Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tough analysis of Peggy Nash

By the Jurist:
But it won't be so easy to make up for any questions about unsure political footing once a new leader faces a Con government eager to spread banana peels everywhere then run attack ads about a lack of balance. Which is why Nash has gone from being my initial first choice to near the bottom of my ballot - and why NDP members may need to tread carefully in approaching Nash's candidacy.
That was eye catching.

A short C-30 video

"OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis and Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian debate whether the powers proposed in Bill C-30 are needed to battle cybercrime. More at:"

Elections Canada expands their investigation of robocall scandal

Or, if you speak Harper, it means that the "smear campaign" by sore losers is being investigated beyond Guelph and will now include calls made at the RMG call centre in Thunder Bay. CBC reported a little while ago on Power and Politics that Elections Canada is now looking at that situation, no doubt prompted by the Star report earlier in the week.

Let the investigations proceed.

A House of Commons marker laid down for the C-30 rewrite

This was the text of a motion passed in the House of Commons last night. The motion was brought by Liberals with a view to the coming debate at committee over C-30, the Conservatives' proposed and invasive internet surveillance legislation:
That the House recognize: (a) the fundamental right of all Canadians to the freedoms of speech, communication and privacy, and that there must be a clear affirmation on the need for these rights to be respected in all forms of communication; (b) that the collection by government of personal information and data from Canadians relating to their online activities without limits, rules, and judicial oversight constitutes a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' protections against unreasonable search and seizure; (c) that Canadians who have expressed deep concerns about Bill C-30 should not be described as being friends of child pornography or advocates of criminal activity; (d) that the Charter is the guarantor of the basic rights and freedoms of all Canadians; and (e) that the Charter is paramount to any provision of the Criminal Code of Canada; and accordingly the House calls on the Prime Minister to ensure that any legislation put forward by his government respects the provisions of the Charter and its commitment to the principles of due process, respect for privacy and the presumption of innocence.
The motion passed unanimously, with 274 voting for, zero against.

Note subsection (b) above, in particular, that includes judicial oversight as being a crucial component in protecting Canadians' online activities against unreasonable search and seizure. The lack of judicial oversight in C-30, as written, when law enforcement seeks to obtain online subscriber information is a key problem and source of much of the online protest.

One would think that the unanimous backing might mean that the Commons committee that will be taking up the bill would act in accordance with the expressed intent of the House of Commons, particularly with respect to subsection (b) and the warrant requirement. After reading through a bunch of the debate, however, and the Conservative statements in particular, it isn't clear at all whether that will occur. It's possible, however, that the debate was a reflection of initial partisan posturing, as MPs start speaking to the bill, staking out their starting positions, not wanting to give any ground on the parliamentary record. And there were glimpses of possible cooperation, this from Conservative MP Albrecht:
Our government believes we have proposed legislation that will ensure Canada's laws adequately protect Canadians online.

We also, however, expect Parliament to conduct a thorough review of our proposed legislation to ensure that we do strike the right balance between protecting Canadians from crime while respecting Canadians' privacy rights. I would ask hon. members to exercise due diligence in that review.
We shall see if statements like that will mean something come committee time. Here was Marc Garneau, doing some pre-committee stage setting too:
I know that Bill C-30 will be sent to committee before second reading and, needless to say, I support this step, which validates our position. However, this is just the first step, and we must now be vigilant in order to ensure, on behalf of Canadians, that this is not just a smokescreen.

Will the government set aside its ideological modus operandi in order to adopt a modus vivendi in the interest of all Canadians? We must take the time required to conduct an in-depth examination of this bill. We will have to hear from many witnesses and experts, and I hope that we will not accept half measures when it comes to legitimately respecting procedures.

We need to recognize that, given these realities and what they mean, the Liberals' reasons for introducing this motion today are quite legitimate. The democratic nature of a society is measured by the manner in which it balances the protection of public safety with civil liberties and individual rights and freedoms.
For now, it was good to see the motion pass. Let's hope that the Conservatives didn't just support it as a non-binding freebie in order to obtain some political cover from the C-30 online uproar.

In the robo-call affair, the law will work as intended

Oh for the love of..."In the robo-call affair, time and the law favour the Tories." It's not like it's a mission or anything around here to blog about John Ibbitson columns, but if we must, a quick response.

This column is mal-titled, for starters. Is that a word? Anyway, while they may be able to try an in-and-out strategy on this election cheating scandal and draw it out as long as possible, that's not totally within their control. The investigative authorities will drive that bus right now. Once they weigh in and things get legal process oriented (if they do), then the Cons might be able to angle for time. That too will depend on the decisions made by various players, such as some of those named in the piece. But we'll see.

And the time element is the only component of that headline that could possibly "favour" the Tories, if we must use that terminology. The law doesn't, it's neutral.

Even if a by-election took place in, say, 2013 in North Bay (Ibbitson's example riding where the vote was close), then so be it. It and possibly other ridings where by-elections could also be sought, such as Etobicoke Centre, will serve as ongoing reminders of the unprecedented situation. It will take what it takes and we in the internet era who prefer instant gratification will have to live with it. It doesn't mean it favours the Tories, it just means that the system will work as it is intended to work with appropriate time for due process.

It is the right thing to do to legally challenge elections fraud. Analyzing it through a prism of political advantage where a party who will most likely seek to game the process is blessed as being wrong.

Let's not get years ahead of ourselves in any event.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Late night

Pierre Poutine to committee, please

Some of the latest developments this afternoon in the robocalls scandal...

There was a bit of a heated exchange between Bob Rae and Harper in the House of Commons today on the robocoon issue. Worth a look to get a sense of how Mr. Harper in particular is reacting. Quel chutzpah to repeatedly demand that Bob Rae apologize on the vikileaks matter when he did in fact do so yesterday. Graceless.

And the Conservatives, in furtherance of that instinct to never miss an opportunity for a pile-on, will do just that: "Vikileaks mastermind to be called before Commons committee." A very understated headline from the folks at Natty Post for you. Expert milkers, these Conservatives are.

"Elections Canada fingers phone of 'Pierre Poutine' in robocalls affair." It was "Pierre Poutine" of "Separatist Street" who was the named owner of the burner cell phone connected to calls in Guelph via RackNine in Edmonton. How anti-French can you get? Dawg has been on it, like cheese curds on fries.

Listen at the Star to a recorded voter obstruction message, replete with impersonation of Elections Canada.
“It does make me wonder what would have happened if my circumstances were different,” said Hudson, 35.

“If I was a single parent living further from the polls and operating on a tight time frame, for instance, this might quite realistically have meant the difference between voting and not voting, especially if I were heading to the polls for the first time. It’s creepy because electoral processes don’t work if these sorts of differences in information access exist.”
Creepy. Exactly, citizen of Guelph. Well said.

