Monday, January 31, 2011

Late night

Cool timelapsed video of the Halifax skating oval on January 21st, 2011. Quite the crowds they're attracting. The oval has been built for the Canada Games in mid-February.

For all you Haligonians and those with an eye for goings on in the Maritimes.


What is said:
"We're not going to provoke an election, folks," spokesman Dimitri Soudas said Monday.

"There's no intention on the part of the government to make of something a confidence vote that hasn't traditionally been one. The objective here is to make Parliament work."
What is done:
While continuing to insist he doesn’t want an election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made big changes to the top ranks of his campaign team.

Guy Giorno, who mere weeks ago stepped down as Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, has been appointed national campaign chair, responsible for crafting and implementing the Conservative Party’s election campaign strategy, whenever that campaign comes. Jenni Byrne, the party’s director of political operations, will also take on the role of campaign manager.
A little bit of two-step gamesmanship going on, as always.

Byrne's elevation to campaign manager has been an expected move for a while now, reported as far back as September, 2009. And the replacement of Doug Finley, who is ill, would have been expected as well. Still, the PM's moves trickle out on day one of Parliament's return to business, as election speculation runs on. Sure, every party's jockeying. But since the government ultimately has the power to decide the fateful question, it bears watching their actions in particular.

New issues with the F-35 purchase

David Pugliese has a report today on further complications that would be associated with a Canadian F-35 purchase. They appear to be big ones:
The Canadian military does not have the ability to conduct aerial refuelling of the F-35 fighter jet it wants to purchase and is now looking at ways to get around the problem, the Ottawa Citizen has learned.

Options range from paying for modifications to the stealth jets to purchasing a new fleet of tanker aircraft that can gas up the high-tech fighters in mid-air. That option could cost several hundred million dollars, depending on how many new tankers are needed, according to sources.

In addition, because the F-35 would not be able to safely land on runways in Canada's North as those are too short for the fighter, the Defence Department is also looking at having manufacturer Lockheed Martin install a "drag" chute on the plane.

That parachute would deploy when the aircraft lands, slowing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter down. But some pilots have said that high winds affecting such runways could make using a drag chute tricky or even dangerous.
The Defence Department listed air-to-air refuelling as a mandatory capability for any new fighter aircraft Canada purchases, prompting some aerospace industry executives to privately question why this critical feature was ignored for the F-35 purchase. The refuelling is needed if the jets are going to cover long distances.
Those look like substantial red flags on the suitability of this purchase for Canada.

The report does suggest that the refuelling system being put into the F-35B (the one the U.S. navy is getting, the vertical take-off & landing model) might be compatible with Canadian aerial fuel tankers but that option would require modifications to the version of the F-35s the Harper government has proposed we buy. There's also the ongoing possibility that the F-35B might be cancelled given its technical challenges and cost overruns. Whether its refuelling system would still be made, just for Canadian jets, would be a question. All the what ifs, what ifs, how they do seem to be piling up on the largest military procurement in Canadian history.

What is there to say at this point except that a competitive bid process would assess such issues and a decision could be made that factors in such Canadian specific conditions. Seems like the Harper government may have placed a little too much emphasis on things like interoperability with the American forces and not enough emphasis on compatibility with Canadian facilities and the Canadian fleet.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

March 29th?

"Tories planning spring election? March 29 says a talkative Conservative fundraiser over the phone to a not so receptive solicitee. Just trying to apply pressure to make donations seem more imperative?

Or would it make perfect sense given what the Prime Minister is quoted as saying in a report on Friday?
“I think the Canadian people don’t want an election. I think there is no reason for an election,” he told reporters Thursday during a press conference in Rabat, Morocco, where he announced the beginning of free-trade talks with the North African nation.

“I certainly do not think it is ever inevitable that we would do something the Canadian people don’t want us to do."
Yep, March 29th, a definite possibility.

Update: For reference purposes, the Elections Act on setting election dates.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday night

More on this artist:
Critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch set to release his beautiful new album Towards the Sun March 28th throughout Europe on City Slang.

It may be hard to believe when listening to the record, but Murdoch recorded the majority of Towards the Sun in Vancouver in a single night during a North American tour in 2009. Revisiting the tracks months later in New York, Murdoch called on several mainstays of Brooklyn’s thriving independent music scene to help put the finishing touches to the album, including Jon Natchez (Beirut), Kelly Pratt (Beirut) and Kyle Resnick (The National).

This new opus is Murdoch’s second full-length record to date, and a follow-up to the 2006 release Time Without Consequence, which cemented Murdoch as a “Top Ten Artist to Watch” according to Rolling Stone.
Have a good night (what's left of it...)!

Reid on political party financing

How we should go about reform to our political party financing regime, if we are going to go about it, is an important question. The present system was built on a solid basis of public policy research. The musings of Mr. Harper are not grounded in the same way and it's not how major, ground shifting changes that will have a big impact on our democratic process should occur. Reid hits the nail on the head.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Gates & MacKay to talk F-35 today

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates is in town today for a trilateral summit that has turned into a bilateral defence summit with Peter MacKay. Mexico is out on account of illness. The F-35 is going to be a topic of discussion according to Gates' press secretary:
Amid sharp political debate in Canada over the government's plans to buy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, Morrell acknowledged it was "a hot button issue" that would come up for discussion.

He said international partners were vital to keeping costs under control for the radar-evading fighter, which has been dogged by delays and rising costs.

