Monday, February 28, 2011

Libya, CF-18s and F-35s

Updated below.

Canadian Press has a report tonight about a possible military build up in connection with Libya that Canada might be somehow involved in although it's not clear what's going to happen and how we might be involved if at all. The report nevertheless speculates about CF-18s, our present day jet fighters, being mentioned as possible participants in a possible NATO enforced no-fly zone.

The possibility of the CF-18s being used seems to be raised by just one person, an academic, Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary, with this perspective:
Use of an air force squadron enforcing a humanitarian no-fly zone would "certainly bolster the government's side of the argument" over the F-35, said Huebert.
A brief point on that below. But first, a quick look at Huebert's credentials that should be taken into account when assessing his aforementioned view. Here's his "Honorary Colonel" page on the Canadian Air Force website:
Dr. Rob Huebert, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, is a member of the Air Command Advisory Council. He is also the associate director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.
How does one get to be an Honorary Colonel? Additionally, the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies received $140,000 per year from the Canadian military through the Security and Defence Forum as of 2009. That is all information going to the issue of expert independence that is not included in the CP report that readers can judge for themselves as to the weight his view should be given.

So why would deployment of the CF-18s bolster the government's case for the F-35? I mean, the CF-18s will be used until their lifespan ends some time around 2020. Every time they are used this will support the Conservative case for the choice of the F-35? I suppose Huebert is just saying that the fact of their use will remind Canadians about the importance of jet fighters. But that presumes that there are people saying Canada should have no jet fighter capabilities. Which, as far as I know at the federal level, there aren't. There is a debate about the choice of the F-35, that's for sure, given its problems in terms of cost and delay. And there has been no competition and no disclosure to the Canadian public about the "Statement of Operational Requirements" supporting the case for the F-35. Those are issues yet to be resolved, despite the hard sell by the Conservatives and the occasional plug in such reports.

Update: No word on CF-18s elsewhere, including this Globe update or this Star report late Monday night.

Elections Act charges make Pierre Poilievre a very shy parliamentarian

Be very, very quiet about the Elections Act charges. Do not get heated in responding to opposition questions. Do not inflame the very delicate situation that finds the Conservative party embroiled in a situation where a number of its 2006 election campaign officials have been charged with Elections Act offences. Charges which make them look like they don't play by the rules of our democracy, some of the most foundational rules that there are. So be very, very quiet as they carry along their merry way to an election campaign where they think that Canadians won't care about such matters.

That is the Conservative strategy, quite comically executed in Question Period today. Pierre Poilievre whispered away the afternoon, meekly transmitting the Conservative talking point line on the Elections Act charges:


"Thanks very much." Thank you twice over in fact. A new leaf of pleasantry from the Conservatives. Smile away and thanks for the question. Oh, and one line, that's all you get, Canada.

Now about that one line, it's not so hunky dory for the Conservatives, no matter how much they keep hyping that win at the Federal Court trial division. The case is under appeal. As part of the appeal process, Elections Canada moved for a stay on the trial ruling. Why? Well, here's how fantastic the lower court victory that Poilievre repeatedly touted today actually is for the Conservatives. The Conservatives are actually appealing part of that judgment because it leaves them in great jeopardy:
But now the Tories are also appealing, hoping to strike down a little-noticed section of the judgment that would mean up to 10 candidates — including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner and former minister Maxime Bernier — exceeded their campaign spending limits in 2006.

If the ruling is allowed to stand, the four sitting Tories and up to six former candidates could face charges. If convicted, they could be barred from running again or even be barred from sitting in the House of Commons, much less cabinet.

Because of the potentially grave consequences, Elections Canada is asking that Justice Luc Martineau’s ruling be stayed until the appeals are completed.

“These nine or 10 candidates could face prosecution and, if convicted, face significant consequences,” the independent elections watchdog argued in an affidavit filed with the Federal Court of Appeal late last month.

“In particular, three could lose their current appointments as ministers.”

“Apart from any conviction, this option would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election of the four candidates . . . who are current members of Parliament.”
Not so good. If the Conservatives lose that part of the appeal, see above. Prosecution. Among those who would face consequences, some very high profile Conservatives, Bernier, Verner, Cannon, Paradis. Something to remember as we hear all about the goodness of the Federal Court ruling. This is an aspect of this judgment that needs much more attention.

What else have they been spinning the past few days?

1. That this is a "long running accounting dispute," that's a good one. When you have disputes with your accountant, do they make it beyond the accountant's office? Not likely. Do you have to traipse off to the Ontario Court Provincial Division for a date with a judge to answer to charges carrying penalty of fines and jail time? Not likely. Do you claim solicitor/client privilege over 5 million documents? Maybe if you are a behemoth operation, well-financed and litigation friendly, like the Conservative Party of Canada. And you would like to contribute to the "long running" nature of the dispute so that you can keep it tied up in court for years and obfuscate to the general public. The time tested strategy of corporate giants. Interesting look on a supposedly little-guy friendly political party.

