Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's baa-aaaack

Does this sound familiar? From the government news site today: "Harper Government Reduces Taxes for Canadians."

Old habits die hard. Not too partisan an announcement either, is it?

Government of Canada. Period.

Brit dynamic seems to be reinforced post debate

Some highlights from the British debate that happened today, for something completely different:

The dynamic seems to be reinforced following this one:

But we'll see.

Some fairly superficial reaction now...

There's quite a difference in the clarity of the debate with three participants. Nice free flowing debate too, no rigid question and answer format with questions posed consecutively to each leader without interaction. These debates have seen relatively free and civil engagement.

Is it legal to say you are sick of Nick Clegg? Because I am.

See how shiny and modern the Brits are? Nice set. Can we get one of those next time?

Gordon Brown's bad day

A look at the front pages from Britain today will tell you all you need to know about the state of the campaign. If you haven't been following along, this transcript will tell you the whole story of Gordon Brown's somewhat difficult encounter with a voter yesterday, which he handled not so badly, and the comments he made afterward to his staff, picked up on microphone as he drove away in a car. The comments, in which he referenced the woman as "bigoted," were broadcast. And here's the iconic picture of Brown as he sat in a radio studio, as the comments were played back to him. On front page after front page:

There are variations of the encounter on other front pages. This analysis of the whole incident yesterday is nuanced and brilliant.

The only consolation, if there is one for Labour, that the third and final debate takes place tonight, immediately on the heels of the incident. Gives Brown the chance to stand up and face the nation. How he conducts himself will likely be the focus of the debate. Plus it's on the economy, it's comfortable ground for him. So there's the glass half full take on that! Wow. What a campaign.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cost of partisan advertising rolls in

The Conservatives have finally deigned to provide a figure for how much has been spent on advertising the Economic Action Plan. They're claiming it's $42 million, an incredible enough figure given the debt we've gone into over the past year. It's also incredible given the partisan nature of most of this advertising endeavour.

Still, the $42 million is incomplete. The figure doesn't include all those nifty EAP signs across the country. Le Devoir reported in November that the signs cost between $800 - $7,000 apiece. The total cost estimate for the signs therefore ranged between $5 to $45 million (on 6,500 signs). The federal share would be about a third, with the provinces & municipalities, i.e., still we the taxpayers, picking up the rest of the tab. Just to stick a sign in front of the project and advertise, yep, the federal government has been here. Only the feds get their name on the sign.

There was also that recent news, which the government tried to suppress, of the $5 million ad spree during the Olympics alone. Does the $42 million include that amount?

With the ad bonanza we saw in the fall, comparable to what we saw during the Olympics, it just doesn't seem credible that the total figure is $42 million. There was an estimate in the fall of $56 million for the period of January-June last year. So there's likely more to come on this issue. Eventually. Maybe the Auditor General might help us out in the fall when she reports on the EAP.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A great day for Canadian democracy

Three cheers for the Speaker, who got it right. Some key excerpts:
It is the view of the Chair that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its Members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded.

As has been noted earlier, the procedural authorities are categorical in repeatedly asserting the powers of the House in ordering the production of documents. No exceptions are made for any category of Government documents, even those related to national security. Therefore, the Chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question. Bearing in mind that the fundamental role of Parliament is to hold the Government to account, as the servant of the House, and the protector of its privileges, I cannot agree with the Government’s interpretation that ordering these documents transgresses the separation of powers, and interferes with the spheres of activity of the executive branch.
The Chair must conclude that it is within the powers of the House of Commons to ask for the documents sought in the December 10 order it adopted. Now, it seems to me, that the issue before us is this: is it possible to put into place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interest of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.
Finding common ground will be difficult. There have been assertions that colleagues in the House are not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information, even with appropriate security safeguards in place. I find such comments troubling. The insinuation that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which Members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities.

The issue of trust goes in the other direction as well. Some suggestions have been made that the Government has self-serving and ulterior motives for the redactions in the documents tabled. Here too, such remarks are singularly unhelpful to the aim of finding a workable accommodation and ultimately identifying mechanisms that will satisfy all actors in this matter.

But the fact remains that the House and the Government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind. It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the Third Session of the Fortieth Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse.
Accordingly, on analysing the evidence before it and the precedents, the Chair cannot but conclude that the Government`s failure to comply with the Order of December 10, 2009 constitutes prima facie a question of privilege.

I will allow House Leaders, Ministers and party critics time to suggest some way of resolving the impasse for it seems to me we would fail the institution if no resolution can be found. However, if, in two weeks’ time, the matter is still not resolved, the Chair will return to make a statement on the motion that will be allowed in the circumstances.
Not going to add a lot to this. The ruling should speak for itself and should be the preeminent focus of the day and going forward. Political spin should be weighed for what it is. It is the ruling that should underpin any discussions that take place in the next two weeks. Parliament has the right to demand the documents and see the documents. Now it is just a question of working out how that takes place.

The Conservative bluster that is flowing out there today is predictable. They cry election whenever they are in a tight spot, attempting to cow the opposition. Perhaps it is just face saving today but it's what they always do, almost like crying wolf at this point. It shouldn't be given so much serious indulgence in the weeks to come. They're not exactly in a position of strength in the polls from which to taunt opponents about an election.

