Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday night ode to...truth

Happy Halloween and all that...Impolitical just officially ran out of goodies at the door. This was a remarkably busy year, lots of ghouls and scream-like monsters out and about...:) (I hate when kids wear that Scream movie mask!)

No Halloween themed music for me. And nice metal choices there, Mentarch. No, I'll go with a group that seemed like the logical choice going into a U.S. election on Tuesday that is poised to repudiate the Bush years and turn the page. So who better than the Dixie Chicks whose demonization symbolized some of the worst partisan excesses of the Bush years. Here's a live version of Truth No. 2, one of my favorites of theirs for lyrics that speak to free speech and other good stuff:

Natalie Maines was right...hope Tuesday's a good night for all those Americans who've suffered through eight long years.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A mediocre team for challenging times

It's difficult to get excited, at all, about the cabinet announcements today. This is the government Canadians voted for, so line them up and let's see how they execute. The face of the cabinet, while smattered with some new blood, is largely stale. So, here are a few thoughts for those interested...

Flaherty leads the pack in respect of the stale elements. That there are no other competent individuals who could possibly step up and take over from a minister who has so obviously failed is the most telling indictment of the whole effort. To claim that this is in the interest of keeping a steady hand on the economic tiller, as it is repeatedly spun, is a sad state of affairs, indeed.

Other stale members who may not live up to expectations in their new slots:

Clement in Industry. Has Clement ever had an economic portfolio? No, and he hasn't been the swiftest performer to date either.

Cannon in Foreign Affairs. The portfolio that Harper has systematically devalued to such an extent that it hardly matters who he puts there. Cannon joins a long line of mediocrities: MacKay, Bernier, Emerson. None of whom made any difference while there. Cannon looks to be another placeholder continuing to permit Harper to dominate the external face of the nation. And, perhaps the most partisan sort to occupy the position yet, who has exhibited every trait of the submissive Harper ministerial type:

Where's the panache, baby? We've had such a great tradition of Foreign Affairs Ministers in this country...and now, Cannon.

Jim Prentice to Environment. It's almost comic at this point how Prentice is widely viewed as the lone competent in the Harper mix. Is there nothing superman can't do? Give him another tough one, let him prove his leadership mettle is likely what Harper's thinking.

Gerry Ritz stays in Agriculture. For all of the plaudits to Harper today for the injection of more women and the notional good will expressed for a new cabinet...choices like this undermine such sentiments. They say Harper still doesn't fully get it. Ritz is walking proof of that.

Peter Van Loan to Public Safety. Filling Stock's shoes. That sounds about right. The hard core partisans were rewarded. Another indication that the new guard may just end up being the same as the old, tone wise, that is.

Junior stays in Defence. Afghanistan turning for the worse. To oversee our "exit" in 2011 while perhaps President Obama starts pouring in brigades. Should be quite the feat. Another time bomb handed to a possible Harper successor.

On the newbies...
Health* Leona Aglukkaq
Natural Resources* Lisa Raitt
Fisheries and Oceans* Gail Shea

Good luck to them, watch for inevitable growing pains.

On the old faves...

What to say to Gary Lunn today who has been demoted and handed...Helena Guergis' old portfolio? Thud. That's the sound of hitting the bottom. The voters of Saanich-Gulf Islands may have been too thick to throw him out, it took Harper to demote him. The irony. Sport may be somewhat of a face-saver given the Olympics and all, but Guergis' old slot? The media coverage of his campaign and its fallout may have impacted on Lunn's fortunes.

Guergis to remain in cabinet and move to Status of Women. Happy to see Guergis, the Palin of the north, remain in cabinet. Small mercies. Not expecting to hear much from her from now on but one can hope. Oh yeah, and on the substance, the women of Canada can expect virtually nothing from this move.

Exciting? Not so much.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Something for everybody!

Deficit Jim is signalling who will feel the pain from his and Harper's mismanagement of federal funds:
Civil servants will have to temper their wage demands, provinces will see smaller increases in the money they get from Ottawa, and short-term deficits are likely because of the global financial crisis and the slowdown in the economy, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Wednesday.

The finance minister said the government is doing everything to cut its costs as it prepares for a squeeze on revenues from corporate and personal taxes as the economy slows to a crawl.

A review of program spending now in its second year will be extended to Crown corporations to ensure they provide value for money, Flaherty said.

He also warned public-sector workers they cannot expect big wage hikes in the next round of bargaining for contracts.
Equalization is also on the table:
"Growth must be closer to the growth of the economy to be sustainable," he said.

"Without change, equalization is not sustainable and threatens the integrity of the program."
Well if that doesn't motivate the provinces before that meeting they're supposed to have with DJ next week, nothing will.

In the past few days we've seen news of pensions seeking federal funding relief and auto parts makers seeking federal help. Wonder what other time bombs are out there that these prudent fiscal managers have left us little to no contingency room to deal with?

Unpacking W's courts

Another one of W's legacies, a right wing set of appeals courts throughout the U.S. that will be the gift that keeps on giving for years to come: "Appeals Courts Pushed to Right by Bush Choices." Get a load of this incredible piece of legislation from South Dakota that's been upheld by an appeals court populated by Bush appointees:
After a group of doctors challenged a South Dakota law forcing them to inform women that abortions “terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being” — using exactly that language — President Bush’s appointees to the federal appeals courts took control.

A federal trial judge, stating that whether a fetus is human life is a matter of debate, had blocked the state from enforcing the 2005 law as a likely violation of doctors’ First Amendment rights. And an appeals court panel had upheld the injunction.

But this past June, the full United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit voted 7 to 4 to overrule those decisions and allow the statute to take immediate effect. The majority argued that it is objectively true that human life begins at conception, and that the state can force doctors to say so.

Mr. Bush had appointed six of the seven judges in the conservative majority. His administration has transformed the nation’s federal appeals courts, advancing a conservative legal revolution that began nearly three decades ago under President Ronald Reagan. (emphasis added)
Can you imagine being a medical professional and being told to recite messages verbatim to patients! What kind of free country is the U.S. again, remind me? Just unbelievable.

The majority of his appointees are Federalist Society Members and were vetted under the oversight of Karl Rove. If McCain wins, the hold on these courts will cement. If Obama wins, there's a chance to reset the balance. Needless to say, another reason to be rooting for Obama.

Now that's scary

A hair-raising duo graces this week's Halloween cover of The New Yorker...:)

Doug Finley out as Conservative election guru

"Doug Finley to step down as Tory campaign director."
The Conservative Party of Canada's national campaign director plans to step back from day-to-day election planning as part of a quiet shakeup of the party's senior ranks, Canwest News Service has learned.
Another Conservative source said Finley, one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's most senior advisers, told party officials at the start of the campaign it would be his last because he's "not a young man anymore."

One party source said the move is part of the "natural" reorganization that follows any election campaign. Other party officials will change roles in the coming days, the source added.

However, some officials who worked on the campaign say Finley has taken part of the blame for failing to deliver a majority for the Conservatives on Oct. 14.(emphasis added)
Close but no cigar for Finley, architect of two minorities who's now had his chance. Harper has 143 seats and wants someone to get him over the hump. Whether that's a question of a new electoral strategy to game 12 more seats or a question of whether Canadians will ever give Stephen Harper the majority reins is something we'll find out in, say, another two years, with a new Liberal leader on the scene. That will be Harper's fourth election. A fatigue factor will be present.

Meanwhile, there is some talk out there about how Conservatives can become more like Liberals in order to get there. See Andrew Steele last night, with his thesis: "To permanently replace the Liberals as the strongest national party, Stephen Harper may have to borrow their approach to the Quebec question," by becoming the federalist option in Quebec. To do this, he points out, the Liberals would have to choose a leader in the coming race that would cede the traditional federalist position of the Liberals in Quebec and make it easy for the Conservatives to step in to the traditional Liberal role. Good luck on that. If they do, they'll lose a lot of support outside Quebec. I'm not doing the article justice, Steele's ideas are interesting, as always, and are worth a read for the assessment of the parties' relative positions in Quebec, their weaknesses, strengths, future areas of growth, etc. But the absurd proposition underlying it all, that essentially, the Conservatives must become Liberals to win...well, you have to wonder how their supporters take to such notions. Besides, Harper has already invested so much in the soft-nationalist play with his Quebec nation motion. Hasn't the die been cast?

