Thursday, March 31, 2011

Democracy is hard for some

"How many? Harper taking only five questions per day from media." And the media is none too pleased.
Stephen Harper is facing questions about his questions.

Namely, how many he’s willing to take each day. And he’s refusing to answer.

Harper takes only five questions from the media each day – four from the reporters on his tour and one from a local reporter – unlike his political rivals, who place no restrictions on how many questions they take.

That’s produced tensions between the Conservative leader and the journalists following his campaign tour as it crisscrosses the country.

The situation boiled over Thursday when Harper was repeatedly asked why he refused to take more a handful of questions each day.

At first, he refused to answer but when pressed, suggested he’d be open to addressing any issues he hadn’t already discussed. But he never explained his rationale for not fielding more questions.

“In terms of questions, is there any specific issue that I haven’t addressed that you want me to address,” Harper said.

“If there’s another subject, I’ll answer,” the Conservative leader said to journalists, who were kept more than 10 metres away, penned in behind a yellow fence.
When they asked why he refused to take more than a handful of questions, did that count against the 5?

He'd get a lot more questions in a one-on-one debate too. But sadly, he's backing out. In a democracy, nothing stopping anyone from having a debate, if they both want to...

Harper's bad day in Quebec

Hard to keep up with all the scandal swirling around the Conservatives these days...but there's more! Seems they have a gem of a candidate in Pierrefonds-Dollard, who appeared at a rally by Harper's side last night. To the court records! In copious detail, please.
A Conservative candidate once castigated in court for writing bad cheques hosted a rally with Prime Minister Stephen Harper Wednesday, a week after the party dumped another candidate over past financial woes.

Agop Evereklian, the Tory candidate in a Montreal-area riding, lost a case in Quebec civil court in 2005 while his business was going bankrupt and was ordered to pay back $29,632.

Evereklian has run for the Tories in two straight campaigns even though the party's vetting procedure asks candidates for any past financial and legal problems.
Evereklian once owned a Kia car dealership that wound up $2 million in debt. Just before it went bankrupt, he bought a car from another dealership in order to close a sale with a buyer.

The court heard how he wrote a bad cheque to the other dealership for $30,000, and then another. They both bounced.

A judge hearing the civil suit concluded Evereklian had taken the car _ and cut the cheques _ knowing full well he didn't have the means to pay.

The verdict also said Evereklian transferred money to his wife, and paid off debts that he and family members were personally responsible for, after receiving court papers from the other car dealership.

The court ordered him to pay back the other dealer in cash, despite his bankruptcy.

"The defendant knew he was up to his neck and acted purely out of personal interest," wrote Judge Georges Massol.

"He knew perfectly well that the first cheque ... wouldn't pass. Same thing for the second _ seeing as how the account was closed."

Evereklian later paid back the money.

His past troubles made news in Quebec's French-language media before the 2008 election, when he failed to win a seat in another Montreal-area riding.
And he can't even get the rally crowd size straight! He says 1200 were there last night. Canadian Press says 600. Who ya gonna believe? Hmmm?

Seems a new candidate background checker is in order. Just because the candidate was a former chief of staff to Kenney doesn't necessarily mean he passes muster.

Excellent work, Conservative brain trust. Quite a week in Quebec all round for them. I assume the voters there read the papers.

Great moments in photo ops

They're just spontaneously glancing at a magazine that has himself on the cover. From this event.

Wonder how many takes it took to get the front cover positioned just right.

Harper in Newfoundland today

Here is something to watch. How far he goes with his photo-op/announcement in respect of the $6.2 billion Lower Churchill hydro development for which the Newfoundland government is seeking a loan guarantee. CBC reported this yesterday:
Wednesday afternoon CBC News confirmed that Premier Dunderdale and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper have reached an agreement on a loan guarantee to help with the province's financing for the project.

Dunderdale met with Harper's chief of staff Nigel Wright two weeks ago in St. John's.
It's not yet known whether Harper will make the formal announcement at a campaign stop on Thursday.
"The formal announcement." CTV is reporting he will announce support for the project.

Keep these principles in mind given we are in an election campaign and therefore a caretaker government period:
“Do not do anything that would give you political advantage by virtue of being the government and do not make commitments that will constrain the government that is eventually elected.”
Harper should not be committing the government of Canada to anything right now for political advantage. He can promise as a politician in campaign mode, that's it. Always worth watching whether Mr. Harper will follow such rules.

It does look like a case of let's make a deal. Provincial PCs, now that Danny is gone, help Harper get some Conservative MPs elected...they get a loan guarantee.

Except that there is an indication (not much in the way of detail there) that Liberals will also be pledging support for the project so any political advantage to the day may be neutralized in any event.

Update: More from Scott Brison
On Wednesday, the Liberals said they support the project.
"I was asked to give you a call to give you our leader and our party’s position," said Kings-Hants MP Scott Brison. "We support loan guarantees for the project. We would also be prepared to invest in clean energy infrastructure anywhere in the country."

Mercer on voting

Encouraging the youth vote. Yes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Harper furious and other campaign notes

1. I second BCL on this one. Particularly in the wake of Bob Fife's report on CTV last night since the Harper people seemed to feel the need to put the word out that Harper is "furious" that Sebastien Togneri, the former Conservative political staffer for Christian Paradis who is now under RCMP investigation, was working on the campaign in Edmonton-Strathcona. Furious is a strong word. If he doesn't tolerate those under RCMP investigation working on campaigns, then the same level of fury should apply to any others facing, say, Elections Act charges who might be working on his campaign at HQ in Ottawa.

The Edmonton Journal is pursuing the story: "Time for Tory candidate to take responsibility for aide: Ryan Hastman's credibility on line over Togneri affair.""No one believes a former senior ministerial official is just hammering a couple of signs together, in the dark, wearing sweatpants and off-gassing Tim Hortons coffee and feeling guilty about his past transgressions." It strains credulity that the national campaign didn't have some hand in this, given Togneri used to work for Giorno, Harper's former chief of staff who's running the national campaign. Money and staffers from across the country are flooding it. 

2. Senator Catastrophic Pay Cut aka Larry Smith may have fired up the gaffe-meter in Lac St. Louis. He said this in Le Devoir yesterday:
Larry Smith ajoute même son grain de sel dans ce débat délicat en affirmant que Gilles Duceppe représente la vieille garde aux yeux de la jeune génération des 25-40 ans, même en ce qui a trait à la langue. «Ce qui est important, c'est le monde, pas la protection des francophones au Québec», a-t-il dit en français.
May have more backfire implications for other Conservatives in Quebec, moreso than Smith, with Lac St. Louis being largely English speaking. Still, notable for him and he's one to watch given we're just a few days in. Hopefully this is not the last we hear from him.

3. Another country worried about F-35 costs, raising questions about Canada's proposed purchase and also the future of the global supply chain all the jobs claims are based upon. In addition to that unnamed country, Turkey has also put its order of 100 on hold indefinitely. Canada's position on the F-35 just continues to make less and less sense.

4. Did someone say coalition?

Ridiculous sounding on its own for the silly repetitiveness but especially given Harper's past words from 1997 and 2004 that are haunting him on the campaign trail. Seems like a real blast, that rally. Here's a better one.

