Monday, October 31, 2011

Strange Cain again

Oh, Herman. This is the kind of thing that gives politicians a bad name. Both the substance of the allegations and the developing spin of it.

He's not such an outsider after all, it appears. He's a pro. And he's been around for a long time.


Privacy alarm bell tolls for thee, Harper government

On the heels of the statement from the Canadian Privacy Commissioner last week, the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario adds her voice to the chorus warning of the dangers of the Harper government's coming lawful access legislation:
...we must be extremely careful not to allow the admitted investigative needs of police forces to interfere with or violate our constitutional right to be secure from unreasonable state surveillance. The proposed surveillance powers come at the expense of the necessary privacy safeguards guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The federal government must be persuaded to acknowledge the sensitivity of traffic data, stored data and tracking data, and strongly urged to re-draft the bills. For a start, the proposal for warrantless access to subscriber information is untenable and should be withdrawn. If special access to subscriber information is considered to be absolutely necessary, it must take place under a court-supervised regime.

The government needs to step back and consider all of these implications. A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis should precede the entrenchment of so many significant public policy decisions. Public Parliamentary hearings must also be scheduled to ensure that civil society, as well as the telecom industry, has a full opportunity to provide input.

Canadians must press the federal government to publicly commit to enacting much-needed oversight legislation in tandem with any expansive surveillance measures. Intrusive proposals require, at the very least, matching legislative safeguards. The courts, affected individuals, future Parliaments and the public must be well informed about the scope, effectiveness and damaging negative effects of such intrusive powers.

We can, and must, have both greater security and privacy, in unison. It cannot be one at the expense of the other. The true value of privacy must be recognized in any effort to modernize law enforcement powers. Imposing a mandatory surveillance regime on the public and its telecom service providers must not go forward without strong safeguards to protect the future of our fundamental freedoms. (emphasis added)
Unlike the other major legislative initiatives this fall, there is time to have public hearings, as suggested. There is no rush for such legislation. Maybe the fact that the government has separated out the lawful access legislation from the omnibus crime bill is an indication that there will be time given to looking at this in detail.

It is very unusual to have someone like the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario issuing such a stark warning. Let's hope that on this occasion, the government is listening to these experts in the field.

As I drink from my glass half full here at my desk.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Why Our Candidates Disappoint Us

Drew Westen's latest in the New York Times today on the flaws of the American presidential candidates at the moment:
Those weaknesses seem to be on display today, as voters face the possibility that their choice next November may be between the quintessential “corporation man” in Mitt Romney, a character straight off the set of “Mad Men” but seemingly without the character development, and the intellectualized undecider in Barack Obama, who couldn’t seem to feel, until recently, the “fierce urgency of now” for people desperate for a job or crushed by a mortgage.
THE ability to “read” the emotions of the electorate and to speak to those emotions in a compelling way do more for both electoral success and legislative success than I.Q. Similarly important is the ability to articulate a vision and a set of values, which is a far better predictor of voting behavior than positions on “the issues.”

This is something Republicans understand far better than Democrats, and something Ronald Reagan mastered. George W. Bush’s success in moving both his domestic and foreign policy agendas reflected his ability to spell out his values. Americans prefer candidates who share their values, but they are least inclined to vote for someone who hides them.

Mitt Romney’s difficulty in breaking 25 percent in the polls among Republican primary voters, despite his likelihood of being the Republican nominee, reflects more than anything the fact that voters have no idea what he really believes — a problem that dogged John McCain in 2008.

Republicans are right about another quality that distinguishes effective leaders from ineffective ones: experience. Republicans are fond of pointing out the advantages of having run a business or a state before becoming C.E.O. of the world’s largest economy (although, of course, that argument helps candidates friendly to their free-market philosophy). Obama was the first sitting senator to win the presidency since John F. Kennedy, in 1960, and perhaps the least experienced person ever to occupy the Oval Office. (Bill Clinton, by contrast, who was a year younger than Obama at the time he was elected, was the nation’s longest-serving governor.)

Perhaps the American people are on to something.
With some universal applicability, of course. The whole thing is worth a read and will provide more of an answer to the blog post title, the reason for the disappointment. Essentially, it's that both parties in the U.S. are lacking in some way in their approaches to authority (for Republicans they defer to it too much and as a group are imploding while Democrats are less cohesive and prone to be off message) and intellect (for Republicans a disqualifier if too much, for Democrats it's overvalued). Then see above in terms of how that's playing out with Obama and Romney.

If you want to apply any of this in Canada and to Harper, for example, you certainly can. He's smart but he offsets it by playing up his role as Mr. Hockey and Mr. Tim Hortons. Whether he has to do that in Canada is a debatable question but it's hard to say it hasn't worked for him to date. He doesn't have the emotional connection to voters, similar to Obama's deficiency, but he pushes hard in other ways (advertising, photo ops, government levers) to make sure the electorate knows what his (and his party's) values are, i.e., tough on crime, patriotic, prudent fiscal manager, etc. Then there is the Harper approach to authority which would mirror the Republican approach. There's too much deference to it and value placed upon it within the Conservative party, possibly their weakest link in this form of analysis.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday night

Love it but can do without the last minute or so. That part is too poseur-ish. We get it, you're a guitar band, just wrap it up a little sooner, thanks! Woot.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday night

Oh so predictable around here. I will lay off the Kaskade in a while but he had a new record out this week, it's hard to resist. I enjoy music creators who produce year round. Truly amazing and why it's easy to gravitate to house music in particular.

