Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Something you'd think would be beyond partisan exploitation...

But it's not. Headlines that speak for themselves: "Vast majority of disability funding goes to Tory ridings."
About 94 per cent of funding flowing through the Enabling Accessibly Fund went project in Tory ridings, the Liberals say.

Just 6 per cent of the $36 million in projects funded so far ended up in ridings held by opposition parties, they found.
The Liberal analysis is based on information about the EAF tabled by the government in the House of Commons earlier this week that listed the projects by their federal ridings. It showed that 166 smaller projects were granted funding while another 562 were turned down.

Liberal MP Michael Savage said it was “pretty blatant” that the money was directed to Tory ridings. He said he’s sure the approved projects were worthwhile, but says it’s not fair those in other ridings didn’t get money.

“There are 306 other ridings in this county that have people with disabilities who are crying out for assistance. Who gets funding shouldn’t be determined who your representative is.”
Stephen Harper's Canada, ladies and gentlemen...where the partisan spending extravaganza knows absolutely no bounds.

Update (Thursday a.m.): Whoopsie, the Prog Blogfather got this one too, h/t!

Three cheers for the Federal Court...and maybe four

Item 1: In early March, the Federal Court ordered the Harper government to seek clemency for the Canadian on death-row in Colorado, Ronald Smith. In doing so, the court rebuked the Harper government for its arbitrary clemency policy: 
"The decision by the government of Canada to withdraw support for Mr. Smith was made in breach of the duty of fairness, is unlawful and is set aside,” Judge Barnes said. “In the absence of any new clemency policy, I am ordering the government to continue to apply the former policy of supporting clemency on behalf of Canadians facing the death penalty in any foreign state to Mr. Smith.”
Item 2: Last week, the Federal Court ordered the Harper government to request the repatriation of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo Bay.

Item 3: Cut to today, more news from the Federal Court:"Court denies Ottawa's bid to thwart Afghan detainee hearings."
Efforts to thwart public hearings into allegations that Canada knowingly transferred prisoners to likely torturers in Afghanistan were dealt another defeat yesterday by a federal court judge who denied the government's application for an indefinite stay.

“The last thing the government wants is military officers testifying publicly about Afghan detainees and the risk of torture,” said Paul Champ, the lawyer representing rights groups that filed the original complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission.

MPCC public hearings are scheduled to begin next month, although the government may still seek to have them delayed or cancelled. It says the MPCC has overstepped it mandate.
Can't help but think that the loud debate going on in the U.S. may be influencing the court here. Our government clearly wants to sweep the issue under the rug but the court appears to be having none of it.

Care to go for four, Conservatives? They might want to cut their losses on that in and out thing before the Federal Court bites them again...

Still against the appeal of the Khadr judgment

"Judge sets June 1 for Khadr hearing to resume as UN to debate child soldiers."

Well that's a timely reminder from the Khadr military commission judge. The trials were halted by Obama's executive order but only for 120 days. The Department of Justice is reviewing all of the Guantanamo cases and it is scheduled to report prior to that June 1st date:
Khadr's fate is currently under consideration by a presidential review panel, which is due to make recommendations by May 20. Obama halted all military-commission cases in January pending the review.
And the Department of Justice review team has just received a copy of the Federal Court of Canada decision of April 23rd ordering the government of Canada to request Khadr's repatriation:
Khadr's lawyers immediately forwarded the decision to the review committee as an addendum to the materials filed ahead of the April 15 deadline for submissions.
We should therefore see by May 20 what the U.S. government is going to do with Khadr, prior to the trial start date. We should also know by then whether the Harper government will appeal that repatriation order.

Khadr's lawyers, by the way, are getting some press attention today by dovetailing a press conference on Khadr's case with a UN Security Council debate on child soldiers. The Federal Court judgment of last week relied in part on the UN Protocol on the Rights of the Child in formulating the Canadian government's duty to protect Khadr and get him out of Guantanamo. It is this Protocol that would similarly cause optics problems for the U.S. should it decide to proceed with this military commissions trial of Khadr, 22, who has been in custody for seven years. It's hard to see how the U.S. government would go through with it.

As for the latest guess on whether an appeal of that Khadr judgment will occur, it's possible that they'll just wait for the result of the U.S. review. Launching an appeal would be a very bold step for this government and when it comes down to it, they're not that bold or principled. And launching an appeal would run counter to the Harper passing the buck course of action they've deployed all along. Their course has been to wait and see what the U.S. will do, in their process, to deal with Khadr who is facing "serious charges," as they've told us ad nauseam infinitum. So if the Harper government were to be consistent with their own rhetoric at a minimum, they would wait for the review panel to weigh in and defer to it. Not block the possibility of a diplomatic and legal resolution by taking their first freelance step in the case and launching an appeal.

They're probably going to wait and see, with a whimper, the more you think about it. No bold leadership for Canada likely to be seen here, even with a court order giving them a way out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ari Fleischer writing the PM's talking points

To supplement the blogging from last night on Harper employee Ari Fleischer's payment disclosure, just wanted to emphasize one part of this reporting that is quite revealing. Ari Fleischer was helping to write talking points for the Canadian Prime Minister:
The disclosure documents from Ari Fleischer Communications Inc. say the company performed four main tasks — none of which involved lobbying the current U.S. administration.

The tasks included helping Mr. Harper develop statements and talking points; advising the PMO on media appearances; arranging interviews with American TV and print media; and helping brief Mr. Harper for his interviews.

Mr. Fleischer helped Canada communicate its position for the G20 economic summit, which began April 2 in London.

“The means to be employed are to educate and inform the U.S. public about the views and positions of the Prime Minister of Canada with regard to these and related issues,” says the document.
Same point, from Canwest:
As part of a comprehensive plan to help Harper "educate and inform" Americans about Canada, Fleischer reported the scope of his work included helping write the prime minister's talking points and booking interviews with U.S.-based media before the April 2 summit in London.

"The purpose of the services is to articulate the position of the Government of Canada . . . to a broad variety of audiences, to promote Canada's international objectives," Fleischer wrote in the filing, which is required when U.S. consultants are hired by a foreign government.

