Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's just another week in our changing nation

No entry for a New Brunswick Liberal parliamentarian, or local Liberal representatives, to the Prime Minister's parliamentary economic update held in New Brunswick. I mean, what did this opposition MP expect to happen, after all? That he would be allowed to attend a Prime Ministerial event? Our expectations are clearly set too high these days.

Another instance of this government's anti-democratic tendencies is making the rounds today as well, explained here. That one is about disrespect for the rule of law. The Conservatives are making a mockery of an upcoming inquiry on the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, an issue which speaks to our respect as a nation for the Geneva conventions:
The Justice Department has invoked national security and told the Military Police Complaints Commission that subpoenaed witnesses will be allowed to appear at the inquiry, but they will be instructed to say nothing when hearings begin next month.
Lawyers representing both the commission, as well as complainants Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, are aghast.

"I've never seen something like that in all of my life," said Kristjanson, who was counsel to the commission that investigated the Maher Arar deportation and torture case.

"It seems to me the government has never had any intention of co-operating."
You may also have heard Minister John Baird referring to Liberal MP Bonnie Crombie in the House of Commons today as "un-Canadian" for her participation in a demonstration outside the Prime Minister's donut photo-op last week. Crombie was making the legitimate point that Harper should have been at the UN instead rather than attending a photo-op that could have occurred at any time.

It's just another week in Stephen Harper's Canada...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A banner blue ad day that continues to raise questions

Blue was the colour of the day yesterday, as the Prime Minister was speaking, providing an economic update which was more akin to Conservative talking points. Some photo evidence that must be noted. All over the major web media yesterday were the ads:

Today, if you check the same the sites, the ads have subsided. It was obviously quite the push that was on yesterday (and on the weekend, in the lead-up) in conjunction with Harper's speech. There's clearly a well-oiled propaganda machine at the ready, available to be fired up to reinforce the day's political message. You may also have noticed the longer television ad touting the plan on national newscasts last night as well. Figures have varied as to the recent costs for this advertising, from $5.6 million to $4 million. With yesterday's push, the numbers have got to be going up.

The use of public money to push a Conservative political message is inappropriate, unethical and pushing the limits of what's acceptable government messaging. Clearly, when you look at just the above set of ads, magically timed to coincide with the Prime Minister's action plan update, there's something wrong here.

Here is an ethics argument to make, it's not a slam dunk, but it's worth considering.

Section 23 of the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada:
Institutions must not use public funds to purchase advertising in support of a political party.
The ads being run by the Government of Canada at the moment contain a political message congruent with the Conservative party's message that the country must "stay on track" and that no election should occur.
Tories like Transport Minister John Baird have argued an election would slow stimulus spending of infrastructure projects. The government’s new taxpayer-funded $4.1-million TV ad campaign to tout the stimulus package – purchased in August – airs commercials that include the tag line: “We can’t stop now.”
There is possibly a conflict of interest operative here where the private interests of the Conservative party, i.e., obtaining political support via advertisements, are being furthered by the use of public taxpayer funds, as carried out by Conservative members of parliament.

Some relevant provisions from the Conflict of Interest Act:
3. The purpose of this Act is to

(b) minimize the possibility of conflicts arising between the private interests and public duties of public office holders and provide for the resolution of those conflicts in the public interest should they arise;
The private interests, one would argue, are those of the Conservative party that are factoring into the advertising decisions being made.
4. For the purposes of this Act, a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.

9. No public office holder shall use his or her position as a public office holder to seek to influence a decision of another person so as to further the public office holder’s private interests or those of the public office holder’s relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.
Additional relevant articulations of the conflict of interest rules appear in the Member's Code:
3.(1) The following definitions apply in this Code.
(2) Subject to subsection (3), a Member is considered to further a person’s private interests, including his or her own private interests, when the Member’s actions result, directly or indirectly, in any of the following
(a) an increase in, or the preservation of, the value of the person’s assets;
(c) the acquisition of a financial interest by the person;
This articulation of when a private interest is furthered would require a successful argument that the Conservative party has directly or indirectly financially benefited from the government ads. The argument would be that ads have been purchased which benefit the party and which the party did not have to pay for. In that sense, one would argue that a financial interest would have been gained by the Conservative party.

The Conservatives might argue that the ad decision is a matter of "general application" not singling out any group in particular:
(3) For the purpose of this Code, a Member is not considered to further his or her own private interests or the interests of another person if the matter in question
(a) is of general application;
(b) affects the Member or the other person as one of a broad class of the public;
The purchase of ads can be characterized as a matter of general application to advertise the economic action plan, yes that's true. But the specific tailoring of the message in those television ads on the need to "stay on track" is a message specifically tailored for the benefit of one political party. That's prohibited under section 23 of the Communications Policy above. And the Conservatives would also need to satisfy (b), that the Conservative party is affected "as one of a broad class of the public." The specific benefit gained by the Conservative party is there to be argued though.

The seeds of an argument are there. It's a difficult one but it seems like enough to ask for clarification from the Ethics Commissioner. This purchase of ads with millions of taxpayer dollars that is benefiting the Conservative party warrants publicity, opposition and complaint. What kind of democracy do we want to be living where big brother buys ads to benefit itself or do we want to stand up and say no?

If others have better readings on this, happy to consider.

Only lemmings need apply

"Tory candidate dumped for frank TV comments." But of course. Not Harper material, clearly. What with all the truth-telling about the infrastructure spending not being available for a medical facility in the Markham riding because it's held by a Liberal. So, the truth-teller gets the axe:
As a regional councillor from Markham, Landon, 61, is used to being independent and speaking his mind, "so it's hard for me to bow to a lot of structure and having everything approved by Ottawa," he said.
"I didn't follow Conservative policy in terms of getting permission to go on that TV show and I made a comment on that show that was an embarrassment to some members of the Conservative party."
Yes, in fact, this is what you said:
Mr. Landon, a regional councillor who will try to unseat Mr. McCallum to become Markham-Unionville's MP next election, said on a local Rogers TV show this week that the government won't give money to Markham to help fund a medical device research facility "because it's held by the Liberals."
Yes, that was an embarrassing disclosure for Conservatives, indeed. So now he's off to the woodshed, to be replaced by a more pliable cipher that can read talking points and attend at central party approved media appearances. Defining democracy down, onwards valiant Conservatives.

Of note in that Star report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer is making noises again and is liable to weigh in at some point on the infrastructure spending truthiness. This is an issue that cries out for a review now. Gerard Kennedy's report is quite damaging and is in total contradiction to the government's rosy picture issued yesterday by the Prime Minister. The government is predictably stonewalling the PBO:
Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page says the government isn't sharing infrastructure-spending details he needs to determine whether the almost $16 billion over two years is being spent.