Harper then and now on costing of legislation

Stephen Harper, the 1996 version, was a big supporter of full, transparent cost disclosures to Parliament. Here's a timely look back at some mammoth hypocrisy from Mr. Harper given current Conservative non-disclosure of major program costing to Canadians. Take it away, 1996 Steve!
Mr. Stephen Harper (Calgary West, Ref.): Mr. speaker, it is a pleasure today to debate Bill C-214, the program cost declaration act tabled by the hon. member for Durham.

Let me take a few minutes to outline the purpose of the act and what is behind it. The act, which is a votable item, would require departments of the government to provide a financial or cost analysis of each piece of legislation on its introduction to the House of Commons or at the time the minister or governor in council issues regulations or other instruments.

The auditor general would certify that the method used to arrive at this analysis was fair and reasonable under the circumstance. The cost would be disclosed in total as well as based on the per capita cost for each Canadian citizen.

This legislation would cause legislators and their departments to be more conscious of the financial impact their legislation would have. The PCDA, as it is called, would provide for a greater degree of disclosure and accountability for government programs and lead toward a more integrated expenditure system. It would give members of Parliament and the public more knowledge and to that extent more control and scrutiny over how government spends.

If this type of legislation had been in place years ago, I believe it is true that would not have so easily created the massive deficits and debt which the federal government is now forced to deal with.

That really is the purpose of the legislation, as stated by the member for Durham. I think it is transparent that the legislation is worthy of support. [...]
I guess the real question is why anybody would do it any other way. When we think about it, it is quite extraordinary that in this day and age governments would think of tabling and publicly adopting legislation without providing assessed cost information as part of the process.

I do not believe there is any chief executive officer in this country who would go to his board or his shareholders and not be prepared to give a definitive cost assessment on a project that the company had undertaken. Nor would any intelligent head of a household enter into a major purchase, any purchase other than out of pocket, without making an assessment of the real costs over time.

If anything, I think the bill probably does not go far enough. ...
My. Whatever happened. Oh yes, this:
That the House agrees with the finding of the standing committee on procedure and House affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government.
He's come a long way, hasn't he? Just like the Harper coalition positioning from 2004/05 that Harper 2011 is now so desperately trying to spin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Passports are good things

A brief point on the Liberal Learning Passport that was announced today. Others have already blogged about its retail political upside and how the Conservatives have no credibility on budgeting given their billions in jets, jails, etc. So, one more here...

First, some quick numbers:
The $1-billion Canadian Learning Passport is the single largest annual investment in non-repayable federal student assistance in Canadian history, providing directly to families:

* $4,000 tax-free for every high school student who chooses to go to university, college or CÉGEP – $1,000 per year over four years; and
* $6,000 – or $1,500 each year – for high school students from low-income families.
John Ivison did a piece this afternoon on it. Note this paragraph on its financing:
The biggest knock on this planned investment is how it would be funded — primarily by increasing corporate tax rates back to last year’s rate (from 16.5% to 18%). Yet the coordinated plan between most of the provinces and Ottawa to reduce total corporate tax rates to 25% is designed to make Canada one of the most attractive investment opportunities in the world. As this space noted Monday, by expanding the tax base, the plan is near revenue neutral and, by some estimates, could attract $50-billion in new investment within seven years. Absent such plans to grow the economy, Mr. Ignatieff’s national learning strategy will remain an unaffordable pipe-dream.
Some might say to that argument that corporate Canada can't have it all ways all the time. There was a C-suite study released very recently that asked Canada's business executives about the economy and what their priorities were for the federal budget. Note what came first:
Q. What are your high federal budget priorities:

Investing in education and training: 58%

Investing in research and development: 52%

Investing in transport and infrastructure: 42%

Attacking the deficit more aggressively: 39%

Investing in renewable energy: 33%

Reducing personal income taxes: 33%

Assisting manufacturing sector: 28%

Improving retirement security: 15%
Investing in education and training is something that will greatly benefit business, clearly. So the question is who should help pay for that investment in education and training that is going to benefit business and yes, grow the economy by enhancing the future Canadian workforce? Someone has to do it. Seems only fair that corporate Canada that stands to benefit and wants such investments should shoulder some responsibility for helping to make it happen.

Conservative contempt rolls on

This may seem like a small item to some voters but it speaks to the larger Conservative attitude under Stephen Harper toward respect for the laws of this country: "Conservative staffer under RCMP probe gone from key electoral campaign." Remarkable stuff. Sebastien Togneri, the former Christian Paradis staffer who interfered with access to information in that office, who had to resign and who is now under RCMP investigation seems to have been welcomed as a Conservative campaign staffer during this campaign. In a key electoral battleground for them. No one thought twice about it. No one saw the red flag waving in their faces.

Why would they after all? Consider the tone at the top that's being set. Here was Harper today, answering one of his very few questions of the day as the clamps have now come down on media access:
"My understanding is that he volunteered for a campaign," Harper said. "My understanding is that he is no longer a volunteer for that campaign. And that's all I know."
And that's all Canada gets:
The Tory Leader ignored a subsequent question posed by a reporter on the matter.
The inaccessible leader skates with a meager, passive, buck-passing response that is devoid of any sense of the role model position a Prime Minister should have in this country. It's about instilling and upholding respect for the law. What a fail.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mr. Harper's strategery

Interesting item in the Globe late last night: "‘Reckless coalition’ strategy is Harper’s own." I'm not sure why someone would be telling the Globe that Harper's coalition fear mongering is at the doorstep of Mr. Harper and Mr. Harper alone. We kind of know the one man band story line at this point in any event. Nevertheless, this came out:
Mr. Harper pushed his campaign team to put the majority-or-coalition issue front-and-centre, according to someone close to the campaign, because he personally believes those are the only possible outcomes.
And it really didn't seem to be presented in a good way, as in, what a brilliant strategy it is.

Then you consider the headlines and the coverage that have been generated from the weekend that have a certain theme to them...

Le spectre d'une coalition se retourne contre Harper.

Coalition: Harper refuse d'expliquer ses contradictions.

Ignatieff turns coalition accusation back on Harper.

Harper's coalition criticism backfires as past comes back to haunt him.

Harper bats back at coalition questions: Harper pressed on coalition position.

Right back at you: Harper's past boomerangs on electoral 'coalition' claims.

Fear the main factor in Harper's stump speeches.

John Ivison: "The Conservatives will continue to hammer away on this, but the issue should now be put to bed."

Chris Selley: Time to put coalition talk to rest.

Does it seem like it's going to plan? They channel changed, yes, but those can't be the headlines the Conservatives hoped to generate on the first weekend.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some follow-up on Harper's Rideau speech yesterday

Two points arising out of it...

First, this line from Harper's speech out in front of Rideau Hall yesterday was highlighted on the national news last night and is worth some attention:
To my fellow Canadians I say this: The opposition parties have made their choice. Now we Canadians get to make ours.
The opposition parties, and their supporters apparently, are un-Canadian in his eyes. That was not a becoming statement for a Prime Minister.

