Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday night



New Year's version, this one seemed appropriate. Bit of an old sound (from 2003 mind you) mixed with the new.

Have a good night!

Best of 2010

Churchill statue, Halifax, N.S.
Not a Canadian political year end list here! As I was finally getting around to renewing my New Yorker subscription yesterday, on the site I came across this article: "The making of Winston Churchill." It was from the August 30th issue and having read it at that time, I was surprised - and happy - to see that apparently it is one of the most popular articles from the year, as the sidebar rankings show.

The article was timed as a 70 year commemoration of Churchill's infamous World War II speeches from 1940. It deconstructs them and really, celebrates them for the powerful words that they were at that perilous moment ("...to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.") The article also goes into Churchill's "telepathic sense of Hitler," his sense that a "rhetorical fist" in the dictator's face would evoke rage and perhaps provoke error, as it did.

I recommend the whole thing but here is the conclusion, to give a sense of it:
Churchill’s real legacy lies elsewhere. He is, with de Gaulle, the greatest instance in modern times of the romantic-conservative temperament in power. The curious thing is that this temperament can at moments be more practical than its liberal opposite, or than its pragmatic-conservative twin, since it rightly concedes the primacy of ideas and passions, rather than interests and practicalities, in men’s minds. Churchill was a student of history, but one whose reading allowed him to grasp when a new thing in history happened.

What is most impressive about his legacy, perhaps, is that he is one of the rare charismatic moderns who seem to have never toyed with extra-parliamentary movements or anti-liberal ideals. During all the years, and despite all the difficulties—in decades when the idea of Parliament as a fraud and a folly, a slow-footed relic of a dying age, was a standard faith of intellectuals on left and right alike—he remained a creature of rules and traditions who happily kissed the Queen’s hand and accepted the people’s verdict without complaint. Throughout the war, as Hitler retreated into his many bunkers and Stalin stormed and even Roosevelt concentrated power more and more in his single hand, Churchill accepted votes of confidence, endured fatuous parliamentary criticism, and meekly left office after triumphing in the most improbable of victories. A romantic visionary in constitutional spectacles can often see things as they are.
Confidence votes during World War II...say it isn't so! No fragile economic recoveries would have bothered that parliament!

So there you go. A very popular read of the year for many. Fascinated by the language, the leadership and what we may not see again in this modern era of the 24/7 news cycle.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Deep thought

This report in the New York Times the other day on Canadian banks expanding south prompted a second look:
Now several of the banks are taking advantage of their solid balance sheets as well as the current revamping and consolidation of the American banking system to again look south for expansion. Last week, the Toronto-Dominion Bank agreed to pay $6.3 billion for Chrysler Financial. And earlier this month the Bank of Montreal bought Marshall & Ilsley, a bank based in Milwaukee, for $4.1 billion.
...
...Canadian banks have few other options for expansion.

“The banks simply have no choice,” said Louis Gagnon, an associate professor of finance at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “They have to go beyond our borders to grow and the only market that makes sense is the United States.”
...
While that has made for a orderly financial system for Canada that is very profitable for bank investors, the banks now find themselves accumulating substantial capital without effective ways to use it to increase their businesses within Canada.
Seems to me that some enterprising minds of the economic variety might want to think about all that investment money going south and come up with some new avenues for that substantial capital to make more of a difference here in Canada. I don't know what that could mean, honestly, but I throw it out there.

Brushing back the Governor General

The Governor General made a little bit of news this week and seems to have caught the eye of the National Post editorial board now (more on that below). Here was what most of us thought the newsmaking item was, from a report on Monday: "Nothing wrong with coalition governments: GG."
Gov. Gen. David Johnston told QMI Agency he's been busy brushing up on constitutional governments in case he is called upon to navigate a choppy political crisis.

“Any governor general who has that role in a constitutional system like ours, from time to time will be confronted with questions where there is an element of discretion,” he said.
...
“I think that most jurisdictions that have a system of first-past-the-post or proportional representation will from time to have time have coalitions or amalgamation of different parties and that’s the way democracy sorts itself out,” he said.
Calm, reasonable stuff. Neutral references to options that may or may not come into play in 2011. Brief remarks on the way that parliamentary democracies can sort themselves out, not shocking following the British and Australian elections of 2010.

Now additionally, in another QMI interview, he made some comments on his activities as a Governor General and what his priorities would be, such as fostering that smart/caring society that he's discussed since his initial appointment, with his emphasis on higher education, research and innovation, etc. He signalled these priorities clearly in his installation speech on October 1st. It's nothing new.

But what do you know...Tuesday brought a brushback from the National Post editorial board: "National Post editorial board: Politics is not a sport for the Governor-General." In the editorial, they decry the above banal priorities as perhaps too political. Yes, the education and research/innovation priorities above all else warranted an editorial:
Our new Governor-General, David Johnston, wants to have influence over public policy. That’s all well and good. But he had better be careful not to exert that influence in too public a manner.
...
But are they too much to hope to achieve in less than five years? And are they too political? There are several public policies that would have to be changed and public spending that would have to be increased or redirected — especially in the fields of education and research — if Mr. Johnston’s ambitions are to be achieved. He must be very careful to avoid treading on the turf of Canadians’ elected representatives.

We trust Mr. Johnston needs only a gentle reminder to be discreet.
Johnston "had better be careful" and "be discreet" and "avoid treading on the turf of Canadians' elected representatives." Oh, come on. Is advocacy for higher education and innovation what's really driving the National Post editorial board to pen such brash warnings to the new Governor General? Are they so very troubled by the prospect of a Governor General advocating for such apple pie? One who has been described, widely, as politically astute? Seems a bit of a stretch.

It's more likely that there's something else going on with this editorial. The elephant in the room, unremarked in the Post editorial, is the above response in that other year end interview to QMI by the Governor General on coalitions and democracy sorting itself out. That answer was a big problemo for the Conservative government's cartoonish and undemocratic anti-coalition stance and for the editorial boards that slavishly support such governments and their stances. This editorial seems like a transparent and immediately timed response in the form of a brushback pitch to the Governor General as a result of those comments. Not hard to read between the lines here and something that bears watching. 

Packing heat with Rachel Maddow


Maddow is doing a bit of a year end review of segments and issues covered this year on her show. Thought this might be relevant to a discussion that's been going on here of late, the Cherry visit to Afghanistan. In the last highlight here, she fires a tank gun in Iraq.

Also, just for fun, before Christmas, Rachel covered the Leafs/waffle throwing incidents. We're big time, baby!


Her blog did a follow-up, mystery solved for the Maddow show.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Influence

Mark Bonokoski was introduced as "the voice of The Sun" in early September.