Have a good night!

Wheat Board rally

A show of support for the Wheat Board in Winnipeg today as farmers rallied. Go farmers!

A comedic comment on the issue:

A smart young farmer who supports the CWB:

The full-time MP of Parkdale-High Park

Looking forward to the many hours of full-time MPing to come while she's out there on the leadership trail.

Hey, I don't set the standards. Peggy does.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Renewal: More coalition building

Maybe it's time to do a Liberal renewal post what with all the musings about the death of the party, debates over retaining centrism or not, etc. I prefer to put all that stuff aside to begin with though. This post is not about cross party coalition building as the blog post title might suggest. It's about something different. It's on a more basic electoral question of how we get members elected and I think the Ontario election is an instructive lead in to the discussion. 

If you followed the Ontario election you saw that there was clearly a big difference in terms of the political landscape for Liberals as compared to the federal campaign. In Ontario, there were groups who aligned themselves with the Ontario Liberals either overtly or implicitly because they saw the Liberals as the best governmental option that would enact policies that were to their constituency's benefit. Among those groups, there were these ones, for example:

The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association. They ran ads in support of a green energy economy. The Liberals, with the Green Energy Act, were the party they saw as their best ally. ("The Ontario Sustainable Energy Association is a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and enabling the people of Ontario to improve the environment, the economy and their health by producing clean, sustainable energy in their homes, business and communities.")

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association who ran the Speak for Children campaign : "This campaign is dedicated to ensuring a factual, positive discussion on the state of our publicly funded education system today and the progress that has been made over the past eight years." Here's a video that gives a sense of what they did:

See also Ken Lewenza and the CAW influence he brought to bear on the campaign as he attended numerous events with Dalton McGuinty. ("Lewenza told reporters the CAW would endorse New Democrats in the 10 NDP-held seats in the 107-member Legislature and Liberals in ridings where the Progressive Conservatives have a chance of winning.")

Just a few examples but prominent ones. Now think back to the federal election. Who was with federal Liberals? We might have been endorsed by groups on policies here and there. But who brought muscle to the campaign for us? Who brought money to the effort? What the question really boils down to is this: Who was in our electoral coalition? The contrast between the provincial party and the federal one is clear.

It's easier for a government, particularly a majority government with an eight year track record to produce results that they can point to and develop relationships with stakeholders and constituencies who will provide support, no question. But at the federal level, there didn't seem to be much of an emphasis on such relationship building. At least, you didn't get that sense publicly. And really, this is the type of thing that needs to be done over years, not just the months surrounding a campaign. Relationship building with formal interest groups but also undertaken with broader constituencies as well.

As we lead up to the Biennial Convention in January, what I'm saying here, if you agree with it at all, might have some relevance to that event. Policies are on the agenda. But they are really only part of the puzzle. They're one part that needs to be connected to something bigger, i.e., an overarching electoral strategy. That strategy involves knowing the big things we stand for and making sure the public knows that too. It involves having a sense of who is with us or who can possibly be with us. It involves what policies we enact in conjunction with knowing those things.

It's not to say you only choose policies that are driven by coalition politics. But that it should be more of a consideration. Further, you certainly should be aware of how your policy choices could hurt you with some constituencies. And of course, for many issues, you have to take positions irrespective of possible constituencies because it's the right thing to do.

Someone suggested to me the following visual that might help clarify what the point is here. Picture a wheel with a hub and spokes leading out to a rim that turns. The hub is the core of what the party stands for. (I may have a few blog posts on that to come and I'm sure many others out there have been turning their mind to that question as well. Some think we know it already, no problem. Irrespective of what Liberals may believe, it's not clear that the public knows or that it connects with them anymore.) The spokes are the policies that flow from the hub. Out on the rim as the policies and values come to life and the wheel starts to turn, there's a symbiotic relationship that develops between the party and those compelled to support the goals. Just a visual, but I think it's helpful in drawing the picture out a bit more. 

If you look at the Conservatives in particular, you can fill out the visual of their wheel pretty handily. Indeed, if you read the government announcements on any given day, you can see the elements of their coalition being stoked (from this past weekend for e.g., see this and this from among the many items that belong to the political strategy that unfolds right in front of you). With the NDP, there are a few things in place but their wheel is not as complete as the Conservative wheel.

This is just one way of looking at the complexity of rebuilding. A new leader, building the membership, strong riding associations,'s all part of the process. But if you look at electoral politics in more of a coalition sense, those tasks all take on a slightly new look as well. A new electoral coalition for Liberals may be something that needs to figure more prominently in our thinking.

[Related reading: "Is there a viable progressive politics that doesn’t hinge on a strong labor movement?"]

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Saturday night

Missed last night with the music, so here it is. This week Skylar Grey's Invisible seems very appropriate. Be kind to the people in your life.

Have a good night!