Second, the Conservatives are running on the "Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan" as a major part of their campaign platform. Harper made that pitch in his speech:
We will be asking Canadians for a renewed mandate to:
- Implement the Next Phase of Canada's world-leading Economic Action Plan to protect and create jobs as outlined in the budget. ...
The Conservatives have already admitted that using $4 million they had lined up in taxpayer dollars to advertise on behalf of the budget aka the Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan would be inappropriate and they yanked it. So taxpayer resources should not be used to support promotion of that budget, this is the principle they have agreed with.

Seems then that government sites should not be promoting it either. See the budget icons for the "Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan" appearing on federal government department sites. See also the accompanying Conservative budget slogan icons, the slogan being used by Harper in that speech yesterday as well (and candidates), "A Low-Tax Plan for Jobs and Growth." Conservative slogans and platform items should be scrubbed from government sites. It's like the "Harper Government" usage and other items we've seen, it's indicative of a larger attitude toward government resources and whose interests they serve.

Propaganda Nation

Helene Buzzetti noted the creation of a "Facebook conservateur" last night. Tory Nation they call it, which is apparently an online operation to encourage people to spread Conservative talking points about the election being all about the economy. It suggests letter writing and calling talk radio and provides handy talking points, listed in Buzzetti's item. As she notes, if you see or hear those points, beware, the author's been pre-programmed.

An indication of the push that will be on by Conservatives to control the election agenda and in the bigger picture, of how they view democratic debate. Facebook for Conservatives is a lot of fun, isn't it? (Although it doesn't indicate you have to be a Conservative, necessarily, to go on there.)

Political PSA

An incident in Britain this week is a little reminder of the Gordon Brown gaffe from last year's UK election. Watch those microphones! That is going to haunt Clegg.

This PSA does not, however, apply to Conservative candidates during our election. They should be encouraged to wear the mikes as long as they like post-events.

Can't remember this ever happening in Canada but there's always a first time.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Harper on contempt

Turn it up, audio is not the greatest. But you get the key statement, Mr. Harper's continued disrespect for Parliament and democracy on display. The Canadian public don't care about "maneuvers in Parliament and the wording of various motions."

Doesn't seem too happy either.

What don't the Conservatives get about democracy?

They have a hard time dealing with it, so we learn day in and day out.

We have just had a historic day, a contempt vote for the Harper government was expressed by a majority in the House of Commons. Because they don't respect Parliament, they don't respect our democracy.

And here they are showing their disrespect again. They want to discuss the outcome of the election, 24/7, with coalition talk. Yet Mr. Harper and his party have no business telling the country that we have to focus on the outcome right now, that we have to fast forward to a discussion about the result.

Maybe the Canadian people want to have the election first. Let's discuss the issues and the priorities of the Canadian people. Jumping to the end and fixating our discussions on a result where Harper's party is the presumed winner is not respecting the democratic process at all. Typical for Harper but not the way an election should proceed.

Then when we have a result, when the Canadian people have spoken, then, if needs be, maybe we'll be assisted by some constitutional experts and other political representatives who are working on guidelines if we get an unclear election result and who we might be hearing more from over the coming month. Note that "representatives of the Governor General" attended the first gathering that was held in February. This CBC report from October refers to the Governor General as supporting that meeting, also notable. In the meantime, there is a useful point made here about the coalition question.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A good day: The Harper Government has fallen

Let the campaign begin!

Today, the House of Commons moved non-confidence in the government on the basis of contempt:
The federal Conservative government has been brought down on a historic vote in Parliament, setting the stage for a May election.
MPs voted 156-145 in favour of a Liberal motion today citing Stephen Harper's minority Tories for contempt of Parliament and expressing non-confidence in the government.
Harper is set to visit the Governor General's residence Saturday morning to dissolve the 40th Parliament and sound the starting gun on an election campaign. It will be the fourth election in seven years.
The contempt charge marks a first for a national government anywhere in the Commonwealth.
The vote will be seen as a formal finding of contempt against the government, because the motion clearly used the word "contempt" and was approved by the Commons, said one constitutional scholar.
"This will go down in the history books as a finding of contempt," said Ned Franks, a professor emeritus at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.
That is historic, serious and all Canadians should be concerned by it. It will be an important aspect of the coming campaign. (As a side note, this older post from 2008 is getting a lot of traffic today for people searching for answers on what contempt of parliament means.)

So now we write the next chapter. The most important thing to say...happy campaigning everybody! Get out there and do what you can for your local preferred candidate, never assume your help can't make a difference. Campaigns matter and this is going to be a good one.

And sometimes a picture just says it all...

What is Harper Government worthy and what is not

Can you see the difference? Patterns are emerging from the government announcements.

Harper Government Celebrates Economic Action Plan Investments in Canada's Knowledge Economy.

Harper Government's Abolition of Early Parole Act receives Royal Assent.

Harper Government Takes Action to Ensure Fairness at the Pumps.

Government of Canada to Help Gay and Lesbian Refugees Fleeing Persecution.

There is selective headline writing going on in the government. Wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall as they decide which issue the Harper name is to be associated with?

And on Jason Kenney's Ottawa refugee announcement yesterday...nothing says well thought out, full governmental support than "up to" a hundred grand thrown at a pilot project that may or may not be picked up in the future. On the last day before your government is defeated. It smacks of last minute ticking of the box for electoral purposes.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Late night Mercer

At the risk of jumping the shark in posting Mercer's's one more, likely the last for a while given that election thing being imminent. Don't know if he'll be doing them during the campaign or not, wouldn't think so but who knows. Rant time has really picked up for Mercer in the last month or so, the material from the Harper Government has been endless.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Harper's big risk

This non-confidence motion will be moved by the Liberals on Friday:
That the House agrees with the finding of the standing committee on procedure and House affairs that the government is in contempt of Parliament, which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently, the House has lost confidence in the government.
Barring any last minute maneuvers or other motions, as of late this afternoon it appears that yes, Harper is prepared to go to an election having that verdict rendered on his government. An historic verdict at that. So ultimately he's prepared to live with that judgment being made - assuming it is - in order to proceed to an election that he thinks he can win. Electoral calculation prioritized over a contempt judgment. We have a Prime Minister who doesn't really care that such an historic verdict will be on his record. Not a surprise from this PM but it is fascinating to see it play out.

There is also some history here, which may be instructive. Saw this on Twitter last night, which may be subject to verification:
Interesting fact from friend- no government that has been defeated on confidence vote has won the resulting election - except Trudeau in 74.
(Cont'd) Martin 2005 lost election Clark 1979 lost elxn Trudeau 1974 won elxn Diefenbaker 1963 lost elxn Meighen 1926 lost election.
There is something intangible in the motion that brings defeat and its result that the Conservatives may be underestimating.

P.S. Big City Lib will indeed now eat his hat at a future Progressive Bloggers get together. He just couldn't take yes for an answer with all the election lights blinking.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The budget and its fallout

A few quick thoughts off the top about the budget and the surrounding politics that now see us on the brink of an election campaign...

We have been witnessing an onslaught from the Harper government in terms of a virtual campaign since at least January. They have had a wave of ministers and MPs announcing Economic Action Plan items across the country, often thematically based in order to speak to given issues that could be weaknesses (forestry, R&D, environment, etc.). They have used taxpayer money, obscenely to the tune of at least $26 million since January, to finance a public relations campaign on our television screens in an attempt to boost support for the government and its economic messaging. They have ratcheted up the ugly personal attacks in the form of their negative ads, attempting to undermine Michael Ignatieff's political viability. All indications have been that Mr. Harper has been preparing for an election.

