Monday, August 31, 2009

Jim Flaherty: still loving the HST

Trying to spin his HST show ever-so-carefully now. But we know he's the architect of the HST and besides, he's just not that good at the spin:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty offered a firm endorsement Sunday of a harmonized sales tax while at the same time distancing his government from a policy that has sparked criticism of provincial governments considering it, particularly in British Columbia.

Flaherty, speaking with reporters in Vancouver, said "there's no question" that combining provincial sales tax with the GST is good fiscal policy - but he stressed it's not up to Ottawa.

"First of all, the decision to harmonize the GST and PST has to be that of the provincial government," he said.

"I realize that this is challenging for provincial leaders, but I have no doubt in my mind that it's good long-term economic policy for our country."(emphasis added)
Think that one should be printed up and carpet-bombed across British Columbia just about now.

Remember kids, the HST got the special seal of approval as a policy that was good for "Canada's Tax Advantage." The clear intent of Flaherty's budget was to encourage sales tax harmonization across Canada. A national policy.

How ridiculous Mr. Flaherty looks, ducking and hiding from his own budget.


There was a brilliant little op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen yesterday, "The True North strong and mean." A little incident this past week did not go unnoticed by the writer, as it didn't for many Canadians. It was the contrast in how gracious Brian Mulroney was in speaking about Ted Kennedy's death with what our Prime Minister did. He offered a one-line statement, no more. That small gesture was all too symbolic of the mindset of this government, found most recently in the positions taken on Omar Khadr and the citizenship cases we've seen play out this summer, examples cited here. The piece is a great read on what many of us feel about the partisan and perpetually small-minded nature of this government:
Watching the national soul being whittled down by those who know only the narrow path is exhausting and saddening, especially when the path may be less ideological than just tragically limited. Perhaps mean thinkers are simply not gifted and lack the tools to think broadly.

Whatever the reason, they lead shrivelled lives, which is entirely their right. The tragic thing is, they want the rest of us to do the same, individually and nationally.

It is time to say, "Enough."
(h/t pb)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Egads, the Senate is at risk

Well that's one I've never heard...

And probably for good reason. The underlying presumption in that post is that it would be legitimate for the Senate to act as if it is the equal of the House of Commons. It isn't. Imagine an unelected Conservative Senate blocking the legislative agenda of a newly elected Liberal government. There would be no appetite for that publicly and any future Prime Minister would happily rail against it and win. The House of Commons passes legislation, the Senate studies, yes, and in a functioning cooperative system, may even suggest amendments. Because we have been known to have mature governments in the past who actually valued the input of Senators. But ultimately the Senate signs off. That's the presumptive state of affairs. It is a question of legitimacy, which they do not have due to their unelected status.

The post also seems to imply a continued loyalty to Harper once he's politically dead and gone, that would have Harper pulling the strings to stop Liberal legislation? That would be a neat trick. He's just not that awesome though.

Contrary to the talking points that are all the rage these days, Liberals have not frustrated the Conservative agenda in the Senate (from link at that site). Any Harper "crime bills" or other assorted subjects of complaint that have failed to pass have been due to the end of the parliamentary session arriving, or Harper introducing the bills too late to make it through. Or prorogation. Etc. It's manufactured talking point hoohah designed to discredit the system. That's what Harper Conservatives do. So there is no justification down the road for Conservatives to do something that Liberal Senators supposedly did. In any event, see above legitimacy point.

One can agree with the premise in that post though that it would of course be better to not have Stephen Harper as Prime Minister. His goal in ratcheting up his patronage orgy may in fact be to discredit the entire institution of the Senate. Irresponsible enough. But he's probably taking people down a road of abolition with his behaviour, not elected-equal-effective dogma that he and his old Reformers (ah, memories) have had in mind. Is that what his western base wants? Who knows, maybe they'll take it. But that takes a constitutional amendment too! Whoopsie. And the nation seems to have more pressing bidness.

Update: A Harper minister is again peddling the Senate obstruction myth today in the Globe. They're shameless.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Conservative strategist on Harper's record Senate appointments: "I just don't think people care"

All you need to know about the Conservative mode of governing in one little paragraph:
A top Conservative strategist, speaking on background, dismissed public backlash to the Senate appointments

"I just don't think people care, number one. And it's fair. We gave reform a go. We need Conservatives in the Senate who are loyal to the party, to the cause and to him (Harper.)"(emphasis added)
He doesn't think people care if Harper says one thing, and does another. Really. Can't say it helps that trust factor at all.