RCMP on the robocalls case

The lead story on the CTV national news last night was this: "RCMP investigates voter fraud allegations." Interesting video report at the link where, among other things, a friend of former Conservative staffer Michael Sona is quoted.

Yesterday Postmedia had details on a search warrant issued in November requiring production of various records from RackNine, the Edmonton call centre used in respect of Guelph campaign calls:
Here is some of the text from the court order executed on RackNine:

That a person or persons unknown, on May 2, 2011, at or near the City of Guelph and elsewhere in the Province of Ontario, did wilfully prevent or endeavour to prevent an elector from voting in an election contrary to paragraph 281 (g) of the Canada Elections Act;

And by so doing committed an offence contrary to paragraph 491 (3) (d) of the Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c.9 as amended;


That a person or persons unknown, on May 2, 2011, at or near the City of Guelph and elsewhere in the Province of Ontario, did, by pretence or contrivance, induce or attempt to induce persons to vote or refrain from voting or to vote or refrain from voting for a particular candidate and by so doing committed an offence contrary to paragraph 482 (b) of the Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2000, c.9 as amended.
If you're interested in more on the legalities, there is a good piece in the Citizen which gives some perspective on possible offences, further to what the warrant excerpt above sets out: "Allegations unprecedented, ex-elections chief says."

And if you're interested in following the Conservative spin, there are unnamed sources available again today with their latest.

Update: BCL is linking to the CTV report as well this morning.

Late night

That was quite a moving moment from the Iranian film maker who won the best Foreign Language Film award last night (beating out Canada's Monsieur Lazhar). The director's speech starts at about the 2:00 minute mark. More at Andrew Sullivan's blog on the political significance of the moment.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The right thing to do

Case closed:
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae says one of his staffers was responsible for a series of anonymous Internet attacks aimed at Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

"I was advised yesterday that an employee of the Liberal research bureau in fact is responsible," the chagrined Liberal leader told the House of Commons.

"I want to offer to the minister my personal apology to him for the conduct of a member of my staff."

Rae says the offending staffer has resigned. Toews said he accepts the apology.
Could not agree more with this:
"One of the things that make public life difficult is when political attacks become personal," he said.

"I have tried in my political life to make it very clear that matters of personal and private conduct are not to be the subject of political attack or political reference.

"I want to say very clearly that we did not meet that standard with respect to the establishment of that site by a member of the Liberal research bureau. I want to apologize unreservedly."
Liberals shouldn't be about hateful, malicious personal politics. There's really nothing more to add, beyond the above. I think the C-30 debate has moved beyond this episode and has successfully focussed on the merits of the bill, exactly where the discussion should be.

Harper strategy unfolds

Having just watched Question Period, we can see a bit of the Harper strategy in dealing with this election cheating scandal unfold. Recall that this is the Prime Minister who ran away from a confidence vote that was sure to defeat his government, in late fall of 2008, and who shamelessly and recklessly tried to whip up separatist sentiment in doing so. So we knew he wouldn't exactly roll over today. Some of the elements...

Insist that the calls that were made were done to Conservative voters. Maybe picking up on a point in the Star article, in which it is noted that the phone operators may not be able to affirm that very point: "Desgagné indicated it was unclear to her and her colleagues whether those being called did or didn’t support any particular party." So, the Conservatives in Question Period, following Delorey in the article, who may have been provided with the phone operator evidence, say they were calling their own voters. The script may be neutral on that point but we haven't seen it. Canadians watching at home say, huh, maybe they were just calling their own voters.

Gamble on the investigation not being able to prove a case and put the public onus on the opposition. The latter is a nice trick given that it is the governing party's actions who are in the spotlight and as Bob Rae pointed out in the Commons, it is the Conservatives who have the relevant information which would provide answers. Harper claimed that they would be providing their information to Elections Canada and he encouraged the opposition parties to do the same. A motion passed in the Commons to that effect.

Throw some statistics into the mix to undermine the elections cheating allegations. If this was about voter suppression, how come voter turnout went up, said Del Mastro. Gee. Give people a global mind bender of sorts. The turnout stats are a sideshow, the May 2011 election saw just a 2% increase in turnout and it doesn't answer the specific charges of phone calls to voters in the ridings that have been enumerated. Overall turnout may have slightly upticked but it doesn't discount the possibility that maybe enough calls were made to suppress opposition voters in targeted ridings.

Still with the statistics, talk about how many polling stations were moved during the course of the election. Again, sow confusion. I suspect this one will be debunked too. There is a list here of polling stations that were moved, for starters.

Have pliable allies, unelected ones at that, point the finger at some unknown "third parties."

Fight like hell, that's clear...

Today in Robocon

1. There's a huge story in the Star that will move Robocon much further down the road: "Conservative scripts misdirected voters in 2011 election, say call centre staff."
Callers on behalf of the federal Conservative Party were instructed in the days before last year’s election to read scripts telling voters that Elections Canada had changed their voting locations, say telephone operators who worked for a Thunder Bay-based call centre.
A big problem here, if you read through the report, is that the telephone operators have a different story from the Conservative party spokesman. The telephone operators got the distinct impression that they were misdirecting voters, based on the reactions of people on the phone. The Conservative spokesman, Fred Delorey, says they were contacting their own voters to get out the vote and he has a convoluted version of what the operators were doing. The operators speak of a script. But Delorey speaks of an interactive conversation that the operators would have with voters. The stories don't jibe and will be fertile ground for the Elections Canada and RCMP investigations to test.

A maddening aspect of the story that is going to put a microscope on the RCMP, their reaction when the call centre staffer brought it to their attention. employee was so concerned that something was amiss she says she reported it to her supervisor at the RMG site, to the RCMP office in Thunder Bay and to a toll-free Elections Canada number at the time.

Annette Desgagné, 46, said it became clear to her — after so many people complained that the “new” voting locations made no sense or were “way the hell across town” — that the live operators were, in fact, misdirecting voters.
Desgagné said she made notes around election time, thinking someone would follow up on her complaint. But she said the RCMP — she does not recall the officer’s name — told her there was nothing they could do. Nobody else followed up with her.

With calls going across the country, as predicted, people such as these call centre employees are starting to come forth. Good on 'em and may there be many more.

As Kinsella notes, this torpedoes the rogue story the Conservatives might have thought they could get away with.