Harper government lets the ozone scientist speak

"Scientist surfaces to praise ozone monitoring amidst federal review." But he doesn't speak without buddies on hand! This is a truly memorable picture painted in this report:
A senior Environment Canada scientist whose job may be eliminated through budget cuts has highlighted the importance of maintaining the country's world-leading atmospheric monitoring network after new research showed a record hole in the planet's ozone layer above the Arctic.

David Tarasick was among four Canadian authors of the international study, published Oct. 2 in the British scientific journal Nature, that reported on the hole — twice the size of Ontario — in the ozone layer that protects life on Earth from the sun's harmful radiation.

Until now, the Conservative government, facing criticism about its decision to review resources in the monitoring network, has prevented Tarasick from speaking publicly about the research.

"We've been doing this (for) about 45 years now," Tarasick said in a telephone interview supervised by Environment Canada officials. "The Canadian stations have been the backbone of the global network (of monitoring) ever since we started measuring ozone."
But Tarasick explained that the monitoring network already has "limited resources" for maintaining the existing quality of data collected and used in the recent Nature study.

"If the taxpayer in his infinite wisdom were to give me 10 times the budget I have now, I think I could use all that money quite usefully and do good science with it," Tarasick said. "I don't think we're wasting a penny . . . Could we get by on less money? Well, we could do less with less money. We could do more with more money."

Tarasick also indicated that the warning about his job was not rescinded and lightheartedly said that it was increasing his "stress level."
Before the interview started, Environment Canada tried to limit the interview topics, telling Postmedia News Tarasick would not answer questions about potential cuts to the ozone monitoring network. A spokeswoman intervened when Tarasick was asked about the government's efforts to keep him from speaking when the Nature study was published at the beginning of October.

"David is here and available to speak to you now, so I think that's kind of a moot point," said Renee David, the manager of media relations at Environment Canada.

But Tarasick proceeded to answer the question.

"Well I'm available when media relations says I'm available," he said. "I have to go through them."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government introduced new rules to control interviews with journalists by Environment Canada scientists in 2007, resulting in an 80 per cent drop in media coverage of climate change science, according to an internal analysis that was released in 2010.
There you have it in a nutshell, they can't have the scientists speaking because it will lead to more coverage of one of the great issues of our day. And despite their meddling efforts to prevent his response on the government's proposed cuts to the ozone network, he confirmed the difficulty they'll have with less money.

Sounds very much like a key scientist doing instrumental work that should not be under threat of job loss, particularly when his recent work has led to this world leading research that is of health consequence to us all. We are committing billions upon billions for military hardware. Yet vital environmental infrastructure is facing the axe. The priorities of this government are shown to be woefully off once again.

Friday, October 21, 2011

On bullying

From a retired teacher via email:
The tragic suicide of the 15-year old gay Ottawa teen has sparked renewed attention to bullying. It was big on CNN’s Anderson Cooper recently. And it’s not just a gay-straight thing.

Bullying has always been around. The big tough guy pushing smaller kids around. It’s "power". But at least it was visible.

But the Internet allows anonymity. So they think. A forensic analysis of the kid’s computer can reveal the sources of the bullying. There should be a legal way to search out and severely punish perpetrators. Even if they’re "minors" under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Exposing the perpetrators is one major deterrent. Denial of access to the Internet should be part of the punishment.

But, of greater concern is the often vicious attacks on homosexuality by certain religious groups who view it as not just a "sin" but should be driven out of existence. This seems to encourage the tactics of the bullies.

Our politicians who "bully opposing parties" in election campaigns is another concern. Remember the attacks on that proposed NDP-Liberal-BQ coalition attempt? Entirely legal within our constitutional framework but ignorance and paranoia prevailed. Dion and Ignatieff were both bullied into submission.

Media bullying, the Sun news chain in particular. Especially Sue-Ann Levy who not only disagrees but stoops to petty name-calling.

So teens have many examples to draw from.

Late night

Interesting things happening in drought stricken Texas these days:
It was a very bad afternoon rush hour yesterday in the Texas Panhandle. A powerful cold front pushed through the state during the afternoon, and damaging north winds behind the front whipped up a dangerous dust storm that cut visibility to near-zero during the afternoon rush hour. Lubbock recorded sustained winds of 48 mph, gusting to 63 mph, with a visibility of 0.2 miles in heavy dust at 5:36 pm CDT. The dust storm was reminiscent of the great dust storms of the 1930s dust bowl era, and was due to the ongoing exceptional drought. Unfortunately, the front brought no rain to the area, and Lubbock has received just 3.16" of rain so far in 2011--more than 13.50" below average. In his Climate Abyss blog, Texas's state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, gives a 25% that the current drought will last five more years. He has an interesting post on how global warming may have affected the drought. He concludes:

Precipitation: The balance of evidence does not support the assertion that the rainfall deficit since October 2010 was made larger or more likely by global warming.

