Friday, November 26, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The leaks keep coming

Two items of the leak variety here...

1. This is a follow-up to yesterday's "Leakorama, again" post on the leak of a Finance Committee report on budget consultations out of Conservative MP Kelly Block's office. The leak, as far as we knew on Wednesday morning, was to three lobbyists. Well, throw a fourth lobbyist into the mix:
Mr. Paul Szabo (Mississauga South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, yesterday, after question period, the member for Outremont rose on a question of privilege concerning the leak of the finance committee's confidential draft report on its prebudget consultations. He also reported that the leak was by Mr. Russell Ullyatt the then employee of the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

Also, yesterday at 6:23 p.m., after the presentations on the privilege issue were made, the clerk of the committee received another email from a Mr. Andy Gibbons, who has Conservative ties and is with the lobby firm of Hill & Knowlton. Today the clerk provided that copy of the email to the hon. members of the finance committee before our meeting started.

I bring this to the attention of the House and the Speaker for consideration of the question of privilege raised yesterday. It would appear the disclosure of now a fourth person is more than has been presented to the House with regard to how broad this has gone.

It appears this has gone much further than the House has been aware. As a consequence, I submit that information for the Speaker's consideration and I ask for the unanimous consent of the House to table the email from Mr. Gibbons to the clerk of the committee, in both official languages.
Mr. Tom Lukiwski (Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I want to add my small intervention to this matter. Yes, indeed there was a fourth lobbyist, apparently, who received an email from the now terminated, former employee of the office of the member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar.

I would submit for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, that whether there are three or four, I think the arguments presented both for and against a breach of privilege yesterday are still germane. ...
Yes...three, four, whatever, the same argument applies says Lukiwski.

The fact that the fourth lobbyist, Andy Gibbons, is the one who contacted the clerk of the committee is not exactly providing assurance that there's a competent investigation going on here. Nor is it providing assurance that these four lobbyists represent the extent of the distribution of the report. It's unclear what investigative efforts are underway with respect to Kelly Block's office, the former staffer and this apparent drip, drip, drip situation of lobbyists who received the report. Not a good sign. Again, this is a report that could have actionable financial information in it.

2. Word from CBC last night about a possible government leak having to do with that B.C. mine development decision:
Shares in Taseko Mines Ltd. mysteriously dropped almost 40 per cent in frantic trading on Oct. 14, more than two weeks before Ottawa announced it was blocking the firm's planned development of a controversial B.C. mine.
The report notes there are at least two investigations underway. If it becomes apparent that there was a leak out of the government, the RCMP would be called in. Four ministerial offices were involved in the decision: natural resources, fisheries, environment and, of course, the PMO.

Not a good week on the leak front for the government.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rant on

"Because we paid, we received."

From testimony at a Commons committee yesterday:
Mr. Sauvé did not back down, asserting that when his company was bidding for a contract to work on the restoration of the Parliament Buildings, he believed that, to have any chance of success, he had to pay a commission of 3 per cent of the value of the Parliament Hill contract to Gilles Varin, a Montreal businessman and Conservative supporter.

The payments totalled about $140,000, but would have reached $300,000 if LM Sauvé had not gone into bankruptcy after losing the Parliament Hill project in 2009, Mr. Sauvé said. He compared the retainer to Mr. Varin with 5-per-cent commissions that are rumoured to go to members of the Mafia in the Montreal construction industry.

“Because we paid, we received,” Mr. Sauvé said of the federal contract.
Forget the coat. It really was quite the spin operation to track down receipts and play up Christian Paradis as the downtown Thetford Mines coat shopping man. Besides, Sauve said he was asked for a certain amount of money to replace the coat. Providing a receipt for Paradis' coat isn't responsive to the charge at all. And on all matters, Sauve was under oath yesterday. 

So there was an effort to discredit to Sauve, from Conservatives, and it was picked up a bit in the media (Fife report at previous CTV link, for example). Go back and weigh what Gilles Varin said in comparison. Make your own assessments. Sauve has been interviewed and relied upon recently in connection with investigative journalistic reports on the Mafia and the Quebec construction industry as well. He's not exactly doing an easy thing.