2. A few points of disagreement here on John Ibbitson's Robocon column last night, "Voter-suppression scandal will be a test of PM’s leadership." First, this part which seems to come from some gentlemanly campaign code or something:
People who know a lot about election campaigns, and who talked freely in exchange for confidentiality, point out several things. First, we can be reasonably certain that Mr. Harper, who is Leader of the Conservative Party as well as Prime Minister, knew nothing about what was going on in Guelph or elsewhere. Campaign officials protect their leaders from that sort of direct knowledge.
Many of us who have been watching this government critically would respectfully disagree with the presumption that is being offered up here, in the national media, serving to inoculate Mr. Harper. What relevance is it what campaign officials typically do? They may, in most instances, protect the leader, but so what? It's only relevant what happened here.

Of course, all investigatory officials should work on the presumption that the evidence takes them wherever it takes them. It doesn't really need to be said that they should explore all angles without regard for quaint notions of campaign customs. But let's say it anyway. And as we well know, this is not exactly a hands-off guy, Mr. Harper. He knew about the offer to Chuck Cadman. He speaks of having tapes on an opposition leader, presumably to be used during an election or as advertising outside an election.

So there is no factual basis to say we should be reasonably certain that Harper "knew nothing about what was going on in Guelph or elsewhere." Any budding conventional wisdom that Harper had no knowledge of this cheating is not justified.

Second, in the context of explaining why this election cheating scandal is different and could be fatal to Harper, there nevertheless appears this maddening paragraph:
The Tories dominate federal politics because they are seen as the party that understands the importance of protecting the economy. Critics impale themselves on abuse-of-democracy issues, such as contempt of Parliament, treatment of Afghan detainees, the long-form census. None of that matters in a world where getting and keeping a job is job one.
What utter moral bankruptcy and nonsense. Of course democratic issues matter, we're not Canada Inc. And given the widespread election cheating scandal staring us in the face, one can't help but think that maybe if the Harper crew hadn't run roughshod over those issues that Ibbitson enumerates, perhaps becoming emboldened in thinking they can skate on such democratic issues, we wouldn't be dealing with this cheating scandal today.

Despite feds, Canada 7th in creating green-tech firms

A surprise given the Harper government's not so green credentials:
Canada ranks high because of an entrepreneurial culture, relatively high patent activity and existing corporate activity in the green-tech sector. But the federal government’s reluctance to support the industry is a drawback, the report says. Indeed, Canada’s rank is a surprise, it says, because the country has “a poor reputation at a federal level for political leadership on climate change.”

Fortunately, said Josh Laughren, WWF Canada’s director of climate and energy, there are supportive provincial policies that help bolster the sector, including Ontario’s Green Energy Act, Nova Scotia’s subsidies for local renewable projects, and Quebec’s commitment to building an electric vehicle industry.
The way it is for the green economy in Canada, it's all about provincial support. This is good news yet it begs the question as to how much better Canada's green economy and jobs situation could be if the federal government were to devote support and resources to it alongside the provinces. For a federal government that claims to be all about the economy, it's a real opportunity that is being missed.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A pause on the internet surveillance bill?

So reports the Globe late last night: "Ottawa hits pause on Web surveillance act."
The Harper government is temporarily parking controversial legislation that would grant new powers to authorities to police the Internet while it consults on how to rewrite it to assuage privacy concerns among Canadians and within caucus.
This report is mostly based on "sources familiar with the government's plans," so it's clearly an effort to roll out a new strategy with the bill. Take it for what it is.

Beyond the apparent temporary parking of C-30, we read of the Conservatives being in "no rush" with the bill, that it's "unlikely to be moved forward in the next couple of weeks." It appears that on C-30, they'll play for time, hoping the public uproar subsides. And they want their C-30 allies to start to work on public opinion:
Police forces and provincial governments still support the bill, and the Harper Conservatives are counting on these backers to speak out loudly in the weeks and months ahead when it tries to rewrite the bill at committee.
Thus the need for those interested in the legislation from privacy and other perspectives to remain vigilant.

What else do we have here? Oh yes, an effort to distance Harper from C-30:
"Conservatives make no secret of the fact this isn’t Stephen Harper’s favourite bill, meaning that, during a slow economic recovery, he’d rather be associated with other legislative priorities."
Like the omnibus crime bill, ending the Wheat Board and the repeal of the gun registry, for example? How are those things helping with a "slow economic recovery?" The big Harper majority government legislative achievements are not really economically related. Reads like a predictable effort to pivot back to their supposed strong suit, "the economy."

More...apparently the Conservatives didn't really want to bring C-30 forward, the public security types made 'em do it:
Unlike most tough-on-crime bills, its measures did not spring from grassroots concerns or fears. The legislation is based on requests from the public security bureaucracy in Canada to bolster police powers for the Internet age that the Tories have felt compelled to address.
Beware the spin, as always. It certainly looks like they're trying to improve the favourability of the conditions in which it will be brought back before a Commons committee, in the weeks (or months) ahead.

Elsewhere, if you missed them this week, there were a few items that came up on the C-30 front that should be assessed by the Commons committee whenever this legislation makes it there: The costs of the bill which could be astronomical given U.S. comparative figures; and the relationship between C-30 and the government's new counter-terrorism strategy, which some are warning might lead to surveillance of political and social activists.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday night

Yes: "We work too hard, we think too much..."

Have a good night!

For your clean and ethical government needs

Scandal Scrubber will attempt to rub out those pesky stains that may tar a "clean and ethical" government.

Not recommended for use at home.

(h/t old friend the Wingnuterer)

Flaherty changing his budget tune?

Update (6:50 p.m.) below.

Flaherty seems to have found a new word for his upcoming budget:
The federal budget expected in mid-March will focus on "moderate" measures to cut government spending and encourages provinces to do the same, he said.

"We are not one of the countries, many of them in Europe, that have run up deficits for a long period of time, accumulated substantial debt and must really act dramatically - some of them in a draconian way in order to get their house in order again," he said.
"Moderate," he says. That would be a change in tune. What is going on?

Den Tandt, coincidentally, has a budget theory today. That the uproar over the internet surveillance proposed law, Vic Toews' nasty performance in connection with its introduction and the burgeoning robocall scandal are reinforcing an image of the Harper government as a gang of partisan brutes. Making it more difficult to avoid a perception that they are enthusiastic axe wielding budget cutters. "[I]f they go into Budget 2012 perceived as vengeful partisan warriors, hacking and slashing with abandon...," it's a toxic political combo, he suggests.

Or, if you don't buy that theory as driving Flaherty, there were the warnings by ratings agencies that Canada didn't need to be so austere.

There was also, perhaps most importantly, the Bank of Canada's special warning yesterday to Canadians on household debt and a possible decline in housing prices. If interest rates go up, households could be in trouble. Flaherty might be worried things are going to get bad.

Whatever the reason, Flaherty seems to be changing his tune. Whether that tune will carry through on major budget items that have been on their agenda such as OAS changes and federal department cuts remains to be seen.