2. That the civil suit and the Elections Act charges can and should be intermingled. No. There is the Elections Canada investigation conducted by the Commissioner of Elections which has now produced these charges against Conservative party officials. Then there is the separate in-and-out civil lawsuit over candidate expenses, initiated by the Conservatives themselves, that has been going on for years as well. While both proceedings arise from the same broad set of facts, they're separate. The early Conservative spin suggested that these charges shouldn't have been laid by the director of public prosecutions while the appeal is pending in the separate civil matter. No. That undercuts the separate nature of the proceedings. One doesn't depend on the other. Indeed, see that Canadian Press report from May, 2010 where we were reminded at that time that the Commissioner's investigation was still kicking around and that it could produce charges. It told us that the matter had been referred to the director of public prosecutions in June 2009, well before the lower court ruling in the in-and-out civil lawsuit in January 2010. Again, separate and apart. These charges shouldn't be minimized by Conservative spin efforts to intermingle them with the civil suit.

A question that some of us would like to know is why exactly it took a year and a half for the Director of Public Prosecutions to make the decision to prosecute? Is that normal? Doesn't seem like it. "It's a complex matter" doesn't really cut it. In the U.S. they have no such problems dealing with complex matters. This aspect also seems to deserve some attention.

Oda, Elections Act wonder the Prime Minister doesn't want to speak about these things, skipped Question Period, and is kicking the can down the hill to his underling. Very courageous, as always. He has television ads to make, don't ya know.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday night

Sorry for lack of posting today. I blame the Twitter vortex. This group, Wye Oak, is attracting a bit of attention and they are talented indie rockers. Here's NPR on the group and "Civilian," the song above:
There are so many adjectives worth applying to Wye Oak's music — dark, brooding, mysterious and so on — that don't come close to capturing the Baltimore duo's stormy, booming power. As much as Jenn Wasner's sweetly moody, vaguely sinister slurring dominates the surface of the band's songs, everything else in the mix has been placed perfectly to achieve maximum conflict and combustibility. Given that Andy Stack plays drums and keyboards simultaneously at Wye Oak's shows, there's more stuffed into this music than two people should be able to muster.

A highlight from the excellent new album of the same name, "Civilian" perfectly captures Wye Oak's distinctive mix of bluster and beauty, as Wasner obliquely examines the push-and-pull between a complex mind and a desire for the comforts of normalcy. As "Civilian" builds to the point of near-implosion, Wasner searches for certainty — "I wanted to love you like my mother's mother's mother did" — but finds such stability elusive. Then again, if discomfort consistently produces art this gripping, why be normal?
Good question.

One more, here they are covering The Kinks:

Have a good night.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Some job numbers perspective on economic PR blitz day

Today is Conservative economic pr blitz day: "More than 70 Conservative MPs, ministers, and senators will fan out across the country Thursday to push the virtues of their so-called Economic Action Plan." The Harper government that claims not to want an "opportunistic election" will act today as if there is actually an election underway. At our expense and on a grand scale. 

To mark the occasion and maybe to push back against some of the glowing accounts of government economic self-love, let's look at some job numbers as perspective! These are the numbers the government uses these days to fend off criticism of the Economic Action Plan (from Sun link):
"The government, though, shrugs off that kind of criticism by pointing to the latest job numbers. Statistics Canada says that 460,000 new jobs have been created since the depth of the recession in July, 2009 - that's the strongest job growth in the G7 - and the economy has grown now for five straight quarters. So far as jobs go, the economy is pretty much back to where it was before the recession.
But then there are the other troubling numbers that become apparent after a deeper look at the situation:
Employment has bounced back from the recession, but behind that rosier picture lies a labour market still in the midst of a painful healing process.
But today’s employment landscape looks dramatically different than it did before the downturn: The number of jobless people rose by 800,000 between October, 2008, and October of last year. More people are involuntarily working part-time, and long-term unemployment has surged – to nearly a quarter of jobless people, from 15 per cent before the downturn.
Canada’s official jobless rate has ebbed to 7.8 per cent. But a broader measure, which captures discouraged workers and involuntary part-timers and is also known as the “underutilization” rate, was 10 per cent in October, 2010 – not much improved from a year earlier.
There were 113,000 fewer full-time positions in October, 2010, than two years prior, and the number of involuntary part-time workers swelled by 20 per cent in the two years.
The number of “non-participants” in the labour market rose by nearly half a million people, with students and seniors accounting for the bulk of that gain.
Those numbers from the Globe report are found in the original source, the Statistics Canada study released yesterday, "Inside the labour market downturn" (see also full article).

Employment is a key indicator of the economic health of the nation and the stats as presented by the government deserve that extra context. What is the government's plan to deal with the still substantial numbers of jobless and the loss of full-time jobs, i.e., the higher paying ones? What is the plan beyond the one that is in our rear view mirror? Will there be any questions allowed at any of the stage managed and very pretty events today? Consider that last one a rhetorical question.