These quests for national dominance undertaken by political parties in recent years don't seem to be working out. The Republicans are living the fruits of Karl Rove's quest for a permanent Republican majority at the moment. It's not going so well. The too clever by half linking of groups into a coalition that you can manipulate with shiny objects seems to be as bright as the strategy gets. Other people have shiny objects too. It's also very difficult to anticipate events that can fracture the coalitions that you are building. Then you have to govern in a manner that inspires the confidence of a majority of the population. That's a tough thing to do. Conservatives haven't been able to do it yet. There's also the little problem of Canada being a socially progressive nation. The Conservatives are not.

But I wouldn't put anything past Mr. Harper on his ongoing quest for a majority. He did resort to using his mother as a feature in his campaign speeches in those last days, after all...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Deficit Jim" gains traction...

A few late afternoon notes...

Don Martin today: "Flaherty poised to be 'Deficit Jim'." Nice column title...:)
Before this economic downturn hits bottom, it's almost a given Mr. Flaherty will wear the Deficit Jim label as the Conservative who put the red back into Canada's budget books for the first time since they were balanced in the mid-1990s.
A thorough critique of the wisdom of putting Deficit Jim back in charge of the federal coffers.

When you have an aide out there describing your running mate as a "whack job," this is truly a novel electoral strategy at work. Reminds me of a recent campaign in this here part of the world...

Kudos to the Khadr lawyers who are still fighting the good fight. In Federal Court today seeking judicial review of Harper's refusal to seek Khadr's repatriation, arguing the duty is "triggered given the numerous violations of Khadr's rights under both the Canadian Charter and international law and agreements, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child." The government's position is general: "The Crown maintains Ottawa has no legal duty under international law to help a Canadian abroad." Khadr's circumstances may lead the court to determine otherwise. May.

There was a very interesting column by David Brooks in the NY Times today, not political, but about "The Behavioral Revolution." Suggesting that decision-making as we have known it is in for great change.
My sense is that this financial crisis is going to amount to a coming-out party for behavioral economists and others who are bringing sophisticated psychology to the realm of public policy. At least these folks have plausible explanations for why so many people could have been so gigantically wrong about the risks they were taking.
Worth a look.

Voters have stood in line for 12 hours in Georgia! Unbelievable!

McKenna's out...not surprising at all. Dominic LeBlanc is in. Interesting candidate who will bear watching.

Not so much

Harper cited as inspiration for the presently imploding Republican party: "Neighborly Wisdom." Really, he is.

Memo to U.S. conservatives: we don't really like him. Look closer. We've given him minority governments twice now. Not exactly a rip roaring success. Yes, he did gain 16 seats out of 308 in the last election. But the desire of major regions (Quebec, Newfoundland) and interests (cultural) in our country to ensure he did not get a majority was strong. Um, not to mention that Harper's 38% of the vote can hardly be an inspiration to Republicans who, despite foreign and domestic disasters of their own making, are polling in the low 40's in the presidential election.

Guess they're pretty desperate down there these days...heh...:)

Tough times for Deficit Jim

Choices, choices, what ever will he and Harper do?
TD Bank Chief Economist Don Drummond wrote in a recent research report that if the government proceeds next year with the combination of tax cuts and spending increases that it announced in the 2008 Budget, Ottawa will run a deficit next year of at least $10 billion and will continue to run deficits, albeit increasingly smaller ones, for the next four years.

Economists and government sources say it is unlikely Flaherty can find spending cuts of $10 billion in one year in order to balance the books. For one thing, there may be too much political damage associated with massive spending cuts. Many Conservatives, after all, believe they lost their chance at a majority government partly because of anger in Quebec over just $50 million in cuts to arts programs.

The federal government will spend $201.2 billion this year, not including debt charges.

Though $10 billion is only about five per cent of that number, much of that spending cannot be cut.
The report lists the kinds of things that would have to be cut to find $10 billion. You'd have to axe the Natural Resources Department ($2 billion), cut regional economic development ($1 billion), cut the Universal Child Care Benefit ($2.5 billion), and make a whole host of other choices (see report) in order to get you close to $10 billion. I suppose there would be many other targets to pick as well. None of them are good options. (I am assuming tax increases are off the table as options for these guys.)

They could run a deficit and deal with public opinion like this:
An overwhelming majority of Canadians say Finance Minister Jim Flaherty should slash the federal budget to balance the books, according to a new poll for Canwest News Service and Global National.

Only a handful say Flaherty should raise taxes to meet any shortfalls as government revenues shrink because of the slowing economy. And just 43 per cent of those surveyed by Ipsos Reid say it's all right with them if Flaherty decided to run a budget deficit to get the country through a rough economic patch.
Now that's an online poll, mind you. But still, it suggests the resistance in the public mind to the prospect of a deficit. Besides, we know Deficit Jim just committed during the election campaign to not having one. So how they get out of this pickle will be a thing to watch.

A few other economic items kicking around that will have political ramifications...remember how Harpie and Deficit Jim have assured us that the big $25 billion asset swap between CMHC and the banks is nothing to worry about, practically meaningless, along these lines:
Canada plans to buy up to C$25 billion ($21 billion) in insured residential mortgages to help cushion banks from the global financial crisis and address a "scarcity" of private-sector lending, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on Friday.

While details of the plan were slim, Flaherty stressed the program is not a bank bailout because the government is not buying equity, and that the mortgages are "high-quality assets" that are already insured by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC), a government-owned agency.
The prime minister, maintaining a lead in the polls, told reporters the move represented no cost to government.

"This is a market transaction that will cost the government nothing ... we are simply exchanging assets that we already hold the insurance on and the reason we are doing this is to get out in front," he told reporters in Brantford, Ontario. (emphasis added)
Well, here's a contrarian view:
Harper called the recent CMHC deal "simply a market intervention ... to ensure our credit markets are functioning strongly."

But Grinspun dismisses that interpretation: "Taxpayers are assuming risky assets and giving away safe ones."
In addition, in that preceding Star link, you can find criticism by a number of economists that this $25 billion step has been taken without any assurances having been provided that the credit relief it provided to the banks would flow through to consumers/the public. This mirrors recent criticism in the U.S.:
It was good news when Mr. Paulson finally agreed to funnel capital into the banking system in return for partial ownership. But last week Joe Nocera of The Times pointed out a key weakness in the U.S. Treasury’s bank rescue plan: it contains no safeguards against the possibility that banks will simply sit on the money. “Unlike the British government, which is mandating lending requirements in return for capital injections, our government seems afraid to do anything except plead.” And sure enough, the banks seem to be hoarding the cash.
So, do we think Deficit Jim and Harpie have the stuff to manage all of these economic challenges? It's not looking good at this point.

Monday, October 27, 2008

So he is testing the waters...

Looks like I was mistaken last week in saying it didn't sound like Manley was looking to be a candidate in the leadership: "Manley tests Liberal waters." Although I still maintain that his predominant posture of reluctance is telling, and he is still citing money and organizational structure as key factors in his decision calculus. He's certainly a blunt guy who tells it like it is. Here was his statement on the inevitable question...yes, John, why did you provide political cover to the PM on Afghanistan?

He also acknowledged some Liberals may look down on his being appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to lead a panel that looked at the future of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.

"But if there's anybody out there that thinks that being a Liberal is more important than being a Canadian, well I'm not in their party," he said.

Interesting that we're hearing from Manley today when the person whose name has really circulated much more so in the undercurrents has been McKenna's. Guess Manley's decided to make a bit of a move before other trains leave the station, so to speak.

Just in case things don't work out next Tuesday...

An "Elite" programme for Americans to escape to Canada...:)

(Thanks to rockatollah for the link)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Conservative ridings in Quebec reaping financial gains according to Conservative Blackburn

"Quebec ridings that voted Tory will be better served, MP says." Talk about a distorted and inappropriate view of how government spending should occur. Conservative MP Jean-Pierre Blackburn rode to reelection by touting the "bacon" he brought home to his riding and seems to think pouring funds into Conservative ridings is an A-OK way for the government to operate. Are these the pro-Conservative parts of Quebec, Mr. Blackburn? Are you channelling Sarah Palin? I think so...
Jean-Pierre Blackburn saved himself in the last election campaign by repeatedly pointing out that he spread $247-million in federal pork as a member of the Harper government.