Update (6:50 p.m.): Tweet from Bob Rae today with his own theory on what may be going on in Ottawa as between Flaherty and Harper:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Harper denies: Not feelin' it

Update (6.25 p.m.) below.

Harper actually deigned to comment on the fraudulent robocall scandal:
“Our party has no knowledge of these calls. It’s not part of our campaign,” Mr. Harper told reporters on Thursday. “Obviously, if there is anyone who has done anything wrong, we will expect that they will face the full consequences of the law.”
His spin crowd or whoever is in on the daily public relations planning should tell him a few things.

First, when the integrity of the electoral process is being challenged by a report suggesting voter suppression connected to his party, some of us would like to see a little more outrage. He should feel free to modulate away from his everybody-go-to-sleep shtick. It's not good enough from a Canadian Prime Minister.

Second, I'm not feelin' the strong denial here. His statement reeks of mitigation. Not good.

Update (6:25 p.m.): Courtesy of Kady O'Malley, a list of the Conservative candidates who were clients of the call centre firm, Racknine. Note this entry in Stephen Harper's election expenses:
According to invoices submitted to Elections Canada posted by the NDP research office, there were also several payments to RackNine that do not show up in the list of direct campaign expenses:

Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest)
May 4, 2011 - $117.75 (GOTV campaign)

Lavar Payne (Medicine Hat)
May 4, 2011 - $26.01 .

According to the correspondence that the Harper campaign included with this invoice, this was related to a final GOTV phone blitz in "swing" ridings the weekend before the election. It appears that RackNine initially billed the full cost, which remains unknown, to the Conservative Party of Canada, which passed the cost onto participating campaigns -- including, in this case, that of the party leader.

It's worth noting that, in the attached emails, the Harper team member charged with handling the invoice initially seems unsure why the campaign is being asked to pay for the calls. Eventually, he decides to pay it, as they were apparently planning to charge the national campaign for a portion of "phone bank" costs, and didn't want to get into a "dispute" over $118.
A "GOTV phone blitz in "swing" ridings the weekend before the election?" Sounds like there will be a bit more for the PM to answer for on this. Maybe someone can move him off the use of the pronoun "our" in his statements on this to an "I" in future.

Elections Canada investigates Conservatives redux

Big report by Postmedia last night: "Fraudulent election calls traced to Racknine Inc., an Edmonton firm with Tory links." Some of the details and then a few thoughts below:
Postmedia News and the Ottawa Citizen have found that Elections Canada traced the calls to Racknine Inc., a small Edmonton call centre that worked for the party’s national campaign and those of at least nine Conservative candidates, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s own campaign in Calgary Southwest. There is no evidence that Harper’s campaign or any of the other candidates were involved in the calls.

Racknine says it was unaware its servers were being used for the fake calls.
On Racknine, the owner is quoted:
Meier and his company are co-operating fully with the probe, he said.

He said he knows whose account was used for the calls, but could not reveal the owner, because of client confidentiality and concerns about interfering with the investigation. He said it was someone “down East” — meaning Ontario or Quebec.

The RCMP’s role in the investigation is unclear but it appears the force is assisting Elections Canada. RCMP officers have approached the Conservative Party, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Intriguing quote:
“It seems [investigators] have identified somebody who did it, knowingly,” said one Conservative who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Elections Canada's comment:
Elections Canada spokesman John Enright said the commissioner does not comment on ongoing investigations but confirmed an investigation into “some complaints regarding unsolicited telephone calls in which a violation of the (Elections) Act may have occurred.”
Possibilities from this investigation:
If Mathews and the Commissioner of Canada Elections find evidence of wrongdoing over the bogus Elections Canada calls, the case could be referred to Director of Public Prosecutions Brian Saunders, who would decide whether to lay charges.
It goes without saying, any corruption of the electoral process must be prosecuted vigorously, if the investigators find that they have a case. It should also be brought on a more timely basis than the prosecutions that came out of the in and out scandal. That case arose out of election spending transactions from the 2006 election. Yet charges were only laid in February 2011. The charges had a stale dated air about them that did not really serve the cause of justice being seen to be done.

The report also devotes some time to the fact that the Conservative party is conducting an internal investigation of their own. It reads as if the damage control brigades are already on the job. Let's not be too distracted by that effort.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On the NDP numbers and race

The NDP leadership race membership numbers rolled in yesterday, accumulating to about 128,000 members, so I thought I'd do a rare blog post on their race. I have been watching but like many others on the outside, have found it very hard to gauge. They don't do things the way a lot of other parties do and they take great pride in that. It's not clear it's necessarily a good thing beyond their membership though, at least if they were hoping that the leadership campaign would be a huge boost to the party's fortunes.

You have leadership campaigns, theoretically anyway, for a few reasons. The campaign is supposed to mean something. Person(s) are supposed to rise to the top, distinguish themselves over the course of many months. Be tested. Make an impression on the great issues of the day. Capture some imaginations, not just in the membership but beyond. 

I haven't felt much if any of that from the NDP candidates and I'm not sure that can be solely chalked up to my being a critical observer. It's hard to peg one or two as having risen to the challenge of this campaign. It's been like a game of inches.

My impression is that Mulcair would be the one candidate you could put above the others, simply by appearing to be the one who is a political breed apart from the rest. He seems like the most politically professional, business like throughout, at times maybe succeeding by not taking the bait from others, such as when Brian Topp took him on during a debate over his environmental platform (stretched for that example). But he hasn't really, truly been challenged by the others. They seem reluctant to do so.

Maybe that's the party cultural thing that many point to. It still seems odd, though, not to have some conflict or at least some major issue over which candidates can disagree and thereby draw enough of a contrast to stand out. Again, since I'm not a party member, maybe I'm missing it. Maybe there's a sense that you don't have to go after a frontrunner, you play for the second choices. But they seem to be forsaking the opportunity to rally the larger Canadian audience with this path.

In terms of other candidates, you could say Cullen's cooperation plank has distinguished him, along with how he's conducted himself personally, presenting as a reasonably likable character, at least slightly moreso than others. Whether his party will roll with him on his plank is an entirely different question though. Any reporting I've seen seems to routinely put a kibosch on party support for the notion and those Leadnow/Avaaz numbers that are being bandied about don't seem to be high enough. (Those groups seemed late in terms of making their appeal on the cooperation front, in relation to the NDP membership deadline.) In a very, very split race, however, who knows how a few thousand votes might figure.

Brian Topp just seems to have lost the initial sheen. So in that way, maybe the duration of the campaign has been helpful. The comments by Francoise Boivin the other day where she, who had initially endorsed Topp, spoke favourably of Mulcair seemed to be quite harmful. Like she was feeling that the winds are changing.

