Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Three cheers for the Speaker - again

Updated below (7:20 p.m.) to include Teneycke comments.

"Tory MP warned of suspension from Commons over attacks on Ignatieff." The Conservative brain trust seems intent on playing childish games in the House of Commons, using the "Member Statement" session not for business in the nation's interest, for statements recognizing Canadian accomplishments, causes or other justifiable purposes, but for partisan theatre and misrepresentations. And now, the Speaker is saying, enough of the games, he may suspend a Conservative MP:
Commons Speaker Peter Milliken has threatened to suspend a Conservative MP if he continues making personal attacks against Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

Daryl Kramp received the warning after accusing Ignatieff of hypocrisy on a number of issues.

Milliken told MPs several weeks ago that he would no longer tolerate them using members' statements, which precede question period each day, to engage in personal attacks.

He began cutting off MPs who ignored his ruling.

To avoid being silenced, Kramp and other Tory MPs have taken to issuing scathing assessments of an unidentified politician, whom they identify as Ignatieff only at the very end of their statements - when it's too late for Milliken to cut them off.

Milliken's warning suggests he's willing to take more drastic measures to put a stop to the personal attacks.
The Commons should not be used for amateur hour playtime. The cries about free speech and suppression of debate will ensue, no doubt. So, a reminder of the Commons floor time that the Conservatives are abusing:
Statements by Members
(Déclarations de députés)
A daily 15-minute period preceding the oral question period, when Members who are not Cabinet Ministers may make statements on matters of national, regional or local importance. Statements are limited in length to one minute and opportunity to speak is given equally to all private Members.
One need only look at examples of what the Conservatives have been saying, it's not anything of "national, regional or local importance," it's partisan hackery at its worst.

Update: (4:50 p.m.): "Brain Kramp."

Update (5:15 p.m.): pogge, Maxwell's House, life in moderation.

Update (7:05 p.m.): Liberal Arts & Minds, Peterborough Politics.

Update (7:20 p.m.): On behalf of the Prime Minister, Teneycke expresses support for the trash that Conservative MPs are framing as "debate."
Kory Teneycke, communication director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, gave no indication that Tory MPs will let up in their attacks on Ignatieff, a former Harvard academic.

"This is the House of Commons. Debate of a partisan nature is nothing new and in our estimation should not be restricted in that way and certainly not restricted on one side of the House in a way that is different from the other side of the House," Teneycke said.

"This is politics. This is not a Harvard classroom. You have to be able to take it as well as give it."
There you have it, what the Conservative party supports, as set by the tone from the top. Click on the links in original post to the House of Commons transcripts to see just a few samplings of what Conservative MPs are offering to the people of Canada at this time, as officially sanctioned by the PMO.  A carnival sideshow to distract from their economic record.  

Looking forward to Senator Franken...still

This is one of those issues that has gotten lost in the shuffle a bit, the Minnesota Senate battle that is still preventing Al Franken from taking his place in the U.S. Senate. Rachel Maddow interviewed David Boies of Bush v. Gore fame last night and canvassed a number of the outstanding questions. It's incredible that Republicans have been able to get away with this to date, it's the end of March and yet still no second senator for Minnesota and a key vote in the Senate for the Dems is kept at bay. Maybe Senator Cornyn's recent incendiary comments will do the trick in creating a backlash against such clear obstruction:
Texas Sen. John Cornyn is threatening “World War III” if Democrats try to seat Al Franken in the Senate before Norm Coleman can pursue his case through the federal courts.

Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledges that a federal challenge to November’s elections could take “years” to resolve. But he’s adamant that Coleman deserves that chance — even if it means Minnesota is short a senator for the duration.
Putting the nation's interests ahead of their own...not so much.

Oh the irony

Ummmm.....just enjoy:
Stephen Harper needs a "personality transplant," Conrad Black writes from his Florida jail cell to his friend, author Bob Plamondon. He wishes the Prime Minister would be more "popular personally" and wonders at one point why he looks like "such a jackass."
A fun and minor distraction this a.m. courtesy of Conrad Black prison cell musings to a Canadian author with a forthcoming book on Conservatives in Canada. We appreciate the effort put into the Harper character sketch. But is he cognizant of where he is sitting when he's writing these things?

The costly Harper visit to Fox News

Here is the video from the appearance on Fox yesterday in case you hadn't gotten around to seeing it yet. Just got around to watching late Monday p.m.



This was a good overview of questions raised by Harper's appearance, which the whole weekend seemed to revolve around. Why did Harper do this interview? Billed as a precursor to Harper's attendance at the G20 summit this week and the NATO meetings that follow this coming weekend, the interview didn't do much in the way of helping make a case for much at all in advance of those meetings.

He was put on the defensive about Afghanistan, having to hew closer to the American position and pointedly affirm Secretary Gates' comments about eliminating Al Qaeda there when Harper had, in the Zakaria interview, been much more candid about the unlikely possibility of defeating the 'insurgency." So in backtracking, he's put himself in a bit of a waffling mode, moving from the skepticism of the NATO European allies back to the firm U.S. view, prior to that NATO summit. Confusion, sowed.

Secondly, by going on the show, he seems to have not foreseen that Fox would use him, as the lone Conservative North American leader now, to show up the Obama administration. Wallace tried to use him for that objective on the issues of taxes, banking regulation, government involvement in the economy and NAFTA. The bulk of the interview was devoted to trying to get Harper to be critical of Obama's plans. I take it, by Harper's enthusiastic hand shaking with Wallace just as the interview ended, that he didn't mind the attempt, just as long as he got to play important Sunday talking head guest on Fox News. Harper seemed quite pleased with himself despite it all.

So, in terms of advancing any Canadian national interest, didn't see it on the substantive front. And further, there's the whole question of the financial costs expended for this Fox sit down. Don Martin raised a few on Monday:
...you’ve got to admit Stephen Harper’s weekend wooing of American media, flying his considerable security and staff entourage to Washington D.C. (Sunday) and New York City (today) aboard an $11,000 per hour Challenger jet just to make eye contact with foreign media, is a headscratcher.

To be fair, Mr. Harper did pause to chat with our hard-nosed Canwest correspondent Sheldon Alberts, but the television technology exists in Ottawa for two-way, high-definition communication between the prime minister and media outlets anywhere in the world. Using that option would’ve spared taxpayers travel and security costs which could hit six figures while, big bonus here, giving Mr. Harper a weekend with his family.
Costly, all around.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blogging for a Harper Free Canada


Meet the new blog badge (and poster, click on the above picture to obtain an 8.5 X11 size poster).

After the end of the prorogation period, I had a few back and forth communications with designer, TT, who created the Harper Leadership Prorogation poster, about a new badge. TT is just one more motivated, talented artistic person who doesn't care much for the Harper Conservatives either, in the same vein as the gritgirl video movement. After I threw out a slogan to him, he thought about it and came up with this wonderful graphic design. Note the keys that are missing from the keyboard! And love that flag! A big round of thanks to him for his great work.

As for the slogan, "Blogging for a Harper Free Canada" is a big part, frankly, of what we do around here. One small clarification to make about it...Mr. Harper can live here in Canada, of course. We would just prefer that it not be as PM. That's the goal.

