Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday night

Something different, a departure from the house music tonight.

Have a great night!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012 corporate tax cuts in the spotlight today

Good question posed here: "Will 2012 corporate tax cuts fuel or weaken Canadian economy?" The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the cuts, which Flaherty's office claims will take most corporate combined tax rates down to 25% by 2013, will not help the economy nor is there evidence that reductions to date have helped:
Hugh Mackenzie, a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, argued that there is little evidence that corporate tax cuts have stimulated economic activity.

“In fact, the evidence suggests that the investment incentives that have been delivered through the tax system in the form of lower tax rates have simply gone into corporate cash flow and really had no economic benefit,” Mr. Mackenzie said.

He added that agreements between Canada and the U.S. require that American companies must pay federal and state governments in their home country the difference between any lower income-tax rate they are paying on their Canadian operations and what they would pay at home.

“When we reduce our tax rates below those of the United States, what we end up doing is transferring money to the U.S. Treasury,” he said.

Mr. Mackenzie acknowledged that the Canadian economy has performed better than other industrialized countries, such as the U.S., in recent years. But he credited that to tighter regulations in the banking sector — in effect before the Harper government came to power in 2006 — rather than tax cuts.
A Flaherty spokesperson responds citing business interest groups who, not surprisingly, like corporate tax cuts. But, Flaherty spokesperson, isn't the government supposed to represent the people, not business? That's a rhetorical question.

Glad to see an alternative voice being prominently featured and challenging the tax cut orthodoxy.

Related reading which is very informative but from a U.S. perspective, caution: "Mission Impossible: Cutting the Corporate Tax Rate to 25 Percent." [An excerpt: "But cutting corporate rates is much tougher. There, JCT finds there are simply not enough dollars in preferences to get the rate below 28 percent. But even getting to 28 percent is a huge political challenge: Many heavy-hitting businesses such as Google and General Electric already pay effective U.S. tax rates far below that—in fact many pay effective rates well south of 10 percent. They will not willingly give up the tax breaks that make this possible in return for a rate of 28 percent with no subsidies."]

Nothing to see here

"All about the economy, says Harper." Yes, yes, what else would he say in an interview on what to expect in 2012. Anyhoo, this is an interesting reassurance being rolled out:
Harper said Canadians can expect modest cuts to federal spending in the budget to be tabled later in the year. But he says the impact won't be jarring.

"We're talking about maybe 2% or 3% of the federal budget ... not a drastic reduction," said Harper, who won his first majority government on May 2 after five years in minority power.
I don't know what he means, exactly, by 2 or 3% of the federal budget. But if the 2011 budget had about $250 billion in total program expenses projected for 2011-12, a 2 or 3% reduction would represent between 5 and 7.5 billion.

Not drastic he says. It will be interesting to see how this magic will be performed. A reduction of that order would not be so easy.

RIM takeover talk

This is a very good overview of the prospect of a Research in Motion takeover by the New York Times' Ian Austen: "Despite RIM Takeover Talk, Hurdles Would Be High." The piece sets out the many variables, among them the suitors who might line up, RIM's adapting strategy and difficulties, the stubbornness of the co-CEOs who were named the worst CEOs of 2011, etc.

Interesting to note that apparently Microsoft approached RIM last summer but was rebuffed. Amazon and Facebook are also mentioned suitors as is a Chinese company, ZTE, the latter being viewed as a candidate who would raise the objection of the U.S. government.

If it does become a possibility, the piece suggests that the Harper government would nix a foreign takeover.
RIM is also a point of pride for the Canadian government, which has been increasingly reluctant to let foreign companies buy major domestic corporations. In a recent news conference, Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, offered a note of support for RIM, saying “we all know this is an important Canadian company.”
Despite the many hurdles and considerations, it could yet become a political issue in 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Today in nickelling & diming

A news story tonight that will no doubt galvanize attention: "CBC’s 75th-birthday celebrations cost at least $6.6-million."

A news story earlier this month: "War of 1812 anniversary funding questioned." $28 million being spent on the 1812 celebrations.

So for those who are inclined to jump all over the CBC for the celebration of this milestone, that's some perspective on the issue. In proportion to the 1812 warfest, the CBC celebration costs seems like a bargoon to me.

The costs have been disclosed, it's open and accountable and entirely appropriate in this era. But it's important to see this beyond the dollar costs. CBC is part of our heritage and is a national institution that is an ongoing part of the Canadian identity. It's worth celebrating and supporting. We're not just a nation of bean counters, no matter how much many voices from the right would like us to be.

