Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday night

More from Massive Attack, still listening to this new one. Can't decide which of the two I like better, so there you go. Have a good night.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Harper's respect for Parliament failing another test

It looks like all of the opposition parties will oppose the appointment of Gérard Latulippe to head the embattled Rights & Democracy group. Yet the Harper government is obliged to consult with Parliament on the choice. So the question: will that requirement to consult mean anything, substantively, to Stephen Harper's practice of minority government?
The federal government is obligated to consult with Parliament, aka the opposition, on Latulippe's appointment, but that doesn't mean that the other parties have a veto, or that Latulippe need be subjected to some kind of confirmation hearing.
It should mean something. But it likely won't. That requirement was clearly placed in the law which created the group in order to encourage the selection of a nonpartisan leadership choice. Such quaint requirements in Canadian law, meeting their match these days in the form of the Harper government who care not a whit about the intent of such provisions.

Gilles Duceppe even went so far as to suggest a number of choices yesterday for consideration, including Flora MacDonald, Joe Clark and Barbara McDougall. They're all likely too independent minded for a Harper stamp of approval though. This government is, at the end of the day, unreasonable. They don't do reason.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Elections Canada appeals the in-and-out ruling

This news was pretty much expected, no matter who won the lower court ruling regarding the in-and-out advertising litigation that's been going on since about 2006: "Elections Canada appeals ruling that OK'd Tory ad spending in 2006 campaign." From the preliminary report, which doesn't contain any Conservative reaction, but we can guess as to what that might be:
Elections Canada is appealing a court ruling that rejected its claim of illegal spending by the Conservative party during the 2006 federal election campaign.

Federal Court Judge Luc Martineau last month dismissed the watchdog's allegation that 67 Tory candidates illegally claimed advertising costs that should have been reported as national campaign expenses.

The ruling allowed the Tories to dodge the prospect of having illegally exceeded their national campaign spending limit by more than $1 million.

However, Elections Canada says it will appeal, arguing that campaign spending limits will be rendered meaningless if the ruling is allowed to stand.
That last part is the nub of it and a principle worth pursuing. Elections law experts have found over time that Canadians support spending limits in our elections regime as opposed to the American system which is becoming an unrestrained corporate playground. Do we want an elections regime where the party with the most money has the loudest voice or do we want an equal playing field? That's what the in-and-out challenge represents, a test of that principle. Theoretically, the in-and-out game could net a party millions in election spending advantage over other parties. How that situation might be allowed to stand when our Elections Act contains national party spending limits is the big question.

This case is likely to make it to the Supreme Court of Canada so it is far from over.

As for the Harper government, I would expect them to respectfully defer to Election Canada's right of appeal, Elections Canada being an independent institution of government and all. After all, Lawrence Cannon was instructing Afghanistan just yesterday on the need to respect electoral institutions:
“While we have yet to receive the official translation of President Karzai’s decree amending Afghanistan’s electoral law, we are troubled by early reports that the decree could diminish the level of independence of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). A strong and independent ECC is vital for the future of a democratic Afghanistan, and any efforts to weaken this body are disturbing. (emphasis added)
Probably wishful thinking. What's more likely is that the government is preparing to launch another attack on Elections Canada's impartiality. But I guess we shall see.

Update (6:50 p.m.): The Citizen updates its report with a bit more detail of the appeal, including that 30 errors in the judgment are alleged. Still no reaction from Conservative land.

Update (6:55 p.m.): Here they are:
Conservative party spokesman Fred DeLorey expressed disappointment that Elections Canada is appealing the ruling.

"Although we are not surprised, it is disappointing that Elections Canada is continuing this after the courts said they were wrong," DeLorey said.

"They've already wasted millions of dollars on this."

DeLorey maintained Martineau's ruling does nothing to change spending limits on national or local campaigns.
Predictable slag on Elections Canada, there you go.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Great Recalibration of 2010: coming next week

And being spun by a PMO official near you, always a noteworthy occasion. All that recalibration spin and we're not really hearing inklings of a particularly innovative or prorogation-worthy budget. Here is the messaging:
Federal spending growth will be reined in across the board to help slay the deficit with the exceptions of funding for pensions, health care and education.