Feel free to use as a blog badge, if you like, or use the poster. Smaller versions appear below.

Medium:



Small:



Enjoy...:)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Half-truths and red herrings

This is a must read in the Globe today, Professor Ned Franks theorizing about what would have happened had the Governor General said no to Harper's prorogation request: "What if she had said no?" The prediction of Mr. Harper's behaviour that would have ensued, to put pressure on the Governor General for an election, given his "inflammatory and tendentious rhetoric" up to the prorogation request itself, is quite fair. Franks writes, for example:
...it is unlikely that Mr. Harper would have resigned, had his request been refused. Instead, he would have continued his battle by whatever means at his disposal.

He would have continued making the claims of illegitimacy and anti-democratic behaviour that had been so successful in mobilizing public opinion against the opposition coalition. Only now the Governor-General would have been identified, along with the coalition, as one of the enemies of democracy.
Franks' conclusion is that her decision has turned out to be correct, given events that have transpired since then (Liberal leadership, budget, etc.) versus the virtual hell that would have unfolded had Mr. Harper not gotten his way. Franks doesn't entertain the notion that Harper might have acted reasonably at all. Given how true Professor Franks' characterization of Mr. Harper rings in respect of that hellish scenario, it's one more powerful reminder of why he needs to be defeated in the next election.

This, by the way, marks the second time in the past year that a distinguished academic has characterized the sitting Prime Minister in such unprecedented terms. Recall that Peter Russell referred to Mr. Harper as having acted in a manner consistent with "authoritarian governments" in his Cadman suit against the Liberals, talking about how unprecedented it was for a sitting PM to sue his political opposition. Here Franks is equally devastating with his confident portrayal of Harper as basically a dangerous demagogue. It's truly remarkable.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday notes

Yes, it's another lazy morning of note blogging...end of the week, don't ya know.

1. Video of the day: "Stephen Leave it to Beaver"



2. Please tell me this has nothing to do with this little group. Not saying there is. But it's worth asking the question.

3. CBC President Hubert Lacroix, quoted in a National Post report on the possibility of even more drastic cuts to come at CBC:
Mr. Lacroix also expressed unhappiness with the rumours that the government might help out some of the private broadcasters, like CTVglobemedia and CanWest Global, who are also in financial difficulty.

"In an environment where we were told (by the government) that there was no flexibility for us in terms of bridge financing, to read in the papers that (the private broadcasters) could be helped, with tax breaks or with conditions of their licenses being lifted, that's where I become disappointed," said Mr. Lacroix.
Yep. The double standard will be clear if that does indeed come to pass. When is that next Canwest deadline, anyway?

4. Speaking of which, a Canwest editorial stating CBC union leader is wrong to blame the government for CBC's funding woes. Surprise!

5. The Ontario budget is the really big news. Big editorials here and here.

6. Finally, we supposedly have government regulation that has prevented a "subprime type of situation" in Canada with respect to the housing market. Stephen Harper tells me so, right here. He says we have "nothing that requires major government intervention." Yet the Globe tells me otherwise:
A loose network of about 12 alternative mortgage lenders began lobbying the Prime Minister's Office and the Department of Finance in January about what they say is a looming problem: An estimated $3-billion to $5-billion worth of subprime mortgages are coming up for renewal over the next four years, and the lenders say they can't renew them because capital has dried up for higher-risk borrowers.
Sounds like a big problem that's seeking out some of that "major government intervention."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gritgirl gooses the Conservatives



The Gritgirl evidently reads the papers and gets inspired:
Dismayed by the amount of excrement produced by Canada geese near her summer home, a Conservative senator on Tuesday said some should be shot and fed to the poor.

"We should shoot some of these geese or feed them to the poor, that would be my preference," Nancy Ruth told senior officials of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency appearing at the Senate finance committee to discuss the agency's budget for the next fiscal year.
Yee haa!

(h/t to BCer as well)

Historic

Kevin Page today:
Page told the House of Commons finance committee that, based on private-sector forecasts and his own assessments, he expected GDP to contract by about 8.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and by 3.5 percent in the second quarter.

In the budget, the government cited private-sector forecasters as saying GDP would shrink by 0.8 percent in 2009 as a whole.

"We provided a different, more detailed outlook for the first half of this year because we think that what we're seeing now is actually historic, in terms of quarter to quarter declines," Page told the committee.
Any doubts about the merit of the Parliamentary Budget Officer? An office that a responsible government should value and support with the proper financing and legislative structure.

Hmmm...good thing he clarified that last remark too, as to what's historic in this picture, the numbers or the grossly negligent government that had to be dragged kicking and screaming to recognize the issues and actually do something about them...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Building a Green Economy" with your advertising dollars

Further to the post at Maxwell's House earlier today, and FarNWide's post that's up right now, those government ads about the "action plan" that are inescapable when perusing major media sites really warrant some scrutiny. Here's one of the big offenders that's been seen on major media websites and one of my personal faves:


The Conservative government is "building a green economy?" How? Perhaps by paying advertising firms with taxpayer dollars. But in terms of substance, most of us missed the visionary "green economy" part in the "action plan." In fact, the "action plan" was heavily criticized as being the opposite of a "green economy" plan. And the Conservatives have cut back on environmental assessments for the next two years.

Other examples include one referenced in the Hill Times report, where the ecoEnergy renewable energy incentive program is cited as having been popular but there's been no more money put into what was a $1.5 billion fund. It's virtually out of money. Contrast it with the billions being put into a similar effort in the U.S. Yet Jim Prentice laughably states that the program "will continue as planned." Yes, on the books but with no more funds in it, so I guess that technically qualifies. A missed opportunity to invest in renewable energy. But "Building a Green Economy," don't ya know.

Would dearly love to see the total dollars being dispensed on the p.r. front for this massive campaign. The ad budget for the action plan site, ads, promotional tour for the PM, Conservative MPs, the whole shebang. "Building a Green Economy" taking on a whole new meaning...:)

Prorogation politics while unemployment and bankruptcies soared

The numbers out today from January in respect of both EI claims and individual bankruptcies being up are striking. What's becoming even more clear in hindsight, the fact that the Conservative government, facing a political challenge of its own making, went on a prorogation vacation for two months at what is now proving to have been an epically bad moment. This is what was happening out there while the Conservatives regrouped for their political lives and hesitated in acting for the Canadian economy:
In January alone, more than 10,000 individuals in this country filed insolvency papers, up 2.9 per cent from December.

Perhaps more tellingly, the number of Canadians who filed for employment insurance benefits rose above the 500,000 level nationally for January, Statistics Canada said Tuesday.

That represented a jump of 23,700, or 4.4 per cent compared to December.

In fact, Canadians filing for jobless help is now 23 per cent higher than the level in February 2008, the most recent low for this indicator.

"In recent months, labour market conditions in Canada have deteriorated significantly. Through the early part of 2008, employment growth weakened, only to fall sharply later that year and into 2009, causing a spike in the unemployment rate. By February 2009, the unemployment rate hit 7.7 per cent, up almost two percentage points from a record low at the start of 2008," said Canada's statistical agency in a press release.