The voice said this on December 1st:
If I were in charge of QMI Agency, and therefore newsroom boss of its 36 major dailies and 200-plus community newspapers, I would send out an edict that no picture of convicted killer-rapist Russell Williams will ever again be published in our pages with him wearing a military uniform.

But I have no such clout. Perhaps the power of suggestion will win the day.

It would be the right thing for the largest newspaper chain in Canada to do, and for it to then publicly state why this corporate decision was made.
End of December, QMI selects Williams as its newsmaker of the year, replete with picture in military garb.

If the Sun doesn't listen to its chosen voice, why should we?

Across the pond



A tribute done up by a UK site to the UK political bloggers that hung up the keyboards in 2010. Kind of fun. I swear that's the British BigCityLib at about the 30 second mark, a ubiquitous look among we blogging types apparently.

Notice how these British bloggers also appear to be on television quite a bit, enough so as to enable capturing them for posterity's sake from those appearances.

If we had a Canadian version, figuring in there from 2010 would be the Cynic, of course, my friend, HarperBizarro and others. We're just not that organized though. So no Andrea Bocelli serenades for you, my friends!

They also have shiny "building the progressive grassroots online" workshop thingys coming up. Very jealous of the Netroots UK movement. Over here we'd have to carve it up a hundred ways to Sunday, with elbows up in everybody's faces. Yep, that's how we roll. It certainly helps that they've got a rallying, urgent issue in the form of the cuts being made in Britain, with the ominous tuition fee changes lighting a fire under such online developments.

This has been a Canadian-politics-is-very-quiet-post-Christmas-lull-grass-is-greener-over-there moment. Back to Canadiana maybe later today.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday night



"You have to make sure the music's bang on, you can't have a revolution if the music isn't right. You know what I mean, boys?"

:)

Most viewed posts of last 6 months

A bit of a year end review thing here just for fun. The Blogger stats page indicates that these were the most viewed posts on the blog since May, so I thought I'd share them again. Takes you back to all these swell moments in (mostly) Canadian politics.

1. Things that aren't surprising, July 7th.
I caught an early run of a Sun media report with a quote that later disappeared from the final version. A brouhaha was alleged in the report over the Queen's sleeping arrangements during her summer visit. National Newswatch linked so it got a bunch of views.

2. Put it in D, November 1st.
A simple post with an Obama video. Who knew.

3. Bravo National Post, December 16th.
In which I got a little worked up in criticizing a National Post columnist. That can happen around here from time to time.

4. Peter MacKay debunked, August 4th.
As I have said before, David Pugliese is a national treasure. That was a fun one.

5. A national disgrace, December 8th.
On the rejection of a Senate bill to help the disabled Nortel workers. Self-explanatory title and a continuing disgrace.

6. “You can’t have the Prime Minister handing out radio and TV licences.” August 19th.
Lawrence Martin's column on the prospect of Sun TV getting must carry status with an assist from the PM was worth a push.

7. About that cerebral approach to governance..., July 27th.
Conservative Senate staffer caught astroturfing in Ottawa Citizen.

8. About that Friday night poll just out, August 20th.
An Ipsos poll gets some scrutiny.

9. Asleep at the switch, October 24th.
Guess who has been asleep at the switch? You know.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mr. Smith's big debut

A bit of a gaffe extravaganza the past two days going for Larry Smith, Harper's new Senate appointee and now, going for the twofer, Lac-Saint-Louis riding candidate. Yesterday was the big one, of course, boldly going where perhaps no Senate appointee has gone before, trashing the size of the Senate paycheque:
“You have to understand that I’ve worked very hard over my career and to do what I’m doing now I’m making a major, major concession in my lifestyle to even be a senator,” he told the CBC’s Evan Solomon on Power and Politics.

“I’m not trying to be arrogant, because I’m not, but I made a commitment to get myself into a higher form of public service than the philanthropic stuff I’ve done for the last 30 years. . .

“In simple terms, he added, “the money I was earning in my last profession to where I would be in this profession is what I would call a dramatic, catastrophic pay cut. And I have a family — I have obligations.”

Senators are paid an annual salary of $132,300.
A bit of incredible insight into Mr. Smith's worldview. Throw in that he seems to castigate the philanthropic "stuff" he's done as perhaps small potatoes to date as well. Terrible optics for Smith given the hardship we've seen in the news recently.

On Tuesday, he had offered this:
"I will not be appointed as a cabinet minister [right now]," he told reporters Tuesday evening after speaking to supporters at a meeting of the Lac-Saint-Louis Conservative riding association. "I've had that discussion with the prime minister because in my sense you have to earn your spot at the table."
The irony is also strong with this one. You have to earn your spot at the cabinet table, but he'll just be having his Senate seat in the interim along the way to running for MP, thank you very much. Interesting version of sportsmanship and fair play that they learn in the CFL.

What else is going on here beyond the gaffes? With all the problems facing the nation, the issues of the day, do we need a football player/football executive/football commissioner in the House of Commons or in any other federal position at the moment do we think? Are these the kinds of skills, experiences, competencies that are lacking at the federal level? Harper's picked Nancy Greene, Jacques Demers, he's made a few sports picks. Seems like it was enough already.

Hopefully the voters of Lac-Saint-Louis will be taking note of all this, whenever that election comes, and send Mr. Smith back to his pre-catastrophic lifestyle.

(Video of Smith on CBC Politics yesterday).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Flaherty's zombie pension reform

Explanation for that zombie reference below. But first...what did we see on Monday at that First Minister's meeting? An agreement to pursue the private pension plan and just a sliver of hope for CPP reform. Private prevailed over the public. Any enhancement of CPP has been put off to a future June meeting:
“We agreed that our officials should continue their work on the CPP,” said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty after the talks in Kananaskis, Alta. “We will come back at our June meeting to discuss options and concerns.”
Not so good on the CPP enhancement front. On this private plan, there may have been a big development: "New pension plan would require employers to offer it but allow opt-out." This mandatory aspect was new yesterday:
The criticism of the pooled system was that it was voluntary, and therefore unlikely to make much more of a difference to retirement savings than existing savings programs such as RRSPs.

But Mr. Flaherty argued that by forcing employers to offer the new PRPP – without forcing them to contribute – and by forcing employers to automatically enroll workers into the system with an opt-out provision, millions more Canadians will start putting away extra cash for retirement.

