Thursday, December 31, 2009

Supporting the motion: retract the power to prorogue

Dr. Dawg proposed this idea today:
Let the adjournment or prorogation* of Parliament be up to Parliament, not the whim of an authoritarian Prime Minister, abetted by a feudal monarch's assistant.
Given some rumblings from the Conservatives on the future use of prorogation as a routine matter, such a change would seem to be even more pressing to consider, for example:
Sources said Harper would like to make suspending Parliament before the annual budget a regular practice so the government can bring in a throne speech to give the economic message a wider context.
The crippling of our parliamentary system, a seismic change, would be what this little move would accomplish. There's no way of knowing if this was just rhetoric offered up by a Prime Ministerial spokesperson to provide cover for the Prime Minister's abuse of the tactic, widely documented as such. Regularizing it and spinning it that way sells it to the public as nothing to worry about, nothing to see here.

But the life of a parliamentary session is supposed to be contingent on the completion of its legislative work. That's an unknowable term at any time. Some sessions run for years in order to finish business. Setting a fixed time limit, an "annual" one on a session would throw a wrench into legislative deliberations, seriously crimping the time in which legislators have to debate, engage, work in committee. It would require a wholesale rethinking of how parliament works. In short, it's an alien imposition in a parliamentary system. At least, that's my first reading of it.

And on the thought that a Conservative controlled Senate might block such a move by the House of Commons, let's just contemplate the spectacle of the Conservatives embracing that tactic. The hypocrisy would be wonderful and while you can't put it past them, they'll have their difficulties in obstructing the Commons majority. It'll be more for the Harper anti-democratic narrative. It's building.

Such musings about increased exercise of prorogation are more evidence that our parliamentary system is viewed as something to be bent at the will of this Prime Minister, whatever is good for him politically, the rest be damned.

(h/t SG, thx)

Prorogation: the morning after

A survey of some reaction to the, how's it taking out there?

Prorogation, Part II: PM makes dodgy move:
Prime ministers have much overt and covert power at their disposal. But to use the Constitution as a convenience store — and as a means to buck the system or to duck accountability — is to debase it, something that doesn’t faze Mr. Harper.
The Globe's editorial is also worth a read:
For the second consecutive December, Stephen Harper is putting Parliament on ice. In the act, the Prime Minister is turning prorogation, a sometimes sensible parliamentary procedure, into an underhanded manoeuvre to avoid being accountable to Parliament. In the interests of political expediency, the government will diminish the democratic rights of Canadians.

Proroguing stops committee work and makes all legislation pending before Parliament vanish. Historically, it has been used when a government has implemented most of its agenda. Until Mr. Harper's innovation, it was not an annual occurrence; the last minority government to use it more than once was Lester B. Pearson's Liberal administration in the 1960s.
Canada's democracy should not be conducted solely on the basis of convenience for the governing party. If the debate over detainees cannot be carried out in Parliament, then it should continue among Canadians at large. On this and other important issues, the government cannot delay accountability forever.
Letters to the Globe are unkind to Mr. Harper's move. Great editorial cartoon here.

Jim Travers sets out one of the risks that Kady O'Malley was referring to on the National last night as well:
While Canadians struggle with recession's aftershocks, Harper risks being seen as more interested in maximizing a sporting spectacle Conservatives are doing everything possible to make their own.
The Bloc was raising that point yesterday (Translation):
«De donner les Jeux olympiques comme prétexte pour proroger le gouvernement, il faut être culotté pas à peu près», a rétorqué Michel Guimond. «Il ya des villages que je représente en Haute-Côte-Nord avec des taux de chômage de 22 à 24 %. Est-ce qu'ils s'attendent à ce que les députés aillent à Vancouver-Whistler suivre les Jeux olympiques ou s'ils s'attendent à ce qu'ils adoptent des mesures pour les aider», at-il lancé.
Will Canadians start asking those questions, hey, why aren't these guys doing their jobs if I have to throughout the Olympics?

Will unforeseeable events occur between now and March 3rd that will make the absence of parliament appear to have been an unwise choice? Will foreseeable events, such as those taking place in Afghanistan, pile on and make the parliamentary absence even more glaring?

Will the negative image of Stephen Harper, with this latest prorogation, become crystallized to a degree not yet seen before? Will that "arrogance" catch up to him after all?

These are unknowns that no one can control for, not even too-clever-by-half Stephen Harper. One can have the grandest plan on paper. Yet two months is a lifetime, many lifetimes in this political era. The unknowns may come back to bite him on this decision.

Early reviews do not appear to be good, the Globe editorial standing out quite prominently, reminiscent of their recent stances opposing the government's heavy-handed reaction to the detainee torture allegations. And such displays are notable. As governmental mechanisms of accountability are shut down by the PM, the media's ability to act as an instrument of public accountability becomes all the more important. I don't believe he can prorogue them.

Governor General's year end address

A few thoughts on the year end address from the Governor General that has, really, been overshadowed by the prorogation event of yesterday. This year end message is never really a big deal of an event, more of a pro forma thing but nevertheless, it does take on a bit of new meaning now. See below...

It's a hopeful message from Michaelle Jean, populated with idealistic expressions. She relates what she has been hearing from Canadians this past year and what their hopes are. She speaks of "solidarity," "an ethic of sharing," a fairer society, that is "more ecological," "more peaceful." Yes, that all sounds very good.

What's really timely, given the prorogation, is her statement that Canada has chosen to embrace the "luminous promise of the truth" in respect of our aboriginal schools history and the truth and reconciliation commission that will be travelling across the country.
It is Canada's desire to seek the truth and to make amends that makes it a symbol of hope for so many people around the world.
And you know, this is what a Governor General is for, right? Uplifting, idealistic inspiration from the person representing us all. It's hard not to listen to Jean and get that sense.

Yet in listening to that message, brief as it is and acknowledging that it is meant to be an idealistic statement, the word that comes to mind is "incongruent." Jean's words on what we are doing as a nation to reconcile historic wrongs are in jarring contrast to present reality, the history we are presently writing. What the government is doing in respect of the present truths it is responsible for does not measure up to any idealistic sense of what our parliamentary democracy should be about. What did it do when faced with torture allegations in Afghanistan? It won't tell us. We learn through leaks to the media and whistle blowers. The information is blacked out, the Military Police Complaints Commission is shut down, public servants like Peter Tinsley, the chair of that Commission, are dismissed, a respectable diplomat is attacked, and ultimately, Parliament is ignored and prorogued.

How wide is the gap between Jean's words and present day reality. The "luminous promise of the truth," eloquent as it is coming from Jean, seems to be for history, not the events we face today.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Prorogation: the sequel

It's quite the record this Prime Minister is building for the history books. Prorogation may be a power a Prime Minister can exercise. Whether he or she should exercise it and the circumstances in which they do it, that's what distinguishes Mr. Harper from his predecessors. Twice within a year, Mr. Harper has chosen to run from facing the music. Run and hide Harper, that's for sure. The anti-democratic narrative Stephen Harper is building for himself is remarkable. There's a huge opening for a Government 2.0 platform.