Now the Quebec MP and minister says that ridings that elected Conservatives on Oct. 14 will continue to be better served than those in the hands of the Bloc Québécois. In an interview, Mr. Blackburn defended his campaign tactics, which left some Conservative strategists cringing and the opposition parties fuming.

He said that his reminders of Tory largesse were factual, and that his caucus colleagues benefit from the current system.

“You can't give everything [to opposition ridings]. At some point, your colleagues also have files and you try to help them,” he said. “You have a more attentive ear and try to see if you can help them.”

Mr. Blackburn pointed to a recent $112-million federal-provincial deal for twinning Highway 175 between Quebec City and Saguenay.

“Do you a think a Bloc MP could have gotten the Saguenay-Quebec City deal?” he asked. “Do you know how many demands there are for roads in Quebec?”
(emphasis added)
Let's see if Harper puts Blackburn back in cabinet now.

I would second this post.

Yeah, that's the ticket

A fitting lawn sign available for purchase, here...:)

This is what happens when you elect Deficit Jim

He delivers. An August deficit of $1.7 billion.
The government's revenues stagnated in August as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government dealt with its cuts to corporate taxes and the goods-and-services tax. Spending, on the other hand, continued to balloon, rising by 10 per cent – or $1.5-billion – over the same period in 2007.
See now this is the kind of thing that can really make an electorate cynical about little things like election timing, rosy campaign rhetoric, the honesty of their politicians and the like...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday night ode to...losing

But with hope ever present...:)

Just because I'm losing
Doesn't mean I'm lost
Doesn't mean I'll stop
Doesn't mean I will cross

Just because I'm hurting
Doesn't mean I'm hurt
Doesn't mean I didn't get what I deserve
No better and no worse

I just got lost
Every river that I've tried to cross
And every door I ever tried was locked
Ooh-Oh, And I'm just waiting till the shine wears off...

You might be a big fish
In a little pond
Doesn't mean you've won
'Cause along may come
A bigger one
And you'll be lost

Every river that you tried to cross
Every gun you ever held went off
And I'm just waiting till the firing starts
And I'm just waiting till the shine wears off
And I'm just waiting till the shine wears off
And I'm just waiting till the shine wears off
There you go, Mentarch...:)

Update your Liberal seat count

It's now 77 as the Liberal candidate won Brossard after all. News of the recount by a Quebec Superior Court judge just came through. Alexandra Mendes is the new winner by 69 votes over the Bloc candidate who thought he'd won by 102 votes. Just goes to show how close so many of these races were and how some of the other recounts (Dosanjh who won by 33 votes; Martin by 68 votes) could surprise as well.

On the radio...:)

Light blogging today...I was a little preoccupied this afternoon with a radio interview I just completed. I was fortunate to go on the "Blog Bunker" on Sirius Satellite Radio. It's a show on their Indie Talk Channel, 110. So if anyone out there is hooked up to Sirius, check it out, I believe they replay it in a few hours.

I think it went OK, actually. Spent some time talking about the usual suspects...the Canadian view of the U.S. election, the problems the next President will face, the vice-presidential candidates and who should have been chosen, the Republican endorsements that are piling up for Obama, etc. Hopefully I was able to add some insightful commentary to these much discussed topics.

It's a bit of a blur right now in my mind, but I do believe I was able to say at one point, "welcome to my nightmare" in referring to the reelection of Harper...:)

If they come calling, go ahead and do it, it was great fun.

The post-election hilarity continues...

"Carbon taxes and cap-and-trade not that different: report."
Canadian politicians overstate the differences between carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs as tools to reduce greenhouse gases, a new report suggests.

A study prepared by the Pembina Institute, an energy think-thank, on behalf of the TD Financial Group suggests neither approach will effectively cut emissions on its own. Furthermore, the two systems have more in common than politicians in the recent election campaign would admit.

Both the Conservatives and the NDP advocated variations of the cap-and-trade model, which imposes a limit on the emissions that a company can produce and then allows corporation who do not meet the targets to buy further credits.

The Liberals' much-maligned Green Shift proposed a new tax on fossil fuels that would fund cuts to income and corporate taxes. Conservatives quickly branded the Green Shift as a "new tax on everything."

But either method would result in price hikes for consumers, according to Don Drummond, TD's chief economist.

"It was not a balanced debate from anybody's perspective," Mr. Drummond said. "The ones supporting a cap-and-trade never mentioned the impact on households, pretending I guess that there wasn't going to be any impact, which of course is not true."

When they unveiled their climate change strategy, the Conservatives estimated it would hike electricity costs by 4% and natural gas prices by 2%. (emphasis added)
Oh well...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A moment worth noting

"Greenspan Concedes Error on Regulation." a tense exchange with Representative Henry A. Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the committee, Mr. Greenspan conceded a more serious flaw in his own philosophy that unfettered free markets sit at the root of a superior economy.

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”
Amazing exchange that speaks for itself.

By the way, could John McCain have any more icons in American society undercut his campaign this week? Powell on Palin, Greenspan on deregulation...anyone else?

Deficit Jim in a quandary

Or should we say, a swamp of his and Economist Harper's own making?
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the government is reviewing its spending commitments to determine whether it can afford them in the current economic downturn.

Flaherty said today that Ottawa expects to post a modest surplus when the books are closed on the current fiscal year at the end of March. But all bets are off for the 2009-2010 year that will be the subject of his next budget.

Flaherty told reporters that "this is obviously a serious situation," as "events are unfolding day by day."

He says the government will "have to gauge where we are as we go forward" and he can't be more accurate than that at this stage.

Last week, two prominent economists predicted the government will fall into deficit next year by as much as $10 billion.

Deficits may be unavoidable given the expected fall-off of corporate profits and other revenues form the economic slump, which will likely approach recessionary territory next year. (emphasis added)
$10 billion you say. Item in the news, Monday:
If Prime Minister Stephen Harper had not cut the GST by two percentage points in his first mandate, he would not be starting his second heading into a projected $10-billion deficit for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, but government spending has been on the rise since before the federal Conservatives came to power, says TD Bank Financial's chief economist Don Drummond, considered one of the country's leading economists.

"On the spending side [the Conservatives] just continued a track that was already embedded by the Liberals, spending has been increasing very rapidly since 2000, 2001.... Of course, the Liberals did start tax cuts as well, but the Conservatives no doubt did add to them and they have cut $12-billion out of the GST, so that probably would have been enough to keep them out of deficit," Mr. Drummond told The Hill Times last week.
The economic challenges brought to us via the U.S. sub-prime meltdown, one could argue, might have been weathered by us more readily by a government that put the nation's interests first, not its own political programme. Oh well. What's $10 billion anyway...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

But, but, but...

"Tories brace for deficit, plan to share blame."

I sincerely hope the opposition is more skilled than to fall into this trap. I hope. Policies such as the GST cut, spending the surplus and massive spending increases on top of these moves are solely the Conservatives' to wear. If we're on the brink of a deficit, it's policies like these that have put us in this position.

Where's all that strong leadership the nation was sold? If you read this report, the Conservative strategy sounds like a lot of shirking and you-first kind of manoeuvring.
A Conservative MP made it clear what political tack the government would take if forced back into the red. When asked whether he expected a deficit the MP smiled and replied: "Only if the opposition agrees."
There you go...

A big clue on John Manley's leadership aspirations

This "Globe Round Table" podcast discussion, chaired by Edward Greenspon and published today, features among its panelists, John Manley. If you have a listen, I don't see how you come to the conclusion that Manley will be anteing up in the Liberal leadership. He speaks of there being obvious front runners, how anyone else coming in is clearly behind in the ground game, of the money required to run a "first-class" campaign being in the neighbourhood of $2 million. At $1100 limits per individual, he wonders about the effort needed to then properly fund such a campaign. He spoke about transparency being more important than the monetary limit.

The latter half of the podcast focusses on the issue of the dumbing down of politics and the media's role in facilitating it, if any. It was satisfying to hear Manley take Greenspon to task by criticizing the proliferation of anonymous sources, describing their use now as "pandemic." Manley also speaks of the "snapshot discussions" that are featured in politics now, as opposed to "thoughtful discussions," a dynamic fostered by the electronic media. He cites this as a worry for democracies, that it's quite difficult to get the public's attention on difficult issues. He makes comments about faulty education, a lack of history being taught in high schools, kids coming out of universities without proper economic understanding. All of which he says suggests a less informed and less educated electorate to which newspapers are catering. I may be a little crude in my characterization of that last point, but if you listen to the podcast, it's pretty close.

