Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Ekos

The new Ekos is out, taken coincidental to and immediately after the gun registry vote: Cons 33.1, Libs 29.9, NDP 13.5, Green 10.9, Bloc 10.1.

There are some interesting questions posed this week about election outcomes. For example, support for a minority (16%) or majority (22%) Liberal government is gauged versus support for a minority (10%) or majority (26%) Conservative government. I.e., 38% prefer a Liberal government of some type to 36% preferring the Conservative type. Low level support for a Conservative minority, you don't say.

Hark! A coalition question enters the picture this week. 41% prefer a hypothetical coalition government of Liberals and New Democrats led by Michael Ignatieff versus 39% for a "Conservative government led by Stephen Harper." A very high 20% "don't know" on that one, probably due to the unfamiliarity of respondents with a coalition style government. So, it's a close split but still satisfying to read a poll result like this given the cartoonish Harper led rhetoric that has been attempting to demonize coalitions ever since the 2008 constitutional crisis. Whether this will give the PMO pause on their antics, who knows.

Election fever (if anyone has it) is probably unchanged. Might be an OK time to go for Liberals though.

And this delightful Harperland might even shake the landscape up a bit more. Sounds like a must read this fall.

On the bright side

Gillian Duffy, pensioner and minor celebrity during the U.K. election this past summer returns! At least no one called her a bigot this time around. You can't do that when you're asleep.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Parliamentary procedure question

This was stated yesterday in the House of Commons during the census debate:
"Let me put this question ... to any member of the Liberal-Bloc or NDP coalition partners: If someone in one of your ridings does not want to complete the 40 pages of personal, private questions ... is it the appropriate government response to harass them until they relent and comply?" Clement said in the Commons.
Clement is referring to a "coalition" by name. But as we know, that's misinformation, there is no official or formal "coalition." He's not making an argument or debating the point, he's stating that one exists. This has been cropping up frequently from the government members of late.

It's worth asking then whether one of the opposition members should raise this in the proper manner, whatever that may be, whether as a matter of parliamentary privilege or seeking a Speaker's ruling that the Conservatives cease and desist from using the word in this manner. Or, perhaps, seek to have the Speaker enforce his earlier ruling that might cover this situation. They have been warned twice in recent memory to refrain from playing partisan games in the House of Commons with personal attacks, this seems to be a variation on their similar tactics.

(h/t to a certain blogger out there presently on hiatus)

Bandwagon Blackburn

Just head shaking, the instincts of the Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn that were on display yesterday. Reeling from the revelations about breaches of veterans' privacy in his ministry, where private medical records have apparently been widely accessed in respect of at least two critics, Sean Bruyea and Pat Stogran, bandwagon Blackburn tried to jump on board an investigative train that had already left the station:
A statement by Jennifer Stoddard's office, released to The Canadian Press, contradicts Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn who earlier in the day told a news conference that he asked for a wide-ranging probe.

"The Commissioner has advised Minister Blackburn’s office that her investigation into a complaint about the handling of one veteran’s personal information has raised concerns about the possibility of systemic privacy issues," said Valerie Lawton, a spokeswoman for Stoddard in a prepared statement.

"As a result, she had already decided to initiate an audit of the department’s privacy practices."

Lawton said Stoddard welcomed the minister's invitation.

Blackburn made it sound as if he initiated the more comprehensive probe during a news conference to announce improved support for the families of the most severely wounded soldiers.

"I'm very concerned about what's happening there," he said at National Defence Headquarters.

"This morning we have a discussion with the privacy commissioner and I thought with all that news is coming, that it would be appropriate for the commissioner, the privacy commissioner, to look further in the department to see what's going on, to enlarge what she has done up to now, to look further into the department to be sure that what's going on there." (emphasis added)
In other words, it appears that the Veterans Affairs minister, having discovered the existence of a wide ranging privacy investigation being conducted into the conduct of officials in his ministry, tried to make it appear that he and his government were the driving force behind the investigation. He should have just acknowledged the investigation and pledged support.

To make matters worse, Blackburn inexplicably tried to lay fault for the burgeoning privacy issues at Pat Stogran's feet. Blaming the veterans ombudsman for not raising the problem with Blackburn and not looking into the issue. This is Stogran he's blaming, whose own medical files have allegedly been widely breached as well. Does this minister have any concept of where the buck stops? Doesn't appear to and maybe he shouldn't be in charge.

The Privacy Commissioner's office shouldn't be faulted here at all for issuing their statement of clarification. I imagine some will try. News of alleged privacy breaches of a significant nature had arisen, they were assuring people the office is on the job and didn't require any prompting to get on it. Blackburn left the impression that maybe they needed that prompting. The Privacy Commissioner is also an independent officer of Parliament and the statement provided that extra clarification that the investigation was independent from government influence. Again, Blackburn's statement might have left the opposite impression.

This government is fatally preoccupied with optics and making itself look good, even on a subject matter as sensitive as veterans' privacy.