Page said his office filed a request for specific infrastructure spending at the end of August but was stonewalled.

"We got a letter back from the deputy minister of transport and infrastructure just last week saying this is a significant data request ... and they weren't prepared to give us this data (at this time)," said Page, who has been a thorn in the Harper government's side.

Page has embarrassed the federal government by casting doubt on Ottawa's price tag for the Afghan mission and accurately predicting the deficit would be far greater than forecast by the Conservatives.

"We are looking at where the bar has been set in other countries on openness and transparency on stimulus money and ... we will keep asking for the information so we can do our own analysis on money going out the door," he told the Toronto Star. (emphasis added)
What's the government got to hide if they're so confident in their 90% hype?

Jazz hands

Who woulda thunk that the use of "quotations" around certain words in my little post yesterday on the Coderre/Quebec brouhaha would have garnered a little rejoinder about the use of such punctuation. "Scare quotes" is what they're being called now. To quote Ed McMahon, "I did not know that." I used the quotes because I was honestly mocking the terminology. I do believe it is antiquated and strangely militaristic for a political organization and the moment seemed right to call it out.

I also stand by the point that lost in all of this Coderre fascination, is the fact that yes, there are indeed new BFFs in Quebec, as Lindsay put it. That seemed to me a legitimate and obvious point to make yesterday that was missing in the discussion. And while I did see traces of it in the media (Oblique but insufficient reference by Roger Smith last night, La Presse), it didn't receive nearly enough attention.

So, yep, I'm a Liberal, no surprise around here anymore about that. But I was surprised that the post yesterday was taken as "jazz hands," when that was, to me anyway, quite legitimate factual information that should have been more present in yesterday's discussions.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go find my red hoodie.

(By the way, the use of italics above is a frequent technique of mine too. Not necessarily grammatically correct but done to emphasize a given word so it will stand out in a given paragraph. For readability, not to scare anyone:))

Friday, September 25, 2009

Coming soon: Harper Government H1N1 Hand Sanitizer

(click to enlarge)

Anonymous government insiders have confirmed to the Impolitical blog that Harper Government issued Hand Sanitizer will soon begin appearing in mailboxes across the nation as part of the government's late effort to educate Canadians to the threat of the H1N1 flu.

When questioned about the apparently partisan presentation on the bottle layout, a senior Conservative source feigned bewilderment and professed absolute confidence that Canadians would receive it well. The official was confident that the "totally non-partisan" presentation was an acceptable form of communication under the Government of Canada's Federal Identity Program and that even if the use of such terminology as "Harper Government" wasn't, "who's going to make me take it off, anyway?" Besides, Canadians want hand sanitizer, the official protested, and would want the Harper Government to be seen to be acting.

Officials also reluctantly confirmed after persistent questioning that the hand sanitizer bottle originally included five photographs of the Prime Minister. In addition to the front head shot which remains, photos had been placed on the outside of the cap, on the inside of the cap, with two additional shots appearing on the back label. Extensive focus group testing, however, and written media questions to the Privy Council Office led to the decision to rein it in and go with the lone head shot of the Prime Minister. The official explanation, however, remains that the "floating head" of Stephen Harper is an obvious choice given that he is the Harper Government's chief spokesperson.

Also obtained by the Impolitical blog, the text which appears on the back label of the Harper Government H1N1 Hand Sanitizer. The message mimics in many respects the H1N1 television ads produced by the Ontario government which the Harper Government has recently commandeered and started running nationally as well:
"How can you protect yourself against the H1N1 flu virus?

Making sure we don't have an unnecessary election is the first step.

And washing your hands thoroughly and often is the best way to prevent its spread. Or use this Harper Government H1N1 Hand Sanitizer.

Cough and sneeze into a tissue, or at a Liberal — not your hand.

Keep commonly touched surfaces such as those recently renovated home tax credit areas disinfected. And stay at home when you're sick.

To find out more, go to or call 1 800 No-election.

A message from the Harper Government."
Similar questions as to the partisan nature of the label were ignored.

Officials say Canadians in Conservative ridings in particular should be watching their mailboxes as they are more likely to receive theirs "well before" other Canadians.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Conservative candidate admits partisan stimulus spending

This video has been making the rounds today but am going to post in any event for those who may not have seen it. The Conservative candidate in Markham, a city councillor on the ground and in the know, confirms, twice, that the Markham riding has been subjected to the partisan lens of the federal Conservatives and found wanting. It doesn't have a Conservative member and therefore, a medical research facility in the riding has not been fairly considered for federal funding. The Conservatives are denying it now that the matter's come to light thanks to Mr. Landon, Conservative candidate. But on a day when serious questions are being raised about the impartiality of the Harper Conservatives' administration of the federal infrastructure stimulus, this latest disclosure doesn't help their case:
Mr. Landon, a regional councillor who will try to unseat Mr. McCallum to become Markham-Unionville's MP next election, said on a local Rogers TV show this week that the government won't give money to Markham to help fund a medical device research facility "because it's held by the Liberals."

The National Centre for Medical Device Development is a proposed public-private partnership that a study said could create more than $20 million in economic development and almost 800 jobs.
Mr. Landon wasn't immediately available for comment this afternoon, but Mr. Harper has responded to Mr. Landon's comments.

Speaking to CityTV, he said it's not true that funding is dependent on the party representing a riding.

"The candidate, as you know, is not a member of our caucus and is speaking with no knowledge of that particular situation," the Prime Minister said.

But Mr. McCallum questioned that.

"As a regional councillor, he (Mr. Landon) was not just any citizen. He was involved with the negotiations with the federal government (on the facility). He understood the situation and told the truth," he said.
Another day when we're told day is night, up is down. As the evidence of partisan preference endemic to this government piles up, the Canadian public will catch on. We have a long track record in this country of strongly rejecting such conduct.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jim Prentice: Minister of Comedy

Updated below.

Video from Power Play yesterday where the obvious error is made by Prentice. It's laughable to think this government has done more in the last eight months than in our entire history on climate change. This government's foot dragging is well known.

Note Clark asks about Harper's absence yesterday from the meeting of world leaders. That was followed by today's Harper absence at the U.N. when Obama gave his first address to the body, widely recognized as a significant event and among most world leaders. Most, that is. Not our own:
An array of world leaders sat in the hall for Mr. Obama’s speech, which was often interrupted by applause and the flashbulbs of cameras going off, including some from delegates in the room.
Our guy was at the Tim Horton's HQ in Oakville. Priorities, priorities, so poorly chosen by this Prime Minister. He's just rubbing our faces in it now.

Update (3:10 p.m.):Beyond the Ahmadinejad boycott, let's not lose sight of what Harper's absence signifies:
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, meanwhile, criticized the Prime Minister’s absence from United Nation talks this week, including negotiations on fighting global warming and addresses by major world leaders.