Maybe they all should be at work solving such matters rather than blitzing the country with all the photo ops and patting themselves on the back.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Canada helps the Wisconsin debate

Economics professor Stephen Williamson provides this comparative perspective on U.S. and Canadian public sector unions and their impact on government spending:
In general, union organization is not an easy thing in the United States, relative to what happens in other rich countries. Twenty two states, mainly in the south and in the middle of the country have right-to-work laws. In some states, state employees have much less power to form unions relative to what exists in the private sector. However, in Western Europe, unions tend to be relatively powerful. In Canada, labor law is much more conducive to union formation and power. For example, most (if not all) Canadian provinces do not allow the hiring of permanent replacement workers during a strike, and some will not permit the hiring of temporary replacement workers. Strikes of public service workers in Canada are infamous, from old-time disruption in the post office to more recent strikes involving garbage collectors and transit workers in Toronto. The difference in labor laws in Canada and the US is reflected in unionization rates. The US has a unionization rate of only 7% in the private sector, and 29% in the public sector. In Canada, the comparable statistics are 16% in the private sector and 71% in the public sector.

Now, if we believe Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, public spending in Canada should be wildly out of control. We know, of course, that government is doing much more redistribution in Canada than is the case generally in the United States. But in Canada actual expenditures of all levels of government on goods and services amounted to 21.2% of GDP in Canada in 2009, and 20.6% of GDP in the US. Not much difference there. Further, in spite of union power in the public sector, the Canadian federal government was able to turn around a deficit which had exceeded 5% of GDP in the mid-1990s. Before the recent recession, the Canadian federal government had been running surpluses for several years.
You could probably fine tune the last sentence a bit with some perspective on the Conservative spending record just before the recession hit and there are of course questions about their plans going forward, but this is nevertheless a big picture helpful contribution to the debate going on in Wisconsin (and perhaps to future debates in Canada).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Superstar: an awfully high bar to set

Paging Feschuk, there's more toadying going on: "‘Superstar’ status in global economic poll strengthens Harper’s hand." "Superstar," my. That's quite a headline. Having Mary Katherine Gallagher flashbacks. Look at the lede too, the opposition may as well pack up and go home, it's all over folks:
A new international survey shows Canadians are in a very positive mood about the state of the economy, suggesting the opposition parties face an uphill battle pushing for change on the eve of a possible federal election.

Describing Canada as a “superstar,” an Ipsos online survey of citizens in 24 countries finds 68 per cent of Canadians are feeling good about the economy. Those January numbers are up six points from a month earlier.
Because one online poll is definitive in Canadian politics after all. Well, maybe until tomorrow's poll, or the one the day after, as we surely know they will come. This one involved 1,000 Canadians, for the record.

An election is framed in the piece as entirely about the economy and how great it is in these here global parts. It's clearly one of the biggest issues, yes, but elections do have a way of taking on a life of their own. Individual issues with economic implications will be spliced off from the vague economy talk. Then there's Ms. Oda and the subject of honesty, integrity, democracy, yadda, yadda, yadda, such matters will come up.

Back to the article, the poll is cited, then Ipsos pollster John Wright goes on to relate how this is good news for the Conservatives, further "The flurry of Conservative ads criticizing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have also proven to be “very, very effective.” What's more, Wright doesn't feel political change will happen "...because the Conservatives poll so strongly on economic matters. “People may feel good, but they want to keep the goodness going,” he said." It's all coming up roses, a singular issue focus with no context offered up here, as in actual economic facts on the ground in Canada.

So here are a few items off the top of the heap...from February 2nd, just a few weeks ago:
A slower-growing economy is offering little hope to Canada’s 1.4 million unemployed, economists told Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in talks in advance of the March budget.

Unemployment, now standing at 7.6 per cent, will average a slightly higher 7.7-per cent through 2011, according to the average forecast of the dozen economists who met with Flaherty.
And recall this from mid-January on the we're-so-internationally-special-talking-point:
“There is this real kind of anxiety – ‘I don’t want to hear one more time,’ they say, ‘that we’ve done better than other G7 countries, because my life is worse,’ ” said the official. “The more Harper talks about macroeconomic numbers, the more it bothers them.”
"Superstar" is an awfully high bar to set. Nice coverage in the pages of a national paper if you can get it. Whether people feel all the superstar goodness on the ground as they canvass all the issues? Guessing that they're not quite at that level of agreement but we shall see.

Stephen Harper Hard At Work - Director's Cut

Monday in Conservative election machinations

So let's check in on what the Harper Conservatives were up to on Monday given that the PM supposedly does not want an "opportunistic election" (as of Friday anyway).

The Prime Minister was out striking a rather contradictory pose in light of the above position:
The federal government will listen to opposition requests for next month's budget but won't "engage in horse trading or negotiations," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.

"We listen to the views of other parties in Parliament whether we agree with them or not," Harper told reporters in Vancouver.

"In the end, after listening to the pitches of the other parties, we will make the decisions we think are in the best interest of Canadians."
He'll listen but then he'll do what he wants, thank you very much. What the point of listening is, then, remains to be seen. They may act upon suggestions from other parties, namely the NDP, the only party they're meeting with, but it sounds like a take it or leave it scenario shaping up. Way to make things work, oh opportunistic-election-naysayer!

