Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ethics for Dummies

Continuing on with the Dummies theme today...this installment deals with things you learn in grade school not to do. Specifically, things a serious ethical government engaged in governing at a time of world economic crisis should know better than to do.

"NDP considers legal action after Tories listen in and tape private meeting:"
A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said there was nothing unethical about covertly listening in to the private NDP deliberations, taping those discussions and releasing them to the media.

An unidentified Tory was "invited" to participate in the call, said PMO spokesman Dimitri Soudas.

"Maybe the invitation was meant for the Bloc, and they accidentally invited us. We were invited. When you get invited somewhere you have the opportunity to choose to participate or not participate." (emphasis added)
Choices, choices. What to do when presented with such an opportunity? The better part of valour? Or sneaky subterfuge? It's not a tough call for our governing Conservatives apparently!

All of which is an interesting accompaniment to the great Harper climb down of 2008. The more the Conservatives cave, as they did today in withdrawing their draconian and likely illegal ban on the federal public service's right to strike ("...Minister of Transport John Baird said the government would not eliminate the right to strike for federal civil servants, as pledged last week"), the more they demonstrate that their governing instincts are very wrong. They are now playing catch up, that's what we'll see this week.

Undoing their economic update, piece by piece. Peddling their dirty tricks. In such a government Canadians should have confidence?

Disgruntled Conservative watch...

Oh dear, not again:
"Around the country, many Conservatives were furious that Harper's inner circle had failed to consult more widely before delivering the fiscal update.

One senior Conservative said Harper had shot himself in the foot for ideological reasons — much as he did when he announced $45 million in arts funding cuts last summer, which cost his party seats in Quebec in the Oct. 14 federal election.

'These guys think it's campus politics, so they get too cute by half and then f--- everything up,' he said.
'We're in the middle of an economic crisis and they pull a stunt like this?'"
See, now this is what happens when you keep the lid on so tight for all these years.

Bonus Conservative panic and fear mongering, here. Off to another good start today...

It begins

I see A View from the Left has received some information that will be very disconcerting to Mr. Harper this fine evening. See, there's a new blog in town called "Conservatives for Prentice" and here is the creative kind of material they are offering up:
This is not us trying to find fault with Stephen Harper. He has been a good and capable leader who has brought about a Conservative government, something that most people (and most of all the mainstream media) never thought possible. But the problem is that there is something keeping more Canadians from supporting him, maybe spooked by some of the things in his history like the "northern European welfare state" statement (which was taken out of context but still hurt perception of Harper). We believe that Jim Prentice has none of these handicaps and would perform better at connecting with the average Canadian.

If we are still in office after December the 8th, the authors of this blog will continue to support Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his leadership. But if we lose power before Christmas, we will be in favour of a change at the top of the Conservative Party, and our choice for the job will be Jim Prentice!
The blog has the Blogging Tories affiliation in its sidebar.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"Take him out"

"Why the opposition can't back down now." On fire!
First things first: take him out.

After all, Stephen Harper is the most dangerous animal lurking in the jungles of Parliament. He is a threat to the future viability of the Liberals. A blood simple opponent of the NDP and the only serious contemporary challenge to the Bloc Quebecois. Without him, his party is an unlikely combination of Reform Party leftovers, Harris refugees and Red Tory desperates. They don't matter or even exist without Mr. Harper. So before you think a moment longer, opposition leaders, think on that.

And if that's not compelling enough, remember: He doesn't play to win. He plays to conquer. Under his guidance, the public interest is always subjugated to his personal political advancement. And he poisons Parliament with an extreme, bare-fanged breed of partisanship that has no hope of repair until he is banished.

This becomes relevant because suddenly, he is weak. In fact, at this particular moment, he is almost unable to defend himself. Owing to a ridiculously ill-considered act of hubris, he has laid himself vulnerable to his opponents. Their imperative could not be more clear: kill him. Kill him dead. Do not, whatever you do, provide him with an opportunity to extend his hold on power. Because you can be damn certain he will never again be so reckless as to give you a chance to finish him off.
Pretty much says it all. A very necessary call to arms for the opposition parties to be strong, united and not fall prey to the coming endeavours to break them apart. They did receive more seats than Mr. Harper six weeks ago and they can act with legitimacy as a result. Be calm, deliberate and responsible. Continue to act in the manner that has been evident the last few days and not let the coming Conservative circus interfere. The presence of Chretien and Broadbent in the background greatly assists and signals to the public that this is a serious moment.

Mr. Harper has shown his contempt for the institutions of our democracy. I think it's over and I agree with Mr. Reid, you have to do something about it. The more you hear from angry Conservative insiders, I suspect there are those in the Conservative party who may support these sentiments as well.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday night music

Yes, even tonight...:) Here's this week's choice. No embed once again! Blasted!

Cheers...and play safe out there, kids.

A rude awakening for the Conservatives

"Liberals, NDP in coalition talks." Quite the day, as evident all over the blogosphere.

Mr. Harper has put in motion a series of events that he did not anticipate, that's clear. Whatever happens, it's fair to say that this was an overplayed hand. The presence of the party elder statesmen has jolted Stevie to attention. And as a result, I'm thinking that he will not easily give up his precious government status. I would expect him to start exhibiting kung-fu grip on the levers of power just about now. Because being brought down now would spell the beginning of the end of Stephen Harper and his dice rolling. Leadership rumblings would definitely be afoot. You know, to the effect that Steve went a little too far. So in addition to today's caving - ("they did announce that the first confidence vote on the fiscal update – due on Monday – would not be on the public financing proposal") - there may be more to come, despite all the Teneycke tough talk. No one out there speaking for the Conservatives other than Teneycke? Striking.

Whatever happens, whether the non-confidence vote occurs on Monday or not, the groundwork is being laid for an alternative government as early as Monday or at some point in the very near future. There are adults up there in Ottawa!

Fun, fun, fun. It is indeed satisfying to stand up to the bully.

Friday morning notes...the S.S. Harper returns

1. Thought I'd fish out this artwork from the recent federal campaign - I like to call it the "S.S. Harper" - and it's taking on a whole new meaning these days...heh...:) That Harper quote sounds so foolish now...I thought Noah didn't need to panic?