There's an RCMP investigation going on here. There has been reporting done about bid criteria being changed the week before Sauve won his Hill renovation contract.

It's not about a coat. Renogate...back with a vengeance!

Bloc plays Conservative wingman

Or, should I say, wingperson. So let's see...what on earth were the Bloc doing voting with the Conservatives on the F-35 motion yesterday? Let's hear it:
Duceppe said he wanted the Liberals to guarantee an equal amount of work for Quebec if the F-35 contract was canned.

"They refused that and we have made an amendment (but the Liberals) refuse to have an amendment within their motion, so we will vote against their motion," Duceppe said.
Hmmm, you know who might not like such politicking? Quebecers! Remember this poll which said 62% of Quebecers thought the planes were an unjustified expense? And the Ekos poll of November 3-9th (pdf) which brought out that high rate of opposition among Bloc voters (53.7 % strongly opposed - highest among all political parties - with 23% somewhat opposed) and Quebecers (43.8% strongly opposed - highest in Canada - with 23.6% somewhat opposed)?

Could be some mighty thin gruel of a cover there that the Bloc cooked up. That's the way the Bloc chose to play it, we'll see how it plays in Quebec.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Plucky judge ends Peladeau trial with a bang

Well, it's almost over for this little defamation suit that Pierre Karl Peladeau has brought against Radio-Canada executive Sylvain Lafrance for the "voyou" (thug") comment. Closing arguments are today. A dramatic moment occurred in the courtroom on Monday, however, captured quite well by this journalist, David Santerre at Rue Frontenace: "Des unes de magazines qui laissent le juge perplexe."

The judge, in a reluctant manner, held up two magazines for the courtroom to see, both of which would have been on the newsstands during this trial. This one, from L'Actualite suggesting that Peladeau is the "most dreaded man in Quebec."
And this one from La Semaine with coverage of the trial and showing Peladeau and his wife being photographed in the halls of the court house:

The clear implication from the judge, in raising these magazine covers, was that perhaps Mr. Peladeau had something to do with these publications coming along during the trial, to perhaps sway the court. You get that sense because the judge prefaced his raising of these magazine covers with this remark:
«Quand j’ai vu ça, je me suis demandé pourquoi autant de mes collègues ne voulaient pas entendre cette cause-là», a commenté le bouillant juge.
It sounded like he was saying ah, this is why so many of my colleagues didn't want to hear this case, as he saw the media coverage during the trial. Peladeau's lawyer denied that there were any strings pulled for such coincidental media coverage, even the lawyer for Radio-Canada joined in to dismiss the notion, maybe sensing that the trial was about to go off the rails or provide a ground of appeal for Peladeau if he loses his claim. The report notes that the judge remained skeptical at the end of the discussion.

What's interesting is that the judge went ahead and raised this as an issue. Was he referring to an actual trial selection process in which he was exposed to reluctance by other judges to sit on a Peladeau case? That would be something. Or was it a more casual impression this particular judge had from his colleagues? Either way, pretty fascinating and bold for him to say this. He wasn't afraid to raise the possibility of some kind of media influence being brought to bear on the court room. Whatever one might think about whether this was a useful thing for the judge to do near the end of the trial or not, it certainly sent a public message. 

Fascinating little moment of high drama that was.

Monday, November 22, 2010

F-35 gets the hard sell and a hard look

David Pugliese has details today on the latest p.r. push by the Harper government to sell their sole-sourced F-35 proposal to the Canadian public. They are concerned, it seems, about that Ekos poll that showed Canadians are not so enamoured of this proposed purchase ("...more than half of Canadians either strongly oppose or somewhat oppose the government's plan to buy F-35 fighter jets.") So the new harder push is on.