A senior government official said Monday the key themes of next week's Speech from the Throne and federal budget will be creating jobs and recovering from the recession. The budget will include a plan for Canada to climb out of deficit, but will not balance the books "on the backs" of Canadians by raising taxes, the official said.
The Conservative official said there will be no new measures in the budget as the government embarks on the second of a two-year fiscal stimulus plan.
It is sounding like a non-boat rocking budget, in political terms. All that recalibration talk as rationale for the prorogation and it's sounding like predictable themes and predictable talking point positioning in advance of the budget, albeit with the detail to come. Can't help but have that feeling that the prorogation break has not gone according to plan, that the Olympic halo has not ascended, they're going to play it safe.

Wrote the highly skeptical blogger...

Update (5:20 p.m.): The Globe points out, no new spending means no extension of the Home Renovation Tax Credit.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Saturday funnies

Cough, cough:
The federal Tories admit that they did not anticipate the blowback from prorogation.

The Prime Minister has never minded criticism, but in this case all the flak he's taken since the start of the year must be galling, since he had to be talked into prorogation against his will, according to a number of senior Conservatives.

"If it had been down to him, Parliament would have taken a 10-day break and come back to work," revealed one MP. (emphasis added)
One of the funniest things you will read all year. What a collection we have running the country.

One might be more inclined to believe such spin if the tactical move in question, here prorogation, was out of character with the PM's modus operandi. But we know the record, the obstruction of parliamentary committees for which they created a manual, the neutering, firing and driving out of parliamentary officers, the refusal to cooperate with the Afghan Special Commons Committee, etc., ad infinitum. The p-bomb is Harper's to own, it's true to his character.

What else do we read? Oh, the recalibration effort is struggling to prove itself worthy of the extended break:
One Conservative said he was shocked to receive an email from the PMO last week calling for ideas for the Speech for the Throne, which will come down in less than two weeks. "I couldn't believe it. Has the tank really run dry?"
Hey guys, here are some ideas. How about a made-in-Canada climate change plan for starters? How about a replacement for the NRU, a long term solution to the isotope situation? There's plenty to be done, if only our government had a clue.

Poor put upon Stephen Harper, it's the scene.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Friday night

Happen to like this rapper and found it personally motivating this week. Apparently NBC has been using it in conjunction with the Olympics, blasted. Hate when that happens. Anyway, not why I'm posting, it's just an excellent anthem of hope.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The bureaucrats made them do it

Funny what's trickling out of the access to information channels these days. Things like this:
Senior bureaucrats told the Harper government shortly after the last election that its infrastructure plan could be used as a "strategically important" communications tool that would provide "excellent visibility" for local ministers and MPs, Canwest News Service has learned.

The advice was included in briefing notes released through Access to Information legislation. They were prepared for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister John Baird in the fall of 2008, shortly before opposition MPs started questioning whether the government was using its economic stimulus spending to raise its profile and boost its popularity.
It looks like a bit of spin on the issue of infrastructure, an attempt to suggest that bureaucrats paved the way for the Conservatives to skew their infrastructure funding.

The briefing notes by bureaucrats cited in the report from the fall of 2008 are banal enough, however, touting the merits of an infrastructure program already in place, the Building Canada fund, and how Canadians could be informed about it. It looks like the bureaucracy doing its job, weighing in on an existing infrastructure fund and how it was doing, how it could be improved.

If the upshot of reporting on these notes now is to suggest that bureaucrats were responsible for how the Conservatives proceeded to dole out infrastructure moneys and advertise the plan, sorry, not buying.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For the can't help himself file

Here are a few must reads on Harper's political shots at former Liberal governments over military aircraft, made while in Haiti yesterday. Not the time to deliver a Conservative hack partisan speech, a speech which must have sounded so good as it was dreamt up in the amateurish halls of the PMO. Major judgment fail.

Try "Politicizing Misery" and "Harper plays politics with tragedy...TYPICAL!" on for size. Better judgments at work.