2. What the brilliant tactician may have done was push the opposition firmly toward toppling the Conservatives when, prior to the last 24-48 hours, it really wasn't on the table. Nothing was concrete enough to crystallize it. It's now being openly discussed. Reporters seem awestruck at the sight, reinforcing its reality (Hebert and Gregg last night). Conservatives are described as "thunderstruck." And even if it doesn't happen over this economic update, i.e., Harper backs down, the likelihood of it happening on some other vote, perhaps the coming "early" budget has markedly increased. Harper has galvanized the opposition by startling them with the lengths he's willing to go to. This is purely a guess...but I'm thinking he had no idea that talk of coalitions would actually come to fruition.

3. A reader prompted me to look back to the 1985 accord between Bob Rae and David Peterson as precedent for a viable scenario at the moment. So here are a few items to consider. First, here's a video clip featuring an interview with a young Rae that was referenced on Cam Holmstrom's site that gives you a pretty good sense of some aspects of the deal that was made between Rae and Peterson at that time. Second, there was a prescient column in the Toronto Star on October 13th, the day before the last election, on scenarios for the opposition that's quite helpful to review at this moment (and remember, it was written eons ago in our news cycles, so some of it is sooo dated, already). It discusses the 1985 accord and relates it to the situation on October 13th when another minority result was imminent:

By the time of the 1985 Tory toppling, Rae was determined to be more than a footnote in history: He agreed to support Peterson as premier only after the Liberals signed a two-year pact not to call an election, while passing an agreed-upon list of mutually acceptable reforms. The famous "accord" made Peterson premier but it also garnered a popularity for Rae's New Democrats that put him in the premier's office in 1990.

Now white-haired, a convert to Liberalism, a former rival for the leadership won by Stéphane Dion, Rae could yet play a key part in the aftermath of tomorrow's election, one all the polls say will deliver Canadians their third minority government in a row.


If the economy continues to slide, an opposition coalition based on some guarantee of stability could possibly look very attractive to worried Canadians. The Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc have burning issues to address together: climate change, the war in Afghanistan, restoring arts funding, and strengthening of social supports in times of trouble.

In Ontario, the activist government dictated by the agreed-upon agenda in the accord proved broadly popular. Negotiated between the two parties out of common planks in their election platforms – a ban on doctors' extra-billing, equal pay for work of equal value, 10,000 social housing starts, a spills bill for polluters – the accord was impervious to the powerful doctor and business lobbies. It had been signed: Peterson could not waver.

It is difficult to see how, based on platforms and ideologies, Harper could attract a stable governing partner. It is easier to imagine the Liberals, NDP and Bloc agreeing on a common action plan.

Interestingly, Duceppe recently swallowed his spleen about Dion, the architect of the Clarity Act, and observed he might be willing to enter into an agreement with the Liberals on some issues, such as the environment – in Quebec's interests, of course. Duceppe has no doubt already ruled out a coalition (sharing cabinet seats) with a federalist party, but he might see merit in an Ontario-style accord.

Following a defeat of Harper's government in the Commons, the opposition parties could offer written proofs to Governor General Michaëlle Jean that they have a stable agreement to support Dion as prime minister for a certain period (it was two years in Ontario) in return for swift government action on their common agenda.

... would be tricky – particularly with three prickly partners instead of the two in the Ontario experiment.

But it is a tried-and-true way to offer election-weary Canadians a period of stability, and a common agenda put together out of the platforms for which most of the electorate voted.

Issues that would have to be worked out include whether this would be a coalition, where cabinet seats would be shared, or an accord, where as in Ontario, one party would run the government and the other(s) would share power through the provisions of the accord on issues, process, etc.

4. There's also the not so little issue of the Liberal leadership. As referenced in that Globe report last night, there are kinks to work out:

The party almost certainly would refuse to go into another election under Mr. Dion, with the likely result that the mantle of interim leadership would fall on Michael Ignatieff, who has the most support from the parliamentary caucus and influential backroom Liberals.

But that would upset supporters of MPs Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc, who are campaigning for the Liberal leadership and who were outraged Thursday when key Ignatieff organizer Steven MacKinnon used the proposed Harper legislation to send out an e-mail fundraising appeal for Mr. Ignatieff under the heading “Save Canada's Democracy – Stephen Harper is trying to undermine Canada's fair and open political system. Take action now!”

From the CP, there's this:

Under the Liberal constitution, the party's national executive, in consultation with caucus, has emergency power to appoint a successor should the leader resign or die.

Ignatieff, who has the lion's share of caucus and executive support, would likely become leader if that route were followed.

Given that there is a leadership race in progress, this is going to be a tricky manoeuvre. As Canwest reports, if Jean Chretien is involved, as they say, it looks like it's serious business. Personally, I'm not comfortable with installing one of them as the way to go. Would the situation constitute an emergency? Could a third party be chosen by the caucus to run a coalition until the leadership could be worked out? As a reader suggests, if there is an accord entered into with the other parties, for say, 2 years, then why would one of the candidates have to be installed right now? Wait a few months after a shortened leadership campaign, perhaps. I'm just not comfortable with obliterating the race in its entirety as a result of some agreement. Not a good precedent.

5. Other notes... what the NY Times readers are reading about Harper's injection of the political financing question into the economic update and the prospect of a coalition government:
“It’s pure political gimmickry,” said C. E. S. Franks, a professor emeritus of political science at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
Professor Franks said that the comparative youth of the current Parliament could mean that the governor general, Michaëlle Jean, might turn to the opposition parties to form a government if the Conservative plan was defeated. The opposition would, he added, probably have to publicly sign a formal agreement to support any resulting government for a fixed period.
6. A startling revelation from former Mulroney official, L. Ian MacDonald:
Had the Conservatives been returned with a majority in last month’s election they had every intention of cutting off public financing of political parties, and they would had the means and the muscle to do it over the howls of opposition protests. Now they’re doing so anyway, touting it as part of Ottawa tightening its spending in yesterday’s economic update. (emphasis added)
Every intention of doing so, despite this major public policy change not having been raised at all during the election. Just unbelievable. Well, actually believable from this crowd. But quite the revelation.