"The services will include advising the Office of the Prime Minister with respect to development of statements and talking points; advising with respect to media appearances and interviews; arranging and booking such media appearances for the prime minister; and participating as appropriate in briefings of the prime minister and his staff in preparation for such media appearances and interviews." (emphasis added)
Much more damaging than the financial cost of this questionable retainer, it's the spectacle of a Canadian Prime Minister being scripted by Americans. And outsourcing something he shouldn't be doing in the first place to a member of the discredited Bush Republican administration, Ari Fleischer. The early word on this contract was that it was about booking arrangements and Fleischer (and Mike McCurry) using their contacts to help Harper land interviews. But writing media talking points for Harper? That's a whole new ballgame for Canadian Prime Ministers. How embarrassing that is. No wonder we have to count on American disclosure to find it out.

P.S. To any American friends who are reading, this is not intended whatsoever to be an anti-American post. It is about Canadians having a government that can't speak for itself.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Stephen Harper and the rule of law

If you're looking for a must read today, Chantal Hebert's column in Le Devoir won't disappoint: "Stephen Harper and the rule of law" (translated version). One of her strongest indictments to date of Harper, setting out many of the instances, past and present, where he's demonstrated little patience for the law's constraints, preferring to argue the primacy of the "people" or democracy instead and at perhaps an unprecedented and inappropriate level compared to past governments. This is an issue that goes to the heart of the challenge which Mr. Harper embodies to our democracy (my view, not Hebert specifically, but she might agree).

Hebert offers, attributed to "government leaders," that Harper was prepared to defy the Governor General and challenge her legitimacy if she hadn't permitted prorogation in December. Mind boggling. And in the end part, throws in the suggestion that members of his own government are troubled by his contempt for the rule of law and how far he's pushed things. To which it must be said, maybe these insiders might want to speak out now on the Khadr matter if they are indeed so mightily troubled.

Hebert has previously written about Ned Franks' views on Harper's rhetoric during the prorogation and this column has continued the theme. If you want to read more from other constitutional experts dissecting these recent historic events, this book is excellent: Parliamentary Democracy in Crisis. Hebert reads like she's been influenced somewhat by the thinking in it.

And speaking of contempt for the rule of law and other assorted affronts, there's news that one of the PM's best friends has received a patronage appointment to a board that doles out millions of research infrastructure funds. The appointee John Weissenberger is a climate change skeptic/denier, according to Liberal MP Marc Garneau. Another sign that Mr. Harper knows his time is about up?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Stop flip-flopping on Khadr and do the right thing

"Tories flip-flop on Khadr appeal." Ignominy awaits the Harper crowd who dither while history moves beyond them:
The Harper government seems to be having some trouble deciding whether it's appealing a court ruling on the Omar Khadr case.

The government now says it has not decided if it will appeal a Federal Court ruling that said it must ask the United States to send Khadr home. Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told the House of Commons today that their would be an appeal.

But his spokeswoman quickly contradicted that, saying no decision had been made.

Within minutes, she backtracked, saying the minister's comments stood.

A short time later things changed again, with the spokeswoman saying the government is still considering what to do.
Wonder what they would have done if they'd been in power when the Berlin wall came down?

Update (3:35 p.m.): Cannon in responding during Question Period today, intermingled the question of the Khadr appeal with a reference to the death of trooper Karine Blais who was being laid to rest today. Here's the CP report which doesn't reference the Blais aspect but references the argument from Cannon:
Cannon told the Commons that recent news footage apparently showed Khadr assembling bombs of the kind that have killed a number of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan over the years.
Khadr has nothing to do with any of this, of course, it's just an effort by the government, cornered as they are by the Federal Court, to once again inflame the situation by referencing fallen Canadian soldiers. Disgraceful.

Update (4:35 p.m.): Tonda MacCharles' report has further details on Cannon's efforts in the House of Commons and Bob Rae's response:
"What is Mr. Cannon doing? It's a classic McCarthyite tactic. And it is not the way we do, should be doing business or politics in Canada."

"No one's denying that the charges against Mr. Khadr are serious," said Rae. In French he added, "there is no one who doesn't share the emotion of the families' loss, for young Canadians who sacrificed their lives."

Against the appeal of the Khadr judgment

The Federal Court decision (pdf link here) ordering the Harper government to seek Omar Khadr's repatriation should not be appealed. For two sets of reasons, legal and political.


The principal legal reason not to appeal this decision is that it is a narrow decision. The Canadian government's "duty to protect" Khadr under the Charter that the judge articulated was not an expansive one that should warrant the government's apprehension. If we hear Mr. Harper or Mr. Cannon speaking about the need to assert an appeal in order to avoid onerous, expensive diplomatic obligations stemming from this Khadr decision, that's a red herring. Here are the paragraphs of the judgment that make it clear that the duty to protect Khadr is not a far-reaching principle but is tailored to the circumstances of the Khadr case, making it more difficult for the government to credibly argue the need to defeat this precedent (click to enlarge):

The duty to protect is couched as being applicable to "persons in Mr. Khadr's circumstances." That is narrow. Khadr's circumstances include those in para. 70 and his being an individual to whom the Convention on the Rights of the Child applies, significantly, but also the Convention against Torture and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Khadr's circumstances also include the complicity of Canadian officials in a process that violated international law, by their questioning of Khadr at Guantanamo with the knowledge that he had been sleep deprived, i.e., tortured. The combination of Khadr's youth and the involvement of Canadian officials were clearly significant factors for the judge in this case. All of which makes it more difficult for Mr. Harper to find room to appeal, to argue that onerous obligations would be placed on the government as a result of this decision. It is narrow.

It's also difficult to see how they could argue against the very duty to protect, either. It flows principally from the international treaty obligations Canada is a signatory to, enumerated above.

And while the foreign case law cited in the decision is not binding in Canada, there are decisions of the Court of Appeal in the U.K. (Abbasi) and the South Africa Constitutional Court (Kaunda) that provide international indications that other countries are on the same road as this judge in terms of articulating this duty to protect. There's an inevitability factor at play.

Even if the Harper government wants to argue the grounds that foreign policy is the prerogative of the government, it's difficult to sustain that argument in this case where the government is implicated in the wrongdoing by having participated in the breach of his rights through that interrogation at Guantanamo. You can't say leave me to my own judgment in this case if it's been proven wrong.

They have recently demonstrated a capacity in a similar case to cut their losses if the writing is on the wall. Recall the Federal Court ordering the government to resume Canada's historical opposition to the death penalty abroad in the case involving Ronald Smith facing the death penalty in Colorado. The Harper government accepted that decision. They should do the same here.