Mr. Ignatieff said Canada cannot tolerate Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitism, but argued that Mr. Harper should be at the UN to register the government’s unhappiness in person.

“Canada should be there when the world is talking about the major issues of our time. Canadians our proud of our leadership at the UN” he said told CTV News Channel.

“I just find it unbelievable,” he said. “This is a day in which when world leaders are coming together to address the challenge of climate change. The reason I think he’s walked away from New York is he’s got nothing to say on climate change.”
Update (3:15 p.m.): From Harper's recent closed door speech to supporters, video of his regard for the United Nations. The implication from his statements is that the U.N. does not stand for freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. There's contempt for the U.N. obviously on display here and that's part of what's playing out this week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The case of the missing mug shots

(Screen shot of in its former idolatrous iteration)

CP like a dog with a bone on this story. Must say, I like the "mug shot" terminology. Fun, fun, fun with the PMO who ridiculously maintained the position that no changes had been made to the website but who have now gone silent in the face of evidence to the contrary having been presented to them:
Call it the case of the missing mug shots.

Despite adamant government claims to the contrary, dozens of photos of Prime Minister Stephen Harper have vanished from the taxpayer-funded website that promotes the Conservative economic plan.

The photos disappeared after The Canadian Press questioned the government about complaints of partisanship in federal advertising, including a website plastered with Harper photos.

"We have not removed any pictures of the PM," a Privy Council Office spokeswoman insisted late Monday.

A spokesman for the prime minister made the same assertion.

After being presented with a cached image of the site from last week which featured over 40 photos of Harper, the government did not respond to further inquiries on the matter Tuesday.

The website currently features about seven different Harper photos.
Anyone who has seen the action plan websites in the last few months (there have been two versions, the old one above and the newer one being Conservative bold blue) has been given the overwhelming impression that it's all about Stephen Harper. The 40 photos emphasized him to such an extent it was hard to view it as anything but a promotional site for the Harper Conservatives. Minimizing the story by framing it as a natural change that all websites go through by referring us to the September 16th version of the site is not a relevant response to the main point. As Conservatives well know, CP was poking around on the story early last week and had submitted written questions to the Privy Council Office. "Repeated inquiries over more than a week to the Privy Council Office,"writes CP. Do we suppose the PCO tipped off the site masters that media were asking about the 40 photos of Mr. Harper? Pretty good bet. And down the photos came in embarrassment. The pictures would still be there had CP not started asking questions and framing it in contrast to the H1N1 spending.

As for the point that spending $$ on television ads on H1N1 public health education is liable to "fuel hysteria" and therefore the government's approach has been correct...take a look at this Globe editorial today where it is pointed out that "The British have been bombarded since the spring with a highly effective "Catch it, Bin it, Kill it" mass advertising campaign by their Department of Health." It has been quite successful. In fact, the editorial notes, "Britain has just announced a dramatic decline in swine-flu cases, leaving the country "tantalizingly close" to winning its battle against the pandemic, according to its chief medical officer." Now we'll have to see what happens here and whether the lack of a similar campaign will prove to have been the correct judgment. The Conservatives made their choice and they are late with the H1N1 ads. They chose politics over public health.

Even Conservative supporters are critical of the self-interested Conservative spending on the action plan ads.

"People see it as an abuse of tax dollars," Gerry Nicholls, a right-wing commentator and former Harper colleague at the National Citizens' Coalition, said Tuesday.

"Governments should not be using Canadian tax dollars to basically run partisan advertising, and I don't think anybody looking at those ads could mistake them for anything else. They were clearly partisan, clearly Conservative propaganda."

Listen to the radio interview:

What should be done? If the government had any sense of propriety, they'd re-orient their priorities now that they've been caught so publicly in choosing partisan self-interest over public health eduction:
Liberals, meanwhile, called on the government to replace the economic ads with swine flu prevention ads.

"They've now had their wrists slapped, but taking a few photos off the web doesn't cut it," said Liberal MP Martha Hall-Findlay.
Keep pushing, media and politicians alike.

Harper MIA on climate change

Waiting for the Americans...waiting to blindly follow along...isn't that what Bob says?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Flaherty continues to talk up the HST

There he goes again, putting a crimp in Conservative anti-HST political mojo. This has to be noted today: "Finance Minister Flaherty says HST is good long term economic policy." Thought the PMO had put the kibosh on such talk but Deficit Jim just can't seem to help himself. It is his baby, after all:
Harmonization of the federal GST with provincial sales taxes remains the most important thing provinces can do to improve their competitiveness, says Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

"It's good longterm economic policy for the people of Canada," Flaherty said in Brampton, Ont., on Friday at the launch of the city's new rapid transit bus service called Zum.

"The decision to harmonize is always up to the individual province whether they choose to do it or not," Flaherty said.
Flaherty is providing $4.3 billion to Ontario and $1.6 billion to B.C. to make the change.
Here was the reporting this week on the PMO's effort in the summer to begin the political positioning on their HST support:
In March, he praised Ontario, saying the move would save business about $500 million in administrative costs, and noted that, in a few years, "hopefully we will have a harmonized system across Canada."

But federal Conservative sources have told the Star that earlier in the summer, officials in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office ordered Flaherty to tone it down.

"They asked Jim to stop talking about (the tax) so much because it's not helpful," said one insider.
There you have the bizarro Conservative mode of government in action, the PMO asking the Finance Minister to stop talking publicly about a significant measure in the federal budget which they presented as such. Another naked example of playing politics with a policy that they believe in and have pushed yet believe they can gain politically from by throwing responsibility elsewhere. Profiles in courage from the federal gang. Yet Flaherty keeps stepping on the plan.

Playing both sides of the HST issue fits in with the larger message about the Conservatives. They can't be straight on anything, including something in their own federal budget. This is a theme which is going to be pursued:
Ignatieff will, however, attack the way Harper does politics – and the ads are a big part of it.

"What he says in private is not what he says in public," says Ignatieff, a reference to a video that emerged over the past couple of weeks, showing Harper delivering a speech to staunch Conservative supporters – a speech in which he mocked social-justice advocates as "left-wing fringe groups" and talked about a need for a majority to deliver "a lesson" to the opposition parties and their supporters.
Trust, in a nutshell, is what is lacking.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Civility and other notes

A few notes today instead of a lengthy post on any one topic...

1. Globe letter to the editor:
"Judith Timson (Serena, Joe, Kanye: It’s A New Social Disease – Sept. 15), writing about extreme public rudeness, didn’t mention the most appalling instance of incivility in Canada these days: political attack ads. I am stunned at the mean-spiritedness of these ads used to demean opponents. Civility has been the basis of our treasured Canadian society. If we fail to act with respect for our fellow citizens, be they political opponents or allies, what else really matters?