This one involves DND/Canadian Forces personnel going across the country to brief various "defence analysts" in academia (and maybe elsewhere, it's unstated, maybe think tanks) so that they'll be primed to speak to the media with their talking points about the F-35 purchase proposal.
Sources say that DND/Canadian Forces representatives aren’t expecting too much pushback or tough questions from the analysts, many of who are already on side with the JSF deal or are inclined towards such military expenditures any ways.
So, this is more fuel for supporters to go forth and sell the F-35. Implicit in this story seems to be the notion that those in academia, or elsewhere, of the defence analyst variety who are neutral or even opposed to the F-35 purchase wouldn't be offered the same opportunity of this briefing. So that they too could ask questions, for example. If government resources are being used to provide such briefings, presumably any defence analyst type should be able to have the same opportunity.

Another question here is the use of military personnel to sell this plane. This is a civilian decision, ultimately, that our elected representatives make. Sending Canadian Forces officials around the country to participate in the issuing of Harper government talking points doesn't seem like something they should be involved in. Let alone whether the government should be doing this, focusing on the hard sell rather than ensuring that the right plane is being purchased in the first place and in the right way, i.e., a competitive bid process.

Further, from Pugliese's reporting, the Harper ministers are out in Montreal and Waterloo doing their usual job fear mongering push today. The jobs they will highlight, though, are jobs obtained as a result of previous F-35 agreements that have nothing to do with any future purchase. 
Sources tell Defence Watch that the politicians aren’t highlighting new contracts (some of these were awarded years ago). They say that the ministers will be sticking closely to their “talking points” so they won’t be straying from the prepared script the Conservative government has outlined in the Commons and at other press conferences. The idea is to get more articles and broadcasts out there about the multitude of jobs the government maintains will come from any F-35 deal.
Jobs, jobs, reliant upon that F-35. So how's the F-35 program doing down in the U.S. today?
In what has become a regular event, senior Pentagon officials will meet today to review why the F-35 joint strike fighter has fallen behind schedule and over budget yet again and what to do about it.

The top Pentagon weapons buyer, Ashton Carter, is scheduled to convene a defense acquisition board with military and civilian experts to try to understand why development and testing of the airplane is lagging behind a schedule that was revised this year for at least the seventh time.
Experts convening to try to understand the problems with the F-35 versus our government briefing sympathetic experts on how to sell the F-35. Seems quite off and typical for the Harper government.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Coming tomorrow:

Update (Monday: 5:50 p.m.): Go visit.

Home page screen shot

Something fun to look forward to for we political junkies! Tomorrow is the launch of a brand new independent and non-partisan political news agency,

In addition to the preview screen shots, here are a few details from some of their circulated promotional information. The news operation will be backed by 8 journalists, including Liz Thompson, with more big names to come. In addition to their own content, there will be paid-wire feeds from PostMedia and CP. This, they say will allow "...our team of journalists to stay focused on the important issues that MSM wouldn't cover." Sounds like they will be offering polls as well, they are " discussions with some great pollsters to come 'in-house'."

They are offering a free trial of all their services, with a subscription cost to come of "approx $180 a year without a group or promotional offer." A bunch of the services will remain free once the trial is over.

Best of luck to them, this all looks very interesting.

Morning Brief screen shot

Sunday reads

A few for you today that caught the eye...

This, for sure, read of the day in terms of a substantive issue in front of us that is not getting enough attention: "AECL up for auction but West’s industries protected." It's about the pending privatization of AECL, yes, but so much more too. Could be a sleeper issue.

Frank Rich on why Sarah Palin could very well be the Republican nominee in 2012. As the Republican hierarchy wrings their hands in vain. Did you see her infomercial/reality tv show last weekend? How does any other nominee compete with that air time and hagiography? Nature, family, all cut in beautiful ways. How do you compete with that powerful force? Kind of a commentary on our times, the power of the celebrity media and the changing nature of contemporary politics.