Last week's release of the torture memos in the U.S. has made the substance of this judgment seem all the more appropriate and likely to gain support from Canadians. For Mr. Harper to be stubbornly insisting that “[t]he facts in our judgment have not changed,” is absurd. While the distinctive facts in Khadr's case may not have changed, the context has. The release of those memos has shone an even brighter light on the use of torture by the U.S. for a good week now. It might be a coincidence that this very clear, strong judgment in Khadr's favour comes within a week of the release of those memos, but the timing enhances Mr. Harper's positioning as being out of sync, aligned with the Guantanamo status quo crowd, the Cheneys and Fleischers of the Bush administration. Is this really where he wants to continue to be in the Obama era? The right political judgment, to appeal to a broader swath of Canadians is to separate himself, albeit as late in the day as it is, from that crowd.

Guantanamo is closing. There are no other western citizens other than Khadr there. And Harper's government has just been ordered by a Federal Court judge to repatriate him. Yet we know that the Conservative base may limit what the poorly polling Harper can do, leading him to appeal. If that's his choice, at least he will continue to expose his partisan priorities.

And as for the other major political actor here...if the Obama administration wants to unburden themselves of one more Guantanamo detainee, they might want to take note of a Canadian Federal Court having so ordered the Harper government to demand Khadr's repatriation and speed up their review. What choice would Harper have, if faced with not only a court decision but a request from the Obama legal team to take him back?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ari Fleischer CNN appearance last night

In case you missed it, new Harper $20,000 per month consultant Ari Fleischer was on CNN last night demonstrating the art of a not-so-skilled media appearance. Video and transcript here. Fleischer did not come off that well, although I'm sure those of the Republican variety would say otherwise. The legalities of the torture issue, the facts, etc., didn't seem to be within Fleischer's grasp. Not that Paul Begala is much of a credible expert here either.

On the other hand, Fleischer did try to turn discussion of the torture investigation into a partisan witch hunt, pointing fingers at Democratic leaders and asking questions about whether they should be prosecuted as well (all 2 of the Democrats, Pelosi and Senator Bob Graham, who were supposedly "briefed" but with conflicting accounts of the depth and content of those briefings). So on that score, perhaps he's a very simpatico adviser for the Harper government.

The larger point for Canadians, this is the person the Harper government is spending Canadian tax dollars on and who it thinks wise to advise it on U.S. media appearances. People can judge that decision for themselves.

Philip Zelikow interview on Maddow show Tuesday night

Another must see interview from the Maddow show, a follow-up to last night's big one. Here Philip Zelikow, former State Department official under Condoleezza Rice speaks of his having produced competing legal advice to the torture memos which took issue with the claims made in them. He has written a piece for Foreign Policy that discloses this information, along with the fact that Bush administration officials sought to destroy all copies of his memo. A very remarkable interview which indicates that there was indeed dissent in the Bush administration on this issue that now seems to be unleashed, freed up by the release of these memos now to come out. Also interesting is the hint that Rice was unhappy with the administration on the torture issue, at least, that's what's hinted at here by Zelikow who makes a point of stating that he was acting as agent on her behalf. Watched earlier tonight and thought it was among one of the best interviews I've seen of late in terms of its significance, a signalling of the unravelling of the former coherent front of the Bush administration.

Update (Wednesday a.m.):  Also of interest today, the account in the NY Times about the inception of the interrogation programme. A key part of the report, in my opinion, is the emphasized part of this sentence: 
Though some former officials expressed regret that such a momentous decision was made so quickly without vital information or robust debate, none were willing to be quoted by name.
A momentous case study in failed leadership and failed governance. Replete with poor information circulating, based on poor research, information asymmetries among those both steering the decision-making and making the decisions along with a whole cast of acquiescent players. Philip Zelikow, also quoted here, makes a point along those lines: 
Competent staff work could have quickly canvassed relevant history, insights from the best law enforcement and military interrogators, and lessons from the painful British and Israeli experience,” Mr. Zelikow said. “Especially in a time of great stress, walking into this minefield, the president was entitled to get the most thoughtful and searching analysis our government could muster.”
Yes, and he should have been the one ensuring that it was.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Say it ain't so...

Just Another Willy Loman signing off with this post, it appears: "Just like the thirties."

Blasted! These talented souls like Willy who offer us their voice then move on to deal with life's realities. I am sad.

Best of luck, Mr. Loman and don't be a stranger.

Fee for carriage lemmingship

Saw some of the Heritage Committee's hearings yesterday on video last night (yes, really) and would offer the following brief observations...

As reported in the Financial Post last night, it seemed to me that the cable guy, Phil Lind from Rogers, was surprisingly the one who made the most sense and in his opening statement in particular, smacked around this notion that anyone should be subsidizing these over leveraged private broadcasters at this moment. He was quite clear in stating that a lot of the facts you're hearing from private broadcasters at the moment are not true. For example, the notion that viewership is declining and being lost to digital media, the new generation of Ipod watchers, for example, that James Moore has been known to cite. Slight decrease but not happening in the "tuning" numbers, the Rogers people offered. He also challenged the notion that on air television is not a profitable business at the moment based upon recent earnings. Here are some of Lind's comments from the aforementioned report:
Rogers' vice-chairman, Phil Lind, warned the fee-for-carriage conventional broadcasters are pushing is nothing more than a "tax on consumers," with the funds raised to be used to acquire U.S. programming.

Instead, Ottawa is best served by waiting for the economy to improve - at which time the over-the-air sector will bounce back, given the TV industry is cyclical.

"At Rogers, we have mortgages too; we're also having difficulties with our over-the-air TV interests," Mr. Lind said. (Rogers, besides being the biggest cable company, also owns the City-TV and OMNI conventional brands.)

"We're not here seeking a bailout. We are not asking consumers or other companies' shareholders to underwrite our problems. The economic situation will hopefully improve shortly. When it does, history tells us that over-the-air TV will be back in the black."(emphasis added)
One of the key arguments from the private broadcasters at the moment, and picked up feverishly by the Conservative MPs with stations in their ridings, is that fee for carriage is needed to maintain those local stations and local content. But note what Michael Geist wrote yesterday on that point:
Last year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission established the $60 million Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF) to support programming in smaller markets. Broadcasters have been cool to the idea. MPs may want to ask why they continue to ask for new carriage fees, but have not embraced funding that targets the local programming that is said to be in dire straits.
The "LPIF" was an issue Liberal MP Scott Simms questioned Rogers about yesterday. That programme would be a logical choice to grow if local programming is indeed what these private broadcasters are seeking funds for. But we don't hear anything about it, just please give me the blanket fee for carriage to go into the larger corporate mix.