(Un)Lawful Access

This looks like a great event for those in Vancouver on January 12th: (Un)Lawful Access: Premiere & Panel Discussion. It's a premiere of a mini-documentary on the Harper government's coming lawful access legislation. Additionally, the BC Civil Liberties Association is releasing a report they've done on the proposed law. Here's hoping that both will be widely available for sharing in the rest of the country too.

Great to see events and efforts like this drawing much deserved attention to this troubling legislation.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

On the lighter side

Hope your holiday preparations are as exciting as this!

Harper government flips and flops on Europe

Yesterday: "Canada could pay into IMF Europe fund, Flaherty says." Hmmm, maybe they should have been a little more open-minded initially. Here in early November was Harper's shortsighted message at the G20: "Harper says no Canadian money for European bailout." Harper was pretty definitive at the time:
"We see absolutely no reason why Canada, or frankly why any range of other countries, would need to contribute to such a bailout," he said following the conclusion of the two G20 meeting in Cannes, France.
"These are wealthy countries … who do have, and have got to have, the means of dealing with their own problems," Harper told reporters.
Was it so difficult to anticipate that this moment might come? Not really. Maybe if they tried some constructive international leadership and engagement on financial issues, their supposed strong suit, instead of waiting until they have to act, things might be a little different internationally. Maybe. Other countries, allies, might appreciate it a little more. But they seem to have staked us out in the role of the international scold instead.

One other thing, there's a crowd at the CBC site objecting to this or encouraging people to write their MPs and demand that no money go to Europe or the IMF. This reaction could have been a political motivation for Harper's initial position. But unfortunately, we're not a financial island, as much as those people would like us to be.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Team Summerville update

Just a quick note here to highlight a positive development in relation to the upcoming Liberal biennial convention in Ottawa. Candidate for the National Policy Chair position, Paul Summerville, whom I am supporting, recently put forth a constitutional amendment proposal to the party to democratize a number of policy related elements in the party's constitution. These proposals were co-authored by party member Sheila Gervais.

Notably, items 12 (iii), (iv) and (v) of today's renewal document includes their proposals which will come before the convention for consideration:

The most important proposal being 12 (iii) which makes eminent sense in a democratic political organization. Encouraging member involvement in policy development should be an obvious goal and the removal of a leader's veto over the policy platform helps to remove a key item that has perhaps inhibited such participation.

Coincidentally, there is an op-ed in iPolitics today by Summerville and Gervais which provides a rationale for the proposals. A shorter rationale for removal of the leader's veto can be found here.

Such efforts indicate a willingness to identify obstacles to democratic renewal in the party and an ability to grapple with them head on by proposing solutions for the party to address. It's a key reason why I'm supporting Paul for Policy Chair.

Now it's up to members for their consideration of all of the proposals.

Merry Christmas Jean Chretien

Continuing on in the festive spirit around here today, it's another pre-Christmas story to note:
Ottawa has to pay $200,000 in legal costs incurred by Jean Chrétien in his fight to restore his name after being blamed for the sponsorship scandal by the Gomery inquiry in 2005.

However, the Prime Minister’s Office called the ruling “disappointing,” and said the money rightly belongs to taxpayers.
Mr. Chrétien’s reputation was clearly tarnished by the final report of the Gomery inquiry, which stated he created a program that was secretive and circumvented normal administrative safeguards.

However, the former prime minister convinced the Federal Court in 2008 to strike out the negative findings against him, arguing that Mr. Gomery, through a series of public comments during the hearings, showed a clear bias. The Federal Court of Appeal later upheld the ruling, and last week, the Federal Court ruled in Mr. Chrétien’s favour on the issue of legal costs.
That's not so surprising at all and is a correct legal result. When you win in court in Canada, you win your costs too, generally speaking. The courts have discretion but this was a clear win for Chretien in the Federal Courts. So the griping from the PMO is not so classy, of course, but it's also off base on that count.

We also want our public figures, particularly those on the national stage, to have such legal protections given the nature of the business and what happened here with Chretien. 

And I don't know what Mr. Harper et al. are complaining about. They extensively partake in taxpayer funds to litigate. They're the most litigious of the lot in recent years. Cadman, In-and-Out that is on its way to the Supreme Court, the Khadr litigation that went to the Supreme Court...and so on. Hopefully some day we have a total of their litigation costs paid for via the taxpayer, just for comparison's sake of course.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Not the Canada they voted for

Sandy White, a former aide to Christian Paradis, writes in the Globe in opposition to the omnibus crime bill. While he or she (sorry, don't know Sandy's gender) still claims to support Harper near the end of the op-ed, these are the seeds of doubt about his agenda from within the Conservative base that need to be sown. It's very helpful for that reason.