The opposition parties have signalled their priorities for a while now. The Liberals drawing lines in the sand over the sole-sourced fighter jet proposal that at $30 billion (according to the PBO) directs resources in a direction Canadians just aren't comfortable with. Corporate tax cuts, massive prison build costs have also been objected to by Liberals. The Bloc had its line, the HST deal. The NDP had its shopping list.

So what does Mr. Harper do? He ignores the party he detests, the Liberals. Of course he does.

There are some musings about the HST deal as it may actually come but maybe he sees little political advantage to it as the Conservative numbers in Quebec aren't good and he doesn't see an uptick that's there to be had if he follows through.

But he plays with the NDP a little, gives them juuuust enough to think about, doling out a few items that maybe they might support. A modest boost to the GIS that in practical terms does little for seniors. $12 a week for a single person, what does that buy you at the grocery store these days? It's not nothing but there hasn't been an increase in years. Nothing on pensions, the Conservatives are prepared to ride on their private proposal that they floated in the fall. Sure there's an Eco Energy retrofit give but this is something the Conservatives have offered before, not a hard one. Note too that the budget is all dolled up in Economic Action Plan colours so they can wave it around across the country. It's The Next Phase of Canada's Economic Action Plan™.

And Harper thinks maybe he gets the NDP with it. Or maybe he doesn't. In either scenario, he either gets to continue governing or carry on to the election that he's been gearing up for all along.

Except that he's now facing a current that is out of his control. There are the Bruce Carson allegations that seem to keep coming. His officials charged with Elections Canada Act breaches. The historic contempt. He's facing ads that tell those stories to Canadians for the first time in his tenure. Some polls suggest the mud is starting to stick. The ethics and arrogance story line is getting picked up. And even the economic competence of his government that is much vaunted by them and parroted by friendlies isn't so formidable in the eyes of voters.

The little bit of drama this afternoon where everyone was on tenterhooks waiting for Jack Layton to speak and indicate whether his part would support the budget was a refreshing reminder of political reality and how it will intrude and trample on all our little preconceived story lines. This is what an election campaign will bring and those who like control, i.e., Mr. Harper, are going to be out of luck.

Has Harper been on his game? Did he commit a gaffe on Libya? Was it normal to lie down with the fainting student? Can you picture another world leader doing that? Does he seem a little too eerily calm and detached these days as if his heart is not in it? Is there a demeanour that suggests that he knows the land mines are multiplying and he's just trying to get away with it for just a bit longer? That he senses his highly spun bubble world is just not as mighty as it's been for these last few years?

Interesting poll yesterday that had the parties at their 2008 levels. Ekos was in that ballpark too with a major poll recently. If it's go time, that's not a bad place to be at all.

Contempt: The view from abroad

OK, well, abroad as in AP's report as prominently displayed on the Americas page of the New York Times anyway: "Canada’s Harper Faces Contempt Charge and Possible Election." After briefly handicapping a possible election outcome, it goes on:
Mr. Harper, however, is a center-right prime minister in a traditionally center-left country, and his plan to reduce corporate tax rates in the new budget has given the opposition, led by the left-leaning Liberals, an opening to argue that Canada, despite its economic successes, is running a record deficit that will only increase if taxes diminish.

The opposition has also criticized the prime minister for planning to spend $9 billion on 65 American-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, which represents one of the biggest military purchases in Canadian history. It will entail at least an additional $5 billion in maintenance costs.

The opposition has been able to paint Mr. Harper, 51, as a manipulator who resorts to questionable strategies to thwart the opposition, most notably his suspension of Parliament for three months last year to bring about a shift in house committee chairmanships.

And now his opponents have been handed the contempt accusations that portray Mr. Harper, who has not had a majority since becoming prime minister in 2006, as a highhanded leader who lacks a popular mandate. No Canadian government has ever been cited for contempt before.
Oh well, I'm sure they don't read the New York Times at the White House or in the State Department...

Here is the contempt report, courtesy of CBC's Inside Politics blog. See page 18 for Ned Franks' 5 Handy Ways to Restrain an Out of Control PMO.

Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs: QUESTION OF PRIVILEGE RELATING TO THE FAIL...

Late night Spring greetings

Ushering in the new season, belatedly. Courtesy of artist Theo Nelson who likes to ring them in by sharing his art with bloggers and others.

Yes, plant a lot of those thoughts!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Harper on Libya

Posting this report from the National last night for the very interesting discussion at about the 7:40 mark and following where Brian Stewart analyzes Harper's comments from Saturday about the objective of the mission. Here's a quote from Harper which stood out in some of the reporting which goes to what Stewart was getting at:
"He simply will not last very long. I think that is the basis on which we're moving forward. If I am being frank here, that is probably more understood than spoken aloud. But I just said it aloud," Harper said.
Why Harper ventured there in creating expectations like that...smartest guy in the room syndrome kicking in?

Update: Additional source for that Harper quote.

Infrastructure leadership

A few shocking reads in modern day Canada, apparently one of the largest and most commercially significant bridges in Montreal, the Champlain Bridge, is in risk of partial collapse. From the Gazette:
La Presse this week obtained two federally mandated engineering studies. Here's what the studies concluded about the Champlain:

--There are concerns about the soundness of the bridge's beams, pillars and foundation, as well as for its capacity to carry heavy loads.

--Those safety concerns mean there is a risk that part of the bridge could collapse.

--The bridge would not with-stand a major earthquake.

--The bridge should be re-placed quickly.

--Though theoretically pos-sible, fixing the bridge would be too costly and cause too many major traffic problems.
That's putting it nicely. Read the cyberpresse link above, it's much more frightening (translated version). Newly appointed Conservative Senator Larry Smith announced some more federal funds on Friday, maybe because such media reports as those in La Presse were making the rounds.
Conservative Senator Larry Smith announced the repairs. He told reporters the bridge is safe.
Those federally mandated engineering studies carry a little more weight than Senator football. Repair money, a band-aid solution is not looking to be the answer. 

Begging the question of where the infrastructure leadership is these days. We have just been through Canada's Economic Action Plan, widely advertised to the nation by these Conservatives and which was all about infrastructure. Yet here we have a major infrastructure need staring the federal, provincial and municipal governments in the face. Every time you read an announcement like this one yesterday that has comparable variations across the country then consider the Pont Champlain...really makes you wonder what kind of legacy this action plan will really have. Infrastructure priorities should preferably be with the Pont Champlains, not with snowmobile trails or rinks of any kind in Quebec.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., they're looking at some interesting infrastructure ideas: "An independent, bipartisan board appointed by the president and Congress would choose the investments and oversee construction, audited by an inspector general and the Government Accountability Office." Maybe we should be considering Canadianized innovations like that too.

Friday, March 18, 2011

In & out scandal: "the evidence is substantial"

Notes from the Crown prosecutor today on the case worth taking into account:
"The evidence is substantial," Richard Roy, the prosecuting attorney for the public prosecutor, told reporters Friday.