Lucien Bouchard: "La souveraineté n'est pas réalisable"

At a conference yesterday, described as his first major public appearance since his resignation in 2001, former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard made quite a splash, stating that sovereignty for Quebec is not feasible:
L'ancien premier ministre Lucien Bouchard croit que le Québec doit embrasser un nouveau rêve, trouver «le tremplin de notre nouveau départ». Mais ce n'est pas la souveraineté: ce projet n'est pas une solution puisqu'il n'est pas réalisable.

Lucien Bouchard participait à un forum sur les 100 dernières années de vie politique au Québec, organisé par l'Institut du Nouveau Monde dans le cadre du centenaire du Devoir. C'était pour l'ancien premier ministre une première sortie publique importante depuis sa démission en 2001. Il a insisté sur la puissance du rêve pour une nation, de l'importance de voir grand comme ce fut le cas lors de la Révolution tranquille, le moment clé des 100 dernières années au Québec, selon lui.

Mais ce rêve libérateur, ce n'est pas celui de la souveraineté. «À vue de nez, non. Pauline Marois ne veut pas faire de référendum. Elle sait que ce n'est pas le temps. Le monde n'en veut pas à court terme; ça veut dire plusieurs années», a-t-il dit en réponse aux questions des journalistes. M. Bouchard est persuadé qu'il ne verra pas un autre référendum sur la souveraineté de son vivant. L'ancien chef péquiste est toujours souverainiste, mais la souveraineté est devenue une question hypothétique; elle n'est donc pas une solution aux problèmes du Québec.

Reprenant des éléments du discours des Lucides, Lucien Bouchard a dit qu'il fallait que le Québec «secoue sa torpeur et se remette en marche», qu'il accepte de voir les obstacles qui lui barrent la route, comme le fort taux de décrochage scolaire, le piètre financement des universités et les tarifs d'électricité trop bas. (Translated version)
Bottom line? Quebec needs a new collective dream to embrace but in his view, sovereignty is not the answer. Sovereignty, he says, has become a hypothetical question, not a solution to the problems of Quebec. He doesn't believe he'll see another referendum on the question in his lifetime.

This is a welcome thing to hear coming as it does from one of the lions of the sovereignty movement over the past twenty years, that makes it all the more significant. It was also delivered in a diplomatic enough manner that makes it difficult for the PQ and the Bloc to be in too much disagreement with the statement. He affirms that he is "toujours souverainiste," as would they, yet puts it in the realm of the hypothetical. In a candid freebie moment, would Marois and Duceppe not do the same? Bouchard is probably just speaking to an undercurrent in Quebec, a belief that the sovereignty movement remains a defining core element for the PQ and the Bloc yet largely in a symbolic way. The federal Clarity Act entered the picture and has forever altered the landscape for the separation question. It's not smart to ever write separatism off as a factor in Quebec, but Bouchard's characterization of the goal as a hypothetical maintains the ongoing calm on that front. It's a big statement yet it really just affirms the status quo.

The other big news out of Bouchard's appearance is a dig at the PQ for their present dalliance with intolerance, characterizing the party as wanting to pick up where the ADQ left off. That aspect may get more attention given its immediacy as an issue as opposed to the above.

No reporting here on whether the Bloc's role in Ottawa came up or not, the forum being devoted to the past 100 years of political life in Quebec. Seems like that would have been a logical topic of discussion, how the Bloc's presence in Ottawa has shifted the federal voting dynamic in Quebec and its future. Oh well. Sounds like Bouchard was in a mood to make waves too. Guess we politicos will have to be content with the above pronouncement, in and of itself quite remarkable.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Stephen Harper: International Player

Is that a thud we hear? Why yes, I do believe it is:
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced he would like maternal health and children to be the focus of the summits.

If the United States is at all enthusiastic about that proposal, Jacobson is revealing little of it.