7. And finally, this Globe editorial that gets it right:

By destabilizing their own government, the Conservatives have placed Canada at a competitive disadvantage against other states. Through gratuitous partisanship, they have turned an economic crisis into a political one.

They should withdraw their cynical attempt to rewrite election rules and concentrate on what matters: the world economic crisis.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

More likely constitutional support for the Governor General to refuse an election

In light of the three opposition parties vowing to oppose the Conservative economic update, the prospect of a showdown coming where the government is defeated on a confidence vote becomes more real. It may be a way's down the road, and such arguments may be putting the cart before the horse, but it's still worthwhile context for the present political goings on. My previous post referenced Peter Russell's view on the Governor General being able to deny a Harper request for another election. I suspect we may be hearing from others who will echo Russell as well. If, for example, you now go back and re-read one of the influential pieces written prior to Harper's recent September election call that supported that election call, Professor Patrick Monahan's op-ed, "The request Jean can't refuse," it seems clear that circumstances have now changed and Professor Monahan's support for the Harper September election call would no longer be operative. Here was the crux of Monahan's argument on August 29, 2008 which agreed with Harper's election call, on the basis of the political circumstances in early fall:
The circumstances today are quite different on all counts from those in 1926. First, Stephen Harper would be seeking his first dissolution, and it has been almost a full three years since the previous election. In fact, Mr. Harper's minority government has been in office nearly twice as long as the average minority government in Canada. Moreover, despite Opposition Leader Stephane Dion's strong hints that he intends to defeat the government this fall, there can be no doubt but that the Prime Minister still enjoys the confidence of the House, having survived numerous confidence votes during the spring session of Parliament. Thus there is no basis for the Governor-General refusing to follow his advice. Finally, unlike in 1926, there is no suggestion that the Leader of the Opposition is in a position to form a stable minority government and thus no practical alternative to an election should the Prime Minister request one.

In short, even if the governor-general has a "reserve power" that would entitle her in exceptional circumstances to refuse a prime minister's request for an election, no such special circumstances exist today. Thus there can be no doubt but that under established constitutional conventions, the Governor-General should grant Prime Minister Harper's request.
That seems to be an argument that no longer holds. There is an argument that "special circumstances" have arisen that would permit the Governor-General to turn to the Leader of the Opposition and deny the PM's request. This would be the second dissolution sought within months. With the opposition parties unanimously indicating they no longer support the government and presumably about to follow through on this opposition, the PM would not be able to say he has the confidence of the House. The Governor General would have the basis to refuse to follow his advice. If there is a public expression of a coalition or a Liberal minority government agreed to as a result of a governing plan of some sort articulated by the opposition parties, then a practical alternative presents itself. Throw in the special circumstances of a recession and the present economic challenges, and a second $300 million election within months being requested by Mr. Harper...there's a good argument for you.

For what it's worth. This is likely a long way's off and even writing about such machinations reinforces how time wasting the Harper-Flaherty ploy is. People are distracted from the essential fact that the Conservative economic update today was a failure. They're dithering and tinkering with gimmicks while Canadians are hurting.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turley on Torture Prosecutions

Professor Jonathan Turley on Rachel Maddow's show last night laying down the essential question for the Democrats and the American democracy on the issue of what to do about torture perpetrated under the Bush administration...will they prosecute war crimes if criminal investigations uncover such offences? Or will the great American democracy turn a blind eye to it? Stay tuned on this one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The emperor has no clothes

The latest on Stephen Harper's alleged leadership skills: "Canada bides time."

Not coming off well at all. Especially in comparison to this guy.

Harper and Guantanamo Bay realpolitik

Another legal effort to have Omar Khadr's Guantanamo trial halted was refused yesterday. His lawyers sought to halt the trial on the grounds that the military commission doesn't have jurisdiction to try child soldiers who cannot be classified as "enemy combatants." That is a question for the military commission, said the U.S. federal judge, punting the decision off to January 26th, Khadr's latest trial start date. The reaction of Khadr's lawyer:
"The judge did not reach the merits of the child soldier issue . . . it makes it abundantly clear that the question of whether Omar will be the first child tried by the U.S. for war crimes in U.S. history is a purely political question," said Kuebler. "Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper having abdicated his responsibility to protect Omar as a Canadian citizen, we hope president-elect (Barack) Obama shows greater moral courage."
Abdicated responsibility. That's a fitting description of what the Harper Conservatives have done on this file, hiding behind the legal process at Guantanamo Bay.

The PM repeated his weak do-nothing position on Sunday at the APEC summit,when someone surprisingly was able to ask him a question on why he's not doing anything in respect of Khadr now that Obama has publicly reiterated his goal of closing Gitmo:
"The reason, as I understand it, for [Obama's] position on the closing of the prison is that most of the prisoners there are not charged with anything, and they are not subject to any legal process, and that is the controversy," Harper said in Lima.

"The case of Omar Khadr, as we all know, is not that. It is very different. He is charged ... with very serious offences. He is subject to a legal process."
Khadr's been charged under the legal process at Gitmo, prattled the PM, as if that legal process were perfectly legitimate. Ignoring that Khadr's a child soldier and was tortured. Ignoring other established torture at Gitmo. Prisoners held for 7 years on flimsy evidence. Prosecutors who have resigned due to politicized prosecutions. Hamdan, Bin Laden's driver, is being returned to Yemen in the next few days to serve out the rest of his sentence. But the Canadian arrested when he was 15 must remain there because our government respects the legal process. Few do anymore. But Harper does. Even though the place is about to be closed down out of recognition of the international embarrassment it is.

Harper's fantasy in which he never has to deal with Khadr, however, is in for a rude awakening at some point in the near future:
The Conservative policy has hit a realpolitik wall. The United States has a new president-elect, Barack Obama, who has committed his government, repeatedly, to the closing down of Guantanamo Bay. Even if this promise is delayed in its execution, the trial of Omar Khadr will never lead anywhere; its wheels will come off, just as so many others are doing at Guantanamo Bay.

The only question that remains is what to do with Omar Khadr in 2009, as the Guantanamo detention facility is prepared for closure. At that point, the U.S. administration will be desperately seeking countries willing to facilitate the return of detained citizens. There will be an American expectation that Canada will help by taking Omar Khadr back. Mr. Khadr is one of about 250 remaining prisoners at Guantanamo; in no one's eyes does he number among the 20-30 hard core detainees who pose a serious threat and who will constitute the major headache for the new president's policy.