"The database generally is about maybe 27,000 documents and many witnesses were interviewed. That's about as much as I can say at this point."
Roy said that while this is not the first time he has prosecuted elections matters, "this is definitely, I would say in regards to an Election Act offence, the most substantial one that we've had to now."
Make of that what you will. It is certainly not looking like a run of the mill administrative type of proceeding that will be over quickly.

The Conservative officials charged have obtained a delay until June to review the evidence. Meaning that if we have an election shortly, the fact of the charges will remain in the window in the state they are now with four Conservative officials charged with Elections Act breaches, still a serious mark to have on a party's record. And if we don't have an election this spring, the case will still be developing as of June, with all the future political implications for the growing anti-democratic narrative of the Harper government.

The Libya mission and fighter jet politics

In covering the Libya no-fly zone story, the Globe gives the Harper government a boost on the F-35s:
The Libyan assignment gives the Harper government a chance to demonstrate why Canada needs top-notch fighter jets. The Tories are under fire for committing an estimated $15-billion or more to purchase new F-35 stealth fighter, expected to arrive starting in 2016 or 2017.
Granted, that the CF-18s will somehow be used in connection with a Libyan international mission will remind the public that yes, we do have fighter jets and they can be used in international military situations. But are stealth jets required in the Libyan context? No. The very fact that we are sending CF-18s reinforces that point. Libya actually makes the case that the FA-18 Super Hornet would be an equally capable choice for Canada. So Libya doesn't actually provide a chance to demonstrate the case for the F-35, contrary to the Globe's helpful stage-setting for the Harper government. Here's a Canadian Press report and one from Postmedia without the needless editorial intervention.

The debate is over what kind of plane we need to buy, how many, why are we sole-sourcing the F-35, what are Canada's needs, etc. Whether the stealth F-35 first strike combat oriented jet is the right one for Canada is a very debatable question, to state the obvious. Having a major daily paper set up the Libya situation as a platform for the government to demonstrate why it needs a certain kind of jet is not helpful to that debate.

Speaking of the case for the F-35, the U.S. General Accounting Office released a report on Tuesday, in connection with House Armed Services hearings on U.S. air tactical capabilities. The F-35 featured prominently in those hearings. The report is a new reminder of the escalating costs of the program to the U.S. The affordability of the plane to the U.S. and for allies is raised as an issue (p.5). The cost per plane as of 2010 is now up to $133 million (Appendix I) whereas the Harper government is adamantly insisting Canada's cost is $70-75 million per plane. Additionally, software delays and the need for 10,000 more design modifications by 2016 (p. 9) are cited as further issues.

The U.S. air force is also now predicting a 2018 initial operating capability date on the F-35A, the model Canada would get if the Harper government proposal went through. 2018. If that's the same for us, we would be cutting it close with the 2020 time frame for the phasing out of the CF-18s. Given the delay track record on the F-35, even that 2018 date would have to be pencilled in.

As for the Harper government's document dump yesterday on the price of their F-35 proposal, their credibility is sorely lacking at this point. Competent governance would see numbers presented and backed up in a process with integrity. They announced their proposed F-35 deal eight months ago, where have they been with proper, justified information? If there is classified material, handle it appropriately, trust MPs. But there they were, engaged in last minute dumping of 55 new documents on a committee when the government is under contempt klieg lights. Canadians deserve a process that treats seriously the largest purchase in Canadian military history. Shameful irresponsibility really.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mercer on "The Harper Government"

Mercer hits another one out of the park.

Time to fight back against the Harper regime

It's always that time around here!

One of these economists is not like the others

A bit of a follow-up here to last night's excitement wherein Stephen Harper, Economist™, concern trolled to the nation that uh uh, this is not the time for an "opportunistic" election given the Japanese earthquake.

Let's look into what economists are saying then. Here's Krugman on the impact of the Japan situation:
Life and business go on; so I guess we have to talk about the economic impact of the Fukushima nightmare.

One set of impacts involves disruption of supply chains: Japanese chips and other components are an important part of world manufacturing — you really need to think of China, Korea, Japan and so on as being part of an East Asian manufacturing complex –and it’s not clear yet just how much damage will be done.

But what I’m hearing a lot is worries about financial impacts. Japan will clearly have to spend hundreds of billions (dollars, not yen) on damage control and recovery, even as revenue falls thanks to the direct economic impact. So Japan will become less of a capital exporter, maybe even a capital importer, for a while. And this, so the story goes, will lead to soaring interest rates.

But so far, um, not.
Then after a few charts and some econospeak he concludes:
And yes, this does mean that the nuclear catastrophe could end up being expansionary, if not for Japan then at least for the world as a whole. If this sounds crazy, well, liquidity-trap economics is like that — remember, World War II ended the Great Depression.

So, back to Japan: I’m terrified about the possible loss of life; nervous about the disruption of world production; not worried at all about the impact of Japanese borrowing on world bond markets.
More, including the recommended link:
I suspect they did not mention Japan because little information is known about the economic risk or they don’t perceive it to be the primary risk in the US outlook. Indeed, we have been down this road before with Hurricane Katrina - even very large disasters in advanced economies appear to have limited overall economic impact, although the regional impacts could be quite severe. I often wonder if economists have a tendency to initially overestimate the potential impact of such events as they believe the economic impacts must somehow reflect the human impact, or that if they don’t play up the economic impacts they will be seen as downplaying the human impact. I tend to be less concerned about the economic impact (particularly over the longer term; market economies have proven to be remarkably resilient) and instead am much, much more concerned about the very devastating and long-lasting human impact of this tragedy. I recommend the guest post at Econbrowser on this topic. To be sure, policymakers will be watching this and other situations closely, but I suspect they would turn to this kind of research as a guide and conclude for now that the global economic impact will be largely transitory.
So that's an early read from some economists. Think we can treat Mr. Harper's economic theories as they relate to a potential election here with a healthy dose of skepticism. 

The extra 2 percent

Late night food for thought:
Q. A decade ago, Major League Baseball was still pretty hostile to basic economic thinking, like the idea that teams should use data to find undervalued players. But the success of the low-budget Oakland A’s and Michael Lewis’s best-selling book about them, “Moneyball,” helped change that. Today, some of the biggest-spending teams, like the Yankees and Red Sox, are infused with analytical thinking.

So how did the Rays (with a 2010 payroll of about $72 million) finish ahead of the Yankees (2010 payroll: $206 million) and Red Sox (2010 payroll: $162 million) in two of the last three seasons? What is their edge — the “extra 2 percent” in your title?

Mr. Keri: The Rays look for that extra 2 percent absolutely everywhere. There are all the basic baseball ideas, of course. They dream up ways to build an optimal lineup and they put relief pitchers in position to succeed against certain types of hitters, just like every other team does. But in the Rays’ case, they go much deeper. The manager, Joe Maddon, is more open-minded and intellectually curious than any other manager in baseball. He regularly meets with the “quant guys” in the organization, and is willing to make substantive, enduring changes based on their input.