But employees, who under CPP must match employer contributions to the plan, would be under no obligation to contribute to PRPP.
Stated elsewhere:
"It would be mandatory for employees to participate in the plan unless they specifically opted out," said Flaherty.
It sounds like Flaherty is making it up as he goes. In that "Draft Framework for Pooled Registered Pension Plans" there was no mention of forcing employers to offer a plan. It said employers would be given a choice of whether to offer a plan to their employees (p. 5-6). Otherwise, employees would be on their own to sign up for one at the bank or insurance company or wherever these things would be purchased. Suddenly it's morphed into a requirement for employers. Sounds like it's just Quebec and Flaherty as early supporters of that development, so it may not ultimately fly.

How exactly a mandatory offering with an opt-out would boost enrollment is another question. They must be counting on people not opting out. There are shades of negative billing tactics there though, could be some fallout. And who would a presumptive mandatory employee enrollment benefit? A big winner would likely be the financial industry offering the plans.

This needs to be looked at long and hard, by those First Ministers of Finance of the nation and the federal opposition parties. With a view to how it might affect CPP in particular. Is this a burgeoning competitor that's being set up?

Here's some interesting early online reaction to the Harper government's direction to throw into the mix. In response to the question, "Would you support a shift to privately managed pensions," 17% (1122 votes) said "Yes. I trust the private sector to earn greater returns, even if it comes with greater risk." Yet 83% (5572 votes) said "No. I support an enhanced federally run Canada Pension Plan."

Those 83% supporting CPP there, in opposition to Flaherty's preferred route, bring to mind what Paul Krugman was talking about yesterday in his column, "When Zombies Win":
When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.
...
But such failures don’t seem to matter. To borrow the title of a recent book by the Australian economist John Quiggin on doctrines that the crisis should have killed but didn’t, we’re still — perhaps more than ever — ruled by “zombie economics.” Why?
Why indeed. Exhibit A: Jim Flaherty and his private pension plan while he casually puts off CPP reform.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And here is where we juxtapose...

Friday: "No time to 'screw around' with an election: PM."

Monday: "Tories target 190 ridings."

That is all.

Pension meeting, many questions

As this pension issue heats up today, let's look first at Flaherty on CPP reform, a bit of then and now. Here's how it was in the summer:
Speaking in Charlottetown, P.E.I., where he’s meeting with his provincial counterparts, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the “substantive majority view” among his provincial colleagues was that the hikes were needed.

“We agreed to consider a modest, phased-in and fully funded enhancement to defined benefits under the CPP in order to increase coverage and adequacy,” said Flaherty. “We were not unanimous, but the substantive majority view was that we should proceed.”
A "substantive majority" was good enough then to go ahead with CPP reform. Those were pretty strong statements from Flaherty. Also:
"A couple of ministers need to go back to their governments to have further discussions on that option, but we are going to go ahead and mandate our senior officials to work collaboratively on technical and implementation issues … and to complete this work by the fall," Flaherty said.
More of the kind of statement that created expectations on the part of Flaherty and the federal government. Now, things have changed in terms of the required substantive majority:
...the finance ministers of B.C., P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Ontario issued a joint statement Sunday asking Flaherty to keep CPP expansion on the table alongside the private-sector changes he's proposing.
...
"The letter, if it is a letter, from the six provinces just confirms what I said Thursday, that there is no consensus on the issue," Flaherty told reporters.
What a turnaround and abdication of leadership at the same time.

In terms of the substance, in the summer, the private version of pension reform was raised and made part of a three-pronged approach to pension reform that everyone was getting on board with (i.e., a private plan initiative, financial literacy plus enhanced CPP). Now, however, Flaherty's upset the balance and is essentially walking away from the CPP enhancement, focusing on the private plan option. All of the talk from the summer, about working well with the Finance Ministers, the sincere desire to work together, all gone. So that's where we are, with a credibility-challenged Finance Minister going into these meetings skewing all discussion towards a private option.

Flaherty is relying upon Alberta and Saskatchewan's opposition along with Quebec's. Here's the Quebec Finance Minister:
“This is not the year to add on to the burden of employees,” Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand told The Globe and Mail in Calgary on Sunday, pointing to the continuing fragility of the Canadian economy. “These are the kinds of changes that you do once in a generation.”
Boy, there are all kinds of things we're prohibited from doing these days due to the great spectre of economic uncertainty. The Harper government likes to tell us most days that Canada is doing well, a model of stability in a sea of uncertainty. Yet when it comes to pension reform, or, say, elections, the no-fly zones suddenly appear. Exactly when the magic moment will be in coming years when the sea of financial calm sets upon us is anyone's guess. The baby boomer retiree generation isn't getting any smaller in the meantime.

Besides, doesn't the argument from the Quebec Finance Minister and Flaherty et al. cut both ways? These past few years of uncertainty are exactly why you consider big changes. Because we've seen that things that are too big to fail can in fact fail. In Canada, somehow we think we are exempt from that proposition and can put off big decisions to future happier times.

Why the big turnaround from Flaherty and Harper? The prospect of CPP premiums going up is a likely hitch for the Harper government with an eye on an election. Second, the choice to shift dollars into private institutions rather than expand the CPP is a natural ideological choice for these conservative striped governments.

Yet there will be questions. How will these private plans solve the problem with Canadians not saving enough? Voluntary private options are not likely to change that dynamic. Above all, is this the choice Canadians want to make with pension reform? Going the private route versus bolstering the trusted CPP? Could make for some interesting political debates going forward.

Here is the Draft "Framework for Pooled Registered Pension Plans." A few preliminary questions on it follow.
Framework for Pooled Registered Pension Plans

First off...9 pages? This seems surprisingly short. As for the details...

The administrator of the plan (p. 3-4) will owe a fiduciary duty to plan members. Do they mean in the same way that the Nortel trustee overseeing the disability funds owed a fiduciary duty to those employees? That didn't work out so well.

The requirements for plain language disclosure (and the choices members are to make upon enrolment) (both p. 4) seem to presume a level of investment sophistication that may be challenging to overcome. Yes, disclosure is necessary and good but some of the items there, including the rights to portable plans as people change jobs and the exercising of different options in that eventuality would require some sophistication. Then there are such routine disclosures as notice of amendments to the plan, for example. It doesn't really sit well following what we've seen with the sub-prime mortgage debacle in the U.S. where people just did not understand what deals they were getting into. Where are they going to get help? The employer? The bank? The insurance company?

The "Responsibilities of Employers" section (p. 5) will raise questions about employer contributions, which appear to be optional and employers' residual administration of these plans, including the very important task of "collecting and remitting contributions to the plan."

The "Individual Members" (p. 6) of these plans, i.e., the self-employed and those who work in companies not offering a plan but who individually opt into one, will have the burden of those administrative tasks an employer would otherwise bear, e.g., deciding on a level of contribution and remitting contributions. The highly disciplined among us would be fine with that. Many others, not so much.