Both figures — the bankruptcies and EI claims — are signs of growing difficulties faced by individual Canadians as the recession in this country grows.
...
The deterioration in Canada's bankruptcy situation accelerated in the fourth quarter of 2008. The total number of personal and corporate solvency filings rose 9.3 per cent in the October-to-December period.
...
In real terms, 295,000 jobs have vanished in the last four months.
The Conservatives are still playing catch up, scrambling today to hire people to keep up with the EI claims. And grappling with the fact that yes, they may have extended the number of weeks of benefits, but they haven't done anything about expanding eligibility. All the while comically blaming delay on budget matters on the Liberals, as if they're not the governing party who has had primary responsibility for leading on these economic challenges.

The timeline of the past year in terms of what the Conservative priorities have been speaks for itself. Summer spending spree, election, prorogation. Time that should have been devoted to the nation's interests. They're continuing with their lack of attention to economic priorities, springing up in the House of Commons to launch irrelevant partisan attacks, last night raising accusations of anti-semitism, toying with the gun registry issue that is unlikely to go anywhere, bellowing about Russia.

Two months of bought political time for the Harper Conservatives, two months of devastating numbers for Canadians.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Toward Canadian infrastructure, away from Conservative infrastructure

Just checking out this new site this afternoon, onprobation.ca and wanted to point out one of the pages I am hoping to see put to good use, the page on Regional Fairness. As we've seen from the Conservative government to date, infrastructure spending has gone majoritarily to Conservative ridings (see multiple link references on that page). To the tune of 75% of spending. That's an outrage and deserves significant attention. Hope that the tracking of coming announcements here will shine a bright light on coming spending announcements.

Right wing noise follow-up

Two things on this front this morning...

1. Conservative MP Laurie "Red Dawn" Hawn, doesn't like that handle apparently...he wrote to David Pugliese to complain that he only asked about possible Russian incursion into Vancouver Olympic airspace due to prior opposition questions on the day of those Defence Committee hearings. He was clarifying, he claims. Pugliese reviews the committee transcript and says, nope, the Russian linkage was all Hawn's.

Now what is going on this week that might prompt Hawn to attempt to distance himself from the red menace shtick...oh yes, this:
Russia's embassy in Canada is sending Dmitry Trofimov, the embassy's Head of Political Section, to appear Monday, March 23 as a witness before the House of Commons defence committee.

The topic for the meeting is listed as a “Briefing on the recent incident of a Russian military aircraft approaching Canada's Airspace.”
Could be interesting.

2. And regarding that atrocious display on the Fox late night panel this past week that many of us in the progressive blogosphere posted on in voicing our contempt for its ignorance and insensitivity toward Canadian military deaths, Sun Media has picked it up and asked Fox for comment, although they didn't get an answer:
Fox News was not immediately available for comment.
We might be hearing more on this from Fox this week now that our outrage is getting through to them.

Update (very belated Monday p.m.): For the record, Mr. Gutfeld has apologized:

Gutfeld, the host of the controversial segment on Fox's Red Eye show, said he never intended to make light of Canadian military efforts in Afghanistan.

"However, I realize that my words may have been misunderstood," Gutfeld said in a statement released by Fox News.

"It was not my intent to disrespect the brave men, women and families of the Canadian military, and for that I apologize.

"Red Eye is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humorous and ridiculous manner."

Guess the joke's on we poor provincial Canadians, huh?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Independent Gritgirl now Conservative fundraising tool

Updated, Friday afternoon...see below.

Further to FarNWide's dissection and prediction of coming Conservative reaction to Gritgirl, the independent producer of thorn in the side videos that are truth telling about the Harper government's dismal economic record much to their great dismay, David Akin posts a fundraising letter dated today from Mr. Doug Finley, Director of Political Operations, courtesy of a disgruntled Conservative. The Conservative supporter doesn't seem too pleased to be receiving fundraising requests on the basis of Gritgirl.

Feast your eyes on this choice line, from the Conservative political guru and the party of Stephen Harper: "...the Liberals will say anything to win." If you're talking about the truth, well, yes. Also a choice element of the letter:
P.S. Never forget that in 2004 the Liberal Party of Canada launched pre-campaign attack ads against Stephen Harper less than two months after he became leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
From the Dion character assassins, that's hilarious. Can anyone even remember those 2004 ads after what the Conservatives have run on the airwaves in this country for years now?

And again, it must be said, there's absolutely no evidence that Gritgirl, despite the name, is in fact officially associated with the Liberal party, despite Mr. Finley's efforts here and much to wider Conservative consternation. Citizens are motivated, independent of the Liberal party to defeat the Conservatives.

h/t Beaudine

Update (11:45 p.m.): Just another thought...wondering if the wheels are turning in other talented and creative minds at the moment as the Harper gang looks to be engaging perhaps another arts oriented challenge in the next election...call it Culture en Peril, the sequel.

Update II (Friday afternoon): Regarding the "P.S." in the above fundraising letter, it should be noted that the framing of the Liberal ads run against Stephen Harper in 2004 is off in any event. Harper had been Canadian Alliance leader since 2002, prior to running for the merged party's leadership, i.e., he hadn't been a newbie leader for just two months, as implied in their letter. And further, when he did become Conservative leader in March 2004, a federal election was brewing.

In any event, it's just terribly comic to hear the Conservatives whining about such long ago events when they've clearly become the dominant negative political players in Canada.

Updatey III: Steve with more on the Conservative reaction to Gritgirl.

Help the private, help the public

Noted in a Reuters report this afternoon on the CBC's efforts to deal with budget shortfalls and the reported prospect of the Harper government helping CanWest:
A media report on Wednesday said that the federal government was looking at ways to help debt-laden Canwest, including the possibility of looser regulations and tax changes. Any government help for private-sector broadcasters would raise the question of whether the CBC should also receive aid to cope with its woes.

Lacroix has also argued the CBC has no access to the capital markets or to commercial borrowing, which its private rivals can tap for financing.
That latter point being further rationale for the government's unique obligation in respect of CBC.

The Harper government's actions should be exacting demanding scrutiny at the moment as they unfold whatever it is they intend to do for CanWest, particularly in view of Mr. Harper's own words last week in which he publicly displayed his bias against the CBC:
We, as conservatives, inherit an incredible legacy. Never forget – you would forget this sometimes listening to the CBC – that it was Conservatives that created our federation, one of the most lasting political democratic arrangements in history. (emphasis added)
For all the reports of James Moore being a CBC advocate, it's difficult to see how that carries much weight in the face of the PM's obvious sentiments. In a courtroom, such displays would disqualify a judge. But the CBC's left with Mr. Harper as its ultimate arbiter. And there's no evidence to date in the government's public posture to support Mr. Moore's good intentions.

If they help the private broadcasters, they should help the public broadcaster. Anything less will be evidence of the Conservative anti-CBC agenda in full swing.

Update (6 p.m.): Now would be the time for apparently tone deaf CBC management not to be giving the Harper vultures reasons to refrain from helping. Because they will surely latch on to them. Bonuses for management when employees are getting the axe...not on.

Harper responds to David Dodge's criticism

Harper responded to the Globe report containing David Dodge's criticisms while at an event in Toronto yesterday. He easily dismissed them, of course, as if Dodge, the former Bank of Canada governor is just any other critic. But privately, the Conservatives were "furious," thus telling us just how much weight Dodge's views actually carry. About Mr. Harper's response then...

