whip up into a frenzy as these campaigns go into their final week. Trying to shove Afghanistan and his disastrous turn on the environment at APEC aside for all he's worth. Expect to see lots of Conservatives shamefully blathering on about this in the coming week. Lawrence Cannon's doing a pretty good job of it to start. Sure, it's all "common sense" they say. Who cares if the Muslim women in Quebec bear the brunt of this insinuation that some kind of fraud is at work in their community. Who cares if Muslim women apparently intend to show their faces anyway - despite the law not requiring them to - and are speaking out in support of doing so.

The second reason for Harper's bluster against Elections Canada is that it gives him an opening - albeit manufactured - to undermine its legitimacy at this moment. Why would Harper want to do that right now? Gee, let's think real hard...oh yeah, Con Air. There's the little problem with Harper's party being on the hook for overspending by $1.2+ million dollars in the last federal election. Elections Canada ruled against Harper's party and the resulting lawsuit by the Conservatives against Elections Canada has been getting a lot of news coverage of late that's made the Harper Conservatives look pretty hypocritical. Seems like a pretty substantial reason to motivate this little burst of manufactured outrage from Harper on an issue that, if he has a problem with, is of his own doing. Read the Canada Elections Act on voting procedures at the polls, current to August 25, 2007:

If it were the intent of Parliament to only permit people to vote by proving their identity via photo identification, the amendments did not reflect that intent.

I predict that the Chief Electoral Officer will explain the law calmly and reasonably tomorrow in his press conference now that the PM has forced him into this extraordinary position, a week before an election to defend his agency publicly. And he'll explain that any steps taken by Elections Canada in getting ready for these by-elections have given effect to Parliament's wishes.

What a sorry spectacle all around.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Still lovin' Bill Maher



A great segment from Bill Maher's show the other night featuring Cornel West and Mos Def that's worth watching. Takes a few minutes to get revved up, but Mos Def is right on...:)

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Why do the Conservatives think its OK to trash Canada's reputation while abroad?

Harper's speech to APEC is ripe with remarks that tarnish Canada's reputation, undeservedly. This has been drawn attention to by media, noting how unusual it is for a Prime Minister to peddle Canada's internal domestic disputes on the international stage. But that criticism doesn't do full justice to what he's really doing. He's not just criticizing the former Liberal government. He's tarnishing Canada's reputation, for his own political benefit.

On the environment, when Canada had signed on to Kyoto and was committed to binding emissions reductions and was committed to tough action, Harper trashed it:
For at least a decade most governments, including Canada’s government, paid what can charitably be called lip service to the issue of climate change.

Because they were unwilling to tell the public that reducing carbon emissions must entail real economic costs in the short term, governments responded to the problem with little more than political rhetoric.
Harper needlessly trashed our reputation in the world by again suggesting he has to "restore" it:
Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude by noting that one of the top priorities of our new government has been to restore Canada’s stature and influence on the world stage.
And his Director of Communications echoed this theme as well:
"I would just say bluntly that when Canada speaks now, it speaks with credibility," Sandra Buckler told the Canadian Press.
Buckler assuming of course that Canada had no international credibility until the day a Conservative government walked in the door.

Where do they get off trashing our reputation like this?

Harper shirking a real leadership role on the environment

(AP Photo/Rob Griffith) One of these things is not like the other...:)

See below for a stunning comment given to the press by Sandra Buckler. But first: "Fashion trend-setter: Harper wears the big hat at APEC photo shoot."
Harper was the lone leader among the 21 member economies to emerge for the summit's "family photo" on Saturday wearing Australia's distinctive Akubra hat that went with the knee-length, wide-shouldered, oilskin bush jackets.
Doh! But seriously...