An employer has the ability to move to a new plan at its discretion. Or, it can cease offering one altogether. (p. 7) There seem to be options in the draft for what happens with employees when an employer chooses a new plan. It doesn't seem to say what happens when the employer just ceases offering a plan. (?)

Just a few questions for starters, sure there are lots more to be asked arising out of that document.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday night

A remix of one of Deadmau5's new songs which just might be better than the original.



One more from the faves of the year category...Four Tet's remix of the xx's VCR.



Have a good night!

On the lighter side

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A "lost year" in Ottawa

The read of the day given the end of session and that Governor General's bill signing ceremony taking place later today, Helene Buzzetti of Le Devoir breaks down the impact of last year's prorogation on this year's legislative accomplishments. The analysis refers to 2010 as essentially a "lost year" in terms of having to re-do a lot of the work that had been done legislatively in 2009, particularly on the Conservatives' much vaunted crime agenda. They keep hurling accusations at others for holding up that set of laws in particular, yet when you look at the numbers, those accusations seem laughable.

The government introduced 61 bills this year, 33 of which had to be re-introduced since they were lost due to prorogation. Of those 33, only 3 have received Royal Assent. Of the 28 new bills, 5 have received Royal Assent.

There's a bit of a cataloguing done in the report, bill by bill, to show how much delay the Conservatives added into the mix themselves, beyond prorogation. 8 months delay, for example, on re-introducing those bills on enhanced police powers over internet eavesdropping, which has meant little accomplished on those. There are 11 measures, Buzzetti notes, which Conservatives claim as being key pieces of their law and order agenda but which have just made it back to their pre-prorogation stage now. Included among these would be C-16 on ending house arrest for violent criminals, and C-39 limiting the early release of offenders. It's actually bordering on high farce that they're able to get away with all this made-for-TV tough on crime pandering.

All to be kept in mind as a few bills are granted Royal Assent today. The numbers and analysis are excellent reminders but we have a strong sense about all this in any event. Harper is into executive power, not legislative power. And advertising much more than legislating.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On the lighter side

This was a serious event but the ending is kind of hilarious: "RCMP response to Newfoundland standoff to be reviewed."
A man slipped away from the scene of a week-long armed standoff in Newfoundland and got a lift out of town to buy smokes while police guarded what turned out to be an empty house for nearly 16 more hours, the RCMP said Monday.

The Mounties said the man snuck past their security perimeter on Friday night after they gathered on one side of his house to pump water into it with high-pressure hoses in an effort to resolve the standoff in Bay Bulls, N.L.

“In essence, we had one side of the house fully covered and positioned and another side that wasn’t,” Sgt. Boyd Merrill said in an interview.
The National's coverage last night is worth watching simply for the RCMP officer and his quotes, for example, "Police work is not an exact science." No kidding.

Speaking of favouritism

So the latest in-and-out elections expenses developments have been in the news the last few days, with the news of national campaign offices having been set up by the Conservatives in Quebec during the 2006 federal campaign but with expenses for those offices having been attributed to the local candidates. That's become part of the dispute with the Conservative Party having been ordered to amend its 2006 return accordingly.

Anyhow, this spawned some back and forth in Question Period yesterday and now some Conservative spin that is pushing back against Liberals who raised it. The spin is the very wrongheaded and irresponsible notion that Elections Canada is biased against the Conservatives and treats Liberals much differently. The oft-cited pass given to Liberals and mentioned in the Lilley piece? That past leadership candidates have been given extensions on repayment of their debt. Extensions are provided for in the Elections Act and further, earlier this year, a Federal Court did grant another extension on the paying back of the leadership debt for many of the candidates.

What is not mentioned in the Lilley piece and by Conservatives, however, is that Conservative candidates have similarly benefited from such extensions and there is indeed even-handed treatment that occurs.
The law allows candidates to seek court sanction for any further extensions, which have now been granted to six contenders.

Similar rules exist for candidates in elections and records show scores of Conservative candidates have routinely received extensions after missing the deadline for paying off their campaign debts.
Thank you, Canadian Press. The point is, the Conservative spin that Elections Canada is biased is nonsense. It's even more egregious because throughout the life of this in-and-out court process, going on an incredible four years now, they insist on trying to undermine one of our foundational democratic institutions. If they have a grievance with an interpretation of a law and they're having a court battle, fine. But engage in it professionally and with a sense of respect for the process, their role as the government and Elections Canada's unique position. 

The in-and-out expense case rolls on, unfinished since 2006. That's the real issue here, the ultimate answer on Conservative overspending in that 2006 federal election is yet to be provided while the case is under appeal. It may be a lose-lose for Conservatives, however, contrary to what the other Conservative spin is about all the wins racked up thus far.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Election watch

Some items of interest from the past few days...

$18.1 million for a natural gas pipeline in Thetford Mines announced by Harper today. Christian Paradis' riding.

Tony Clement announces a $300 million contribution to an engine development programme in Mississauga today, likely to shore up Conservative MP Bob Dechert's hold on the Mississauga-Erindale riding.

Harper again, on Friday, announced $19 million to dredge Sydney Harbour in N.S., likely to attempt to gain a seat there for Conservative candidate Cecil Clarke:
Harper singled out Cecil Clarke, the Cape Breton North MLA, for praise.

"I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention your stellar member of the legislative assembly, Cecil Clarke, who has much to do with why I am here," the prime minister said.

Clarke is moving from provincial to federal politics to run for the Conservatives against Liberal MP Mark Eyking in the Sydney-Victoria riding in the next election.
Plenty of others to track as well but those are some of the biggies from the past few days, totalling almost $350 million.

Christmas is clearly the season for giving.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday night

One that has been in my rotation this week, mostly because some commercial has put a bug in my head about it. It's also a great re-mix, regardless, of one of the best songs on the Massive Attack album that was a favourite this year. So, kind of an end of year thing with this one.



Second, a new one from Niagara Falls' own Deadmau5:



Lastly, if we must do the Christmas thing, this is how we do it:

Canadian political science: MIA?

You can read some typical fare today on essentially the same old topics. Or, consider this very useful and thought-provoking read on the current state of our politics and a lot of what might be going on with the progressive side of the debate: Canadian Political Science: Missing in Action? by Sylvia Bashevkin.

Bashevkin contrasts the absence of progressive political science voices on the current Canadian scene with the abundance of conservative ones, pointing out the investments that are being made by conservatives in "foundations, think tanks, conferences, media outlets and so on to promote a particular point of view, and to train like-minded folks to sing with impact from the conservative hymnal." That's just one minor but salient offering from the piece. 