They gave reform a go. No, they pretended to push a fake plan that is unconstitutional. They need 7 provinces to pass it. No effort at all has been made on that front.

They need Senators who are loyal "to him." No, Senators represent their provinces if anything and since they serve "for life," they're not loyal to any one PM at any time. Harper Conservatives may view all hands in government as loyal "to him," but that's not normal or correct.

Cynical and misguided. At least they're not shy about it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gritgirl does Harper's Senate appointments

h/t Tribe

Harper's Senate appointments: "a sad little affair"

Don Martin on Harper's imminent Senate patronage orgy today:
An ideological politician who was disgusted at watching Parliament's upper house turned into a vote-stacking exercise, where only the faintest of sober second thoughts actually take place, Mr. Harper has turned ruthlessly partisan in making his Senate appointments, elevating party loyalty into a key consideration for the cushiest job on the Hill.
Despite all the spin you'll hear about the Liberals today, and the hockey card-like-trading of one Conservative Senate press person being equivalent to a Liberal press person and so on, and so on...this event is all about Mr. Harper today. Abandoning his long and loudly touted Senate principles that the hard core Reformer grew up on and rode to his party's leadership, they mean practically nothing now. But, but, but...we can't pass reform since the Liberals control the Senate...more nonsense. Provinces oppose Mr. Harper's view of an elected Senate as well (whatever it really is, no detailed offerings to see) and they'd have to pass it as well so the Senate reform canard is just that. What's amazing is that the Reform base still hangs in there with him, having been sold totally down the river. Must be something satisfying for them in the masochism.

It's an orgy of patronage, filling the place with chums. A thanks for all the help over the years kind of thing. Because that election is coming, Harper calculates. Maybe his one last kick at the Senate can, it's about nothing more, nothing less.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ontario government fighting the Conservative HST weak kneed crowd

"Ontario fighting claims that Ottawa had nothing to do with tax harmonization." What else can you do when we have a federal government that seems intent on picking and choosing their version of the truth on any given issue for political advantage? Call it out:
Ontario is fighting back against federal Conservatives who say Ottawa had nothing to do with the province's decision to move ahead with tax harmonization.

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan says some Tories are trying to have it both ways by encouraging provinces to move to a single sales tax, then speaking out against it when their constituents complain.

He says Ottawa gave him "4.3 billion dollars of reasons" to move ahead with tax harmonization - referring to the amount of federal cash Ontario will receive to ease the transition.

The Prime Minister's Office and several federal Tories have recently distanced themselves from the contentious plan to merge provincial sales taxes with the federal GST, which will hike the cost of many items currently exempt from the provincial levy.

They say Ottawa had nothing to do with the decision even though it's kicking in billions of dollars to make it happen in both Ontario and British Columbia.
Good to see lots of attention on Conservative squirming here. Jim Flaherty loves him some harmonized sales tax:
"This is solid economic policy in the long run for Canadian businesses and therefore for Canadian jobs and for growth of the Canadian economy," he said...
We all know it no matter how much they protest.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PMO rhetoric watch

Watching the Conservative rhetoric again today. Signs from the PMO that yet again show how defensive they are about a fall election:
The Conservatives, who won a strengthened minority in an election last October, argue that Canada's economic recovery is too fragile to risk another election now.

"We're hearing the Canadian public telling us this is a very dangerous time to have an election," Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said before the meeting with Layton.
So now it's "dangerous." Three points here.

It's inappropriate for a spokesperson for the PMO to be using such irresponsible and inflammatory language. We'd likely survive the event quite handily, thank you. And not lose our minds in the process, contrary to Conservative talking points attempting to whip up no-election fervor. It would be nice to have a Prime Minister who wouldn't subject us to such nonsense.

Second, it speaks again to their goal, avoiding an election. Warning of how dangerous the climate is can't really be interpreted any other way. Bringing us to the third point, the PMO is being hypocritical. The election last fall and prorogation of parliament until the end of January weren't exactly banner moments in hardworking parliamentary productivity for this Conservative government as the recession set in and Canada plunged into deficit. Where were they then? Quel chutzpah in doling out these little warnings to opposition parties.