But then the Quebec membership numbers appeared and at 12,000 or so, are not exactly stellar. Does that help or hurt the Mulcair case? Help him as in the need for a Quebec based leader is solidified. Or does it hurt him in that he didn't excite in Quebec enough to even meet his own target? Tough call.

Back to Topp briefly, at least he has tried to stir things up, get things going in the race. If you want to take that as a mark of leadership, he's not afraid to step up. Whether it counts among members, again, who knows! Maybe Topp gets a dance partner, or two or three, finally in the month of March as the voting begins on the 1st and candidates' conduct will be under a greater magnifying glass. Could be a month of opportunity and pitfalls.

One final thought, couldn't help but think, after the numbers rolled in, about one comparative measure in particular. Look at Leadnow who launched in March and have gained 80,000 members (just under 12 months). They're a newbie grassroots online organization. The NDP growth in membership is just over 44,000 in total (5 months). It looks like the NDP would have ended up with around the same number as Leadnow if the time period had been comparable. But shouldn't the official opposition party with a much higher established national profile have done much better?

It might suggest that there is a type of political membership that is more attractive to Canadians at the moment and it is not necessarily membership of the partisan stripe. That could apply to the coming Liberal campaign as well. But it might also suggest that Liberals were wise to create the new supporter category. It's not membership but it's something more flexible that may have a lower barrier to entry. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Late night

"The state has no business in the hard drives of the nation." You go, Rick Mercer!

Keeping an eye on the ball that is C-30

More on C-30 here. On the one hand, there was this presentation from a Vancouver police official yesterday:
“People need to focus and keep their eye on the ball,” said Warren Lemcke, Vancouver’s deputy chief constable.

“We can’t monitor your e-mails. We can’t monitor your phone calls. We can’t monitor your surfing unless a judge allows us to do that.”
Elsewhere his statement was reported this way:
“We still need warrants in every single circumstance to listen to your phone calls, to look at your emails, to look at your text messages — except under exigent circumstances,” said Lemcke.
On the other hand, the federal privacy commissioner's office seems to view things differently from Vancouver police official Lemcke:
In a telephone interview with CBC News on Sunday, Chantal Bernier, the assistant privacy commissioner of Canada, said there are "sources of concern" with Bill C-30.

According to Bernier, under this legislation "the government would create an obligation for internet service providers to give, upon written request from designated officers without any judicial authorization, the subscriber information behind an IP address."

"Our technologists tell us, that those data elements, are enough to construct enough of a profile to then track the online activities of an individual — and that without a warrant, without having to prove suspicion of criminal activity," said Bernier.
The police, who seem to be stepping up now in the wake of the discrediting of Vic Toews as a spokesperson on C-30, are shooing us in other directions, playing up the need for warrants for emails and phone calls. But we shouldn't take our eyes off what is still on the table, as the Privacy Commissioner's Office points out, above. The ability to profile law abiding Canadians and their online activities remains, courtesy of sections 16 and 17 of the proposed legislation (and see s. 64(1)(l) providing for regulations which will further define those sections but at a future date).

See also this blog post from December, "Vic Toews will get way more than your phone number," which set out how the lawful access legislation can work: "Online subscriber data creates a living, breathing, ongoing information trail and a profile, all trackable courtesy of the lawful access legislation and all obtainable without a warrant." See the various links cited there for a more technical explanation of how police can build that user profile.

People need to focus and keep their eye on the ball, said the Vancouver chief...yes, they do.

Late night

It's not all electronic around here. Amazing version.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Family Day drive-by blogging

Well it's a holiday of some kind in Ontario today, that Family Day thingy. Whatever you may be doing, have a good one. Here's a bunch of reading material, for lack of better terminology, for your day off. Most of it is a break from Canadian politics.

1. This seems like a biggie: "Canada threatens trade war with EU over tar sands."
Canada has threatened a trade war with European Union over the bloc's plan to label oil from Alberta's vast tar sands as highly polluting, the Guardian can reveal, before a key vote in Brussels on 23 February.
New reference for Joe Oliver found in the article, "oil minister."

2. This is kind of a fun thing: "A Visit to London's Inspiring Olympic Velodrome." Great architecture and the building is environmentally friendly too. Canada is doing well in a world cup event there: "The British deemed it to be the best cycling track ever and they have been doing very well, with two golds and a pair of new world records. To everyone's surprise, the Canadians led the way." Surprised? Wha?

3. At Balkinization, an interesting theory on what the U.S. Supreme Court might do in response to an appeal of the Prop 8 case to it. An author suggests that they might refuse to hear it on the grounds that the supporters of Prop 8 don't have standing. In other words, who are these people to act on behalf of the people of California?
Proposition 8 proponents were never actually chosen by the people, nor designated by any of California's elected representatives, to speak for the state's electorate. Of course, the measure that the proponents proposed was adopted, but that does not mean that the electorate decided — or intended — that these particular proponents ought to speak or act for the voters in any representative capacity. [I]nitiative proponents not picked by the voters may lack credibility, and may in fact be rogue actors whose current views, sentiments and desires bear little relation to those of the electorate that adopted the initiative in question, much less the electorate that exists at the time litigation is conducted.
Very interesting and it makes a heck of a lot of sense.

4. Some speculation that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might step down from the court in 2015 based on comments she has made to the effect that she'd leave the court at the age of 82. That report is interesting due to the inclusion of this idea:
In "The Case for Early Retirement: Why Justices Ginsburg and Breyer should retire immediately" in the April 28, 2011, edition of The New Republic, Harvard professor Randall Kennedy said: "Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer should soon retire. That would be the responsible thing for them to do. ... Both are unlikely to be able to outlast a two-term Republican presidential administration, should one supersede the Obama administration following the 2012 election. What's more, both are, well, old: Ginsburg is now 78, the senior sitting justice. Breyer is 72."
That way, Obama would be assured of appointing replacements for two aging members of the liberal wing of the court before the 2012 fall presidential election - just in case. Sounds like Ginsburg is not down with it though.

5. The latest on the internet surveillance bill, C-30. Solid commentary there by the Assistant Privacy Commissioner and also a great quote by Michael Geist at the end:
'"The notion that the government can screw this up, that they can install that sort of surveillance capabilities, that they can dispense with basic notions of privacy on the internet, I think is something that would stick for literally decades in the minds of many Canadians," Geist said.
6. Finally, love this: "Using Rap to Teach Pithy Lessons in Business." The bidness school kids just aren't getting how to stand up to the difficult board member, fire executives, etc. Ben Hurowitz is a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley with a blog who connects rap with various issues he's writing about.
“All the management books are like, ‘This is how you set objectives, this is how you set up an org chart,’ but that’s all the easy part of management,” Mr. Horowitz said in an interview in his spacious office here on Sand Hill Road, the epicenter of tech investing.