When human rights tribunals go not so wild

This seems a little over the top in its presentation: "Human Rights Tribunal rules it can name university deans." Front page banner headline worthy on the National Post site tonight. The headline suggests a tribunal with visions of grandeur, an unchecked administrative colossus that might pick off university deans left, right and center. The report, however, deals with one human rights complaint emanating out of a decanal struggle at the University of Windsor's law school. A remedy sought by the professor in question is to have the present search for a new dean halted and to have her appointed to the typical term as dean. She had been a finalist for the position when a colleague raised plagiarism allegations against her. The search was started anew and the professor launched a human rights complaint over the allegations, alleging sexism and racism. In human rights complaints, it's not uncommon for a remedy that's sought to be reinstatement to a job. The remedy sought will clearly seek to make the complainant whole, to in fact remedy the perceived wrong.

The report indicates that the Human Rights Tribunal has only given an interim decision affirming that while it hasn't ruled on the specific discrimination allegations in this case, it does have the power to appoint the aggrieved professor as dean should a finding of discrimination be made down the road. The tribunal doesn't say that it will, and it even downplays the option by saying that if there's a new dean in place, that could affect the tribunal actually going ahead with a decanal appointment. But it does reserve the right. I would think that would be a strong message to the law school now, who appear to have hopelessly bungled this one, to try anew to settle the case. 

This sounds like a very rare case with the remedy being sensationalized here a bit, no doubt given the ongoing present day scrutiny of human rights tribunals that the right has been sowing. There may be a desire here to pump up the case as the latest example of human rights tribunals gone wild. But it just so happens that the woman here is a professor vying for a deanship who claims she's been unfairly discriminated against. The remedy may very well be warranted and all parties involved agree it's available.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

10 years later

A perspective.

Creeping conventional wisdom on the Senate

There seems to be a bit of conventional wisdom creeping into discussions about legislation on Parliament Hill and the role of the Senate. As we know, as a matter of practice (and from years of Conservative braying), the Senate is unelected and it has no legitimacy to block legislation from the House of Commons. If a bill passes the Commons, it should pass the Senate. Consider this CP report yesterday on the census and an apparent quote attributed to Ralph Goodale:
Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale acknowledged it will be an uphill fight to get the bill through the Commons and then through the Senate, where the Tories are on the cusp of a clear majority.
It's not clear that Goodale said the latter part or whether it was a descriptive add on in the report meant to amplify why there might be delay. A private member's bill will be difficult to push through quickly in time to save the long form census, that's true. And the Senate does take time to do its work, also adding to the time constraints on an urgent matter. But passage has nothing to do with the Conservatives being on the cusp of a majority there (and Goodale's not the House Leader anymore, as an aside).

It was seen yesterday as well in a report on the stimulus debate, with respect to a Bloc bill on EI benefits that's to be voted upon Wednesday:
Because of the party numbers in the Senate, the Bloc bill is unlikely to become law even if it survives Wednesday’s vote...
So what are we saying here? That parties now have to marshal enough support in the Senate to get a bill into law? Since when is it becoming conventional wisdom that the Senate has legitimacy to block the will of the House of Commons? It doesn't and it's a little surprising to see that view creeping into our everyday discourse as if it's a truth.

Promises, promises

Update (5:20 p.m.) below.

New Brunswick has a new government, of the blue stripe. Being bold too. This caught the eye:
"The Progressive Conservative government will provide you with an open and inclusive government. We will not leave you on the outside looking in."
In Harper's Canada, a Progressive Conservative government uttering such sentiments is just adorable. After all, at the federal level, open and inclusive government are like kryptonite to the federal Conservative cousins. We will see what happens and whether this is just early goings rah rah stuff.

Is it an anti-incumbency streak in the air? Who knows. The NB Power debacle certainly was a major factor in this result.

Segueing over to the Toronto mayoralty race...this is Rob Ford's video released late last night and much discussed on twitter:

He's sounding like a bit of a broken record at this point, possibly explaining how he's stalled in the most recent poll and looks to be vulnerable. Plus, I mean, just watch the video. The front runner glare demands a little more from a leading mayoralty candidate of one of North America's largest cities, no? The dynamic's finally starting to turn, should get real interesting now.

Update (5:20 p.m.): The flag behind Ford spawned an inquiry, whether it was a blue Canadian flag? It's probably the Canadian flag draped over the Toronto flag which is very blue. That's my guess. (Isn't that Toronto flag a thing of beauty?)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Context for the Flaherty stimulus report today

As we watch Finance Minister Jim Flaherty deliver his hunky dory, rosy, shiny and sixth status report on the Economic Action Plan today, here is some context as to what a few other nations have been doing, infrastructure wise.

China is doing moon shots. Yes, that’s plural. When I say “moon shots” I mean big, multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments. China has at least four going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities. In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.
Not entirely fair to compare ourselves to mammoth, authoritarian China but still, that is serious infrastructure with clear goals. 

The U.S. is not quite keeping up with China, but still you get some sense of a vision with their infrastructure choices:
...the Recovery Act is the most ambitious energy legislation in history, converting the Energy Department into the world's largest venture-capital fund. It's pouring $90 billion into clean energy, including unprecedented investments in a smart grid; energy efficiency; electric cars; renewable power from the sun, wind and earth; cleaner coal; advanced biofuels; and factories to manufacture green stuff in the U.S. The act will also triple the number of smart electric meters in our homes, quadruple the number of hybrids in the federal auto fleet and finance far-out energy research through a new government incubator modeled after the Pentagon agency that fathered the Internet.
The stimulus is also stocked with nonenergy game changers, like a tenfold increase in funding to expand access to broadband and an effort to sequence more than 2,300 complete human genomes — when only 34 were sequenced with all previous aid. There's $8 billion for a high-speed passenger rail network, the boldest federal transportation initiative since the interstate highways.
And so on. Not to hold it up as perfection, the Americans have been criticized as not doing enough, but this overview of the Recovery Act does give a sense of the direction there (and see the later Biden quote on items rejected and why:"...some 260 skate parks, picnic tables and highway beautifications that flunked his what-would-your-mom-think test. "Imagine they could have proved we wasted a billion dollars," Biden says. "Gone, man. Gone!")