"Our partners are needed, obviously, because the more quantity you buy, the price-per-copy will drop," he said.

"So we are obviously always trying to work with those countries that are committed to this, to keep them committed because it's for the overall good not just of the program, but of our defense posture around the world."
A bit of irony there, from Morrell. The Americans having just announced a reduction in the number of F-35s they are ordering, they can't be having any of that reduction business going on among the allies, apparently. He's also acknowledging that per plane rising costs are a big concern, despite what we hear from our government.

Gates' visit is a reminder that with the F-35 proposal, we have seen some creeping of American defence politics northwards due to the Harper government's handling of this file. Not only is there the way out in front posture Canada is taking in respect of a possible F-35 purchase, by announcing intentions years ahead of a need to buy, largely to curry favour with the U.S. We have also seen Mr. Harper and his ministers attempting to play a bit of divisive American-style politics in those communities with aerospace contractors they've visited so many times in the last six months. Recall Harper loudly urging workers to help him politically if they value such contracts while in Montreal recently. It's the kind of thing we see in the U.S., where lawmakers become beholden to local defence interests and regions are pitted against each other over contracts and budget battles. It makes for more divisiveness.

Given the "hot button" nature of the politics of the F-35, as acknowledged by the Americans, we can expect Gates to be very diplomatic about his statements today. Of course, it is Canadians alone who will decide the fate of the F-35 purchase.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Late night

An old fave that made its way onto the iPod this week...have a good rest of the night!

Harper Government Campaign 2011: Partisan use of government resources across the land

As it becomes clear that the corporate tax cut issue is shaping up to be an election issue in a coming campaign, possibly this spring, government resources are being commandeered to support the Conservative position, starting with that far-flung effort we saw across the country today: "Harper Government Is Keeping Taxes Low for Canada's Job Creators." That's the partisan release for Stockwell Day's appearance with Jim Flaherty in Vancouver.

Earlier today, there was the generic release highlighting the day's events, noting all the ministers travelling cross country on our dime to wage the "Harper Government's" campaign: "Harper Government is Keeping Taxes Low for Canada's Job Creators." Here's a 3rd release highlighting Lisa Raitt's participation today. What government department is paying for all this? Finance? The one that is supposed to be setting a certain tone at the moment? More:
The Tories held similar events for ministers and MPs across the country throughout the day:

* Ted Menzies, Flaherty's minister of state for finance, joins Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in Calgary.
* Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in Summerside, P.E.I.
* Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in London, Ont.
* Revenue Minister Keith Ashfield in Dartmouth, N.S.
* Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis in Montreal.
In addition to the corporate tax cuts campaign of today, yesterday we saw another effort start up with this release, "Harper Government's Home Renovation Tax Credit a Success: Saved Average Family over $700; Pumped Billions into the Economy," advising of Laurie Hawn's HRTC campaign event in Edmonton. The Minister of Democratic Reform had an HRTC event yesterday in Winnipeg too with a similar full-on Harper Government release to celebrate the campaign event. Boasting about the HRTC is the gist of this campaign that uses our tax dollars. An event was also carried out in B.C. And in Halifax with Keith Ashfield.

Also, you may be noticing items like these at various web and news sites as you surf the web in recent days...

The top one was featured on YouTube, the second on the Globe site, both yesterday. You'll see the YouTube one still today. That's the web campaign aspect of all this, as election speculation ramps up. These web ads may be costing us in the neighbourhood of $3 million based on past precedents. The latest bout of TV ads, that we're also seeing now, may be costing about $4 million, again, based on the track record.

Just how much is all of this costing us? At this supposed time of fiscal restraint? And putting aside the economics of doing this when we have a massive deficit, financing ministers to be traversing the country like this to wage campaigns on these issues, the partisan tint to it all is inappropriate. They're using our dollars to do this. It would be wrong in and of itself no matter what the state of our budget.

You might call it all the Harper government's very own sponsorship programme, sponsorship of themselves and their political arguments on our dime. It's quite the scene.

More delay and cutbacks in the F-35 program

Bloomberg reported yesterday:
The Pentagon reduced its five-year budget request by $6.9 billion by delaying the purchase of 124 F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp., the military program office said today.
The delays are needed because “the final assembly process” at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, facility is “still maturing,” the Pentagon said in a fact sheet issued Jan. 6. Second, slowing production reduces the overlap between development and assembly while testing is extended into 2016 from mid-2015, it said.
Testing into 2016. Meaning that assurances from Minister MacKay about Canadian delivery by 2016 should be taken with a grain of salt.

When you hear that it's the Marine F-35B version that's causing most of the delay and that the version Canada is considering buying is largely unaffected, skepticism is warranted. Delay of one version causes delay for the others:
Joe DellaVedova, the Pentagon's F-35 spokesman, provided additional details, including the $6.9 billion savings figure on Tuesday.
DellaVedova said development of the Air Force and Navy versions of the F-35 would be extended by 10 months until the first quarter of 2016, while 20 months would be added to the development of the Marine Corps variant.
Canada's proposed F-35s would fall into the 10 month delay category too. Note also:
Mr. Burbage also said Lockheed was concerned that the slowdown in production could complicate efforts to gain economies of scale and lower the cost of each plane.
U.S. cutbacks in the number of planes ordered may also affect Canadian aerospace industry contracts which in turn get the trickle down impact of fewer planes ordered. This is the downside of the Lockheed Martin integrated "global supply chain" that the Harper ministers like to tout.