Also, typically of note, questions from Conservative Peterborough MPDean Del Mastro, as reported by CP last night, evidencing an interest in the rob Peter to pay Paul form of public policy:

Rogers faced some pointed questions from MPs.

A Conservative MP challenged the suggestion that fee-for-carriage would necessarily result in higher cable bills.

"You're making a lot of money," Tory MP Dean Del Mastro told the cable executives.

"Nobody says it has to be passed along to consumers. . . Why can't we just take it out of the money Rogers is making?"

Oh, I don't know...because Rogers will ensure the consumer pays at the end of the day in any event? Because this is embarrassing thinking that betrays short-term panicking rather than good public policy?

Other points, BQ MP Carol Lavallee did raise the issue with Pierre Karl Peladeau of his rumoured interest in the Canadiens, but in a rather joking manner. She seemed more interested in constitutional arguments over Quebec having its own version of the CRTC. That seems useful at the moment...not.

The hearings are continuing this week and next. The focus in MPs' questions thus far on fee for carriage suggests that this simple tool may be top of mind as a remedy for private broadcasters. Whether we will see effective policy making come out of all this when the broadcasters are applying such tremendous political pressure, doubtful.

More Conservative MP goodness


Video of Conservative MP Ron Cannan yesterday during the Member Statement period, one of the MPs referenced in today's earlier post. He conflated the earthquake in Italy with a partisan attack against the Liberals. Again, what this Conservative party is doing these days, speaks for itself.

Update (5:05 p.m.): Hey there, pal! You might want to give the word to ixnay on the atorade-hay!

This has been another edition of Conservative MPs, awesome parliamentarians

First up, Burlington Conservative Mike Wallace deploys his formidable oratorical skills to offer the Canadian public the latest in worthy Conservative public policy inquiry from the floor of the House of Commons:
Mr. Mike Wallace (Burlington, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader finally let the cat out of the bag about his real intentions regarding taxes. He plans to raise them. Canadians should be very worried by these comments. Liberals have never met a tax they did not like.

Would Canada's Minister of Transport remind the House of the actions this government is taking to wisely spend Canadian tax dollars while also acting to reduce the tax burden on Canadian families in a time of economic uncertainty?
Do we detect a theme, dreamt up for these empty vessels to spew forth? Think so. Please, give the Canadian public, hungering for principled, visionary leadership some more, good Conservative parrots:
Ms. Candice Hoeppner (Portage—Lisgar, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party sure loves taxes.

Last week we learned that the Liberal leader plans to hike taxes on Canadian families, a tax hike at the worst possible time, and there is never a good time to raise taxes.

Then again, it is not really a surprise. The Liberal Party wanted to raise the GST and the Liberal leader campaigned on the job-killing carbon tax.

Conservatives are taking action to help Canadian families with our economic action plan. Liberals are trying to take their hard-earned dollars away.

How much would the Liberal leader's tax hike cost Canadians? Which taxes will he hike and by how much will he raise them? Which Canadians will be forced to pay? Canadians deserve an honest answer.
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative Party "sure loves" repeating its fake argumentation!

In fact, they took the opportunity to abuse their time during Members Statements to repeat these fabricated arguments four times of the seven statements they made on their first day back in Parliament after the two week absence. And they did so in the midst of statements from other parties on the earthquake in Italy and the death of Canadian soldier Karine Blais. 

Awesome parliamentarians, just sit back and watch them go...

This day in April 20: Mr. Harper's remarks on how minority parliaments work

Darn, missed the anniversary by minutes. Oh well. Any excuse is a good one to haul out this nugget of insight.

Update (12:25 a.m. Eastern): It's still April 20th on the west coast, I am reminded. Made it after all...:)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Possibility of special prosecutor on torture memos

Video report from Rachel Maddow's show tonight, on the news that Attorney General Eric Holder is considering the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the released torture memos. Here's Newsweek:
But the Obama administration is not off the hook. Though administration officials declared that CIA interrogators who followed Justice's legal guidance on torture would not be prosecuted, that does not mean the inquiries are over. Senior Justice Department lawyers and other advisers, who declined to be identified discussing a sensitive subject, say Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has discussed naming a senior prosecutor or outside counsel to review whether CIA interrogators exceeded legal boundaries--and whether Bush administration officials broke the law by giving the CIA permission to torture in the first place. Some Justice officials are deeply troubled by reports of detainee treatment and believe they may suggest criminal misconduct, these sources say. Even if prosecutions prove too difficult to bring, an outside counsel's report could be made public. For his part, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is still pushing for a "truth commission." In a democracy, the wheels of justice grind on--and the president, for good reason under the rule of law, does not have the power to stop them.
Even if Holder were to hold off (pardon the pun), in addition to Leahy's efforts, there's the news that Dianne Feinstein is asking for time for congressional investigations, something to note as well.
But the White House came under new pressure Monday to leave open the possibility of prosecutions.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, asked Obama in a letter that pledges of immunity "be held in reserve" until her committee had completed an investigation.

The panel is expected to review thousands of classified CIA cables and other materials describing the interrogations of self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others. Feinstein said the review would take eight months.
Eight months. If the Democrats in congress assert themselves via investigations and take the time to do so, the evidence may build, in addition to public opinion that may lead to choices that will be difficult to ignore. All underscoring why the return of an independent Justice Department is so important.

Update (Tuesday a.m.): And for the umpteenth time, amidst all this publicity over these torture memos, a renewed call for the repatriation of Omar Khadr is given even more rationale by their release.

Why Canadian journalists are not permitted on such calls...mystery

Audio of conference call PM had with American journalists, no Canadians permitted, courtesy of David Akin.

Opening comments from Harper on Durban II conference, questions from journalists largely on Iran.

Update (6:35 p.m.): Here's Akin's post regarding the call.