Now, today, here in Canada, you will hear Jim Flaherty talking up 22,000 or so projects started across the country, as if there is magic in that number as opposed to the quality of projects undertaken. And as this columnist in the Globe today suggests, there are questions about how the stimulus has been spent that underscore the comparison between us and other nations:
It’s hard to imagine there’s much Canada envy over the millions Ottawa has thrown at local pet projects over the past two years, including Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest ($700,000), an indoor skateboard park and climbing wall in Winnipeg ($3.2-million), a motorized orchestra pit at a concert hall in Rimouski, Que. ($153,000), or repairing a busted hockey rink in Iqaluit ($2.5-million).

No one begrudges Canadians’ right to knock back some Schnapps or play a little hockey. But to throw billions into a hodge-podge of boondoggles and call it world-beating economic policy is a bit of a stretch.
Throw in the reporting yesterday from CP on the intricate communication requirements imposed by the federal government on local infrastructure partners, with emphasis on signs, plaques, ribbon-cutting events and other assorted political aspects of the process, all the while leaving local groups in the lurch on the interest costs...and it reinforces the point of a skewed sense of priorities and a celebration of arguably inferior choices. Tom Friedman made an observation on his country's inability to get its act together to make better choices and it's relevant to us as well:
Studying China’s ability to invest for the future doesn’t make me feel we have the wrong system. It makes me feel that we are abusing our right system. There is absolutely no reason our democracy should not be able to generate the kind of focus, legitimacy, unity and stick-to-it-iveness to do big things — democratically — that China does autocratically. We’ve done it before. But we’re not doing it now because too many of our poll-driven, toxically partisan, cable-TV-addicted, money-corrupted political class are more interested in what keeps them in power than what would again make America powerful, more interested in defeating each other than saving the country.
Deflate some of the rhetoric and the key point reverberates here.

Has our stimulus been a wasted opportunity? In part? This is likely to be part of the coming debate, with the Auditor General's report forthcoming as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Elephants in the photo op staging area

Excellent point made on the occasion of the prime ministerial visit to fair Newfoundland, devastated by Hurricane Igor:
A politician chose to take the spotlight and act as a spokesman for somebody else. He doesn't know where the flood waters were; someone else told him. And since Harper was being so authoritative in his assessment and analysis why didn't some reporter simply nail him right then? Question: Isn't it a bit odd for mid-latitude Newfoundland to take a direct hit from a tropical Atlantic Category 1 hurricane? Since you're providing details would you explain how that meteorological event evolved?

Think about it. We've got intact tropical hurricanes, still with all their tropical characteristics, making direct hits on landmass at 47 degrees north latitude. The federal government's head politician says he's never seen anything like it. The same politician who refuses to take any action to curb, or even acknowledge the existence of the anthropogenic contribution to global warming.

Never seen anything like it before in Canada? Wait for it; there's a lot more to come.
Of course the Prime Minister should have visited, that's not the issue. But as he travels the country of late, it is worth pointing out these elephants in the room that are silently stalking these photo-ops. Recall his end of August trip to the Arctic.
During his visit, a massive chunk of ice broke off Ellsemere Island in Nunavut — a 5,000-year-old peninsula of ice so large that it's disappearance will cause a redrawing of Canada's map, according to federal officials.

The event went unremarked upon by the prime minister, even as he reannounced federal funding for Radarsat satellite technology that's key to mapping Canada's Arctic.
Unremarked. Oblivious. The elephants are north, east, all around us these days.

There was something else bugging me too about this Newfoundland trip, the lack of a photo showing Harper assisting in the aftermath of the devastation. Oh wait...found one:

(h/t pmoharper)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday night

Since I missed last night's music contribution to the blogging meme that we are a few more from the week. Best thing I've heard in ages though is still last week's pick of the new Jamiroquai. Anyway...

Techno pick of the week...

And a throwback, again. Lots of Marvin Gaye being reworked these days, don't know why but it's all good.

Have a good night.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pictures that speak a thousand words

Incredible comparative pictures of the size of the audience for world leaders who are speaking at the UN, including Mr. Harper.

Canada's back, baby!

Update (10:10 p.m.): CTV's report tonight on the depleted audience:
Harper's speech was designed to drive home the country's bid.
However, he spoke before a relatively small group of UN delegates, CTV's CTV Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife reported from New York. The session ran longer than expected after a number of leaders spoke for longer than their allotted time. When Harper took the podium, U.S. President Barack Obama and many other world leaders had left for lunch, Fife said.