One great example is something called the Danks Theory. It’s named after a left-handed pitcher named John Danks, a change-up specialist who’s often tougher against right-handed hitters than left-handers, which is unusual in baseball. Erik Neander, the team’s co-head of R.&D. (the fact that the Rays even have an R.&D. division, as if they’re Google or Apple, says a lot), met with Maddon and suggested that the Rays start same-handed hitters against pitchers like Danks. And it worked. Maybe strategies like these amount to two or three wins a season. But when you’re competing against the two biggest, baddest, richest teams in the sport in the Yankees and Red Sox, every little edge counts.

It’s really much more than an on-field idea, though. For instance, the Rays hold more postgame concerts than any other team in baseball. There are some fairly significant costs to staging a concert, but they’ve crunched the numbers and found that the attendance boost makes it well worth the added cost, and hassle. The Rays also offer free parking for carpools of a certain size; that has the double effect of enticing extra fans to the park and making sure the roads and parking lots around the stadium aren’t painfully crowded.

People have asked me, “What do the Rays do that absolutely no one else does?” It’s tough to pinpoint one thing. But it’s that collection of 2 percent edges that adds up to a lot — in this case, two AL East titles in the past three years, and a ball club whose franchise value has skyrocketed in the five-and-a-half years since Stuart Sternberg and his partners took over.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"No humanity, no soul"

Those words come today from a Conservative candidate exiting the scene of an oncoming federal election, more on that below. They might also speak to Mr. Harper's performance this afternoon, weaving into his response to a reporter on the Japan situation this gem:
"I don't want to predict how it's going to unfold, I think the Japanese will find their way of coping but the fact of the matter is this should be a wake-up that we can't afford to take our focus off the economy and get into a bunch of unnecessary political games or an opportunistic and unnecessary election that nobody is asking for.''
Politicizing the Japan earthquake for his own domestic political messaging, that's got to be a new benchmark in self-centeredness for the PM. What are people thinking and feeling as they watch the Japanese situation unfold? Likely it's all about concern, horror, empathy. Empathy in particular seems to me what Canadians would want to hear from their Prime Minister on our behalf. Not self-interested political contortions like this.

Continuing on with our theme, here's the view from the inside of the Conservative party from newly departing Conservative candidate Rachel Greenfeld in Vancouver:
She also believes she was regarded as a “loose cannon” because she spoke to the media when she felt like it.
Ms. Greenfeld, who started up the trendy Campoverde Social Club in Vancouver and is now the head of a personal coaching firm, said she's put off by the treatment she got from party officials. She wasn't impressed when Jenni Byrne, the Conservative party's director of operations and national campaign manager, assigned an underling to deliver the ultimatum.

“She didn't have the respect for me to make the call herself. And I found that to be very unfortunate.

“They've got the right person in the right job for the way that they need to run their organization, it's just that there's no humanity, no soul, there's no kindness, there's no femininity – the things that give people the greatest pleasure in life are absent.

“Feeling acknowledged, feeling understood, feeling respect, they're just not there.”
“We're very concerned with our environment here, we care about the homeless situation, we care about the mental health issues that we see people suffering from in the downtown east side,” she said.
Clearly not Conservative party machine material. Talking to the media, too much independent spirit there. See also a similar situation in Winnipeg South Centre developing over the last few days where Conservative candidate Raymond Hall in Winnipeg also seems to have been dumped for similar reasons:
There are more than a few 'WTFs' flying around Winnipeg South Centre today as it is confirmed that Tory candidate Raymond Hall has been dumped by his party. Word leaked out Sunday, and by Monday it was all over. Hall hasn't said much, but reading between the lines and relying on party sources, it appears the riding association was not satisfied with Hall's work ethic. He has been a nominated candidate for nearly two years. His face graces billboards and bus benches all over the riding. He was touted as the kind of candidate that would finally topple Liberal MP Anita Neville, one of only two Grits left standing in the city of Winnipeg. That was then.

Now, Hall is being characterized as a quirky, unpredictable guy who would not get with the program. And by program, we mean the much-vaunted Conservative "play book" that the central party's war room drafts for ridings they want to steal from other parties.
These two candidate exits come on the heels of the departures of MPs Day, Strahl and Cummins, all exiting on the weekend. If this were happening on the Liberal side, well, we all know the mutinous and chaotic implications that would be trumpeted in headlines far and wide.

The tone for the Conservative party is set at the top. We saw a fine display of that tone this afternoon. In foreign affairs, in matters of party, it's uber-partisan above all else.

Monday, March 14, 2011

At breakfast time or any time

Breakfast of champions for those fighting the democratic deficit.

A witty response to the title of the Conservatives' latest junk site that can be read as "Ignatieff Selection" as well (no need to click on that link, by the way). Hats off to clever blogger/tweeters.

If Loblaws sold them, I'd buy them too. No problemo.

Cockroach ideas

From respected economist Mark Thoma:
One cockroach I thought had been wiped out by "facticide" is that tax cuts pay for themselves. But that turned out to be wrong. Prior to the recent Congressional elections this claim was still made by many politicians on the right, and it was largely unchallenged by the press (making me think I should have called the insecticide used to battle bad ideas "facts aside" instead of "facticide"). It wasn't claimed as widely as in the past, so that is progress I guess, but even those who know better began making artful statements that made it sound like tax cuts would still bring more revenue to the Treasury (e.g. statements like tax cuts increase growth, and more growth means more revenue for the government -- essentially, the cockroach mutated in a way that neutralized the attempt to kill it off).

How do you kill a zombie cockroach?
Flaherty in a recent op-ed, "Tax cut vital to Canada’s recovery," writes this, in what Thoma would likely say is zombie mode:
Recent independent studies confirm lower taxes make our economy stronger and create good, long-term jobs for today and tomorrow.
Yet Flaherty has admitted, on the other hand, that employment is not going to grow for years:
But even with an improving outlook for the United States – Canada’s main export market – the economists didn’t tweak their September forecast for a 7.7-per-cent Canadian jobless rate in 2011 and barely cut their 2012 prediction. The rate will average 7 per cent or higher through 2013, compared with 7.6 per cent now, before improving to 6.6 per cent by 2015.

“We anticipate some modest improvement, as the private-sector forecasters do, in unemployment, but we also anticipate resistance to the unemployment rate coming down,’’ Mr. Flaherty told reporters after releasing the new forecasts.
Doesn't seem like he can be having it both ways.

Thought those positions were all worth putting together. Some economic food for thought today.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan earthquake appeal

The Humanitarian Coalition is putting out a call for Canadians to support the relief efforts in Japan.
As you already know, an earthquake of epic proportions struck Japan on Friday and triggered a tsunami causing widespread destruction and death. Dozens of aftershocks continue to rock the nation as hundreds of thousands of people sleep outside for fear of more tremors to come.

Tens of thousands of surviving children and families are at risk after their homes have been flattened leaving them without access to food, clean water and medical care.

HUMANITARIAN COALITION members are providing our Japanese partners with immediate support and are working in coordination with Japanese authorities to help affected children and their families.

The Japanese government and on-the-ground aid agencies have swiftly and capably begun emergency relief efforts. However, as with any catastrophe, the support and presence of the HUMANITARIAN COALITION members will greatly improve their ability to aid those in need.
 You can donate here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday night

I go with Lykke Li to can listen to her new album on SoundCloud.