More rhetorical fluorish from Soudas tonight:
“The meeting was cordial. But it's also clear to us that the NDP want to work with the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois. I think that Mr. Layton asked for the meeting so he can pretend he's not working with his coalition partners, but the reality is that he is.”
There's that word again. They just can't let it go no matter how many times they're told it's just not going to happen. It's like the play that was used to win the big game last time, they think it'll work again. Guess we will have to continually deal with this silliness in coming months as Conservatives continue to box with shadows.

"Operation Nanook: the most expensive photo-op you’ll ever see"

An evocative description of a key moment during the PM's trip to the north last week:
Three CF-18 fighter jets swoop low over Frobisher Bay and kick in the afterburners. The roar vibrates deep in the chests of the dozens of sailors, media and dignitaries assembled on the deck of the HMCS Toronto, a naval frigate.

Off the port bow, the Canadian Coast Guard Ship Pierre Radisson, and the HMCS Cornerbrook, one of Canada’s four naval submarines, hold their positions.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, flanked by defense minister Peter MacKay and the Toronto’s captain, Cmdr. Alex Grant, happens to be between the bank of cameras and the ships as the jets blast by and the shutters click. This, obviously, is not a coincidence. In fact, the whole thing is delayed until all three ships are perfectly aligned.

It may just be the most expensive photo opportunity ever staged in Nunavut.
Yes, we wonder how much this huge display cost. While there were clearly some military training/exercises going on, as I'm sure they carry out on a regular basis, you cannot help but be left with the impression that there was great additional expense and effort that was coordinated here for the political purposes of the PMO. And at a time of record deficit in the country. Indeed, the entire trip was characterized as an "election-style" tour.

Will be watching to see where these photos pop up in the future.

(h/t Equivocator for the link)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Globe editorial nails Conservatives on HST weak knees

Yes, nip this Conservative "disingenuousness" on the HST in the bud:
Stephen Harper's Conservatives wish to have it both ways. For years, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has lobbied the provinces to harmonize their sales taxes with the federal goods and services tax. Now that two provinces have complied, some Conservatives are shrinking from the ensuing controversy. Don't blame us, they're saying; it was all the provinces' idea.
Given the rigid message control by the Prime Minister's Office, it could have put a stop to this. Instead, it piled on. “If any Ontarian is concerned about this provincial decision, they should contact his or her MPP,” Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Mr. Harper, said late last week. “We said that we would accept the decision of any provincial government to proceed with the harmonization of the sales tax, but ultimately the decision is a decision that needs to be made by the provinces.”

Mr. Flaherty made clear what he wanted the provinces to do. His 2008 budget called harmonization “the single most important step” that provinces could take to improve competitiveness. He repeated that message at various points last year, acknowledging that he was “gently nudging” Ontario in particular. It has been widely reported that he actively negotiated with the provinces to ensure that compensation from the federal government – which turned out to be $4.3-billion for Ontario and $1.6-billion for B.C. – was enough to convince them. (emphasis added)
Straight out of the deepest darkest recesses of the very political PMO, Soudas hangs the provinces out to dry. Confirmation of the political intent from on high. Lesson once again confirmed, you just can't trust Stephen Harper. How'd you like to be on a life raft with these guys?

More material for the campaign flyers, looks like it will be needed.

Outlier polls and the papers that love them

Ipsos poll being crowed about by Canwest today (nice picture!), August 24:
Cons 39, Libs 28, NDP 14, Green 10

Other most recent numbers from major Canadian pollsters this summer:

Ekos, August 20:
Cons 32.8, Libs 30.2, NDP 17.3, Green 11

Strategic Counsel, August 13:
Cons 34, Libs 32, NDP 15, Green 8

Nanos, August 10:
Libs 33.8, Cons 31.3, NDP 18.7, Green 7

Nanos additionally released a poll on August 22nd in which these results were produced:
Stephen Harper has had his chance and it is time for a change: 58.5%
Stephen Harper has done a good enough job to deserve re-election: 31.9%

Note that latter figure of 31.9%, in other words, comparable Conservative support to the other polls referenced above, other than Ipsos. As others are saying, unless a trend develops in other polls, it's fair to say that we're looking at an outlier poll.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Having it both ways

So let me get this straight... the Harper government is likely not going to review the Nortel transaction with Ericsson, which is worth $1.2 billion, because the new provisions of the Investment Canada Act that would require it...are not quite yet law.