These are the latest red flags from the American F-35 program. When the Americans themselves are dialing back, it should be giving us pause.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Maddow on Olbermann's departure

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

A little late night U.S. break here because I know a lot of we Canadians watch MSNBC quite regularly and are curious about what's going on with our U.S. faves. This is Rachel's brief commentary on her colleague Keith Olbermann's departure. Nicely said from Rachel, but for him, she wouldn't have had that show and this is why we love her around here. A class act.

A little sad to see Olbermann off the schedule tonight, he's been a staple for me since 2003. Yep, from the beginning when he was a little more wacky and less political, way before the Worst Person segment, the special comments, etc. He really led the MSNBC "revolution" if you could put it that way, as they firmly staked out a liberal prime time brand. He sensed the changing television environment and the need to counter the Fox toxin. Whatever your politics, you can respect when someone moves and shakes their field, does something different, sensing the moment. Hope he shows up somewhere new in the near future, doing something different once again.

Monday, January 24, 2011

There will be no electioneering in the war room!

It's all about parliamentary peace and “outreach and persuasion," baby!

They certainly wanted this visual in the news record. Whether that's for inoculation at budget time or not, we shall see.

And of course, we can't let this moment pass without having some fun with the obvious reference Lavigne's posturing evokes...

A fitting 5 year speech

Well, what is there to say about the big speech yesterday? Maybe just a few things. Principally, the event seemed perfectly emblematic of this 5 year-old government. Emblematic in that it was big on the presentation, executed to a T and yet not so big on the substance. The substance is usually a secondary consideration to the stage management, messaging or electoral considerations with this government and yesterday seemed no different.

The event was overwhelmed by the visual of the huge flag Mr. Harper sought to wrap himself in. There was the uncomfortable and sudden introduction into the Harper repertoire of the walkabout, like it was a new dance move he'd just learned, leading media in attendance to note it:
At one point he left the podium to introduce individuals seated behind him who he said had benefited from his different policies, including a working mother and father, an income-splitting retired couple and a small-business owner.
Why, oh why, would he be doing that now?

In terms of the tone employed, it was a banner day of the Harper character shining through. There were the petty shots at Liberals of years ago - sponsorship, beer and popcorn - that obviously still drive the Prime Ministerial mind. There was, significantly, an implicit lashing out at others' patriotism, underscoring the theme he's just deployed in his latest personal attack ads: "...why do we do it? ... We are here because we love Canada ... Canada is and always has been our country." If you stop and think about that line, it's really something. People probably glossed over it as a throwaway patriotic line. But it was inherently exclusionary. They, Conservatives, are in public service because they love Canada and Canada is and always has been their country. People at home probably heard it as a broader appeal to all Canadians. But it was said in the context of Conservatives doing public service. Those who have been "outside," by implication, and we all know who that is, do not love their country as much. Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, as they say. There was also a Nixonian styled silent majority type reference to the "quiet people" of Canada, to top off the tone.

In terms of the substance, he really didn't veer much beyond the usual. No future goals or initiatives in sight, except of course the old standbys of Senate reform and abolition of the long gun registry. Not complaining, really, about the Prime Minister missing an opportunity to seize the initiative in front of a national audience and media and lay out a new round of compelling anythings. Really. Miss away, Mr. Harper.

The new stuff is likely to come in a budget, since everything seems to come in the budget during the Harper era. Holding his cards for a bit longer before he lets Canadians know if we will be having an election or not. Undoubtedly, he knows what's in the cards election-wise. The big film effort wasn't for nada ("...the entire event was filmed by a sophisticated camera attached to a crane, which swooped around room like a big black bird, variously zooming in on Harper and flag-waving members of the audience.")

There was likely another election related indicator yesterday as well. Pierre Karl Peladeau's Sunday night announcement in Quebec City of Quebecor's intent to put in tens of millions to the Quebec City arena likely green lights a federal contribution, with all the political hay to be made in the Quebec City region for Conservatives out of it. The Peladeau announcement received a ready and positive response from the Quebec Harper Minister, Paradis, nicely bookending Harper's political day. Surely that nifty timing was just a coincidence and not a muscular signal to the other parties of ducks lining up in a row.

All in all, just another day in Harperland.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday night

Well, I'm sticking with the Guardian, again. They be on to something, these people:
Two years (and a bit) on from 19, Adele Adkins comes of age sounding as wise beyond her years as she did in 2008. While 19 detailed the end of a relationship with "an idiot", 21 is about the end of something great. There's cheating, jealously, joy and heartbreak contained within; all stripped into shape by a galactico squad sheet of producers – starting with Rick Rubin and Ryan Tedder and working down to current British studio darlings Paul Epworth and Fraser T Smith. But it's former Semisonic man Dan Wilson who is responsible for the album's highlight, the gorgeous Someone Like You, certain to be coming soon to a montage near you. The tale of Adkins facing up to the end of a love – "never mind, I'll find someone like you" – is half heart-wrenching, half uplifting. It's nearly good enough reason to break up with someone, simply so you can mope in it. Other moments of note come in a Sufjanesque takedown of the Cure's Lovesong; the single Rolling in the Deep (inspired by a Nashville-schooled US tourbus driver) and the immediately familiar, Dusty-does-Dulwich sound of I'll Be Waiting. A progressive, grown-up second collection, it ought to ensure Adele is around for 23, 25, 27 and beyond.
Have a good night!