A question for the Heritage Committee

Pierre Karl Péladeau, President and CEO of Québecor and Québecor Media Inc. is scheduled to appear before the Canadian Heritage Committee on Monday afternoon along with other Quebecor executives. The timely topic for the day (and week), the "Evolution of the television industry in Canada and its impact on local communities," given current issues in the broadcast industry (Quebecor is the owner of TVA). It has been reported that Mr. Peladeau has personally lobbied the Prime Minister for financial assistance for Quebecor recently:
...the message that immediate help is needed has been taken directly to 24 Sussex Drive. Both CanWest CEO Leonard Asper and Quebecor’s Pierre-Karl Péladeau, have personally met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of their companies in recent weeks.
We don't yet know what form of assistance, if any, is being contemplated by the Harper government for private broadcasters and whether they dare go ahead while ignoring CBC, but ad buys from the feds or a "fee for carriage" for companies like TVA are among the commonly discussed options.

Given that using public moneys have been floated by the Conservatives and sought by private broadcasters like Quebecor/TVA, it would seem appropriate then that the Heritage Committee attempt to have Mr. Peladeau reconcile Quebecor's seeking public assistance from the taxpayer with Mr. Peladeau's simultaneous pursuit of purchasing the Montreal Canadiens, as reported at the end of last week: "Big names mull joining forces in bid for Canadiens."
A shared passion for the Montreal Canadiens is making for strange bedfellows in Quebec business circles, as a consortium made up of pop star Céline Dion, Seagram heir Stephen Bronfman and Quebecor Inc. boss Pierre Karl Péladeau is considering a joint bid for the storied NHL team, financial sources report.
This trio of potential buyers is said to be contemplating a dedicated pay-TV channel in Quebec that would carry Habs games and other hockey-related content as one way to increase revenues from the team.
A reported purchase price floated Friday is between $400-450 million. While Peladeau looks to be part of a larger purchase group, the optics are not good from the vantage point of the Canadian taxpayer who is being asked to provide funding for his company on the one hand while he pursues a high profile purchase of the Montreal Canadiens on the other. A situation that deserves a little clarity.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We're a country, eh?

Al Kamen of the Washington Post picks up on Harper's hiring of Ari Fleischer and Mike McCurry:
Speaking of Canada, they've launched yet another effort to make sure that Americans appreciate them. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided to be the country's salesman in chief and has hired the new odd couple of the PR world -- Ari Fleischer and Mike McCurry -- to book him some face time on American television and garner positive newspaper coverage.

The former Bush and Clinton press secretaries have already been on the job, Canwest News Service reports. Fleischer has helped Harper with print interviews and appearances on the Sunday talk shows before the recent economic and NATO summits in Europe, while McCurry is helping him get the word out of Canada's great friendship with this country before the Summit of the Americas this weekend. The Canadians are chronically worried that the U.S. media don't pay any attention to them -- or focus on such things as Ottawa's ties to Cuba or its refusal to join the invasion of Iraq.
Oh well, I'm sure no one saw that in the Washington Post anyway...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A lawsuit to be applauded

There's a Globe report today, "The Big Bluff," on the massive $3.5 billion class action lawsuit against the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation on behalf of addicted gamblers. The crux of the suit has to do with self-exclusion forms which these gamblers have signed and the scope of the duty owed by OLG to enforce them. Enforcement has been pretty much non-existent, despite the claims here and the gamblers have continued to gamble, respectively, hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings, home equity, borrowed dollars, ruining thousands of lives in the process. It's a problem I'd never noticed, much less paid any attention to the issue of gambling in Ontario at all, until I met someone last year who has destroyed his life as a result of this very addiction yet who had signed one of these forms and tried to stop. A decent, hard working person who has lost just about everything. House, family, life savings.

As the blog post title states, while we don't know what the outcome of this novel suit will be, it is to be applauded in the hope that it will cause OLG to take steps to enforce these self-exclusion processes, by devoting people, resources and technology to the problem. While legally they may or may not be judged to owe that duty of care, morally they do and as a society we should do everything we can to encourage them to take responsibility for the tools of addiction that they provide.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Study says Cdns would have been better off if GST had not been cut

Update (Wednesday 5:30 p.m.): Dave at Galloping Beaver links the CCPA study referenced here to Preston Manning's recent piece in the Globe suggesting that a two tier health care delivery system, public and private, is an eventuality for Canada. By cutting taxes, government revenues are squeezed and the public services that Canadians benefit from have to suffer. Chief among them, health care. Dave's conclusion:
It is worth keeping in mind that as Harper keeps offering tax cuts as an incentive to vote for his party, the cost is higher than most Canadians are willing to accept and the result would likely be something much worse than Manning has fabricated on behalf of his party leader.
If the Conservatives want to have this phony, irresponsible debate where they posit tax cuts as absolute goods, oblivious to the government's deficit position, it's likely to take them down a road or two that's not exactly politically palatable. Just sayin...:)

Now the post, from earlier today picking up from the blog post title...

That is one of the conclusions from a just released study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, "Canada's Quiet Bargain: The Benefits from Public Spending." This is a timely piece of research given the kafuffle yesterday on taxes. This study takes aim at the rising premium being placed on tax cuts in our political debates by providing some hard numbers to explain just how these cuts affect Canadians' standard of living.

From Canwest:
The study says most Canadians would have been better off if the Conservative government had not cut the goods and services tax, but instead transferred the proceeds of that tax cut to local governments to pay for more and better services. Similarly, it concludes the standard of living of most Canadians would have been improved if provincial governments spent more on health care and education over the last decade or so rather than bringing in broad-based income tax cuts.
From CP:
...80 per cent of Canadians would have been better off if the federal government had not cut the GST, according to the research.
According to the study, Canadians get an average of $17,000 worth of benefits from their tax-funded public services, which also include such items as pensions, child-care benefits, roads and police services.

That translates to about $41,000 for a middle-income family - or 63 per cent of its yearly income.

For households earning $80,000 to $90,000, public-service benefits are equivalent to about half their total income, according to the study.

In other words, an upper-middle income Canadian household would have to devote half a year's wages to pay for the public services their taxes provide.

"The vast majority of Canadians are getting a quiet bargain by investing in taxes that produce enormous public benefits," the analysis states.
"Tax cuts don't give you money for free. They introduce a trade off between a private benefit in the form of lower taxes and a reduced public benefit.

"For most Canadians . . . that trade-off is not very favourable."
Timely and relevant information...if and when debates occur over tax issues in coming political skirmishes.