On the GST cuts

Dodge cited the GST cuts as having caused a structural deficit, harming our fiscal capacity. Dodge mused about raising it back a point, at some point in the future. Harper's response on that point:

"That's just wrong," Harper told a Toronto press conference. He added the GST cuts – that lowered the GST from 7 per cent to 5 per cent in two steps – were an important boost to the economy. He cited the cuts as the key reason Canada was "one of the last major economies to go into recession."

Said Harper: "Let me assure you, while our opponents may favour raising the GST back up, this government will not do that."

Harper also lashed out at opposition parties for doing nothing more than criticize.

"Of course, we've had no alternative suggestions from anyone on any other course of action to take," he said.

"I think the opposition simply attacking the Canadian economy adds nothing. I mean, we all know we have difficult circumstances."

"That's just wrong." Well there's a well reasoned argument for you. No explanation as to why the cuts have not caused a structural deficit.

On the partisan angle, no matter how much Mr. Harper would like to turn every critic into a partisan hack, Dodge's credibility as a former Bank of Canada governor lies specifically in his non-partisan persuasion. Who do you believe, Mr. Dodge who points out the simple math, that $12 billion per year is now gone when we need it as we move into significant deficit territory, or Mr. Harper, who responds by launching a straw man partisan attack against his political opposition?

About that IMF report

Second, Mr. Harper and his crew seem to be quite taken with that IMF report from last week and are waving it about as a shield in response to criticisms such as Dodge's. An IMF mission "...visited Canada during February 23-March 9, 2009 for discussions with officials and the private sector, as part of the IMF’s regular Article IV consultations with its member countries." The IMF report is here, "2009 Article IV Mission to Canada: Concluding Statement," and it's not all as rosy as the PM would have you believe. Here's what Harper said about it as he raised it to deflect from Dodge's criticism:

The Prime Minister also bristled at the suggestion his recovery plan was not well thought out.

“That's certainly not what the International Monetary Fund said,” Mr. Harper said.

The International Monetary Fund has said, said last week, our macroeconomic policies are exactly the appropriate policies for today's situation. That's what we will continue to pursue.”

Here's part of what the IMF "mission" said about the Harper government's "macroeconomic policies":
Macroeconomic policies

7. The mission supports the large, timely, and well-targeted fiscal stimulus in Budget 2009. The stimulus package is appropriately sized—well above the Fund’s benchmark of 2 percent of GDP. It is also prudently based on a worse economic outturn than private sector forecasts. With sizeable infrastructure spending and permanent tax cuts, it is weighted toward items that are most effective in stimulating demand. Its steps to boost the safety net will protect Canada’s most vulnerable, and training enhancements will facilitate reallocation of displaced workers. The budget appropriately leverages provincial stimulus, and provinces’ intentions to launch supplementary packages are welcome. The mission also welcomes the move to cut external tariffs, which is in line with Canada’s long-standing commitment to trade liberalization and openness. (emphasis added)
About those italicized parts...first, let's keep in mind that Mr. Harper now citing the IMF as approving of his large, well-targeted stimulus is quite an example of chutzpah in and of itself. His November update foresaw no need for such an effort, spoke of surpluses and but for the threat of bringing his government down, he wouldn't have acted to bring in a stimulus plan at all. Do we have any illusions that if he had a majority he would be so acting, in contravention of his economic beliefs and in light of the hue and cry from his supporters who have been outraged by the budget? So for Mr. Harper to be citing the IMF approving of his macroeconomic policies, the sudden convert who had to be forced to act, it's very rich.

With respect to the stimulus being "prudently based on a worse economic outturn than private sector forecasts," we learned just Monday that the TD Bank is saying that deficit projections in the budget are already proving to be out of date and the income projections the government is using are too optimistic. So are we to believe the IMF or the TD Bank on the ground in Canada? These new economic forecasts "...would see Canada's federal debt swell by $81.5-billion over the next two years instead of by $63.5-billion as the Harper government forecasted seven weeks ago." (preceding Globe link) The Parliamentary Budget Officer has weighed in with a new outlook as well. The IMF are out of date here and are off.

With respect to the training enhancements for displaced workers, we've learned that the government is requiring workers to pay out of their severance for that training. The government website has been overloaded by people looking for work. And with respect to the leveraging of provincial stimulus plans, on infrastructure, it remains to be seen whether the requirement that federal funds be matched will undermine its impact. So let's not overdo it on the IMF-says-my-macro-rocks shtick.

As for the rest of the brief IMF report, while they do speak of Canada being in a relatively better place than other countries, it's not clear how that high level rhetoric that the PM keeps repeating helps the 212,000 who have lost their jobs since January 1st. Does that make it better?

And while there's also praise for our banking system, little of that has to do with Mr. Harper. As BMO's economist put it yesterday, the constant refrain about our banks by such entities as the IMF is being "oversold" in any event:

"Many have in turn torqued this and other fundamentals to assert that this leaves Canada relatively well placed in this [economic] cycle - including the federal government, the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of Canada," he said.

"Amid all the well-deserved back patting is the rather uncomfortable fact that Canada's economic indicators are now deteriorating nearly as quickly as their U.S. counterparts."

He said employment in Canada has declined at almost the "same sickening" pace as the U.S. over the past four months, and auto sales and housing are "pulling a pale imitation of the horror show south of the border" as this country gets "dragged along for the ride in the downturn" afflicting the United States.

And then there are entries like these in the IMF report:
3. The global deterioration is adversely affecting Canada through its strong international linkages. In the fourth quarter, real exports fell by 17.5 percent (annual rate), and the external current account balance registered the first deficit in 10 years. Domestic demand shrank as well, as households and businesses retrenched amid falling commodity and asset prices, and headline GDP declined at the fastest rate since 1991. Going into January, the economic environment continued to deteriorate; the unemployment rate rose to 7.2 percent and rising economic slack contributed to a fall in core inflation from 2.5 percent to 1.9 percent (year on year).
...
...export declines and soft commodity prices are likely to weigh on employment and income, while uncertainties about near-term prospects may restrain investment. With economic slack widening, core inflation will decline. Downside risks predominate, including negative spillovers if the global environment worsens more than expected.
The larger point being that the IMF report is not a shield for Mr. Harper from legitimate domestic criticism from reputable corners. It has its problems and we should keep them in mind if the Conservative plan is to keep waving it in our face.

All of which is a rather lengthy way of saying that Mr. Harper's response to Mr. Dodge did not measure up and as with most spin coming from the PM, requires careful scrutiny.

More on the Dodge smackdown, here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Olbermann covers Bush visit to Calgary

Tell us more, Mr. Science

Gary Goodyear, the Minister of State for Science and Technology who has been in the news of late for budget cuts to science funding and for a reported unprofessional outburst is the subject of a big Globe report today: "Science minister won't confirm belief in evolution." Here is the response that's going to haunt him:
Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.