A succession list appears

This was a bit of a strange development yesterday afternoon. Without any introductory context to the piece came this bare list compiled and published by Canadian Press: "A list of potential Conservative successors to Prime Minister Stephen Harper." Of course, yes, we're in the midst of what seems like a too long-week long obsession with the five year anniversary of the Conservatives' first election on January 23, 2006. And Canadian Press had also published two other pieces about our long five years. But I don't know why that marker would form the basis for a list of successors to appear. I mean, no one is speaking openly about Harper retiring or anything like that.

Harper is to be at a fifth anniversary "rally" on Sunday in Ottawa. Starts at noon. Maybe he'll play a set. Or make a big speech saying something significant. Or significantly partisan. Who knows.

File the list away. I guess. For now.

New Liberal ads: The misguided priorities of Harper's Canada

Two tough issue ads just released by Liberals, on the issues of the corporate tax cuts and the untendered F-35 jet purchase, asking Canadians if they share these priorities.

This is a hard-hitting and issue-focussed response to the very personal onslaught from Conservatives earlier in the week. These are television ads that should start appearing today.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Costly debacle, that UAE thing

The military and the Canadian taxpayer bear the brunt:
The Canadian military is casting about for another staging base for Afghanistan to replace makeshift arrangements in Cyprus – where the Forces relocated after Canada was kicked out of the United Arab Emirates late last year.

A move is not certain, but the Canadian Forces are searching for another, possibly closer, location from which to move troops and supplies in and out of Kandahar.
Canada is using two civilian airports in southern Cyprus – Paphos and Larnaca – to shuttle soldiers and other personnel in and out of Afghanistan. In Cyprus, the Canadians are housed in hotels. The operation is a pay-as-you-go contract, and cargo is shipped separately into Afghanistan via Germany.

The Forces are eyeing other locations that could offer more benefits, including lower costs, the ability to handle more volume or offer more flexibility. Defence sources wouldn’t identify possible alternatives, but it’s believed options could include another Gulf nation or one of the countries north of Afghanistan that diplomats refer to as “the Stans.”

Sources have previously told The Globe and Mail the cost of Canada having to leave Camp Mirage and pay for new staging locations could run as high as $300-million. A Defence source said on Wednesday part of the reason for seeking a new base would be to reduce this bill.

The UAE did not charge Ottawa for the use of Camp Mirage or the nearby port during Canada's stay of more than nine years there.

Cyprus is much farther from Afghanistan than Dubai, and the costs are relatively steep for Canada there. Ottawa would like a closer staging base with access to a port for shipborne cargo. (emphasis added)
On to see if one of "the Stans" will now take us, what was rumoured back in October. Cyprus was the quick set-up out of Camp Mirage, it appears, with one more big move to come. Why stay where you are, after all, using a longstanding rent-free locale in the UAE when you can move the Canadian military's Afghanistan staging operations twice over?

Seems like an awful lot of moving around and inconvenience and cost for our military. That really should have factored in to a much greater extent to the Harper government's decision calculus.

Oh well, what do we know. Chess master at work and all that.

How cold is it

A little game courtesy of the Yellowknife denizens. This is fun.


Fifty years ago

John F. Kennedy gave his inaugural address on January 20, 1961. A remembrance:

The "better off" ballot question gets some early answers

Update (8:30 p.m.) below.

The Star is reporting on an Angus Reid poll on whether Canadians feel better or worse off than they did five years ago, i.e., during the tenure of Stephen Harper's government. The poll was taken on January 13th & 14th so it was concurrent to the just released "Five Years of Harper" document by Liberals and its question: "Is Canada better off?"

A few findings touching on economic sensibilities suggest some weakness in the supposed Conservative economic armour:
Asked how they felt compared to five years ago, just 30 per cent of those polled said they were much better or moderately off, 29 per cent said they were about the same and 38 per cent felt they were worse off.
The effects of the recession appear to weigh heavy on the national psyche with 32 per cent describing their own financial situation as poor or awful. Another 40 per cent said it was average while just 24 per cent rated their own circumstances as good.

And 36 per cent were pessimistic about their financial future, compared to 27 per cent who optimistic.
In the wake of news of the Liberal release of the "better off" question, some columnists heeded the call and offered up their answers. References to GDP numbers and Wall Street Journal charts and the like could be found in such columns saying yes, Canadians are better off. While this is one poll, admittedly, it does seem to indicate that the answer to the better off question is not the slam dunk that some have thought.

There is also an overwhelming finding in the poll that is of interest. On the question of which party is most responsible for increased partisanship in our politics: 61% say the Conservatives. Liberals run a distant second at 16%. "All share the blame equally" comes in at 14%. Rarely do we see such a strong result like that 61% level in any poll in Canada these days. Unless it's to do with one of the provincial situations gone awry, that is (see Charest, Campbell).

Further, that 61% result on partisan blame is so contrary to what one hears from time to time at the national level. "All the parties do it" is a common refrain, the Conservatives are just doing what Chretien et al. did back in the day, for example. Mr. Harper also tried to give the impression the other night that partisanship is running along at normal speed, it has always been such, nothing out of the ordinary to see here. We get a sense in this poll, however, that a strong majority perceives Conservative responsibility for the tone. The equalization of nasty partisanship among all the parties is actually not what is perceived.

The report (and presumably the numbers, to come in more detail from Angus Reid) also includes other questions that are worth a look, including perceptions about Canada on the world stage, crime and Harper's performance as PM.