But back to today's events, it's not about a lone incident of a detainee getting beaten by a shoe, as Stephen Taylor and Laurie Hawn and Harvie Andre would have you believe. That's part of the spin, minimizing the Afghan detainee issue. It's about the Prime Minister's actions here and now, in Canada. This Prime Minister and his timid followers are defying a Parliamentary order. That's virtually unprecedented and it won't go away because Stephen Harper is booking off for the Olympics in order to wave flags. It's not clear at this moment how that order will be pursued but it's there, sitting on the books and Stephen Harper has chosen to close down Parliament rather than deal with it. Those are the facts no matter what the spin is.

Speaking of which, the political power of the Prime Minister as evidenced in polls is irrelevant to that basic parliamentary issue. It's a backdrop, sure, it always is when assessing Conservative actions, it's how they make their decisions rather than in the best interests of the nation. But within the halls of Parliament, contempt of an order is for Parliament to deal with, by its own rules. The fact that we have a government that chooses how to act on rule of law issues by their standing in the polls, that's an affront to the rule of law, yes. It's also an issue for the electorate to deal with in the future.

It's high times in Canadian politics, we have the spectacle of a Prime Minister that chooses to defy constitutional conventions, Parliamentary orders...because he has the grey room in parliamentary convention to do so and money and political power at his back.

We have to continue to work to defeat him, he's not good for the country, it's as simple as that.

Democracy optional

This news outfit is reporting it: "Tories want Parliament suspended until March." And Big City Lib believes it. Good enough for me.

Sure sounds like the Harper way. The going has gotten tough on the detainee issue. Time for this leader to run:
The Conservative government will ask the Governor General to suspend Parliament Wednesday delaying the return of MPs until the beginning of March, QMI Agency has learned.

Sources say the government is expected to prevent Parliament coming back on its scheduled return date of Jan. 25 so it can keep the House in recess until after the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

Dimitri Soudas, press secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would not confirm or deny the story saying only that "no decision had yet been made" with respect to proroguing parliament.

Preventing the return of Parliament until after the Olympics would effectively shut down all government committees, which would stop MPs from pursuing the Afghan detainee controversy until Parliament returned.
It's some kind of democracy we've got going on here. Just top shelf.

A PMO spokesthingy previously said parliament would return on January 25th. Things change I guess.

I wrote about this recently, I don't believe there's much chance the Governor General would refuse this request despite the argument she should refuse.

Bowie has catalogued the bills that would die, despite the incessant Conservative rhetoric we've been subjected to on their crime legislation. What a load of hooey that's been. Which we knew. Now they've just flat out admitted it.

In addition, throw in such matters as the government's inaction on the isotope panel's report. That likely falls by the wayside for three more months now, possibly more. No urgency from the government has been in evidence on that. Patients and hospitals bear the brunt, the government skates away from responsibility.

Stephen Harper, treating parliament as if it's his own personal plaything, to dismiss at his leisure while the rest of the world goes on working...there's no legitimate reason for it.

The pyrrhic victory of it all

From a year ender a few days ago, Stephen Maher captures the dilemma Mr. Harper's brand of politics leaves him in, a dynamic that will continue on into 2010:
He shows strength by refusing to respond to opposition and media concerns if they do not suit his agenda, and the many Canadians who have put their faith in him are not bothered by the cries of opposition MPs and commentators.

On the other hand, Mr. Harper shows rigidity, secretiveness, a zeal for control and a willingness to treat people roughly.

His government publicly slagged the diplomat in question and got rid of the head of the Military Police Complaints Commission, the arm’s-length body investigating his government — one of a number of watchdogs Mr. Harper has ditched.

Mr. Harper remains in control in Ottawa, a firm hand on the tiller, with the approval of many Canadians, in better shape at the end of the year than at the beginning, his back off the wall.

All the same, his hard edges make it difficult for him to broaden his base.
Just when he advances, post-piano playing, he crashes back down to standard minority territory on real, difficult issues such as Afghanistan, the environment. And despite 2010's promise of Olympic glory and reflected glow for Stephen Harper, there will be job promises to live up to ("...265,000 jobs by the end of 2010"), deficits to grapple with as stimulus spending ends and real economists press them for real plans. There also remains the other real, difficult issues that aren't going away in 2010, Afghanistan, the environment. When reality interferes with the best laid plans of this government's massive p.r. operation, that's when Mr. Harper et al. have problems. We need to keep pressing reality upon them.

And the other part of the equation needs to be solved, of course, that goes without saying.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Have you heard of Grooveshark? An online music service I've been taking to of late, as you can tell. Highly recommend if you like to listen to music while online, or on your laptop while travelling, etc.

The youth vote

This is a good idea:
Here’s what we need in 2010 — the youth to take over. Everybody is sick and tired, or at least they should be, of the eternal grip on power of the post-war baby boomer cohort.
Among our elected representatives, in the cobwebbed chamber that is the House of Commons, there is one guy with the potential to light a fuse.
Justin Trudeau, 38, is the politician who can change things. He is young, articulate in both languages, dashing, magnetic. Wherever he goes he draws a crowd. Charisma is a rare political gift. About one in 1,000 have it. He has it.
The Liberals should do all they can to showcase him. The youth vote is up for grabs in this country and the party that gets it will be the party on the move. It’s how Barack Obama won. As his campaign manager, David Plouffe, relates in his book, The Audacity To Win, what the Obama campaign did was change the electorate. It reached down below the boring baby boomers to the emerging younger cohort and awakened it.
That’s what has to happen here.
Of course there are no magic bullets and no one is likely to replicate the magical Obama campaign. It is true, though, that the youth vote looks very competitive for Liberals if you watch the polls. There's no reason not to go after it in a concerted way if a party has an asset like Trudeau. Going after the youth vote with him, that's a no-brainer to ramp up, moreso than it already is.

Silly Karl Rove

Watch silly, discredited, hyper-partisan Karl Rove on the underwear bomber:

Then read:
...there is no question about the legitimacy of U.S. federal courts to incapacitate terrorists. Many of Holder's critics appear to have forgotten that the Bush administration used civilian courts to put away dozens of terrorists, including "shoe bomber" Richard Reid; al-Qaeda agent Jose Padilla; "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh; the Lackawanna Six; and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was prosecuted for the same conspiracy for which Mohammed is likely to be charged. Many of these terrorists are locked in a supermax prison in Colorado, never to be seen again.

In terrorist trials over the past 15 years, federal prosecutors and judges have gained extensive experience protecting intelligence sources and methods, limiting a defendant's ability to raise irrelevant issues and tightly controlling the courtroom.
More on other prosecutions of terror suspects in the U.S. here. And on the specific point about getting information, it's well known that Ahmed Ressam, the "Millenium bomber," for example, cooperated with American authorities for a few years before clamming up. There are no guarantees about getting information, either way, through the court system or the military commission route. But with the stunning lack of success in the military commission system (with prosecutions), it's remarkable to hear Republicans still touting its merits, it's clearly all political for them. The generalities offered up by the likes of the discredited Rove politicos clearly need to be kept in perspective.