She also suggests the absence of the progressive political science part of the spectrum in the public realm (or not enough of it, at least) is hurting the Canadian political debate at the moment:
To demonstrate the extent to which progressive political science is absent in contemporary Canada, let’s pursue three brief counterfactual thought experiments that imagine what public debate would look like if this part of the discipline were present, which in turn permits us to understand why it is weak or entirely absent.

First, if the concepts of power, representation, justice, equality, citizenship and human rights figured more prominently in public debate, then we would have at our fingertips an analytically rigorous set of ideas that both reveal and explain the uneven distribution of influence and resources that undermines democracy at this time. Taking transformative action to rebuild our political fabric would follow from each of those starting points. Yet all six themes have lost traction relative to the totemic markers of our time, notably competitiveness, productivity and economic growth.

Second, with the latter three desiderata depriving the former six of oxygen, it is not surprising that we have to enter the realm of fantasy to imagine a second scenario: reforming the “post-crisis” international economic system in ways that would enhance the well-being of citizens. (I place the phrase post-crisis in quotation marks because the strain on global markets, alongside pressures the world credit collapse and its various knock-on effects have imposed on the legitimacy of democratic governments, arguably continues.) As things stand, discussions of how to move forward usually elevate the regulatory preferences of large financial institutions above all else, leaving little room for the fundamental point that liberal states and markets are ideally tools for improving the lives of human beings.

Third, if the House of Commons operated as a representative chamber that communicated voters’ voices to elected MPs, then the leader of our Official Opposition would not have had to travel roughly 40,000 kilometres this summer to discover that Canadians are worried about the fate of democracy. The same earnest, concerned people who came out to meet Michael Ignatieff from coast to coast to coast would have channelled their views to their local representatives, and then those perspectives would have found their way into party deliberations and parliamentary debates involving all sides of the House.
There is much more to digest from the piece that deserves a full read which I am not doing justice here. She really is saying that there is much that is missing on the progressive side of the spectrum in terms of resources and in terms of meeting conservatives in the present day debate which is skewed to the right.

That skewed debate gives us a climate in which the Nortel disabled workers get the shaft with little public outcry. That skewed debate gives us a climate in which the false choice between the economy and the environment is offered to us and the economy prevails. (My examples, not hers.)

In other words, her piece is not just about the responsibility of political scientists to contribute, it's also about a larger political climate in Canada with multiple ailments, particularly on the progressive side of the spectrum. Arguably, there are bigger undercurrents at play that dwarf who is the leader of any of our political parties at the moment.

Queen Marjory I of Canada

The Queen of the Senate speaks on her party's intent to kill the Supreme Court French language bill that has been passed in the House of Commons. Now hear ye:
But Sen. Marjory LeBreton, leader of the government in the Senate, rejects the idea that her side of the chamber is delaying the bill, and she says very clearly that the Conservatives are opposed to it.

“We’ve got a lot of government legislation before the Senate and government legislation takes precedence,” she said. “A private member’s bill, when we get a chance, we do address them.”

Ms. LeBreton said a number of senators still want to speak to the bill, as is their right, before sending it to committee.

“I fully support the tradition of sending bills to committee and we will do that with this bill, that’s our intention,” she said.
Be assured Canadians, "we do address" private members' bills. The Queen will also fully support the tradition of sending bills to committee. Small mercies.

Yet the Queen is unmoved by the elected legitimacy of the House of Commons:
After the bill is finished in committee though, it would most certainly be defeated because the Conservatives outnumber the Liberals.

“The government is fundamentally opposed to the bill because we believe that we must be guided by the principles of merit and legal excellence,” Ms. LeBreton said. She said the bill discriminates against unilingual Canadians and would reduce the pool of qualified candidates for the Supreme Court.
Thank you, oh Queen, for substituting your considered judgment and the view of the minority Conservative government and the Prime Minister for the elected majority of the House of Commons. Duly noted by your subjects.

Seems like it's very good to be Marjory these days.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Harper's Integrity Commissioner: "inappropriate and unacceptable for a public servant"

The Auditor General has now weighed in with her report on the Harper appointed integrity commissioner: "Integrity commissioner's actions 'unacceptable': Fraser." Christiane Ouimet, now retired, was Harper's pick, "charged with the responsibility of upholding integrity in the public sector and of protecting public servants from reprisal."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper nominated Ouimet as commissioner on June 12, 2007, saying her "unique combination of skills and experience [would] serve her well as she leads the implementation of the new regime for the protection of whistleblowers."
It didn't turn out that way, given the AG's findings, and one must question whether this was the intent of Mr. Harper all along, to undermine the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner position and let public sector whistleblowers twist in the wind. Read and assess for yourself. Here is some of the material with respect to "the failure by the Commissioner to properly perform her mandated functions." First some stats and then just one case example which has now been re-opened.
There are concerns about a reluctance to investigate

26. According to its 2007–08 and 2008–09 annual reports, PSIC received a total of 114 disclosures of wrongdoing and 42 complaints of reprisal in the first two years of its operation. During this period, out of the 156 files, three formal investigations were conducted. No disclosures of wrongdoing were determined to be founded and no reprisal complaints were referred to the Tribunal. Following the period covered by our audit, PSIC released its annual report for 2009–10. For its third year in operation, PSIC reported having received an additional 56 disclosures of wrongdoing and 16 complaints of reprisal. Out of these 72 additional files, two disclosures of wrongdoing were reported as having been closed after formal investigation, neither of which resulted in a finding of wrongdoing. Two reprisal files were reported as being under formal investigation.

27. Many current and former PSIC employees we met with as part of our audit expressed concerns that the Commissioner was reluctant to investigate disclosures of wrongdoing and to refer complaints of reprisal to the Tribunal. Additionally, some of these current and former employees raised concerns about the Commissioner’s objectivity and impartiality in her decisions and her involvement in operational files. Most of the individuals who expressed these concerns were members of PSIC’s investigative or legal teams and were directly involved in the operational files.
Those stats seem pretty stunning. Combined with the concerns from those most intricately involved in the investigative area and the questions should mount.

Here is just one case cited by the AG's audit where there was a refusal to act, wrongly, on a question of improper procurement contract meddling:
30. In one case of disclosure of wrongdoing, the complainant alleged that he was directed by his manager to accept a late bid on a procurement contract contrary to the Treasury Board Contracting Policy and applicable law. The manager who allegedly issued the direction also allegedly had an interest in the organization that submitted the late bid. Although PSIC recognized that the alleged actions by the manager would constitute a wrongdoing, it refused to investigate the disclosure because the contract was never awarded, and because PSIC was satisfied that the situation had been properly dealt with by the Senior Officer of the government organization. We did not find any evidence on file to demonstrate that the government organization had addressed the alleged conflict of interest and direction by the manager to accept the late bid. The complainant also filed a complaint of reprisal in relation to this disclosure based on other events that took place. PSIC refused to investigate the reprisal complaint on the basis that management’s actions were within its privilege in the course of managing an office. Again, we did not find any evidence on file in support of this conclusion. We asked the Commissioner for her position regarding PSIC’s conclusions on this file. The Commissioner told us that she was satisfied by the recommendations of her staff. PSIC subsequently informed us that it recently conducted a review of a number of its files, and that the case described in this paragraph has been re-opened.
That's a fairly stunning one. In light of the present goings on with the Parliament Hill contracting investigation, that one resonates.