The Canadian government will need to reverse course on Mr. Khadr and prepare the ground for his return.
Well, we can hope. But it is the Stephen Harper government, after all.

Until then, kudos to Bill Kuebler for calling it like it is: our PM has exhibited zero moral courage on one of the most significant international issues of the day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pressing issues for the PCO

Amazing, the things the Privy Council Office spends its time on, Mr. Harper's leadership fortunes:

Now, remember, kids...they're supposed to be non-partisan!
In Canada the Privy Council Office (French: Bureau du Conseil privé) is the secretariat of the federal cabinet and the department of the Prime Minister. It provides non-partisan advice and support to the Prime Minister and leadership, coordination and support to the departments and agencies of the government.
Unless they consider my blog to be an independent source of critical thought...nah...

If I were a prospective Conservative leader, I'd be making some baby steps toward a leadership run. But hey, that's just little ol' mischief maker me, I'm sure...:)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Memories of Bush and Mini Bush

The APEC summit in Peru this weekend is likely the last joint public event for Bush and Harper. So let's take a moment to take it all in...

The epitaph:
Bush called Harper a good friend and a strong leader, and said they had accomplished a lot together. The president said U.S.-Canada relations are “sometimes complicated,” but strong nevertheless.

“I appreciate your candour, your character and your philosophy,” Bush told Harper.

The prime minister said there were many things the two men had agreed on and a few they hadn't, but Bush was always willing to listen.

Harper offered a warm goodbye to the U.S. president in the event he doesn't see him before Jan. 20, when president-elect Barack Obama takes office — which Bush called his “forced retirement.”
The soundtrack:

One to go...:)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday night music

I see we don't agree on the definition of "new school," Mentarch...:)

I'm going so new school this week, there's no video or footage of this track anywhere...:)

This is the only place I can find this version, so you can listen and ignore the boring picture. On a cold, eve of winter Friday night, this should make you move...:)

We are big fans of Chemical Brothers around here...can't you tell?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

This should be good

Harpie's applying the Costanza, trying to do the opposite: "Facing a crisis, Harper instructs MPs to be less confrontational."
After three years of leading one of the most combative federal governments in recent memory, Stephen Harper is telling his MPs that it's time they take the high road.

MPs and officials across government were given marching orders by the Prime Minister recently and told to shelve the aggressive ways of the first term in favour of a kinder, gentler attitude. It was a message, say sources, that the PM himself delivered recently to his caucus.

“He has told cabinet and caucus to stay on the high road,” a senior Tory told The Globe and Mail Wednesday. “However, we are not to be punching bags. We are advised to respond in a firm, fair, factual way.”
Can Baird, Kenney, Van Loan, MacKay, Clement et al. contain themselves? Stay tuned on this. They have not shown to date that they can be anything but confrontational. It is in their DNA. But it should be fun to see them trying. How can they not be themselves? And doesn't the tone start at the top? Harper's been instrumental in setting the tone with his partisan daggers in the House. During the election, his remarks about rich galas and his barb during one of the debates over the editorial board of the Canadian Medical Association Journal being Liberal hacks come to mind as recent confrontational gems.

So where's all this coming from and why now? Gotta love those anonymous Conservative sources:
...some Tories wonder whether Mr. Harper is taking a more collegial attitude to mollify party members upset at him for failing to deliver a majority.

“Ask the candidates who lost in the last election, or cabinet ministers who are either moved laterally or demoted, if he was particularly warm and fuzzy,” one Conservative government official said.
I'd be inclined to agree with this rationale...that the combative Harper we've seen since, well, forever, has not taken his troops to the promised land and he's trying to stave off further scrutiny. More of the same wasn't going to cut it. Perhaps someone has dropped a big hint that this parliamentary go round is last chance city for Harper. Which it would be fair to say, it is. There have to be Conservatives thinking about the leadership of their party right now. If Harper loses the next one or even if he won another minority, two very real prospects, in say 2 years or less, candidates for the Conservative leadership will have to be ready. There must be people thinking about that now.

In the meantime, here's the Costanza opposite philosophy in action, in case you've somehow missed this classic. "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This sounds like a totally productive use of time

More haphazard, patchwork creeping Senate reform egged on by the Harper Conservatives: "Saskatchewan follows Alberta lead with legislation for elected Senate." The "visionary" Brad Wall plows ahead with legislation in Saskatchewan that has no support from anyone other than the province of Alberta and the federal Conservatives:
The legislation would allow Saskatchewan residents to elect Senate nominees and the names of the successful candidates would be referred to the Privy Council in Ottawa for consideration for appointment.
"It is very much a first step," Premier Brad Wall told reporters at the legislature in Regina.

"If we don't make efforts to try to improve the Senate and make it more representative for Saskatchewan people, for Canadians, we'll never know what's possible."
What does that mean? That he's just carrying the ball for Harper, moving it down the field? There is no consensus nation-wide on what to do about the Senate, nor is it in anyone's top 100 list of pressing issues for Canada right now. This move seems like a political nod to Wall's base and the Conservative base at large, confirmed by this reaction:
Monday's announcement was quickly welcomed the federal Conservative government.

"I congratulate the government of Saskatchewan for taking the historic step of introducing legislation to give the people of Saskatchewan a democratic voice in the Senate," Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for Democratic Reform, said in a news release.

"Canada's government believes that Senate reform is necessary to ensure that our democratic institutions are ready for 21st century challenges."
Have we heard yet how the election of Senators is related to that goal? Is the simple act of electing Senators supposed to fundamentally change the body? Are we moving toward a fully elected, American style Senate? Because that's not on with a big chunk of provinces:
Opposition to the idea is also stiff in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. The provinces have argued the Senate election and term limit bills are unconstitutional.