“The hard part is how you feel. Rap helps me connect emotionally.”
The difference between what's in the noggin and what's in the heart. Applicable in your various political character contexts too.

So long, Cowboy - Updated

Update (Monday a.m.) below.

It looks like Cowboys for Social Responsibility is riding off into the sunset. Blasted, another good blogger leaves the Canadian political scene.

CSR was the go-to place for analysis on all things to do with the gun registry and, in the larger context, gun control issues, in recent years. Their blogging will be missed.

Thanks for all you did, pal!

Update (Monday a.m.): Received this nice email from a reader of CSR's blog:
Thank you for your recent post

I was dismayed when I read C4SR’s last post a few days ago and even more dismayed to see they had not allowed comments on their last post. (I wanted to thank them)

Glad that you used your blog to thank them.

Posted this for all the other bloggers out there too.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Conservatives against online spying & other notes

There is a letter cross-posted at that has been sent to the members of the conservative Free Dominion site. It's essentially an appeal for the Conservative base to contact their MPs and encourage them to speak out against C-30.
This online spying legislation is antithetical to core conservative principles of freedom, privacy rights, and limited government. It is exactly the kind of bill that we conservatives would have fought, tooth and nail, back when we were in the Opposition.

We mustn't let partisan politics become an obstacle to doing what is right for our country.

Conservartive MPs like Tory John Williamson, David Tilson, and Rob Anders have already spoken out on this issue. We need more Conservative MPs to speak out. We need to stop this costly, invasive, and poorly thought-out legislation.

Conservative MPs can't easily ignore us—their own base. We carry incredible influence with a government we helped elect into power.
Good for them, may they have much success. Opponents of this bill, from whatever partisan stripe, need to keep up the pressure. The House of Commons isn't sitting this coming week so it's a good time for MPs to be contacted in their home ridings.

Michael Geist had a good post yesterday on this week's events: "What a Difference a Week Makes: The Fight Against Online Surveillance." He wondered about what made this week's protest different from others that don't take off and stated: "Yet this time I think there is something more happening." He expanded: "The "something more" is the Internet and how over the past month it has emerged as a powerful political force in North America and Europe." Digital issues have been successfully protested elsewhere, for e.g., with SOPA in the U.S. and the associated internet blackout that we Canadians witnessed and expressed solidarity to just recently. Lawful access seems to be our equivalent, Geist is suggesting.

There is more on the question of online protest and its success here where a professor of journalism and mass communications makes some interesting comments:
"We're constantly trying to figure out if online participation has off-line effects," LaMarre said Thursday night. "Are there meaningful consequences? We're getting mixed results. In some instances we find that there's this really strong, fat blip online -- but really, it's just catharsis. (People) are angry, and there's a huge emotional uproar (on social media) for a day or two... but it's just catharsis."

But sometimes, it isn't. Sometimes, LaMarre said, the dialogue builds and grows and digs in deep, and then you have something like the U.S. experienced with the Stop Online Piracy Act, a controversial bill that was shelved after online "blackout" protests.

On the other hand, LaMarre said, despite months of stout online opposition, it wasn't until Google and Amazon and other heavyweights started indicating their support for the SOPA protests that U.S. senators began pulling their names off of the bill.

And so it goes: Some online movements take off from the grassroots and push the power brokers into action. But just as many fizzle out, their impact more uncertain, or perhaps non-existent. "We don't exactly know the trigger yet, when it lives and when it dies," LaMarre said. "Twitter will be gone before we know that. So we have to ask that question at the broader level of social media."
Lawful access is clearly one of those issues that has grown and dug in deep in Canada, it's not a fizzler. It doesn't seem possible that the Harper government will be under any illusions about that point after this week.

Friday night

Belated Friday night, that is. Have a good late night!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Harper eyes the parliamentary budget for cuts

News from CTV last night that Harper is looking for a 10 per cent cut to Parliament's $585M budget. A few thoughts come to mind.

First, is this a distraction from Harper's humongous internet surveillance bungle? Maybe. After the tremendously bad p.r. they've been getting over the last week or so where their Reform fangs are showing, a reassertion of their economic management focus would be likely. Or, it's possible that the coming Flaherty budget could be bad and that this is a bit of the cover for the coming hit. As in, Parliament is taking its medicine, Canada must as well.

Whatever the political backdrop may be, let's consider the idea. This proposal of a 10% reduction to the $586 million parliamentary budget is - wait a minute for the math - yep, about $58 million. Now is that a substantial savings in the context of the entire budget for the Government of Canada at this moment? Probably not. It sounds symbolic, if anything. It's also not clear that we, as a nation, have to go down a serious austerity road, so it's also not clear that core parliamentary budgets, such as MP office budgets or other operating costs, even need to be on the table.

Now is there excess fat in the parliamentary budget that warrants trimming? We just don't know. This proposed reduction is difficult to gauge. These expenditures are not publicly posted, which seems ridiculous. So we just don't know if there is excess in things like MP office budgets, for example. We shouldn't presume there is excess, however, just because Mr. Harper has his eye on these items. He might have his eye on this funding for reduction precisely because the public can't tell whether we need to do it or not.

The fact, however, that all parties, including the Conservatives, seem to be expressing initial opposition to this idea suggests that cuts to parliamentary spending may not be warranted. May not be. Again, we don't know and information asymmetry land is where Harper seems to enjoy living, politically speaking.

Harper and brain trust shouldn't assume that people's eyes will glaze over out of disinterest on this one though. People do care about the workings of Parliament, that our seat of government functions properly. That was demonstrated during the prorogation uproar. It has also been magnified during this internet surveillance brouhaha. We need to keep our parliamentary representatives and our parliament amply resourced to counter the Harper majority government. It's all part of a narrative on democracy that's developing and we'll see, but these cuts could feed into that.

If MPs can make the case, across party lines, that there isn't excess, then they should go for it. We need to have a well-functioning Parliament in the Harper era, that much is quite obvious. If anything, some of us would argue for more parliamentary capabilities, like enhanced resources for committees, for example. 

Another question comes to mind. Would this floated restraint include the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office? Based on recent reporting, there doesn't seem to be any such restraint going on in the head guy's fiefdom (see flights, proliferating communications staff, appointments of failed candidates as shadow MPs). Surely Mr. Harper would get out in front and lead by example to the tune of at least 10% in equal measure if MPs and parliamentary expenditures are going to be eyed.

More meetings on the proposed cuts to come, they say. Stay tuned.

Update (7:30 p.m.): The Rural Canadian looked at the issue of parliamentary expenses back in 2010 and notes how little things have changed, that the issue is coming up once again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Backtracking on #C30?