The message that may have been sent throughout the public service? That complaint is futile, wrongdoing will not be addressed.

The message to the public out of all this? This was the AG's judgment on Mr. Harper's pick:
In our view, the Commissioner’s behaviour and actions do not pass the test of public scrutiny and are inappropriate and unacceptable for a public servant—most notably for the Agent of Parliament specifically charged with the responsibility of upholding integrity in the public sector and of protecting public servants from reprisal.
Mr. Harper's judgment was wrong. I'm sure we'll hear lots today from Mr. Baird et al. about how this reform was brought in by this government, etc. The proof is in the work, however, and who you choose to implement the reform. This is a damning report on the success of this office, to say the least.

The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner has put out a statement saying what it is doing, in the wake of all this and probably to provide assurance that it is operating cognizant of these findings.

Rocking and trampling the House

Rocking the House by night, trampling Parliament by day, high times for the PM, hey?

The latest anti-democratic move is upon us once again. For the second time in a three week period, we are hearing that the Conservatives are going to use their Senate majority to once again defy the will of the elected House of Commons: "Tories axing requirement that all Supreme Court judges be fluently bilingual." Following on the heels of the killing of C-311, the climate change legislation that also had passed the House of Commons, they're back for more. Slightly different tactic this time.
The Conservative government is using its control of the Senate to delay passage of the private-member’s bill, in essence by talking it to death. In doing so, a minority government is employing a constitutionally controversial practice of using the Senate to veto legislation passed by the House of Commons.
This time they will talk it to death, since last time they got a bit too much heat for not even letting the talking begin. Same effect, undemocratic. Their actions are the issue here, make no mistake about it. They will talk about the substance of the bill as justification for squashing it, they will push Senate reform and anything else in an effort to change the channel. Because change it, they must:
In 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters: “We don't believe an unelected body should in anyway be blocking an elected body.”
That's the issue and that alone.

Stephen Harper really should be having a Nick Clegg moment of his own. Clegg is the U.K. Liberal Democratic leader whose party poll numbers have caved in the wake of his tuition fee promise reversal. Harper is doing practically the same thing here, totally reneging on his words above.

Last word on this topic to columnist Jim Coyle today with this thought:
The only good to be drawn from the serial assaults on democratic process and procedure — and the contempt shown for institutions and the citizens to whom they are supposed to give voice — is that perhaps a critical mass of disgust is within sight.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

A national disgrace

"Tory-controlled Senate rejects bill to ensure benefits for disabled Nortel workers." What a terrible outcome for these employees:
The Conservative-controlled Senate has killed a bill that would have protected former Nortel employees from losing their long-term disability benefits.

The bill, sponsored by Liberal Sen. Art Eggleton, was defeated by a vote of 47-44.

Liberals and independent senators supported the bill, which sought to ensure 400 disabled Nortel workers would get preferred status among creditors when the once-mighty telecommunications technology giant is finally dissolved.

Most of the company has been sold off since Nortel filed for bankruptcy in January 2009.

Without the bill or some other federal intervention, disability benefits will cease at the end of this month.

Disabled employees have predicted that if denied benefits they'll face a bleak future full of illness, poverty, homelessness and even suicide.
The problem is essentially this:
"Unlike pension plans, employers don't have to fund workplace disability plans," says James Pierlot, an independent Toronto pension expert. "On bankruptcy of an employer, workers can lose part, or even all of their disability benefits. Bill S-216, which increases the priority of disabled workers' claims to assets of an insolvent employer, is a modest, but important first step in improving benefit security for disabled workers."
...
Nortel's disabled workers thought they were insured and that the company had set aside appropriate reserve assets in the Canada Health and Welfare Trust, which the company had created to fund annual long-term disability wage-replacement benefits. But, Nortel management removed employer contributions for the long-term disability wage-replacement benefits, and borrowed close to one third of the assets in the Canada Health and Welfare Trust, leaving it severely depleted, says Diane Urquhart, a Toronto-based independent financial analyst, who is helping the disabled Nortel group.

Unlike pension plans, which are subject to rigorous funding requirements under federal and provincial pension legislation, there is generally no requirement in Canada to fund or insure long-term disabled benefits.
That latter deficiency is something that should be remedied. In the meantime, it's a hard future for these Nortel workers (and likely others elsewhere in this country to come). Also from the same WSJ report, some research that bears looking into, which suggests the lobbying claims we heard are not well-founded:
Both the Canadian Bankers' Association, a powerful industry lobby group, and the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communication, or FETCO, voiced their opposition to the bill at last week's hearings. Neither group provided statistics to support their claims.

The CBA said companies offering long-term disability insurance benefits "would find themselves at a competitive disadvantage" to international rivals. It also expressed concern that investors will be more reluctant to buy a company's bonds, depriving it of financing or raising its cost of financing, if disabled workers rank ahead of unsecured bondholders. "Ultimately, this leads to reduced economic growth and job creation," Bill Randle, the CBA's assistant general counsel, said.

FETCO wasn't immediately available to comment.

A 2009 Australian study, however, found that these claims are unfounded. Using modern finance theory techniques, the co-authors Jeannette Anderson and Kevin Davis examined the impact of preferred creditor status to employee entitlements in high-profile Australian corporate liquidations.

The impact on the cost of secured debt for Australian companies was found to be "extremely small for most companies, contrary to conventional wisdom," they said in a paper published in the Australian Journal of Management.

The amount of money the disabled Nortel workers need amounts to less than 2% of the cash that will be disbursed to other creditors when Nortel is finally dissolved, says Urquhart.

She estimates full settlement of the Canadian long-term disabled would cause the average Nortel bond price to fall at most 2.8%, which is the measure of value that "does not rightfully belong to the bondholders in the first place" because of the Canada Health and Welfare Trust account agreements. Since Nortel filed for bankruptcy, its bonds have risen to US$78-US$82, from the US$12-US$14.63 range, she says.