Temperature: Compared to long-term averages of summer temperature, the rainfall deficit accounted for about 4°F of excess heat and global warming accounted for about 1°F of excess heat. Warmer temperatures lead to greater water demand, faster evaporation, and greater drying-out of potential fuels for fire. Thus, the impacts of the drought were enhanced by global warming, much of which has been caused by man.
P.S. In Canada, that state climatologist guy wouldn't be allowed to have a blog or talk to the media. Progressive nation that we are.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lakoff on OWS

This column is about OWS but like most of his writings, it's highly translatable:
I think it is a good thing that the occupation movement is not making specific policy demands. If it did, the movement would become about those demands. If the demands were not met, the movement would be seen as having failed.

It seems to me that the OWS movement is moral in nature, that occupiers want the country to change its moral focus. It is easy to find useful policies; hundreds have been suggested. It is harder to find a moral focus and stick to it. If the movement is to frame itself, it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands. If the moral focus of America changes, new people will be elected and the policies will follow. Without a change of moral focus, the conservative worldview that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous moment will continue to prevail.(emphasis added)
Good advice for a movement or even a political party.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Wheat Board sandwich week

It's been a big week of announcements from the Harper government. Much rolled out, almost hard to keep up with. It's worth paying attention to the smorgasbord to detect what it is that they likely feel they're vulnerable on.

We had the Supreme Court justice appointment announcements on Monday. Fairly well received except for some legitimate criticism of the selection process and the opposition in Quebec over Moldaver's lack of bilingualism.

We also had news of the new House of Commons seat allocations that would be coming. That word came mid-day on Tuesday. What the exact numbers will be, we don't know. But that's a big issue for Ontario, B.C., Alberta, Quebec. (Tangential pet peeve of the week: Harper is not giving out seats. They're not his to give. Please stop saying that.)

Also dropping on Tuesday, Gerry Ritz's news that the Wheat Board would be axed. Not well received on the whole. Charges of selling out to the Americans, getting nothing in return for a major trade concession. The Conservatives are vulnerable on being portrayed as destroying a venerable, valuable Canadian institution. One that farmers did vote to keep. One that the Conservatives are facing a legal challenge over.

Today? Full steam ahead. Onwards to a massive, history making $35 billion shipbuilding contract distribution. Very carefully stage managed. It appears that it has been handled cleanly, in an independent manner, on its face. Competitive bids on a major contract, what a concept. $25 billion to Halifax's Irving Shipbuilding. $8 billion to Vancouver's Seaspan Marine. Smiles all around from the NDP premier in Nova Scotia, workers cheering, the Liberal premier in B.C. equally happy (see screen shots of videos at CBC link). Conservatives as national symbol destroyers? Nah, they're builders and in a big way.

Oh, and the long gun registry repeal is in the offing. To be confirmed tomorrow as this hurly burly week of political announcements continues. Just in case there's not enough going on.

Wheat Board...what Wheat Board?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Green energy costs in the news again

Update below.

I don't have much time at the moment to pursue the study referenced here re Ontario's electricity costs as related to the province's green energy emphasis: "Cost of green energy 40 per cent higher than government estimates: study." However, one of the authors of the study, retired banker Parker Gallant, has been published quite frequently at the Financial Post site and seems to be an ongoing critic of the McGuinty government's energy policies. I would like to read this one at the FP site, for example, "Ontario's power trip: Priced out of the market" but it's no longer available there. There, in the blurb that is available, Gallant seems to think Ontario's power market should be comparably priced to Quebec's and Manitoba's: "Electricity is already priced 65% higher in Ontario when measured against neighbouring Quebec and Manitoba, and the gap is likely to get bigger." Both of those provinces get almost 100% of their power from hydro. Geography can be everything sometimes. Ontario is much more complex as an energy jurisdiction so why people continue to romanticize those provinces compared to ours...I really don't see the comparison as being apt. The NDP did this in the election as well in their platform.

Anyway, I don't think it's a stretch to say that energy prices are a sensitivity in Ontario and the McGuinty government is quite aware of that! Hence the 10% reduction on our hydro bills. I doubt this sensitivity will be going away any time soon...

Update (8:15 p.m.): I am informed by BCL that these guys, Fox & Gallant, authors of the study that is the subject of the CP story linked to above are both associated with Energy Probe and Lawrence Solomon, i.e., not the most independent sources on energy and environmental issues and of a right wing bent. The study should therefore be read with that in mind.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tom the Bomb

Shorter NDP race thus far by Don Macpherson:
Brian Topp has acted as though he is afraid to run against Thomas Mulcair. And with nearly six months to go until the party's members elect their next leader, Mulcair has already been making excuses for losing to Topp.
Good column on the Topp-Mulcair dance. Neither dance partner wants to lead yet.

Also coins Tom the Bomb. Now that is fun.

Update (6:30 p.m.): Saw my good friend Ricky at the Prog Blog event. We had a bit more fun on the Tom the Bomb front. Woot.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday night

One I listened to quite a bit this week, great piano in it. Sorry, can't find it anywhere else but on YouTube so you have to look at Sander van Doorn! Or just listen.

Have a good night.

Seat allocation is only as hard as you want it to be

Updated (Sat. a.m.) below.

If what Ibbitson is saying today is correct, that federal seat reallocation legislation is going to be too late to add new seats by the time of the 2015 election, that will be a major failing on the part of the Harper government. It's been clearly identified that there are provinces that are underrepresented in the Commons: Alberta, B.C., Ontario. If they fail, with a majority government, to add those seats and simultaneously deal with the concerns of Quebec, they'll have shown that they sure can wheel out those nifty War of 1812 apps but when it comes to the basic questions of representative governance, they're checking out. They're not up to the job.