Just one more, Andrew Rawnsley on Ed Miliband's start as Labour leader, having been elected about two months ago and just now stepping into the role fully after a brief parental leave. Some familiar challenges cited there for a leader of the opposition. Lucky young Miliband though, no prospect that he will be facing a round of attack ads from the governing coalition upon his start.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

G20 gifts to Toronto

“As part of the G20 planning, CCTV cameras have been installed in addition to those ones operating to ensure the safety and security for dignitaries, business owners, residents and people who work and visit the downtown area and protesters. Once the summit is finished, these additional cameras will be removed. All CCTV cameras are marked with the word ‘police.’ They are programmed to view public spaces only.” (emphasis added)
Toronto police want to keep 52 of the 77 surveillance cameras they temporarily purchased for the G20 summit, more than tripling the force’s stock of CCTV equipment.
Guess the police should have been pressed on what removal meant, whether it was permanent or a temporary removal until they could ask the Toronto Police Services Board if they could keep them. This is an issue which will be before a newly constituted Board facing turnover with new councillors, among others. 

The need for these cameras should be demonstrated, so that the number they want is actually proportional to some kind of need for increased video surveillance. That pledge from the police this summer seemed to signify then that there was not a long term need for those cameras and a sensitivity toward having them in the first place. What has changed since then?

Throw in the fact that these cameras were purchased in a pre-G20 spending regime that saw no typical civilian oversight and this request now seems to rankle even more.

Not exactly trust engendering for police to so blatantly break a very public pledge to the people of Toronto in this way.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Late night

Some music since it's been a while around here. Loving all things by the XX these days.

Have a good night.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Respect for taxpayers! Part III The trough deepens

The question must be asked once again today. Conservatives: is there anything else we taxpayers can get for you as you seek to improve your partisan interests? What might you need today?
Conservative Senators are quietly using taxpayer-funded literature to target opposition ridings with a partisan crime message as the party gears up for the next election, the Toronto Star has learned.
Conservative Senators have been caught using office budgets to help campaign, here against two Liberal MPs. Senator Runciman is quoted as saying "Conservative campaign folks" put him up to funding flyers into David McGuinty's riding. Are the partisan barbarians at the gate directing Senate budget choices? Sure sounds like it. What rot it is.

Those Senators have, what, about $151,000 for office expenses? There are no more flyers for MPs so it appears they've been kicked upstairs to the Senate. Where is Nigel Wright, bearer of ethical walls, when you need him anyway?

This series is to be continued, it appears!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Toward tipping the electoral scales

My blog post for the morning can be found over at the Commons blog. My effort to answer a big question perplexing Canadian politics at the present moment. One of the blog moderators there, Scott Payne, was nice enough to ask me to write it and so I gave it a shot. Hope it may spark an idea or two in minds out there.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Respect for taxpayers! Part II

A little Taxpayer Federation head on former Taxpayer Federation head violence for you tonight. Metaphorically speaking, of course!
A Tory MP who used public funds to endorse his political successor should repay the money, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said Wednesday.
Awwwwkward! Since the political successor whom the Tory MP was blessing is the past head of the Taxpayers Federation!
Williamson was a senior adviser to the prime minister and is also a former national director of the taxpayers federation. He won the nomination in New Brunswick Southwest with nearly 60 per cent of the vote on Oct. 23, five days after the letter was sent.

Kevin Gaudet, the taxpayer federation's current national director, said his group has always opposed the use of taxpayer's money for partisan purposes.

"I think it would be appropriate for (Thompson) to pay for whatever the cost was...I can't imagine it's a lot of money but that's not the point,'' said Gaudet. "He should pay it back."
That is an interesting idea that Gaudet has there. Someone should reimburse the taxpayer, that's for sure. Speaking on behalf of myself, I do not support my dollars being spent on candidates in Conservative nomination races, to be crystal clear. No way, no how!

Now if we're not holding our breath on Mr. Thompson (or even the Conservative Party of Canada) shelling out, then the expense should still be pursued with the Speaker's office or whatever internal parliamentary body it is who has jurisdiction over such issues. Thompson's letter should indeed be addressed.

And let's not let John Williamson, the former taxpayers guy who has been the beneficiary of that taxpayer funded mailing, off the hook. That letter written on his behalf by the Tory MP was well timed to coincide with the nomination meeting. It's like a taxpayer funded contribution to his campaign, of sorts. Surely he is uncomfortable, given his past employment history, with that situation? The irony, it is strong with this one!