Susan Himann, Calgary"
2. Is Harper playing games with his EI proposal...already? That would be so very out of character. Le Devoir thinks the bill doesn't live up to advance billing. Don't see how anyone could back down now though without incurring the wrath of the nation. After all, it's never Harper's fault.

3. The Star rightfully takes Harper to task for the prominence given to the NHL charter flight issue in the Oval Office. It was ridiculous. Also criticized, the lack of progress on the Buy American issue. It's been a whole lotta' nothin' for months on end now on that issue.

4. John, John, John. Just when we were starting to like the advancement of infrastructure issues this week by Mr. Ivison, he gives us one of the usuals. Favourite excerpt:
More by luck than judgment, Mr. Ignatieff has survived to fight another day and can now fulfill his first responsibility as Leader of the Official Opposition -- that is, to provide Canadians with an alternative government.
More by luck than judgment...what does that mean exactly? It was all a crap shoot? There was no judgment? Of course there was some heavy betting going on, Ignatieff no doubt sized up the NDP's likelihood of wanting an election at the moment and made his move. When you act in a manner that advances your cause, based on facts you are able to surmise, does the outcome mean you're lucky or that you made a good judgment? Philosophical questions from strange phrases that occupy way too much of my time. But if it was luck, better to be lucky than not.

One thing I did agree with in Ivison's column today was the caution that Harper may not be able to help himself from self-destructing once more:
A caveat to all of the above is that it relies on Stephen Harper being as good as his word. The Prime Minister told the House this week that another election would be "needless and wasteful" and that his government was keen to concentrate on governing.

However, recent opinion polls suggest the Conservatives have built up a considerable lead over the Liberals, in large measure due to public disgust at Mr. Ignatieff's move to force another election. The Prime Minister will be tempted to engineer a parliamentary crisis that forces the NDP to side with the Liberals and bring down his government.

Yet, any hint of duplicity by Mr. Harper and those winning conditions would surely melt like snow in a river. The Prime Minister may be liked by Canadians but he's not well liked. The lesson of the past two weeks is that voters are in no mood for partisan machinations or policies that are more concerned with politicians than with people who have lost their jobs.
Setting aside the predictable claptrap in that excerpt, the important takeaway question is this: will Harper be able to resist his partisan instincts in this fall session...a very good question. Think he's due for a biggie a la last fall.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Can't anybody here play this game?

A question pogge is asking today as the NDP support for the Conservative EI proposals is reported.
Especially given the fact that the BQ eliminated the suspense concerning the ways and means motion on Friday, the NDP could have taken their time and possibly — possibly — gotten more out of this. Instead it appears they've just quietly announced that they're folding so they can get it over with.

While Layton can claim that he got more out of Harper than Ignatieff did*, this is nowhere near the kinds of changes to the EI system that the NDP was originally looking for. So once again: can't anybody here play this game?
The answer to this question has been clear for a long time. There is no game to be played in a viable, functioning minority parliament until this Prime Minister is gone. There are few if any compromises to be had. Depending on who the next Conservative leader is, it may continue.

Traditional political considerations that would normally govern a minority parliament situation have not been operative in the life of the Harper minority governments. Not really. The Prime Minister doesn't respect his minority mandate. The use of confidence votes has belied that. Sure he can do it. But whether he should do it, another question entirely. He hasn't garnered majority support in pursuing this posture. But in a fractured parliament, he doesn't think he has to.

And the money in our system is perhaps the biggest consideration that dictates all the leverage. One party has much more than the others. It's an imbalance that needs to be corrected. It's bad for our democracy and it plays out in the House of Commons in all these negotiations.

The NDP have apparently decided they cannot afford an election and they've decided they can't even stick their necks out in a negotiation. Can't take a chance, take it off the table. I would think money has something to do with this, in addition to polling numbers. (Although Lavigne protests otherwise.)

So, the NDP are getting a welcome to what the Liberals have experienced to date...negotiating with a foe who is always happy to threaten an election, who has the financial resources to back it up and where typical minority parliamentary assumptions aren't really operative. Where the choice is: take this or have an election. And it's conditioned the public now to bemoan elections. Harper wins!

Am I missing something?

Yes, the NDP are waiting to see the details of the legislation. But even that posture says, no negotiation. They're not actively obtaining anything here by virtue of their own political leverage. They're waiting to see what the Conservatives do, it's looking very much like a take it or leave it. Harper doesn't have any interest in negotiating. He seems to want an election. Which is why I'm still not prepared to think it's off for the fall.

On making minority government work

Star editorial gets it right on who is responsible for the constant state of uncertainty in Ottawa, despite all the rhetoric, particularly from the Prime Minister himself as late as last night:
Canadians have chosen minority governments in the last three federal elections. They are sending the politicians a message: make the minority Parliament work rather than return to the polls in a futile search for a majority. They want their elected representatives to address the very real issues facing Canada, ranging from the economy to the environment, instead of playing silly political games designed to make the other guys look foolish.

The chief responsibility here lies not with the opposition leaders but with the Prime Minister.

Harper's style is, to say the least, partisan. He would rather fight the opposition parties than compromise – an approach epitomized by last fall's economic statement, which included a measure to eliminate public campaign financing. That sparked a constitutional crisis.

Even in recent days, with the threat of an election looming, the Harperites seemed to go out of their way to alienate the opposition. Conservative attack dog Jason Kenney called the NDP "a party of hard-core left-wing ideologues ... (who) drink their own Kool-Aid."

It is incumbent on Harper now to make the minority Parliament work by compromising with the opposition. He might even find, as Bill Davis did with his 1977-81 minority government in Ontario, that he can make it work so well that voters will eventually reward him with a majority.
Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves on that last point.

Overall, it's right. But this PM has proven himself to be pathologically incapable of following such advice for the duration. The incessant confidence vote tactics, forcing an election last fall, yadda, yadda. His chance to prove to us he can make parliament work, really, is long over, he's just pulling the wool over the public's eye at the moment. The sentiment and point in the editorial are correct, it's just not likely to mark the dawn of a new cooperative Harper.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Harper government's partisan approval of highway projects in N.S. by federal riding

(Click to enlarge)

Excellent work by Contrarian blog, post from earlier in the summer:
When the Harper Government announced an Infrastructure Stimulus Plan focused on construction-ready projects, Nova Scotia saw a golden opportunity to make headway on a huge problem: its crumbling highway system. The province sought federal approval for 39 paving projects.

But Ottawa approved only 20 of the paving jobs. Since the 19 rejected projects were all but identical to the 20 that received a federal go-ahead, it’s hard to figure out what criteria Ottawa used for its decisions. Until you look at a federal electoral map.