An urgent Conservative fundraising appeal to members was reported as well:
In a fundraising letter stamped “URGENT,” the Harper Conservatives are appealing for money to help finance an election they say is imminent.
The letter from top Tory fundraiser Sen. Irving Gerstein, obtained by, says the party needs another $243,900 for an election “we will likely face in the next few weeks.”
The sum, Gerstein says, will “pay for two weeks of campaign preparedness action before an election is called.”
They'll be the boys who cried wolf if we don't have one then, that stuff gets old real fast. Or do Conservatives just fall for the "urgent" appeal every time and enjoy the theatre of it all?

Now what about the Conservative gang in the ridings, what might they have been up to on Monday in their home bases? Surely it must all be nose to the grindstone constituency work were they to be following the PM's no opportunistic election dictum. To the announcements!

Conservative Minister of State Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Seniors Julian Fantino, $4.2 million in program funding to small-medium sized manufacturers in southern Ontario, Brampton, Ontario.

Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, $600,000 loan to Wakefield Mill Inn, Wakefield, Quebec. Cannon had time for photo-ops as the Libya situation developed all day? Amazing. Looks like more time was spent preparing the Wakefield Inn news release than the Libya statement.

Christian Paradis, Minister of Natural Resources, $250,000 loan to L.S. Finition Industrielle Inc.

Christian Paradis, $317,900 loan, Fibres Lyster, Lyster, Quebec.

Christian Paradis, $191,000, job funding, Montreal, Quebec.

Conservative MP Gerald Keddy, MP for South Shore-St. Margaret's, N.S., $52,000 for seaside park at Vogler's Cove, N.S., also $90,000 in other area funding.

Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence, $200,000 for a Community Hall and Fire Rescue Centre, Port Bickerton, N.S.

Peter MacKay, $500,000 loan to Canso Seafoods Limited, N.S.

Peter MacKay, $93,000, job funding, St. John's, Nfld.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Minister of Veterans Affairs, $175,000 in Funding to Société d'histoire du Lac-Saint-Jean, Alma, Quebec.

Jean-Pierre Blackburn, $94,000, job funding, Alma, Quebec.

Jacques Gourde, Member of Parliament for Lotbinière-Chutes-de-la-Chaudière and Mr. Steven Blaney, Member of Parliament for Lévis-Bellechase, $476,000 in federal skills funding, Saint Romuald, Quebec.

Conservative MP James Lunney, MP for Nanaimo-Alberni, $15,000 Nanaimo African Heritage Society.

Conservative Senator Don Meredith, Toronto, $12,500, Ontario Black History Society, Toronto, Ontario.

Just your ordinary Monday bonanza of government of Canada funding brought to you by Conservative MPs and Ministers, most of it in their own ridings or in the case of the ministers, in their home provinces. Designed to show they're bringing home the bacon, baby. Could be a very expensive week.

Watch what they do, as always...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Goodbye to a friend

Not the usual political entry this morning, something more personal instead. As many bloggers out there in the Canadian political blogosphere know, one of our friends died recently. We learned of it about a week and a half ago from another of our friends, Liberal Arts And Minds, who was good enough to find out for all of us who were wondering, just what had happened to Penny Lankshear. Penny was ever present among us, a blog friend, a pal on Twitter, someone we communicated with through email, through all of what can seem like very impersonal mediums. Except it turns out that they're not so impersonal at all as you discover with the many people you meet and sometimes lose.

I knew Penny for about four years, at least, that's as far back as I traced our emails. Hey, did you see this, she would write. Or, what do you think about this? Always friendly and on at least a few occasions, her emails picked me up on those occasional moments when the blogging blues had set in. She was without a doubt one of my favourite blog friends.

Her obituary appeared yesterday in the Toronto Star so this goodbye, that turned out to be very hard to do, couldn't be put off any longer. Luckily, a few weeks before she died, we had the kind of exchange between us that you'd wish to have had after losing someone. For that I am thankful.

I think Penny was always one of the first to read my posts in the morning, so this goodbye comes in the morning too. Goodbye to my friend, I miss her very much.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Costs of F-35 PR campaign roll in

David Pugliese has another piece on the F-35 issue today, detailing some of the costs thus far for the government's F-35 public relations campaign. Overtime for Defence public servants in Ottawa, travel costs, etc. for the cross-country tour point to a figure of $200,000 thus far which sounds like a conservative estimate.

One of the other intangible costs referenced is the politicization of the military that's going on through their involvement in the F-35 sales job and that is being objected to by some Defence personnel, probably the most notable part of the report:
Senior officers from Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk to air force chief Lt.-Gen. Andre Deschamps have promoted the Conservative government's decision. In the latest issue of the Canadian Military Journal, Deschamps defends the government's decision not to hold a competition to buy a new plane.

Defence Department sources have told the Ottawa Citizen some officers have been uncomfortable with the situation but the military is being pressured by the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office to spearhead the sales effort.

The presentations being given follow government-approved "talking points" on the F-35 purchase and highlight among other things, the chance for Canadian jobs in the deal.
Of course the military shouldn't be used to sell the jobs aspect on this or really, any aspect of it. It paints them a certain partisan stripe and clearly, they're uncomfortable with it. And it is a sales job, injecting the military into a highly political debate, it's not the innocent information campaign spun by the government spokesman here.