Bush Six debate begins

David Corn takes on former Reagan staffer Frank Gaffney on the issue of the possible indictment by a Spanish court of six former Bush administration officials. Intense argument here, with Gaffney citing American sovereignty as a primary rationale for rejecting the Spanish court's reach, claiming that these U.S. officials were working "inside a system of laws under the rule of law," doing their jobs. Gaffney discounts the criticism that the laws were interpreted for the Bush administration in a manner to their liking, by these officials under investigation, to permit laws preventing torture to be ignored. In other words, under this view, it seems to be that the Geneva Conventions could be legitimately lawyered away, whittled down by hard working lawyers, without interference from any other country on behalf of its citizens who have been affected by such American actions. Pretty remarkable claim.

Meanwhile, there are many applauding the Spanish, from within the U.S.:
The views of Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights – which has played a major role in mobilizing lawyers to defend Guantanamo detainees, probably represent the consensus among U.S. human rights advocates. He said, “The importance of this investigation can not be understated. Contrary to statements by some, the Spanish investigations are not ‘symbolic.’ Just ask Augusto Pinochet, who was stranded under house arrest in England and who ultimately faced criminal charges in Chile because of the pressure of the Spanish courts.”

He added, “If and when arrest warrants are issued, 24 countries in Europe are obligated to enforce them. The world is getting smaller for the torture conspirators.”

Brian J. Foley, Visiting Associate Professor of Law at Boston University, told us, “I hope Spain goes ahead with a full and fair investigation. These are serious allegations, and there needs to be a forum to air them. U.S. officials seem unwilling to look into the alleged war crimes, which is unfortunate and further diminishes any remaining U.S. moral authority. I hope the Spanish investigation is open and transparent, revealing the truth for the whole world to see -- including, perhaps especially, American citizens. We need to face what has been done in our name.”
The reporting last night was a little bit ahead of the game, Spanish officials now saying a decision on proceeding with an investigation is to come this week.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New tax for cable customers courtesy of Conservatives?

New ideas being floated by the Conservatives on the broadcasting front: "Ottawa considers ad boost to help broadcasters." You can imagine how the idea of increased government ads on our television screens might play out:
Ottawa has a new option on the table for helping local TV stations make it through the recession: buy more government ads.

The idea, which is under discussion at the cabinet's powerful committee on priorities and planning, is seen as a way to replace private advertising revenue that has fled since the onset of the financial crisis, a source told The Globe and Mail.

“In the short term, the most efficient way to get money out to broadcasters might be through advertising, because that's where the initial loss was,” said the source.

“That's where things have gone.”

Although a good number of MPs and cabinet ministers support help for the industry, the question of how best to deliver it is the subject of significant discussion. The government has talked about shelling out between $150-million and $75-million this year and $75-million next year in an effort to get money into the hands of the broadcasters quickly. However, some MPs are concerned that funnelling money directly to the broadcasters would not do much to prevent cuts. At least the government could benefit from the ads. (emphasis added)
Sounds a might politically opportunistic and not exactly coherent policy making.  Ads flooding the private broadcasters courtesy of the Harper federal government doesn't sound like a sustainable strategy for the broadcast industry for any length of time and it's not good for taxpayers who would yet again be put in the position of making up for the mistakes of over leveraged communications giants. 

The fee for carriage option is also floated in the report, and again, that's likely to hit consumers directly on their cable bills, to the tune of $10+ per month. For Conservatives who are so quick to decry tax increases, it's hypocritical to be turning in this direction. 

And of course, no word on whether any such plans would apply to the CBC.

Update (8:20 p.m.): Man, I've really got to start checking what FarNWide is wearing before I venture out into the blogosphere these days...:)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A little deep thought...

An excerpt from Andrew Coyne's address to the Manning Centre's recent event appeared at the National Post's site yesterday. It was a fairly stiff rebuke to the crowd on the recent iteration of conservatism in Canada. Just wanted to highlight this part which I found to have some resonance:
"It's too easy to say that politics is just the art of the possible, and leave it at that. That allows others to define what is possible. A truer statement is: Politics is the art of enlarging the possible. Politics is not just a matter of giving people what they want, it's a matter of making them want what you want them to want. The great and successful politicians have been the ones who have been able to define the terms of debate, to make themselves the middle, to define what 'moderate' is."
Heard Coyne say that emphasized part on CBC one night recently as well. Coyne's critical commentary is not necessarily exclusively directed to the Conservative faithful that were on hand, although I think it's clear that his speech was largely an indictment of failed opportunity under Mr. Harper's watch. Coyne's larger point was about persuasion, advocacy and inspiration. At least, that's the way I took it. And applying those qualities to substantive meaningful measures. What we have not had a lot of in recent years and this is where there is an opening for a clever politician(s) and party.

P.S. More negative politics isn't going to do it for anyone...

A little too neat

Not the biggest story you will read about today, but still thought this one was worth some attention...

I'm sure there are no illusions about the tough fight Ruby Dhalla is going to have on her hands in the next election in the wake of the close race in October and the fact that her Conservative opponent Parm Gill is campaigning on an ongoing basis. A CTV report Saturday night was a little reminder (video here). In addition to the now month old news that Dhalla is seeking to block distribution of a film in which she starred in 2003 due to alleged distortions of her image, Heritage Canada documents pertaining to a $13,000 grant to the film producer for promotion purposes have become available to CTV.
According to documents obtained by CTV News, Heritage Canada wrote at the time of the application that the film did "not meet any of the terms and conditions of existing departmental programs."

Despite this, a $13,000 grant was approved by then-Heritage Minister Sheila Copps - also a prominent Hamilton Liberal.

Dhalla, who is currently travelling in India, contacted CTV News on Saturday and said that she had no prior knowledge of the movie's funding from Ottawa. She added that any federal funding for the movie was in no way connected to her.

Copps was unable to comment on the issue.
A Canadian Taxpayer's Federation spokesman is quoted in the Richardson report, eagerly portraying the grant as a case of Copps having abused her budget. Note that Copps was unavailable to comment, as reported by Richardson, not unable. Different things. Absent that information, it all seems a little too neatly packaged up for anyone in the skeptical camp about information distribution from government departments under present management. And this information about the Heritage grant comes relatively quickly given that this movie controversy came to light just about a month ago. After all, information typically comes from this government at a snail's pace.