Canadian blogger in need of help

This Iranian-Canadian blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, has been imprisoned in Iran for almost two years now, caught up in the Iranian regime's draconian justice system. He's said now to be facing the death penalty after a trial on charges that stem essentially from his great crime of helping introduce blogging capabilities to Iranians a few years ago and exercising his right to free speech while outside Iran.

The Canadian government is pressing for consular access and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and PEN Canada are actively advocating on his behalf as well:
"This is a dark day for all who value human rights and free expression," said Ellen Seligman, President of PEN Canada. "We are deeply disturbed and dismayed to learn that, after nearly two years in prison for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression, Hossein Derakhshan may now face a death sentence. We ask that all measures be taken by the government of Iran to prevent this action from proceeding further."

CJFE and PEN Canada urge the government of Iran to uphold the human rights of its citizens, ensure that this heinous sentence does not go forward, and provide Derakhshan with his basic rights including complete access to his lawyer, visits from his family and humane treatment. The organizations also join with Derakhshan's family in asking for the Canadian government's intervention.
There is a petition that can be signed and there is a Facebook group as well. Circulating the information and raising awareness is the least that we Canadian bloggers can do.


Foggy scenario at the U.N.

According to this report, "Canada fears loss in UN Security Council race," we're either in jeopardy of losing that Security Council seat to Portugal or the government is trying to hopelessly lower expectations so it can get a win out of what should be a routine slot on the Council each decade for Canada:
Canada could lose to Germany in the first round of voting, and might not win a tough fight on a second ballot against Portugal, say government sources.
And while many observers have pegged Canada as an easy favourite to beat Portugal for the second seat, the official said he is worried that won't happen.
This columnist is putting Canada's chance of getting the seat at 60%, to Portugal's 40%. CTV reports greater confidence among government officials.

Whatever the real case is, the fact that there is indeed concern circulating that Canada might not get that seat is a remarkable achievement for the Harper government. This tenuous situation is something to keep in mind as Harper speaks at the U.N. today and we watch what he has to say.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The big vote

It was a close vote tonight in a high drama House of Commons: "Long-gun registry survives tight Commons vote." 153 to 151 as we all know at this point. What else to say here?

Lots of spin making the rounds as to what this means for future election results, who's at risk due to their vote, etc. There are lots of avowals of living to fight another day but it's hard to say what life this one issue will have and what other pressing issues will intervene. In the 24/7 news cycle, it's very tough for any issue to predominate, it's more likely a narrative woven up into many issues that will prevail.

There was a lot of wishing on the part of Conservatives and NDP for the Liberal caucus to crack. That didn't happen. On that score, you have to call it a good moment for Michael Ignatieff who did take a risk in whipping the vote.

The biggest impact from this issue and this vote, to me, is a very general point. This has been a real gut check moment for parties all around. While the vote has been largely a divisive force in Canadian politics for many months now, I think that gut check has done some good, coming early in the fall parliamentary session as it has. It should be interesting to see what kind of momentum builds from it now.

Update (9:40 p.m.): Here was the vote:

UK poised for more big change?

There is an idea floating in Britain now which would see tuition fees abolished in favour of a "graduate tax" that university students would pay on their earnings once they graduate: "Graduate tax 'could hit UK's competitiveness'." It is being seriously considered in a review that's going on and is set to report in October. Under the graduate tax, one could end up paying much more in the long run than they currently do in tuition fees in the U.K. (presently about $5200 Cdn). No sense is given of how long this post-graduation tax would be in place. This change has been prompted by a Liberal Democrat election promise, funding issues and it might perhaps be brought in under the Tory coalition government.

You can see the immediate attraction for current students, free tuition, who doesn't love that. It would encourage accessibility to education, a good thing that's for sure. Yet the post-graduation costs would be there. You get a break yet the tax grab beyond could be much more significant than the present pay as you go model. Theoretically, progressive tax brackets account for higher earnings once you're out of school at present, in any event. So wouldn't this set up a system of almost double-taxation? Create greater cost burdens on business with graduates looking to account for that extra hit? All kinds of questions raised by this one but with the U.K. facing hard times, they're looking at it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Conservative priorities, front and center

My, a blitz! When was the last time we saw an issue light such a fire under this government? Hard to say, but this is telling stuff:
Their bid to kill the long-gun registry in peril, the Harper Conservatives are ramping up their campaign machine to blitz key ridings before a decisive Wednesday Commons vote on the matter – one that could reverberate into the next election.

The Conservatives are expanding the use of live callers and robo-dialers – automated calling systems – to contact voters across 20 federal ridings where they believe opposition MPs face the greatest pressure to help sink the registry. They’re also boosting Internet advertising on top of radio ads already running in these constituencies.
Live callers and robo-dialers! Wonder what the final accounting will be for the Hoeppner bill and her broad based campaign, complete with matching van. It's U.S. style riding by riding targeting of members, the exact dynamic a private member's bill plays to, where members theoretically have freedom to vote as they like and thus enable such targeting. Wouldn't be surprised in the least to see Conservatives line up private member bills on other hot button issues of a social conservative nature in the future. This one's been close, heck, why not? We may have been witnessing a dry run of a whole new era in Canadian politics. Who says the Conservatives are running on empty? They're innovating in their own interests quite handily. We're just looking at their accomplishments all wrong.