A review of Wounded Rhymes from Rolling Stone:
Ever since Abba went global, Sweden has been a pop paradise, a factory of mathematically perfect hooks. Lykke Li is a different kind of Swedish wunderkind: an ingenious oddball. Her second album is a weird-pop gem — torchy love songs that nod to Sixties hits but are stretched into all kinds of shapes. Li dips into garage rock and wintry folk, but her guiding spirit seems to be Phil Spector, and she laces the music with booming percussion and girl-group-style romantic melodrama. Li is no revivalist. "I Follow Rivers" places her neo-Shangri-Las sentiments ("He the rebel/I'm the daughter") against an eerie swirl of synths, reverb-swathed guitars and pinging electronic percussion. As for all the catchy tunes: That's just a Swede, exercising her birthright.
Here's to the ingenious oddballs!

Also, a new one from The Kills. Free download at their site.

Have a good night.

A happy coincidence

Lilley writes a column for Friday: "We can't even kick out the terrorists." On border security and with the MV Sun Sea, the human smuggling ship and event from this past summer figuring prominently.

The Conservative Party of Canada launches a negative ad scheduled to start running this weekend on human smuggling and border security. The MV Sun Sea ship figures prominently.

Happy synergies.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Your daily "in & out": don't forget the hoosegow

Yes, the Globe's editorial on the in and out scandal yesterday was subpar:
Re Electoral Regime Change (March 9): Your editorial utterly plays down the seriousness of the charges facing senior Conservatives.

In 2008, the RCMP raided Conservative headquarters to find a paper trail of evidence for these suspected transgressions. The Conservatives’ former campaign manager, Doug Finley, and chief fundraiser, Irving Gerstein – both of whom are now senators – as well as the party’s former executive director and chief financial officer face serious charges under the Canada Elections Act involving potential jail time. The Conservative Party and the Conservative Fund were also charged with two counts each, and face up to $100,000 in potential fines.

The charges allege that the Conservatives “willfully” incurred election expenses that exceed their maximum limits, and further charges allege that they provided election returns that “contained materially false or misleading statements.”

Carolyn Bennett, MP, Liberal democratic renewal critic, Ottawa
Today, on the other hand, in response to the contempt rulings by the Speaker, they're better: "A government in contempt, no doubt."

Corporate tax cut issue getting worse for Conservatives

For at least the second time in the last month or so, a poll has come in showing that the public is agreeing with the view that corporate tax cuts should be put to a halt.
But even the Liberals can take heart that their demand the government back away from $6 billion in corporate tax cuts finds strong backing, with 59 per cent in favour.

Perhaps surprisingly, 59 per cent also want the government to raise the corporate tax rate.
Yes, another poll. It is worth taking note of it because it is similar in result to one at the end of January where half the respondents supported the opposition position on the question of further corporate tax cuts. For what it's worth, even in the U.S. last week there was a favourable response to the prospect of tax increases to remedy state budget deficits when faced with choices like cutting state employee benefits, roads, etc. Who would guess you'd get a result like that in the U.S. these days where we assume Republican anti-tax mantras are like gospel. When choices are put to people, clearly, it helps the argument.

In addition to the public gut feeling that appears to be there on the issue, we also have democratic aspects of the issue to factor in now too. Recall this from February 9th: "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." And now we have yesterday's Speaker ruling on the Brison motion, ruling a prima facie breach of privilege on the government's refusal to provide documents on the cost of the corporate tax cuts.

For these reasons it's a little puzzling to be seeing columns like this one from yesterday that still paint the issue as dire for Liberals: "Liberal plan for tax hike a tough sell." The circumstances are suggesting that people shouldn't be cowed by Conservative websites, talking points and the many corporate allies populating the op-ed pages these days. There's a good argument to be made here and the contempt argument bolsters it. 

Late night Harperland


There was more reporting earlier tonight on the "Harper Government" phenomenon that underscores how that usage is particular to this government despite the typical bleating that everybody does it.
Days of digging by Conservative researchers have turned up just three examples of the former Liberal government calling itself by the name of the sitting prime minister in the same fashion as the current "Harper Government" branding exercise.

That contrasts with literally hundreds of "Harper Government" headlines splashed across Government of Canada web sites over the past four months.
All communications pass through the PCO before being released and sources say the changes to the releases are being made there before being sent back to departments and even arms-length government agencies. Some departments have refused to accept the alterations, and at least one agency scrubbed the "Harper Government" moniker after senior management discovered it on the agency website.
Clearly, these people are in a league of their own. Big score on Reddit today, by the way.

Update: Also from that report above, note this: "Civil servants in at least six departments now say the naming policy comes from "the Centre" — meaning the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office." That's up from four departments in previous reporting.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Harper Government breach of privilege extravaganza

Busy day of contempt rulings by the Speaker and the above ad just making the rounds seems quite appropriate.
The government is in breach of privilege for not turning over detailed cost estimates for its anti-crime agenda, and one of its ministers may have misled MPs, House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken said Wednesday in a ruling that reasserted Parliament's authority.

Milliken ruled there was a "prima facie breach of privilege," in other words, enough evidence to send the two separate motions back to MPs to decide the next step in complaints the government is refusing to give financial information to the House and that International Cooperation Minister Bev Oda may have misled a Commons committee.
The Oda matter, if it blossoms into a contempt finding, is significant and it seems inconceivable that Harper will let this situation develop: 
If Oda is found guilty, said Franks, she could be incarcerated until the end of the session of Parliament or her seat -- she represents the Ontario riding of Durham -- could be declared vacant, although she would still be eligible to hold a cabinet post.
The last time a person was sentenced for being found in contempt of Parliament was almost 100 years ago. In 1913, Montreal businessman R.C. Miller was jailed for four months for refusing to attend a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee.
If found in contempt of Parliament, Oda would be the first sitting cabinet minister ruled in breach of parliamentary privilege.
 Some timing considerations:
Liberal MP Scott Brison agreed to take the Speaker’s ruling to committee for consideration. But his motion directed MPs to bring back their final recommendation to the House on Monday March 21, the day before the Conservatives bring down the budget.

The deadline ensures that the third week of March will be singularly tumultuous, and may well lead to the minority government's fall -- if not on the question of the budget, then on the question of contempt.
Combine these two privilege rulings, which are now starting to eat up news coverage, with the "in and out" motion passed yesterday and the narrative is moving away from and out of the control of the government's hands. All indications have been that Harper and his public relations firm of a government have been moving along toward an election, with their raft of economic action plan ads, their announcement tours across the country, attack ads, etc. That apple cart is being upset. At least in so far as the Harper script that has been written for an election. So it might very well be decision time for Mr. Harper. Is he a guy who likes for things to be out of his control? No. And whether we have an election or not has always been in his control.

The "in & out" House of Commons motion passes

The following motion on the Conservative "in and out" election scheme of 2006 passed in the House of Commons last night by a vote of 152-139:
That, in the opinion of the House, the Conservative Party of Canada's "in and out" electoral financing scheme was an act of electoral fraud and represents an assault on the democratic principles upon which Parliament and our electoral system are based, and that, further, the House calls upon the Prime Minister to: (a) order the immediate repayment of any and all illegally obtained electoral rebates that were paid out to candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada as a result of the "in and out" fraud; and (b) remove all individuals facing charges for this fraud from any position of responsibility within Government or the Conservative Party of Canada.
That is an important marker as an election becomes a distinct possibility, as a defining expression of the scandal by a majority of the House of Commons. It also calls upon the Prime Minister to do two things. Setting up the virtual certainty that he will not do those two things and so, once again, will ignore the majority will of the House of Commons.