But they are running television ads on the Home Renovation Tax Credit, actively pushing Canadians to take advantage of it...but it is not yet law.

See how it all works out for this legally challenged government and its priorities?

"Feelings are stronger than facts"

This is a video from Rachel Maddow's show earlier this week where she talks with Bill Maher about how to fight the organized campaign of misinformation that has been playing out in town halls in America over health care. It's funny the way Maher, a comedian, actually is a worthy interviewee on such a topic. In a way, the demonstrations and ruckus are like intense cultural theatrics, so it's somewhat appropriate that the Mahers of the world be consulted for insights into how to deal with the circuses. We had our own circus here in Canada in December and the echoes of that little episode of misinformation and stirred-up emotions are there when you hear such a discussion.

The first few minutes in particular raise a few good points about politics these days and how to break through these fact-free onslaughts. The very frustrating backdrop to the Maddow/Maher conversation for health care reform supporting Americans was the news that the misinformation was starting to manifest itself in some public opinion polls:
Majorities in the poll believe the plans would give health insurance coverage to illegal immigrants; would lead to a government takeover of the health system; and would use taxpayer dollars to pay for women to have abortions — all claims that nonpartisan fact-checkers say are untrue about the legislation that has emerged so far from Congress.
Voter databases plus talk radio plus vivid town halls equal an awesome force to be met by fair-minded policy advocates. So the question is what to do in the face of such an onslaught.

Part of the solution they touch on in their discussion is common sense, to "call a liar a liar" and call out factual misrepresentations. That's tough when the two (or more) camps aren't equally organized though. And when one side has "more energy than factual basis" underlying their campaign, that makes it all the harder to overcome the "fact-free emotion." It's even harder to overcome such feelings when they're being stoked by people who are in positions of power who are supposed to know better than to abuse their positions by telling untruths. That's what we're seeing in the U.S. (e.g., see Frank Rich on such leaders today). That's what we saw here. But strong, effective leadership, for starters, has to be willing and able to step up and fight such "fact-free emotion" by clearly calling out the lies. E.g., from Rich:
Coburn’s implicit rationalization for far-right fanatics bearing arms at presidential events — the government makes them do it! — cannot stand. He’s not a radio or Fox News bloviator paid a fortune to be outrageous; he’s a card-carrying member of the United States Senate.
Another part of the solution discussed by Maddow/Maher is the need to have a network ready to meet the challenge of such campaigns. As Maher wonders, where are all the Obama people from the campaign trail who were so mobilized? Given Obama's legendary national organization, so outstanding during his campaign, it's been a little surprising to see it out organized (if you can call it that) by the right wing groups like Americans for Prosperity.

Since the Democrats are indeed the party in power with sizable majorities, they've got a bit of a luxury in falling behind in this debate and may yet get over the hurdle of organized misinformation. They are likely now to go it alone legislatively. Obviously, we don't have a comparable governing circumstance in Canada at the moment with our divided minority government. Maybe we need a situation too where one party can "go it alone." If the right wing party can't work with others, here, or in the U.S., then hopefully voters see that they don't need to be in power at the moment.

It's been fascinating to watch, but not in any smug sense. Canada will be in the midst of some kind of maelstrom soon enough, whether that's an election or a fight on a given issue. The American debate has been a reminder of what can go wrong when the misinformation gets out of control. Hopefully Canadian political observers are learning well from it.

Update(4:35 p.m.): Another tactic on messaging:
Wanted to comment on the problem of misinformation as it relates to the health care battle in the US. The best response is KISS. In this case, the fact that matters is:

People Want to Keep Making Money Off YOUR Sickness. Americans for Prosperity? Yeah, right!

Friday, August 21, 2009


Try "them" in place of "our democracy":
"But if a party has to pretend not to want full control over the government in order to have a chance at getting it, there's something distinctly wrong with our democracy."
There, that's better...