White takes issue with the crime bill's emphasis on punishment over rehabilitation. The op-ed is framed in terms of values. The writer is questioning whether it sits well with the Canada they know:
With the government’s omnibus crime bill set to become law, a critical question we should ask is whether we are becoming a society that fosters hope or one that extinguishes it. While Canada is a country of promise in many ways, the government’s course of enacting legislation that favours incarceration and punishment over treatment and rehabilitation stands in conflict to the values that make it such a formidable nation.
I am a Tory, but like many others who cast their ballot the same way I did not vote for the draconian and misguided measures in this regressive legislation.
This suggests that on the crime bill and perhaps on other issues (the Kyoto withdrawal, for example), the Conservatives are interpreting their electoral mandate too broadly and may continue to do so. As a result, some of their own voters may question their support in coming years when they actually start to feel the difference between what they thought they were voting for and what they're getting instead. That's what is jarring about the White op-ed. This person is saying hey, I didn't vote to go this far and this is not what we do in Canada. The value system is being shaken up.

In this era of information overload and busy lives, getting more people to feel that difference and have it stick, something that has not happened to date, will be key.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cooperative federalism in action

Updated 8:15 p.m. below.

As exercised by one of our intrepid cabinet ministers:
Mr. Duncan described the provinces as being blindsided by Mr. Flaherty behind closed doors. “He put the document in front of us and said, ‘This is the way it's going to be,’” the Ontario Finance Minister said. “We all kind of paused; we all looked at each other.”
Oh to be a fly on the wall in that room. Welcome to the majority government roll out of Harper's federalism!

The health care deal from on high runs until 2024, when we may possibly be driving flying cars or commuting with jet packs, who knows.
Mr. Flaherty told reporters health transfers will continue to increase at 6 per cent a year until 2016-17 before moving to a system that ties increases to the growth in nominal Gross Domestic Product, which is a measure of GDP plus inflation.

Mr. Flaherty noted that nominal GDP is currently above 4 per cent. He also promised there would be a “floor” that ensures transfers will not fall below three per cent during the period of the agreement.
Dwight Duncan states in reaction that this means "removing $36-billion in national support for health care."

Wonder what else is going to be tied to GDP growth? This is a new formula that is being applied to how government services should be measured and something that deserves some scrutiny. We are, by many accounts, heading into a low growth era. While it may sound quite prudent, tying health care funding to economic growth might prove to be a flawed mechanism. It might make sense for more discretionary spending but not core government services.

Update (8:15 p.m.): From CBC's report:
The provincial and territorial ministers were informed of the new federal formula over lunch.

Six of them lined up to speak out against the decision, citing a lack of negotiation with two years left to reach a new agreement.

They also complained that they didn't expect to be handed the new funding arrangement at this round of talks — they thought they were going to touch on how the talks would be set up.

Flaherty said there was one hour set aside to discuss the 2015-24 health transfers.
It's hard to understand why the federal government would be so high handed with a few years to go before the present accord expires. One hour of discussion on such a major issue, practically cutting out the major stakeholders in the decision making, seems quite negligent.

The blogging life

This confession comes from the brilliant Mark Thoma who writes Economist's View:
A recent email prompts me to explain something.

I post lots of excerpts from articles about economics, but one thing you can't read at this site is the stuff I write for other outlets, instead I mostly link (e.g. the links to CBS, The Economist, and FDL from the last day or so in the posts below, and there will be a link to a column tomorrow).

I should explain the reason, because it may not be what you think. It's not an attempt to send traffic to the other sites. It's because I am one of those people who never, ever thinks the things they write are any good. Thus, when I'm done with a piece I never think it is good enough to post here. So I try to hide behind links. And sometimes, I don't even link (occasionally I find the courage to post things, but mostly I don't, and I can hardly read the comments when I do).

Deep down I hope you'll click through and not hate what you read, and it's always a big relief when the response is positive. That keeps me going. But I always fear otherwise -- that the dumb-ass of the day award is surely coming my way (perhaps for this post).

Anyway, because of the email I thought I should explain why I mostly link to my own stuff instead of highlighting it on my site. It's just me and my silly self-consciousness -- me thinking my stuff isn't good enough to post on my site.
My reaction upon reading that is essentially: !!!!! I've never thought twice about Thoma's practice. I just assumed that he wrote elsewhere and he was happy to point others to the sites that he posts at and just didn't want to duplicate the exercise. To think that a respected economist who writes at the CBS site and The Economist site is so humble and self-critical about his writing is refreshing and admirable. He clearly cares about what he is doing and how it is received. Kudos to him.