A cynic would say that this information is designed to embarrass Dhalla and released for that purpose with a view to providing additional help to a certain opponent's electoral fortunes. After all, they do spend quite a bit of time playing with information and doling it out for political advantage. It's natural to wonder, then, when you hear reports like this one.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Gore Vidal on Bill Maher

Gore Vidal was on Bill Maher's show last night and he made a bit of a passionate statement on lost constitutional rights during the Bush era. Starts at about the 4:10 mark of this video, the last 6 minutes of the show, but the whole clip is highly entertaining.

He asks where was "the voice on television" speaking out about the loss of constitutional rights, besides himself. He seemed to be hearkening back to Edward R. Murrow's calling out of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. What is more frightening than the notion that no one was speaking out about the Bush administration's offences was that people were actually pointing them out the whole time. It took a while for the voices to multiply and create a tidal wave that led to Republican defeat. But you can certainly rattle off the names who were speaking in their own venues and with their own respective weight about what was happening (Olbermann, Turley, Balkinization, Cafferty, Horton, Greenwald, etc.). And there were lawyers in the courts pressing cases and winning (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, for example).

A lone Edward R. Murrow likely wouldn't have the same effect today. It would be one voice among hundreds, with the internet, thousands. The challenge is much broader, requiring media support, money, political organization, effective politicians. Not to detract too much from the honorable sentiment in Vidal's statement, but it is a point worth thinking about and which requires much greater depth than this blog post to analyze.

Oh, and enjoy the laughs as well, that's principally why it's posted here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

En francais, Gritgirl demonstrates Harper's vision for Radio-Canada

Update (Thursday a.m.): The CBC is speaking out in support of the proposition that if there is to be a bailout of some kind of broadcasting in respect of local programming, it should be included. The report notes support for the proposition:
CBC found support from advocates, politicians and performers who demanded that the federal Conservatives not limit their bailout package to the private sector.

An infusion of government cash into private broadcasters with no additional funding for the CBC would reveal the Conservatives' true "antipathy" to the public broadcaster, said Ian Morrison, spokesperson for Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

"I just don't see how they could do it for the private sector and allow the CBC to continue to cut its local capacity. It just doesn't make political sense," he said.
No, it does not. Folks like gritgirl are going to get mighty upset, I would imagine, during an election campaign. See below...

Well, that translates in any language, doesn't it?

Both Harper and James Moore were non-commital today about the CP report of the $150 million fund for the private broadcasters. Are they sensing a brewing backlash if they go forward with the rumoured plans to help CTV and Canwest but not the CBC? Or is it that they just haven't decided yet what taxpayer help is in fact coming for CTV and Canwest, the over leveraged communications behemoths? The message today:
...Moore, speaking from Saskatoon Wednesday, would not give the report much credence.

"When you're going through hard times, as we are in Canada, any government has a responsibility to keep their eyes and ears open about what a government might be able to do to for any given industry, but we have nothing to announce, no commitments, and I wouldn't say much to that story," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking in Moncton on Wednesday, said no decisions have been made on how to help Canada's broadcasters.

"I can't tell you very much other than that we are certainly aware of the difficulties affecting the sector," Harper said.

He said the government is "aware of the problem" and "looking at options."
They're not denying the report, just telling us to wait and see. Note that private broadcaster difficulties have prompted the government to be "looking at options" for this industry, no such courtesy having been given to CBC following its request for bridge financing.

Additional facts for Harper and Moore to weigh in to the mix today...

Discontent with the CBC cuts was publicly expressed with 300 people demonstrating in Sydney, Nova Scotia about CBC cuts there and imminent job losses. Close to 500 demonstrated in Sudbury on Sunday (Sudbury and Thunder Bay CBC are both losing half their staffs). The Canadian Media Guild came out in support of a local programming fund, but only if it includes the public broadcaster as well. And ACTRA pointed out the jeopardy in which Canadian content could be placed if content restrictions are eased now by the Harper government as it considers this local fund.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Picking and choosing broadcast winners

Just when I was wondering, what is going on with Canwest as today was supposed to be some kind of critical deadline and all, there's this report...

It looks like an early report with details to come, but it's not a good direction for the federal government to be taking by choosing to fund private broadcasters at the local level and not the public broadcaster:
The federal cabinet is considering a $150-million fund to help private TV broadcasters who complain they are stretched to the max.

Sources close to the cabinet discussions tell the Canadian Press that the fund would be specifically geared toward local programming.

The fund would benefit big private broadcasters like CTV and Global. It's unclear whether the CBC would be eligible for money.

Private broadcasters say a drop in advertising revenues due to the financial crisis is seriously affecting their ability to continue producing quality Canadian and local programming.

Several local TV stations across Canada have either closed or are up for sale.
This would be another indication that yes, the money is there for broadcasting, just not for the CBC. Strange path they look to be following, very strange and maddening.

"A crazy, quiet air of desperation"

No need to add to this today: "Bizarre actions show a leader losing his grip."

Also of some interest, Tonda MacCharles has a report on the new book on the history of Conservative leadership in Canada: "Blue Thunder." The author, in his research, has distilled some characteristics required for success as a Conservative leader. Count how many you believe the current occupant possesses:
Plamondon's research produced seven markers of success: A Tory leader must be "a nation builder," a "visionary," a force who unites the party, someone who can lead "broad and sustainable coalitions," who is "tough, but not authoritarian," able to "divide and conquer opponents" and is "absolutely committed to winning."
I count the last 2. Divide and conquer opponents...although that has changed. And the committed to winning item. Many would say he has, of course, united his party by virtue of his role in the creation of the ultimate party that has been built. Of late, think we'd have to start calling that into question. The rest are characteristics it is likely too late in the game for Mr. Harper to acquire. You can't fake the "vision thing."

An op-ed in le Devoir against the cuts to Radio Canada also notable. It's truly bizarre that the funds are flowing so freely in all the daily announcements, $100 million for festivals, $20 million for summer student jobs, temporary measures yet the CBC is defiantly placed out of the loop, good permanent creative infrastructure jobs being lost.

Last note here, reader NG offers the following "Recession Prayer" for these times, "with apologies to the psalmist."
The Banker is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in furniture stores, he leads me beside the ocean waters.
He restores my wants, he leads me in the paths of consumerism for his bottom line.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of debt, I will fear no limits, for you are with me. The credit card and store card they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table in front of mine wishes; thou annointest my head with service charges; my account runneth over.
Surely interest and charges shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the bankruptcy court forever.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The F Words 2009!