A quick post on the day's the wake of the tremendous backlash to the Conservative internet surveillance legislation, the Harper crew are making noises about amendments to C-30. See "Government willing to consider changes to online surveillance bill," for example, where Conservative MPs Williamson, Anders and Tilson are cited as expressing concerns. Anders is hearing from his constituents in Calgary, the heart of Conservative country. That's likely the case for the others as well. Hope there is titanium in their spines on this issue.

Here was Harper in the House of Commons today, with his vague commitment:
"We've been very clear; we're working with provinces and police to attack problems of online pornography, child pornography. But of course we will ensure that Parliament fully studies this bill and that private life is also protected in this regard," Harper said.
And Vic Toews:
"The prime minister indicated that that would in fact be the case — that we will entertain amendments," said Toews. "But I think that the amendments have to be focused on the fact that we have a problem in respect of the proliferation of pedophilia and child pornography online. We want our laws fixed while striking the right balance when it comes to protecting privacy."
While this has the appearance of a walking back, of course the proof will be in the pudding, as they say.

Special shout out to Ann Cavoukian who is doing yeoman's work in raising the public profile of this issue:
"They're calling the bill 'Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.' Give me a break. The warrantless access does not just apply to cases of child pornography or child predators. It can apply to something that's not even a criminal activity. It's ridiculous to go to these lengths. And why are they doing it? They're doing it because they want to instil fear on the part of the public and say, 'Well, if you don't give us this bill, then all child pornographers, those predators, that's going to be on your head.' And that's what they want the public to fear," Cavoukian told Postmedia News.
Canadians like their internets, that's for sure. Early indications are that they are getting it in terms of the privacy invasions that would be in the offing should this legislation pass. Let's hope that the mailings, emails and telephone calls to MPs, Conservative members in particular, will ramp up on the part of all concerned citizens.

More budget homework for Flaherty

This is a story that may have been glossed over in the past few days but is worth noting: "Rating Firms Question Canada's Planned Budget Cuts." Two of the major ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch, are warning the Harper government away from large budget cutting plans:
Steven Hess, Moody's lead analyst for Canada, said that with a budget deficit of around 2% there is "no rush" for the Canadian government to return to fiscal balance.

"From our perspective there is leeway there and doing it [cutting] too rapidly has negative effects and can be counterproductive as revenues grow" more slowly, he said. "It is a risk [to growth] if they move too fast," he said.

The Canadian economy is already seeing headwinds. Consumer debt is now at record highs. Economists worry households are tapped out. Slower-than-expected global growth, meanwhile, threatens to crimp Canada's exports to the rest of the world.

"You don't have to swallow an extremely bitter pill if you are not sick," said Shelly Shetty, an analyst at Fitch Ratings.

In particular, Ms. Shetty said that any attempt by Canada to reach a balanced budget earlier than its current target of 2016 is not "required."
The ratings agencies do have their critics. There are two on the same page here, however, and it's in line with what the Parliamentary Budget Officer was saying last week, in the context of OAS fiscal sustainability.

More markers being laid down for Flaherty. Are they going to be all about the axe or will they listen to such messages being sent about the need to foster growth? Do they have more than one tool in their toolbox? Stay tuned...

Harper not in step with Canadians on OAS

This is not a well chosen headline for the report that was written: "Harper's OAS reforms in step with public opinion: poll." This one was a little better but still off: "Harper's OAS reforms move in step with public opinion, government polling shows." What the polling cited in the headlines shows is that Canadians are concerned about aging demographics and their impact on the health care system and pension sustainability. Expressing concern for those things does not translate, however, into Canadians being in step with Harper's particular OAS reforms. Here's what the report gives us in terms of how Canadians reacted to the Privy Council Office's poll:
Polling and focus-group testing for the Privy Council Office point to an overriding concern about aging, and about whether the federal government's policies were sufficient.

"Across the country participants touched on a series of concerns that revolve around the aging of Canada's population, and the government's ability to address the challenges associated with this reality," says the report by Walker Consulting Group, based on public-opinion research done last August.

In open-ended questions, many respondents told the pollsters that the government needed to pay special attention to pension sustainability and the ability of future generations to support growing numbers of retirees.

In responses from across the county, participants said repeatedly they were concerned about the ability of the health-care system to handle the growing burden that comes with an aging population.

"Whether in B.C., Ontario, or Quebec, the issue of how the health-care system will absorb the increased volume of needs and the nature of those needs from the increasing number of elderly Canadians was the most notable concern across the country," the report says.
Who isn't concerned with those things? That's not a big surprise. It's a big leap, however, to say that the fact that those concerns are being expressed means that Canadians support how the government will go about meeting those concerns. When it comes to making choices about how we go about sustaining our health care system and pensions and what kind of system we want, that's where diverging views can occur.

So yes, Harper has reacted to the concerns articulated in the poll by seeking to reform OAS. But he's chosen to respond to those concerns by floating an increase in the OAS age eligibility. Canadians have, elsewhere, in at least one other poll, expressed a heavily negative reaction to that possibility: "Three-quarters of Canadians – or 74 per cent – say they oppose reforming old-age security in this way with half of the population insisting they “strongly oppose” the contentious measure, according to an Ipsos Reid study for Global News and Postmedia News."

For anyone to suggest, at this stage, that Harper's OAS reforms are in step with Canadian public opinion seems misguided. You could read the Privy Council's poll, the limited part we read anyway, as having a very opposite meaning. That is, as suggesting Canadians are concerned about the pension and health care systems and want to preserve or strengthen them, not see them reduced.

Very interesting to see the results of Privy Council focus groups and polls being made available now to create such headlines. Harper is clearly back and on the job. Trying to fill the void of rationalization for OAS changes after the PBO and others have questioned the government's plans.

One last thing, here's a worthwhile overview of where we are on the OAS issue with Bob Rae and Susan Eng of CARP.

El busto

Opinion is lining up firmly against the Harper government's internet surveillance legislation.

Harris: "Bill aimed at internet predators empowers Big Brother government."
The only thing that separates a democratic state from a police state is the notion of accountability. Police powers are restrained under the due process of our judicial system to reflect the protection of basic freedoms like privacy and the gravity of a criminal investigation that could deprive someone of their liberty. Warrants don’t prevent the police from doing their investigations, they protect the integrity of the system. In order to get a warrant, the police have to demonstrate reasonable and probable cause that a crime is being committed by a particular person. Remove that requirement and you end up with a system that could be driven by unprofessional hunches, misplaced zeal, idle curiosity, or malice.
David Eaves: "Online surveillance bill will let Ottawa spy on every citizen."
You know what really reminds me of Adolf Hitler, 1939? A government that seeks to monitor the actions of all its citizens, to spy on them in their homes and their places of work, to ask companies to record who they communicate with and when. As a father, I agree we need to fight child pornography, but I’m not willing to sign away my — or my children’s — civil rights and online privacy.