Based on Ibbitson's slant, the government is apparently willing to blame the difficulty of addressing the Quebec factor in the seat allocation as the cause for delay in bringing the legislation forth. Looks like blame Quebec will be their answer to the other provinces on why it couldn't be done for 2015. It appears that Mr. Harper would rather divide the nation than lead.

If he needs a solution, that Mowat Centre report that Ibbitson mentions might be the way to go. Or, Bob Rae was talking about a solution in the summer which didn't get a lot of attention given that it was the summer, etc. If people want to get this done, they can be creative and do it.

What a failure this will be if they don't get it done for 2015.

Update (Sat. a.m.): Le Devoir followed up on the Globe piece and has this in their Saturday report: "Un article du Globe and Mail rapportait hier que le gouvernement, inquiet de la réaction de la province quant au retour de son initiative, songeait désormais à retarder le dépôt de son projet de loi. Mais aux bureaux de M. Van Loan et de M. Uppal, on a soutenu que le plan de match n'avait pas changé." Meaning that the Conservative plan, as announced by Van Loan in September, to pass this legislation by Christmas has not changed, according to Van Loan & Uppal's offices on Friday. So if the legislation passes before the end of the year, as the session ends, that would mean the new seats would be created in time for 2015. Maybe whoever was talking to Ibbitson was floating a trial balloon on delaying the law and they saw that it was going over like the lead balloon it was.

Also from Le Devoir's report, Harper confirmed at an event yesterday in Peterborough that they are indeed considering more seats for Quebec.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Things you can still do with your Blackberry

Do tax cuts pay for themselves?

Since this is an argument commonly made by conservatives, that tax cuts will spur economic growth and therefore pay for themselves, it's always worth noting a recent look at the issue. Simon Johnson, former chief IMF economist, reviews a few studies in a New York Times column today and provides an answer:
Can tax cuts “pay for themselves,” inducing so much additional economic growth that government revenue actually increases, rather than decreases? The evidence clearly says no.

Nevertheless, a version of this idea, under the guise of “dynamic scoring,” has apparently surfaced in the supercommittee charged with deficit reduction — the joint Congressional committee with 12 members. Dynamic scoring sounds technical or perhaps even scientific, but here the argument means simply that any pro-growth effect of tax cuts should be stressed when assessing potential policy changes (e.g., reforming the tax code). For anyone seriously concerned with fiscal responsibility, this is a dangerous notion.
He cites two studies, one co-authored by Professor Gregory Mankiw, a former Bush economic adviser which finds:
...the economic growth caused by a tax cut can offset, at best, a portion of the revenues lost by that tax cut.

Specifically, Professors. Mankiw and Weinzierl calculated that 32.4 percent of the “static” or direct revenue loss of a capital-gains tax cut and 14.7 percent of the static revenue loss of a labor tax cut could be offset in present-value terms by additional growth, ignoring short-term Keynesian effects (i.e., any immediate stimulus provided to the economy).

Now 32.4 percent is a lot, but it is far less than 100 percent.
Offset at best a portion of the revenues lost. Further:
More broadly, in 2005, the Congressional Budget Office, then headed by a Republican appointee, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, estimated that the economic effects of a 10 percent cut in income taxes would offset from 1 to 22 percent of the revenue loss in the first five years; in the following five years, the economic effects might offset up to 32 percent of the revenue loss, but might also add 5 percent to the revenue loss.

This is an entirely reasonable assessment — the budget office exists to provide balanced analysis for the budget process. The bottom line is that betting that tax cuts will pay for themselves is a high-risk strategy and not a good idea at our current levels of government debt relative to gross domestic product. We do not have a large margin for error.
Another good resource on this question, Mark Thoma's blog which has dealt with it extensively.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tories heap scorn on PBO, news at 11

You know, originally I thought this was a mole hill being made into a mountain, here's today's escalation: "Tories heap scorn on budget watchdog’s ‘lapse in judgment’." It's a story that's turned into something a little bigger than the facts at issue here.

Kevin Page is clarifying his prospective attendance at that Young Liberal event in B.C.:
Contacted Wednesday, Mr. Page sent The Globe the statement his office issued to organizers Tuesday when he decided he would not attend. The Parliamentary Budget Office, it says, was under the understanding the event would be “open, non-partisan and set up by the University of Vancouver Island.”

“Our subsequent examination has found that this premise is no longer valid and as such the PBO cannot participate in this evening’s presentation,” the statement says. “We regret that this may cause inconvenience for the audience members, for which we apologize to them. Over the last 3½ years, we have been proud to present our work to and collaborate with faculty (and students) at universities across Canada. We do this for both outreach and to ensure scrutiny of the PBO’s work.”