Projects in ridings held by Conservative MPs were almost four times as likely to receive federal approval as those in Liberal-held ridings. Contrarian used the provincial Freedom of Information Act to obtain a list of proposed projects for comparison with those approved. The map above shows the ratio of Harper-approved projects in each Nova Scotia federal riding.
Bit of a pattern it appears. Keep your eyes open.

(h/t penlan)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ipsos nonsense

No surprise here: "Latest poll gives Tories 9-point lead over Grits." Ipsos speaks, most Canadians who follow a variety of pollsters will shrug. It's likely going to take a few weeks for any sense of a trend in public opinion to take shape, early goings in the session.

One point of interest though on the poll's election question that illustrates the little quirks these polls can have:
Seventy-one per cent of respondents believe the "political process is operating just fine at the moment and there is no need for an election." By contrast, only 25 per cent of Canadians believe "Parliament and our federal political process is hopelessly deadlocked right now and that we really need an election to clear the air," according to the poll.
The way the numbers shake out on those two options is perfectly understandable. Take an easy option for the status quo or jump out of your seat and climb the hurdle presented to the respondent in the second option. "Hopelessly deadlocked?" That's quite a high threshold combined with the assertion "we really need an election to clear the air." Only partisan diehards are going to opt for option two. This presentation really doesn't add much to the picture.

And just one other note, interesting timing here too. This poll is released the first day back in the parliamentary session as parties attempt to figure out their voting orientations.

Another day, another poll...with lots more to come!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Jim Flaherty’s EI tax

Ruh roh:
The recession, with employment falling and the number of unemployed skyrocketing, will cause deficits in EI over the 2009–2011 period. The government now plans to recoup these losses partly by raising EI premiums in 2012, to compensate for the previous EI deficits.

Some may argue that current policy is very unfair to working Canadians. They financed an enormous EI surplus over the mid 1990s , which contributed heavily to the elimination of the deficit in 1997. After that EI surplus was contributed to debt reduction, the government then adopted a “break even over the economic cycle” policy for EI.

Mr. Flaherty’s update gave no profile to the very significant role of the EI surplus of 2012–2014, in the forecast deficit reduction. As well, he pledged to return to balanced budgets without a tax increase. Isn’t an increase in EI premiums a tax increase?
I think that is a rhetorical question that Dale Orr is asking. But I'm sure we'll hear otherwise.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


From La Presse Saturday:
Comme le révélait La Presse samedi matin, le gouvernement Harper entend mettre aux voix, vendredi, une motion de voies et moyens visant à mettre en oeuvre certains éléments du dernier budget, dont le crédit d'impôt pour la rénovation domiciliaire, selon des sources sûres.
The Bloc has signalled it would support that measure:
Yesterday, the Bloc Québécois leader told Radio-Canada that if the government brings forward a supply motion to finance the home renovation program later this month, his party will support it.

Unless Harper loads a budget-related motion with other items that are unpalatable to the Bloc, the tax credit will sail through the Commons.
Will Friday's vote be as simple as that then...will it simply be a matter of Harper ensuring he can't be defeated by tabling a ways and means vote that he knows the Bloc will support?

Anyway, there is that interpretation. Sure hundreds of things will happen this week to continue the intrigue, but who knows, it could all play out as above.

Conservative advertising hijinks: using taxpayer funds to support their message

The media are picking up on the new government ads that are running, the advertising in support of the government's "action plan." The new ads differ from previous ones put out by the government this year in that there's an additional messaging angle thrown in. There is, for example, an elderly man who states at one point in the ad that we have to "stay on track," with the clear implication that there should be no election. You can watch that part here (it occurs around the 1:25 onwards point).

This new advertising message is paid for by taxpayers to the tune of $5.6 million. It supports the Conservatives' present political argument that no election should occur this fall as it will interrupt the flow of action plan stimulus funds. In addition to the CTV report, the Globe picked up the story too:

While both the Conservatives and Liberals are now airing ads designed to prepare the ground for an election campaign, a new series of government ads – paid by taxpayers – appear to echo the anti-election lines that Conservative politicians have been using.

Tories like Transport Minister John Baird have argued an election would slow stimulus spending of infrastructure projects. The government’s new taxpayer-funded $4.1-million TV ad campaign to tout the stimulus package – purchased in August – airs commercials that include the tag line: “We can’t stop now.”

Here's a recent example of the government's messaging, Flaherty on Friday, which echoes the ad:

Canada needs to stick with the Conservative's stimulus plan in order to maintain the economy's "fragile recovery," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said Friday.

Despite signs of economic recovery, Flaherty said that Canada remains vulnerable to recessionary pressures, which could re-emerge if spending is cut off early.

"We have to complete the stimulus (and) make sure we have an entrenched recovery," he told CTV's Canada AM.

This argument that an election will harm our economic recovery is nonsense:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says an election would "screw up" the fragile economic recovery.

But that's not the view on Bay St. There, it elicits laughter.

"You believe that?" blurted Avery Shenfeld, senior analyst at CIBC World Markets.

National political campaigns are not a cause for concern on Bay Street, he said.

"We don't typically see a lot of financial market or business response to Canadian elections," which, Shenfeld noted, "don't tend to be revolutionary."

More here, "Economists say a federal election unlikely to derail Canada's economic recovery."

The Communications Policy of the Government of Canada includes this item, section 23 dealing with advertising:
Institutions must not use public funds to purchase advertising in support of a political party.
Action plan ads that incorporate the Conservatives' "stay the course" plea are quite arguably in breach of government communications policy. While the ads do not overtly support a political party, let's not kid ourselves, in their substance that's exactly what they are meant to accomplish.

Harper's contempt for political adversaries mirrored in present Republican behaviour

Update (7:50 p.m.) below.

An op-ed that provides some food for thought today for Canadians too as we witness the beginnings of what appears to be an electoral season: "The extreme Republican Party." It analyzes the Republican party's beliefs and how disconnected from reality they are, e.g. "...a majority of its followers either believe that President Obama was born in Kenya or aren’t sure, believe there is no such thing as global warming, believe that the House health care bill calls for death panels to euthanize senior citizens, and believe that Obama is responsible for our economic woes (61 percent!)." The author looks to other countries by way of comparison and wistfully notes that generally, there are "serious" parties in other democracies, unlike the present day Republican variety. One line stood out in this to me:
Let’s not mince words here: We now have an entire political party that is not only dedicated to the mediocre. It is dedicated to the nearly deranged.