Update (8:30 p.m.): See FarAndWide as well.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

UAE/Canada dispute rolls on

A headline that raises a question: "German airline enters fray, bolsters Ottawa’s stand against UAE." I think that what the Globe piece really signifies is that the German airline, who happens to be a partner airline with Air Canada, bolsters Air Canada's stand against Emirate airline bids for greater landing rights. It helps Air Canada's present day position that UAE airlines should not be granted greater commercial landing rights in Canada at this time because they have a sister airline abroad that shares the same view. Presumably though, if a business deal could be worked out, Air Canada would be right on board, as they've indicated they would be, in the past.

But that is all in the weeds for most Canadians. The question should be whether the Canadian government's entire relationship with the UAE is bound up with Air Canada's commercial interests. Was it worth losing the Camp Mirage base because of a commercial air landing rights dispute? Is it worth the ongoing ratcheting up of diplomatic tensions? Why has the national interest in relation to the UAE become subsumed in Air Canada's interests?

So while it's interesting to hear about Air Canada partner airline positions, the UAE relationship remains a festering problem for Canada.

All IP owners draw lines with partisan ads

While Conservatives are waxing dramatically over CBC's request that the Conservative Party cease and desist from using CBC footage in their latest round of partisan ads, we should remind ourselves that using copyrighted material without permission seems to be a serial problem with the Conservative Party. It's not just CBC who have, in recent years, made demands that the Conservatives stop using footage or clips that they have not sought permission to use.

Warner Music had to ask the Conservatives to cease and desist from unauthorized use of one of its properties back in early 2008:
"Warner/Chappell recently sent a letter to the Conservative Party of Canada confirming its unauthorized use of a song written by Warner/Chappell writers," wrote Amanda Collins in an e-mailed statement. "As a regular course of business, we contact parties that use our musical compositions without permission. We look forward to working with the party to resolve this matter quickly."
At issue there was unauthorized Conservative use of the theme song from the Apprentice (cheesy!) in a partisan video, attacking Liberals, of course. It was highly embarrassing since Industry Minister Jim Prentice unveiled it and he was supposedly embarking upon copyright reforms at the time.

Further, during the 2008 election, the use of television broadcast footage in attack ads without permission also came up, with CTV, CBC and TVO all making clear that they don't license their material to political parties during campaigns. See? Private and public both object to such usage. It's about the integrity of the broadcaster and not being seen to be allied with any particular political party. This is what the issue is, not the public status of the broadcaster, out of which the Conservatives claw some claim to use footage.

So, factor all that in with the anti-CBC ramblings we're seeing. It's not just public entities that the Conservatives have had problems with. It's just that the public entities are the ones they most enjoy attacking.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Like clockwork: attack ads from the attack leader

The ugly side of Stephen Harper's divisive governing style rears its head once again: "Tories launch attack ads." Apparently the ads are to start today and air across the country. Spending millions to once again demonize Michael Ignatieff. Quite the quality democracy we have on our hands these days.

Not having seen them yet and just judging by the Sun Media report on their content, they sound a little forced and desperate. "Michael Ignatieff is back in Canada, but why?" Um, yeah he's been "back" for a while, dudes, chillax with the overkill. Why? I don't know, he's doing his job as opposition leader?

The explicit attack on Ignatieff's patriotism is offensive, of course, and it should be called out for what it is. It's unacceptable. And the tone of these ads might be off-putting to people in the wake of the U.S. tragedy that has many focused on increasing the civility in politics, not just in the U.S., there's been discussion about it here too. Could be a big mistake.

But, this is what the Conservatives do. Led by the divisive, uber-partisan Stephen Harper. There he goes again, showing us exactly who he is.

Update (9:35 a.m.): Saw them. The attack ads are indeed forced and desperate. Carry on.

Mortgage rules: Now and Then with Jim Flaherty

CTV News has learned that Flaherty will unveil three new rules:

* Mortgage amortization periods will be reduced to 30 years from 35 years.
* The maximum amount Canadians can borrow to refinance their mortgages will be lowered to 85 per cent from the current 90 per cent.
* The government will withdraw its insurance backing on lines of credit secured on homes, such as home equity lines of credit.

According to a government official, the rules are aimed "at encouraging responsible lending and borrowing and encouraging people to increase their home equity."
Canadian household debt is now at $1.4 trillion, while mortgage delay payments have increased by 50 per cent," Fife said.

"In fact, the International Monetary Fund says household debt is the number one risk to the Canadian economy."
Flaherty is issuing rules to encourage responsible lending and borrowing? Here's a look back to what Flaherty unleashed in 2006, as reported in this Globe investigation of 2008:
In the first half of this year, as the subprime mortgage crisis was exploding in the United States, a contagion of U.S.-style lending practices quietly crossed the border and infected Canada's previously prudent mortgage regime.

New mortgage borrowers signed up for an estimated $56-billion of risky 40-year mortgages, more than half of the total new mortgages approved by banks, trust companies and other lenders during that time, according to banking and insurance sources. Those sources estimated that 10 per cent of the mortgages, worth about $10-billion, were taken out with no money down.

The mushrooming of a Canadian version of subprime mortgages has gone largely unnoticed. The Conservative government finally banned the practice last summer, after repeated warnings from frustrated senior officials and bankers that the country's financial system was being exposed to far too much risk as the housing market weakened.

Just yesterday, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty repeated the mantra that the government acted early to get rid of risky mortgages. What he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper do not explain, however, is that the expansion of zero-down, 40-year mortgages began with measures contained in the first Conservative budget in May of 2006.