They say such significant changes in one of the country's primary parliamentary institutions can only be achieved by a full-blown constitutional amendment approved by at least seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population.
This is the kind of legislation, with constitutional implications that ensnare the other provinces, that individual provinces should enact with some semblance of awareness of that fact. Without a national consensus on what to do about the Senate, it's just looks like a recipe for sowing political division.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The new minority parliament dynamics

Peter Russell weighs in with some timely advice,"Share the House, spare the voter." The upshot of Russell's op-ed is that Harper should not proceed to label each and every vote in the House a confidence vote in the abusive manner that he did in the last session. And if he does so, there may be consequences he won't like.

I particularly like that Russell is publicly advancing an option for the Governor General should she be visited by the PM at any time in the next few years for another election. This is exactly the calibre of advice that is needed to be injected into the public discourse at the moment, as Parliament resumes, in order to move us along and help bring to an end Mr. Harper's misguided view of what a minority government is:
If our 40th Parliament is not to suffer the fate of the 39th, its life must not be at the mercy of Mr. Harper's political designs. The Governor-General should exercise her discretionary power to dissolve Parliament before October 2012 only if Mr. Harper's government is defeated on a confidence vote and the Leader of the Opposition cannot form a government with a reasonable chance of being supported by a majority in the House of Commons.
Russell articulates the interlocking set of interests at work here:
To reduce the possibility of these conditions being met, Mr. Harper should label as confidence matters only those measures that are so important to his government that he is prepared to fight an election to secure a mandate for them. For their part, the opposition parties, before voting to bring the government down, have an obligation to see if they can agree on terms for supporting an alternative government.

In September, when Mr. Harper asked for a dissolution, there was no alternative government in sight with a chance of commanding the confidence of Parliament. Without such an alternative, the Governor-General has no choice but to accede to the Prime Minister's request, however unpalatable and unconstitutional it may be.

It is not necessary for the Liberals and NDP to agree to form a coalition government. They need only agree on a legislative agenda, similar to the 1985 accord between the Peterson Liberals and the Rae NDP in Ontario, that has a good chance of winning sufficient Bloc support to sustain a Liberal minority government. News of such a possibility might cool Mr. Harper's ardour for a premature dissolution or, if it doesn't, give the Governor-General a basis for refusing such a request, for dismissing him and calling on the Leader of the Opposition to form a government. (emphasis added)
The threat of such a possibility could be a very welcome disciplinary tool against Harper's record of minority government bravado. It may be working already. Harper has backed down from his threat of making his criminal justice campaign promises confidence matters.

No opposition party - or the government that will be mired in deficit - desires an election for the foreseeable future and they all would do well to consider what Russell is advocating here. Cooperation in the first instance and failing that, cooperation in the last instance. The number of elections in the past few years combined with what would be the second minority parliament Harper would have failed to make work would make the Governor General's consideration of an alternative government legitimate.

The fact that this notion is being floated is a very welcome development. As we learned from the last session, adult advice is clearly needed.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Stay classy now "Canada's party"

A quote from the Conservatives' top fundraiser during his session at the Conservative policy convention today:
"'We have supported aggressive pre-writ advertising campaigns,' added Gerstein, 'and I believe Mr. Dion has already commented on the effectiveness of that expenditure.'"
See how proud they are of their unprecedented campaign of character assassination? When you engage in such tactics, you'd think it would be preferable to be a little more circumspect about it. What they did is nothing to be celebrated in the annals of Canadian political campaigns.

Also of note, from Danielle Takacs' report, the faithful apparently booed Elections Canada in this session today, egged on by Mr. Gerstein. I suppose they're just taking their cues from their leadership and their exemplary Conservative MP's, who voted in April that they have no confidence in the independent institution that runs our elections and is respected the world over. They have no idea what message this sends or don't care.

There's something very off with these displays of petulant protest. I suspect that such shows are too "inside baseball" to catch on much with the Canadian population. But the fact that the Conservatives keep going down this track suggests that they still wear the opposition mindset. Booing Elections Canada and gloating over petty partisan attack ads is not the thing that a natural governing party does.

So keep on keepin' on, "Canada's party"...

Bill Maher on Stephen Harper

At the 2:20 mark and following...:) (If it gets taken down, it's from the "New Rules" segment last night.)

Also a must see, this hilarious video, "Keith Olbermann in a minute." He had it on his show this week. Keith's a good sport!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday night music

Here's my choice this week, making its way onto my Ipod treadmill embedding permitted, so you have to go here. That's what happens when you don't pick the old school stuff...:)


Why so secretive, "Canada's party?"

"Bar the doors: Tory delegates debate policy behind curtains." No, there isn't anything they can't mess up.
Reporters from media outlets across Canada who had come to Winnipeg for the first Conservative policy convention since March 2005 weren't even allowed to mingle among delegates outside the closed workshop doors.

Instead news media were kept beyond a tightly-controlled and curtained perimeter, where cabinet ministers were dispatched to provide occasional updates on how policy debates were getting resolved.

"Well, you'll have to take our word for it," Defence Minister Peter MacKay responded when asked why reporters weren't permitted to chronicle the give-and-take of democratic policy discussions.
Well done, Junior MacKay, you great democrat!

And even the loyalists seem to be perplexed: well-known blogging Tory was wandering the hallways outside the convention area ruefully approaching reporters and holding up his yellow, party-issued media accreditation.

"These things actually restrict access," he said.
It's your party, pal, enjoy the muzzlefest...:)

Remember to check out the prog bloggers attending for the scoop from the ground.

Harpie leading the peer review charge...oh wait, it's not his idea

"Harper calls for global scrutiny of countries' banking systems." Oh, looky. Sounds like Harpie has an idea. But then you peel back the onion and it turns out, he's not so original:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he wants countries such as the United States to agree to subject their financial systems to “peer review” by other countries – comments made as he heads to a key economic summit on tackling a global crisis triggered by an American banking and lending meltdown.

“I do think it's incumbent on the United States and others – that as they make regulatory reforms – that we allow peer review mechanisms,” Mr. Harper told reporters in Winnipeg before leaving for the Group of 20 meetings in Washington, D.C.

“[There must be] allow accountable and transparent international peer review mechanisms of our financial systems: to give us evaluations and suggestions. Not to impose solutions – we want to respect national sovereignty – but that we get good objective evaluations that we are able to act on.”
Almost makes you think he's showing leadership. Almost. Turns out, he's just advancing a Martin Finance innovation. Point is made in this clip, starts at about the 5:00 mark.