On the environmental front, Harper continues to define success downward. He helped, again, to provide cover for his polluting APEC buddies and got them to sign a non-binding agreement to reduce emissions, which all the Conservative spinner types are hyping since it includes the U.S. and China. Why wouldn't those countries sign on to a non-binding agreement? What's the downside? A "big, big step" all right, to use Harper's words, backwards from binding commitments. Reaction:
'In practical terms, that will mean almost nothing,'' said Frank Jotzo, an Australian National University expert in climate change economics. ''It is very unambitious.''
Greenpeace:
Environmental campaigner Abigail Jabines from international lobby group Greenpeace accused Bush and Howard of trying to wriggle out of their climate obligations by aspiring to nothing more than "aspirational goals" that are neither fixed nor legally binding.

"If John Howard and George Bush are sincere in addressing climate change, they should ratify Kyoto Protocol and embrace real solutions such as renewable energy and energy efficiency and set legally binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," she said. "To John Howard and George Bush - don't run away from Kyoto Protocol, just do it."
Australian political reaction:
At a demonstration in downtown Sydney on Saturday, Australian Green Party senator Kerry Nettle said "Howard's aspirational targets are rubbish. He is trying to undermine the Kyoto protocol."
Yet Harper's crew, aware of the criticism to come, are desperately trying to paint him as some kind of hero for this "aspirational" consensus:
Canada and Japan are explicitly singled out for credit in the body of the text for their efforts in getting the agreement, given the divisions within the disparate APEC forum.

"We and a couple of others stood firm," said a senior Canadian official at a briefing late Saturday.
Yeah, I bet it was real tough to get people to sign off on a voluntary agreement. I can just envision the pitched battles that went on.

And get a load of this:
His director of communications, Sandra Buckler, credited Harper personally with helping get the deal done Saturday.

"I would just say bluntly that when Canada speaks now, it speaks with credibility," said Buckler.
Now I could really go off on that, but I'll let it speak for itself...no timelines, no targets, no binding agreement. Just a wing and a prayer. It appears to be all about political optics for Harper, so he can position himself for the next election.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Parliamentary inquiry in the offing for the Conservatives' election spending?

Or adscam, if you prefer. Looks like it very well could be. No wonder the Conservatives wanted to stay out of dodge:
The opposition parties are banding together to force a parliamentary inquiry into allegations the Conservatives subverted election spending limits by transferring up to $1.2 million through cash-strapped candidate campaigns to pay for blanket regional television ads.

The Commons procedure and House affairs committee will meet Monday after Conservative chairman Gary Goodyear was compelled to call a meeting when three Liberals and a Bloc Quebecois MP wrote him to demand one.
...
Liberal and NDP MPs said Thursday they expect to call Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand to explain the electoral agency’s decision that up to 70 Conservative candidates could not claim large bank-wire payments to the party for TV advertising as expenses for their local campaigns.
The wheels of democracy keep on turnin' despite a certain party's best efforts...

Harper the petty partisan at it again on the world stage

I just watched Harper's speech at the APEC meeting in Sydney - courtesy of Conservative TV. It's tough to sit through, but I forced myself. And needless to say, I'm just continually amazed at the partisanship with which he laces his speech. This was clearly a speech intended for the domestic audience as well. It included the typical shots at the previous Liberal government, telling the world that Canada's New Government inherited a "patchwork" of environmental programs that just weren't working. That he and his pals were "restoring" Canada's place on the world stage at events such as APEC. Always implying that we've been somehow subjected to an incompetent government prior to Steve arriving on the scene.

Yet at the same time he talks of how Canada is experiencing the second longest expansion in growth in its history...where does he think this came from? Does he seriously think that he waltzed in to power and in a year and a half has revolutionized Canada's economic performance? Nope, just not credible.

Canadians know. And this one is embarrassed by his international demonizing of the Liberals, yet again. I've never seen another Prime Minister sink to the depths this guy does abroad. Quite the statesman this guy.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Yes, how dare we use the term "adscam"

Can the word "adscam" the combination of the words "advertisement/advertising" and "scam" be used to describe the Conservatives current troubles with Elections Canada? Why yes, I do believe they can. I have decided, however, to refer to the Conservative scandal as the in-and-out ad scheme. It's the most fitting phrase to describe what they did, thus far, anyway. But about the use of the term adscam - I really don't think anyone is stupid enough to think that the use of such a term is meant to actually equate the subject matter of the Gomery inquiry with the Conservatives' in-and-out ad scheme that they deployed during the 2006 federal election. Most of us are sophisticated enough to know that the two are qualitatively different.