It feels like the dynamic in our politics has changed for the better today. The view of our democracy that the PM and his party have attempted to peddle, this assertion of executive supremacy that Harper has attempted to seed has been firmly swatted back.

Time for a mature Parliament of leaders to step up and calmly resolve a significant issue. It's not too much to ask for, it's what a minority parliament is supposed to do. A Prime Minister plays a key role in that process and we really don't need any more of his unnecessary throttling of our democracy. If this Prime Minister were a real leader, we wouldn't have even been brought to today.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Liberal Democratic leader and potential kingmaker Nick Clegg offers up a new interpretation of parliamentary elections, almost bordering on the Harperesque:
"Because of the vagaries of the system, Labour could get fewer votes than the other two parties, but still have most seats. If that happens, Clegg will have the casting vote.

So I push, and push, and finally he helps a bit, by declaring that if Labour gets the smallest share of the vote of the three main parties and the most seats, he would not tolerate Brown remaining prime minister.

“I read that the civil service has published some book a few weeks ago ... that in an environment like that, he would have first call to form a government. Well, I think it’s complete nonsense. I mean, how on earth? You can’t have Gordon Brown squatting in No 10 just because of the irrational idiosyncrasies of our electoral system.

“Whatever happens after the election has got to be guided by the stated preferences of voters, not some dusty constitutional document which states that convention dictates even losers can stay in No 10,” he snorts."
Clegg has no use for first past the post, clearly, but this is the system in which this election is taking place. The party with the most seats does have first call in forming a government. If Cameron has the most votes but fewer seats than Labour, Clegg is going to go with him? That's complete nonsense, to use Clegg's language, and I don't think he's really saying that.

Al Gore won more votes than George W. Bush in 2000. Yet we know that it was the electoral college, the rules under which the election took place, that dictated the outcome. That's the way legally governed societies work. Imagine a similar scenario in Canada, of course the way we understand our system and the way it indeed works is that the party that wins the most seats is called upon to form the government.

What Clegg probably means is that a Labour victory in seats, while finishing third in popular vote, might lead Clegg to require Brown to step aside as a condition of Clegg's support for a Labour-Lib Dem coalition. But Labour has the right, as a party, to choose its own leader so this is quite the statement from Clegg. A lot would be on the table in those negotiations, whether Brown's stepping aside would be one item, I guess we might see.

If that's not what he means (but really, judging from his vitriolic comments toward Brown, it seems that he does), perhaps he's just laying the groundwork, in a very dramatic fashion, to obtain a firm commitment to electoral reform from Labour so that such a result never occurs again.

Whatever the case, it's a bit annoying to be hearing the heralded figure toying around with the rules of parliamentary democracy. It'll be a unique result for Britain, yes, if it's a "hung" parliament but it doesn't mean the present rules get chucked out the window. It's irritating enough for us when Harper injects a flawed American style interpretation of how our system works, i.e., people elect a Prime Minister, it's disheartening to hear it starting up in the U.K.

Ignaiteff respond

(Globe Politics Page)

Me Ignatieff, you Jane.

Doesn't anybody tell the Globe about these things? Or if they do, why don't they fix them? Whatever the case, rock on, national paper of record.

The report recounted Wayne Easter explaining the Liberal gun registry position to the satisfaction of constituents who had heard the Conservative radio hooey ads.

If you support the Liberal position and are so inclined, there is a donation campaign going on to fight the Conservative ads.

One other point, this is interesting:
NDP Leader Jack Layton has not ruled out whipping his MPs to vote against the bill, said his spokesman, Karl Belanger. A loss of New Democrat support would kill the bill.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Saturday night

A song that is growing on me, new Stone Temple Pilots. A little raunchy in terms of the lyrics, so, a little disclaimer there, but we're all adults here, right? Anyway, it's just so gooood, it needs to be shared.

It's also a chance to pass on this site, SoundCloud, for those who like to listen to music online. Happy exploring.

British election reads

A sampling of the day's best reads on the state of the British election:

Some interesting developments from the Tories: "General Election 2010: Conservatives plan for a coalition." Wha? A coalition? Nobody tell Stephen Harper. At least one senior Tory is speaking about how they'd negotiate with the Liberal Dems on some issues in the event of a minority result.

On the other hand, David Cameron is proposing a new rule for unelected PMs:
The key element is the proposal that anyone taking over as PM following the death, overthrow or resignation of the previous incumbent would have to call an election within six months.
If the Canadian coalition had "overthrown" the Harper government in the fall of 2008 by defeating it on a confidence vote, presumably such a rule would have required a vote within 6 months. Maybe Cameron does have a Canadian Conservative adviser after all, you know, to mess with hundreds of years of parliamentary tradition just for short term political gain. Tom Flanagan would love it. But, facing a "hung" parliament, they should extrapolate out the effect of that rule. These Conservatives, not even in power yet and already seeking to bend the rules to make it prohibitive for parties to defeat them by inserting an election hurdle, unnecessary in the Westminster system and sure to sour their electorate, just like ours. Luckily Dave hasn't sealed the deal yet due to his vacuous presence and this latest gimmick might cement that impression.