"I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate," Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
A new entry for the annals of wrong answers that can define a political career. Things the federal science guy should know...evolution, not a religious question. Given the budget cuts for scientific research - yes, there's money for buildings and labs, but research funding is being cut - it's reasonable to ask whether the government's views on science are affecting their actions:
Many scientists fear 10 years of gains will be wiped out by a government that doesn't understand the importance of basic, curiosity-driven research, which history shows leads to the big discoveries. They worry Canada's best will decamp for the United States, where President Barack Obama has put $10-billion (U.S) into medical research as part of his plan to stimulate economic growth.
The concerns of the scientific community about the Harper government's research funding cuts are real. Today's news about Mr. Goodyear is not going to do anything to alleviate them.

Update: A Globe web poll just for the occasion...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bush visit to Canada Tuesday

Tuesday:
George W. Bush, who left office with one of the lowest popularity ratings in U.S. history, will officially kick off his unofficial post-presidential image rehabilition [sic] tour with a speech in Calgary on Tuesday.

But some protesters who plan to be on hand at the city's convention centre say "Dubya" doesn't deserve a soapbox - he should be in handcuffs.

When Bush steps up to the podium at a closely controlled private event, he'll face 1,500 friendly faces brought in by organizers and the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. Tickets reportedly sold for $400 each and were made available exclusively by invitation.

Those invitations say Bush will share his thoughts "on eight momentous years in the Oval Office." The former president will also speak about "the challenges facing the world in the 21st century."

Protesters promise to be out in full force.
Then consider this series of inconvenient and graphic revelations on the eve of Bush's visit:
“I was taken out of my cell and one of the interrogators wrapped a towel around my neck; they then used it to swing me around and smash me repeatedly against the hard walls of the room.”

The prisoner was then put in a coffin-like black box, about 4 feet by 3 feet and 6 feet high, “for what I think was about one and a half to two hours.” He added: The box was totally black on the inside as well as the outside.... They put a cloth or cover over the outside of the box to cut out the light and restrict my air supply. It was difficult to breathe. When I was let out of the box I saw that one of the walls of the room had been covered with plywood sheeting. From now on it was against this wall that I was then smashed with the towel around my neck. I think that the plywood was put there to provide some absorption of the impact of my body. The interrogators realized that smashing me against the hard wall would probably quickly result in physical injury.”

After this beating, Abu Zubaydah was placed in a small box approximately three feet tall. “They placed a cloth or cover over the box to cut out all light and restrict my air supply. As it was not high enough even to sit upright, I had to crouch down. It was very difficult because of my wounds. The stress on my legs held in this position meant my wounds both in the leg and stomach became very painful. I think this occurred about three months after my last operation. It was always cold in the room, but when the cover was placed over the box it made it hot and sweaty inside. The wound on my leg began to open and started to bleed. I don’t know how long I remained in the small box; I think I may have slept or maybe fainted.

“I was then dragged from the small box, unable to walk properly, and put on what looked like a hospital bed, and strapped down very tightly with belts. A black cloth was then placed over my face and the interrogators used a mineral water bottle to pour water on the cloth so that I could not breathe. After a few minutes the cloth was removed and the bed was rotated into an upright position. The pressure of the straps on my wounds was very painful. I vomited.

“The bed was then again lowered to horizontal position and the same torture carried out again with the black cloth over my face and water poured on from a bottle. On this occasion my head was in a more backward, downwards position and the water was poured on for a longer time. I struggled against the straps, trying to breathe, but it was hopeless.”

After being placed again in the tall box, Abu Zubaydah “was then taken out and again a towel was wrapped around my neck and I was smashed into the wall with the plywood covering and repeatedly slapped in the face by the same two interrogators as before.

“I was then made to sit on the floor with a black hood over my head until the next session of torture began. The room was always kept very cold.

This went on for approximately one week.”
So let's hear what the former President has to say about why he approved of such measures, how they helped advance the American fight against terrorism. How foundational legal principles like habeas corpus were suspended. How the Geneva Conventions were lawyered away under his watch in the U.S., how the U.S. constitution was perverted, abrogated, trashed by such practices as those above. Let him explain how these prisoners will ever be brought to "justice" as a result of the litany of abuses the Red Cross has catalogued. That's certainly one of the challenges facing the U.S. now, in his wake. Or let him speak to this proposition:
Torture made Americans — both at home and those serving overseas — less safe. In fact, former FBI special agent Jack Cloonan testified that the Bush-Cheney policies had convinced him that “revenge in the form of a catastrophic attack on the homeland is coming.”
Those seem like some big issues arising out of "eight momentous years in the Oval Office." Not that Bush will, of course, address any of it in substance. If he does touch on any of these issues, it'll likely be along the lines of the talking points Cheney was pushing today:
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday that by jettisoning key elements of the Bush administration's approach to terrorism, President Obama had increased the risk of more attacks on the country.
The fear mongering that was soundly rejected by Obama's election continues. Expect a rousing defence from Bush of his policies as having kept America "safe."

The torture issue is bound to follow Bush administration officials on their international travels, as it now is on the eve of the visit to our country, as protesters are demonstrating in the run up to Bush's arrival. It remains unresolved, the elephant in the room as Bush visits the "friendly faces" in Calgary.

Friday, March 13, 2009

So deserving of parody


You know, a person just might get the impression that the PM's travels these days are all geared to providing new photo-op material for their brand new website. Within hours of today's event in London, Ontario, there's a brand new Stephen Harper photo to mark the occasion on actionplan.gc.ca, the highly choreographed construction worker number from earlier today. Guess they didn't have a photo of him in his blue and burgundy striped tie yet. It's all just so easy to lampoon, it's not surprising that the twin site has sprung up so quickly. I believe there are 19 pictures of Mr. Harper in total, by the time you scroll through the pictures on the front page of the government site.

While their actions are heavy on the photo-op front, their follow-through is not good. Recall Ms. Finley's admission this week that the government site cannot contend with the record traffic from jobless Canadians. And there's still the question of that $3 billion for infrastructure from the 2007 budget that remains unspent. Construction jobs, hello? So while the announcements today come with the typical high gloss effort and hordes of media in tow, the follow-through will be what counts.

In the spirit of helping them out with future photo-ops, and since it is Friday night and all...I'd suggest they take inspiration for future costumed occupations to line up behind the PM from the following little musical number:



P.S. What you don't see a heck of a lot of on the government's actionplan site? Women. Just sayin'...

All Mr. Harper's distractions

The CP account of Harper's speech to Conservatives last night, demonstrating a little more clearly the partisan edge displayed by Harper in that speech. Further, we get a sense here of some of the discontent in the audience among Harper Conservatives. First, the attack, which illustrates why the PMO is not so keen to publicize such remarks:
In a recording obtained by The Canadian Press, Harper goes after the Liberals in a election-campaign style attack, saying the current situation would be much worse had they been in power.

"Imagine the stance Canada would have taken when Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists attacked Israel. Imagine how many Liberal insiders and ideologues would be now in the Senate, the courts and countless other federal institutions and agencies – I should say, how many more," Harper said to laughter.

"Imagine the costs of going through with the Kyoto and Kelowna accords with no plan to actually achieve anything on either the environment or aboriginal affairs. Imagine what a carbon tax would be doing to our economy in the middle of a global recession."

He twice pointed disdainfully to tax hikes U.S. President Barack Obama introduced for the highest tax brackets.
Imagine, imagine, imagine. I think Canadians are, Mr. Harper. On that last point, note that Harper apparently is still right there with Bush. Obama's tax hikes are on people making $250,000 and up and incredibly, given the mess the U.S. is in, Harper's against that. Yep.