We are long past the time when we can pretend there are two serious political parties in this country - one right of center and one left of center. That is the situation in virtually every other industrialized country. England has its Tories and Labor, France its Gaullists and its Socialists, Germany its Christian Democrats and its Social Democrats. These parties generally don’t agree on policy; they are, after all, political adversaries. But they are all serious, they all represent large constituencies and interests, and they all operate from a set of shared values, not least of which is that the other side is not treasonous or evil or ill-intentioned; it just has different prescriptions for solving problems. Typically, the differences between right and left in these countries are fairly small because in most democracies most people agree on the really big stuff. Even Tory leader David Cameron has vigorously defended England’s National Health Service.

But that is not the case here.
One could argue, having this week viewed the video of Stephen Harper speaking to his faithful where he spews epithets in characterizing his political adversaries that similar to the Americans, we too actually have a bit of a problem on our hands. The strain of illegitimacy that Republicans use in attacking their opponents is infesting our politics too. What else are we to think when we have a political leader who is caught on tape demonizing his opponents. Using ads to question the personal motivations of the Liberal leader, sinisterly impugning intentions. We have a leader who is actively trying to suggest to the Canadian people that a Liberal government is something to fear, that will cause "long-term damage." Who is putting to the Canadian public untruths, running ads that are patently false on this coalition issue. It's something to behold.

One other aspect of this column stood out, and while the Republicans are much more far gone in their disconnect from reality than Canadian Conservatives, there's a grain of truth here too:
The country needs a serious right-of-center party - one that has real ideas, one that can engage in a serious debate with the Democrats, one that has a sense of a larger national purpose beyond winning the next election, and one that can actually attract more Americans to its banner because it has earned their trust, not because it knows how to polarize.
The echoes are a little too eerie these days.

(h/t to a regular emailer for spotting this one)

Update (7:50 p.m.): Constant Vigilance adds perspective:
History has cycles. The reactionary energy built up during the 60's and unleashed by the ongoing economic shocks of the stagflationary 70's on aging Boomers was at it's peak during Reagan, Mulroney and Thatcher. The scars those three and others inflicted were bad enough but they set the stage for the nadir that was the Bush era and is the Harper embarrassment. Here is hoping that Obama represents the beginning of the end of this low in the current cycle. And that Canada can maintain the momentum in society's swim to the surface.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Post Harper-hidden-agenda-tape notes

Some reading material today for those inclined to believe that Harper's videotaped speech, revealed Wednesday night, is a non-event.

An editorial in the Star which conveys something that politicos may be dismissing too easily, that the rhetoric we saw from Harper is rarely shown in public. We may all believe that's the real Harper, move along, nothing to see here. Or perhaps we've caught glimpses on an issue or two, here or there. But we're not the target audience for the revelation of this, the full Harper on tape: "Harper's agenda: not so hidden."

Chantal Hebert on why the coalition rhetoric, mouthed by Harper with that hint of malevolent contempt in his voice during the video, may not actually pay off: "PM's horror stories might not pay off." Read her logic on the moving pieces and why the play isn't so neatly run this time around.

Josee Legault on the tape as Harper's return to his Reform roots and how that leaves a swath of room in the centre to occupy: "Harper is retreating to his Reform roots." Interesting fact pointed out in Legault's column too, almost 25% of voters marked down as undecided in the latest Nanos poll, a figure that's grown in recent weeks.

And this doesn't really fit with the theme above...but read Rick Salutin today, outstanding first line in his column, something that's been mulled over in my peanut brain this week yet did not make it into the form of a blog item:
Suck it up, Canada: What are we – shoppers or citizens?
It goes on from there, in praise of another election. Right on.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gilles Duceppe reminding Harper of his political past

Bloc leader Duceppe is bringing some clarity today to Mr. Harper's record in dealing in coalition politics:
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the video demonstrates the hypocrisy of Harper's approach to politics. He noted that Harper, as opposition leader, tried negotiating a deal with the Bloc and the NDP five years ago so that he could become prime minister.

``In 2004, Mr. Harper met me and (NDP Leader) Jack Layton at the Delta Hotel in Montreal to discuss a number of things,'' said Duceppe in an interview with the French-language LCN television news network.

``It was Mr. Harper who did this with those he called the `evil socialists' and the `evil separatists.' Today he's blaming others of supposedly doing this, which isn't the case.''

Duceppe also blasted Harper for criticizing opposition parties for allegedly negotiating ``backroom deals,'' saying that it contradicts what he did in the past and is causing Canadians to lose respect for politicians.

``He came to my office (as opposition leader) saying, `If I become prime minister, what would you like to see in my program to ensure that you'll support me and that I have a majority?''' Duceppe said.
Funny how Harper believes he can get away with demonizing coalitions that don't exist when he's actually been a key participant in a coalition effort himself with the exact same participants that remain on the political stage now.

Here's another reminder from Duceppe of Harper's views on minority government in a former life, when Harper was leader of the opposition:

That was Duceppe yesterday, sounding like he's putting the onus on Stephen Harper to make parliament work in the current maelstrom. Duceppe's point is exactly right, a point similarly made by Michael Ignatieff in his press conference today when he stated that in a minority parliament, it's the responsibility of the Prime Minister to make it work. If we end up in an election, it's this partisan Prime Minister who'll have brought us there, just as he has brought us our previous two elections.

Can we do better than Stephen Harper? Yes we can

Here's the six minute video version (see previous post for the short one). David Akin has provided a fairly accurate transcript of key parts from the video above. Here's Harper's pitch for why he needs a majority government:
That will be the choice. I hear rumours, these days, we may be going to an election. The next election will be a choice between higher spending and higher taxes or it will be a choice between a balanced budget and keeping taxes doing down. It will be a choice between cracking down on crime or returning to soft-on-crime policies. But most of all - it will be a choice between having a conservative government and not having a conservative government. And let me be clear about this: We need to win a majority in the next election campaign. I’m not just saying because we need a few more seats. We saw what happened last year. Do not be fooled for a moment. If we do not get a majority, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois will combine and they will form a government. They will deny this till they’re blue in the face in an election campaign but I guarantee you if we do not win a majority, this country will have a Liberal government propped up by the socialists and the separatists. That government may not last very long but every day it’s in office it will do long-term real-damage to this country. This country cannot afford a government like that. If they force us to the polls, we have to teach them a lesson and get back there with a majority and make sure their little coalition never happens.
Beyond the content of Harper's speech, which one could have a field day with, the tone Harper sets here is really educational for the Canadian public. This is behind closed doors Harper, the real Harper. This is how he sounds off behind closed doors about the enemy, the Liberals. The resentment and anger is palpable, coming through in spades when he ultimately says "...we have to teach them a lesson...and make sure their little coalition never happens." It's not very reassuring stuff to hear from a political leader.