The Guardian has a great interview piece with David Miliband, the Labour Foreign Secretary. An excerpt:
But Miliband, long accounted one of Labour's most formidable thinkers, has a serious point too. "David Cameron can't decide who he is, politically, and I think Nick Clegg is much clearer about what he's against than what he's for." He believes the surge of support for the latter, particularly, has more to do with a rise of sweeping anti-political feeling in the electorate than what he might actually stand for. "I think that there is a lot of anti-politics about the Lib Dems and the Tories," says Miliband. "And the point about anti-politics is that you can campaign on anti-politics, but you can't govern on anti-politics. And you certainly can't govern on anti-politics if you're a progressive party. You have to believe that it's through politics that societies can lead social and economic and political change. I really do think this is a very important moment for progressive politics."
Also in the Guardian, Polly Toynbee with an appeal summed up in the column title, "Your heart might say Clegg. But vote with your head:"
So what is the anti-Tory voter to do now? What do you do when the old two-party electoral system has finally collapsed into a genuine three-party contest? Look at the result according to yesterday's BBC poll of polls: Clegg gets 30% and a puny 102 seats, Cameron gets 33% and only 258 seats, while Brown comes third with 27% and emerges as the victor with 261 seats. Every time you see a poll, go to the BBC's brilliant election seat calculator for a nasty shock. Work out any variety of options. Labour may yet do far worse – but if so, Cameron wins, not Clegg.
Gordon Brown is shaking things up: "Brown rips up strategy to escape third place," and may yet pull this thing off: "Support for Labour slumps but Gordon Brown has reason to smile."

On a lighter note, here's an obvious riff on the Obama girl thing, give them points for chutzpah. Not exactly helping the Tories if you ask me:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday night

Something new (and old) from Canadian indies, Stars.


The PMO: it's not just for Ottawa anymore

Somebody's controlling tendencies are showing today. This raises some questions:
The Prime Minister's Office has set up outposts in three Canadian cities that are key electoral battlegrounds for the minority Conservative government.

PMO communications advisers have been operating from regional ministerial offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal for about 18 months.

A senior government official who wouldn't be named says their job is to facilitate access to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for local reporters, including non-English media, and also feed back information to the PMO in Ottawa.

These listening posts are in cities with large and growing ethnic groups that once leaned heavily Liberal but whose votes appear increasingly up for grabs.
So this has been going on for 18 months but is just being uncovered now? That would fit the secretive Harper government. Not wanting to disclose such matters to the public. These "listening posts" sound more political than governance related. Maybe the Conservative party should be paying for such "listening posts."

It also underscores the one-man government theme, the PMO branching out into franchises across the country. Who's in it for himself again, remind us? As we say around here, l'etat, c'est lui.

In sync with the above, you might want to give this a read today: "The man who would be king."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Conservative ironically decries "lack of democracy" at committee

Apparently Conservatives are "crying foul" over a Public Safety committee witness list for hearings on the gun registry. Yes, it's the issue that seems to be shaping up to keep providing lots of interesting fodder in days to come. The Conservative issue with the list is that it is too pro-registry. Not enough Olympic shooters, conservation officials, Alberta attorneys general and Calgary chiefs of police:
...Mackenzie says, "Canadians will find it most offensive to see a lack of democracy in the committee." He says "this side should get some input".
That's funny. Because the Conservatives have not exactly evidenced great concern for democracy and fair inputs up to this point on this issue. Let's recall their playing fast and loose with the RCMP's report on the effectiveness of the registry:
As Parliament resumes sitting this week, among the issues on the order paper will be gun control – specifically, a private member's bill to abolish the long-gun registry. The bill passed second reading last fall by a vote of 164-137 as some Liberals and New Democrats joined the Conservatives in supporting it.

Critics of the long-gun registry insisted that it is of little use to the police and not worth maintaining. This argument was effectively rebutted in an RCMP report on the registry that was released two days after the vote. At the time, Peter Van Loan, then minister of public safety, said the report had been in his hands only for "several days."

Now we learn – thanks to a trail of government emails obtained by the Star's Tonda MacCharles – that it was more like seven weeks, and that Van Loan's officials used every trick in the book to stall the report.
They disputed its statistics and questioned why the report was produced at all. They even launched a witch hunt over an innocuous banquet held by the gun registry's staff. (It turned out that the staffers had paid for the event themselves.)

For the record, the report noted that police use of the gun registry is increasing rapidly – to 3.4 million checks in 2008, up from 2.5 million the year before – and it said this "highlights the importance" of the registry to law enforcement.

But that wasn't what the government wanted parliamentarians to hear before the vote on the gun registry. (emphasis added)
That seems a little more important than who's appearing at committee. Not that committee work is not important, of course.

And do we even need to point out the very thick binder manual thingy that the Conservative brain trust has put together that is devoted to obstructing parliamentary committees.

Crying foul? Cry us a river.