'That one is still under debate,' he says. 'I think there is some sense that on the financial side of things, that that needs to be the primary focus at the G20 because there are some major members of the financial community that are not members of the G8. And the question then becomes what should be the primary focus on the G8 in the meeting that precedes the G20 ... The Prime Minister has made a suggestion. I think that there are a number of other suggestions. That's not to say the Prime Minister's is not a good one. But there are a number of other suggestions.'"
Gee, it's not like ol' Steve doesn't have the chairship of those aforementioned G-shindigs. You'd think there'd be some respect for his agenda setting priorities because he holds that chair position. But then again...on the world stage, when seeking to build a consensus on an issue, it probably helps if you have a record of acting on such issues. You know, demonstrated caring in the field to which one aspires to lead others. That gives one credibility to persuade other nations to buy into the effort. If not, then you hear this kind of polite recognition thing, as we do here. As in, that's all very nice and it's important but really, this is all new to us coming from Canada. The Americans are in wait and see mode, hedging. That can't be the somewhat argumentative response the Harper crew had in mind, is it?

The other international aspect to today's mini-review of political goings on, of course, the "big" trip. Harper heads to Haiti to tell them how to reconstruct. Listen up, world:
"We are continuing to work with the government of Haiti to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance,'' Harper said in a statement Sunday.

''At the same time, we now need to address the long-term challenges of reconstruction, based on the principles of sustainability, effectiveness and accountability."
Find anything odd about that latter statement? From Mr. Harper, uttering the words sustainability and accountability as organizing principles for anything seems a bit rich. We're not exactly paragons of virtue in either category these days. Not to take away from Canadian leadership efforts to ensure that the Haitian people get needed reconstruction efforts that are indeed integrity laden and productive. But the irony of hearing about accountability, in particular, from Harper just begs the question, might we get some of that up here?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Friday night

It still comes out at night

As we settle into our national Olympic haze, a contrast to remember.

There's this:
“Patriotism, ladies and gentlemen, patriotism as Canadians should not make us feel the least bit shy or embarrassed. I know that thoughts of grandeur and boisterous displays of nationalism we tend to associate with others. And, over the centuries, things have been done around the world in the name of national pride or love of country that would have been better left undone. Yet, we should never cast aside our pride in a country so wonderful in a land we are so fortunate to call home, merely because the notion has sometimes been abused.

“There is nothing wrong, and there is much that is right, in celebrating together when our fellow citizens, perceiving some splendid star high above us willingly pay the cost and take the chance to stretch forth their hands to try to touch it for that one shining moment. For, no good thing is without risk, no ideal can be reached without sacrifice. Ask any Olympian who wears the Maple Leaf. But that Maple Leaf, we must remember, symbolizes more than just the athletes who wear it symbolizes the country we love.

“It symbolizes the Canada, our Canada that has shown during this global recession and will show during these Games that it can compete and win against the very best. The Canada – our Canada – where those other citizens who wear the Maple Leaf – our Armed Forces – serve, never for conquest and advantage, but simply to spread our gifts of freedom, democracy and justice to make the world a little safer and a little better; as they are doing in Afghanistan, and to give some hope to others and to rescue our fellow citizens; and as they have done so spectacularly in Haiti. That Canada – our Canada – that has given so generously to Haiti, not because we think we will gain some power or some return, but because our country is at its heart compassionate and generous, not only with our fellow citizens, but with our fellow human beings as well.
And then there is all of this: "Canadian aid groups told to keep quiet on policy issues:"
Aid groups say the federal government is casting a chill over advocacy work that takes positions on policy or political issues – and one claims a senior Conservative aide warned them against such activities.

An official with a mainstream non-governmental aid group said that Keith Fountain, policy director for International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda, gave a verbal warning that the organization's policy positions were under scrutiny: “Be careful about your advocacy.”

The official did not want to be identified out of concern that it might jeopardize funding for the group's aid projects from the Canadian International Development Agency, or CIDA.
"T.D. chief caught in deficit crossfire:"
According to a senior banker at another one of the five big banks, the Conservatives are creating an environment in which corporate leaders are scared to speak up about policy.
And the effort to marginalize academic expertise and characterize it as partisan continues:
Further, for names such as Amir Attaran and Errol Mendes which have been heavily bandied about as non-partisan experts for too long, let’s start providing some broader context shall we?
No, let's not disqualify their expertise, as the Harper PMO would like. That's what such questions, seemingly innocent and cloaked in an appeal to fairness, seek to do. This is an intense effort to discredit such views by discounting them as partisan and it is very telling.