There is some reaction to this motion.

It looks like even the very Conservative friendly Globe gets its seriousness. Well, a little bit anyway:
Mr. Harper should ensure the Conservative Party show [sic] good faith by acknowledging its too-clever-by-half mistake, reimbursing the public purse with the amount by which it overspent, and putting the in-and-out controversy to rest six years after the election in question.
The in-and-out affair should, however, be taken seriously. Twisting words out of their natural meaning to evade what is now the law of the land cannot be overlooked or excused.
So there's a well-timed vote from a Conservative friendly corner for paying back the overspent 2006 election funds. Setting aside the Globe's effort to play down the in & out scandal as a confidence measure, to distance Mr. Harper from in & out (he is steeped in election spending limits knowledge, should not have happened under his watch) and to change the channel to revising election laws. Beyond all that apologetic cover, buried in the middle, there was the one point above worth noting. They seem to be saying the jig is up, give it a rest and admit your wrong. (There are substantial taxpayer funded legal and investigative fees that have been incurred on this too by the way, here's an end of 2008 report in need of an update.)

Chantal Hebert comments on the motion's significance today too:
On paper, it is an issue whose narrative thread may have been lost by many voters along the way. The battle between the ruling party and Elections Canada is already five years old. A few years ago, it featured an unprecedented police raid on Conservative headquarters. Now it is slowly unfolding before the courts. Recently, charges were laid against a handful of senior party officials, including two senators.

But the motion serves a larger purpose. It is designed to start driving a stake through the heart of the minority Parliament ahead of the budget.
We'll see what happens in coming days, with the Speaker rulings to come (Oda, withholding of  information on crime bill costs) and the budget, but these views do turn up the heat on this Conservative scandal.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Right wing advocates clawing at the Canada Health Act

"Give the Canada Health Act a Sunset Clause."
Canadians would be better served if the CHA were automatically scheduled for review every five years. Such "sunset clauses" are in fact quite common; for instance, Ottawa's laws on financial regulation -such as those in the Bank Act -require review every five years. The goal is to prompt serious rethinking, so that legislation does not become stale or ineffective. Stakeholders are forced to reflect on progress, failures, and potential threats, and revise the legislation accordingly.
Yep, let it become subject to expiry every five years. Brilliant stuff that I'm sure Mr. Harper would be happy to take a look at.
In 1999, a right-wing doctor, David Gratzer, wrote a book, Code Blue, that tore apart medicare, suggesting it should be replaced by U.S.-style private medicine and medical savings accounts. Dr. Gratzer now advises Republicans on health care.

Commenting on the book, Mr. Harper said: “Gratzer proposes a workable solution for the biggest policy problem of the coming generation – government-controlled health-care monopoly. Canada needs Gratzer’s solution.” Mr. Harper’s praise appeared on the cover jacket of Code Blue.
This is why I read the Sixth Estate blog and so should you.

A tale of two headlines

For the identical story, these two headlines appear today.

Globe: "Tories sidestep semantic row over use of ‘Harper Government’ on federal documents." Makes the story sound as if the government has successfully sidestepped this one, the issue is over.

Canadian Press online: "No 'formal directive' on use of 'Harper Government,' just direction, says PCO." Makes the story sound as if there was a direction to use the term, it's not over.

Here's the story which actually does better line up with the second headline:
There may have been no "formal directive" to brand Canada's government as the "Harper Government," but that doesn't mean the instructions didn't come from the top, says a spokesman for the Privy Council Office.

The bureaucratic nerve centre of the federal government was left to clear the air Monday amid furious denials from Conservatives that civil servants have been told to replace the words "Government of Canada" with "Harper Government" in some communications.

"The distinction that needs to be made here is the word 'directive' — a directive, as opposed to, you know, in a particular case departments may have used the words 'Harper Government,'" said Raymond Rivet, a PCO spokesman.

Told there were almost 300 "Harper Government" references on various federal web sites in the past month alone, Rivet acknowledged the role of the Prime Minister's Office in co-ordinating messaging.

Civil servants from four departments told The Canadian Press last week they've recently been instructed to use the new terminology.

"If a department has told you they've got direction from 'the Centre' to use a message or certain wording or do something, I mean, that would be normal, would it not?" Rivet said.

"Part of the role of PCO and PMO in the communications sphere is to co-ordinate government communications, so I imagine they get direction on a variety of things. So that's not in opposition to somebody telling you that there's no formal directive."
The PCO official is backing up the departments who said they received the instruction by saying that would make sense, that it would be normal for such directions to come from "the Centre." That does not sound like a "sidestepping" from here. So the PMO spin, also cited in the report, to the effect that there is no formal written directive is not sufficient answer. That's the upshot of it.

Fun exercise in headline watching though.

International Women's Day 2011

I would add a Canadian government video but, well, you know how it is these days.

TGB has a good one too.

Wherever you are go girls!

Monday, March 07, 2011

In & out scandal: Getting a leg up to the tune of $800,000

In addition to the four senior Conservative party officials facing Elections Act charges for the in and out scandal, including two Conservative Senators, and the overspending by the national party in the 2006 election of $1.3 million...there's another aspect of this scandal that is now getting some attention: "In-and-out worth $100,000 in payouts."

The Conservatives claimed, in total, $800,000 from the taxpayers as reimbursements on the shifting dollars down from the national party to the 67 local candidates who participated in the in and out scheme. Of this $800,000, that they're still fighting for, the above CBC report notes that $100,000 went out the door to some of the Conservative ridings before the in and out scheme was discovered by Elections Canada.

What is the significance of all this? It means that a cash poor Conservative riding in 2006 who received money from the national party in the in and out scheme, just for a few hours one afternoon and that had nothing to do with the local campaign, claimed a rebate on that money from the Canadian taxpayer.

In dollars, let's take a hypothetical. Say a local candidate, "Conservative Steven" raised just $25,000 in their riding for a local campaign in 2006. And spent just that amount on local expenses. Then say the national party dumped in $40,000 through the in and out transfer to the local riding. The $40,000 sat in the local account for just a few hours. Or maybe a day. Then it was transferred back up to the national level in the form of purchasing national ads. Local "Conservative Steven" nevertheless now claims from the taxpayer a 60% refund not on the $25,000 that was truly raised by him at the local level for their local campaign. Local "Conservative Steven" now claims from the taxpayer a 60% refund on $65,000. Meaning that instead of receiving the proper refund of $15,000, the Conservative candidate now gets $39,000 from the taxpayers. All because the national party transferred moneys in and out for a few hours one afternoon.

That was part of the scheme. All the better to advantage Conservative candidates in traditionally Conservative poor ridings for the 2008 election.

And that is a key insight as to how the Conservatives view the taxpayers of Canada. Getting a leg up for their electoral fortunes...on our backs.

Elsewhere on this theme today, see this Globe piece, putting the recent taxpayer funded Economic Action Plan advertising at $20 million.