The weekly Ekos is out. As usual these days, not too much to get excited over although I will leave that to other poll aficionados to pore over. There was a fitting description of the poll offered up by CBC:
The Conservative Party retains a small but stubborn lead in support over the Liberals, according to an EKOS poll.
Cons 31.7, Libs 27.1, NDP 16.3, Greens 12.6.

Here is a theory. If you read the government announcements on a daily basis (don't laugh), you are struck by the sheer volume of spending going on across the country. Yes, there is still more EAP et al. to distribute, yes, we know this. An interesting part of all this is how local Conservative MPs are given such play in doling it out. For example, take this one where Stockwell Day and Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Conservative MP Cathy McLeod announce $57.6 million for a Domtar mill in her riding. See also Conservative MP Bernard Genereux and a recent $4.8 million funding announcement regarding his riding, where he also figured prominently in the announcement. This is a routine thing, there are lots more like those ones, with Conservative MPs featured in conjunction with or in place of the minister responsible. Is there a cumulative effect that such announcements are having across the country in terms of locking in the Conservative support? There's a reason these announcements are made in this way. And this is one of the largest non-electoral spending sprees in Canadian history.

Anyway, that is this week's spaghetti-on-the-fridge effort to explain why the Conservatives retain that "small but stubborn lead."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

G20 agenda a little tougher for Flaherty today

"Global bank tax urged by IMF." Oh oh! As we know, Flaherty and the Harper crew are against the growing move within the G20 toward a bank tax of some kind. Flaherty wheeled out his "embedded capital" plan just last week in an effort to garner some attention and support to his cause. Guess the IMF missed it because they're really going in the opposite direction with this:
Countries should consider imposing a two-pronged tax on banks and other financial firms to pay for bailouts the next time markets tank, the world's financial body is proposing.

In a report to the G20 countries that was obtained by the BBC, the International Monetary Fund recommends a globally co-ordinated flat fee on every big bank, coupled with a tax on profits.

The money would be managed by governments and used to pay for economic rescue measures if the world ever again faces the kind of financial crisis that devastated economies over the last year and a half.
(BBC source and IMF report)

That latter paragraph is something that has not really been discussed in whatever limited Canadian discussion we've had about this proposed tax. We may not have had financial institutions collapse, but we suffered the effects of the world wide financial crisis as a result of financial collapses in other countries. We have incurred great debt as a result of the recession. So the argument for such measures is there to be made, even though our financial institutions would seemingly be penalized for the risk indulged in by other nations' institutions.

One problem Flaherty is going to have is the coordinated nature of the tax that's underlying these discussions. I.e., that all G20 countries would have to agree to do the same thing tax wise, otherwise banks will go to the jurisdiction where they're not subject to the new tax. So Flaherty might end up being compelled to consider something that's not so comfortable ideologically. The other side to the coordinated deal coin is that it might make it harder in the end to actually get all the nations to agree on something. But, you know, that's part of Jim's role as we're chairing this deal, right? (Well, at least we are in the technical sense.)

Flaherty has touted the IMF over the past year or so when it has spoken favourably about the Canadian economy so it will be interesting to see the reaction to these IMF tax proposals.

Monday, April 19, 2010


When you hear Harper's remarks on pardons today, notably this:"Government can't stop Homolka from applying for pardon: Harper," let's keep something in mind. He could have.

Let's keep in mind that he is the Prime Minister. He leads a government. He could have done something about it.
Mr. Harper did not mention that his government reviewed the system for sex-offender pardons in 2006 and opted for minor administrative tinkering rather than changing legislation to make it harder or even impossible for people like James to be pardoned.

At a separate gathering, however, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews acknowledged that the first review, ordered by then public safety minister Stockwell Day, didn't go far enough.

Mr. Day settled for minor administrative changes so that two members of the National Parole Board, rather than one, screen applications for sex offenders.

"My colleague, Minister Day, made some improvements in 2007," Mr. Toews told reporters at a meeting of the Canadian Police Association. "Those were not sufficient to deal with some of the pressing problems that we continue to face."
If Harper had been so concerned about such matters, he might have done something about it then. Or in any year after. But they didn't. They've prorogued twice. Then there was the 2008 election, in violation of the fixed election date law. All of which is self-initiated Harper-led interference with their government's ability to enact the majority of their crime legislative agenda.

So instead what we see, as usual, their preference is to take the outlier case, such as Homolka, and exploit it for political gain. It's almost as if they prefer to see it happen so that they can rail against it.

Leading from behind, reactively, as usual. The Conservatives continue to prove that their law and order hype is just that.

Update: And clearly, it goes without saying, that this is major distraction from current government troubles.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Change in the air, over there

Hmmm, what happens in an election campaign when the supposed change candidate is suddenly getting out-changed by a third party? He tries to stick to the 2 horse race strategy and start attacking the new change guy. Meanwhile, the incumbent likes the new change agent, a little bit, but not too much. The third party could take just enough votes away from the Tory change basket to allow Labour to retain enough seats to win.

But you know, that could all change tomorrow. More on all the polling fun from the U.K. election here.