To be continued, I'm sure...

Stealth: it's not just for F-35s

The undercover PM! "Few witness Harper's visit to city." Good for this guy, the Liberal by-election candidate there, Kevin Lamoureux, is taking it to Harper:
"Under the cover of darkness the PM comes into Winnipeg North and then hightails it out of here," said Lamoureux. "I always thought politics was about engaging people. You have to question why it is they didn't want anyone to know about (his visit.)

He said voters should contrast that to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who has visited Winnipeg North three times in the last three months, including holding an open town hall and taking questions from anyone who wanted to ask one.
Lamoureux said Harper clearly wasn't interested in taking any tough questions from riding residents about why his party killed its own justice legislation last winter, proroguing Parliament and sending at least half a dozen crime bills back to the starting gate. He said the Conservatives tout themselves as the only party that cares about fighting crime but in reality have done nothing effective.

"At the end of the day is it any safer in Winnipeg North than it was five years ago," asked Lamoureux. "Ask anyone who lives here. They will tell you no."
Clear messages, fighting stuff. Made Harper look silly too. Like this guy!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Late night

Respect for taxpayers!

Is there anything else we taxpayers can get for you Conservatives as you seek to improve your partisan interests?
A departing Conservative MP used publicly funded House of Commons resources to back his political successor — a candidate who once headed the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and was a senior aide to the prime minister.

"As we prepare for the next federal election, the following few months are extremely important. The prime minister wants the party to present the best slate of candidates possible in all 308 ridings," MP Greg Thompson wrote on Commons letterhead of the contest to replace him in New Brunswick Southwest.

"I also believe it is important that you know exactly why I'm supporting John Williamson as our next Conservative candidate and MP."

The letter, sent using parliamentary mailing privileges, is one of a list of grievances cited by local Tories over how the nomination contest unfolded in one of Canada's largest ridings.
Commons bylaws state that parliamentary resources should not be used for electoral campaigning. Thompson, former veterans affairs minister, said he believed his letter fell within the rules and that party members are ultimately constituents.
Thompson is maintaining that he did nothing wrong and is encouraging those with concerns to take them up with the Speaker. Hope someone does. A sitting Conservative MP using parliamentary resources to advocate for Stephen Harper's departing Director of Communications as a successor candidate is an issue that should be challenged.

The former Canadian Taxpayers Federation head who is now the candidate (the same former Director of Communications) has commented vaguely on that particular detail, the use of taxpayer funds for his political benefit:
"I was appreciative of his support and I know that other candidates wanted it, they were climbing all over themselves for it, but ultimately Greg did what Greg thought was best," Williamson said.
That's the only quote in the reporting, so it appears that Williamson is not objecting to the use of taxpayer funds in this manner. Seemingly putting it on Thompson to defend the method. Williamson should be prodded on that during the election campaign (and this bit of Conservative spending hijinks too). This is the kind of thing which could help to undermine his credentials as guardian of those taxpayer dollars, sure to be at the heart of his campaign. There's lots of material to be had from the Harper Conservatives' record on use of taxpayer dollars to put to Williamson. That would be a fun one.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Beyond the Prentice plaudits, the elephant in the room

My how we have fallen as a nation when our federal Environment Minister decides to pack it in because really, nothing will be doing on his file for the next two years. In the wake of the U.S. election, the change in control of the House of Representatives signals little to no action on climate change from the U.S.. Meaning that Harper's tied-to-the-U.S. environmental policy will similarly be stunted.
Privately, he had been telling people that he didn't expect to be very busy for the next two years.
In this era, that's remarkable. Is that what Canada wants? An environment portfolio that's not very busy?

While one can respect the sentiment that seems to be widespread about Prentice's conduct and decency, this resignation is shining a bright light once again on this government's environmental record. We're talking about it thanks to his resignation. That record includes obstinacy on the world stage and is widely believed to be one of the factors behind our Security Council loss.