A few other points on this. The spin is really remarkable, irrespective of what happens, the Conservatives seem to win. If they lose the vote on Wednesday, they get to keep the issue alive as a fundraiser. Never mind that they'll have blown it big time after getting ever so close to dismantling the great bugaboo. There'll be no consequences from that? Why didn't Harper make it a government bill at any time during his minority mandates? No reckoning, not even in the slightest for this great missed opportunity?

Then there's the second "upside" of them losing. They get to use it as a wedge in those Liberal and NDP ridings, and, of course, it's worse for the Liberals. Hmmm. What about that poll on Saturday showing that actually, there's not as much of a rural/urban divide as the reporting would have us believe ("...the urban/rural chasm, according to a Harris/Decima research poll released on Sept. 8, has narrowed to a small crack")? Maybe the Canadian people aren't as facile as many would like them to be.

We've also seen populist lectures on campaigns, promises made and pious admonitions from Hoeppner, rookie parliamentarian, to the likes of Peter Stoffer about keeping to them. This is rich coming from Conservatives, they of the axing of political party subsidies (platform reference please) and the long-form census (platform reference please).

What must Canadians be thinking as they watched the news coverage focussing on a gun registry battle of all things. Out of touch? Are these people out to lunch? Probably. The Harper Conservatives may have thought this was a good one to push, to feed the base and all, yet it's taken on more life than they likely anticipated. Front and center as Parliament returns, this can't be the big kick off that any party governing at the moment would have wanted. Guns, guns and more guns.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday night

OK, three more from what I've been listening to this week...

This one is really growing on me...

Techno! Pick of the week. A little more quiet but long and nice when you're surfing, thinking, whatever...

And one more of the throwback variety, no political messaging intended!

Wrong Orwellians

Nifty but totally misguided headline in the Post today: "‘Orwellian’ bureaucrats shielding PM from media surprises: documents." Really? Bureaucrats are driving the bus in Harper's Ottawa? News to anyone who's been following along. In 2010 Ottawa the Orwellians are those executing the Harper command and control style which emanates right out of the PMO. The Natural Resources director of communications seems to be driving the incredible tale of information management and vetting in the report, not the bureaucrats who are just doing what the ministers office wants.

If you read it, you'll see that a painstaking "zero-surprise environment" is what's being set up in the Natural Resources department (and likely elsewhere) to handle media requests. Taking seven or more "...“subject matter experts,” including media officers, senior bureaucrats and political staff, to craft and approve responses." Yes, it's the p.r. obsessed government in action, focusing so much time on handling media requests lest the government be embarrassed. And it all comes at the direction of Harper ministerial staff. Or, if you're the National Post writing headlines, "Orwellian bureaucrats."

Not fooling anybody.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pan out time

Cue the very well thought out fall plan, it's almost Parliament time:
A senior government official tells the Canadian Press that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his caucus will travel the country as part of a pan-Canadian consultation process on the next phase of the economic action plan.
Hmmm, a few questions.

Consultation on the "next phase of the economic action plan"? Is there one? Thought the next phase was the turning off the infrastructure taps at the end of March. And the new "period of fiscal restraint." So that doesn't sound like a very promising next phase to be touring on! this just going to be more of that Mike Duffy roadshow stuff? With the planted audiences, planted questions, i.e., high gloss fakery? Or will real unscreened Canadians be permitted to take part in the big pan-Canadian consultations coming our way? Serious or for show?

And one last question. Is the cupboard bare in Conservative idea land? Because this little fall preview certainly smacks of it.

Of policies in force

For the record, as we're about to be bamboozled to no end by spin about the F-35 purchase, and a new term is entering Canadians' lexicon, the "industrial and regional benefits" programme, here's a brief statement on it from the DND site:
Not only does funding for new equipment benefit the Canadian Forces, it also benefits Canadians and Canadian industry. The Industrial and Regional Benefits (IRB) program is an applied requirement for all major defence procurements; every dollar the Government of Canada pays a contractor, the contractor must spend an equivalent amount inside Canada. IRBs are mandatory on all defence projects over $100 million, allowing the federal government to lever long-term industrial and regional development from defence investments. This ensures that no matter where defence equipment is from, the Canadian economy benefits from the Government's investment.
The Conservative approach to the F-35 acquisition is an exception to government of Canada policy. There are lengthy lists of projects proceeding under this policy at the DND site. The Conservative choice to abandon IRB in the context of the now debated Lockheed Martin F-35 situation is causing some to engage in economics seminars over the IRB programme's very merit, but otherwise, it's government policy and the fact that it's being ignored is going to continue to dog the Conservatives.

In the backdrop to all of this, news this week of Pentagon cuts that are targeting the F-35 programme in particular:
The Pentagon is also scrutinizing how to cut back on inefficiencies and overhead costs on designing and building the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The price of the highly advanced fighter jet has jumped to $92 million per aircraft in 2010 from $50 million each in 2000.
The Americans are cutting defense spending and looking at their programmes, isn't it appropriate that we ask some questions, at a minimum, about the choices we're making? Some parties are saying yes, some a flat no.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In the alternative...