All of which suggests to me that it is either Manley drastically lowering expectations for his possible run or that it is what it is. A description of the obstacles he sees that will lead to the likely decision that he's not in. He just doesn't sound like a candidate if you give it a listen.

Khadr's Guantanamo trial could be delayed, again

The sad spectacle of the Khadr trial continues today with his defence team now requesting an indefinite delay as it has come to light that records to which they are entitled have not been provided while they are supposedly on the brink of a trial.
It was revealed in court Wednesday that the military's psychiatric records of Khadr during his past six years of incarceration still have not been given to the defence.
The new judge, who was called in to replace the somewhat defence sympathetic Judge Brownback, has become just the recent iteration of Brownback, seeing such prosecution failures and having to act accordingly in response. The reports suggest that Khadr's trial may be put off now to a date under a new president, raising questions about whether Khadr's Guantanamo trial will even occur at this point.

And the Canadian government, in the face of such abuses of process, continues to stand back and defer to this "judicial process" to the bitter end...

Rachel Maddow's show taking off

"A Fresh Face on Cable, Rachel Maddow Produces a Sharp Rise in MSNBC Ratings." Apparently Maddow is giving Larry King a run for his money in the ratings these days. Good for her! What a great addition she is to the news world for political junkies. I particularly liked this quote from the preceding story about her recent success:
While Mr. Olbermann watches Mr. O’Reilly’s show on a monitor embedded in his desk, Ms. Maddow insists that she has never watched either Mr. King’s program or the 9 p.m. program on Fox News, “Hannity & Colmes,” which garners more viewers than either of the other shows.

Partly, she said, that lack of competitive interest is an effort to remain original. “I worry every day about the homogenizing forces at work in my professional life,” she said, adding that it can be difficult to preserve creativity within cable’s production process. It helps, she said, that she does not own a television at home.
I think there is some wisdom in that approach, not trying to be something that others are, but doing what you do best. She clearly is.

Maddow is smart, liberal and a great communicator. She doesn't offend by being over the top (as some might say of Olbermann), likely expanding her viewership, and is respectful and thoughtful toward her guests, even when she disagrees with them. She's very quick to take on an issue as well, as she, and Olbermann, did by immediately challenging the Republican allegations of voter fraud last week. Seems to me that we need more of that from the liberal side of politics in Canada if our recent campaign is any indication. Where is the Canadian Keith Olbermann? The Canadian Rachel Maddow? They don't exist.

Here's a clip from last night that's kind of funny:

There you go, a good news type of story for you this a.m. for a change...:)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

For the couldn't happen to a nicer guy file...

May there be many more such instances to come for Karl Rove as he travels the U.S.: "Protestor tries to arrest Rove in SF." Video here:

Worth a look for former Majority Leader George Mitchell putting Rove in his place at the end...:)

One more big gift to his successor

The imbecile has decided to keep Gitmo open, doing nothing to prepare for its closure, despite rhetoric dating back to 2006 when Bush first raised the prospect of closing it. What an absolute shocker.
Despite his stated desire to close the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, President Bush has decided not to do so, and never considered proposals drafted in the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere, according to senior administration officials.

Mr. Bush’s top advisers held a series of meetings at the White House this summer after a Supreme Court ruling in June cast doubt on the future of the American detention center. But Mr. Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantánamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, the officials said.

The administration is proceeding on the assumption that Guantánamo will remain open not only for the rest of Mr. Bush’s presidency but also well beyond, the officials said, as the site for military tribunals of those facing terrorism-related charges and for the long prison sentences that could follow convictions.

The effect of Mr. Bush’s stance is to leave in place a prison that has become a reviled symbol of the administration’s fight against terrorism, and to leave another contentious foreign policy decision for the next president.
Sure, why not. What's one more disaster to throw on the barbie for the next guy? Make no mistake about who's driving this legacy:
...administration officials say that even Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the most powerful advocates for closing the prison, have quietly acquiesced to the arguments of more hawkish advisers, including Vice President Dick Cheney.
As the article makes clear, the rationale for keeping it open is the difficulty in deciding what to do with the prisoners, where to put them in the U.S., or where to send them abroad. The danger posed by a number is cited as further rationale for its continued use. Making it all the more ridiculous that the lone Canadian, Omar Khadr, former child soldier, continues to sit there...we could easily take him and subject him to the Canadian justice system, thank you. Such progress could be made toward closing this abomination, but it's likely too big a pill of defeat for the Bush administration's hubris to swallow.

If Obama wins, however, his administration should know that if they want to send Khadr back to Canada, most Canadians would likely come to support it:
...while the topic is still seen a political hot potato due to the unpopularity of the Khadr family, grassroots support has been steadily growing over the last two months.

The Facebook site, "For the Immediate Release of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay," has thousands of members and is reportedly the fifth most popular in Canada. Law students and young lawyers across the country are organizing panels, protests and petitions this week.

Unnamed Conservative party spokesman says Newfoundland can take a hike

Anonymous Conservatives speak too and not so high-mindedly. Just give them the opportunity and they rarely disappoint.

In response to the mayor of St. John's asking that Harper appoint a Newfoundland senator or some other individual to represent Newfoundland in cabinet, in the wake of no federal Conservative winning a seat in Newfoundland, we read this: unnamed Conservative party spokesman said Newfoundlanders had their chance to send a message to the prime minister and have an elected member at the cabinet table.

"They spoke at the ballot box, and if they support and agree with the premier's message that it doesn't actually hurt them to not have someone at the cabinet table to speak for them, I don't see what would even spur this campaign on."
They just can't help themselves. Way to handle this request, Conservative high roader. Whatever you may think of the request from the mayor, coming in the wake of the clearly expressed intent of the Newfoundland voters, it wouldn't do the Conservatives any harm to refrain from punching such individuals in the gut. It makes it sound like they're really not so by-gonesy about Williams after all (having Junior call Williams a "mad hatter" the day before the supposed niceties are being exchanged doesn't help either)...and the we-told-you-so kind of attitude is a little annoying.

Friday, October 17, 2008

End of week midnight madness

With all due respect to the very eminent Who and Judas Priest picks tonight...I'm going to weigh in with something a little more modern:

Midnight Madness by the Chemical Brothers and their very cool Google Earth video concept:
Filmmakers, photographers and artists joined us in creating a unique global video project for The Chemical Brothers with Google Earth.

Entrants made their own short clip (from 2 to 20 seconds) or photograph on the theme of MIDNIGHT MADNESS. Then uploaded work via the Chemical Brothers' website to Google Earth and tagged it to it's exact global location.

A selection of the best work was chosen and featured in this new concept music video for the Chemical Brothers, executed through the Google Earth application.
Midnight Madness, a song featured in my treadmill mix that keeps me going, and captures a bit of the madness of the past few weeks...:)

Look at what's developing in the U.S. election...

The Justice Department is suddenly in the here:

Obama counsel Bob Bauer speaks about the sudden news that the FBI is looking into widespread voter fraud allegations made by the McCain campaign toward the Obama campaign. It is believed to be an attempt to suppress voter turnout in the election. Politics in the Bush Justice Department. You don't say...


Letter to the editor, Ottawa Citizen:
Four years of minority governments, and counting. The consequences have been serious. The Canadian dollar has swung wildly, completely rudderless for four years. The result has been the near destruction of Canada's manufacturing and lumber industries. We are seeing the nationalizing of home mortgages. The government now holds the paper on Canada's best mortgages because our financial institutions are failing.

Democratically, we just saw the lowest voter turnout in any one's memory. We have elected a government with the support of only 22 per cent of the eligible voters. Equally seriously, we just saw that millions spent on attack ads, appealing to our lesser side, worked.

We also just saw the public vote down the environment as a serious issue, possibly removing the environment as a government priority for years to come. We also just saw an election where health care and its erosion had no serious place.

By any standard, Canada is hurting and adrift.

Eugene Parks,
Victoria, B.C.
How much did the Conservatives end up spending in negative ads attacking Mr. Dion since his ascent to the leadership and continuing on during this past campaign? I'd love to know the answer to that one. Perhaps some enterprising journalist might find out whether it was closer to $5 million, $10 million or perhaps $20 million.