And despite his playing a central role as Minister in contributing to a poor showing, Prentice seems to skate away, with leaks of his discontent with that environmental performance following him out the door. Skilled politically, as was how quiet he kept his departure, but he does bear his share of the responsibility as Minister.

Now we'll see Harper's perennial fave, John Baird, guest starring once again in the Environment Minister's role. With the next United Nations Climate Change Conference to take place starting at the end of this month, it's awfully short notice for a fill-in there. But I guess since we're unlikely to have much of a leadership role to play under this government, it probably doesn't matter. Baird is familiar with such events and how to handle them according to the Conservative playbook after all:

Fact check of the day

One line in this CP report on the new Governor General's visit to Afghanistan is off:
He promised to relay his impressions to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has ordered an end to the combat mission this July.
It's the parliamentary resolution that set the end date. Don't give a certain someone with dreams of being Commander-in-chief any ideas.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Potash aftermath

I haven't blogged anything to date about the Potash takeover mostly out of a sense that this is primarily a Saskatchewan issue and there are many bloggers out there who have been doing a great job writing about it. Thought I'd just throw a few thoughts out there into the mix, now that the big "no" decision has come down.

If you look at the polls on the prospect of this takeover, from late summer through the fall, they've been pretty consistent in showing strong opposition to this deal. Here was one from August 27th showing 55% opposed in Saskatchewan. Then in mid-October, there was still that 55% level of opposition. Then just two days ago, another poll showing 62% in Manitoba & Saskatchewan opposing, 48% in B.C. opposing and further:
While many Canadians are not following the situation in Saskatchewan, those who express their views are siding with the position of the Premier of Saskatchewan. It is important to note that respondents in every region are more likely to urge the federal government to block the proposed takeover than to allow it to go through. British Columbians favour blocking the proposed takeover by a 17-to-1 margin.
I think it's fair to say, based on such polls, even though people didn't fully get the corporate intricacies and that Potash was a foreign owned company, as the Prime Minister and others told us, they had an innate sense of what they wanted the outcome to be here. Whether saying no to the takeover was driven by economic insecurities, fear of what it would mean for the province, pride of ownership in a natural resource, what have you, the public response was pretty clear. It may have to do with a mood that Glen Pearson wrote about on his blog yesterday that seems to fit in well with the Potash public reaction:
A perfect storm has descended upon Canada where we are a fabulously wealthy country, but less and less of the gain has been distributed throughout the middle and lower classes. This is much of what drove the anger in these past civic elections. Canadians know something is wrong, yet they are continually told to be content with less at the same time others are making a risky fortune. To a large degree, average citizens don’t cause times of economic upheaval; an overreaching financial sector does, and yet repeatedly Canadians are asked to pay the price for market gambling.
Maybe Potash represented another one of those uncertain market gambles that people have just had enough of, particularly in view of the recession we've been through and its causes.

Yes, there was a weighing in of high profile business leaders in the past few days, also opposed, but ultimately, if the poll numbers weren't showing the possible political fallout, we might have seen a different decision.

So what might we speculate that it all means? For those supporting a more economically nationalist industrial policy, one that doesn't shy away from protecting Canadian champions, it could be a sign that the Canadian public is willing to buy in if you boldly make the case. Granted, this was a company where the case was easier to make, given its stature, because we didn't see sentiment to the same extent with Nortel, perhaps due to that company's history. It is interesting, though, that last poll cited above, showing that respondents "in every region" were more likely to urge the federal government to block the takeover here. There might be something afoot, maybe to do with this historic recession.

And it sure looks like we proved once again that we're just not as conservative a country as this government would like. The conservative "principles" of this government ran smack dab into a popular wall, pardon the double pun. Any day that is reinforced is a good day.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A renogate update: nothing to see here

The affectionately termed "renogate," is back, by popular demand! So what's doing up there on Parliament Hill anyway on this malingering brouhaha?