The statement adds that in keeping with PBO policies, Mr. Page’s participation could only take place if the event was “sponsored by the university itself and that there are no fees associated with audience participation.”
The invite from the Vancouver university is here and it demonstrates that the initial approach to the PBO was non-partisan. It was reasonable for him to consider such an invitation given that he is a public servant, after all, and if the young people of Canada want to hear from him, why not? Mr. Flaherty was speaking at a university yesterday, wasn't he? The issue here for the PBO is that the event seems to have been represented to him as non-partisan when that was not entirely the case. It was a Young Liberal event that was open to the public. So perhaps the PBO should have cross-examined the inviters to a greater extent. But we are talking about a university engagement, let's keep in mind. This wasn't a group of oil industry lobbyists after all that were after him to speak.

What are we to make of the Conservatives jumping all over this? This is a majority government. It's not like they are in the electoral jeopardy and need to elbow for partisan advantage. They don't seem to have made the transition quite completely yet is one conclusion.

It might have something to do with fundraising. Getting a little publicity out of the issue, assuring the perpetual Liberal bogeyman is propped up in the form of a supposedly biased budget officer in cahoots with the mighty Young Liberals! It's not as if they needed to go here, there was an analysis recently of PBO predictions versus theirs that they might have been content to sit with.

It also might be that economic woes could hit us much harder and the Harper government may be shoring up its credibility by ensuring the PBO for one is discredited as a partisan leaner when he does weigh in on budgetary issues. Or it could be a coming report on the cost of their crime agenda as mentioned here.

Whatever the case, this is the kind of incident you'd think a confident, mature, adult majority government wouldn't have to indulge in, that they'd restrain themselves from stoking. Like most things in Ottawa these days, this says much more about the governing party and the political climate they want to create.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Another "what's wrong with Canadian politics" post

Another item tonight for consideration: "Kevin Page event raises eyebrows – and sends Liberals scrambling." Quel drama! Yes, Kevin Page the Parliamentary Budget Officer, actually thought it would be a good idea to speak to a group of university students out west. It was an invitation from Young Liberals at Vancouver Island University. Put me down as one who thinks it's good that the PBO would go out and talk to young people who are motivated enough to invite him. NDP party members are quoted in the story as saying they'd be attending as well. Isn't this the kind of thing we should encourage?

To make it a fundraiser for the Young Liberals, probably not a good idea. And they fixed that issue fairly quickly. Fair enough.

But it doesn't appear that Page knew anything about that. He likely viewed it as an opportunity to attend at a university and speak about his office and such matters. To tar him as a partisan shill for this incident seems quite over the top. I mean, really? Kevin Page's judgment is being called into question over a university invite? Please. Let's have a sense of proportion.

Doesn't seem very newsworthy to me. Mole hill not mountain kind of thing instead.

Carry on.

Cuts with consequences

The Harper government's cuts to Environment Canada and their tinkering with our ozone monitoring systems deserve lots of ongoing attention. Note this from Climate Progress Saturday, the giant ozone hole that was detected and reported on recently may have had significant health and food production consequences for Western Europe in particular.
An unprecedented ozone hole opened in the Arctic during 2011, researchers reported this week in the journal Nature. Holes in the Antarctic ozone layer have opened up each spring since the early 1980s, but the Arctic had only shown modest springtime ozone losses in the 5% – 30% range over the past twenty years. But this year, massive ozone destruction of 80% occurred at altitudes of 18 – 20 kilometers in the Arctic during spring, resulting in Earth’s first known case of twin ozone holes, one over each pole. During late March and portions of April, the Arctic ozone hole was positioned over heavily populated areas of Western Europe, allowing large levels of damaging ultraviolet rays to reach the surface. UV-B radiation causes skin damage that can lead to cancer, and has been observed to reduce crop yields in two-thirds of 300 important plant varieties studied (WMO, 2002.) The total loss of ozone in a column from the surface to the top of the atmosphere reached 40% during the peak of this year’s Arctic ozone hole. Since each 1% drop in ozone levels results in about 1% more UV-B reaching Earth’s surface (WMO, 2002), UV-B levels reaching the surface likely increased by 40% at the height of this year’s hole. We know that an 11% increase in UV-B light can cause a 24% decrease in winter wheat yield (Zheng et al., 2003), so this year’s Arctic ozone hole may have caused noticeable reductions in Europe’s winter wheat crop.
We were impacted too although not as much as Europe it seems due to our north being less populated: "The hole covered two million square kilometres — about twice the size of Ontario — and allowed high levels of harmful ultraviolet radiation to hit large swaths of northern Canada, Europe and Russia this spring, the 29 scientists say." Although it's not clear from that statement what "large swaths of northern Canada" would cover. 

Note too the prospect that Europe's wheat crop may have been affected. We, as wheat producers, among other crops, should take note of the connection between such environmental factors and the possible economic losses if our crop growth were to be affected. But for the location of this ozone hole during this past spring, it well might have been and could be in the future. Things an economically minded government might want to consider, as it contemplates rejigging our environmental measurement systems. 

The discovery of that ozone hole was in significant measure due to the existing Canadian systems that the Harper government has in their sights to cut:
“The Canadian stations were an absolutely key element of the network of stations we used to do the study,” says co-author Marcus Rex, of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, in Potsdam, Germany. “Canada is the backbone of that network.” (previous link)
The backbone of the network that is contributing to such significant scientific findings of consequence to human health and food production is something we really should be improving, not tinkering with due to supposed government termed redundancies that scientists say don't exist.