"Canada has changed"

The Norwegian Ambassador is leaving Ottawa at the end of the month and offers, among others, this parting thought on how he views Canada:
"[The past four years in Ottawa] leaves me with an impression that Canada has changed," Mr. Naess says. "Canada is not the same as it used to be. I feel, personally, that politically it was [once] closer to Norway['s] thinking than it is today. I dare say that we feel Canada...used to be [a] more like-minded country to Norway. But that is always changing. Next year we may have another government in Norway."
Nice little diplomatic save there at the end but he made his point. It's probably a fair representation of what many nations are thinking about us these days. What's frustrating is that it's not really that Canada has changed so much, it's our Conservative minority government that has changed our face to the world. There are approximately 70% of us who do not share their views. But that really doesn't matter to the world that is interacting with us and is seeing us drop terms like "gender equality" from out international diplomatic efforts. That is seeing us repeatedly not standing up for our citizens abroad. That has seen us dragging our feet on global warming efforts. That really has seen us hew to a Bush-like version of foreign affairs for years now. 

Whenever that next election comes, the question of how we conduct our foreign affairs may finally be a more important consideration than in recent elections. What kind of face do we want the world to see when they think of Canada? Is it the one that baffles the world? Or the one that the ambassador was getting at above and that most of us connect with...the engaged, multilateral, peaceful, progressive and thoughtful nation on the world stage?

A wistful parting remark that provides plenty to think about.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jim Flaherty on the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)

Since Conservatives seem to be suddenly weak in the knees on the HST, let's just take a quick look at the federal Conservatives' record thus far on the HST. From Deficit Jim's 2008 federal budget (scroll down to bottom of pg):
Replacing remaining provincial retail sales taxes (RSTs) with value-added taxes harmonized with the GST is another area where provinces can contribute to strengthening Canada’s Tax Advantage. Provincial RSTs impair competitiveness because they apply to business inputs, increasing production costs and deterring investment. By comparison, a value-added tax system provides most businesses with full tax relief through the input tax credit mechanism. Provincial sales tax harmonization is the single most important step provinces with RSTs could take to improve the competitiveness of Canadian businesses.
More from Deficit Jim who is pushing adoption by hold-out provinces:
Ottawa is prepared to cut a cheque to three holdout provinces if they agree to merge their sales taxes with the federal GST, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Tuesday.

Ontario and British Columbia signed lucrative agreements this year to harmonize their taxes, with the federal government kicking in billions of dollars to ease the transition.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island could also get their share of federal cash if they jump on the bandwagon and move to a single tax, Flaherty said.

"We'll see what their governments decide to do," he said.

"But the same proposal - in terms of transition funding - that we made with the province of Ontario followed by the province of British Columbia is available to those provinces as well. The same formula."
Flaherty said tax harmonization is an important step to put Canada back on firm economic footing.

"This is solid economic policy in the long run for Canadian businesses and therefore for Canadian jobs and for growth of the Canadian economy," he said after announcing Ottawa's share of a joint federal-provincial, $93.5-million project to expand a waste water treatment plant in Pickering, about 30 kilometres east of Toronto. (emphasis added)
The HST is clearly a Conservative-driven policy that yes, Ontario and B.C. have adopted, viewing it in similar terms to Flaherty. Sure there are other quotes out there, but that's a quick search.

You can run brave Conservative MPs, but you can't hide...

Harper to ask Canadians for a majority government

A capital idea: "Tories changing election tune to stress majority."

"Stephen Harper: unchecked and unleashed."

Love that slogan. Please run on it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New ten percenter spotted

(Amended) You knew that was coming...

Update (4:45 p.m.): It's not all heavy isotope blogging around here, you know. We like to have fun too. Judging by traffic, others do too and this is quite a popular topic out there. More fun for you (click on next photo to take you to larger version & original web page).

The text along the bottom was shopped in - the 'thumbs up', t... on Twitpic

Monday, August 17, 2009

Harper government's $34 million ad campaign on Economic Action plan pushing the limits