In the midst of all this, the Liberals appear to be about to embark upon months of navel-gazing. If the news that Mr. Dion is stepping down on Monday is true, they best ensure they have a solid parliamentary leader in the interim. Strategic focus on the policy steps the Conservatives are taking needs to be prioritized, consistently making the case against Conservative thinking. There's got to be better positioning in the House that shows deftness, that Canadians can respect and rally around. The last session was a failure in that regard. People not distracted by leadership politics need to be fully devoted to the task, they need to be present, coherent and keep the Conservatives on their toes. Harper unchecked is the last thing we need.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Morning after notes...

Watch Dona Cadman, new Conservative MP for Surrey North, finally "answer" a question on the Harper-Zytaruk-defamation-$1million insurance policy extravaganza. Truly insightful. Expect much more of this from new Harper MP's everywhere. The contrast when you listen to someone like Hedy Fry, for example, and then hear Dona Cadman is remarkable.

Michael Fortier was the only Harper minister to go down. He barely came second over a first time Liberal candidate. Talk about a major embarrassment. Andre Bachand is another.

Wajid Khan lost in Mississauga-Streetsville. The international man of mystery has been grounded. I'm tellin ya, that's a sad tale indeed.

Helena Guergis won handily, by more than 30% over her nearest rival. This guy was right, a post turtle could win in that riding. And did. Guess the joke's on me for continually pointing out the existential absurdity of Ms. Guergis sitting in cabinet. I will be consoled, however, by the prospect of continued hilarity.

Gerard Kennedy's shockingly solid win still surprises me. That this riding was not close is quite the result. For Mr. Kennedy, however, I wouldn't be reading too much into it.

Leading to for all the leadership questions, that's for another day. I've been a supporter of Stephane Dion for a long time and won't do what many are doing today. He's a decent politician who doesn't deserve a lot of what's been piled on to him, from many, many quarters. He didn't win and he undoubtedly accepts responsibility, as the leader for what's happened. His speech was gracious last night and he showed his decency again, in stating he'd work in the parliament that's been elected. That's all I will say for now...I am glad, however, to see that Mr. Harper's leadership and his future is getting some attention as well.

Harper emboldened

At least judging by his tone, that's the message. He seems very happy. Canada's paid hundreds of millions for the same minority dynamic, but as long as he's happy I guess...but he didn't get a majority facing a man he mocked with millions of dollars for years. Quite an achievement.

I take it that his overly upbeat tone is meant to send a message. Likely to anyone thinking of mounting a challenge to Mr. 0-1-2.

Did he just thank Dion for his years of service? As in, see ya later, Mr. Dion, you're roadkill? A very ungracious note given Dion's speech. Yet next...he and Jack agree on priorities. Message sent.

This is the fastest speech I've ever seen anyone deliver. It's like he's busting at the result. I don't understand the glee. The minority result is inconsequential to him.

Inclusive and responsive government. That should be interesting to see.

A time to put aside political differences and partisan differences, he says. You first, Mr. Harper. You've never shown that.

They will keep their promises, do what they said they promised, they will act on what they campaigned he believes that in spite of the minority, he has a mandate to enact his policies, despite the fact that he's outnumbered. Sounds like more of the same to me.

A quick sign off..."God Bless Canada" returns. What...was there a rush to get this thing done or what? The way he rushed through this was strange...he continues to baffle, tonight was happy, hyped Harper. No inkling whatsoever of the defeat he was handed in a second consecutive minority and that was likely his intent in carrying on like this. But the facts are the facts and reality will creep up on him. Parliament will be back and committees will work. Life for Stephen Harper is not going to be as happy as he's making it out to be.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A few observations

Well, CTV called it at about 9:45 at a Conservative minority. CBC is now finally projecting a minority Conservative government at 10:45. $300 million for this. The big wild card to me is how Harper reacts to this. There is some discussion tonight that he will recognize this as a defeat, that this was his chance for a majority. That's a further away calculation it seems to me. In the near future, I expect him to attempt to characterize this as a victory, as a stronger mandate and to continue to treat this minority as his personal majority through more bullying posturing. We'll see if he's learned anything. The partisanship is hardwired into him, I'd be shocked to see anything else. Whatever he does, the Liberals should immediately stake out their position and say no, we will oppose. Exercise a strong leadership position. Tell Harper he's received a minority, you have to work with the parliament or face an election. Draw a line immediately. There is no appetite for an election and Mr. Harper must respect the results.

The overall percentages in votes so far are very interesting. 2006 results had the Conservatives at 36%, Liberals at 30%. Tonight thus far, it's looking not too far off those percentages with a slight uptick for Conservatives (+1%) and a slight downtick (-2%) for Liberals. That slight movement has nevertheless resulted in many more seats for the Conservatives and fewer for the Liberals. The seat counts are yet to be finalized but clearly, they're not as good for the Liberals. Harper's got more and he has a win in that regard but to use his own construction, a minority is a minority.

If I were the NDP, however, I would be happy but tempered in celebrating the results. NDP are up 1%. It's not the historic number of seats they thought was in reach. They've received a lot of plaudits for a well-run campaign and spent the limit for what look to be 9 additional seats.

Speaking of which...Parkdale-High Park is not at all as close as I thought it would be. Kennedy's won pretty handily. The talk was that Nash would hang on. Gerard is clearly a star to knock off Peggy, who is beloved by many here. He led all night.

Elizabeth May didn't pull off the big upset and perhaps some will question the merit of that seat choice. She's clearly made her national name, however and given the Greens a profile from which there is no turning back.

It's a rough evening for Garth Turner and other Liberals in the 905. Halton, Burlington, Oakville have all gone for the Conservatives. Three close 2006 ridings where voting strategically was thought to have been a possibility to make a difference, but if you look at the numbers, that really wasn't the case tonight. The margins are much bigger. There would have had to be a massive concerted movement on the left-centre as the Conservatives won by comfortable margins. That seems to me a big development from Ontario.

Conservative "stars" being re-elected. Tony Clement. What a democracy we have. An absentee Health Minister during one of the most deadly health crises of recent years and no problem, he's back. Gerry Ritz. See previous comment. Maxime Bernier. Need I say more? We're so fortunate to have such bumblers back! Throw in Flaherty, Baird and Oda too. Help us, it's the same awful line-up of Conservative mediocrities.

Let me be clear, frankly, I'll be liveblogging the election

Yes, I'll be at it tonight...took a bit of a break today. You can't say much in any event due to the blackout that's in effect until 10 p.m. Love the way they're all sitting around smirking. I'll be posting regularly, not to overwhelm Tribe's ProgBlog site or anything, but whenever I've got enough stuff.

Oh help us, Sandra Buckler's on the CTV desk. 9:17: She's telling us the arts funding was increased...what a surprise and a warning to all of what's to come from Canada's Conservative network.

I'll be tooling around to all the nets, including CP24 here in T.O. My tolerance for Lloyd, Buckler, Duffy, Fife et al. will be low, however.

Off the top of my head...ridings I'll be interested in...all of them! Love to see Gary Lunn go down, Michael Fortier and of course, Junior MacKay. That latter one, likely a pipe dream. But we can still dream, until 10 pm.

We'll see how this goes, but if Mr. Harper ends up with another minority, this should be the beginning of the end of his leadership tenure.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Let's get ourselves a new Prime Minister

Stephen Harper has been a terrible Prime Minister and has run perhaps the poorest campaign, despite his millions, of all the major parties. He deserves to lose tomorrow. I'm hopeful that Canadians will say no to more Stephen Harper.

Mr. Harper's leadership skills have been exposed as average, certainly well below the advertised goods. His team is atrocious. There is the distinct possibility that tomorrow night he will lose three cabinet ministers (Lunn, Blackburn, Fortier) with little on the horizon to replace them - if he gets that chance. Battleground Ontario is yet to speak and we could have a much more interesting evening tomorrow than is presently the conventional wisdom. But back to the point...Mr. Harper, after over two years as Prime Minister attracted virtually no high calibre star candidates to his team. I wonder why?

The unfolding economic crisis caught Mr. Harper in defensive mode. Singing a happy tune, what me worry? Why is Mr. Dion panicking, he lectured us during the English debate. The voters recoiled and he immediately flipped on a dime. Strong, steady leader? In the past few days, he's following Dion's lead, having Deficit Jim suddenly hup to on speeding infrastructure funding and today, Harper is channelling Dion's points from the past week, telling Canadians he's now concerned about the economy, jobs and savings. Where have you been, incremental man? You swung and missed when you stepped up to a big fat leadership challenge that came at you, smack in the middle of this election campaign. He told us to buy stocks!