At least the military discontent is being aired publicly and we're told exactly where the pressure is coming from, Stephen Harper's direction. Yes, he's a Defence Minister too.

Like the presidential airs, the attack ad politics, using guns as a wedge issue, politicizing the military in this way is more creeping Americanization. It just doesn't suit us and it's good to learn that there are military objecting to this turn of events as well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

More fun with polls: Ontario version

A Nanos poll features quite prominently in the Globe today: "Poll finds Ontarians turning against McGuinty."

So let's check the track record from Nanos polls during the 2007 Ontario election held on October 10th of that year...

Two polls close to the election date...

Tory and McGuinty Statistically Tied as Best Premier, September 25, 2007.

Tory and McGuinty statistically tied in trust, September 27, 2007.

And one from earlier that summer...

Ontario Liberals and PCs in Dead Heat, June 3, 2007.

The result in that election, a Liberal majority with 71 out of 107 seats and Mr. Tory lost his own seat.

Just a few items to consider when weighing that poll this morning, along with that Canadian Press report on polls of course, covered in the previous blog post.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pollsters advising us to be wary of polls

This Canadian Press report today on polling and the abundance of polls that are littering the Canadian political landscape these days provides some welcome perspective: "Pollsters advise voters to be wary of polls ahead of possible spring vote!" A must read for all following Canadian politics and hopefully it will get some wide coverage due to its importance. Since I somehow got into the act of beating a drum on this issue this week, criticizing what seemed to me a ridiculously early poll on the perimeter deal and as well, criticizing that death penalty poll from late January, thought I would link to it as a good follow-up.

Frank Graves of Ekos, Allan Gregg of Harris-Decima, Andre Turcotte of Carleton University (pollster and communications prof), Jaideep Mukerji of Angus Reid and Michael Marzolini all provide some input to the piece, giving it a good dose of credibility.

There is lots of useful information canvassed in the report, including Gregg's remark that sets the tone: the "dirty little secret of the polling that our ability to yield results accurately from samples that reflect the total population has probably never been worse in the 30 to 35 years that the discipline has been active in Canada." That's significant. The move in the population from land lines to cell phones and difficulties in getting people to respond are all contributing to the dynamic. These polls should be qualified to a much greater extent but the "unholy alliance" between media and pollsters doesn't permit that "dirty little secret" to take hold. Pollsters want coverage, it's good for business. Media want horse races and excitement, it's good for their business. At least the pollsters like Gregg and Graves are being quite honest here about the dynamic that's come to be.

Also raised, the advent of online polling and the difficulties in terms of how they are being presented. The report states that their usage is "...more controversial when it comes to surveys of the general population, which is what political polls purport to be." Online polls "may be skewed" as a result of the selection process for respondents (younger, connected to internet, induced by pay, etc.). Therefore, reporting margins of error with these polls, something that can only be done if you have randomly sampled the entire population, is "misleading and prohibited" according to the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA), the polling industry's "voluntary self-regulating body." But pollsters are doing so. Something to keep in mind when you see an online poll with a reported margin of error. For example, that death penalty poll, raised in the blog post linked to above, was such a case.

Other key points:
  • "Turcotte says political polls for the media are "not research anymore" so much as marketing and promotional tools." (!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  • the insufficient attention to margins of error in the reporting on polls:
"Take a poll that suggests Tory support stands at 35 per cent, the Liberals at 30. If the MOE is, say, 2 percentage points, that means Tory support could be as high as 37 and the Liberals as low as 28, a nine point gap. Or the Tories could be as low as 33 and the Liberals as high as 32, a one point gap.

If support falls within those ranges the following week, it should be reported as no change — but rarely is. A two or three point change is more likely to be touted as one party surging or the other collapsing."
Marzolini is quoted near the end of the report, touching on what may be the very unfortunate psychological effect that is being created in the population when constant horse race numbers are presented. "...voters, — "just want to get the score for the game; they don't want to watch the game."

A much needed check-up on polling in Canadian politics.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Carville: "It's going to be every time"

Posting this in the wake of that Ekos poll that might have some nervous Nellies spooked. It's just for the first 3 minutes or so, the Carville speech. It's a brief bit about vile attacks that seek to knock off political leaders, to undermine their viability. Thought it had some universal applicability. "That is standard procedure." "It's going to be every time..."

Fun too to see the wise political operator back in his heyday.

New story line for the census

The new census story line is being rolled out for us: "Chief statistician asked to rethink census for 2016."
Mr. Smith, who took over from embattled chief statistician Munir Sheikh last summer and was appointed permanently in January, has been asked to study how other countries gather information and report with options that could shape the 2016 census.

Examples range from a register-based census, where governments dip into their records on their citizens, to surveying a different part of the country every year.