Indeed, the impact of Bill S-216 on an employer's ability to raise capital is expected to be minimal because long-term disabled claimants tend to be a small minority of the total workforce, and the bill isn't intended to affect secured creditor claims, analysts say.
This is a situation that demands a fix. There's no way that in a country as rich as ours, where Nortel management can certainly end up with their own payoffs, that employees in need of disability benefits should be left holding the bag. No way.

Good on Art Eggleton and Judy Sgro and all others who have pushed this issue. Hopefully a future government will indeed make sure this cannot happen again.

Pinko musings on Cherry, CBC

What a spectacle Rob Ford gave us yesterday. On Cherry, judging by CBC's response to his recent extra-curricular political activism, it's not clear that there's much to be done about it other than let one's views be known to them (address). He was agitating and mean-spirited yesterday, poking Torontonians in the eye with his disparaging talk. The guest in our house who just didn't know how to behave. Wouldn't hurt for Cherry to hear some backlash which may cause him to moderate it.

Kudos to John Doyle for urging people to think seriously about this unique situation. It is one of those grey area situations where many sensible people would think twice about their actions yet there are those in our society these days, like Cherry, who seem to have no qualms about barging right ahead.

While we're on the topic of the public broadcaster and its independence, there's an issue that's been brewing that we might want to start paying a bit more attention to: Quebecor's machinations against the CBC. Some of it has been under the radar, such as the access to information requests that CBC is being pressed on, by Quebecor for example. It got some more attention yesterday on Parliament Hill at a committee as the extensive campaign that's being waged saw a bit more light. Interesting how Quebecor's efforts seem to be in sync with the Harper government's animosity toward CBC.

More food for thought...how about Dean Del Mastro being elevated to the Heritage portfolio? Not seen it anywhere but it wouldn't surprise.

A few things to think about while we're wailing on the Cherry situation.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Bruce McDonald, progressive blogging friend

Just wanted to join in with others who are remembering Bruce today. We lost a good guy and he will be missed.

I met Bruce a few times. He was one of the first bloggers I met in the summer of 2006 when I went to one of our blogging get togethers. Beyond that, we lived in our peculiar online world where we share solidarity over issues, we reach each other on twitter and we laugh, the connection a little more real since we did in fact meet in real life. The last time I saw him was the summer of 2009 at the southern Ontario get together in Guelph. We joked later about not getting to talk more at that event. Now I wish we had.

Here's to him, for speaking out with conviction over the years and adding his unique voice to the Progressive Bloggers community.

Best to his family and friends.

Remembering December 6th



Thanks to Jason Lamarche for this video on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. December 6th, 1989, today is the 21st anniversary. A big year in which the destruction of the gun registry by the Conservatives was held back.

In remembrance.

Can you feel the excitement

The anticipation...it's enough to put a person right back to sleep: "Harper eyes cabinet shuffle with possible election in the cards."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, with an eye on a potential spring election, is contemplating a cabinet shuffle to re-energize his team and bring greater focus to his government’s priorities.
Re-energize? Don't we mean "recalibrate," to use the Harperian lexicon? This is a tired government that is offering little in the way of substance to Canadians but plenty of Groundhog Day-like cynical political tactics. The story lines have largely been written. We're in a holding pattern until the next election. Hard to believe that there are new faces in the mix to put a fresh coat on this government.

For example, trolling around the news today, we see the same old law and order shtick about to be doled out again, there's word of some anti-terrorism "road map" to come this week. Likely with all the elaborate photo-op staging they can muster but with this government's foot-dragging and proroguing record, likely never to be passed. In the background meanwhile, behind the scenes, they're quietly delaying regulations that "police say they need to quickly trace guns used in crimes." But, but...tough on crime!

There's the ongoing environmental recalcitrance, see the news today: "Canada gets ready to walk away from Kyoto Protocol." Holding out for a heroic world-wide effort before acting, when the internal advice they're getting says "stringent international climate-change policies are no threat to Alberta’s oilsands industry."

There's the ongoing hypocrisy on their own profligate spending, the latest being approved by the Prime Minister himself, as they preach to Canadians and other governmental actors about restraint.

Good luck putting a re-energized sheen on all that. In any given week, it keeps coming and coming.

The decision on what to do with the talkative Julian Fantino might be interesting to watch, admittedly, for many reasons. Looking forward to the PMO brain trust's handling of that little hot potato. Wonder how well Fantino's "Hitler theory" went over in Prime Ministerial land this weekend. Sure got a lot of attention!

A day of excitement, maybe, for media and Conservative fans. For the rest of us, probably just a host of fresh meat to put through our grinders, as this crowd of Harper enablers verily deserves.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday night

Sticking with the ladies this week. First, a young singer from Brooklyn, Diane Birch.



More Lissie this week. That girl can cover a marginal pop anthem and turn it into a much better moment.



One more, live! With Ellie Goulding. Both were nominated by Q for 2010 Best Breakthrough Artist.



Have a good night.

U.S. jet exec offers conflict filled testimony on F-35

That's my suggested preferred headline to this story: "U.S. jet exec shoots down criticisms of F-35." Tom Burbage of Lockheed Martin, the F-35 maker under tremendous cost pressures from the Pentagon to get the F-35 costs under control and facing possible cuts to that program, was in Ottawa yesterday to testify before the Parliamentary National Defence Committee. Clearly, his statements should be viewed in light of the pressures his company is under.

To take one, Burbage offered up the "projected likelihood that Canadian aerospace industries would get over $10 billion worth of work" in F-35 contracts. That's just a projection he's offering, as he said. It's unclear how he's backing that number up. As Le Devoir reported last week, the Pentagon has contradicted such large figures offered up by both Lockheed Martin and the Harper government, estimating instead that the potential work would be more in the range of between $3.9 billion as projected work that Canada might obtain, not $10 or $12 billion.

Additionally, it was reported that Burbage warned that Canada would lose out on contracts if we withdrew from the current agreement to buy 65 F-35s. It's getting repetitive to say but as we know, there is no agreement at present and there won't be one signed until 2014 (according to this latest report).

Such threatening statements about contract reductions represent the worst kind of spin that Lockheed Martin could self-interestedly put on Canada's ability to get contracts down the road. It is essentially a threat, pressuring us to buy the F-35s. Lockheed Martin needs us to buy those F-35s, they're under pressure to keep the eager Harper government in line. Other allies are balking and reducing their purchase numbers.

Even if we don't buy the F-35, we still, by virtue of being a participant in the JSF development program, with our monetary investment in it, have the chance to bid on contracts. No one knows, including Burbage, how such bidding would go. He did praise Canadian industry, so even he knows that Canada could still do reasonably well in such a bidding regime, even if we don't buy the F-35.