Harpie...when it comes to the regulations that are sheltering us, somewhat, from the international crisis...born on third base and thinks he hit a triple...

It's hard out here for a PM

Update to earlier post today:

Hmmm...someone read the Globe report this morning linking Harper to W's reform proposals, or lack thereof, at the G20 this weekend and tried to put lipstick on it:
Harper, in Winnipeg for a Conservative party policy convention, has been tied by his political adversaries to the unpopular administration of George W. Bush. But on Friday the prime minister was sharply critical of the Republican president's push for deregulated financial markets.

"Unregulated financial markets do not work," Harper bluntly stated.

"Canada has known that for a long time. I thought, frankly, we all knew that from events of many decades ago - but obviously the United States went on a different path."
Yes, frankly, you stupid United States, I thought we all freaking knew that. Must...separate...from...W. But then in the next breath he makes a plea for open markets. So we'll see how he performs this weekend. No doubt it will be a skillful separation from Bush. Perhaps we might hear one last, "Yo, Steve." Can't control for that.

And my oh my, it must be irritating to have to clean up after Deficit Jim:
As for a sale of government property announced a day earlier by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Harper said the government "will never engage in a 'fire sale' of assets" - but it is reviewing all expenditures and assets "in a period of great uncertainty."
So there you have it. No fire sale. But we are reviewing all expenditures and assets. The art of giving a firm denial while leaving the door firmly open to said fire sale.

"Canada's party"

My that's a big flag you have there, Mr. Harper...

As reported by the Canadian Press, in his speech to Conservatives at their convention last night, Harper repeatedly referred to Conservatives as "Canada's party." Harpie's got a new phrase and he's going to wield it as subtly as a two by four. Oh how I do not like this, let me count the ways...

First, the gimmickry is just so uncomfortable to hear. It's yet another effort to re-brand their party. The Conservatives are still on the move, from their Reform days to the present ever-evolving party that's still evidently not where Harper wants it to be. So the latest little trick, repeat "Canada's party" in association with the Conservative name. Remember his "north star" effort launched in the fall 2007 throne speech? That didn't last. Nor did the "clean government" thing. But now they're on to grander branding efforts that seek to have their party displace any other in Canadians' minds as to who the natural governing party is. The problem, it seems to me, is that this gimmick/focus group stuff only works when the mood of the country matches the effort. There's no ripeness for the insertion into the Canadian psyche of the Conservatives as "Canada's party." Did they miss the election we just had? 38%. That's it. Not that I don't find it entertaining to watch the square peg being slammed into the round hole.

Second, "Canada's party" cannot be a muzzling party. The message delivered by the PM last night, as Dr. Dawg set out well, was to beseech his party to be moderate. Not to scare the Canadians. "Canada's party" leader must go so far as to lecture the faithful to be good. And to ensure the imaging will work, the Conservatives are stage-managing their convention, excluding media from the "meat and potatoes" policy discussions. They're evidently afraid of what might be exposed:
The prime minister will miss the convention's meat-and-potatoes policy workshops Friday - which are also closed to the media.
Hope the bloggers who are there will nevertheless break through that barrier and find out what the real deal is on the substantive debates among the Conservative folk at their picnic.

If they were truly a moderate party, free from the right rough edges, there'd be no need for such censorship. And they don't get the inconsistency at play in their actions. They call themselves "Canada's party" in speeches on the one hand, yet on the other, said party must hide its raw thinking from Canada. Until they open themselves up and lose their instinct to muzzle, "Canada's party" sounds like just one more fancy focus group tested label to be tossed around in shiny speeches. When you run away from media and stifle your candidates, as the Conservatives did in the recent election, it shows they have a long way to go. Simply put, the Conservative party is not a party who trusts the Canadian people to hear from its partisans. That doesn't sound like "Canada's party" to me!

Third, let's not forget the exclusionary notion at work in reaching for the "Canada's party" appellation. All Canadian political parties are "Canada's party" in their respective ways. For one party to reach for the patriotic designation to the exclusion of others is just that, exclusionary. Picture Sarah Palin talking about the Republican party as "America's party." Got it? Such efforts don't sit right in Canada, the inclusionary society.

To sum up, this Canadian says thanks but no thanks on the "Canada's party" gimmick. But we shall try to have our own fun with the new slogan. At least as long as this one lasts...:)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

That's a shame

"A few wrinkles develop at Tory love-in." Wrinkles, as in, the Refooorrm types are still not playing nicely in the sandbox:
Harper will head for Washington early Friday to attend a meeting of world leaders, leaving members to wrestle with a number of thorny resolutions and policy ideas.

Among them is a resurrected proposal that stirred angry debate at the last Conservative convention in March 2005.

The resolution suggests that the voting system at leadership conventions be overhauled to appoint one delegate for every 10 riding association members.

Such a system would favour the larger ridings belonging to the former Canadian Alliance wing of the party and was fought tooth-and-nail last time by former Progressive Conservatives.
Also to be watched this weekend:
Topics up for discussion include:

* income splitting for families of children under seven
* term limits for supreme court judges
* entrenching rights of churches not to perform same-sex marriages
* call for an end to the gun registry
* increasing private health care
Attacks on judges, same-sex marriage, anti-gun control, private health care...sounds like a Republican would feel right at home. These issues the grassroots are pushing are a reminder that the efforts to portray the Conservatives as being in the political centre or "leaning to centre" are stretches at best. The "grassroots" are pushing the Conservatives to the right. Remove the lid and look inside.

Hope those few bloggers on the progressive side who were accredited to attend this weekend have their ears planted firmly to the ground...:)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Leadership shaking out

"Hall Findlay won't run for Liberal leadership."

I am a big fan of this MP yet this seems like a very wise decision on her part. She's genuine and has clear leadership abilities, in my humble little blogging opinion. Read the report, she's honest and has an admirable public service ethic. I'm sure she'll have plenty of opportunities down the road.

I intend to make a contribution shortly to help her retire her debt. I would encourage anyone else who is so inclined to do so as well.

Update (Wednesday a.m.): "Course au leadership du PLC - Coderre passe son tour." Denis Coderre's out too.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Good riddance

David Wilkins, buh bye:
"Many Canadians might be surprised by this statement," Wilkins told The Canadian Press.