Not too much on the actual renovation front it appears!
The problem-plagued renovation has become embroiled in political scandal and work has ground to a halt.
Details, details. What else...this doesn't look good (from same link):
Twenty-two murder charges have been laid against the former business partner of a construction contractor involved in the controversial renovation of Parliament Hill.
Well, maybe the screening mechanism used by Public Works might need some...tweaking. Maybe.

What about Gilles Varin, he who is not a Conservative, at all, nuh-uh, not if you touch him with a ten foot pole with a membership card attached...testifying in front of a Commons committee?
On Tuesday, Varin revealed himself to be well connected to several Quebec Conservatives, including Hubert Pichet, an assistant to Tory Senator Pierre-Claude Nolin. Pichet has also been a Conservative candidate.
And heck, an explanation was offered by Varin for his non-lobbying activities:
A Quebec businessman embroiled in a Parliament Hill renovation controversy that's under RCMP investigation says he made more than $100,000 simply handing out leaflets and talking up a construction firm.
See? As the Conservatives are saying:
"There's nothing to be caught here," Tory MP Chris Warkentin said.
Nope, move along folks. Nothing out of the ordinary here. This is how we renovate our national treasures, the Parliament buildings.

U.S. election highlights (video)

It was a bad night for Democrats in losing control of the House of Representatives, although not as bad as it could have been, they did hang on to the Senate. The New York Times has a good interactive map with results and a fair editorial take on it all.

Here is some of the fun from last night's U.S. mid-term election coverage. And I do mean fun. SNL writers must be eyeing this material with glee.

MSNBC's Chris Matthews tries to shake Republican Representative Michele Bachmann from her unresponsive litany of answers to his questions in a novel way:

Losing NY Governor candidate Carl Paladino appears to be a few days late for Halloween (must see, one for the ages):

Finally, newbie Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul will be bringing his very unique world view to legislation in the U.S. Senate:

One addition, this brief item by Nate Silver is of some interest, on the phenomenon of the Nevada polls by leading organizations all being wrong in having tea partier Sharron Angle ahead of Harry Reid in the weeks leading up to the election.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

F-35 cost overruns in the spotlight again

More cost overruns and schedule delays are in the news today (h/t) on the F-35's development. With this news coming in the heat of election day in the U.S., it will fly somewhat under the radar (pardon the pun). It shouldn't for us though:
Pentagon experts conducting an in-depth review of Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter are predicting further cost increases and delays getting the airplanes tested and into service.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is scheduled to be briefed today on the latest cost and schedule assessments, said two government officials, who requested anonymity because details aren't public. Delays in writing and testing millions of lines of intricate software code and continuing problems and delays with testing the especially complex Marines version of the aircraft are driving costs higher.

The latest projections are based on a preliminary analysis of test and production data from a comprehensive "technical baseline review" of the F-35, the officials said. The review of the $382 billion program is to be presented Nov. 22 to the Pentagon's Defense Acquisition Board.

The $50 billion development cost estimate for the F-35 could rise as much as $5 billion more, and Pentagon analysts now estimate that the aircraft may be as much as 11/2 times more expensive to maintain than the warplanes it will replace, the officials said. The F-35 has been billed as being less costly to maintain and operate than existing planes.

Air Force and Navy versions of the plane could be delayed another year and the Marines version by two to three years, the officials said.
Note the estimate that maintenance costs may be one and a half times more expensive than the planes being replaced. Sounds uncertain and costly. How our government can then credibly provide assurances that costs for this purchase can remain under control, in terms of both purchase price and maintenance, remains an unanswered question.

Elsewhere, the testimony offered by ADM Dan Ross at the Commons committee on National Defence on October 19th has come under criticism by aerospace journalist Bill Sweetman who takes issue with a number of Ross' statements. This one, for example: "The US Government does not participate in RFP competitions." Writes Sweetman: "The last statement would be news in India, Singapore and Korea, to name but three." His entire item is well worth a read and seems to raise many questions about Ross' testimony.