A professor with expertise in government advertising has made some pretty pointed criticisms of the Harper government's $34 million promotional campaign of the Economic Action Plan and the Home Renovation Tax Credit in today's Hill Times. Professor Jonathan Rose points out that such advertising would be in violation of Ontario's Government Advertising Act. The ads direct voters to the government's website which is littered with pictures of Stephen Harper in construction helmets, the big nifty blue shovel map and all of which is emblazoned in Conservative blue. The partisan overtones are clear and such efforts are not permitted in Ontario. Apparently we need a law at the federal level to prevent such abuses comparable to the Ontario version given what we're seeing:
...the ads would still be in violation of the Ontario Act, which was passed in 2004, because the website that viewers are encouraged to visit features images of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.), said Prof. Rose. The Ontario Act prohibits any image of the premier, and any member of cabinet from appearing in government advertising, and also looks at other aspects, such as whether the governing party's colours are used for partisan purposes, and whether the release of government ads are timed for political advantage.
The choice to spend so much on ads that puff up Stephen Harper's image leads to questions about the government's priorities:
“Little has been spent to warn the public about precautions needed for the H1N1 flu virus, yet countless television shows have been “brought to us” by the government’s budget,” said Liberal Public Works Critic Martha Hall Findlay. “Unnecessary government self-promotion with taxpayer money is wrong, particularly in a recession – and even worse when this government is already spending us into a huge deficit.”
In addition to the suspect priorities such advertising represents, these ad buys raise questions of trust. It's become quite clear that we can't trust the Harper government to restrain itself from self-aggrandizing with our tax dollars. It's almost as if every possible vulnerability in our federal government's operation has been probed and pushed by the Harper crew to seek out maximum partisan benefit for the Conservative party's electoral advantage. The criticism of this latest ad onslaught is one more example of a grey area exploited to the max. Hope someone's keeping score of all the items that will need to be cleaned up once this government finally exits.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some people never learn, one in particular

You'd think that in the wake of the embarrassing apology the PM had to issue after mistakenly attacking Michael Ignatieff during the wrap-up press conference at July's G8 and the backlash from that little episode might have prompted some thoughts on one's conduct. You know, maybe a rethink of one's modus operandi might be in order. Yet today, another little episode occurs that confirms Mr. Harper is chronically hardwired for the nasty partisan shot. This most of us know, but still, we marvel when it occurs and are in fact thankful, as it reminds people of what they don't want in a Prime Minister. We know there are politics going on in this minority government throttled country. But there's something qualitatively unpleasant about the way Mr. Harper carries it out. These little incidents remind us of why Mr. Harper is never likely to get a majority government. They remind us of why when the next election comes, the major issue will be whether to trust Stephen Harper to continue as Prime Minister. So, here's today's little gem: "Harper takes jab at McGuinty over Ontario's eHealth scandal."
Ottawa has given the provinces a lot of money to create electronic health records and Ontario should take a look at "rectifying problems" in that area, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday as he took an apparent retaliatory swipe at Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The thinly veiled reference to McGuinty's woes over eHealth Ontario, a provincial agency that awarded lucrative contracts to consultants without competitive tenders, came one day after McGuinty slammed Ottawa for failing to help a Toronto woman stranded in Kenya.

Harper defended his government's actions Thursday, saying his government has asked the Canadian Border Services Agency for a "full accounting" of what happened in the case of Suuad Hagi Mohamud - who was expected to return home this weekend.

But the prime minister couldn't resist taking a partisan jab at McGuinty and a growing scandal over eHealth, an issue not raised by anyone else at the news conference.

"Since you raised the provincial government, the federal government had in its budget considerable funds available for the Health Infoway - the expansion and pushing forward of the project to make health records in this country electronic," Harper said.

"So I obviously would encourage the provincial government to get on with rectifying the problems in that area."
In the wake of Mr. Harper's remarks to ABC shrinking from lecturing the provinces on health care, as others are noting, this is quite the rebound. McGuinty clearly hit a raw nerve, prompting some obvious thinking by the Harper forces into what might be delivered as a retaliatory punch while attending in Ontario today. McGuinty sounded statesmanlike yesterday, making the clear and simple point about standing up for Canada's citizens abroad, indeed one of Ontario's own citizens that he clearly has an interest in speaking up for. Whatever must he have been thinking in saying such things in Harper's Canada. He and we certainly found out today.

Mr. Harper's schlepping off of responsibility to "consular officials" and the request for a "full accounting" into an ugly incident that he and his own Foreign Affairs Minister have responsibility for is another abdication of responsibility. The buck stops elsewhere for the Harper gang, always. I suppose someone could line up all the quotes from Lawrence "Loose" Cannon and his office on this file and lay it all out. Might be a useful exercise.

Another day, another Popeye moment for Mr. Harper. "I y'am what I y'am" and once again we see, this is not the kind of Prime Minister the country deserves.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Partisan interests

In recent months I've not taken to blogging much about the NDP and their party deliberations but this will be a minor exception. The following audio of Judy Rebick is notable in that she's criticizing the party as a person with long standing involvement and her thoughts are worth hearing.