Don Martin opines on the electoral prospects of Harper's Quebec City MPs if the PM is backing away from funding that arena:
The decision is potentially terminal for the seven giddy Conservative MPs photographed in Nordiques hockey jerseys last week. The Prime Minister’s Office insists those MPs engineered a rogue photo-op, a tough swallow given Mr. Harper’s micromanaging ways, but the MPs clearly aligned their electoral fate with federal arena funding. Which means they’re dead.
Which may explain Harper's alternative sales job last night in Quebec City to Conservative party supporters:
He also tried to reassure voters that Ottawa has already spent millions in the region where the vast majority of the Conservative caucus were elected in the 2008 election.

Mr. Harper went on to list many of the hundreds of infrastructure projects his government has funded in the region.
Elsewhere described this way:
Harper then went on to list contributions by his government to expand the Université Laval football stadium, modernize the airport and money for the city’s 400th anniversary.
Yes, we well know by now that this is what Harper's government has done, ensured that infrastructure funding has been well spread to Conservative ridings. This seems to be a large part of the ongoing Harper strategy, waving federal dollars the government has spent at any given constituency with the implicit expectation of electoral reward in return. We spent for you, elect us. Never mind that it wasn't the Conservative party footing the bill, it was the taxpayers of Canada. It is illuminating to read the blatant pushing of this spending in the context of a partisan appeal. Not that surprising, but still illuminating to see it explicitly pushed.

This is partly what people reacted loudly and negatively to as this NHL arena play has unfolded. It focussed Canadians a bit on questions like whether such projects are worth government expenditure and whether improper partisan motives are at hand. Maybe it was a question of scale that brought that attention. But there Harper was, essentially sustaining the same ploy to the Quebec City audience last night. Sounding very election ready in the process too. Likely a preview of the Harper stump speech across the nation, just interchange the infrastructure projects in the speech.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The big backtrack

Spin for your lives! Hockey arena? Harper was all "who said anything about a hockey arena" today. From CBC:
Speaking to reporters in Sept-Îles on Monday, the prime minister said his government has been clear that professional sports are important to communities but are "first and foremost the responsibility of the private sector."
Clear as mud! Not what they've led people to believe, this brouhaha is not a backlash to private sector funding after all. Here was Harper himself on September 1st:
“I hope that we’ll see the Nordiques return,” Harper said in French. “We have discussed this with (Quebec Mayor Regis Labeaume) and we will continue those discussions.”
Sounded like full speed ahead at that point from the head honcho. I see the federal government, I see the Quebec City government, I don't see any mention of private types. Stockwell Day's people said the same thing, the federal government was considering funding an arena.
A Day staffer said a proposal for arena funding is being prepared and will be considered by the federal government.
The discussion has just not included the private sector in the "first and foremost" role, as the PM put it today.

And what's this? Suddenly a sense of fairness in infrastructure considerations?
"If there is to be any role for the federal government, first of all, that role would have to be equitable across the country, treat everybody the same, and it also has to be affordable, recognizing that this country is going to be moving into a period of fiscal restraint," Harper said.
If only all the infrastructure funds had been so applied. But that's been proven not to be the case, time and again.

The dalliance is out there and who knows how it is yet to be resolved, despite the apparent backtracking Harper is madly engaged in. This episode has raised questions about frivolous, foolhardy fiscal judgment once again.

Bad taste

Look at the photo accompanying this item: "Tories draw a bead on pro-registry opposition MPs." What is that meant to suggest? That if you support the gun registry, that you're literally in the line of fire?


When photo-ops go wrong

Harper is the tenth man on the deal team, apparently. When things go wrong that is:
Stephen Harper apparently had no idea his MPs would sport the Quebec Nordiques jerseys last Wednesday in a photo op that would spark a controversy across the country.

Tory MP Steven Blaney told QMI Agency on Sunday the Prime Minister’s Office had no idea they would wear the sweaters.

“It was a little surprise,” he said.

The MPs wore the jerseys in an apparent show of support for a new arena in Quebec City that could spell the return of the NHL franchise to the provincial capital.

They posed in the sweaters after a favourable Ernst and Young report on the project was released.
Kind of hard to believe that Harper would have had no idea about this very high profile photo op. It has been reported that his office has final say on his government's p.r. events, top to bottom. On an issue like this that had attracted media coverage, that the PM had spoken about in the lead up, as politically sensitive as it's proven to be, it's a stretch to think Harper's office wouldn't have been all over this one. With hockey the focus, to boot.

Even if Harper had nothing to do with it, what's the point of hanging your Quebec MPs out to dry like this? What a sign that the issue has blown up on them, well and truly.

In other news on this issue today...L. Ian MacDonald tries to throw Harper a life line. He argues that the 2022 Quebec City Olympics bid is the right way to have sold this funding of the Quebec arena. That if the PM steps up in this "leadership moment" and pitches those far away Olympics as the key along with how much private money Pierre Karl Peladeau is willing to pitch in, he just might sell it. Not sure how it helps the matter at the moment to elevate Peladeau's involvement in this. Wouldn't that just further speculation about a quid pro quo? The NHL angle has pretty much sucked up the oxygen on this now in any event. That's why the photo is such a problem.

The PMO needs a new rule a la Bill Maher: live by the photo-op, die by the photo-op. Own 'em all.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pakistan flood relief announcement today

Update (4:30 p.m.) below.