Update: And on this general topic today, a great letter in the Globe:
Permit me to offer a suggestion. The airline should designate a crew member as master at arms. He or she will select a dozen able-bodied passengers from those waiting at the gate. Those chosen will be issued truncheons; they’ll be boarded last and announced as they take their seats along the aisles. In the event of any terrorist action, the master at arms will call on them to subdue the perpetrator(s). Apart from added security, this will provide those flying the satisfaction of doing something apart from being patted down and herded like sheep.

Michael Egan, Pierrefonds, Que.

The Current political panel yesterday

If you're interested, here is the link to the Current's political panel yesterday with Warren Kinsella, Peggy Nash and former Mulroney cabinet minister Harvie Andre.

Harvie Andre almost made listening to it unbearable. Referring to an "opposition coup" last year, referring to allegations of "so called torture." Apparently this stuff has become mainstream Conservative talking point material now to the point that former Mulroneyites are getting in on it.

Andre also seemed to be laughing for a good part of the way through the interview. It's nice to have pleasant banter running through those things to lighten it up but come on.

Notably, at one point, Andre spoke glowingly about climategate as having thrown doubt upon the fact of global warming, as the underreported story of the year. I take it he was speaking with full approval of the Harper government, no one speaks as a representative of any party in these venues without approval. So that was interesting.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Harper PMO: In with the old

The Prime Minister's Office, dutifully doing the pressing business of the nation: "PMO mocks Ignatieff in internal email." Seems they've latched on to one answer given by Ignatieff during the many, many year end news interviews that Ignatieff gave to multiple media outlets. The many interviews that Ignatieff volunteered up were in contrast to the Prime Minister's controlled effort where he gave one puff interview to an English outlet, one interview to a French outlet.

So, their foe having provided miles of videotape, the PMO's video watching minions have apparently uncovered their latest "gotcha" moment. One response from Ignatieff on becoming PM that was less than to the PMO's exacting standards. You can see how laughable this is, coming from a PMO that refused to engage in similar media access by the PM. And that they're picking over the details, it's quite a telling story about how they spend their time. Attack politics, that's what they do.

It's also laughable given the PM's less than memorable year. He survived near defeat this past January. He doled out stimulus funds in a skewed partisan manner inordinately to Conservative ridings. He played the piano. He snuffed out debate on the Afghan detainee issue by defying a Parliamentary order for documents, by shutting down the Military Police Complaints Commission. He sat on his hands, for the fourth year now, on environmental action. What does he do as PM, that's the better question. How does he conduct himself. He's hanging on, in minority territory, what a year.

It's funny, the PM was touting the "Olympic spirit" that's about to sweep the nation in his year end Christmas message, speaking of winning Olympians becoming symbols of what the country represents. He really could stand to learn a thing or two from them, as alien as fair play and winning on merit seem as concepts. Instead, the ongoing negative attack preoccupation is what we get from his PMO. They're the dopers of the political world.

Then there's the whole issue of how this missive from the PMO warrants a news item in the national newspaper of record. No formal attack ads necessary, just print up the talking points, all linked up and let the media run with it. I mean, why bother paying anymore?

You're tempted to say that Liberals should be doing this style of media engagement too, some media are obviously willing recipients of such attacks and will promulgate them nation-wide for free. The question of what to do, how to deal with such attacks is an ongoing one. Should the Liberals be doing it themselves or just let such attacks sit, knowing that they just cement the negative image of the Prime Minister, hardening his base?

It's a larger question that needs to be addressed, the Conservatives are not relenting on such tactics and these attacks resonate with some, they wouldn't be doing it if it didn't.

Update (8:50 p.m.): And this too.

Update (10:45 p.m.): Greg has some advice.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday night

Lights of Toronto

A well done video from the Toronto Star, atmospheric music accompanying some of the highlights of the city's lit up self from the holidays. My much maligned city looks pretty good. My 'hood near the end, Bloor West Village.

Normal political blogging will resume any day now. Starting to itch.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Control freaks and new frontiers, sentiments of the season


Hope you're finished with Christmas shopping and planning and can move on to other things, with family or whatever you may be doing for the next few days. We Torontonians will be enjoying rain and freezing rain, no white Christmas. Nice.

If you're looking for political thinking today, there's Travers on the plight of the watchdog under Stephen Harper's tenure with some Christmas tidings on the PM:
Opposition parties, having experienced the madness of his methods, wonder aloud how far beyond silencing critics and suspending Parliament the Prime Minister will go to have his way. Even some Conservatives now refer privately to Harper as a control freak.
Now that's the Christmas spirit.

Lawrence Martin is feeling the season too, all optimistic about next year and what not. It is interesting the way he recaps the year, briefly, and notes achievements of Chretien, Martin but there's no comparable note of achievement for Mr. Harper that is cited, except the piano playing act. Interesting how that is all that is coming to mind to those looking back. Yes, what did he do, let us rack our brains. After mentioning Obama's year, Martin ends with this:
On Christmas Eve, such noble thoughts as that arise. It is the year's greatest day of anticipation, a day when the glimmers of optimism reach beyond the radiant faces of children to all ages. In 2009, we moved past the big scares. It was a year of survival. In 2010, more is promised. Recovery begins in earnest. New frontiers beckon.
It would be nice to think that 2010 will be better politically, with "new frontiers," as hard as that is to see given how the year is ending. But Martin's sentiment is probably a good end note for today.

Enough politics for now, seasonal music, but of course...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Break from the hum de dum

The votes are in

What's this we're reading? "Harper's steady statesmanship earns him title of Newsmaker of the Year." CBC reports on it too. Well, that's all very nice, but not surprisingly, in this corner you won't find a shared view of "steady statesmanship" from this leader. Should we be magnanimous in the spirit of the season? Maybe. But moving on...

Perusing the CP item, one can't help but have the overall sense that while the "honorific" is bestowed on Harper, there's enough offered as opinion to fairly say it's a begrudging choice. There's recognition of the political acumen, the resort to the international stage for the statesmanlike glow that can attract. Fine, give it to him on those scores. But there are enough reasons enumerated for the choice that aren't exactly glowing and continue to point out that ultimately, this is a vulnerable politician who can be beaten. I'm inclined to support the reasoning of Antonia Maioni who articulates the "default" position that Harper occupies. Until something better comes along, it's a vote/poll choice parking era for Canadians:
"It's been a quiet leadership," said Antonia Maioni, a political scientist at McGill University and director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

After brainstorming for highlights, the best she could come up with was "him playing piano at the National Arts Centre. If that's the only inspiration, we have a problem in terms of leadership."
...Harper also seemed to know instinctively when not to lead. He spent less time in the House of Commons this fall than his last two predecessors, according to statistics compiled by Le Devoir.