In a similar vein, the repeated embrace of the Conservatives' 79 confidence votes by the NDP is a questionable strategy. The number itself betrays the abuse of the minority parliament situation. Instead of egging on the Conservatives, we should be advocating for a workable minority parliament. I'd recommend this academic's writings on our recent history on the abuse of the confidence vote for starters. It's a long history which spans governments and needs repair, not celebration. But I suppose we all have our partisan interests, right?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Have a good summit

From the Economist:
Mr Calderón is likely to berate Mr Harper over Canada’s sudden decision last month to require Mexicans to obtain visas before travelling to the country. This followed a big increase in the number of Mexicans turning up in Canada and claiming to be refugees. Clamping down on abuses in the immigration system is popular in Canada. But in this case it does nothing to boost economic ties and tourism between supposed partners.
New York Times, "Immigration Fight for Mexico and Canada Is Brewing Ahead of Summit."
Ahead of President Obama’s arrival in Mexico on Sunday night for a summit meeting of North American leaders, immigration was prompting significant behind-the-scenes debate. But it was Mexicans entering Canada, not the United States, that was the contentious issue.

Too many Mexicans, the Canadian government complained, were fraudulently claiming political asylum in Canada, overwhelming the system. So Canada announced last month that it would begin requiring Mexican nationals to secure visas before entering the country, a decision that sparked outrage in Mexico.

The Mexicans struck back with an announcement that Canadian diplomats and government officials would now require visas to enter Mexico.

Although some angry Mexican lawmakers urged President Felipe Calderon to go further and require visas for all Canadian visitors, Mr. Calderon held off, not wanting to further damage Mexico’s tourism industry, which relies heavily on North American visitors.

Aides to Mr. Calderon said he planned to use his one-one-one meeting Sunday with Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minister, to push Canada to reconsider its decision. No breakthrough was expected, though, with Canadian officials saying beforehand that they did not plan to immediately change the policy.
In other words, we're going to change it at some point. Which underscores the foolishness of the position in the first place. Meanwhile, the Harper gang amazingly peddled a push for a greater co-operative approach on security issues, climate change, etc. going into the summit...they certainly have an interesting way of setting the stage for achieving such co-operation, don't they?

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Rachel Maddow debunks the "death panels"

Rachel Maddow brings attention to one of the crazier myths surrounding the U.S. health care proposals recently, the notion that seniors are going to somehow be "put to death" by their government or that the federal government will intervene in people's long-term planning. wills enter the American conversation and become horribly distorted talking points. Maddow clarifies the origin of proposals for living wills, i.e., Republican, and helpfully calls for the facts to return to the discussion.

I do believe the spoofing of this topic is just too easy...what some must imagine is an average day in any Canadian community...

"The Family" in Canada?

Yesterday Jeff Sharlet, the author of the hot U.S. political book of the moment, The Family, was interviewed on CBC's The Current. The interview appears at the beginning of part two provided at the link, it runs about 20 minutes. A lot of it will be familiar if you've been following the U.S. coverage, notably Rachel Maddow's exposure of the group (below) and its "C-street" ministry in Washington, D.C. Prominent U.S. conservatives have been identified with"the Family," notables of late being the Republican adultery crowd, U.S. Senator John Ensign and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.

The interview turns to Canada in the last few minutes. Sharlet was asked about the international reach of the organization. He stated that the Family does have a connection in Canada and twice mentioned that this is the subject of the next investigation he's working on.

As Sharlet has previously pointed out, this is a group that believes it is not accountable to the public and has reached into the highest levels of the U.S. government. If there's a connection in Canada, that's something to be concerned about. Will be watching for Sharlet's investigation results down the road.

(h/t to a little birdie)

Will Canada backtrack on visas for Mexico?

Of note from CP last night and as a follow-up to the Ivison piece yesterday on the Mexican visa situation, the hint of an eventual climb down from the Mexican visa requirement by the Harper government continues as Harper gets set to rumba with Calderon and Obama this weekend. Not that it will happen this weekend though, seems they're just trying to make things easier for Harper as he leaves for Mexico:
"I don't anticipate the lifting of visas at this upcoming summit," said Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas.

"We are reviewing our refugee policies. . . In the short term, I think what's important here is to preserve the integrity of the Canadian immigration system."