At the time, Mr. Flaherty announced that the government was opening up the market to more private insurers.

“These changes will result in greater choice and innovation in the market for mortgage insurance, benefiting consumers and promoting home ownership,” Mr. Flaherty said.
Here's the reference in the 2006 budget: "Fostering Competition in the Mortgage Insurance Market."

Flaherty and his government's role in contributing to the present need to dial back deserves some attention as we listen to him today, as he attempts to portray his government as exercising prudent oversight over these mortgage rules. That's not the whole story. They have a record going back five years on this issue now that has not been a history of prudent oversight.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Late night

Blog Post Index: F-35

This index compiles all of this blog's relevant posts to date on the Harper government's proposed F-35 purchase that was announced on July 16th, 2010. New posts will be added to the index. Bold font indicates posts that readers may wish to reference first, containing key information that is helpful to understanding the many F-35 issues.

April 5, 2011: F-35 hovers over campaign today. [F-35 critic Wheeler speaks in Ottawa; Wheeler video; case for FA-18 Super Hornet]
April 4, 2011: Harper debunked on latest F-35 spin. [Cites Libya mission as rationale for F-35s; expert says no.]

March 18, 2011: The Libya mission and fighter jet politics.
March 15, 2011: United States Government Accountability Office report on JSF: "Restructuring Should Improve Outcomes, but Progress Is Still Lagging Overall." [GAO puts cost of JSF at $133 million per plane, cites various delays]
March 10, 2011: An Estimate of the Fiscal Impact of Canada’s Proposed Acquisition of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, report of the Parliamentary Budget Office. [Puts cost at $29.3 billion]
March 02, 2011: How the right wing echo chamber is working these days.

February 17, 2011: Costs of F-35 PR campaign roll in.
February 07, 2011: Better disclosure on the F-35 advocacy required.
February 03, 2011: The stealth deal.
February 02, 2011: Following the continued hard sell on the F-35.

January 31, 2011: New issues with the F-35 purchase.
January 27, 2011: Gates & MacKay to talk F-35 today.
January 26, 2011: More delay and cutbacks in the F-35 program.
January 17, 2011: F-35 coverage in southern Ontario.

December 17, 2010: End of session goings on.
December 11, 2010: Dissecting the F-35 purchase.
December 03, 2010: U.S. jet exec offers conflict filled testimony on F-35.
December 02, 2010: Selling the new defence procurement model.
December 02, 2010: Checking in on the costly F-35.

November 24, 2010: Bloc plays Conservative wingman.
November 23, 2010: Pentagon undercuts Harper government spin.
November 22, 2010: F-35 gets the hard sell and a hard look.
November 12, 2010: F-35s in the Vaughan by-election.
November 02, 2010: F-35 cost overruns in the spotlight again.
November 01, 2010: Combat fatigue and the F-35.

October 28, 2010: Just take them at their word.
October 27, 2010: Contractual conflict?
October 27, 2010: Big sell on F-35 continues.
October 26, 2010: Auditor General waving red flag.
October 22, 2010: Late night humour.
October 20, 2010: And then there were three... .
October 18, 2010: Quebecers weigh in against F-35.
October 14, 2010: USAF comments on the F-35.
October 12, 2010: On crippling the public finances.
October 08, 2010: F-35 opposition makes the PM furious.
October 06, 2010: Allies delaying F-35 purchases.
October 02, 2010: Saturday notes.

September 29, 2010: Political theatre.
September 28, 2010: F-35 industrial benefits in the spotlight again.
September 24, 2010: Friday odds and ends: NHL funding, jets and isotopes.
September 20, 2010: Government's rationales for F-35 sole-sourcing collapsing.
September 16, 2010: Of policies in force.
September 15, 2010: A big hitch in the government's F-35 purchase plan.
September 09, 2010: Stretching.
September 02, 2010: No questions!
September 01, 2010: The big sale.

August 31, 2010: Sleeper issue.
August 31, 2010: A summer of big economic implications.
August 04, 2010: Peter MacKay debunked.

July 30, 2010: Just can't help themselves.

July 30, 2010: The return of the red menace.
July 29, 2010: JSF hijinks at DND.
July 27, 2010: The case for a competitive process on the F-35s.
July 26, 2010: A few must reads for the day: fighter jets, the census...and theme parks.
July 19, 2010: Canada, bucking the trends.
July 17, 2010: PBS News Hour video report on our new $16 billion F-35 jet fighters.
July 16, 2010: Happy untendered $16 billion jet fighter contract.
July 12, 2010: Tory Times are malleable times.

Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Production, Sustainment, and Follow-On Development of the Joint Strike Fighter (Short Title – JSF PSFD MOU).

Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday night

The Decemberists, Down by the Water:
After five increasingly ambitious and intricate albums, concluding with 2009's prog-folk-rock opera The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists have gone back to their beginnings for The King Is Dead, with leader Colin Meloy forsaking epic storytelling for taut, disciplined, melodic guitar pop. The influence of REM is apparent throughout in arpeggiated guitar figures written in the style of Peter Buck, and often played by him – Calamity Song and Down By the Water, in particular, sound like the Georgia band at their top-notch best. It's no retreat, though: the confident swing of opener Don't Carry It All sets the tone for the album, and song for song, this is certainly Meloy's best set since the Decemberists' breakthrough album, Picaresque. Though the craftsmanship is evident – in the delicacy of the pair of seasonal ballads June Hymn and January Hymn, in the hillbilly-ballad-cum-indierocker Rox in the Box – it sounds as though Meloy has allowed instinct to supplement his intellect. A relatively understated delight from a band few might have suspected capable of understatement.
Two weeks in a row, avoiding the techno! It will return, that is unavoidable. In the meantime, I blame the Guardian.