April 17, 1982

And the first half of this one is good too:

Can you imagine federal-provincial meetings, televised openly like that on substantive, core issues these days? It would never happen. Historic times.

Prompted by an email this morning:
It’s strange that no one has noted that, on April 17, 1982, Queen Elizabeth II signed into law the repatriation of our constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau and the Justice Minister, Jean Chretien both sat at that table in the ceremony.
Has everyone forgotten? Harper would love to.
Well, there you go! Happy Charter patriation anniversary, everyone!

(h/t NG)

Update (6:00 p.m.): Did you notice that Liberal sweater Trudeau was wearing while skating (about the 0:17 second mark in 2nd video)? Fun stuff.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ipsos, you are indeed blipsos

New Ekos out today: "Tories, Liberals neck and neck: poll." Conservatives 31.4, Liberals 29, NDP 16.4, Green 11.1.

That mythological 10 point lead in Monday's Ipsos poll? Pshaw.

The Guergis scandal might have tightened this up a little and may continue to have effects, we'll see. The Conservatives are down two points on the week. But it's been quite a stretch now where we are really always gravitating back to our ever-loving maddening and locked-in national poll number neighbourhood. It would be surprising, but not unwelcome, to see that change.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

From across the pond

Some efforts from the Labour party during the current election that are interesting and refreshing. There's emotion in the latter from the young person who is involved in the campaign, about her party and what it stands for, in particular the NHS (National Health Service). You'll see that emotion or sense of connection in the other video choices too (that you're given in the first video). Not a big fan of the piano soundtrack, think I would have gone a little more techno with a lot of strings:)

Food for thought:)

More Flaherty bafflegab

On the one hand: "Flaherty tells G20 bank tax won't work, says it could encourage more risk-taking." See, the problem is if you call it a "bank tax," the Conservative p.r. manual kicks in. Big no-no to support a bank tax or a tax of any kind, no matter how prudent it is. The rest of the G8 looks to be moving in that direction. Let's check in on Jim's latest:
The idea of taxing banks has been gaining steam in Europe and the United States as a means of penalizing institutions that triggered the global recession and of creating a cushion against future crises.

But Flaherty says a bank levy might actually encourage what regulators seek to punish - more risk taking by bankers who believe governments would feel bound by the tax to bail them out in case of future failures.

The Canadian finance minister says there are better ways of achieving the same result and has proposed an insurance fund against system risk termed "embedded contingent capital."
Oh, I see. An insurance fund. Now who would that be funded by? The banks? In which case, wouldn't we call that a tax? Hmmm?

Fun fact, they've moved away from the notion of an insurance fund in the U.K. because they believe that would indeed encourage the risk taking aspect that Jimmer is so worried about: was "a big shift for Alistair Darling to say that he favours a tax on some measure of the risks being taken by banks, as opposed to introducing an insurance premium on them to meet the costs of future bail-outs".

Treasury sources say Mr Darling favours a tax over an untouchable insurance premium because he fears that banks could feel they were insured against the consequences of their actions and take even greater risks.
Even Tory leader David Cameron is supporting a bank tax over there in the U.K.

So is Jim a day late and a dollar short with his insurance fund proposal? Is the G8 passing us by as Jim mumbles about such matters? Looks like it.

Update (7:50 p.m.): All right, the above needs this amendment. Details on Flaherty's proposal, apparently this is some kind of self-funded mechanism:

In his letter to his G20 peers, he asked them to consider an alternative put forth recently by Julie Dickson, Canada's chief bank regulator, whereby financial institutions insure themselves against failure by issuing debt that can be converted into equity at times of trouble. Ms. Dickson called the scheme "embedded capital."

"I think we are taking a leadership position on this because we are putting forward an alternative to a bank tax or levy," Mr. Flaherty said, hinting that a number of G20 countries might side with Canada in its fight.

That's interesting, and a little different from a premium, but whether the G20 is liable to go for a self-financing regime, i.e., leaving it in the hands of the banks, after what has occurred is another question.

Truly blind justice

Welcome to the new era of Kafkaesque Canada where only the government lawyer in a quasi-judicial proceeding can see the evidence that's been blacked out and that is at issue before the court. And he'll tell the witness what his opinion is of it, in fact giving evidence himself. But the witness can't see the evidence, to make reference to it, even if he wrote it. In fact, no one can challenge the government lawyer's opinion of what he has seen in the unredacted documents and which he has just given his opinion of to the proceeding. Which is highly troubling because the text referred to is the subject of contention between the government lawyer and the witness.

It's the scene, some kind of alien procedural fairness has descended upon us and it's what played out at the Military Police Complaints Commission yesterday.

The Globe gives a sense of the exchange but it's best to take in the government lawyer on video. The stunning moment is captured on the video here at about the 10:10 mark (you can fast forward).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Harper Minister Gail Shea in conflict of interest

This story about Fisheries Minister Gail Shea deserves more attention: "Shea caught up in turbine conflict." Here is the conflict as set out in that Chronicle Herald report today:
On Jan. 12, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced in Trenton that the Wind Energy Institute of Canada, in North Cape, P.E.I., would receive $10-20 million from the federal Clean Energy Fund for a nine-megawatt wind farm.