But if use of the term - and I did use it once - was enough to stir a columnist at the National Post into giving airtime to the story and to get additional national media beyond those who initially uncovered the reports to pay attention and attempt to get answers from the Conservatives on the scandal, then mission accomplished. For these Conservatives deserve to have a very bright spotlight shone on the in-and-out ad scheme that they used while pontificating to the rest of us about how they walked on water.

Too bad for our democracy that the Conservatives prefer to stay out of the House of Commons right now and out of the glare of daily question period. The Canadian people are entitled to answers about their use of this in-and-out ad scheme. Thus far, a spinning, free speech peddling Pierre Poilievre just doesn't cut it.

Btw, technically, as Scott Tribe's pointed out, I'm not a "Liberal" blogger. I don't belong to any political party and I haven't joined the Liblogs. But I do support Stephane Dion and have a button on my blog. I suppose that qualifies me as a blog that supports the federal Liberals. But hey, I'm also a fan of Danny Williams. So, stick that in your labelling mix too, Mr. Ivison.

Funny

CIA Realizes Its Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years

The Onion

CIA Realizes It's Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years

LANGLEY, VA-The most crucial passages of U.S. intelligence have been emphasized with indelible black highlighters.

More:
CIA Director Porter Goss has ordered further internal investigation.

"Why did it go on for this long, and this far?" said Goss in a press conference called shortly after the report's release. "I'm as frustrated as anyone. You can't read a single thing that's been highlighted. Had I been there to advise [former CIA director] Allen Dulles, I would have suggested the traditional yellow color—or pink."

Goss added: "There was probably some really, really important information in these documents."
An oldie but a goodie...:)

Bremer: once more, with gusto

Paul Bremer getting more air time from the NY Times today, with an op-ed permitting him once more to publicly refute W's effort to hang the disbanding of the Iraqi army solely on Bremer's shoulders. And with an impeccable choice for its title, "How I Didn’t Dismantle Iraq’s Army," in case anyone misses his point:
IT has become conventional wisdom that the decision to disband Saddam Hussein’s army was a mistake, was contrary to American prewar planning and was a decision I made on my own. In fact the policy was carefully considered by top civilian and military members of the American government. And it was the right decision.

By the time Baghdad fell on April 9, 2003, the Iraqi Army had simply dissolved. On April 17 Gen. John Abizaid, the deputy commander of the Army’s Central Command, reported in a video briefing to officials in Washington that “there are no organized Iraqi military units left.” The disappearance of Saddam Hussein’s old army rendered irrelevant any prewar plans to use that army. So the question was whether the Coalition Provisional Authority should try to recall it or to build a new one open to both vetted members of the old army and new recruits. General Abizaid favored the second approach.

In the weeks after General Abizaid’s recommendation, the coalition’s national security adviser, Walter Slocombe, discussed options with top officials in the Pentagon, including Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. They recognized that to recall the former army was a practical impossibility because postwar looting had destroyed all the bases.
Bremer repeats his briefing of the President by letter and tells of a video briefing he also conducted. No objection by W, apparently.
On May 22, I sent to President Bush, through Secretary Rumsfeld, my first report since arriving in Iraq. I reviewed our activities since arrival, including our de-Baathification policy. I then alerted the president that “I will parallel this step with an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam’s military and intelligence structures.” The same day, I briefed the president on the plan via secure video. The president sent me a note on May 23 in which he thanked me for my report and noted that “you have my full support and confidence.”

The decision not to recall Saddam Hussein’s army was thoroughly considered by top officials in the American government.
Let this be a lesson for the Bushies considering dumping blame on former officials in the coming months. And it should be a model for all former officials out there in how to stand up to such efforts to re-write history. Cause you can bet they're in the works...