The tone employed by his campaign, for the past 36 days, in the days leading up to it and for over two years has been one of distortion, smearing, and lying. In other words, the same tone we've seen while governing. He's sued his opposition, sued Elections Canada, fired esteemed public servants, muzzled his cabinet ministers and candidates, taken advantage of taxpayer funding to send reams of newsletters across the country attacking his's been a government like we've never seen before.

For the environment, he's a disaster. A feckless plan of 20% intensity-based reductions by 2020 that promises to do little to make a difference and a plan he refuses to tell Canadians how much it will cost. Reporters virtually ignored the hypocrisy of the whole situation, letting Mr. Harper point at the other guy without asking him, well, how much is yours going to cost, big guy? It's tough when the pool of reporters only gets to ask 10 questions a day, I suppose, and they put up with it. What Harper does dangle before the public on the environmental front is offensive. A poke in the eye to anyone concerned with the environment. In fact, he'll cut two cents from the diesel tax, pandering and electoral fortunes the priority for Mr. Harper, not the environment.

One last item on the leadership issue...have a listen to the former leader of the opposition speaking on audiotape about individuals in his party offering financial considerations to a sitting MP:

Wouldn't you feel much better if you awoke on Wednesday morning to a turfed Stephen Harper?

A resounding no, from this corner, to any more Stephen Harper.

A resounding yes to the intelligent, decent, honest Stephane Dion, a man that Canadians could be proud to have as their Prime Minister.

Update: There are many "battleground" ridings to weigh in, not just in Ontario. I suggest people consult this list, for starters.

Update II: Vote for this post on reddit if you are so inclined...:) (someone submitted it, unbeknownst to me...)

Election Eve...and the Conservatives provide plenty of motivation to get out the vote

A Conservative candidate in Toronto has been found to have engaged in "clearly defamatory" campaigning by lying about Borys Wrzesnewskyj's attendance record in Ottawa. What a profile in courage this Conservative is. At this point, do we really need any more evidence of the disrespect for democracy that these Conservatives have?
Ontario Superior Court Justice George Strathy ruled Sunday that Tory hopeful Axel Kuhn and his staff must stop publishing and distributing a brochure that makes false claims about Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

Splashed with the headline "Where is Etobicoke Centre MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj?" in bold, red letters, the flyer claims the Grit candidate has skipped key votes and dozens of parliamentary committee meetings, all while collecting his annual salary of $155,400.

But Wrzesnewskyj said his 79 per cent voting record is one of the highest in the House of Commons and that he's not a full-time member of any of the six committees listed in the brochure.

He said he attended 89 per cent of meetings for the public accounts committee - the only one he is a member of - which was left off the leaflet.

One of the committees listed on the pamphlet doesn't even exist, he said.

"They were trying to do a real number on me right before the vote," Wrzesnewskyj said Monday.

"The damage has been done. Is it irreparable? I don't know."

In his ruling, the judge wrote that the words on Kuhn's flyer are "clearly defamatory."
How American in its orientation, the typical U.S. style attack on voting records. Do they know what country they're in?

Par for the course, the cowardly Conservative candidate, hiding like the Conservatives throughout the nation who have refused to participate in all-candidates meetings, refused to acknowledge the judicial proceedings:
The judge wrote that several attempts were made to contact Kuhn, who did not appear, or have a representative present, during proceedings.

Kuhn's campaign office did not return messages left Monday by The Canadian Press.

The Conservative's Ottawa war room did not immediately comment on the contents of the brochure.
It is hard to believe that Ontario voters will reward such efforts. Think long and hard voters, this is what you get when you vote for Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Rule of law? They laugh.

Nanos has the Liberals marginally ahead in Ontario going into tomorrow's vote, all of the pollsters in the last few days have shown volatility in Ontario, notably in the 905 ridings and some of the 519's. Strategic voting in those ridings like Oakville, Burlington and Halton could truly make a difference. They've fluctuated from leaning Conservative, to too close to call all over the last few days. Make no mistake, Harper is looking to Ontario for his majority:
Following a Tory collapse in Quebec, Battleground Ontario appeared to be shaping up as the most valuable real estate in the election. Close races and numerous three-way vote splits had pollsters and pundits at odds on how the province's 106 seats would shake out.
Time to get the vote out and turf these ethically challenged, undeserving Conservatives.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bad optics for Harper on the second last day of the campaign


Not exactly the kind of day you want to have at campaign's end. An insightful Globe report this afternoon on Harper's day in la belle province where signs of dwindling support in Quebec are noted:
The Tory Leader's final rally in Quebec was showing signs of flagging support for the Conservatives. He only drew about 600 for the event at a Quebec City convention centre Sunday afternoon instead of the 2,000 the Tories said would attend from an area where the Conservatives won many Quebec seats in 2006.
He spoke to "...a subdued crowd of 250 in Saint-Tite, Que., Sunday morning." Further, he continues to bring the crazy talk, with its air of desperation:
“The leader of the Bloc has called me all sorts of names … He says that I am the devil himself – the devil who is going to take you straight to hell. A devil in a cowboy hat,” Mr. Harper said.

“He says also that because I come from Alberta, that I serve the oil companies. That's like saying all Quebeckers are maple syrup producers,” he said.

“Fortunately Quebeckers … are a practical and tolerant people.”
Yes, unlike a certain other person flailing wildly at this point.

Also noted in the report, Harper's refusal to speak with reporters.

His Conservative candidate crashing Gilles Duceppe's event in Quebec City seemed mighty desperate as well. Here he is, pictured in the middle, harassing Duceppe. A fitting picture of Conservative temperament captured on the second last day:

They're really something, these Conservatives. The leader won't speak with reporters and has kept the media at a distance throughout the campaign. He's kept his candidates well-muzzled, yet they conduct themselves like this when the chips are down.

Does not appear to have been a good day at all.

Sunday campaign notes: maniacal edition

So to recap, yesterday Harper told us he's not George Bush, he's not an oilman, he's not the devil incarnate and he'll quit if he doesn't win. All in all, you'd have to say that was a banner day at the microphone. So what else was there that we might have missed...

Let's start with two further instances from yesterday of the PM's interactions with the media resulting in pronouncements displaying an increasingly egomaniacal streak.

1. First, there was this indignation from the PM on having been asked a question:
Stephen Harper, who's vowed to avoid a deficit in any circumstances – without raising taxes – says he considers questions about how he'd therefore cut spending to avoid going into the red as the economy weakens “a ridiculous hypothetical scenario.”

He said the question is out of order because the economy won't hit the rocks.

“You're asking me to say what would Canada do if our economy went to hell in a hand basket. This government is running the economy so it can't go to hell in a hand basket,” Mr. Harper told reporters during a campaign stop in London, Ont.

The economic outlook has worsened considerably since the Tory government's 2008 budget, and returns are dropping for commodities such as oil which helped swell Ottawa's coffers. Economists have cut their growth forecasts and the S&P/TSX composite stock index has fallen 40 per cent from its 52-week high. Earlier this week Ottawa was forced to step in with a $25-billion backstop for banks.

Yeah, you moronic press, that's an outrageous question...we're clearly nowhere near "hell in a hand basket" status, are we? Just ignore all the economic indicators and listen to economist Steve. Who is getting quite testy at campaign's end.

2. Second set of remarks yesterday exhibiting the trademark know-it-all streak, still on economic issues, specifically the worldwide financial crisis:
Mr. Harper told reporters that Group of Seven countries are worried about what in some cases they consider excessive efforts to bolster deposit insurance coverage. Nations fear that there will be a stampede of depositors to these jurisdictions as a result.

He was addressing a recent call among G7 member countries for a “level playing field” when it comes to the size of deposit guarantees.

“There is some concern among the [G7] that some countries are going overboard and are getting into backdoor subsidies of banks in a way that is not in the long-term interests of the market place,” he said.
Mr. Harper said, however, that he can't see Canada ever having to step in to honour its deposit guarantees.

“In Canada, as you know, we have a very stable banking system. So we don't lose money if banks don't fail and we have no prospects of a bank failing,” he said.
Ever? Never say ever, Steve. Seems to me I just read a similar tale of strong banks somewhere...oh, here:
Australia and New Zealand gave a blanket guarantee to all bank deposits on Sunday in a move likely to raise pressure on other economies to do the same, amid a crisis of confidence in the global financial system.