Would have been nice to read some context about Lockheed Martin and how the program is going in the U.S. in these two major Canadian media reports on the testimony. It would help people to assess how much weight they should give to such claims about projected industrial benefits, the prospect of lost contracts, etc. Shouldn't Canadians get the benefit of that information? Otherwise, it seems like we're just getting the Lockheed spin.

Ultimately, we need to make such decisions ourselves and not with a gun to our heads from Lockheed Martin executives.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Quebecor making news

A bit of an update here on some Quebecor matters, since their media footprint seems to be in the news today in some big ways elsewhere.

There was also news today that Pierre Karl Peladeau is to be summoned to appear in front of a Quebec legislative committee in January over the lockout of the Journal de Montreal workers, a lockout that has been dragging on for almost two years now. More here, some of the concerns being these:
Dans leur communiqué, les députés libéraux ont manifesté «leurs inquiétudes quant à la durée du conflit, le plus long de l’histoire de la presse écrite au Québec, et quant à ses impacts sur les travailleurs et leurs familles».
Interesting tidbit, in that lawsuit Peladeau is presently involved in, his defamation suit against the CBC executive Sylvain Lafrance, Peladeau's lawyers actually relied upon the reporting of one of those locked out Journal de Montreal employees, David Santerre, for the motion Peladeau brought to challenge the judge hearing his case on grounds of bias. Quebecor's lawyers quoted Santerre and even complimented him on the quality of his reporting in the halls.
Ironiquement, une grande partie de la preuve fournie par Quebecor au juge pour étayer ses prétentions sont les articles rédigés par Rue Frontenac tout au long du procès, et qui n’ont pas manqué de relever les interventions musclées du juge, contre les deux parties en présence par ailleurs.
«Vous avez fait une couverture assidue et objective», a d’ailleurs confié une avocate de Quebecor au représentant de RueFrontenac.com hors de la salle de Cour.
The journalistic talents don't seem to be registering beyond the Quebecor litigation needs though.

Judge Larouche has refused the recusal motion that would have seen him removed from the Peladeau trial and an appeal of that ruling will apparently be decided by the Superior Court's chief judge on Friday. The chief judge has already ruminated, during arguments, about some of Judge Larouche's comments during the Peladeau trial, specifically, the ones about Quebec Superior Court judges apparently being reluctant to sit on a Peladeau case:
Le juge en chef a aussi fait grand cas d’une déclaration du juge Larouche faite au cours du procès à l’effet qu’aucun juge de la Cour supérieure n’avait voulu du dossier PKP contre Lafrance.

«Est-il opportun pour un juge de discuter publiquement de la nature des discussions entre collègues?» a demandé le juge Robert.

«Est-ce que les discussions entre juges font partie du secret du délibéré et doivent-elles recevoir le même traitement», a-t-il ajouté.
Yes, important in terms of fairness during a trial. The Larouche comments, appropriate or not, have also brought out an interesting dynamic into the public light. Are judges reluctant to sit on such a Peladeau case? That seems quite important.

Selling the new defence procurement model

Here is one of the first results from the travelling F-35 p.r. roadshow that the government has launched. A news story telling us how useless it is to engage in a competitive process with respect to the largest military procurement in Canadian history: "Global jet bidding futile, military says."
An international bidding competition to buy Canada's next-generation fighter jets would have been a costly exercise in futility, senior military officials said yesterday.

Only Lockheed Martin Corp.'s F-35 met all the criteria required to fulfil the variety of missions Canada's armed forces demanded, said Andre Fillion, director general of major project delivery (air) for the Department of National Defence.
DND drew up requirements for the jet purchase, after consulting DND extensively. Don't ask any questions about it though.
But Canadians can't be told precisely what the top criteria are that made only Lockheed's plane eligible, said Dave Burt, Canada's director for air requirements, because they are "highly classified," and "a question of national security."
In other words, trust DND, no civilian oversight. Which is precisely what the Auditor General warned us against just recently with respect to her examination of major helicopter purchases where DND was found to have been unreliable in its estimates and lacking in proper process:
“The contract award process was not fair, open and transparent,” Fraser told reporters,
Neither is it here. Yet the Auditor General doesn't have a budget to go cross-country and educate the public about her report and proper defence procurement principles. Neither do any of the opposition parties. DND and the Harper government do.

Update: Of course, it's not the role of the Auditor General to promote her findings, just making the point about the p.r. effort going on here and how it in effect can dwarf other view points.

Checking in on the costly F-35

On the jobs front, Pratt & Whitney, the engine manufacturer for the F-35, illustrates the downside of industry over-reliance on the F-35 for business:
Some Joint Strike Fighter suppliers could go out of business if the planned production ramp-up is further delayed, a Pratt & Whitney representative said in Washington on Tuesday, and the company is already steering other work to some of them to help keep them afloat.
...
"What I hear is people saying 'Can you give us something to show that the program is continuing to go forward? Because we have a banker knocking on our door'. No suppliers have died yet," O'Donnell adds, and in some cases Pratt & Whitney has "leveraged our large volume of commercial work" to sustain SMEs because of the expense and delay that would result from a failure.
Something to keep in mind as the Conservatives continue to flog the F-35 and the jobs aspect around the country on a continuous basis.

Secondly, CBS News does a quick video review of some of the recent recommendations of the Deficit Reduction Commission with respect to the future of the F-35 program. Included, the prospect of reducing by 50% the number of F-35s that the USAF and Navy would buy, meaning that if that recommendation were adopted, there would be implications for industry around the world who are relying on the substantial sales numbers that Lockheed Martin (and our government) is promoting. They represent that between 3,000 and 5,000 F-35s will be produced (see Kitchener link above). Yet if the USAF/Navy buy is reduced by 50%, that would deduct about 1,000 from those numbers. A reduction in the number bought by the U.S. would also increase the per plane cost, something that has been escalating in any event, irrespective of whether this Deficit Commission's recommendation is accepted. Maybe some tough questions are in order for Lockheed Martin today when it appears at that Defence Committee hearing.



(Alternate video view)

All of this is a reminder, again, that this is a foolhardy purchase to be sole-sourcing. The risks continue to pile up and they are being ignored by the Harper Conservatives, despite the amount of money at stake.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Steve's Midnight Madness write off extravaganza!

Take advantage soon! After midnight Jan. 31, 2011, it all must go!
Well that seems new...yet another Harper government ad special. The ad, seen in the Globe (also appearing as a banner) takes you to a government page promoting various tax cuts in addition to the midnight computer deal. So it's not just a question of alerting voters Canadians about one expiring programme.

Timed for the holidays? To run for the next two months to prime voters for a spring election? There is method to the madness, let's not kid ourselves.