John Baird is making an announcement today in Ottawa regarding Canada's Pakistan flood relief response. It looks like it will be as Postmedia News is reporting: "Ottawa to extend matching contributions for Pakistan flood relief."
The federal government is expected to announce Sunday an extension of a program to match all private donations to registered charities to bolster aid efforts in flood-ravaged Pakistan.

Last month, Conservative House leader John Baird announced the government will match all donations made between Aug. 2 and Sept. 12, in addition to $33 million already committed to relief efforts. It’s not known yet exactly how much further Ottawa plans to extend the matching grants, but it’s expected it will be until sometime in October.
If this is what is indeed announced today, that's the right thing for Canada to be doing, donations need a kick start and continued matching may provide that.

Update (4:30 p.m.): The deadline has been extended, confirmed:
"We call upon Canadians' legendary generosity to ensure help reaches those who are truly in need," Baird said as he made the announcement. "The scale of the humanitarian disaster warranted more time."
Good to see, hopefully Canadians will kick in now and give the devastated people of Pakistan a boost.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Saturday night

CTV sale means fallout for Canadian newspapers

Not the most political story here, but it could have implications for the strength of two of Canada's leading newspapers. Yesterday saw the big news that Bell was buying CTV and splitting the Globe off from CTV Globemedia. The big focus in television coverage was on Bell and its drive for content for the new technology era, ramping up cell phone and digital offerings and such. Exciting, flashy stuff but the newspaper fallout might be pretty significant too.

The Thomson family is regaining its majority ownership in the Globe and while it's hard to say what it'll mean for sure, the reporting on it suggests strong sentiments coming from the new (old) owners:
The Thomson family, Canada’s most enduring media dynasty and the controlling shareholder of global information provider Thomson Reuters Plc, has a long history with The Globe. The family first owned the newspaper in 1980, and Woodbridge chairman David Thomson told Globe employees on Friday of the deep affection his family has long held for the newspaper and their commitment to investing in the paper’s future.

He remembered how The Globe was central to conversations he had with his grandfather, Roy Thomson, when he was a child.

“The pleasure for me is immense today,” he said, referring to the paper as the “soul” of his family. “The Globe really matters to the family. We are now ready to put teams together to innovate and implement. We are the premier content provider in this country and we only seek to become better.”
There's an editorial today speaking of the commitment to editorial independence that was reiterated by David Thomson on Friday to the staff. The Globe is moving back to publishing ownership, away from the television angle. It's probably a neutral swap in terms of financial backing from the new majority owners, Thomson himself is said to be worth about $19 billion and Thomson Reuters, outside of its recession earnings, seems like the type of company a newspaper would want to be affiliated with these days! Tremendous information resources, sources, expanding into a profitable legal database world too.

Secondly, the Bell/CTV move means good financial news for the Toronto Star as well. Torstar, the parent corporation, gets a bundle by selling their stake in CTVglobemedia, about $345 million. This is being viewed as freeing to Torstar:
Mr. Holland said the money will be used to pay down Torstar’s debt, a move that another analyst said on Friday would be “absolutely the right move.”

“It was a drag on [Torstar’s] earnings,” said one media analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I think a lot of analysts didn’t give a lot of value to [the investment].”

“It’s tremendously positive. It’s a stake that was purchased some time ago in a different media environment,” the analyst said.

Analysts suggested that, once saddled with less debt, the company could look at raising its dividend, and may focus on investing in digital media assets that complement the business more than television assets did.
Did two of Canada's leading newspapers just get stronger as a result of yesterday's big TV deal? Hard to say, but it will be interesting to watch now to see what, if any, changes do come down the pike with them. With all the newspapers in trouble around the world, struggling in a digital media era, the health of two of Canada's leading print media voices is worth watching. If there is indeed a bit of positive fallout from this transaction, all the better for Canada's democratic health and the role the media plays in fostering it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday night

A few I've been listening to this week...if pogge can bring three, we certainly can give it a go around here too. All part of the continuing effort to counter the old school stuff and all...

Here's one that is actually old school but re-worked:

Techno! Love this, wish it were about 2 mins longer though...

And finally, a re-worked fave from the 80s I came across this week...! Pure fun.

Have a good night.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Still making no census

More for the census file today. The Globe obtains an internal government study demonstrating to the government that its voluntary census plan was flawed. Yet as we know, the government went ahead anyway with the axing of the long form census and has proceeded along in its infinite wisdom with that voluntary survey plan, which will cost more. This is just not the stuff of good governance, this study should have given the government pause with its census axing plan:
A study conducted by Statistics Canada weeks before Ottawa revealed its plan to scrap the mandatory long-form census found that significant errors can creep into survey results gathered on a voluntary basis.
A June, 2010, internal study obtained by The Globe and Mail under the access-to-information law offers an inside look at how new census-taking rules could skew data in a range of areas from housing to demographics.

Statistics experts warn its findings demonstrate how minorities and groups such as renters could be measurably underrepresented or miscounted in the coming 2011 census.
More on the minority underrepresentation aspect of the report:
In another example from the report, the real 2006 long-form census found that visible minorities as a share of the population increased by 2.77 percentage points between 2006 and 2001. The simulated voluntary approach would have reported an increase of only 0.74 percentage points.