When the Afghan detainee controversy exploded in November, the prime minister chose to have his picture taken with the national lacrosse team rather than attend question period. He stayed out of sight for the bulk of the UN climate talks in Copenhagen this month, where Canada was vilified, leaving Environment Minister Jim Prentice to defend his government's environmental policies.

"That reflects a little bit about what Stephen Harper is able to do, to deflect and stay in power, by default," said Maioni.

For all of his foreign travel, Harper offered little of substance in terms of leaving a Canadian mark on world affairs, she added.

"It's good that he's getting out in the world, but he's certainly not a global presence. By association, Canada isn't either."
One more view of the default winner:
"Harper has been able to lead a country that appeared to vote Liberal by reflex and survive everything from accusations of partisan stimulus distribution to a war against the arts to war-crime charges," said Irene Gentle, news editor of the Hamilton Spectator.

"It looks like he did have a secret agenda - making you like him just enough to keep his poll numbers rising, in spite of himself."(emphasis added)
It's high times in Canadian politics, congrats to Mr. Harper, he wins! Imagine all the kids across the nation being inspired, maybe when they grow up they can deflect and stay in power by default too.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Prorogation miscellany: Private members bills, the GG


A few things on the rumoured prorogation. A PMO spokesman did deny it flatly last week:
Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, brushed it off as the rumor mill at work, saying "we don't speculate on that stuff, on what the government might or might not do."

"It's just a rumor, it's not grounded in any fact," MacDougall told Dow Jones. "The government has work to do, it has work to do in Parliament."

MacDougall said Parliament will return from the six-week Christmas break on Jan. 25, as scheduled.
So I guess we should take their word for it. Anyway...

Just in case you were wondering and wanted to know the impact a prorogation would have on any private member bills that are in the committee stage, e.g., the gun registry bill, the Standing Orders say they come back as is:
Private Members’ Business to continue.

86.1 At the beginning of the second or a subsequent session of a Parliament, all items of Private Members’ Business originating in the House of Commons that were listed on the Order Paper during the previous session shall be deemed to have been considered and approved at all stages completed at the time of prorogation and shall stand, if necessary, on the Order Paper or, as the case may be, referred to committee and the List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business and the order of precedence established pursuant to Standing Order 87 shall continue from session to session.
More for the wonks, the plain English version:
Prorogation of a session usually brings to an end all proceedings before Parliament. Unfinished business “dies” on the Order Paper and must be started anew in a subsequent session. The provisions of Standing Order 86.1, however, mean that prorogation has almost no practical effect on Private Members’ Business. The List for the Consideration of Private Members’ Business, established at the beginning of a Parliament, and the order of precedence, established pursuant to Standing Order 87, continue from session to session. Private Members’ bills and motions, including motions for papers which have been transferred for debate, need not be reintroduced in a new session as they automatically are deemed to have passed all stages completed in the previous session and retain the same place on the Order Paper. Thus, items placed in the order of precedence remain there. Items designated as non-votable maintain that designation. Private Members’ bills are deemed to have been adopted at all stages of the legislative process agreed to in the previous session. If consideration of an item at a certain stage had begun but had not been completed, the item is restored at the beginning of that stage, as if no debate had yet occurred. [2] Bills that were referred to a committee in the previous session are deemed referred back to the same committee. For the purposes of Standing Order 97.1, the deadline for reporting a private Members’ bill from committee is 60 sitting days following the day it is deemed referred to the committee, normally the first day of the session. [3] For ease of reference, all bills and motions under Private Members’ Business retain the same number from session to session.
So, there is no silver lining on a prorogation in this respect. And the upside of the wily tactic of wrapping the gun registry bill in a Private Members' cloak is demonstrated once again.

Secondly, just wanted to draw attention to the Star's op-ed pages in the last few days. They're pushing Lawrence Martin's theme of our democratic deficit along. Really, Jim Travers has been doing that all year, but they're getting a bit more intense of late. Note this piece from Professor Emeritus Reg Whitaker on Friday, indicting the Harper government's defiance of the House of Commons order on production of documents in relation to the Afghan detainee issue.
If the Prime Minister is actually considering proroguing Parliament in a desperate attempt to keep the lid on, suspicion will turn into certainty: This must represent a cover-up of serious wrongdoing.

There is no reasonable explanation of why the Harper government has gone to such lengths to suppress these documents, other than fear for its own political well-being. If it wishes to allay such suspicions, it can take up any of the available opportunities to provide transparency without endangering national security. If it does not, the public will have to draw its own conclusions.
Then there was Jim Travers' column on Saturday, "The year of governing secretly," which is also worth a read.

And thirdly, this piece today, "Harper acting as though he is an elected dictator" which some have picked up on. Siddiqui offers another brilliant contribution to the growing chorus of voices standing up loudly to Stephen Harper.
Stephen Harper is centralizing power in the PMO on an unprecedented scale; defying Parliament (by refusing to comply with a Commons vote demanding the files on Afghan prisoner abuse); derailing public inquiries (by a parliamentary committee and the Military Police Complaints Commission); muzzling/firing civil servants; demonizing critics; and dragging the military into the line of partisan political fire.
Culminating in this recommendation to the Governor General on a present day rumoured prorogation:
She should flat-out refuse and not repeat her mistake from a year ago, when she got rolled by him.
There's more that's worth a read there, Siddiqui paints the picture that essentially makes the case for the Governor General to refuse prorogation on the basis of abuse of power. But given that last year in arguably a much more egregious situation, she agreed to prorogation, it's hard to see that she would refuse this time. There's a strong convention that a Prime Minister's advice be accepted if he/she has the confidence of the House of Commons. Difficult as that may be to stomach given the conduct we're witnessing. Still, very interesting argument that can't be dismissed out of hand and it's encouraging to see these editorial pages putting the case out there.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday night

We win

(Ainhoa Goma/Oxfam International)

Just for fun...a shot of the Harper dummy, for lack of a better word, as he won the coveted prize at Copenhagen (click to enlarge). Captures a moment in time. It's not often that a Canadian Prime Minister is dummy-worthy at a major international event, after all. Although I do think the stubble effect is a little too pronounced.

Prentice now back home trying to sell the deal but the bad press continues:
Canadian negotiators, however, weren't invited to a meeting that included the U.S., China, Brazil, India and South Africa for the drafting of the final document. But Prentice said Canada didn't need a seat at the table for the 11th-hour bargaining session.

"Those were the countries that had to be in that room because the final issue that needed to be resolved was transparency in terms of the obligations by the developing countries," he said.

"Canada was not there because we are only responsible for two per cent of the world's emissions."

But Prentice's explanation did little to abate the criticism levelled against Canada during the two week U-N Conference in the Danish capital. Canada was bestowed with the dubious "Colossal Fossil" award by environmental groups during the conference. Canada was criticized by developing countries and environmentalists who accused the Conservative government of failing to make concessions to help reach a deal - and of relinquishing the country's historic role as a progressive on the world stage.
The country's historic role as a progressive on the world stage...that's exactly what we need to get back.

COP15 Highlights, day 12 - December 18, 2009

Just to finish off the series...