There are two faces of this government, as has been famously pointed out before. Just a little reminder.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blast from the past

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins pours more cold water on the Harper plan to wait on the U.S. for climate change guidance:
"There's no question the political sands are shifting again in our country, from health care and cap-and-trade, for example, to the economy and jobs," he added.

"But as far as a cap and trade bill, per se, I think it's dead for the foreseeable future."
Dead! Now that doesn't sound very good. Although to be fair, the word "slim" was also used by Wilkins to describe a bill's likelihood of success. A sliver of optimism, perhaps. But Wilkins is a Republican guy with an agenda, maybe we should look to the current ambassador, Jacobson, for a better indication. He too is pessimistic but he does not use the word "dead." He likes "divisive" and "difficult" to describe the legislative prospects. At least they're all on the "d" page.

At a think-tank gathering in Ottawa on Monday, a former Canadian diplomat urged a different course in light of the obvious problems in the Harper/Prentice strategy:
With the political battle lines being firmly drawn in the U.S., the Harper government should be more proactive than ever in pushing its own proposals with the Obama administration rather than taking a wait-and-see attitude, said Colin Robertson, the retired diplomat with extensive experience at the Canadian embassy in Washington who hosted Jacobson's Ottawa speech.

"It's a permanent campaign. You never stop. You always have to be out making the case for Canada."
You know who that sounds like a job for...the "green adviser" who may yet save us all! Well, maybe not.

Fascinating to watch this one develop, with various American politicos weighing in to indicate our fate.

Update: Speaking of American politicos, Jeffrey Simpson today has a column on Senator Maria Cantwell's "cap and dividend" proposal.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Maybe Karl Rove is available

"Tories to hire 'green' adviser." This bit of farming out our environmental policy to the U.S. just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it? It's Ari Fleischer redux apparently as the Conservatives, with no capabilities of their own are looking south for help. We're not just watching and waiting on the Americans, looks like we're hiring an American as well:
The Conservative government seeks to hire a high-level adviser to make sure Canada isn't side-swiped by Washington's global-warming debate.
The successful applicant, to be chosen later this month, is expected to tap into "personal and business contacts" south of the border over the next three years to help Canada gain a voice in a raucous policy debate over how to cut emissions."In support of Canada's commitment to harmonize and align a range of principles, policies, regulations and standards with the United States, this consultant will help Environment Canada gain ongoing in-depth analytical insight into developments related to United States climate change and air pollution policy," a spokesperson for Environment Canada said in an email.

The department would not explain how this job would differ from the role normally played by bureaucrats and foreign diplomats.
That "high-level adviser to make sure Canada isn't side-swiped by Washington's global-warming debate?" I thought we had one of those. That would be our Environment Minister.

And a three year contract? If that's the time frame we're looking at for continued inaction from this government, that's an insightful detail.

Besides, don't we have an embassy down there replete with intelligent staffers? And didn't we just appoint a shiny new ambassador who was supposed to have all these nifty contacts in the U.S.?
Not only is Doer one of Canada's most accomplished and respected politicians, he is one of the very few contemporary Canadian politicians who can claim a bona fide American network, including governors, senior Obama administration officials, members of Congress and the business community.
And environmental knowledge?
Gary Doer made environmental protection a key policy issue since first elected Manitoba NDP leader in 1988. Doer had Manitoba sign on to the Western Climate Initiative and the Midwest Governors Greenhouse Gas Accord. He also signed a 2006 MOU with California Governor Schwarzenegger on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Why then do we need to go Republican-adviser buying and making end runs around existing institutions?

Friday, February 05, 2010

A reflection of character

Pesky Canadians, not buying the Harper government's scrambling act:
Over the past two weeks, Harper and his ministers have held a series of news conferences, photo-ops and briefings to demonstrate they're hard at work. Harper has also shuffled his cabinet and appointed a raft of new senators.