Thank you to 900 ft. Jesus for the nod in CreativeRevolution's F-blog awards but I'm thinking voters know I don't really qualify in the category of "Best Feminist Political Blog." There are others who are entirely and absolutely more deserving in that category than me and the qualification description belies that: "Nominated blogs must be women authored, or be a majority of feminist content...". I don't think anyone would ever say that about my blog what with...oh, say, my tank obsession and red menace stuff of late. But thanks for the support and...

do go over there to nominate your favourites, the F Words 2009!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Gitmo versus North Korean versus...Canadian justice?

Going to the Maddow well again but it's worth it. Demonstrates the little problems that arise when a leading western nation abandons the rule of law. Some day, sooner than one might think, its citizens will face turnabout from other nations.

As for us, we don't need other governments to interfere with our citizen's rights. The Harper government is doing a fine job all by itself there....

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday night music

This is Lily Allen's ode to the departure of George W. Bush but it's appropriate for a number of other stories in the news this week...and since it is late Friday, no minors should be reading/listening to the heinous lyrics.

And of course, shout out to Mentarch, I've been delinquent in music picks for a few weeks now, my bad...:)

Update: One more:

Right winger Sarkozy takes in Guantanamo inmate

Doesn't he know there's an ongoing legal process occurring? That he should wait and see what the Americans tell him to do? I mean, really, what gives?
France agreed Friday to accept an inmate from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba as US President Barack Obama seeks help from European nations to close the notorious facility down.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the move, which could involve an Algerian detainee according to US officials, had been settled during talks in Strasbourg with Obama.

"Yes we have spoken, yes we have agreed" to accept one detainee, Sarkozy told reporters in Strasbourg, northeastern France, ahead of a two-day NATO summit here and in the neighbouring German city of Kehl.

He said that if Washington is asking its allies to take inmates it is "because that will allow the camp to be closed. So, if we are going to be coherent, we say yes."
Unfortunately, these days, Canada doesn't do coherence. We do wilful blindness, we follow, we shirk from leadership.

The moment is passing us by...

Yes, he might

"Harper says he could be a victim of job losses too."
"In interviews from Europe following the meeting of G20 countries, Harper said he was optimistic Canada would emerge from the hardships, but not before more jobs are lost.

'We've seen dramatic drops in output, dramatic rises in unemployment in the last four months... We anticipate more big job losses,' he said in an interview with Business News Network, a business TV channel based in Toronto.

And he speculated he could be among the growing list of victims.

'It bothers me when Canadians lose their jobs, and you know, I may eventually lose mine,' he said. Harper didn't specify whether he believes he will be held responsible by the electorate for the recession and be voted out of office in the next election."
Just an fyi here on what's on the PM's mind...

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Colin Powell gets grilled on torture questions

Rachel Maddow does a good job of trying to get at what Colin Powell knew about approvals and discussions of torture as part of the national security principals group while Secretary of State. One of her better interviews and a topic we rarely see put to such figures in this manner.

Powell essentially defaults to a position of leaving his answers to the future, when we can see what the "written record" will produce in respect of those meetings. An interesting array of excuses is offered by Powell: he was not always present, she was asking a legal question he couldn't answer, he was not the author of memos, discussions may have been had but were there conclusions drawn or decisions actually made during such meetings, was the ultimate decision made elsewhere, etc. The interview gave you a good indication of what kinds of evidentiary issues there will be when seeking such answers from other Bush administration officials if and when the time comes. So despite Powell's avoidance, the exercise was enlightening for that purpose.

Powell deflected masterfully, calmly but forcefully, to preserve himself in the event of a legal investigation of some sort. But she certainly tried and unlike many other journalists you might see in this situation, was not intimidated at all.

P.S. Best part occurs at around 6:20.

A return to impartiality in the U.S. Justice Department

The conviction of former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens will be overturned at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder due to prosecutorial misconduct, specifically the withholding of evidence from the defence. Exactly what should happen in a Justice Department that respects the rule of law.
The collapse of the Stevens case was a profound embarrassment for the Justice Department, and it raised troubling issues about the integrity of the actions of prosecutors who wield enormous power over people they investigate. Mr. Stevens’s case was handled by senior officials of the department’s Public Integrity Section, which handles official corruption cases.

Mr. Holder, himself a former prosecutor and judge, noted that the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility was conducting a review of the prosecutors’ conduct, raising the possibility that some of those who tried Mr. Stevens on ethics charges could themselves now face ethics charges.
The Obama administration has received criticism thus far for not unravelling Bush policies quickly enough, but this is a very good sign of impartial justice being restored after a long period of questionably motivated prosecutions.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

This has been another edition of Stephen Harper, Economist

Harper made some remarks yesterday to the Financial Times about now being a good time for our banks to scoop up foreign assets, in the U.S. and other countries. JAWL drew attention to this yesterday. Today, the remarks are getting additional critical attention:
Canada's wilderness is renowned for big game hunting. While the country's banks may be tempted for a shot at foreign M&A, now isn't the time to head overseas.

Nearly all of Canada's banks have so far stayed profitable, and their exposure to toxic assets is probably manageable. Encouraged by their resilience, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has suggested lenders score some international trophies, possibly in the U.S.

That's a strange call. Canada's central bank governor says the economy likely experienced the deepest contraction since 1961 in the first quarter, and unemployment stands at 7.7%.

A weak economy hurts domestic banking operations, with business and consumer borrowers struggling to cope. Canadian balance sheets will likely worsen before they improve. UBS analyst Peter Rozenberg reckons loan loss provisions will rise to 0.73% of total loans in 2009 from 0.44% last year.

Given those pressures, purchases of beaten-down U.S. banks would be seriously risky. Existing U.S. operations are already weighing on the Canadians. Toronto-Dominion Bank, for example, has 30% of its assets in the U.S. Loss provisions on U.S. loans rose 78% sequentially in the bank's first fiscal quarter, while provisions for Canadian loans rose 27%.

True, there are opportunities further afield. But aside from Bank of Nova Scotia, Canadian banks have little experience beyond North America. Changing a fundamental strategy would be distracting at best right now.

Mr Harper should be happy his country's banks are still in decent shape and encourage them to stay that way -- not risk their stability on calling the bottom of the banking crisis overseas.
Apparently the banks know enough to be cautious about Mr. Harper's buy-buy-buy advice, his track record is not good.

It's rather incredible to hear the PM so advising our banks.