And the blogosphere has weighed in quite effectively on Canada in Copenhagen.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Friday night

The Crystal Method, we do love them very much lately, featuring Charlotte Martin. A song that got me through this week:) It starts up at about the 2 min mark and then, you're set.

And by the way, the holes in the's no comment on the week's events, any correlation entirely unintentional, the song is called "Glass Breaker" after all.

The steak grilling theory of international relations, busted again

Is someone living to regret those words yet? You know, the stuff about us grilling steaks with the US and the UK instead of making waffles with the middle powers. Just wondering, 'cause this week showed Harper's Canada to be in a decidedly secondary, subservient role at a major international event. Excluded from key meetings on the last day. Is this where Canadians want to be, on the outside looking in? Is this where we have to be? No, not at all. Hopefully this was a key moment for Canadians which crystallized what it means to be represented by this government on the world stage.

Now that an agreement of some sort has been reached, look for the Harper gang to lash themselves to it and spin furiously. Although it's not clear how much spinning they'll have to do:
...the agreement is not binding and does not set new greenhouse-gas reduction targets. Instead, countries are to set their own emission-reduction commitments, which would not be legally binding.

Those commitments will be the subject of further negotiation, with the aim of a final deal at next year's summit in Mexico. It's a compromise following 12 days of divisive talks that saw hopes dwindle as the summit's close drew near.
And just for fun, watch White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs intervene for the American press and get them in the meeting with the world leaders over Chinese objections, "no press, no press":

Update (7:45 p.m.): Just thinking about this more...China was clearly instrumental in obstructing and stickling. This is where Canada, having iced relations with China for the past four years, could have made a difference. Jean Chretien certainly wouldn't have had a problem reaching out to the Chinese to assist. Harper, however, clearly with no strong relationships having been built, was not really helpful at all. Canadians can judge that for themselves.

COP15 Highlights, day 11 - December 17, 2009

In which Hillary arrives and starts kicking ass (1:37 and following. Killer look at a reporter at 2:14). Various world leaders excerpted here as well, Gordon Brown, Hugo Chavez, Kevin Rudd, Angela Merkel. Somebody doesn't get an excerpt because somebody didn't speak.

Hillary's "deal breaker" comment, directed at China on the issue of transparency, occurs at 4:29, perhaps the biggest moment yesterday. Obama has arrived too, in meetings with other leaders now, and the transparency issue with China remains a problem. The New York Times reports on a meeting of the countries who are working on a political declaration:
Mr. Obama, who was scheduled to address conference delegates shortly after his arrival, instead went into a closed-door meeting with a group of fellow leaders to discuss a preliminary draft of a political declaration they hope to produce here. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao boycotted the session, prompting a public rebuke from President Nicolas Sarkozy of France.

Mr. Sarkozy said that China is holding back progress in the climate talks. Speaking just after the unscheduled meeting ended, Mr. Sarkozy said that Chinese resistance to monitoring of emissions was a key sticking point.

The countries represented include Australia, Britain, France, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Norway and Colombia. China was represented by a Foreign Ministry official.
An American negotiator, weary from a night of negotiations, expressed confidence early Friday that the talks would produce some form of an agreed declaration, even if it falls short of the ambitions of many delegates and lacks specifics on some of the toughest issues.
I suppose someone will tell Canada about that at some point.

Update: A few more tidbits on that Obama/leaders meeting referenced above:

Italy and Canada were the only G8 nations not invited to attend the talks. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is back home after being attacked by a protester earlier this week, suffering injuries that included a broken nose and a chipped tooth.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrived at the Bella Center, where the summit is being held, at around 9:30 a.m. local time with bloodshot eyes after attending a gala dinner hosted by the Danish Queen that stretched until two o'clock Friday morning.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

COP15 Highlights, day 10 - December 16, 2009

As you can see, the chair of the proceedings has changed now. And there's much frustration among delegations over a lack of progress. Where is that blasted text, anyway. Latest New York Times report sums it up, "Hopes Are Fading for Climate Accord at Copenhagen:"
On Monday, African nations briefly brought the climate talks to a standstill. China, by far the largest economic power in the group, has dragged its feet throughout the week by raising one technical objection after another to the basic negotiating text. And on Wednesday night, the group refused to take part in negotiations that conference organizers had hoped would produce a definitive negotiating text by Thursday morning. Instead, many Group of 77 leaders spent the day hurling accusations at wealthier countries.

President Obama and other world leaders have said that the Copenhagen meetings are unlikely to produce a binding treaty; some sort of interim political agreement is far more likely, they said. But few appreciated the depth of anger in the developing world and the height of grandstanding that would consume so much of the conference’s time. Now it is hard to find someone who confidently predicts even that much success.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

COP15 Highlights, day 9 - December 15, 2009

The Governator graces the Copenhagen Conference. Come a long way since his days of driving multiple Humvees. There's a shot of Premier Gordon Campbell at the 4:00 min mark, in the audience during Ahnold's speech. Seems to be blackberrying, like a good Canadian.

The Obama watch:
Mr. Obama has been talking with a number of foreign officials in advance of his arrival here on Friday, the last scheduled day of the conference. He has spoken with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Ethiopia and Bangladesh since Monday, hoping to find a way to bridge the differences between the developed and developing countries that have divided this effort for years.
They seem to be looking at July as a date for a new treaty, but a deal on protecting forests seems to be the big news that is being applauded.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Subliminal Big City Lib

So, reading along and whoops, there it is...what gives? He's in our subconsciousness, everywhere:)

Update: Big City Lib was just on CBC Politics, this was likely the reason for the email address above. It wasn't subliminal advertising after all. Too bad.

Update II (8:25 p.m.): This incident today involving the Liberal website and the picture that was taken down spawned a lively debate for a bit on twitter tonight about civility in politics, etc. It's a topic worth pursuing. I wish the silly picture had not been posted because it detracts from a Liberal argument on raising the level of discourse, which I do believe is a legitimate one to make. There is one political party who has spent millions since the election of Stephane Dion as leader of the Liberal party, onwards into the Ignatieff leadership, to personally attack and destroy their political viability. There is nothing that has been done, comparable in recent political history in Canada, on that scale. So let's keep today's incident, unacceptable as it is, in perspective and not wave the "equivalency" flag too broadly as a result. There may have been some equivalency as between the photo today and the bullet ad run online by the Conservatives, but in the bigger picture, there's just no comparison. That's not to excuse at all, parties need to inspire Canadians and put aside such idiocy, no question.

Anyway, some quick additional thoughts, that's all. There's much more worth pursuing, notions of responsible citizenship, for example, but maybe for another day.

COP15 Highlights, day 8 - December 14, 2009

Sunday, December 13, 2009

COP15 Highlights, day 6 - December 12, 2009

Listen to the Minister of the Environment for Sweden, then try to picture Jim Prentice conveying a similar sense of conviction on the issue. Try hard...but bet you can't...