The institute is headed by Shea’s son-in-law, Scott Harper. The size of the investment will mean a significant expansion of the wind farm and research facility, which will be of benefit to her family — a clear conflict of interest.

As political minister for the island, and the MP for the riding where the money will be invested, Shea’s office would normally be closely involved in promoting such a project.
Shea claims that she went to the Ethics Commissioner for advice and here's what Shea's director of communications is saying about the advice received:
"The advice from the commissioner was that the minister not be involved in the file," he said. "That is why minister MacKay’s office was designated as the lead. Staff was aware of the file but didn’t play an active role. Minister MacKay’s office was the regional lead during his tenure as ACOA Minister."
The advice from the commissioner may have been that Shea was not to be involved in the file, and she may or may not have been involved in that particular funding decision that benefited the son-in-law's wind institute. But there is no public record of her recusal from the matter, as she should have done under the Act:

The Conflict of Interest Act requires any minister to formally recuse herself from any such decision and "make a public declaration of the recusal that provides sufficient detail to identify the conflict of interest that was avoided."

But there is no record of a recusal on the summary statement Shea filed with Dawson’s office.

Shea has been involved in advocating for a new energy cable connection to New Brunswick that would enable PEI's wind energy exporting. She has been on hand for a number of wind energy funding announcements. Has her office been involved in advocating for those? So isn't the big picture here that the Minister has not recused herself from the wind file, writ large, in PEI over the last few years? With the effect of all of that Island wind development enhancing her family's interest, through her son-in-law, in that Wind Energy Institute, a research and energy production interest?


Friday, April 09, 2010

Friday night

Nothing new grabbing the ear these days so here's some of what's been in the mix this week...enjoy:)

Well he will appear in almost any movie...

A little U.K. election check-in...Michael Caine endorses the Tories in Britain for their national service plan. Seriously, that's why he's in:
Last year, the star of films such as Get Carter, The Italian Job and Alfie spoke of his fury at Alistair Darling's decision in the 2009 budget to increase income tax to 50% for the country's highest earners.

The actor, who has homes in Surrey and Chelsea, threatened to move to America, where he lived in the 1970s and 1980s as a tax exile.

"Tax got to 82% [in the 1970s] and I thought this was kind of unfair," he said. "Also, I see ... that the government has taken it up to 50% and if it goes to 51 I will be back in America.

"I will not pay the government more than I get. No way, ever. So they've reached their limit with me. That's the lot."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Another reason to like the UK election

Built-in negotiating time after election day! For coalition talk or otherwise!
"In announcing the election for 6 May Brown announced the new parliament will not return until 18 May, giving nearly two weeks for the political parties to negotiate among themselves in the event of a hung parliament. That is six days more than normal, and is clearly designed by the civil service to protect the Queen from being drawn into deciding the identity of the future prime minister in the event of deadlock. The Lib Dems stressed they will support the party with a clear mandate."
If there is a minority result and coalition or accord discussions take place afterward, which is what this time frame seems to contemplate, it would be a good precedent to be held up in Canada. After the misinformation that has been spread in Canada about the workings of parliamentary democracy and permissible permutations, particularly during and after the 2008 December constitutional crisis with the irresponsible "coup" talk, whatever happens in Britain after this election and onwards into the life of the resulting government could be a very useful mirror for our own purposes.

Note the part about protecting the Queen from being drawn into a parliamentary conflict, how considerate. We don't mind putting our Governor General right in the thick of things, do we? It's even a consideration now as a successor is being lined up.

They seem positively civilized over there compared to Canadian democracy in the Harper era. But we will wait to see what happens in a month's time.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

U.K. election is on

A departure from the Canadian scene this morning, there's not much going on today in any event. For political junkies it will be a fun month or so as the much anticipated U.K. election has finally been called for May 6th. Yes, really, this should be a good one. If you're interested in politics, it'll be very tough to avert your eyes.

It's going to be a tight race, there is a strong possibility that a minority government will result and there has been much speculation about the role of the third party, the Liberal Democrats in that scenario. One of the latest polls throwing a wrench into the works is showing just a 4 point lead for the Conservatives while others have their lead at 10.

Why should Canadians be interested? There's a similar dynamic going on in Britain, in terms of the potential parliamentary minority government result. We are not alone, in other words, in terms of the fragmented national electorate phenomenon. The Conservatives are seeking a majority yet there's some lingering Thatcher era doubt about them even after years of Labour government. It's the old hidden agenda thing. So whether they're able to believably reach out and genuinely be perceived as more inclusive will be a big question. Their theme today in kicking off the campaign is fighting for "the great ignored." But the Conservatives hit a bump last week in terms of inclusiveness with a leading MP expressing anti-gay sentiment in a taped statement. There are also personal doubts about Conservative leader David Cameron, whether he's too "plastic," as Labour has taken to characterizing him. Watch Cameron speak, it's a great word for him.