"But I would submit to you that Canadians are going to miss George Bush more than they think they are."
Lol...:) I haven't heard anything that funny in ages...:)

Such statements are no doubt motivated by Wilkins' surprise at the Harper gang's "loyalty" in chucking Bush under the bus so quickly as they turn to Obama.

So sad, I'm tellin ya...:)

When the ballot box takes away people's rights

Good for these groups:
The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a writ petition before the California Supreme Court today urging the court to invalidate Proposition 8 if it passes. The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution's core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group - lesbian and gay Californians. Proposition 8 also improperly attempts to prevent the courts from exercising their essential constitutional role of protecting the equal protection rights of minorities. According to the California Constitution, such radical changes to the organizing principles of state government cannot be made by simple majority vote through the initiative process, but instead must, at a minimum, go through the state legislature first.

The California Constitution itself sets out two ways to alter the document that sets the most basic rules about how state government works. Through the initiative process, voters can make relatively small changes to the constitution. But any measure that would change the underlying principles of the constitution must first be approved by the legislature before being submitted to the voters. That didn't happen with Proposition 8, and that's why it's invalid.

"If the voters approved an initiative that took the right to free speech away from women, but not from men, everyone would agree that such a measure conflicts with the basic ideals of equality enshrined in our constitution. Proposition 8 suffers from the same flaw - it removes a protected constitutional right - here, the right to marry - not from all Californians, but just from one group of us," said Jenny Pizer, Senior Counsel with Lambda Legal. "That's too big a change in the principles of our constitution to be made just by a bare majority of voters."
It is totally unacceptable that the fleeting whims of transitory majorities can trample upon minority rights in such a fashion as was done with the Proposition to ban gay marriage in California. Minority rights and other principles protected within a constitution are there for a reason, to endure and to protect them against the tyranny of the majority.

This conflict, between a democratic process, such as a ballot initiative, and the protection of minority rights is similar to the conflict analyzed in this Supreme Court of Canada opinion, where the upshot was basically to say you can't have one trump the other. What we witnessed in California, and in other states, was the trumping of minority rights by a political majority. That shouldn't be allowed to happen. As the Times says today:

Far from showing that California’s Supreme Court was wrong to extend the right of marriage to gay people, the passage of Proposition 8 is a reminder of the crucial role that the courts play in protecting vulnerable groups from unfair treatment.

Apart from creating legal uncertainty about the thousands of same-sex marriages that have been performed in California and giving rise to lawsuits challenging whether the rules governing ballot measures were properly followed, the immediate impact of Tuesday’s rights-shredding exercise is to underscore the danger of allowing the ballot box to be used to take away people’s fundamental rights.
It seems odd that the proposition wasn't stopped in its tracks when an injunction was sought against it in the first place. Could have been a political decision or a ripeness question, as suggested in the press release. Whatever the reason, this outcome is a black mark for Californians and the suit is worth watching for anyone who cares about the protection of minority rights.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Record lines

A fascinating scene to watch in the U.S. today, to vastly understate the momentous day.

This is video posted at TPM of a voting line in Greenwich Village today. It's remarkable to watch the length of the line as it proceeds. As the author notes, "I've been voting for over 30 years and never has there been a line like this in NYC."

More photos of remarkable lines in the Times this afternoon.

Happy viewing, should be a good night...:)

Readers who care

Welcome back, friend. 31 minutes. That's pretty good turn around time. Heh...:)

At least they're getting the message...:)

Conservative actions that need to be straightened out

A few parliamentary stories today that are worth paying attention to while our gaze is transfixed southward...

First, this report in the Ottawa Citizen today about the Speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate supposedly seeking to clamp down on the Parliamentary budget office and its recently high profile officer, Kevin Page: "Speakers move to handcuff budget officer." While there seems to be a growing conventional wisdom that Page is on the side of the angels here in the steps he is taking to operate his office, it appears to me a problem that's been sown by the Harper government. The mandate given by parliament to the Parliamentary budget office appears to be in conflict with what MP's and perhaps the public desire to see in such a budget office. The budget office was placed under the auspices of the Parliamentary Library, as such, the speakers of the House and Senate argue that Page is accountable to the librarian, not them. The problem with this argument is that while it may be technically correct under the legislation, the work the budget office would do as a library offshoot would have it operate on what is tantamount to "solicitor-client" privileged work, i.e., not necessarily public. And that goes against what ostensibly was the rationale for the office's creation in the first place. As Lawyer Van Loan mistakenly stated in the House of Commons at the time of the budget office's creation:
When then-Government House leader Peter Van Loan announced Mr. Page's appointment, he called him an "independent officer of Parliament who reports to the speaker," which was at odds with the legislation.
Van Loan, and Harper, making a big show of public accountability, created this office but didn't give it the enabling legislation to let it properly flourish:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to create an independent budget office in his 2006 election campaign and enshrined that pledge in the Federal Accountability Act.

The office was created within the Library of Parliament, a decision that never sat well with the library and many MPs.
As a result of this faulty initial construction, Page is now fighting for his office's independent future and apparently he's been seeking support for just that:
The speakers focused their concerns on a summary of consultations Mr. Page's office had with MPs and senators last summer on how they perceived the office and its job. A 32-page summary of those consultations is posted on the budget office's website. It notes that parliamentarians consulted were nearly unanimous in their support for an open, transparent office that publicly publishes all its research and reports.
The speakers, to be fair, appear to be just taking steps to oversee an office that is not acting according to its mandate as presently constituted, an office that is pushing to break free from its constraints. There's nothing wrong with them doing so. Parliamentary officers should be following their mandates. If there's a change required, so be it. It's up to parliament to do so, not the officer. If Sheila Fraser were agitating for increased power, and was actively pursuing it in the manner Page is, I would expect the speakers to come down on that too. The point is, the Harper government needs to fix the problem they've created by talking a good game on accountability but then sticking the budget office in the Parliamentary Library.

If parliament wants the budget office to be effective, it's up to the Harper government to ensure that it gets out of the Library and into its own independent slot where the public availability of its work will be without question.