The two neighbours, both dominated by Australia's four major lenders, had portrayed themselves as having strong bank systems, especially Australia whose government and regulators gave repeated assurances it was well placed to weather the storm.

But Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called a snap news conference on Sunday to say his government would guarantee Australia's entire deposit base of A$600-A$700 billion ($386-$450 billion) for three years and guarantee wholesale bank funding.

"We are in the economic equivalent of a national security crisis, and the challenges are great," Rudd said.

Things are moving fast and Harper's pronouncement, in light of his previous meaningless reassurances, is likely to become quickly outdated.

3. See also today's previous entry on the PM's leadership musings, i.e., he will quit if he doesn't win and thinks others should follow his advice too. The coming final few days of Conservative media blackout may be a result of all of the above. Harper was clearly primed and in gaffe mode yesterday.

4. Now moving from "egomaniacal" to just "maniacal," from the Globe yesterday, there was this opinion out of Quebec explaining why Conservative fortunes have declined there:
Mr. Gagné argued that the Conservatives’ “maniacal” control of its local candidates’ public appearances and failure to release a regional platform will be to blame if the party fails to get the results it was hoping for in the area.
The muzzling of Conservative candidates across the country has been well documented at the website. The counter is now up to 110 incidents of candidates refusing to interact with the media, attend all-candidates debates, all party forums, meetings hosted by local interest groups, you name it. The unwillingness of Conservative candidates to participate in these rites of passage in our electoral politics, the grass roots engagements where citizens get to see what candidates have to offer, is a nation-wide shameful phenomenon for these Conservatives. They certainly don't deserve to be rewarded for it.

5. Finally, a must read today, an editorialist weighs in with his case against Stephen Harper, "Feared but not much loved."

Sowing division to the end

From a Saturday interview, remarkably self-centred and divisive politicking: "Harper hints he may step down if Tories lose election." The strategist in chief seems to have gotten bent out of shape when challenged by a Toronto Sun reporter. When he's cornered, he flubs. Questioned by Mansbridge earlier this week, it produced his now infamous advice to Canadians that there are buying opportunities in the stock market.

So tonight we read that a reporter challenged him on his message of the day:

In an interview Saturday with the Toronto Sun, Harper was challenged on his claim that the election of the Conservatives is the only way to stop a carbon tax. The reporter asked if it isn't equally possible that a minority Liberal government would be constrained by the opposition of other parties would even face defeat if it tried to pass its policy.

Harper said he did not believe there would be "any appetite in Parliament or in the public for another election. I think whoever loses the election of the major parties, their party will begin the process of looking for a new leader." But Harper said he would not end up supporting a carbon tax simply to avoid another election.

"I'm running to win this election. If I don't win this election, I'm sure my party will look for another leader," Harper said.

It certainly appears that sensing vulnerability to his argument that the Conservatives must be elected to stop a carbon tax, he blurted out that if he doesn't win, he's outta here. Pretty telling that his own leadership is immediately where he went. Give me what I want or I'll quit. The air of a sore loser, don't you think? Is this why they're cutting off media availability?

It could also be that he's trying to secure his own leadership by suggesting he'd have to lose to be replaced. It's equally possible, however, that leadership rumblings will occur even if Harper ends up with a second minority. At some point, Conservatives are going to have to recognize that they can't grow with this guy.

What's also likely is that Harper is seeking to sow division among Liberals and sow confusion in the public mind about his principal opposition. That's just more of what we've seen for over two years. Distortion and destruction that he seeks to sow in another party.

Listening to such self-centred electoral musings from the PM, whatever his intent here, it's further confirmation that this man's time needs to be up. We need to ensure that we're defeating Conservatives wherever we can and voting accordingly. As one of his trusted advisers has stated, Mr. Harper's goal is to destroy his political opposition. It's the only way a Conservative malevolent can survive in this country. Mr. Harper's comments tonight should highly motivate Liberals and progressives across the country approaching voting day to turf this manipulative individual.

How satisfying it would be to make his prediction of leadership turnover come true...but in his own case, of course.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Harper on the defensive in Quebec

Is he off the rails or what? His comments in Quebec today sound defensive and paranoid. See these two reports: "Harper says Quebeckers will see through character attacks," and "Harper says he's been demonized in Quebec." If Mr. Harper has been criticized in Quebec during this campaign it's because his policies have been rejected by Quebecers. Yet Harper is characterizing the fallout from his arts cuts and youth justice extremity as "demagoguery" from the Bloc and himself as the victim. Here's a sampling of his statements today:
"When the demagoguery of the moment that the Bloc is so effective at - when that passes - Quebecers will look at their pragmatic interests," Harper told a news conference earlier Saturday in London, Ont.

"I'm confident Quebecers will listen. I'm confident that the attempt of the Bloc to demonize me really belittles the intelligence of Quebecers. Quebecers understand that just because someone's from Alberta, doesn't mean he's a petroliere (oilman). Just because someone's a Conservative doesn't mean he's George Bush.

"Just because someone someone's from Alberta, he's not an oilman any more than someone from Quebec is automatically a producer of maple syrup. This is just silly. I think Quebecers are more tolerant than that and will take a pragmatic look at their options."
Somebody sounds a little exasperated. But, but, but...I'm not George Bush...I'm not an oilman...come on. His environment policies show that yes, he is the Alberta candidate. His gung ho Iraq war boosterism in 2003 where he parroted international right wing talking points showed us quite effectively how independent he was from Bush. His foreign policy has continued to tie us to Bush.

This is the leader of the brilliant Conservative Quebec campaign that decided to drive a billboard around Quebec mocking Quebecers for having supported the Bloc all these years, effectively calling them stupid. This is the man who has perfected the art of negative politics in Canada, running attack ads for over two years now. For him to be braying about being demonized at this point is rich.

He still doesn't get it on a major issue that's torpedoed his chances in Quebec, the cold axing of arts cuts that have resonated with Quebecers. Here he is today speaking in the language of the accountant-in-chief:
“Anybody can demagogue this but in the end I can defend these decisions,” he said.

“In terms of culture and anything else, this government has to exercise its responsibilities. Our responsibility is to make sure that all government spending is effective and gets value for taxpayers' money,” he told reporters during a campaign stop in London, Ont.
As the obituaries and reports of campaign infighting and tone-deafness roll in on Harper's disastrous Quebec campaign, he ends on this note today:
Harper said, in French, "I love Quebec, I respect Quebecers," and added that he demonstrated that affection by giving the province a special role at the UN's cultural forum, and by correcting the fiscal imbalance.
I'm sure this will be quite comforting to the Harper Quebec MP's who are about to lose their seats.

Friday, October 10, 2008

But, but, but...not a bailout, must repeat, not a bailout...too politically damaging

"‘This is not a bailout:' Harper." Oh no, it's just a redefined linguistic concoction of epic contortions to convince voters that there's nothing to see here. Steve's been blissfully insistent that all is well. That myth came to a screeching halt today:
Ottawa's $25-billion backstop for Canadian banks drew fire from the NDP and Liberals shortly after it was announced Friday morning, with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper maintaining the plan is not an American-style rescue of financial institutions and will ultimately cost taxpayers nothing.

“This is not a bailout of banks. This is a market transaction that will cost the government nothing,” he told reporters.

“We are not going in and buying bad assets. What we're doing is simply exchanging assets that we already hold the insurance on and the reason we're doing this is to get out in front. The issue here is not protecting the banks,” Mr. Harper said.

“The issue here is ensuring there will be credit from those banks to the wider borrowing public.”

The federal government announced Friday morning it will use taxpayers money to buy $25-billion in insured mortgages from banks to free up space on bank balance sheets so they can lend more money to Canadians. It's an effort to ease the supply of cash and reduce borrowing costs across Canada during a credit crunch, Tory Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said. (emphasis added)
Oh, it's just a piddling $25 billion market transaction. Is that what the kids are calling it these days? Gobbledy, gobbledy squawk! Look away Canadian voters! Canada is much different from other nations!

Well, let's recall Steve from eons ago, say a few weeks back when he was opining on the Canadian banks. Harper, on September 19th:
Harper said Friday the Canadian financial system is very strong and the balance sheets of the banks and insurance companies are solid enough that they don't need any financial aid.