If you don't read his site, I recommend it. One of my faves from 2011. The linking that he does is quite valuable in and of itself. Some of the best stuff on the web from a progressive economics perspective. I am also someone who subscribes to the view that blogging is free style. A post can be a simple link here and there, it can be highlighting material from elsewhere with interspersed commentary, it can be essay style. Andrew Sullivan is one of the best bloggers in the world, IMHO, and his blog is largely sharing information. I guess it depends on what you are interested in, what you like to see, but that's my view anyway. Thoma's blog is in that vein and is valuable for that reason. Almost 50,000 Google Reader subscribers can't be wrong!

And I share in his sentiment, by the way. I too am "one of those people who never, ever thinks the things they write are any good." True story. There are probably a lot of us out here!

Health care trial balloon

I think that's what today's Ibbitson column on future health care funding must be, a trial balloon. It is probably positioning by the Harper pros in advance of health care discussions starting this week between Flaherty and provincial finance ministers and that continue early in the new year with Harper. This is hard line: ministers meeting in Victoria on Monday will receive a stark message from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty: The second decade of the 21st century is turning into a mess. Everyone is going to suffer; no government can afford to spend more money; every government must instead spend less.
The fact remains that Ottawa simply doesn’t have the money to continue funding health care at present levels. The Harper government now confronts projections of economic stagnation as far as the eye can see.
Provinces looking to fund health care while paying down their deficit before Moody’s comes knocking on their door should not look to Ottawa for help. The feds have got enough problems of their own.
Any provinces in particular he might be referencing there? Just screams kumbaya, doesn't it?

Coming from a government that is spending questionably, it's all a bit rich. We don't have to rhyme off the programs over and over, we all know them by now. They may claim they have a mandate for such spending given the election but in times of financial "mess," they can't have it both ways. It's not credible to carry on spending regardless with certain programs then ask others to suffer. It's certainly not going to be a winner to take this position on cuts to health care while the usual Conservative priorities blossom. Which is why it seems a little hard to believe.

It seems more likely that they're softening up the public for changes in health care delivery, and it's early in these discussions: "My hope is that we can actually get the next accord done by this time next year," Duncan said." So, factor that in to the view via Ibbitson.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday night

Another good one: Guy J & Henry Saiz - Meridian (Pryda Remix). That should do it for anyone looking for their progressive house fix!

Have a great night!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Camera government

Beyond all the excitement on the Hill today, there is an important development that Kady O'Malley has noted at the parliamentary committee level that is worth a look.

Apparently Conservative MP Mike Wallace of Burlington has put forth a motion at the Government Operations Committee that would mean that all future committee business conducted there would automatically be conducted in camera. I.e., without public viewing. The Conservatives want this to be the operating presumption at that committee which is antithetical to what a parliamentary committee's operations should be in a, you know, democracy.
...while much of yesterday afternoon's Hill chatter was -- again, rightly -- consumed by the Cotler ruling, something else was going on at committee that, depending on the ultimate outcome, could have a far more profound effect on the ability of Members of Parliament to do their job, not to mention the ability of the voters they represent to watch them do it.
Now, it's worth noting that going in camera for all discussion of committee business would not necessary result in all future meetings being held behind closed doors. (I say "likely" because it wasn't clear from Wallace's motion, which was tabled without notice, and, as such, not available in written form.)

If passed, the Wallace motion would still allow witnesses to testify in public -- but all other proceedings, including but not limited to debate over all future motions, ad hoc or substantial, would be held in secret by default.

It would also prevent opposition members from distributing copies of motions, since any matter scheduled to be dealt with in camera is considered confidential.
As several procedural experts have pointed out, the minutes will only reflect motions passed during an in camera session, not those that are ultimately defeated, which means we'll never know just what motions may have been nixed by the government majority.
What on earth is going on?

Flaherty commits to 6% health care increases

Look who's on SoundCloud! Excellent to see this use of audio media:

In light of Flaherty's musings this week on tying health care transfers to the umbrella and unrelated concept of economic growth, that promise is one to keep in mind.

Note also that Flaherty's musings came on the heels of Preston Manning and Tim Powers making noise about private health care.

(h/t 3mendous)

Cotler incident may harm Conservative case for lawful access legislation

In the wake of the Speaker's privilege ruling yesterday, the Conservatives are saying that "there will be no more phone calls to voters in Cotler’s riding, spreading the word that he was about to step down." Take that for whatever it's worth from these Conservatives. Until they're caught in the midst of the next wonderful iteration of their permanent campaign.