A side feature of this little story that seems to be going unaddressed is that once again, we're just mindlessly absorbing another Americanized feature to our government, similar to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office. There's a tacit admission here, in fully supporting this parliamentary budget office that our government and its committees are unable to accomplish this work themselves. How good our institutions are is a function of the people in charge. I don't feel strongly about this office's creation, and haven't really paid much attention to it until the recent Afghanistan report, for example. I suspect people are looking at that and saying, yeah, this was a great idea. But such institutional innovations, even acknowledging that recent Afghanistan report, take us down a road that may not be one we end up liking. Preserving the independence of the office will be determinative of its value.

Secondly, there was this report in the Globe today on the makeup of Commons committees. It is imperative that the Conservatives not be permitted a working majority on these committees. They did not win a majority government. How their constitution shakes out is something worth watching. An increased minority, yes, but this must not be allowed to create committees that will simply shut down work.

Monday, November 03, 2008

A little fly in the ointment for Harper's show next week

Now that's not very respectful to a fellow Conservative: "Alta. premier to skip first ministers' meeting." Stelmach is instead off on a trade mission in Europe. Here's a quote from the Premier's spokesthingy that shows the meeting for what it is:
"We understand it's about 2 1/2 hours, something like that," said spokesman Tom Olsen.

"We expect a fuller meeting in the new year."
That's a little embarrassing. What do you want to bet there's been no agenda circulated, nothing concrete put forward for debate and it's going to be largely a photo-op.

Still, Stelmach could be handling this better. Such comments can't sit well with other attendees:
The premier says oilsands projects create jobs and investment all across the country, so his trade mission has priority over the meeting.

"We are the engine of the Canadian economy and we have to reassure investors in Germany, the Netherlands and England that we are a good place to invest," Stelmach said Monday.
I get that this trip has been in the works for months and that he's likely a little irked at Harper's last minute first minister's puppet theatre, but he could have been a little more diplomatic in handling this. Where have the statesmen and women in our federation gone, anyway?

No future for the hatemonger

Josh Marshall on Palin's lack of a future and why:
"The woman is an ignoramus of almost unprecedented magnitude in the annals of national politics."
Now that's distilling it to the essence!


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Lazy Saturday blogging

Been busy, just a few things...

What's this..."Think-tank slams Ottawa for 'imprudent budgeting'":
The federal Conservative government abandoned prudent budgeting just when it was needed, an economic think-tank involved in helping this and previous Liberal governments prepare their budget projections charged Friday.

Not only did the government, against the advice of private sector economists, eliminate the annual multi-billion dollar cushion against the impact of an unexpected economic slump in the last budget but has let spending get out of control as well, Global Insight said in one of the most damning analyses to date of the current government's handling of its finances.

Two key criticisms of the 2008 budget by business economists when it was presented last February, when concerns were being expressed about an economic slowdown, was the lack of any contingency reserve and the relatively rapid run-up in program spending.
This is a pretty consistent message bubbling through the current these days, countering the Conservative spin that federal budgetary problems are all a result of external events out of their control. It's not going to be so easy for them to masquerade their incompetence.

Earlier, Jeffrey Simpson examined why Harper's Quebec strategy blew up in his face. Read and see if you agree. I think it has more to do with how out of sync the Conservatives are with Quebec, socially and culturally. They have a big Mike Harris Conservative presence in Ottawa. They've been rabid Republican style partisans. Doesn't play well in Quebec that has more sophisticated political discourse. Anyone who's ever lived in Quebec knows the difference. How do they overcome that?

Monday? Really. Why ever would they do that:

A jury of U.S. military officers at Guantanamo Bay's second war-crimes trial reached a verdict Friday that could put Osama bin Laden's alleged "media secretary" and videomaker in prison for life.

But the decision will not be announced until Monday because Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was already back in his cell at the U.S naval base prison in Cuba when the verdict was reached, said the judge, Air Force Col. Ronald Gregory.

The judge told al-Bahlul no announcement would be made in his absence.

Yeah, apparently it takes 3 days to haul a prisoner from his cell to the courthouse in Guantanamo Bay. 3 days if there's an election the next day, that is...

Heh: day of the year...!

What must it be like for a party to be afraid of its own members views

Say it ain't so, Harpie:
Less than two weeks before thousands of Conservatives from across the country flock to Winnipeg for their first policy convention since the Harper government took power, grassroots members still don't know what policy proposals they're going to discuss.

Under party rules, Conservative riding associations can submit amendments to the party's central policy declaration and constitution. A national policy committee has been sifting through the submissions, but has yet to send out the final list of amendments to be debated at the convention.

Party executives say the process was delayed by the campaign for the Oct. 14 election, which returned the Conservatives to power with a strengthened minority.

"Clearly, the election slowed some things down, in terms of the committee meeting and so forth," said Don Plett, president of the party's national council.

But some party members say it's an attempt to muzzle grassroots supporters who might espouse views that could embarrass the Harper government.

"They want to control the message. They don't want people talking about things that aren't scripted," said party member Connie Fournier, co-founder of the popular conservative blog,
The party that prohibited candidates from attending all candidate forums during the election, that ran from the media, that limited the PM's access to the certainly being consistent. In fact, it seems to be a little shy about what might creep out of the woodwork in the form of policy at its upcoming convention. As the report references, last time the Conservative men and women folk got together at one of these policy conventions, the higher-ups had to stifle debate on issues like same-sex marriage and abortion and this "outraged" the "social conservative wing."

This time around, there is similar tension in the air:
...there are signs that not everyone involved is happy with Harper's efforts to build a bigger coalition by moving the party to the left. Some activists fear that in doing what is necessary to seize and to maintain power, the party has abandoned the commitment to grassroots democracy of the original Reformers.
"There's the sense that they are making progress, because they are increasing their seat total in the House of Commons," said Gerry Nicholls, a senior fellow at the Democratic Institute who frequently criticizes the Conservatives for abandoning their principles. "But I also think there will be an underlying sense of frustration among some people that the party isn't going fast enough in pursuing a small-c conservative agenda. And I think a particular point of frustration will be Quebec, because they did so much to pander to soft nationalists and had nothing to show for it." (emphasis added)
Must be tough having to perpetually keep a lid on your base like this. At some point, they just might rebel.