Have a good night!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Meet your "Red Tape Reduction Commission"

The Members of the Commission are largely Conservative, made up of Stockwell Day and six other Conservative MPs. Beyond that, there are six private sector representatives.

For what it's worth, and perhaps not too surprisingly, one of them, Bill Aho, as of September 1, 2010, was publicly identifying himself as a Conservative partisan:
"The prime minister sees the North as the next frontier for development for Canada, as a great asset for Canada," said Bill Aho, executive secretary of the Western Arctic Conservative party association.
Secondly, it's probably safe to assume that Denis Prud'homme of Prud'homme Trucking in Saskatchewan was appointed for his familiarity with the federal-provincial immigrant nominee program, what with all the hiring of truck drivers from the Ukraine. Maybe too much red tape there.

See also.

Late night

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Australian floods

Totally off the Canadian political beat here, the videos of what's going on in Australia are too compelling to ignore. This one captures some of the remarkable highlights of the past day or so, cars being swept away, animals in danger, etc. Gillard seems to be handling it well, confident and competent. At least, from afar, it appears.

Brisbane, a city of 2 million, is imminently expecting "the flood of the century." Someone's done a projection of the flooding, incredible to see it laid out for such a major city like this.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Read of the day

That would be Lawrence Martin's column, "Majority! Who cares?" Itemizing the many ways in which Stephen Harper has exploited the weak areas of our parliamentary democracy to his advantage. A lot of it isn't necessarily new but one sentence in particular stood out:
He has the media, which he looked on with disdain on taking office, now licking from his soup bowl – so much so that he’s actually beginning to like the media.
Said by a veteran of Canadian political media who has written critical books of both Chretien and Harper.

Brave for him to do so and something that needed to be said.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Harper does Welland in his inimitable way

Awww. Did you see the government workbooks the children had? It breaks your heart. More here in the local coverage.

You know, when you say things like this:
“A lot of previous prime ministers seem to make all of their announcements only in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver,” Mr. Harper said, “and I have made a point as prime minister of trying to travel regularly across the country to a wide range of communities, not just east and west but south and north as well. And I think it’s important because, as important as those big cities are, Canada is more than that.”
...seems there are those who actually believe that might mean something in terms of the Prime Minister meeting real people.

Oh well, maybe next time kids! When there's a nicer Prime Minister in office.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Friday night

Buffalo from the Phoenix Foundation:
Taking a route increasingly denied to British pop, these New Zealanders have been able to develop under the radar over a decade before delivering what feels like a major breakthrough. Buffalo doesn't reinvent the wheel. It's an album of dreamy, psychedelic pop: Byrdsy harmonies, Fleet Foxes-type haziness and a hushed transcendence reminiscent of the Stone Roses' gentler moments. However, songwriting this good doesn't come along often. Like the xx – whose sense of spaciousness they share – the Wellington six-piece make a little go a long way. Just two notes make up the title track's instantly memorable intro; the stunning Pot features little but harmonies and handclaps. Sam Flynn Scott's lyrics – tackling everything from a migrating bird to "children on pesticides" – gently cry out for more attention, but his suggestion of feeling "like a child's mind trapped in a man's body" best sums up the simultaneously sad and euphoric feel of an album that already seems destined to be among the best of 2011.
Better sound quality here.

Have a good night!

Making environmental history

Harper, speaking yesterday at one of his government's $278 million in spending announcement gigs, made a surprising statement:
"This government has taken more concrete measures for the environment than any other federal government in history," he said.
Talk about setting the bar high! Surely this isn't the Conservatives environmental position these days, is it? Or did he just get carried away in the moment there? Emily Dee noted a few days ago that a similar statement appeared in Julian Fantino's electoral campaign material:
Canada now has tough new regulations against toxic chemicals and one of the most aggressive plans on earth to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
If it is the intention of the Conservatives to run with that stance, they're going to have a hard time finding support for it.

Here is an excerpt from a November 24th Pembina Institute briefing on Canada's environmental position, going into the Cancun climate change meetings, which provides a reasonable overview of Canada's efforts on the environmental file in recent years:
At recent UN negotiating sessions, the Government of Canada has been on the receiving end of sustained criticism from other countries, UN officials, and scientists. Canada was last year’s “winner” of the “Fossil of the Year” prize, awarded by environmental organizations to the country voted least constructive at the talks. Assessing Canada’s performance in Copenhagen, the Globe and Mail’s editorial writers concluded: “among developed countries, it stood alone in its apparent apathy.”

Unfortunately, there are few signs that the Government of Canada will change course in Cancun. In late January 2010, Canada became the only government to weaken its 2020 target in the wake of Copenhagen, moving it from 20 per cent below the 2006 level to 17 per cent below the 2005 level — or, to use the internationally-accepted baseline of 1990 emissions, from 3 per cent below the 1990 level to about 2 per cent above it. While both targets fall far short of a fair share of the global emissions trajectory needed to stay below 2°C, further weakening Canada’s target was a clear step in the wrong direction.