So while this despicable little incident may be over, for the time being, one important point to keep in mind is that they've arguably harmed their case with the lawful access legislation that will be brought before Parliament in the near future. With that legislation, as we know, they are seeking enhanced powers to obtain online subscriber information of Canadian citizens, without a warrant. They've never demonstrated that they need those powers on a warrantless basis. There is a high degree of trust that goes along with that request. So their behaviour means that this legislation in particular requires a much harder look. As Bob Rae suggested in the Star piece, that behaviour raises serious questions:
“We rely on governments to respect information. We rely on governments to respect the due process of law. Citizens give up a lot of their rights in order to give information to people,” Rae said.

“If you condone telling lies and making phone calls into somebody’s riding and playing those games, what would stop you from being similarly abusive in situations where you’re keeping confidential information?”
Now to the eye-rolling crowd out there who are still ready to defend this government even after such tactics are exposed and are reprimanded, the ones who will say, well, this was only politics and all the parties do it, it's activity that's limited to this political, not really. It's about the character of the Conservatives. Why would we believe that they would only behave immorally in the political sphere but morally in the governmental sphere?

Even before this incident it has been clear that the lawful access legislation should rightfully include a real system of checks to prevent potential abuses. One of those checks is the requirement that a warrant be obtained when online subscriber information is sought. That the argument for such inclusions may have been helped by this ugly political mess may be one lonely upside to take from it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Late night

"The decision to quit will not help Canada's international reputation...critics say is becoming a climate renegade."

Monday, December 12, 2011

Renewal: Constitutional proposals on removal of leader's policy veto, etc.

Time to provide a bit of an update on renewal matters. Specifically, I would like to refer you to a few constitutional amendment proposals that have been submitted to the party and will likely be before delegates for consideration at the upcoming biennial convention in January (the full slate of constitutional amendments will be posted on December 23rd according to the party website). These are significant proposals that speak to the democratic character of the party and are in keeping with one of the major themes/priorities expressed in the Roadmap to Renewal document: re-establishing a framework of organizational trust (1.1 (3)). These proposals are in relation to the policy development and implementation process in particular.

The proposals have been put forth by Paul Summerville, candidate for National Policy Chair of the Liberal executive and member from Victoria, and Sheila Gervais, member from Ottawa South. I would refer you to their websites respectively for both the text and background of all of their proposed amendments. The two principal proposals that I will refer to here are these:
Removal of the Leader’s veto over the Platform;

Altering the mandatory review of the Leader from occurring only after losing elections to occurring at each Biennial Convention of the Party;
If you have been following any of the renewal discussions, particularly pertaining to policy issues, you will detect an undercurrent of frustration from members that rings through it. I don't think it's a generalization to say that members feel that they’ve been left on the outside of the policy process looking in. Perhaps they have participated in good faith in the past but they haven't seen their participation come to any meaningful fruition. So they naturally wonder why they should continue to participate in the party’s policy process, something that should be part of the lifeblood of a political organization.

Part of the reason for that frustration is a quasi-presidential mechanism that exists in article 33(2)(e) of the party constitution. It permits the leader a line by line veto over the party platform. Such a veto seems strange within a functional democratic political organization. It may be one of those elements that has unwittingly fed a sense of leader-itis within the party.

The proposal to remove the veto provides an opportunity to reinvigorate a democratic sense within the party on policy matters. To do as the roadmap documents states in its invocation of organizational trust and allow for the “mass participation party” to be just that. Indeed, why would members participate in good faith in a policy process if they know their efforts may be for naught? Why would Canadians trust Liberals on issues of democratic reform, for example, if we don't live it internally?

In terms of the other principal proposal mentioned above, the leader's review being made to coincide with biennial conventions, that really goes hand in hand with the leader being in sync with the party's membership and particularly on the policy level. As the two movers of the proposal put it: "We believe that a review of the Leader's performance with respect to their ongoing role as Speaker for the Party should occur at the same time that the Party contemplates new policies and political directions."

For those wondering about the leader's role in the policy process in light of these amendments, and if it is being overly clamped down upon, there is a further companion proposal to add an offsetting power to the leader. That is, to permit the leader to "propose policy resolutions for consideration by the Party in accordance with Subsection 61(4)(d)." This would be a new addition to article 48 ("Responsibilities and powers of the Leader") of the party constitution. It is also noted in their background discussion that article 33(5) gives much weight to the leader as a part of the Policy Approval Subcommittee, further rationale for removing the line by line veto that the leader has over the platform presently.

Bob Rae said this, just over a month ago: "“A successful political party is not a debating society or a social club,” Mr. Rae told Liberals at a convention of the party's British Columbia wing in Victoria. He reminded Liberals that the purpose of their party is to elect enough MPs to form a government." That is true. And you can’t get elected if you don't have a strong foundation to stand upon, i.e., a vibrant policy process that is ongoing, that connects all stakeholders within (and outside) the party as an integral part of the getting elected equation.