"We don't anticipate any crisis in the Canadian financial system," Harper said while campaigning in Quebec for the Oct. 14 federal election. "I think there is some evidence that credit has been tightening in Canada over the past year, but that said, I certainly would not urge consumers to panic."
Harper quoted by CBC, September 19th:
"All our information would indicate obviously while certain banks have had some significant writedowns, that overall, the balance sheets of the Canadian financial sector remains very healthy," Harper told reporters after announcing a Conservative proposal to provide $85 million in tax breaks for families caring for disabled children or relatives.

"The best information I have, and I do continue to get briefed on these matters, is that the troubles in the financial sector of the United States should not spill over into Canada," Harper said.
And Harper has the chutzpah to say things like this today:
“It shows we act in advance to deal with issues. WE do not wait for the point at which we are in crisis.”
He just kills me with this stuff...

So, $45 billion injected in the last week or so by the Bank of Canada and now the federal government. $12 billion surplus left by the Liberals gone. GST cut panned by economists deprives the federal government of $60 billion over the next 5 years. Massive spending by PM since June in bid to get re-elected, to the tune of $19 billion.

And he's the prudent fiscal manager? Canadians need to wake up, fast.

Conservatives flailing, suddenly backstopping the banks

Here's the real news today, not some silly interview with Dion that Harper is peddling: "Ottawa admits it must act on the economy." The real news is the Conservative scrambling to deal with the global financial crisis that continues to tie them in knots.

See, they've been hamstrung by strong leader Steve's everything-is-fine-go-shopping-in-the-stock-markets shtick. Now when the banks are facing tight international liquidity situations, and are pressuring the government to do something, anything...well, it's all political calculation that's going on in Conservative land. After all, how can Steve act when he's been saying everything's hunky dory? See what happens when you play politics on every issue you encounter? So today we read that yes, indeedy, there's a plan in the works to assist Canadian banks:
The federal government is moving to backstop the Canadian banks' capacity to lend money in an acknowledgment that not even the country's sturdy banking system is immune to the global financial crisis.

A plan originally earmarked for Friday morning would see the government assume some mortgages currently held by the banks by giving them to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp., a Crown corporation. In turn, the banks might receive CMHC paper – possibly bonds – against which they could use as collateral for their own loans from other banks.
Brute force reality is hitting Steve and Deficit Jim on the head like a two by four. Yet any steps they may take are being politicized due to the proximity of the election out of concern for the Conservatives' electoral fortunes:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and the banks say no bailout is on the table and the plan falls short of an intervention, but sources told The Globe and Mail Ottawa now recognizes the fast-changing economic landscape requires action to help the banks access cheaper funds to fuel lending.

With the double whammy of the last days of an election combining with the global economic slowdown, the federal government and senior bank executives are hypersensitive. The Conservative Party has been insisting throughout the election campaign that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. But in the past 24 hours a new reality has set in.

Mr. Flaherty, who is expected to be in Washington Friday at an emergency G7 session of finance ministers, had been preparing to make the announcement of a banking plan Thursday, but after word leaked Wednesday night, the plans were delayed, sources say, in an illustration of how important it is for the government to try to control the message.

Pressure from the banks is growing, with executives arguing their sector needs federal help immediately to ease their credit pressure.

Banks want it right now but the Harper government has to reconcile calls for immediate assistance with its insistence the Canadian banking system requires no extraordinary measures.

Financial stocks were battered Thursday. Toronto-based insurers Sun Life Financial and Manulife Financial fell 13.96 per cent and 11.35 per cent, respectively. Bank of Montreal dropped 4.59 per cent, Toronto-Dominion Bank 6.42 per cent, Bank of Nova Scotia 7.15 per cent, and both Royal Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce fell 9.01 per cent. Comparatively, the S&P/TSX composite fell 4.54 per cent.(emphasis added)
The back and forth positioning from Harper over the past few weeks on this major test of his leadership has been remarkable. Remember the reassurance from do-nothing Steve during the English debate?
"In the US right now, let's be clear, they are bailing out the banking system because of misregulation. We are not doing that in Canada," he said, dismissing accusations his Conservative government has not done enough to bolster Canada's slowing economy.
Yet here he was on Thursday, confirming the need to assist the banks. We're assisting, but we're not "bailing out," he said. A disingenuous characterization in any event. We're not bailing out banks yet we're clearly stepping in to help. The distinction is a matter of degree. Steve repeats it 3 times here, apparently to make people think we're not really having to do much at all with our banks:
“To be very clear: there is no question, no possibility of bailing out the banks and the banks aren't seeking to be bailed out and the government won't be bailing them out,” he said. He added, however, that the banks need help to cope with the “growing tightness in world credit markets” now. “We're doing that to make sure there's money available for routine loans [for] small business, for car loans, for mortgages.”(emphasis added)
See how careful he is with his words? He is concerned with the perception that he's flip-flopped. That he's been exposed as having been wrong. Because suddenly, the government is assuming bank mortgages. This certainly flies in the face of the representations that Mr. Harper has made to us during this election campaign.

And just whose brilliant idea was it to have an election in the middle of this meltdown anyway?

Best sign ever!

As seen on Flickr. Follow the green arrow.

Very funny.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Tactical mistakes

Just a few things this morning...

What is with these muzzled Conservatives? From a profile of the Parkdale-High Park race today, here's the note on the Conservative candidate:
The Conservative candidate, Jilian Saweczko, was a no-show at an all-candidates debate on CBC's Metro Morning on Sept. 24, and then a coffee-house chat on CTV. She has not responded to numerous interview requests from the Star. On her website, she has said she'll fight to tackle crime, improve the environment and strengthen business.
What contempt for our democracy they display. They write off cities, these Conservatives.

Bad timing for the release of the cost of the war in Afghanistan. It's today and the figure of $20 billion, not the $8 billion it was supposed to cost, is being heard:
Canada's historic study into the cost of the Afghanistan war is expected to reveal that misleading accounting and a lack of transparency within the federal government effectively obscure the real bill for the six-year mission and most other major projects.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page releases his much-anticipated report today, providing the first account of the long-term financial consequences of the Afghanistan conflict to which Canada's troops are committed until 2011. The report's scope is unprecedented, giving the first breakdown of three broad costs -- military, reconstruction and aid and death and disability.

The pricetag will be much higher than previous estimates and will undoubtedly thrust the cost of the war into the heat of the election campaign's final days, amid mounting global economic chaos. It comes days after Britain's Afghanistan commander said western forces can't defeat the Taliban and win the war. (emphasis added)
The context into which this news is dropped could not be worse:
But the report also raises serious questions about the government as a money manager at a time of economic anguish and turmoil. With banks crashing and markets imploding, the demands for already scarce government resources could be significant. The question is whether the government has the information it needs to get a handle on its costs and make sound financial decisions.

The government is no longer sitting on the huge surpluses of the Liberal years, and if a faltering economy cuts into federal revenues, the prospects of a deficit become very real.
Yeah, that two cent GST cut depriving the government of $60 billion over the next five years was a brilliant move...

Also along the lines of the "bad timing" theme here, an article in a Windsor paper provides some food for thought going into the holiday weekend. The reporter talks to a "Windsor Liberal insider, an avid student of the political game for more than four decades" on the dynamics of the race:
"Buckle up and hang on to your hats. This has become a wild-card election," enthused the insider. "God, this is getting exciting. Everybody is just pumped." He believes Harper's hopes for a majority died "forever" with the Wall Street meltdown and plummeting Canadian stock markets and it's now an open question whether the Conservatives or Liberals will end up with a minority.

"What the hell do the undecideds say now?" he asked. "What are people going to talk about around the dinner table Sunday and Monday, just one day before they go out and vote?" Well, some will talk hockey and football, but inevitably the chatter will get around to the financial train wreck, set off by criminally reckless U.S. lending practices, that's eroding savings and scaring the daylights out of Canadians.

"The prime minister is right. It is worse in the U.S. But people here are looking at potentially losing everything they worked 35 years for." For those folks, there's little comfort in being told, no matter how true it is, that Canada's economic fundamentals are sound and we're in good shape to ride out the crisis.

In hindsight, said the insider, it was a tactical mistake to schedule the vote on the heels of a long weekend when families gather to count their blessings or, in this case, tote up losses, ponder dashed retirement dreams and assign blame.