But other officials strongly hinted that Canada will drop the visa requirement once the system works faster and is better able to cope with thousands of in-land refugee claimants.

"We could definitely lift visas on a lot more countries - including Mexico and the Czech Republic," said one government official.

"It's not like we enjoy imposing visas on friendly countries
." (emphasis added)
Yeah, come on guys, it's not like this is any fun for the Harper government. Geez.

So we just slap visas on countries when we're trying to fix our own system. With all the attendant diplomatic fallout apparently and never mind the legitimate refugee claims. Nice bit of spin, but it's kind of ridiculous. If they lift the visa requirements, it will be because they made a mistake, not because we need administrative house cleaning of the refugee system. How embarrassing.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday night music

Have been listening to Bloc Party's "Intimacy" this week. There is a little bit of magic in this one, Signs. If you like them, Talons and Ion Square (also magic & a deceptively good running song too) are also great picks from that CD.

And one more, a little more upbeat, in my continuing quest to offset the '70's picks at Prog Blogs...heh...

See you at the Teddy Bear's picnic on Sunday, btw, should be there at some point...:)

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Tearing up the BBQ circuit

Who's bringin' the fun to the summer BBQ?
Speaking at a barbecue in Surrey, BC, Harper said the Liberals, NDP and the Bloc Quebecois will revive the coalition.

"Do not doubt for a minute that the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois will get together once again any time - any time they think they can get away with it," Harper said on Tuesday.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has said the coalition is dead.

The Prime Minister added "always remember that Canadians do not want a Liberal government propped up by the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. Canadians have been clear: they do not want an election, and neither do we."
Yeah...not that guy...

Freed journalists home

Moving statement...a must see. A resolution that, to venture an overstatement, bodes well for the world. How reassuring to see careful and skilled diplomacy from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton play out as it has here. Taking a hard line on the nuclear issue yet obtaining this release under an amnesty play and opening up the possibility of some kind of engagement with this rogue regime for the future.
"It speaks well of our country that when two American citizens are in harm's way, that so many people will just put things aside and just go to work to make sure that this has had a happy ending," he said.
Kind of inspiring for certain other nations who are maddeningly and inexplicably moving backwards.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


As we watch the thuggish behaviour in the U.S. of paid organizers and mobs hired by the health care lobby to disrupt town hall discussions of health care reform, let's recall that we had our own brush with similar tactics back in December. Recall the massive public relations exercise launched by the Conservatives to delegitimize the perfectly legal parliamentary course of action that was put in motion as a result of the Conservative government's own short-sightedness, i.e., the defeat of the government on a non-confidence motion and their replacement by the opposition without an election. Minister John Baird famously laid out to Don Newman the Conservative government's intent on going over the heads of parliamentarians, the Governor General, to whip up public sentiment:

Constitutional expert Ned Franks summed up quite effectively what occurred in Canada:
The Conservatives were governing with the support of less than 40 per cent of the electorate. Nevertheless, they mounted an astonishingly speedy and successful anti-coalition public-relations campaign.

They had only seven days to do this, between the government's disastrous fiscal update of Nov. 27 and Mr. Harper's meeting with the Governor-General. While the anti-coalition campaign was filled with misrepresentations and half-truths, it worked brilliantly. Public opinion turned formidably.

Among the half-truths and outright misrepresentations was the claim that the coalition would be an "illegitimate" government while Mr. Harper's government was "legitimate." Neither he nor his party mentioned that more than 60 per cent of Canadians had voted against them.
Normally Canadian prime ministers work toward encouraging national unity and a common sense of purpose among Canada's French and English populations. Not so Mr. Harper in this political dogfight. His rhetoric was the most anti-Quebec, and by inference anti-French, of any major party, let alone a government, of at least the post—Second World War period. Perhaps, having failed to increase his support there in the election, he felt it expedient to abandon Quebec and appeal to the latent hostility toward bilingualism and Quebec in his political heartland of the west. Perhaps his party's polling had indicated that this line of attack was a winner outside Quebec.

Regardless, there was no doubt that Mr. Harper's inflammatory and tendentious rhetoric was stunningly effective in mobilizing public opinion against the proposed coalition. The opposition parties and their leaders seemed unable to counteract it.
Just a reminder.

(h/t Canadian Cynic)