Update: The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister speaks on emissions reductions and how the world will know the cuts are occurring:

The minister drew a similar line when asked about international monitoring of emission efforts. Whether China will allow outside verification has become a serious sticking point in the talks. U.S. lawmakers say they distrust China's vows to slash the growth of global warming pollution, yet China so far is refusing to allow outsiders to inspect its system.

"It's a matter of principle," He said.

China, he said, is willing to announce the results of emission efforts in a series of reports, "so there is no problem with transparency."

This guy should get along famously with Prentice...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday night

Investigation at Public Works...but no details permitted

Once again, an example of the Harper government in action that calls into question their commitment to some basic democratic principles such as transparency and access to information: "Public Works reveals 'wrongdoing' after probe." We learn, because the government finally deigned to tell us, the following, but don't ask any questions about it, it's a Kafkaesque enigma that apparently we'll just have to trust them on:
The whistle blower, according to the government, made founded allegations that an employee at Public Works and Government Services Canada “was in a conflict of interest position as a result of a relationship with a private sector firm that was doing business with PWGSC.”

The whistle blower also alleged “there was favouritism in awarding that firm contracts through a standing offer,” which is a system under which a company can get a large number of federal contracts after qualifying as a supplier. The value of the contracts now under review is in the $400,000 range.

In the statement posted on its website, Public Works said that “disciplinary measures were invoked and the employee is no longer employed by PWGSC.” In addition, the government said it is reviewing past contracts obtained by the company to determine whether it provided value for money to taxpayers.

A Public Works official refused to provide the name of the employee or of the company involved in the investigation. Public Works said on its website yesterday that it is in the process of “finalizing a guideline on ‘Ethical Relationships' between employees, vendors and suppliers.”
I can't even confirm or deny that there is an investigation, or even discuss under what law I'm not allowed to talk,” a government official said last month. The silence emanating from Public Works was in sharp contrast to previous instances when the department boasted that it had referred matters to the police, as it frequently did at the time of the sponsorship scandal. (emphasis added)
The poor official can't even discuss "under what law I'm not allowed to talk." That has to be a nominee for a quote of the year, somewhere. So, I think there are at least a few questions here...

The value of the contracts under review is in the $400,000 range. Is that a sum total of the value that's at issue or is it that each contract is in the $400,000 range? And how many "past contracts" and over how many years is this thought to have been occurring? This is described in the piece as a "massive investigation" after all, there must be more to it than $400,000. And note the reference to the sponsorship scandal above. Imagine if that had been completely swept under the rug in the manner that the Conservatives are trying to do here, for some reason.

Why are we not entitled to know the name of the employee or the outside company? What's with all the hush hush? This is still a democracy, right? We want to protect whistleblowers, yes, under Public Service legislation, but that doesn't mean the government gets to escape all accountability by completely hiding details which give a sense of the wrongdoing, who was at fault, how it occurred, how has the problem been fixed, etc., etc., etc. Did the dismissed employee have ties to the Harper government? Or does the outside private sector firm at issue have ties to the Harper government? Is that why all the secrecy? If we aren't told, how are we to know? The flimsy, courtesy after-the-fact disclosure of vague details doesn't permit any legitimate scrutiny.

COP15 highlights, day 4 - December 10, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Give the kids a look

The young Liberals are at Copenhagen, here's their first video. Here's a site at which you can follow along too.

(h/t Pushed to the Left & Loving It - excellent blog title, btw)

Democratic struggle in the House of Commons

Kady O'Malley has been chronicling the fight that has now erupted between the House Law Clerk and the Department of Justice over the issue of production of documents to the Afghan Special Commons Committee: "House Law Clerk to DOJ: Right backatcha!" See also: "The DOJ's response to House Law Clerk."

Essentially it comes down to the government's view that it is entitled to withhold evidence from the Commons Committee on the basis of a national security claim. They derive that basis out of sections 37 & 38 of the Canada Evidence Act (whose merit is a whole other story and now has been proven to be dangerous in the hands of a government that does not respect parliamentary conventions). Both the Law Clerk and the Department of Justice, however, seem to agree that sections 37 & 38 of that statute do not legally apply to the House of Commons or its committees. So it is a political argument the Conservatives are making, one grounded in convention that "...injurious information should not be disclosed in a parliamentary setting." So they accept that the statute doesn't apply, it's just the convention underlying it that is connected to national security that nevertheless allows them to block the information. At least, that's how I'm reading the arcane arguments over parliamentary privilege.

The House of Commons has now gained a strong hand by passing a motion by a vote of 145-143 to require the production of the following documents:
That, given the undisputed privileges of Parliament under Canada's constitution, including the absolute power to require the government to produce uncensored documents when requested, and given the reality that the government has violated the rights of Parliament by invoking the Canada Evidence Act to censor documents before producing them, the House urgently requires access to the following documents in their original and uncensored form;
all documents referred to in the affidavit of Richard Colvin, dated October 5, 2009;
all documents within the Department of Foreign Affairs written in response to the documents referred to in the affidavit of Richard Colvin, dated October 5, 2009;
all memoranda for information or memoranda for decision sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs concerning detainees from December 18, 2005 to the present;
all documents produced pursuant to all orders of the Federal Court in Amnesty International Canada and British Columbia Civil Liberties Association v. Chief of the Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces, Minister of National Defence and Attorney General of Canada;
all documents produced to the Military Police Complaints Commission in the Afghanistan Public Interest Hearings;
all annual human rights reports by the Department of Foreign Affairs on Afghanistan; and
accordingly the House hereby orders that these documents be produced in their original and uncensored form forthwith.
Given the Conservatives' intransigence and the Department of Justice's position that is enabling them, it'll be interesting to see the power struggle that will now play out. The House of Commons and its Law Clerk are on one side, the government and the Department of Justice on the other. They are at legal loggerheads now, legitimately or not, and it's going to take strong political will on the part of the opposition to push this. The government's not moving, to date. We'll see what they do now that they're faced with this Commons indictment of their position. If they don't respect it, we're in dangerous territory.

COP15 Highlights, day 3 - December 9, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

"Imposters only interested in garnering votes"

The "Human Rights Hypocrisy" of the Prime Minister, on full display during his recent foray to China is duly noted, deconstructed and exposed for the unsubstantiated posture it really is by Professor Errol Mendes. Shamefully excerpted in full, it's a good quick read:
Even as the controversy over the torture of transferred Afghan detainees rages at home, Stephen Harper is jumping on the human rights bandwagon internationally. The prime minister has been preaching human rights to the Chinese in Beijing and Shanghai, and condemning past Liberal governments for having a “values-free foreign policy.” This is astonishing for a leader who advocated that Canada join George W. Bush’s illegal war in Iraq, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians perishing both during and after the U.S.-led invasion.

While the Harper government uses the language of human rights to get votes back home, previous governments under Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, and Paul Martin worked privately with Chinese leaders to seek the release of political prisoners, while publicly talking about how the rule of law and human rights would benefit the development of China’s society and economy.