I would encourage you to give their thinking and proposals a read for further explanation. They go into some detail but these are significant contributions to the party's debate that merit serious consideration.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fun Saturday reading

Update (6:30 p.m.) below.

This has to be one of the most epic smack downs of a politician in recent memory:
It may be months before the implications of David Cameron's Europe raspberry become clear; it may be days. Then again they may become clear before going fuzzy again, before suddenly crystallising six weeks down the line in horrifying or mildly encouraging detail. My gut instinct is that this is Not Good, and that Britain appears to have bolstered its lack of economic policy with a lack of foreign policy, but in truth I'm in many more minds than the Conservative party about it all.

Of one thing I can be absolutely sure, however, and that is that it doesn't look great for Mr Nicholas Clegg. How he and his pro-Europe party can remain in the coalition after this I do not know – and yet I feel absolutely sure that we shall discover it, in what will go down as his greatest feat of Quislingery yet. He may well be enabling the very destruction of Europe at the same time as remaining its most reedy cheerleader.

It is now clear that the tuition fees U-turn was merely the gateway drug to the big one. Clegg is now mainlining U. His story arc is like some Westminster version of Trainspotting, featuring grotesque scenes of personal degradation in pursuit of what must surely now be an ever-diminishing high. Perhaps a physicist would care to get in touch to explain whether there is a theoretical point at which a being has switch-backed on so many positions that he might simply atomise, leaving nothing but a thin coating of yellow dust and a pair of shoes he never grew into.
Recent history suggests that the next term in the sequence is an extended interview with Clegg placed somewhere or other, in which the deputy prime minister begins lots of sentences with "Look", and says "If you think I'm enjoying this" quite a bit, then explains about "incredibly hard decisions" that he "believes" in, before returning to the womb-like comfort of his ministerial car and shooting up some more U on the back seat.
This relationship dynamic may well have secured Britain's destruction in Europe, and it has almost certainly secured the Liberal Democrats' destruction for the foreseeable. Whether their MPs will be able to fill a taxi after the next general election is a matter of debate.

Of more ghoulish fascination, though, is the next Lib Dem manifesto. What could this document possibly include? There are whole areas that in any sane universe it would be literally too embarrassing to mention, and given that these include major planks of what used to be called Liberal Democrat policy, such as Europe and education, I've genuinely no idea where they'll go with this one. Blank pages? Something nice and inclusive about fish? The mere fact of something appearing as a Liberal Democrat manifesto pledge has come to symbolise that it is terminally doomed as an idea. Perhaps the best way to eradicate poverty would be to draft up a Lib Dem manifesto commitment to perpetuating it.
Ouch, ouch, ouch. Not much you can add to that and what a great piece of writing by Hyde. 

The coalition was going to be hard irrespective of issues that came up and the Lib Dems are committed to the full term. But just what they are getting out of it remains unclear. See above.

As for David Cameron's keeping them out of the new EU treaty, while it's hard for anyone to say what's going to happen with the EU now that they've come to a new agreement, the move by Britain does seem to be going over for the most part like a lead balloon.

Update (6:30 p.m.): Nick Clegg gets it! Could be interesting times ahead for the coalition government in the UK.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Wheat Board update

The latest on the Wheat Board issue: "The Canadian Wheat Board and its supporters said on Friday they may seek an injunction to stop the federal government's move to end the board's monopoly on sales of Western Canadian wheat and barley." It's like an economic action plan for lawyers, of sorts. Also quoted in that piece, Ned Franks:
"That ruling of the court stands, it's the law," said Ned Franks, professor emeritus of political studies at Queen's University. "As long as that appeal process is underway, the government cannot implement the provisions of the law."

Parliament has the authority to pass legislation without court interference, but there are a few limits, Franks said. In particular, it must adhere to "manner and form" - that is, the law currently in effect. The government failed to do that when it introduced its bill to break the monopoly without holding a farmer vote, Franks said.
Here's a little light Friday quote to round out the picture in view of the Harper government's reaction to the ruling, i.e., to carry on regardless:
“67 The consent of the governed is a value that is basic to our understanding of a free and democratic society. Yet democracy in any real sense of the word cannot exist without the rule of law. It is the law that creates the framework within which the "sovereign will" is to be ascertained and implemented. To be accorded legitimacy, democratic institutions must rest, ultimately, on a legal foundation. That is, they must allow for the participation of, and accountability to, the people, through public institutions created under the Constitution. Equally, however, a system of government cannot survive through adherence to the law alone. A political system must also possess legitimacy, and in our political culture, that requires an interaction between the rule of law and the democratic principle. The system must be capable of reflecting the aspirations of the people. But there is more. Our law's claim to legitimacy also rests on an appeal to moral values, many of which are imbedded in our constitutional structure. It would be a grave mistake to equate legitimacy with the "sovereign will" or majority rule alone, to the exclusion of other constitutional values.”
That's from the Secession Reference on the interaction between democracy and the rule of law, two of the principal underlying principles of our Canadian constitutional order. It was cited in paragraph 27 of the Federal Court ruling.