The rest of the Liberal bashing, wondrously distracting stuff from current economic turmoil. Incredibly inflammatory fear mongering about his principal opponent here. It borders on the obsessive and sounds wildly out of sync on a day when jobless numbers are going through the roof, 300,000 lost jobs in the last four months. Yet nevertheless, here we are reading about the demons that haunt the PM in the national media.

Beyond the partisan slinging from Mr. Harper, Conservative discontent noted in the report that bears watching:
"Conservatives should stop having the internal debate in their head and all the philosophical arguments, and talk about hard specific ideas that make a difference in people's lives, have the courage to stand up and fight for the things we know are right," said Tom Long, a former leadership candidate for the Canadian Alliance.

"We have tried going out and selling things we don't believe in – how's that working?"

Said Michel Kelly Gagnon of the Montreal Economic Institute: "If you want to vote for a centrist party, you can vote for the Liberal party of Canada. They're very good at that."
Angst among Conservatives...that's a shame...

Harper's 3 "F's"

Details of Harper speaking to supporters at the Manning Institute for Democracy last night in this report. The Manning Institute, in case you don't know, is Preston Manning's "think-tank."

You really could spend a lot of time picking through the many statements and disagreeing and pointing out their inaccuracy, it really would take quite a while. For example, the speech was characterized by Akin as "...a passionate defence of conservatism in what has become an era of big-spending, big government." Interesting and ironic stuff coming from Mr. Harper. But keep in mind he was doling out red meat chum to the base and they're very hungry right now given the very big-spending, big government actions of Mr. Harper.

There was a choice aspect to his speech to have some fun with though:
Harper told the group that his version of conservatism is summed up "in three Fs:freedom, family and faith."
Freedom...you mean this kind of freedom, for example?
"Heck, it wasn’t that long ago the PMO staked out popular social spots in Ottawa to spy on Conservative MPs dining with journalists, the better to pinpoint any unauthorized leaks."
No, I prefer three other "F's" to sum up the Harper version of conservatism:
Flaherty, fiscal, foolishness.
Try it for yourself, call it 3 F Friday.

And try not to use the obvious F word...:)

(h/t TT)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The GritGirl gets her due

John Ivison's latest on the "mud-flinging" and a special word or two about the GritGirl, whoever she is:
Yet, if he is behind the GritGirl ads -- and he’s not saying -- Liberals should be congratulating him. They are timely, slick and kick the Conservatives where it hurts, by questioning their competency as economic managers. They get the message out at minimal cost -- crucial for a party with a no ad budget -- and even though they may be preaching largely to the converted, the viral nature of the internet gives considerable bang for the buck.
This is, of course, the ad Ivison is referencing:



Ivison may be amazed at the "studio quality ad" but these days, there are a lot of creative and talented individuals out there with nifty software and capabilities. Check out the YouTubes sometime, Mr. Ivison.

Three cheers for the Speaker

It's about time: "Speaker orders MPs to curb personal attacks." The report cites a number of the recent instances where Conservative MPs have used their allotted time in the House of Commons to make statements as launching pads of personal invective either against Michael Ignatieff or, of late, Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella, a private citizen.
In a move his communications director, Heather Bradley, described as "very rare," Mr. Milliken sent a letter to the House leaders of the four parties expressing his concern over some MPs' statements and stressing that "personal attacks" in the Commons are not permitted.

"I intend to halt at an early stage any trend in this direction," he wrote. "As such, I am writing to advise you that I will vigorously enforce the authority given to me ... to cut off Members, if, in my opinion, improper statements are made."
This is long overdue. And it's obvious from this report and accounts elsewhere that it is the Conservative party who has systematically abused House of Commons floor time to engage in such time wasting sideshows of petulance. Here's some of the serious public business the Conservatives engaged in this week:



Silly political games. Glad to see the Speaker is going to clamp down on this nonsense and further, that it's getting national media attention by being escalated out of the House of Commons statements section that only those who watch CPAC will see. Exposure of this juvenile extravaganza can only help to demonstrate to Canadians the character of these Conservatives who can actually bring themselves to stand up in the House of Commons as elected members and read such garbage.

Update (6:15 p.m.): More at CC, RT, Kinsella.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The IMF or Jim Flaherty...

Hmmm, this is a tough one...(click to enlarge)

The sorry but true state of spin on planet Conservative...

(h/t TT)

Adventures in Conservative web design

Really, the Conservatives should be running a p.r. firm. That's what they spend a great deal of time doing and every effort they make is neatly packaged up, supported by a nifty website and talking points that, well, just don't hold up, but they plow on, regardless. Fortunately for we Canadians, the latest offering from the Harper government is their new action plan website for us to bookmark and peruse at our leisure. The communications team surely does work overtime in the Harper government.

On the site, you will find the first budget progress "Report": Canada's Economic Action Plan - Report in Brief. Looking at just a few aspects of this thing, it's easy to become jaded. The spin, it's all there.

To take one premise of their report, under the completely objective and reasonable report heading, "Extraordinary and Unprecedented Action," for example, we see this bit of rhetoric that was previously trotted out by the PM on his NY whirlwind tour:
Canada was one of the first countries to inject major fiscal stimulus into its economy to offset the downturn and encourage continued growth. On October 30, 2007, the Government introduced $65 billion in permanent tax reductions over this and the next five fiscal years. At that time, the Government stated: “Given this global economic uncertainty, now is the time to act…to make broad-based tax reductions that will strengthen our economy, stimulate investment and create more and better jobs.”
Yes, the re-branded in hindsight "first stimulus" effort rears its head. But, you're asking yourself, how can this be? If they injected "major fiscal stimulus," why have the results been so horrific? How is the Parliamentary Budget Officer speaking today of a dip in gross domestic income of 15%? How can it be that the government had to buy billions of dollars in mortgages from the Canadian banks? How can it be that so many Canadians are losing jobs?
Canada has shed 213,000 jobs since October.
Statistics Canada said the manufacturing sector that is centred in Ontario and Quebec dropped 101,000 jobs in January, the worst decline ever recorded.
And, if they did see it coming, then how can Jim Flaherty be lecturing us all that "nobody, I mean nobody, not one economist, not one...predicted the global recession?" Mr. Flaherty yesterday:



They saw it, they didn't see it, it all depends on the day, the forum in which a Conservative is speaking or the document being produced for political purposes. The point of course being, that yes, the Harper Conservatives are spinning madly, making it all up as they go along. It's what they do best.

Another gem from the report that needs to be pointed out...this claim, under the heading "Extraordinary and Unprecedented Early Action" that omits a major fact:
We made early changes to Canada’s mortgage industry by reducing the maximum term for new government-backed mortgages from 40 years to 35 years and requiring a minimum down payment of 5 per cent for new government-backed mortgages.
Reality check:
The mushrooming of a Canadian version of subprime mortgages has gone largely unnoticed. The Conservative government finally banned the practice last summer, after repeated warnings from frustrated senior officials and bankers that the country's financial system was being exposed to far too much risk as the housing market weakened.
They didn't act so early after all, to remove a foolhardy innovation that Mr. Flaherty himself introduced into our marketplace, to significant criticism for the risk that the move posed. Yet they seem to think this is worth a pat on the back to themselves for acting "early," to remove a practice that should never have been introduced in the first place.