This reporting from the week makes the Harper government's moves look even more questionable and worth pursuing. 

P.S. Re Dawg's post last night on the Environment Canada scientist involved in this study being muzzled, there's something very wrong when our government distrusts a scientist like this, as they appear to do, fearing perhaps that he'll venture away from the science and into a political debate. At least the Bush administration let James Hansen of NASA and other scientists speak with journalists if they had a minder present in the room. The Harper government just doesn't let them speak. Remember the good old days when we used to marvel at such things?


Harper, August 26th:
"We remain the government because we maintain the confidence of the Canadian population. That involves listening to the population and involves listening to the opposition," he said.
Canada Wheat Board plebiscite results, September 12th:
Results of the CWB's plebiscite, released today, show a strong majority of farmers want to maintain their ability to market wheat and barley through a single-desk system. Sixty-two per cent of respondents voted in favour of retaining the single desk for wheat and 51 per cent voted to retain it for barley. A total of 38,261 farmers submitted mail-in ballots in the plebiscite, a participation rate of 56 per cent - on par with the last three federal elections and higher than many municipal and provincial elections.
Harper, October 7th:
"It's time for the wheat board and others who have been standing in the way to realize that this train is barrelling down a Prairie track. You're much better to get on it than to lie on the tracks because this is going ahead.
Any questions?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Channelling disillusionment

A friend sent this along in the past week sometime and its sentiment is good. From Matthew Yglesias, on "Obama and Small Donors" and the larger point, it seems to me, on channelling disillusionment:
Nick Confessore writes that the Obama re-election campaign is having trouble re-igniting enthusiasm amongst the president’s once-formidable base of small donors.

The disillusionment factor here is a clear issue. But it is worth saying that if you have a modest amount of money to spent on American politics, helping to re-elect an incumbent president isn’t a very smart investment. Non-incumbents running in a primary really need small donors. In part that’s because they need money. In part it’s because they need to demonstrate enthusiasm among activists for their campaign to establish themselves as serious contenters. Incumbents presidents running for re-election have plenty of credibility, plenty of name ID, and plenty of fundraising opportunities. So if you gave money to Obama back in 2007 and don’t feel like doing so again in 2011 that seems to me like a sentiment that would make sense no matter how the president was performing.

The important thing to realize is that nothing ever changed for the better in politics by passionate people deciding they wanted to simply become disgruntled, less involved, and less active. You becoming less active is not going to advance any issues you care about. If there are politicians you donated to in the past and don’t want to support anymore, then find someone else to support. Find a challenger somewhere or a particularly admirable incumbent. Find someone. Write whoever you’re dumping a note and explain your reasons. And recognize that there are more ways to get involved than donating money. Campaigns all rely on plenty of volunteer labor and, again, the marginal value of whatever time you can give is going to be much higher in a lower-profile race than a presidential campaign.

When conservatives build bridges

This Gunter item (yes, I know, I really shouldn't) was extremely annoying this week. Why should Canada build Montreal a new bridge, he asked. "Why is that Canadians’ responsibility? Why do taxpayers in Kitimat or Antigonish have to pay? Why does the federal government own this bridge in the first place?" And further on: "I have no idea why Ottawa owns such a local asset anyway." No idea, really?

Well, we probably own it due to that silly little provision in section 92 (10) (c) of the Constitution Act, 1867. The Champlain bridge being one of those local undertakings, situated wholly in a province, but is "for the general advantage of Canada." As has been noted in the coverage, the bridge has tremendous economic significance for Canada as a whole: "It is estimated that roughly $20 billion in international trade crosses the Champlain Bridge each year." A very good reason for Canada to own the bridge, don't you think? Just as the feds own major undertakings in other provinces too. We're called a federation for a reason. But, this is what conservative thinkers tend to do these days, scratch and claw at some of the foundational understandings we've had. Why are we paying for this or that, pounding away at an ever more insular and me-first vision of Canadian citizenry.

How this project develops is something to watch, the mix of private and public in particular with the toll discussion which is in the early going. Whatever the mix turns out to be, this tough luck, go it on your own view that Gunter espouses is objectionable.

And, the exclusion of the province from the announcement was a poor reflection on the Harper government.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Late night

Bliss at 1:30 mark, yes!

Some weekend reading...this Globe opinion piece riffs on this one in the New York Times. They're both getting a lot of grief online but the questions seem to be good ones to raise. Worth a look.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Post election Parkdale-High Park notes

This is a risky blog post since it's coming late at night and my faculties, post-campaign party, are just not quite at 100%. There are a few things percolating on my brain, however, so here goes...

First off, congrats to our principal opponent Cheri DiNovo for winning this campaign, it must be said. 

Now, it must also be said, we could have won Parkdale-High Park. Liberals out there, this is not an NDP stronghold. Look at the history. Tonight, we brought it back to the normal swing range. The 2011 federal election was an aberration and not in line with this riding's swing nature. Yes, it is a swing riding between NDP and Liberals. A few thousand votes either way always make that difference. Had we had another few days or a week, I think we could have swung it back. Parkdale-High Park needs to be targeted as a winnable riding next election, whenever that may be.