I also think people may be glossing over paragraph 28 of that ruling where the judge ties the democratic structure of s. 47.1 of the Wheat Board legislation to Canada's NAFTA trade obligations. It's not really fleshed out by the judge, but I would expect to hear a little more about that on appeal. Something to think about.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Hillary's historic speech

You go, Hillary! You can watch the rest of her historic speech here and the transcript is here.

High times in Canadian politics

This quote from a Liberal Senator goes to a key question with this government:
Liberal Senator Robert Peterson said he thinks the closure motion was brought in because the Tories feared an extended debate over the court ruling. But he saw no practical way to derail the bill.

“If they're going to ignore the law, then I guess they'll ignore it,” he said. “It's a matter of whether we respect the laws of the land or we don't. I guess if you want to pick and choose which ones you like, which ones you don't like, I guess you can do that.

“When a federal judge says you've acted improperly and you can't do this, what more can you do?”
I think there's a slight tone of resignation there that doesn't necessarily reflect what's going on in Ottawa in response to the Conservative push to carry on with the Wheat Board legislation. It's noted in this iPolitics report that Liberal Senators attempted to argue the Senate shouldn't be hearing the bill given the Federal Court decision yesterday. Further, Frank Valeriote and James Cowan, opposition leader in the Senate, have raised a question of parliamentary privilege as another route of opposition:
“The government can change the law, but can’t breach the law when it changes it,” Valeriote said. He accused the government of violating the rights of MPs by forcing them to debate and vote on a bill that the court has found to be illegal.

The issue comes down to the rule of law, he told Speaker Andrew Scheer, who earlier rejected opposition complaints about the bill’s legality. Valeriote wants the matter referred to a committee.
It's another one of the grey areas exploited by Conservatives. Where a choice is permitted, because it is technically not prohibited, but where the choice should not be prudently exercised. There is the possibility that the Federal Court decision may ultimately rule the day following all appeals. So there's doubt presently cast over the government's course of action. Prudent governments respect accountability mechanisms and such legal decisions. This one clearly doesn't. See prorogation, winter of '09. I honestly don't know where this goes from here but it can be said that they're showing themselves, boldly, and reactions will be spawned.

Trackable you

Tell the kids to become experts in data management, more news in the form of yesterday's Canada-U.S. deal that says there's going to be a lot of use for the skill in the Canada of the near future. The tracking of exits from the country is a brand new feature we will be living with courtesy of Stephen Harper, making us less free:
Airlines in Canada will be required to divulge passenger lists to Canadian security agencies with the names of everyone leaving the country, a practice already in place in the United States. Information gathered in Canada will be shared with U.S. agencies even for flights bound for other countries.
Here's how the Star puts it:
And personal information on a Canadian or anyone else flying out of a Canadian airport — regardless of destination — will be made available to Canadian authorities by the airline and can be obtained by the Americans on request.
So if you fly Toronto to Europe, or anywhere of a non-U.S. destination, the Canadian government will know about it, something that is new. Americans will know about it too, despite your Canadian citizenship and despite the fact you won't even be landing there.

To track this information along with the border exit-entry information, apparently a gigantic new database is going to be required:
"Ex-diplomat Colin Robertson told the Canadian Press this week that implementing the data collection for the entry-exit system could cost Canadian taxpayers up to $1-billion."
Right now there are many unanswered questions about how the entry-exit data of individual travellers would treated. How much will police get to tap into what are, migration databases? Will tax collectors get access? How far could U.S. agents reach into Canadian systems and vice versa? Will the data exist permanently? None of these details are clear at this time.
Here's a few more questions: On what basis is this sweeping new exit-entry database being justified? What is the threat that requires us to give up our freedom to be just that, free, to come and go as we please without our governments prying down our necks? Are these measures proportional to the threat? Or are we giving up our individual freedoms for the sake of eased border controls for business?

And why don't Conservatives track the things that they should?

I'm sure there will be lots more questions to come...