Adventures in web design, spin and unfortunately, the Canadian economy...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I think the word is "chutzpah"

Most enjoyable quote I've heard in a while...out of the Senate in response to a very aggressive performance by Minister Flaherty before the Senate finance committee today. A strategy of the Conservatives now is to lay blame for delay on the opposition, specifically the Liberals and the Liberal dominated Senate. This was made especially clear today in Mr. Harper's speech and the first budget progress report that was released, both littered with the effort to blame and pressure the opposition. Needless to say, the effort was not appreciated and was sharply rebuked by a Senator, not of the Liberal persuasion:
Independent Progressive Conservative senator Lowell Murray was equally offended.

'It takes a lot of nerve for you come in here and lecture us about timing after you wasted two months with prorogation digging yourself out of the hole you got yourself into with the November statement," he said.
As a certain cynical person I know would say, that is all...

Update (9:35 p.m.): OK, one more thing. Noted in an AFP report on the G20 efforts, Canada's lagging and the Harper crew knows it:
"Canada is among the last of the G20 to present its stimulus plan."
G20 finance ministers and bank governors are meeting this weekend to update each other on progress.

Update II (Wednesday afternoon, and shamefully late): This is the appropriate link to the Cynic, of course. I was unaware of that post but am happy to correct. What is it they say...birds of a feather, and all that...:)

Notes on the Harper speech: a PM obsessed with "red tape"

A few observations on the big speech of the day...

First thought, he shouldn't have written it himself (read the entire speech, here, in pdf and watch, here). Principally due to the unnecessary partisanship that was included at the end of his speech, and throughout. It's getting play in the media, as Radwanski puts it, undermining his message. The blatant mischaracterizations the PM injected today are dealt with in those pieces.

That specific partisan attack against the opposition that really had no place here seems to have crept into the rest of the speech too. Harper seems to have been unable to let go of the current political debate over that unaccountable $3 billion fund he's seeking. It seems to have coloured his overall message. He opened the speech with two mentions of "cutting red tape," actually in the first few paragraphs of the speech (the phrase appears 7 times throughout the speech). Not exactly an inspirational attention grabber. He then returned to the red tape theme at the end, devoting a whole section to the topic that morphed into a partisan attack on the opposition. We're left to conclude that one of Mr. Harper's key messages today is that "red tape" is the cause of any delay that might occur in the delivery of this stimulus plan. Either of the bureaucratic or political variety. When we know that's not exactly true, is it? We know what the Harper government has been doing since the spring of 2008 and it's not a heck of a lot of governing. Now they're suffering the inevitable fallout. The PM is under the gun to "fast-track" the plan, talking up the "unprecedented speed" at which they're moving. But the machinery of government is what a PM has to deal with. Legitimate political opposition, that's what a PM has to grapple with. To be focussing the nation's attention on "red tape" at the moment, it feels like a big old excuse being offered up in a prime ministerial speech. That's the takeaway for me and it doesn't add up to a great leadership moment.

On the remainder of the substance of the speech, there was a laundry list of items the government's announced, the home renovation tax credit, for example among others. Missing in tone though, the hope, the inspirational pitch. There was some of it in his appeals for Canadians to throw off their modesty and be confident about the strengths we have. But many of those can be attributed not to his government but to the heavily regulated banking sector and the strong financial position left to him.

Also missing from the speech, an emphasis on jobs. No empathetic language whatsoever to connect with those who have lost them already or are facing such prospects. In fact, just two minor mentions of the word, "jobs," in the entire speech. Strange, particularly when you consider the location he and his team chose for the speech:
The area where Mr. Harper chose to make his speech has seen major job losses as the manufacturing and auto sectors take a beating.
From CP:
A spokesman said the speech locale was chosen because southern Ontario's manufacturing sector has been particularly hard-hit by the recession. Brampton, some 45 kilometres northwest of Toronto, is home to a Chrysler assembly plant and scores of light industry.

The Chrysler plant employs 3,500 people and although it remains open, it was recently idled for a week.
Completely and inexplicably missed the opportunity to address the jobs issue in the hard hit manufacturing base of Ontario. Seems kind of important.

About time

"Harper heads to car country to deliver first major speech on recession." CP with "inside" notes on a Harper speech in Brampton tomorrow.  Interesting to see that Harper has for some reason decided to pen this one himself:
He spent this past weekend at his official residence typing away at Tuesday's address - one of the rare occasions on which Harper has written a speech from start to finish.

His 3,000-word address to the Brampton Board of Trade will be the most elaborate speech he has delivered this year on the state of the economy.

"It is a positive message," said Harper spokesman Kory Teneycke.

"The global economy is suffering what may be the worst combination of bad news since the 1930s - yet Canada has, in relative terms, been immune from some of the worst aspects of this.

"And those elements of our economy that are being hit, are being hit to a lesser degree than other countries."

Canada actually lost more jobs per capita than the United States last month, but the job losses began piling up far earlier in the U.S. and the unemployment rate there remains higher.

Harper hopes the message he trumpets - that it's better here than elsewhere - will resonate in the ears of Canadian voters.

He will bring a visual aid in the form of Power Point charts to illustrate his case. (emphasis added)
That's an interesting tact they're taking.  But "immune?" That's not the word that came to my mind when looking at an RRSP statement today. And it's certainly a rough word for those losing their jobs at the moment:



Those Power Point charts better be good...a big speech on the economy is something that's long overdue from the Harper government...

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Saturday morning notes: PM on a snowmobile edition

1. Does this remind you of anyone...
"Later, the prime minister arrived by snowmobile for a photo op on the Trans Canada Trail in Wilmot."

Chronicle Herald staff

Anyone at all?

AP

"Tories fiddle while the economy burns," anyone?

OK, enough fun with the pictures...:) A little more seriously...

Best moment, to me, in the Harper question session yesterday as he announced repair moneys for Highway 101 in Nova Scotia was in response to a question on whether we would be appointing our own envoy on Afghanistan. Harper first said he got a kick out of the opposition pointing out the Americans did it, the British did it, why aren't we doing it...then he said, to conclude, "In Canada, we always make our own foreign policies." Yep. After watching the Harper government mirror the Bush administration in so many ways, with their Afghanistan stewardship (in tone, secrecy, on detainees) and in holding back environmental progress internationally as the Bush administration's best friend, to pick just two areas, that statement was an absurd bit of spin coming from him. I think he found it funny too, perhaps that he can get away with saying such things, as the giant grin that appeared seemed to suggest that he knew how ironic it was for him to say it. Either that or he had been coached into trying to be sweater vest Steve yesterday and that's what it looks like. Just once I would like to hear an audience member laugh when he says something of this variety. But the audience for this announcement/press conference appeared to be quite friendly, judging by the applause that rang out a few times as he answered, similar to he set up in B.C. when he made the criminal penalties for gangs announcement.