The issues are not exactly translatable to Canada but there are the usual suspects. The economy is the biggest issue. The Conservatives are campaigning against Labour's "jobs tax," setting up a typical conservative/liberal tax fight. The Conservatives characterize Labour as big government, having put Britain in debt. Labour is running on "securing the recovery" and painting the Conservatives as reckless, unable to sustain it. You can hear echoes of the Canadian debate as all of these issues are bandied about.

It'll be interesting to see how the campaign unfolds. If Cameron is able to run a good campaign, with the change wind at his back, he's likely to win. Not that we, around here, are rooting for that result, of course. Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown is making a good case of late with the issues he's presenting. Whether that will be enough and whether Brown will be able to personally convey the energy necessary to gain yet another Labour mandate is another question.

Other things to watch, the mechanics of the campaigns, how social media is used and what innovations we might see on that front and in the party media campaigns as well. The above poster - Step Outside Posh Boy - was an April Fool's spoof in the Guardian, playing up both Brown's recently reported temper issues and Cameron's posh upbringing, having been schooled at Eton, the elite British boarding school. The British seem to be big on these creative posters, much more than we are, and the recent Conservative ones were mocked mercilessly by clever spoofers. If such a dynamic recurs during the campaign, it could have an effect.

So hopefully, there will be some unpredictable twists and turns to make it all the more fun, and maybe instructive, for those of us with no stake in the result. A nice little spring warm-up for a coming Canadian campaign, why not?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Selecting the new Governor General

Since the Governor General speculation is proceeding, it's worth noting some words of wisdom that make one of the most useful contributions to the discussion thus far:
With the likelihood of continuing minority parliaments, a new governor-general must be seen to be scrupulously non-partisan, said Patrick Monahan, dean at Osgoode Hall Law School.

“Given the minority governments that we’ve had and the prospect that we may well have continuing minorities, we’ve seen the increasing significance and the real discretion that the GG may be called upon to exercise,” Mr. Monahan said.

“So you want someone that is a person of stature and will command respect, and a person who is seen as independent of any of the major political parties. I think that is going to be the overriding element that you would be looking for in this appointment.”
Monahan's comments underscore how ridiculous some of the names being swapped about have been thus far. He's strongly insinuating here that the former athlete type, to name one example, is just not appropriate at all (that speculation is likely just milking the discussion in any event). Given the controversy we've had in two consecutive Decembers now with prorogation, that kind of choice would be a mistake. It would show that Harper seeks to dominate the position and that's not a good look on him, image-wise these days.

Harper will probably make a safe choice. His judgment has been off this year, starting with prorogation, arguably the dancing around on the maternal health initiative then more recently with the national anthem wording change. He needs to show some competency in his judgment.

Well put by Monahan, setting the bar appropriately high and injecting some much needed basic principles into the discussion.

Law and order talk

So, the PMO commented yesterday on a media report on the pardoning of sex offender Graham James:
"The prime minister has asked for explanation on how the National Parole Board can pardon someone who committed such horrific crimes that remain shocking to all Canadians," said Dimitri Soudas.

The ruling, he said, was made "without our government's consent or knowledge."

"The actions of this convicted sex offender shocked the conscience of a nation - one where the bond of trust between coaches and players in our national game is sacred," Soudas said.

Harper, he added, has asked Public Safety Minister Vic Toews "to propose reforms that will ensure that the National Parole Board always and unequivocally puts the public's safety first."
Response to the media on this one, to be expected from this PMO, hockey and a criminal justice issue wrapped up into one. You can take issue with the details of the statement, particularly the flourish about the sacred bond of trust in the national game, please. That's where the statement becomes political beyond an acceptable measured response. You can also surmise the unsettling effect on the independence of the Board going forward due to the Prime Ministerial demand for an explanation. But on the other hand, ultimately the Parole Board is accountable to Parliament and people will be upset about the decision so some kind of reaction is appropriate.

What might be notable, though, as context for the Harper PMO's reaction to the pardoning of a sex offender, is how interrupting their own legislative agenda by proroguing has meant that a bill on sex offenders has been delayed and has had to be re-introduced this month. The previous version of that bill was introduced on June 1st, 2009 in the last parliamentary session.

Talk versus action, they're much better at the former, not so good about actually doing anything about it.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Promises, promises

"Budget looms: Nova Scotia girds for increase to harmonized sales tax."
Nine months after the NDP won the Nova Scotia election by promising to balance the books without raising taxes or cutting spending, the party is poised to break those key pledges when it delivers its second budget Tuesday.

Premier Darrell Dexter has confirmed the province will carry a deficit for at least the next three years while imposing targeted, long-term spending cuts as Finance Minister Graham Steele struggles to cope with a soft economy, shrinking revenue from the offshore energy sector and a $490-million deficit for this fiscal year.

But the big question is: will the region's first NDP government accept an advisory panel's provocative recommendation to boost the 13 per cent harmonized sales tax by two percentage points?