It is equally astonishing for Harper to talk about a values-based foreign policy when he is the sole leader in the western world who has failed to request the return of a citizen from illegal imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay. The detention of Canadian Omar Khadr, held at Guantanamo since his capture as a child soldier, is a gross violation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, a global human rights treaty championed by former Conservative leader Brian Mulroney. Yet it does not seem to bother the sensitivities of the present Conservative leader. The hypocrisy continues with the cancellation of all funding for Kairos, one of the most active Canadian human rights organizations internationally.

Such hypocrisy should come as no surprise. The same actions are evident at the domestic level. While overdue apologies were given for the trauma suffered by generations of First Nations individuals in residential schools, the hard won agreement to establish fundamental social and economic rights for the same First Nations in the Kelowna Accord was killed by the Harper government. While the prime minister praised the democratic and human rights traditions of India during his recent visit there, back home his government cancelled the Court Challenges Program that helped minorities afford access to the protections of the Charter and cut the equality mandate of Status of Women Canada.

To burnish their newfound values-based foreign policy and garner the Jewish vote in Canada, the Conservatives are now attempting to taint opposition parties with anti-Semitism in their international activities through propaganda flyers filled with distortions of the truth. It is beyond tawdry and despicable that these attacks are aimed even at world renowned Jewish MPs such as Irwin Cotler, who is leading a global fight against the Iranian leader’s genocidal talk against Israel.

Thankfully, those who are true champions of justice recognize when the language of human rights comes from the mouths of imposters only interested in garnering votes.
With their record, the fact that the Conservatives nevertheless present themselves under the rubric of being human rights advocates is audacious, a mark of a government willing to say anything, despite that very jarring contrast with their record. They count on Canadians not being able to get past their sloganeering, the Prime Ministerial speechifying that garners such attention on trips abroad. It's pure political calculation, saying one thing publicly, undoing decades of Canadian leadership on human rights issues behind the scenes.

Being first

This seems to be cropping up as a minor political consideration today, the jockeying between Liberals and NDP over issues and the territorial markings of each party on who is first on the given issue. Note the NDP press release on pension reform where they accuse Liberals of stamping their name on Jack Layton's baby. Note the NDP press release calling for Peter MacKay's resignation and some concern that Liberals aren't moving fast enough on such calls.

Let's also throw into the mix the fact that the NDP were the first to call for a public inquiry on the Afghan detainee issue of late. And Olivia Chow was probably the first to call for an ethics investigation into Lisa Raitt and the Toronto Port Authority allegations about the improper fundraising out of that federal body.

I used to have a graphic I used on the blog to mark the occasions where the NDP jumped in front first on an issue, it was a jack in the box but I stopped using it because really, it was childish. Fun. But childish. Anyway, this is what I wrote in October 2007 on this issue:
Was just finishing my post on Harper's politically driven decision to form this Afghanistan panel to take the issue out of the electorate's hands...when who do I hear who has phoned in to CTV Newsnet to speak on the matter? Why yes, it was Jack Layton, affirming his conduct of late which seems to amount to the following: I'm first to respond, I'm quick, I'm available. Elbowing out anyone else so that he can say the NDP is first, we have a position, pick me, not the other guy. Political optics always a primary consideration for Jack these days.
A little crude, but the point is that this dynamic is not new and as far as I can tell, the overall political situations of the parties, polling wise, have not shifted.

On the detainee issue in particular, where the NDP, Liberals and Bloc have been working well together in holding the government to account, the me-first jockeying can come off as unseemly. Is there some glory in having been first in calling for a public inquiry when, of course, the other parties would be calling for it too? Is it legitimate to get your political wings out of that? And now the credit is to be somehow granted to the NDP if - in the very unlikely event - MacKay were to do the decent thing and resign? Unlikely. The official stamp of being first is partisan irrelevance and excess on that issue, at least in my view. If MacKay were to resign, I wouldn't think twice about who demanded it first. (We could indeed get picky and point to Liberal bloggers, for e.g.) But this issue is still unfolding, there's nothing imprudent about holding back on that resignation call. When the chorus grows publicly, that just results in the PMO digging in. So nice optics but what result will you achieve? It's a duty in the parliamentary system to call for a resignation...but there are no such reciprocal thoughts that will come from the Harper Conservatives. So what will come of the call?

Further to this point about being first, on the Chow call for an investigation into the Raitt/TPA fundraiser, Chow may have been among the first to be calling for an ethics investigation on that issue, but it was Paul Szabo who did heavy lifting in filing copious written support to four commissioners of Parliament on the issue ("Szabo, the chair of the parliamentary ethics committee, filed a 42-page document questioning..."). Two investigations have resulted now, Ethics and Lobbying, undoubtedly due to both Liberal and NDP complaints, yes, but Szabo's work was likely instrumental. Happy to be proven wrong if someone can show me comparable detailed evidentiary submissions to the Ethics and the three other Commissioners on that issue from the NDP. All I know of is a brief letter by Chow.

On the pension thing...I suppose the Liberals should just cede the issue then to the NDP and sit quietly in the background? You see how ridiculous the topic becomes?

If the NDP are constantly intent on being first on issues, that's something Liberals might consider factoring in to their daily political machinations for the sheer optics considerations that it presents. But the overall work and stance on the issues are likely what's going to be important in the long run.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Spin for free

Here it is, the message the Harper people would like you to hear going into Copenhagen: "Harper will push for binding deal at Copenhagen, aides say." That's the rather remarkable headline, based on Harper's surprising and atypical rhetoric over the weekend and that of his advisers whispering in the background. In other words, could be a lot of hot air:
"The world needs a climate-change deal," Harper said in Shanghai on the weekend during his visit to China.

"The world wants a climate-change deal, so I will remain very optimistic that everybody's moving in the right direction and something will come together in Copenhagen. It may not be everything that everybody wants, but it's important that we make progress."
"We have to have a deal. We can't just keep putting it off to the next summit," one of his closest advisers said.
And for good measure, one of Harper's "closest advisers" throws in with the hacking email thieves:
"One or two scientists fudging data doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist. It's real," said one of Harper's closest advisers.
See how he has it both ways there?

So what's going on here? Of course, none of this sudden burst of environmental talking point enthusiasm squares with the Harper record, which gets a brief mention:
The Harper government rejected the Kyoto Protocol and, despite promises to do so since being elected in 2006, has yet to implement regulations to force Canadian polluters to cut greenhouse gases.
For almost four years, Harper has been sitting on his hands and leaving everyone hanging, from businesses who want certainty in order to act, to the Canadian people who want action. The Harper record doesn't bespeak a government impressed with the need for a climate-change deal at all. So who can blame a person for being skeptical about Mr. Harper's sudden rhetoric?

It sounds very much like they've made a political calculation now about the likelihood of a deal being made and they're hedging their bets. If there's a deal, such posturing allows them to minimize the laggard image and go along for the ride. If there's no deal, they sound like they tried.