Also notable, two of the questions were about the funding announcement being in respect of Hwy 101 and not 103 which is reportedly more dangerous and in need of urgent action given the questions ("Highway 101 was once known as Nova Scotia's deadliest highway. Recently, that moniker has gone to Highway 103 along the south shore, where 10 people died last year."). His answers to both of those questions I found interesting to watch as well, to see how empathetic he was.

Finally on this event, this lighthearted moment was quite funny too.

And in two non-snowmobile related items today that are worth a look...

2. "The political lessons of Lester Pearson." A hopeful and insightful op-ed providing a history lesson on the Pearson years. A reminder to keep present goings on in our minority government federal politics in perspective.

3. There is a good essay follow-up on the gang violence in B.C. and what needs to be done: emphasis on prevention and better enforcement, not symbolic sentencing provisions on the books in criminal statutes.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday night music...

This song has been going through my head this week, so it's my pick. Video is here. Life on a chain, seems about right for this time of the year.

Shout out to all the music enthusiasts tonight. Enjoy...:)

What to do with a foot stamping PM

While this headline no doubt makes for some glee in certain political corners, "Liberals stand down in election standoff," the substance of what's going on here is not bad at all.

What do you do with a foot stamping politician, after all, whose track record is my way or the highway and continues to hold his breath in response to a reasonable request for accountability? While job numbers are tanking and major Ontario cities are being devastated? You take the high road, if you're a responsible politician and work it out. That, it appears, is what will be happening in this latest electoral standoff that didn't need to be elevated to that level but is only framed in that manner due to the one-track threatmeister of a PM. The "stand down" looks to be a media narrative, but, that'll happen. You decide what's going on.

The Liberal action today:
Liberals plan to table a motion Monday calling on the government to specify which departments and programs would receive the money.

But Goodale said they won't debate the motion or force a vote on it until late March, giving the sides several weeks to reach a compromise.

He also indicated the Liberals could amend or drop the motion altogether if the government comes up with some other way of assuring them that the fund wouldn't simply be a blank cheque.

"We have signalled to the government one way to do it. They may have other proposals to make. We'd be very interested to hear what their proposals are."
And the Harper reaction that, while taking the opportunity to get in a dig, suggests that the Conservatives are on their way to taking up the Liberal gesture:
Harper has so far refused to provide details in advance of how the fund would be spent.

He did not repeat his election threat Friday. Instead, he used a highway funding announcement in Nova Scotia to put more pressure on the Liberals to approve the stimulus fund so that money can start flowing in time for the spring construction season.

"Rather than trying to throw up roadblocks, they need to get out of the way and let that money flow," Harper said.

He contended it's impossible to provide details in advance of how the money would be spent because the government is still negotiating with the provinces on specific projects. But he said the details will be revealed between now and June as projects are approved.

"Look, it's in this government's interests to get those details out as quickly as possible. We will," he said.


"But there is no excuse for an opposition that has been saying we need to deliver money more quickly to now say we need to delay that money or say things like we need to have parliamentary sign-off on every individual project. That is not realistic. It's not going to work that way."
Maybe not that way, but it's very likely that in the next few weeks, some "way" will be worked out that meets the consistent and very reasonable demand for accountability over this $3 billion fund. In the meantime, good blogging material all around.

h/t CV, BCer, FnW.

Joe Nocera on Daily Show explains AIG

Nocera was on Wednesday night. You can watch the clip here. Stewart raises CNBC/Rick Santelli cleverly during the course of the interview. Nocera also had a very good column on the AIG matter this past weekend which should explain it well to you if you're interested in why AIG is central to the financial crisis and how it got to its current dire situation. Here's some of the lead-in commentary:
So far the government has thrown $150 billion at the company, in loans, investments and equity injections, to keep it afloat. It has softened the terms it set for the original $85 billion loan it made back in September. To ease the pressure even more, the Federal Reserve actually runs a facility that buys toxic assets that A.I.G. had insured. A.I.G. effectively has been nationalized, with the government owning a hair under 80 percent of the stock. Not that it’s worth very much; A.I.G. shares closed Friday at 42 cents.
...
...because of A.I.G.’s dubious business practices during the housing bubble it pretty much has the world’s financial system by the throat.

If we let A.I.G. fail, said Seamus P. McMahon, a banking expert at Booz & Company, other institutions, including pension funds and American and European banks “will face their own capital and liquidity crisis, and we could have a domino effect.” A bailout of A.I.G. is really a bailout of its trading partners — which essentially constitutes the entire Western banking system.
Nocera goes on to explain the mechanics of the scams pretty clearly. All very disturbing stuff.

Thx to reader MM for passing this along.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Great moments in Prime Ministerial eloquence

A lot of feistiness on tap today writes Tonda MacCharles about the back and forth in the House of Commons. Just wanted to highlight the expression used by the top dog who sets the tone:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff pressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper to accelerate the spending of the billions of dollars already approved in last year's budget for infrastructure spending. But before they approve billions more, the Liberals want greater accountability for such projects, Ignatieff said.

Harper accused his rival of stalling on the budget and engaging in the "the biggest exercise of suck and blow I have ever seen in Canadian history."

"He really has to make up his mind whether he is going to help us pass it (the budget) quicker or try to block it," the prime minister said.

French reporters later quizzed English reporters on what "suck and blow" means.
Yes, please explain exactly what the phrase "suck and blow" means to the French reporters, Mr. Harper. Would have loved to hear what the English reporters told them. Macleans confirms the use of it too, albeit prefaced by Harper saying, "I hate to use this expression but...," which seems to make it much more acceptable.

It gives the impression that there's not much left in the Harper tank, reflecting a little exasperation in having to actually engage in debate with the opposition and work out a resolution over this $3 billion unaccountable fund Conservatives are seeking. And maybe I'm a little too demanding in terms of the standards I'd like to have a PM uphold, but the suck and blow remark is on par with his comments in the fall about how Dion's proposals would "screw everybody." It's embarrassing.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

About that co-ordination of U.S.-Canada carbon reduction projects...

The big result of "Environment" Minister Prentice's trip, it seems, was to announce that the moneys the U.S. and Canada are respectively spending on environmental technologies...will be co-ordinated and that there will be no duplication. And that there will be working groups. Restrain your excitement. It doesn't appear to be anything new beyond what was announced during the Obama visit.

So, co-ordination and no duplication. Sounds like it could also mean separate and apart. Because the written agreement expressing joint co-ordination of research on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) doesn't cover the oil sands, just coal-fired plants. The Americans are spending $3.4 billion on CCS research for coal plants, Canada is spending $1 billion ($4 billion, including the provinces), presumably for CCS largely in relation to the oil sands. Prentice, however, said yesterday that Canada is "moving forward on both fronts."
"The focus of the clean-energy dialogue has been to ensure that we collaborate on those investments, that we have the best information available, that we don't duplicate investments and, frankly, that we make sure that the investments that are made are appropriate and advantageous for both carbon capture and storage in the context of the oilsands, as well as in thermal electricity," Prentice said.

"This is a technology that has common application. It's also technology that has been proceeding apace in the context of hydrocarbon industry in Western Canada, in particular, but it holds a promise for thermal coal application." (emphasis added)
The bottom line seems to be that the CCS research that is supposedly being done jointly by Canada and the U.S., a major part of this "Clean Energy Dialogue," pertains to coal plants, not the oil sands. There, it appears we are on our own.