This large proposed expenditure is happening at a time not so far removed from a major financial crisis that the world went through. Out of that experience and at a very basic level, we were supposed to have gained a sense that the concept of "too big to fail" is just not true. Further, that we would prefer if those institutions who could do us harm, private or public, be vigilant and ask tough questions on issues and decisions that pose a high degree of risk. This proposed purchase falls under that type of umbrella. As the facts come to light it's hard to view it any other way. It remains remarkable then that a "just trust me" type of attitude, manifested in the sole-source route they wish to take, is the one that the Harper government has chosen here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Things that need to be fact-checked

This National Post editorial, here:
Not going ahead with the promise to purchase would have its own set of consequences, both financial and military. While Mr. Ignatieff claims that Canada would pay no penalty, the Memorandum of Understanding our country signed with its NATO allies clearly imposes cancellation costs in the neighbourhood of $551-million.
No time to pull out that MOU this morning but I believe that's wrong. Any penalties would accrue once you've ordered and then you back out due to costs you have caused others to incur in the manufacturing. People can check that for themselves, it's in the withdrawal section. And again, you'd only incur that if we were in a contract, which we won't be until at least 2013, if we go with the F-35s after a competitive process. Here's Pugliese's early reporting on the point of penalties:
In 2006, the Conservative government signed an agreement that would commit Canada to contributing $551 million U.S. between now and 2051. That would cover Canada's portion of equipment and development needed for its share of the JSF planes that it wants to purchase.

That memorandum allows for a country to pull out of the agreement, with aerospace industry officials noting the penalties at this point would be small as Canada has yet to order aircraft.
So the editorial is fast forwarding us to a cancellation penalty situation which doesn't exist right here and now. It's misleading.

The part of the editorial on $12 billion in contracts is also presented in a torqued manner. As I understand, that's the amount the government says we could compete on, it's not a guaranteed amount at all, which is the way it reads there.

Combat fatigue and the F-35

There was a Nanos poll released last Monday on defence policy that may be a helpful backdrop to the discussion, or semblance of a discussion, that we are having on the F-35 issue at the present time. That poll may have been lost in all the hurly burly of the Toronto mayoralty election but it is worth noting in a few respects.

When Canadians were asked about budget priorities for the federal government, here's how they ranked the following issues:
"...79 per cent said rated health care as important for the government's budget spending, jobs and the economy are important for 73.9 per cent, and the environment and taxes were also rated higher - only 40 per cent considered military spending important."
Additionally, UN peacekeeping was ranked highest as a future priority for the Canadian Forces (7.26 on a scale out of 10 in terms of importance) with overseas combat missions ranking lowest among the four options presented (at 5.19). Rounding out the poll was the strong opposition found to the prospect of Canada entertaining another mission like the Afghan one.

What does this mean in terms of the F-35 debate? It's an indicator that the aftermath of the Afghan mission may impact upon the F-35 issue in ways we haven't fully contemplated. The emphasis in coverage of Afghanistan now is on our exit, how we go about it - particularly given the latest hurdle of losing the UAE base. This poll may hint that the desire of the Canadian people may be to retrench and go about our future military endeavours under that banner of peacekeeping, that the mood is changing.

Choosing a sole-source route and insisting that no questions be asked in order to spend billions on combat fighter jets, the largest military purchase in Canadian history, may be a misread of the underlying sensibility of Canadians at the moment. Asking questions about our defence priorities in the future and making choices that flow from those answers may be a better route which is more in tune with where Canadians are.

The poll is also worth noting as a general indicator of where people are at in terms of how they see our future military direction. And I say general because it's likely that any day now we're bound to start seeing a poll or two roll in on the specific question of the F-35 purchase. That tends to be a predictable element in the life cycle of a Canadian political issue these days and where we seem to be, awaiting those good ol' polls. We've seen the one by Le Devoir-Leger Marketing to date, but not a Canada-wide poll.

Remember that on two issues in the past year that garnered a lot of attention, the gun registry and maternal health initiative, we saw early initial polling numbers that moved as the debates went on, toward support for both the registry and for including abortion funding in the maternal health overseas initiative. So these general backdrop numbers are worth keeping in mind once we see specific polls on the F-35 issue as well.