The questions are obvious. How can you watch this and trust this Prime Minister to work in good faith with the opposition? (We learned yesterday on the EI issue, once again, that you really can't.) How can you watch it at the moment and think gee, the Liberals really should be working with this guy to avoid an election. How can you watch this and have any notion that this guy should be trusted with a majority government.

Just to comment on one aspect of Harper's speech, he criticizes the former Liberal governments for "subsidizing lawyers to bring court challenges on behalf of left wing fringe groups." This is a reference to his government's having done away with the Court Challenges Programme, a federal programme that has funded litigation on equality issues, going back to the original adoption of the Charter. The thinking was that groups who have expertise and can speak to the impact of a given law on their members should be represented at appellate court levels in Canada so they could contribute to the development of the Charter case law on equality. Otherwise, we would have had only private litigants who can afford it appearing before the courts. The case law that has developed over the last 30 years would have been much different without these groups' participation and Stephen Harper likely knows that.

One of the legal advocacy groups that has been funded in the past, for example, is the Women's Legal and Education Action Fund (LEAF). As their site notes, they've intervened in over 150 cases since 1985, many of them landmark and which have advanced women's rights in Canada. In acting on behalf of women and being funded by the Court Challenges Programme, however, to Stephen Harper this is "left wing fringe group" stuff. It's a great reminder for women in Canada about what Stephen Harper thinks of such advocacy efforts on behalf of women.

Maybe more later on other specific remarks but for now, the partisan poison and intemperate tone are what stand out more than anything. This is a Prime Minister showing how poorly suited he is to lead a minority parliament and he simply does not deserve a majority. You can't even trust that he's saying the same things in public that he is saying behind closed doors.

Stephen Harper behind closed doors (video)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Innovation: in-house letters to the editor

Letter to the editor oddity in the Globe today:
Arthur Milner (Rethinking The Inevitable – letter, Sept. 8) says that, if Michael Ignatieff defeats the government, with support from the other opposition parties, then the Governor-General “can ask the leader of the party with the second-largest number of seats to try to form a government.” If the Harper government is defeated on a confidence vote, it would be absolutely without precedent for a Governor-General to deny Stephen Harper’s request for dissolution and an election.

Norman Spector, Victoria
The oddity is not on the substance, Spector is probably right. The window for the Governor General to turn to the opposition leader to form a government without calling an election is thought by some to close around the six month mark. (Although one could see an argument being made to challenge that six month convention. It probably didn't arise out of a time period like the present where we're about to have our fourth election in about five years. At a time of significant national deficit. Such factors might cross a Governor General's mind, one might think. And it's not like Mr. Harper has been beyond making that argument himself. So it's not like it's 100% out of the question that she might say no. But that's probably all academic.)

So what's with the Globe publishing a columnist/blogger's letter like this anyway? Hogging the newsprint real estate, if you will. Seems off... was very nice of Spector to take the time to pen a letter. After all, no need to let that pesky little suggestion that there is no need for an election to remain unaddressed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Perfect timing, Democracy Watch holds Harper's feet to the fire

First the video, bit of a trend today, videos demonstrating the Prime Minister's hypocrisy...great question by, sounds like Paul Wells at about the 50 second mark by the way:

Notice how he becomes tonally more cautious and quiet when he's having to dial back a formerly strongly stated position.

And the news today: "Democracy Watch challenges Stephen Harper in court over election call." What a great and well-timed reminder of the Prime Minister's tenuous relationship with the rule of law as embodied in his breaking of his fixed election date last fall. Whether the Democracy Watch suit will demonstrate whether it's the letter or spirit of the law that was broken, the exercise of putting this issue before the courts is important.

We have a Prime Minister who came to office promising fixed election dates and whose rhetoric, along with his ministers, conveyed to the Canadian public that there would be no more mucking about with election dates. That's not what we got though. We saw a fixed election date law passed and then ignored. It's a terrible precedent for a Prime Minister to have set. It demonstrated disrespect for his own law and his word.

So good for Democracy Watch in challenging the Prime Minister in the courts, the issue deserves the lawsuit.

The many positions of Stephen Harper on election timing

From the archives and since the coalition saw is being hauled out by Conservatives...this video, below, of Harper speaking demonstrates how he ties himself up in knots with his various positions, depending on what's good for him at the political moment. The common denominator to all his positions is as follows: it's all about Stephen Harper.

The split screen is instructive. In December 2008, he wanted another federal election. Two months after the October 2008 election. Yet today, when the major opposition party has lost confidence in his government and has signalled an intent to vote against him, he's against having an election. It's too soon for the country to have one again. Despite the objective fact of Canadians having chosen a minority government that could lead us to an election at any time.

And the 2005 screen, where he speaks about working with opposition members to assume government without having an election is the opposite side of the coin. Further evidence of how flexible Harper is with his principles. He stated these words in April of 2005, meaning he was looking to form a government with the support of his opposition mates, the BQ and NDP, 10 months after the 2004 election. It was convenient for him to team up with the BQ & NDP then, so he did it. Not that the opposition parties are presently considering a similar movement, but on Harper's statements here, it seems they'd have his 2005 blessing.

Why anyone would trust Stephen Harper and his pronouncements about when the country needs an election and his coalition saber-rattling is beyond this Canadian...

Just for fun

That Franken guy is talented.

(h/t Hullabaloo)

Monday, September 07, 2009

The problem

From a Star report today on yesterday's ad release, reaction, etc., this part which really serves as background context nevertheless stood out:
"If Harper can't find one political party to work with him in Parliament, the government could fall soon after the Commons returns to work next week.

Canadians would be heading back to the polls just one year after last fall's election, which Harper provoked because he said Parliament was unworkable."
Thanks for the reminder.

Friday, September 04, 2009

It's Stephen Harper who brings Canada unnecessary elections

A must read op-ed, "Harper might get his '09 election," on the knots the Prime Minister has tied us all up in as a result of his forcing of an election last fall. It's really quite clarifying. As Professor Errol Mendes emphasizes quite effectively, it is the Prime Minister who brought us an election that Canadians didn't want or need last fall. And he reached to do so, claiming parliament was dysfunctional, creating his own excuse when his party was in fact the instigator of much of that dysfunction. He gave us an election in breach of his own fixed election date law which required that an election be held this fall, October 2009. So the person who has been playing games with Canadian elections is the Prime Minister. No one else.

It's almost as if events since then that have transpired are like fruits of the poisoned chalice. Following the unnecessary 2008 election came the Prime Minister's partisan fall economic update. Following that, even more controversial legal and constitutional crisis. This concerned the request by the prime minister to seek prorogation of Parliament to avoid the result of a non-confidence vote. Again, an ugly precedent was established which was heightened by the divisions in the country created by Harper demonizing the opposition coalition.