None of it appears to have convinced Canadians, according to a recent poll by The Canadian Press Harris-Decima.

The survey suggests 39 per cent believe the government has been not at all active or working hard since Harper prorogued Parliament on Dec. 30. That's more than triple the 12 per cent who said the government has been very active and hardworking.

Another 37 per cent said the government has been somewhat active.

Whether or not Tories will admit it, Harris-Decima chairman Allan Gregg said prorogation was a big political mistake and "they've paid a fairly significant price for it."

Gregg predicted that cancelling spring breaks and other shows of activity won't help the Conservatives recover from the error. That's in part because the Tory slide is not simply opposition to prorogation, but a reflection of Canadians' uneasiness with Harper's reputation as an "extremely partisan," bullying tactician.

"It's much larger (than prorogation). It's a reflection of character, it's a reflection of an individual who will use - or in this particular instance misuse - the tools of democracy, Parliament, in order to further their own vested interests," he said.

"So they're not going to solve that problem by sitting through the spring break."
And pesky columnists, nailing the dynamic:
The tricks are getting tired. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's promise of a painless recovery -- no tax hikes, no deep spending cuts -- strains credibility. Conservative indifference to environmental concerns is hardening into hostility. The Senate is now stacked with Tory cronies; supposedly independent agencies with shrill partisans.

Have Canadians finally had enough?
Lots more in this vein today. Two letters to the editor in the Globe indicate persons unswayed by the March break cancellation gambit. One woman sees little in the way of family values evident in the move, perhaps more coming fallout from a hasty Harperian chess move. For more of the negative coverage that's out there, see HarperBizarro, also documenting the atrocities today.

What to make of it all? It does seem like a real moment of shifting ground with cause for political optimism in 2010. It has been a good month for democratic vibrancy in Canada, people spoke loudly to the man. Those protests still resonate loudly. Stephen Harper is on notice, on the defensive, not the place he likes to be. He's in mocking territory, even worse. While still in the early goings of the year, optimism is definitely the feeling around here.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Great moments in paranoia

It's hard to know exactly what to make of John Ivison's column today, at first I thought it was satire but it actually isn't: "Add another name to the Tories' enemies list." That name being metaphorically added to the list is Elections Canada. This would be due to the litigation between the two parties that has been ongoing since the Conservatives won election in 2006. There's the in-and-out advertising litigation and investigation. And there's the GST litigation of late as well. It's not remarkable that there has been litigation going on. Legitimate disagreements can be disputed. What's really of note here is the clear suggestion by Ivison that Elections Canada is biased against the Conservatives. He writes:
The Conservatives tend to sound paranoid when they talk about the "Liberal bureaucracy" but that doesn't mean the bureaucrats at Elections Canada aren't out to get them. Mr. Mayrand seems to be taking the case personally and it is fully expected he will now appeal the Federal Court decision.
Shades of the attack by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons against Linda Keen as a Liberal hack echo here. Mr. Mayrand can't defend himself either, his independence would come under scrutiny if he engaged such allegations. "Taking the case personally," writes Ivison. What's the basis for that other than the fact that Elections Canada, as an institution might appeal the in-and-out ruling? To suggest some personal motivation without any evidence is a groundless accusation.

This notion that there's a Liberal bureaucracy in Elections Canada and the Chief Electoral Officer is on a personal vendetta against the Conservatives is just ridiculous stuff. This is what the Conservatives foist on us. How on earth can we have impartial elections in this country if our elections apparatus is so hopelessly biased? See where it takes us? The governing party doesn't care that this is the delegitimizing nonsense they're promulgating.

Do take note, as well, of the other aspect of the conspiracy theory being floated by Conservatives: "The Conservatives think Mr. Mayrand's plan may be to wait them out - spending taxpayers dollars to continue what they say is "blatant harassment"." Crikey! They've cracked the plot by Elections Canada! Harper's enemies are lining up to get him by "waiting the Conservatives out." To what end, who knows. But what a concoction and what a reflection of this Conservative party.