Which brings me to Cortney Pasternak. She gave an NDP heavy quite a run tonight. A first time campaigner. With a newbie campaign off the ground just in mid-August. I think we did well for three reasons. Number one, the Liberal record. It resonated with people at the door. With young mothers in particular, the full day kindergarten was gold. And we have some kind of baby boom thing going on in our riding (seriously). The HST barely came up yet some of us went into the campaign expecting it to be the biggest issue. There was lots to talk about beyond FDK by way of record and there was great receptiveness to it. No need to "fear monger" people into voting Liberal in order to avoid vote splits. The argument was relatively easy to make.

Number two, Cortney was likable. Likable candidates go a long way, to be captain obvious here:) If people met her, they liked her and wanted to vote for her. And she worked very hard to meet as many people as possible. We were right up there in terms of how we ranked with the NDP candidate in that regard, despite the NDP candidate's incumbent stature.

Number three, people in our riding definitely did not want a Tim Hudak PC government. Huge factor and a tad more important than the other two. But the other two had to be there.

Bottom line, Liberals, next time, put Parkdale-High Park in a winnable category. This is - again - a swing riding. Not an NDP stronghold, too much was made of the 2011 federal election. Compare:

2011 May federal election:

Nash NDP 24,046
Kennedy Liberal 16,757
Con candidate 7,924

2011 October provincial election:

DiNovo NDP 18,605
Pasternak Liberal 14,915
PC candidate 4,728

Big swoon in NDP numbers. When some issues like the Pearson-Union station air rail link in particular were thought to be even worse for Liberals during the provincial campaign. And note that Liberals got more votes than the winning candidate next door in Davenport.

We thought it was close, based on what we were hearing at the door. We thought there was lots of receptiveness to our message. Turns out we weren't that far off. We had a respectable result, a rebound if you will, to pivot off next time.

If people had taken our chances more seriously, maybe we could have been that one seat difference.

See you in four months for the next one...right?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Keeping Canada's Accountants & Tax Advisors Busy Act

They sure know how to name a statute, these Conservatives: "Minister of Finance introduces the Keeping Canada's Economy & Jobs Growing Act." Think the above suggested title fits the bill more appropriately though. They love to tinker with the tax laws, a credit here, a credit there, an accounting treatment here, etc.

Some of this seems to be election promises fulfilled - a volunteer firefighters tax credit, family caregiver tax credit, children's arts tax credit, the beginning of the end for political party subsidies, among other items - whereas other measures are just what they had included in their last budget before the election. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of bold thinking here in terms of economic plans. Just a small hiring tax credit that is a nod to job creation. (With one exception, and beyond this legislation, there is word that there may be a major infrastructure announcement on proceeding with the Champlain Bridge replacement. Although that is more of a necessity, not creative infrastructure thinking.)

As things are getting rockier in the world economy, the government is being cautious. They know things are happening out there and yet with legislation so boldly named, staking out that this is how they will keep our economy and jobs growing, they choose to essentially stay the course. Whether that will be the right way to go remains to be seen.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A self-induced recession

An item at the Economist that is making the rounds conveys a quite frustrating aspect of the economic situation in Europe and the U.S.: "A self-induced recession"
YOU know, if it weren't for the politicians, the economy would have a fighting chance.
But last week the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), a boutique firm that specialises in business-cycle turning points said America is “tipping into a new recession. And there’s nothing that policy makers can do to head it off.” ECRI is not well known to the general public but at times like this I pay them special attention because their indicators are designed to capture turning points and their track record is pretty good.

Their full report is only available to subscribers so I’m guessing the recessionary behaviour of stock and bond markets is a key contributor to this call. And what bothers me is that financial markets are responding primarily not to economic but to political developments. Europe’s perverse insistence on austerity, stemming from a wholly erroneous diagnosis of the cause of its crisis (as this article from The Economist succinctly notes), coupled with doubts about their banks' ability to withstand sovereign bond losses, is pushing the continent’s economy into a completely unnecessary recession.

In America, the biggest policy-related threat is the fiscal tightening that will happen automatically in the next four months as prior stimulus expires and legislated cuts to discretionary spending bite. Barack Obama has proposed $447 billion in new or renewed stimulus to neutralise that threat, but it requires an ambitious deal in Congress’ super committee, and odds of such a deal by its November 23rd deadline are shrinking. Democrats are reportedly trying to get it to consider tax hikes immediately, and Republicans are apparently saying that puts a big deficit reduction deal out of reach.

A global economy with decent cyclical fuel and no obvious imbalances is being betrayed by politics. Policy has pushed us over the brink in the past when it was for our own good (ie, inflation was threatening). If it happens now, it will be the first recorded instance of it happening by obduracy instead of by choice.
And we know who has been an obdurate cheerleader on austerity around the world, don't we?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Mercer and Holmes install solar panels

They hit a rooftop in Oshawa where it appears a bunch of the neighbourhood homes have solar panels as well. A solar installer is on hand to explain this particular arrangement, where the homeowner could see $1,200 a year in revenue from their solar installation. It's an example of the kind of business and energy advances that the Green Energy Act and its feed in tariffs have enabled.

With a cameo by David Suzuki.