The prime minister now condemns the Liberals' decision to vote against the Conservatives in a future non-confidence vote. Harper asserts that Canadians are not eager to have an election and are not interested in political games.(emphasis added)
As Mendes notes, now would actually be the right time to have that election, not last fall. With major issues in front of us that have crystallized over the past year in particular, in the wake of the economic crisis, now would be the right time to choose which party will make decisions about health care, climate change, the nation's finances, etc. And we've gained significant knowledge in the past year about the "measure of the leaders" and parties we're choosing from. Last fall was the wrong time. Mr. Harper imposed that on us, interrupting the legal requirement of his own law and really, when you size up events over the past years, a natural order of events that would make this fall the best time for an election.

Even yesterday, Harper was quoted in response to questions on an election as saying, "This is not a game." Really? That's news to we who have been watching him play games with our democracy.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Old faithful

Games, games, games. It's all he knows:
``We will not be making any backroom deals,'' Harper said. ``If other parties have useful ideas - good, effective, affordable ideas - on the economy, let us see what they are and we will take a look at them. That's been our position all through this Parliament.

``People already know about the deal (last winter) between the NDP and the Bloc and the Liberals. People didn't like that. I don't think we want to go there.''

And, perhaps giving a hint of a prominent attack theme Harper and the Conservatives would use if there was an election, Harper accused the leaders of the three other parties in Parliament of being ready to revive the notion of a coalition government, an idea that polls showed was deeply unpopular when it seemed close to reality just before Christmas.

``We already know those guys have a deal and I don't want to get into that kind of game,'' Harper said. (emphasis added)
This is the Prime Minister of our country, speaking in fables. What else can one call it when he's saying something that he knows not to be the case? It's just not serious.

How can you trust a leader like this?

The latest petty partisan play

What a canard this latest Conservative rationale for no election is: "Election would kill home-reno tax credit: Tories." Leave it to the Conservatives to threaten yet again. You're going to lose X if you do Y.

In terms of timing, a fall election would leave plenty of time to enact that credit into law under a new government. It's to be claimed as a credit with peoples' 2009 returns to be filed in the spring of 2010. Have they forgotten the bright yellow envelope the woman waves around in their commercial? Message sent on timing.

And Liberals have publicly squashed the issue by indicating the credit would be supported under a new government:
"No matter what happens around an election, we support the home renovation tax credit — as we did when the budget was passed — and will ensure Canadians are able to claim the credit in their tax returns in 2009 no matter what. If we form government, there's plenty of time to pass legislation to ensure this happens before tax time," Liberal spokeswoman Jill Fairbrother said in an e-mail.
And there's more on the empty bravado of wielding this non-issue tax credit over the electorate:
“This is just a Conservative game,” Liberal finance critic John McCallum said. “We are 100 per cent committed to the home-renovation tax credit and will ensure the appropriate legislation is there so people get their tax credit.”

Toronto Dominion Bank chief economist Don Drummond, a former federal Finance Department official, said an election would create some “uncomfortable” uncertainty regarding the program. However, he says as long as the measure is ultimately approved by Parliament before the 2010 tax filing season, the credit would not be affected.

“If I was the Commissioner [of the Canada Revenue Agency], I would just stay cool and leave it in limbo,” Mr. Drummond said. “People won't be filing until February, March and April of 2010 anyhow. So I'd probably just say ‘Hey, I'm waiting to see what happens before the end of the year.' ”
So are there any real issues here that are actually worth discussing?

How about the Harper government's blatant incompetence in not ensuring the credit was passed at the same time the budget was in early 2009. Why might it have been left out at the time? Probably the wasted fall session, prorogation until the end of January. Instead of working through the fall, they ended up playing catch up to get that budget done. That might have something to do with the fact that the credit remains unpassed to date. Our long national hangover from prorogation vacation not quite over.

Then there are the ubiquitous television ads on the tax credit that we see, despite it not being law. What an irresponsible situation Conservatives have created that they now haplessly seek to profit from. And having these ads running while there are no ads educating Canadians on something a little more advertising-worthy these days, H1N1 information, is a striking fact.

Manufactured posturing over a non-issue tax credit. The gaming of the "dream scenario" sounds more like a tempest in a teapot.

(see also FarNWide)

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Conservatives suing Elections Canada...again

Wouldn't it be nice to have a government that wasn't constantly at war with somebody or something? Hmmm? Think it would. But news in the past day has uncovered more courtroom combat from the Conservatives in the form of yet another lawsuit against Elections Canada: "Tories take Elections Canada to court over GST rebate." You'd be hard pressed to find a Prime Minister who has sued the political institutions of government as much as this one. The Cadman litigation against the Liberals, the first in-and-out litigation case arising out of Conservative overspending in the 2006 federal election, now's like a hobby for Mr. Harper. So let's try to figure out where they are going with this little gem. As you will see below, it appears to be all about sticking it to the Liberals. Because, well, isn't everything for Mr. Harper?

In terms of the mechanical details here, this suit appears to be designed to increase the Conservative party's national spending limit during a campaign. They get there by arguing that after the fact GST rebates should be taken into account to reduce what a campaign's real expenditure numbers are. They are essentially saying if Elections Canada is going to refund us $600,000 after the election anyway, then the real cost of expenditures is also $600,000 less. This creates room to spend more. Further, the Conservatives say, since we therefore spent less on expenditures, then we got too much of a rebate from Elections Canada in 2004 & 2006 when they assessed us on the "too high" expenditures. So please take back X$ in excess rebate, Elections Canada. Oh...and go get the Liberals too.

So there are a few effects here...

One, their overspending in the 2006 federal election that they've been dinged for (the "in-and-out" spending scheme) may be less than the $1.2 million. Provided that the court accepts their argument here, in this new case.

But that's curious...why aren't they raising the above argument in the ongoing civil lawsuit they presently have going on against Elections Canada over the 2006 in-and-out scheme? Have they tried and were refused? Is that case going badly so they've launched this new lawsuit? Don't know. But at the end of the day they'd still be in breach of the national spending limit, albeit by a lesser amount. The appropriate penalties would still apply.

No, what this really may be about is attempting to financially hurt Liberals, who also received a GST rebate in 2004 and 2006. If the court here were to accept that the Conservative interpretation of the rules is correct, then the Liberals would possibly have to pay back what would likely be a sizable sum as well. (The NDP, the report notes, has not applied for a GST rebate). But perspective, there's no guarantee they will be successful in this litigation. The Chief Electoral Officer has already nixed the scheme. The Conservatives are climbing up hill in making this argument.

To sum up, hurting the Liberals while simultaneously increasing their own spending limit...that sounds about right in terms of Conservative motives and notions of equity. After all, what is all that money they're raising for if they can't use it to find more ways to break the level playing field of our national election spending limits?