“The government wants to step back and say okay, ‘Let's look at those other models: what is possible in Canada,’” the new chief statistician said.
That would be an interesting development had they done this before destroying the value of the 2011 data. Despite the protestations of Mr. Smith about how he doesn't want to prejudge the data the new long form survey will produce. He's been put in a position where he pretty much has to say that.

But really, what is going on here? If the government was really interested in a new and improved census model and cared about the information it produces, they'd have left the 2011 census model in place, the same one we've been operating on for years. Then they could have looked onwards to 2016 for changes, without wrecking the data for 2011. But they didn't. They killed the census quietly when no one was looking. So anyone placing any confidence in a 2016 process with this government would probably be misguided.

It reads as a nice yarn to spin politically, covering off the damage the Conservatives have done for 2011. It was all for a larger purpose, to better the census for the nation in the long run. To believe that though you'd have to believe that there was something wrong with a process that actually suffered little complaint and so many groups supported.

Who knows, they might even yet say a door is being left open to return to the old long form census model. What else does "all options on the table" mean anyway but that it would be a possibility? Magical stuff, possibly something for everybody.

Getting one's census ducks in a row before an election?

Update (3:15 p.m.): Another purpose behind the census debacle of  2011, from the emails: "How about making sure there are no usable metrics to gauge how poorly they performed and how many things they degraded in this timeframe?"

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Common sense 149 - Conservatives 134

A House of Commons motion passes this afternooon, one of many, but perhaps the most high profile and politically significant in coming months:
Opposition parties have joined forces to demand that the Harper government reverse tax cuts for the largest, most profitable corporations.

A Liberal motion calling on the government to roll back the corporate tax rate to 18 per cent has passed by a vote of 149-134, with the support of the NDP and Bloc Quebecois.

However, the motion is not binding on the government, which has no intention of adhering to it.

The corporate tax rate was reduced at the start of this year to 16.5 per cent and another reduction to 15 per cent is planned for 2012.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the reductions are crucial for creating jobs and no credible business group in the country supports reversing them.

But Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says rolling back the cuts would save the government $6 billion that could be spent more effectively on things that matter more to Canadians — like education, skills training and family care.
The majority will of the House of Commons has spoken...likely to be ignored by the minority Conservative party once again.

On piping down

This is a Globe editorial worth challenging today: "Who’s afraid of perimeter security?"
There is little or no basis for alarm that the perimeter-security agreement being negotiated between the United States and Canada would put grave limitations on either country’s sovereignty, given the objectives announced last week by Barack Obama and Stephen Harper.
While the editorial does seem to recognize that some of the matters that are being discussed during these negotiations, such as the entry-exit system and respective visa regimes may be not so self-explanatory and may even prove difficult to negotiate, the upshot is that we should essentially take the talking point assurances from Mr. Harper about the deal at face value.

And further, their bottom line is that they would like those of us with questions to just pipe down for now:
Legitimate questions about sovereignty may well arise when a full perimeter-security agreement is reached and made public. In the meantime, the Canadian and U.S. governments should be encouraged to proceed, and shrill doomsaying should cease.
Because obviously, Mr. Harper, paragon of democratic values that he is, will lay it all before us down the road in a fully transparent way. At which time it will be debated through and through. With proper notice, sufficient time allotted and full participation by all of our elected representatives. That is something we can totally expect, based on this government's track record. And based on the PM's current refusal to say that he will.

In a democracy, in a situation such as this one where significant political negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors, asking questions is a must. And we should do so as loudly as we like. You'd like to think that would be something to be encouraged in apathetic Canada at the moment.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Late night

The viral campaign at the gates late today...

Our new Canadian digs in Boston

Our recent real estate buy has caused a minor sensation in the Boston area. The house was purchased in the Crown's name leading to some excitement about the possibility of the Queen buying a house in the area. But alas, it's just Pat Binns, our Consul General in Boston who's moving in.
...the Canadian government has a policy of buying and leasing property for its consulate staff to live in -- hence the two other homes in Wellesley, and two other leased properties in the area.

And to hear Binns explain it – he just arrived in town last year after a diplomatic stint in Ireland - the move is all a matter of government efficiency.

“We were looking for a house that was the right size for our operations,” he said.
The $1.5 million house was purchased on January 18th.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, Canada's largesse is not as, well, large: "Even before the uprising, our embassy in Cairo had been stripped to the bone, to the point where there’s a three-year wait for citizenship applicants from the region."


The predictable early poll on the perimeter deal rolls in

Amazingly, we have a poll on our hands, already, on the perimeter deal: "Poll suggests Canadians overwhelmingly favour integrated border with U.S." The poll includes the obligatory technical details:
Each week, Harris/Decima interviews just over 1000 Canadians through teleVox, the company’s national telephone omnibus survey. The most recent data were gathered between February 3 and February 7, 2011. A sample of the same size has a margin of error of 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.
The Harper-Obama meeting occurred on Friday the 4th. So the poll's questions and prep work were done in advance of the 3rd, it appears. Quite the fortuitous timing on this pollster's part to start polling on the 3rd about some broad underpinnings of a deal that was just announced on the 4th. And then to roll out the results early the next week.

It really would be interesting to see who pays for some of these polls, particularly in light of the timing. These pollsters aren't in the habit of doing volunteer work.