Canada’s new target is the same as the 2020 target put forward by the United States, and Canada’s submission actually reserves the right to change Canada’s target to match whatever “final economy-wide emissions target” the United States adopts in “enacted legislation.” For now, the United States has not enacted legislation, which leaves the status of Canada’s target an open question.

And that’s not the only basis for concern about whether Canada will “stand behind” its 2020 target. Of course, other countries will remember Canada’s history of walking away from its Kyoto Protocol target. But there’s also the federal government’s insistence that it will not implement climate policies unless the U.S. federal government does so first.

The result of this policy is that Canada has not published any kind of domestic plan to reach its target.
Coming out of the Cancun negotiations and the agreement reached there, questions remain about Canada's ongoing efforts both domestically and internationally. Most significantly, there is still no plan in sight to demonstrate how Canada will reach those 2020 GHG target reductions.

Mr. Harper is going to have a tough time selling that line, above, but they'll likely try.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Tone deaf RCMP

Update below.

This is a very strange trial balloon: "RCMP wants less strict rules on disclosure to defence lawyers."
The RCMP is calling on the Harper government to find a way to ease disclosure requirements that force the Mounties to share all of the fruits of their investigations with defence lawyers, although such a move would face stiff opposition in legal circles.
The RCMP claims that disclosure obligations are straining the budget. That's challenged in the piece by leading defence lawyer and defender of the wrongfully convicted, James Lockyer.

Maybe they're just angling for budget dollars or something by making this claim, but this seems quite ridiculous. They didn't seem to have any qualms in spending a bundle at the G20, as if it were Christmas time to rack up all the new equipment. Yet constitutionally required disclosure obligations need to be eased for cost reasons? Remarkable.

It's also not exactly been a banner year for the RCMP conduct-wise.

Plus we've just been through, as a nation, a very high profile incident of police abuse in the form of the Stacy Bonds video that has reminded us all of the need to be extra vigilant about monitoring what it is that police are doing. Dialing back disclosure obligations for budgetary reasons seems like a very strangely timed request as a result. Trust levels between the public and police forces are strained as it is.

This should, hopefully, go nowhere.

Update: The Globe reports, Thursday evening: "Government won’t modify evidence disclosure rules." Nicholson's office says no but there is a bit of discussion about the notion of "streamlining" the justice system in recognition of the RCMP's point about increased costs. Both the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association weigh in.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Quebec fallout from Kent appointment

Something that went unremarked in English speaking Canada yesterday on the Kent appointment as Environment Minister is getting some attention in Quebec today within this editorial in Le Devoir:
Dans ce dossier des GES en particulier, le gouvernement Harper n'a jamais voulu de cibles contraignantes de réduction des émissions, et il n'en voudra pas plus demain. Bien sûr, il pourra prétendre que tout cela est à l'étude, puisque le Canada a signé le mois dernier l'entente de Cancún qui relance un processus de négociations multilatérales. Il faut voir là une tactique qui permettra aux conservateurs de continuer à ne rien faire.

S'il en avait été autrement, le premier ministre aurait choisi un autre ministre que Peter Kent. Un ministre bilingue, capable de venir au Québec faire valoir une volonté nouvelle de s'attaquer au dossier des changements climatiques pour ainsi se rapprocher de l'électorat québécois qui est en attente de l'adoption de cibles contraignantes.

Les impératifs qui ont conduit Stephen Harper à choisir Peter Kent sont autres. Ils relèvent de la stricte stratégie électorale. Les gains que les conservateurs ont besoin de réaliser lors de l'affrontement qui se profile à l'horizon ne se feront pas au Québec, mais en Ontario, tout particulièrement dans la région de Toronto. Il a besoin de porte-parole crédibles, d'où le choix de Peter Kent, qui représente une circonscription en banlieue nord de Toronto, ThornHill, puis de Julian Fontino, nommé hier au cabinet à titre de ministre responsable des Aînés. Celui-ci a arraché la circonscription de Vaughan aux libéraux lors d'une récente élection partielle. Le premier ministre jure que ses pensées sont à gouverner, pas à préparer une possible campagne électorale. Ne le croyons pas trop. (translation)
Kent's not being bilingual is being taken as a bit of a poke in the eye to Quebecers, primarily because it signifies that if Harper were serious about this file, a unilingual Minister would not be practical in terms of engaging with Quebec, a major province where there is support for concrete environmental action.  But we can also read between the lines here, the unilingual fact, on such a major file, is perceived as a snub.

Recall also from early December, Premier Charest was in Cancun loudly proclaiming the need for climate change to be a major issue in the next federal election. So it's of some interest that Harper has chosen to appoint a unilingual Environment Minister less than a month after that challenge from Charest. As the editorial above puts it, Harper seems to be viewing his better electoral prospects in Ontario, not Quebec. Could be an opening on the environment file in Quebec for others to tap into.

That editorial also gets it right in the last few lines. Harper claimed yesterday to be preoccupied with governing, not with election preparation. Let's not believe him too much.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

On New Year's resolutions...

I think I'm with her:
So let's do something useful this year. Let's decide that we're OK the way we are, after all, and that we don't need to try to become thinner or prettier or more productive. Let's refuse to make ourselves better, and make the world better instead. In this critical year, in which the very nature of politics and citizenship could change utterly, there is only one resolution that we should be making. It's the same as last year and the year before that: be brave, be kind, speak truthfully and fight the power. Apart from the one about not dating tramps, it's the only promise to which I'll ever hold myself.