Steele won't say, but many Nova Scotians are betting on it.
Almost mirroring the Harper government's present day rhetoric, promising the people no tax hikes, no spending cuts and all will magically work out. Then backtracking once in government. Hmmm. This is the kind of thing that could give politics a bad name.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Rinks over broadband

An example of a high tech opportunity that the Harper government missed in making its stimulus spending choices is found in this report today: "Canada's digital divide." Broadband access for rural areas could have been made a priority to put Canada on a better footing in comparison to other countries and to give rural communities the basic tools that urban Canada has. A "cohesive national strategy" could have been undertaken. Competitiveness and productivity, the buzzwords when discussing Canada's economic challenges into the future, are greatly affected by such access. You'd think that the Conservatives, the party that likes to portray themselves as the party of rural Canada, would have paid a bit more attention to the issue. Here's a bit of an extended excerpt from the Globe report that sets out the dynamic:
As urban Canada races to build high-speed broadband networks to keep up with business and consumer demand for efficient communications, outlying regions are being left behind with slow, unreliable or costly connections.

This growing digital divide makes rural economic prosperity increasingly elusive. Canadians living in rural areas already have incomes well below their urban counterparts (14 per cent lower than the national average, according to a recent study that used earlier census data), and the earnings gap exists in every province. In areas that have an abundance of oil, potash or other key commodities demanded by the world's economic powers, fast Internet connections might not be so important, but for the rest, they're crucial to pulling in new employers. Communities that cannot plug into the high-speed digital economy cannot attract new businesses that rely on basic services such as electronic invoicing, Internet conferencing and large digital file transfers.

Rural towns and villages already devastated by the exodus of local manufacturers to lower-wage countries now face further economic marginalization if they don't build high-speed digital infrastructure. A report last year by the World Bank estimated that every 10-percentage-point increase in the availability of broadband boosted economic growth by 1.2 percentage points in developed countries. Better high-speed access may, in fact, be one of the tools Canada needs to improve its poor record of productivity growth.

The digital disparity has become such a concern that the CRTC has called for a public hearing in the fall to consider whether a new “regulatory framework” is necessary to “ensure all Canadians have access to affordable broadband service.” But the initiative provoked howls of outrage from the handful of major cable and telecom companies that dominate the industry. Executives at these companies argue that without huge government subsidies, they could never earn a profit building expensive wired connections to sparsely populated rural regions.

“It's a multibillion dollar challenge,” says Michael Hennessy, Telus's vice-president for government and regulatory affairs. “And there's no money in the federal treasury to fund such a challenge.” Indeed, Ottawa's $225-million contribution to building broadband networks to “underserved” regions is a pittance compared with the tens of billions of dollars spent on national digital programs in such countries as the United States, Britain, Australia and even such small economies as Portugal.

In the United States, for example, the Obama administration has already pledged an initial $7.2-billion (U.S.) to an ambitious broadband plan that some expect will cost as much as $30-billion. The plan calls for 100 million Americans to have access to super high speeds roughly 65 times faster than the traditional definition of “broadband.” It also offers an array of tax incentives for telecom corporations that upgrade their services.

Rob Faris, research director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, says broadband Internet connections are “essential infrastructure for competitive nations.” Without access to these high-speed pipes, he says, communities “will be at a disadvantage.” (emphasis added)
Did you catch that quote, “And there's no money in the federal treasury to fund such a challenge.” But there was! We just spent billions on stimulus spending to stave off the effects of the big economic collapse but our choices did not include broadband in rural areas.

There have been a ton of rinks funded, to cement the Harper government's connection forevermore with hockey. And there have been scores of snowmobile trails funded under that half a billion dollar Recreational Infrastructure Canada program. Tourism is important, sure. But that funding might have been more smartly spent by improving rural broadband access. What good are all the rinks and snowmobile trails if the people who live there don't have the technological infrastructure to sustain a living in those communities? Priorities, demonstrated. Ensuring rural broadband access, maybe one of those big ideas for the future.

iPad frenzy

The big event of the day, the release of the iPad:

Did you hear the guy say that he feels like it's his graduation day what with all the applause and the escort up the stairs? What events these Apple people manage to pull off with their device launches.

They even manage to lure Canadian politicos. I see Warren Kinsella's been off to Buffalo to get his and he scored.

Here's what David Pogue of the NY Times did with his video on the iPad's release. It's a little corny but it gives a fair sense of what it would be like to have one of these, what the pros and cons are, and he is one of the leading tech gurus.

The attraction of this device to me is the screen size, maybe catching a demographic wave with the aging population. Who wants to stretch and read a BlackBerry or an iPhone when you can see more clearly on the iPad? You can envision, too, the coming model morphs where they enlarge the size, make them lighter, etc. The portability of this device as opposed to a laptop that is heavier, also an attraction. Lugging around a laptop, even keeping the accessories to an absolute minimum, is still quite a haul, having to set up, etc. This device cuts all of that out.

For bloggers et al., that virtual keyboard might be annoying. The principal reason I did not go to an iPhone a few months ago. But this guy seems to think it's going to be ok, so this is interesting:

So maybe that keyboard accessory isn't a must if you wanted to blog with it. You could probably learn to live with the virtual keyboard for short posts, twitter or quick "Blog This" items. The live blogging crowd may take to this, who knows. But as Pogue says, this may not be a major content creation device but more of a passive entertainment or information device.

Fun stuff to watch. Maybe down the road...

Friday, April 02, 2010