While the headline of the poll is eye-catching and likely meant to be, to say that Canadians overwhelmingly favour an integrated border with the U.S. is a stretch based on the findings. The survey asked respondents how supportive they would be of including these items in a possible agreement: harmonizing food regulations (84% support), shared intelligence gathering (75%) and a bilateral agency overseeing the building of border infrastructure (70%). Asking whether someone supports including such items in a possible agreement without respondents knowing how those items will be implemented in an agreement is an incomplete analysis. It's an apple pie first blush reaction.

What are people going to say when asked whether they support shared intelligence gathering? No? People are realistic, of course there's going to be some intelligence sharing between Canada and the U.S. over threats we may face. But how we go about doing that and what implications it will have on our border sovereignty, immigration policy and privacy rights is a bundle of separate questions that are not raised in this first blush poll.

84% support including the harmonizing of food know, I'd almost be inclined to agree with that one myself given Gerry Ritz and the Conservative government's track record with the listeriosis debacle. But really, food safety is not likely to be the controversial guts of a coming agreement.

Note that the surrounding context to the phone survey seems to have been the larger relationship between Canada and the U.S. ("Overall, would you say that relations between Canada and the US excellent, good, fair or poor?") The majority of questions were in that ballpark.

We'll see how these numbers evolve once the debate shapes up and Canadians start hearing about concrete changes that might take place in the U.S./Canada relationship. Maybe there's a hint in the reaction to one concept put to the respondents. 59% are opposed to the perimeter deal including Canadians needing visas to cross the border. Once implications become a little more tangible, a recoil is there.

Lots more polls likely to come.

Reading the tea leaves

Lots of moves going on in Ottawa on the appointments front. It's almost as if some major political event might be occurring in the near future that might lead a government to ensure it puts its stamp on some fairly significant government positions.

Just since Friday, we've seen: an appointment to the board of CBC/Radio Canada; the appointment of former ADQ activist Tom Pentefountas as Vice Chairman (Broadcasting) of the CRTC; Manitoba and Nova Scotia federal judicial appointments; and the announced exit of the RCMP Commissioner, William Elliott. Will we see a replacement to Elliott named in the next month or so? (Elliott speaks about succession today in a Globe report, he prefers an internal candidate and alludes to a coming government appointment for himself near the end of the piece.)

Additionally, the President & CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board was reappointed to a 3 year term as was a Director of the Board. Jason Kenney announced two appointments and one reappointment of Citizenship judges, each having a 3 year term. Peter MacKay announced a series of Canadian Forces Senior Promotions and Appointments (one of those appointments being somewhat notable, with the head of JTF2 being promoted and replaced, in April, while there is an ongoing investigation into serious allegations).

Also noted, word yesterday that the Conservative nomination meeting in Simcoe-Grey, the riding currently held by "Independent Conservative" Helena Guergis, looks like it has now been set for March 19th. March 19th would precede that budget thing that's coming, by the way.

CBC. CRTC. RCMP. The Wheat Board. Judicial appointments. JTF2. Those are some major institutions seeing such moves. Keep your scorecards handy over the coming month or so.

Trust and the perimeter deal

As Aaron Wherry pointed out in his take on yesterday's Question Period, in which a number of questions focussed on the Harper government's proposed perimeter deal with the U.S., a number of Harper ministers and Harper himself were quite recently publicly downplaying that a deal was in the works:
Two months ago, when details were first reported of dealings between the Canadian and American administration, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews demurred that he couldn’t possibly be expected to comment on “media speculation and hearsay.” The next day, Mr. Cannon dismissed it all as “mere rumours and speculation.” “Mr. Speaker,” Peter Kent pleaded a few days later, “I know my honourable colleague does not expect me to answer a question based on media speculation.”

A few days before the House departed for Christmas, the leader of the opposition took the matter directly to the Prime Minister. “Mr. Speaker,” Mr. Harper assured all within earshot, “there is no secret deal.”
Well, we know now that yes, there was. The beginnings of a deal were well underway, leading up to the meeting last week in Washington. Last night, the Toronto Star reported on the confidential communications strategy that was in place, designed to keep public information at a minimum and behind the scenes, public relations preparation at a maximum:
The federal government deliberately kept negotiations on a border deal with Washington secret while it planned ways to massage public opinion in favour of the pact, according to a confidential communications strategy.

The 14-page public relations document recommended that talks keep a “low public profile” in the months leading up to the announcement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama. At the same time, the government would secretly engage “stakeholders” — interested parties such as big business groups and others — in a way that respected “the confidentiality of the announcement.”

In advance, the government departments involved — including industry, foreign affairs, international trade and citizenship and immigration — were to “align supportive stakeholders to speak positively about the announcement,” according to the strategy prepared by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews’ officials.
When Canadians are kept in the dark and their elected MPs are too, blatantly misled even while the machinations are turning in the background...these are the reasons why trust is an issue with Mr. Harper on such major, nation-altering negotiations.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Late night

It's everywhere!