Update: More here on the Harper record, despite the happy face rhetoric above.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


It's a day of remembrance for the 20th anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique shootings of 14 young women on December 6, 1989. It's also a day of contemplation about the gun registry repeal that is the present political backdrop, the two are intermingled today. Here's an excerpt from one of Le Devoir's series yesterday on the gun registry fight that is not being given up:
Circonstance étrange pour un anniversaire spécial. Le malaise? Le 20e du drame de Polytechnique survient au moment où le principal héritage de l'événement — le registre des armes à feu — joue sa survie politique à Ottawa. Et cette épée de Damoclès, Heidi Rathjen s'en serait vivement passée.
«Quand on pense aux victimes et aux familles des victimes, celles qui croient en cette loi et qui la considèrent comme un monument à la mémoire de leurs filles parce qu'elle sauve plus de vies que celles qui ont été perdues cette journée-là, c'est vraiment une claque dans la face», estime Heidi Rathjen, en analysant les événements des derniers mois.

Selon elle, les critiques émises à l'égard du registre manquent la cible: «Ce n'est pas parce que je dois enregistrer ma voiture que je suis traitée comme une criminelle... Ça n'a rien à voir. Tous les corps policiers du pays le disent: le registre est un outil essentiel. Dawson a prouvé qu'il y avait des améliorations à apporter. Mais ça ne voulait certainement pas dire de tout détruire

Le dernier rapport annuel de performance du registre démontre d'ailleurs que la base de données accessible en ligne est abondamment consultée: plus de 3,4 millions de fois en 2008 (soit 9300 par jour). La plupart des consultations visent à vérifier si une personne détient un permis d'arme, mais cette base de données permet aussi aux policiers de s'enquérir de la présence possible d'une arme dans une maison avant d'y faire une perquisition.

D'après le criminologue Jean-Paul Brodeur, de l'Université de Montréal, on ne peut juger l'efficacité du registre en considérant seulement les événements qu'il ne permet pas de prévenir. «On n'entend pas parler du registre chaque fois que des policiers s'en servent pour une intervention. Et si on prévient ce qui aurait pu être une Polytechnique-2, il y a bien des chances qu'on ne le sache jamais: comment déterminer l'ampleur d'un drame avant qu'il ne survienne?», demande le professeur.

M. Brodeur estime lui aussi que le projet de démantèlement du registre est «une mesure électoraliste qui n'aidera en rien à la sécurité des Canadiens. Ça vise à satisfaire une base électorale dans l'Ouest et dans les milieux ruraux».

Heidi Rathjen reconnaît aujourd'hui avoir peut-être «sous-estimé la force du lobby des armes». Mais elle prévient: «Le registre est devenu un symbole pour les proches des victimes de Polytechnique. Nous avons fait beaucoup de progrès, mais il en reste à faire. Les armes semi-automatiques sont toujours autorisées. L'arme utilisée par Marc Lépine est toujours autorisée. Et nous ne lâcherons pas cette lutte.» (emphasis added)
Another good piece is here, from a Montreal reporter who was there on the scene that night who captures the emotion of the loss of those young women:
The women massacred at the École Polytechnique would be in their 40s now, most of them. Like all of us, they would be wondering where the time has gone. There would be aging parents to worry about, divorces, estranged friends, golden children who in adolescence become impenetrable as granite, walled off behind their iPods and their Xboxes, no longer part of our world.

And there would have been triumphs, solid careers, remarkable stories. These women did not get to where they were, students in a field that was then and still is heavily male, without being extraordinary human beings. Some like my friend, would have become highly successful engineers, their careers all but unimaginable 30 or 40 years ago. Others would have found a middling level or left the business all together.

The events of Dec. 6, 1989, happened in another century, another millennium, yet they are as close as yesterday or tomorrow. A December morning like any other, students preparing for exams, starting Christmas shopping, making travel plans for the holidays. An ordinary day rendered unforgettable in the worst possible way.

Life goes on. For many of the living, it is never quite the same. We light candles but the tiny flames will not bring them back. We mark the date. We remember the cold and the rain turning to snow, the ambulances waiting. We remember 14 young lives, interrupted.
Most of us remember where we were exactly when that news happened. Today's a good day to share that, maybe with someone who is too young to be able to remember, or with anyone who may have forgotten what today is.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Ibbitson debunked

Quite the material here from John Ibbitson: "Scoring in China – without prostituting ourselves." Two of the main pillars of Ibbitson's paean to the Prime Minister are wrong, however.

On the "scoring in China" thing, Ibbitson writes this:
The Chinese granted Canada permission to market group tours of Chinese citizens to Canada – a privilege that other nations have long enjoyed, but that our country has been unsuccessfully seeking for a decade.
Really? (To use an enthusiastic David Akin turn of phrase.) That's just not true:
"Canada Granted Approved Destination Status by Chinese Government, BEIJING, China, January 21, 2005."
If Mr. Harper hadn't sat on his hands for four years, that might have been finalized long, long ago. Seems like a pretty glaring error for Mr. Ibbitson.

On the "without prostituting ourselves" score, here's what Ibbitson writes:
How to balance trade and human rights on the China file has baffled every Canadian government. Most just caved, shoving the issue aside. Mr. Harper believes he can promote both.
Yet check out Paul Wells from last night, with a 2001 Chretien speech in Shanghai (excerpt):
“Of course, the rule of law is about more than just a dry set of rules. The rules themselves reflect fundamental values of right conduct.

“The Canadian experience, and that of countries around the world, is that these values, and the rights that make them specific, are universal. They are endowed equally to all people, everywhere. Not on the basis of any special power or privilege, but purely and simply because they have been given the gift of life.

“That is why we call them human rights. And they not only protect individuals from abuse. They empower them to contribute fully and creatively to building a stronger society.

“Canada believes that frank discussion among nations about human rights can foster wider respect for and entrenchment of those rights. That while circumstances and experiences may vary from nation to nation, we all share a sense of what is just, what is right.

“True friends are never shy about exchanging views on important issues.

“And so, as a friend, I must tell you that Canadians are concerned when they hear reports from China of interference in the right of free expression. Or that people are imprisoned and badly treated for observing their spiritual beliefs. These reports transgress our most deeply-held convictions…”
Doesn't sound like caving to me.

With columns like Ibbitson's, who needs to buy ads? Just remarkable.

Kudos to the debunkers.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

More stimulus truthiness to follow-up

As a brief follow-up to my post last night on "Stimulus progress truthiness" and the news that the Flaherty machine is supposed to tell us today about all the wondrous jobs being created on this basis:
...1,390 - or 43 per cent - accounting for $1.4 billion in federal funding have moved beyond the announcement stage and have started work, Chris Day said.

The government considers a project to be underway as soon as it is put up for tender, he added - so the public may not see construction crews at work, but new jobs will be created through design and engineering.
Received this email on that point, which others are free to follow-up for themselves as background to Flaherty's numbers today:
as a general rule, design and engineering is less than 10% the cost of a construction project, perhaps as much as 40% for software.

you might be able to find the exact averages at PMI (Project Management Institute)

In other words if the government has started construction on 10% of projects, then the most they have spent is about 10%.