Mr. McKinnon said this second example also demonstrates how a voluntary approach in 2006 could have miscounted visible minorities by hundreds of thousands.
There's a caution that this study is theoretical, etc. But it's been made clear by statisticians from the beginning of the national census discussion on the new voluntary nature of the process that voluntary surveys won't produce the accuracy obtained in the mandatory long form census process. So this study likely does convey what we're going to see, less reliable data. Notably, the Globe had outside advisers review Stats Canada's study and they don't seem to have disagreed with the findings.

Some of the consequences from the renters and minority issues uncovered in the study? We'd likely see insufficient rental housing being built due to an underrepresentation of renters. Think about the increased costs for municipalities if those renters can't find housing. Looks like they're going to be in the dark, planning-wise. There's also a message that the government of Canada doesn't seem to care enough to ensure minority groups are counted fully, that it's prepared to accept sloppy numbers there. Any government services would be affected too.

To have such information in their hands, yet ignore it and proceed with a more expensive route that is less's more fuel for the wasteful government motif.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Stimulus contingent on signs

Canadian Press continues its reporting on the Harper government's stimulus signage obsession. No cash unless the signs were up. Almost comical if it weren't so pathetic. And Harper was right on top of the great signage count:
Millions in taxpayers' stimulus cash doled out by the Harper government was conditional upon project managers putting up federal promotional signs.

The Canadian Press has also learned that Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself received briefings from the country's top civil servant on the number of Economic Action Plan signs in place.

The new information paints a portrait of a Conservative government consumed with getting the message out on federal infrastructure projects.

Eighteen federal departments and agencies have spent the past year tracking every single one of more than 8,500 signs installed across Canada.

Contracts for the stimulus cash require some project managers to erect a federal sign to show the project is "substantially completed" -- at which point they receive the final 20 per cent of their funding.

Documents show that the prime minister received private memos from the powerful clerk of the Privy Council detailing how many signs had been installed.
Just the kind of thing we'd expect a Canadian Prime Minister to spend their time doing, right?

Extend the Pakistan matching donation deadline

Donations for Pakistan are still sorely needed as the above video highlights. Good for Angelina Jolie for using her celebrity to push this cause.

The Canadian government has set a deadline of September 12th, Sunday, at which time its matching of Canadians' donations will end. Given that more time is clearly needed to help the people of Pakistan, that deadline seems unnecessary and arbitrary. There are calls now for the government to extend the deadline. Hopefully the government will reconsider in order to encourage as much giving as possible to this unfolding tragedy.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Friday night

An upbeat song from the week. I have no idea what they're talking about. Something about freestyle DJing or along those lines? Or doing things the way you want to? Rule breaking? Whatever it is, it sounds good, which is all that matters.

Have a good night! Or at least what's left of it.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Even, Stephen!

"Liberals pull even with Tories: EKOS poll."

Some highlights:

A swing to Liberals in Ontario, this week anyway, closer in the previous week.

This is new, I think, Liberals are leading with women now. Return of a traditionally Liberal leaning gender gap? Something to keep in mind, that's been missing.

Liberals leading among the university educated.

Plus, a sizeable negative response for the government on the long form census issue.

That is all. Nice way to end the summer.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The big sale

A new and improved F-35 push is underway:
Government sources tell Defence Watch that there has been some frustration in how the original PR plan for the JSF unfolded; the press conference on Friday July 16 didn’t produce the positive media coverage PMO advisors had expected. In addition, the recent effort to link the JSF purchase to the threat of “excursions” by Russian “bombers” (aka routine patrols by Russian aircraft) ended up looking foolish, some advisors suggest.

This time around, there will be more of a push to get senior air force officers out promoting the proposed JSF purchase.

The prime minister’s office has worked out and approved a series of talking points to provide to officers so they can recite them to journalists. The talking points are similar to those used by Ambrose yesterday - they will emphasis the benefits to industry but as well the need to start the replacement process for the CF-18s now and the aspect that the JSF provides inter-operability with NATO allies.
You may have caught some of the brand spanking new talking points in action last night:
“If they can’t detect us and don’t know where we are, it dramatically changes their potential tactics. So it is a deterrent,” Gen. Deschamps said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
“Nobody expects somebody to come in and roll ashore here in the next little while,” he said. “But it’s a question of being able to exercise your sovereignty. And you can’t do that sitting on the runway saying, ‘I wish I could go out there without these guys knowing I’m going to be there two hours before the intercept point.’”
“Who knows 50 years from now? Who knows what the North Koreans will be up to? The Iranians?” he said.
Yeah, who knows, eh? More from Canadian Press:

"The $9 billion, yeah, it's a bit of sticker shock — it's a big number, but you know the last time I checked, nothing gets cheaper over time," the chief of air staff said Tuesday.

"Is it an unreasonable cost? I don't think so."

Deschamps said Canada is expected to pay between $70 million and $75 million per aircraft and the price will be locked in once Ottawa signs a final agreement, likely in 2014.

The air force examined other choices, including an improved version of the CF-18 and the Eurofighter, but the Lightning II proved to be the best all-round aircraft, he said.

However, the chief of air staff would not say what the price difference between the various aircraft might be, citing the confidentiality of the competing aircraft makers.
Hard to say if all of that is an improvement or not. I mean, at least somebody is speaking publicly about this historic purchase at all. That's an improvement in our democratically starved governance regime. But as for substance...probably a work in progress.