Better disclosure on the F-35 advocacy required

Courtesy of the Sixth Estate blog, we discover there was some additional information missing from that now infamous Ottawa Citizen op-ed a few weeks ago, "The truth about those jets," the one written by two retired former military officers, General Paul Manson and Lt. General Angus Watt. In addition to the failure to mention Manson's past association with Lockheed Martin Canada, the op-ed also failed to mention that both are currently on the executive committee of the Conference of Defence Associations. That association is funded in part by the Department of National Defence and the contract between DND and CDA specifically requires that the CDA do the following in each fiscal year, inter alia, in consideration of receiving $100, 000 per year in funding:
# “Attain a minimum of 29 media references to the CDA by… journalists”
# “Attain the publication of a minimum of 15 opinion pieces (including op-eds and letters to the editor in national or regional publications)”
# “Attain a minimum of 100 requests by media for radio/television interviews and materials”
Again, it's not that such individuals can't write op-eds and voice their opinions. But ties such as this should be disclosed by them or by the media who publish their views so the public can fully assess the information before them.

See also Scott Taylor today on the lack of disclosure in the Ottawa Citizen op-ed and with other salient points on the F-35 ongoing debate.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Your Superbowl winner

The manatee with the more reliable predictive track record has chosen the Packers. There you go. Place your last minute bets.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Following the continued hard sell on the F-35

A few items here, first a follow-up on a pro-F-35 op-ed that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen last week, "The truth about those jets," written by two former military personnel, including a General Paul Manson. The op-ed was a top-ten styled list of myths about the F-35 that the authors sought to debunk by, as the title suggests, telling the truth about them. Bill Sweetman, an influential aviation analyst who edits Aviation week caught something notable about the piece, however, that really should have been included in the identifying information about one of the authors:
Two former Canadian air force leaders weighed in on the debate last week, as well. In an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen, former chief of the defence staff Gen. Paul Manson and the immediate past chief of the air staff, Gen. Angus Watt set out "ten myths that need to be debunked" about the F-35.

Memo to the generals: First, it doesn't look good when you don't tell the readers that one of you is the former boss of Lockheed Martin Canada.
Sweetman was picking up on a point made in a letter to the editor of the Citizen last week. The point being that it's fine for the opinion to be written and shared by Manson and his general colleague. It's not fine, however, that the Lockheed Martin connection was omitted. That's information that would raise conflict of interest questions and the reader should know about it. For anyone who has read that op-ed, or anyone relying upon it as a reference for some of the F-35 issues, that information should be factored into the weight given it. Sweetman also challenges a few other technical points in the piece that are worth a look too.

That wasn't the only F-35 advocacy involving military of the past week. The latest government sponsored p.r. tour took place on Monday: "Department of National Defence staff criss-crossed the country on Monday, pitching the need for the jets to local reporters from Vancouver to Halifax." See also this QMI report on the day's F-35 media pitch, relying almost exclusively on one Major General's favourable view of the F-35.

Then we see the reporting in Embassy today, examining the Harper government's effort over the past six months to involve Canadian aerospace companies in the public relations push for the F-35s. The angle developed there is that the series of ministerial visits to companies is just as much about boosting the profile of these companies for future work in the F-35 program as it is about the sell to the Canadian public. Which reinforces the view of the Conservatives emphasizing the jobs component of a potential fighter buy when really the preeminent concern should be getting the right plane, something that has not been proven to the Canadian public. Regional benefits and job considerations should flow from a properly held competitive process in any event.

Lots more of the hard sell to come, that's a safe bet.

Flaherty with more of that macro-economic thing they do

Shocking press release from the "Harper Government" yesterday: "Harper Government's Economic Projections on Track." This characterization of their economic projections comes from a survey of private sector forecasters undertaken in December and released yesterday.

The spin from Flaherty was of the thirty thousand feet in the air variety: “Our Economic Action Plan has proven to be a dynamic, ambitious and successful strategy in response to an unprecedented global crisis,” said Minister Flaherty. He went on a bit from there in the same vein. Recall that there are questions about the wisdom of this type of sales job about how well we're doing in relation to the rest of the world though. It had that ring to it again yesterday.

This report also brings Flaherty's presentation back down to earth, "Little for jobless Canadians in Flaherty’s latest forecast," where it's noted that the Flaherty chosen forecasters also project that unemployment numbers are essentially to remain where they are now and until 2015. More: "Little hope for unemployed this year: Flaherty."

Also raining on the Flaherty parade yesterday, this news: "Majority backs expanding Canada Pension Plan, poll finds."
...76 per cent of respondents support increasing CPP benefits and 51 per cent oppose the current federal approach to delay CPP reform in favour of a private pooled pension plan. The survey also found 81 per cent of respondents agreed it is important that retirement security be debated in the next federal election.
Pesky Canadians and their priorities.

To sum up's fair to say that whether you're "on track" really depends on what you're looking at and who's doing the looking.

Foto of the day

"Tell me again about this power of "discretion" you think you have."

An evocative moment between the Governor General and the PM taken on the day of the most recent cabinet shuffle.

A bit of humour to start this very snowy day...