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Security perimeter deal day

The Harper era, with its formative markers being laid down, continues to roll on through the fall of 2011. Today is border perimeter deal day, negotiated in secret without public input and without parliamentary debate. It all seems to be premised on the principle that what's good for business is good for the country, kind of like the old saying that what's good for GM is good for America. Yes, it does appear to be a guiding principle for the Harper government's approach to the border: "New border deal will change how Canada and U.S. trade goods." We hear lots of talk about how great it is going to be for business to have one inspection point, say, instead of two. But ever more inspected, possibly, will be the Canadian citizen. Biometrics abroad anyone?
A central feature of Wednesday’s agreement will be a pledge by both governments to share far more information between government agencies in an effort to improve North American security. But Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, has laid out several concerns given the two countries’ very different privacy laws.

Ms. Stoddart recently warned of drawing “ever closer to the bleak reality of a surveillance society” if the collection of Canadian biometric data – such as iris scans or fingerprints – end up being stored in U.S. databases.
Guess we'll have to wait and see on that special privacy landmine. In addition to the expansive new surveillance powers Harper et al. will be giving police here in Canada to access online activities, this possible sharing of biometric data with the U.S. will compound the new era of privacy invasions courtesy of the Harper government. The long form census intrusions that they manufactured were piker's play compared to all this.

Also amazing to read Canadian industry groups wishing to "ultimately see Health Canada opting to rely more on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve new food products rather than studying them independently." Yes, why have two separate national departments doing approvals after all when you could just use one? With the scale of lobbying that occurs in the U.S., such a thought is incredible. I mean, what could possibly go wrong

The elevation of business/market interests above the interests of the citizenry as a central theme of the Harper era has begun...

Monday, December 05, 2011

Opposition MP part of official delegation in Durban

Yep, Green Party MP Elizabeth May is an official delegate for Papua New Guinea. It's another bizarre moment on the world stage brought to you by the Harper government. It means that in addition to the Canadian government officials who have delegate status, May will also be able to access the major discussions, etc.

As the linked item mentions, apparently beyond the delegate accreditation issue, things are otherwise carrying on: "She was however welcomed by the Canadian delegation at the international conference centre and met with the government officials after arriving on site." It's the new Canadian normal that is not so normal at all.

Delegation accreditation should have happened for all opposition parties, of course, based on precedent. Precedent and the way Canada has typically conducted itself on the world stage, where we include the range of our political parties and viewpoints at such events as the mark of a supposedly mature democracy. Moving on...

In other news, also mentioned at the link, Peter Kent will be making an announcement today about our contribution to developing country funds for climate change adaptation. While clearly much more needs to be done, particularly by countries like Canada, some are saying that short-term goals like "creating the framework for helping developing countries actually meet their voluntary targets through better financing mechanisms, technology transfer arrangements, and programs to prevent deforestation" might be considered a "success."

So while on the world stage our government acts pettily on politics and intransigently on working toward a new binding agreement, at least there's that. Assuming we don't throw any wrenches into the works on it, that is.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Friday night

Bluesy techno goodness with excellent vocal.

Have a good night!

Party like it's 1812

Can you feel the 1812 commemorative vibe, people? It's coming, get ready. A Conservative MP, Gord Brown, on his riding's 1812 re-enactment plans, somewhat lacking in specificity:
Here's a description of some of the plans, from his release:

The Lions Club of Gananoque will present a community commemoration of the first battle that took place in Gananoque on September 21, 1812. Activities will include historical re-enactments, music and theatre performances, and a heritage walk by local artists and historical heritage performers.

In addition to this celebration, the Lions Club has also undertaken the development of Joel Stone Park into an 1812 heritage park that will feature, among other elements, a bronze diorama representing the town as it was in 1812, an amphitheatre for small theatrical events, and the beginning of a one kilometre heritage trail.
A commemoration of the first battle, interesting. As noted later on in the pesky blog item, however, it may be more interesting than is let on by said Conservative MP:
The St. Lawrence War of 1812 Bicentennial Alliance website describes the event that actually happened at Gananoque this way:

An incursion of regulars and militia led by the Captain Forsyth of the 1st US Rifle regiment made an attack here (September 1812). A detachment of the 2nd Leeds militia, under Colonel Joel Stone, offered some resistance, but withdrew its force of two subalterns and about 40 soldiers. American forces seized the stores, burned the government depot, and withdrew.
A fine moment to re-enact. Look forward to the burning amidst the period costumes et al. Surely it will be toned down for the kids, think of the kids.

And whatevs. As long as $28 million can be sprinkled around Canada, commemorating war-like events, it's all good. I mean, what better to spend $28 million on anyway?