I suspect most Canadians, as they learn more about this online surveillance bill, will feel the same way. They don’t want any government, Conservative, Liberal or NDP, forcing companies to record what they do, or accessing information about them without a warrant from an independent judiciary.
Calgary Herald: "Vic Toews goes phishing:Online spying by police is a chilling prospect."
The Harper government's approach to crime is one of black cowboy hats and white cowboy hats, with no room for those who don hats that are grey. While many of its crime initiatives are justified, nobody expected Harper to become Dirty Harry in a pinstriped suit. If the police have reasonable grounds for illegal online activity, they can get a warrant, not go on phishing expeditions by snooping in the computers of ordinary Canadians.
Den Tandt: "Conservatives bungling justice, security issues."
Here's a thought: Perhaps Tories should rather begin to worry that fair-minded Canadians from all regions may come to view them as demagogues.
The Province: "The Tories weren't elected to spy on us."

Postmedia: "Do Canadians want to live in a police state?"

Montreal Gazette: "A worrying foray into our private communications."

Ottawa Citizen: "With 'em or against 'em."

Akin: "Say hello to Big Brother Government."

Not going well at all in the early going. Good stuff.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Late night

The progressive forces are alive and well in the U.S. What better Valentine's Day video than a celebratory, joyful signing ceremony like that? A law that combines both head and heart, legislative guidance to live by...

Monday, February 13, 2012

This day in history brought to you by the Harper Government™

Our obsessive Harper government would like to bring you this heritage moment: "Statement by the Honourable Joe Oliver, P.C., M.P., Commemorating the Historic Discovery of Crude Oil at Leduc #1." Read carefully. The title of their release might leave a casual observer with the impression that the Leduc well was the first oil discovery in Canada. The release goes on:
Today, we celebrate the 65th anniversary of a pivotal moment for Canada’s economy and future prosperity.

On February 13, 1947, the first major Canadian discovery of crude oil was made near Leduc, Alberta. With Imperial Oil’s Leduc #1 discovery, Canada’s modern oil industry was born. What followed was a surge in economic growth and jobs that continues today, with benefits felt across the country.

Canada’s oil industry has evolved greatly in the past 65 years. It has played a huge role in establishing our energy sector as a major engine of the country’s economy. Canada has emerged as a global energy superpower.
Our Government is proud to recognize the historic discovery of Leduc #1 65 years ago as an important part of our heritage.
It wasn't the first oil well. It was the first major discovery. Read this wiki item and you will learn that the first oil well in Canada was actually near Sarnia, Ontario, circa 1857. Nevertheless, the subtle impressions you will get from the release above and the various government sites will suggest otherwise.

And no, this isn't the biggest political story of the day, that's not the point. Little creeping inches of historical emphases will pile up, no doubt, in the years to come. We should take note of how our history is being written. And it is kind of fun to watch them at work.

Looking forward to many more interesting heritage moments to come, courtesy of the Harper government.

Austerity for thee, not for me

This is the kind of thing that just doesn't help when a Prime Minister is eyeing Old Age Security benefits for cuts: "Despite goal of restraint, Harper’s top bureaucrats rack up hefty travel costs." Terrible optics and poor timing on that one.

Elsewhere on the pensions issue, if you missed it yesterday, Kevin Page appeared on Question Period and maintained his confident stance that OAS is fiscally sustainable for the long term. He answered Flaherty's charge of "unbelievable, unreliable, incredible" by suggesting Flaherty was under a lot of stress. Page also stated that the PBO's work had been consistent, etc. in answer to Flaherty, but the stress remark stood out. That has to be one of the more memorable push backs to this government by an independent official to date. It suggests that Page is indeed quite confident in his own projections.

Also notable, Page challenged Flaherty to release his own reporting. There seems to be a bit of a public push on for Flaherty to do just that.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why Flaherty was so upset with the PBO this week - part 2

A follow-up here to a post from Thursday morning on the blog on the matter of Flaherty's visceral reaction to the Parliamentary Budget Officer's Wednesday report on OAS being in fiscally sustainable shape. In iPolitics on Friday afternoon, this column was published by two very reputable former Finance Department officials: "‘Unbelievable, unreliable, and incredible.’Why did Jim Flaherty attack the PBO?" Yes, it was quite a noticeable attack and warranted scrutiny.

What I can't help but wonder, after reading their column carefully, is whether they are implying that the PBO may have been leaked a copy of that long ago Flaherty promised report on long term fiscal sustainability and intergenerational/demographic changes that they reference in their column. Because they don't seem to directly answer the question as to why he was so mad. At least, that's my theory on what they're getting at, when they say things like, "Surely such a report must exist?" Totally speculative theory on my part, I know. Maybe it was the case that Page hit a little too close to home with his numbers for Mr. Flaherty, thus producing the emotional reaction.

Their column is a good read for a Sunday anyway, even setting speculation aside. It is ludicrous for the federal government to be getting away with not providing such long term fiscal projections to the public. The IMF, as they note, backs the PBO in its attempts to do so. Other OECD countries produce such public reports.

We're the shareholders in this country and we deserve public numbers. It's really outrageous.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday night

Something different this week, older stuff. Happened to be listening to songs on the iPod that started with the word "Don't" for some reason, so here we go...

Best campaign song ever? Maybe...

Have a good night!

Canadian Foreign Policy Journal issue on the F-35

This morning I had a humorous item up on the F-35 brouhaha that occurred in the House of Commons yesterday. The superficial political excitement was focused on this statement from Conservative Julian Fantino:
Fantino said a recent report criticizing the purchase in the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal was "critical of everything that is holy and decent about the government's efforts" to equip the Canadian Forces.
In response to my post, I received an email from Professor David Carment who is the editor of the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal and who is, no doubt, a little flustered that one article in the journal, the Michael Byers' article, is getting the lion's share of the attention. So he wrote:
I see that many are writing about the CFPJ issue we released recently - I would encourage people to read all the articles or at least look at some of them before assuming the entire issue is slanted one way or another
In particular, he recommends the Paul Mitchell piece as particularly interesting and characterizes the journal issue on the F-35 this way: "all told its a balanced mix of pros and cons."

Fair enough. I'm sure interested persons in the file who have a serious substantive interest will read through the entire journal for the entire picture. Although I would say that garnering national media attention to a Canadian Foreign Policy Journal is nothing to sneeze at, no matter what the hook may be.

You can access the journal here.

Update: Conservatives still dragging their feet in withholding documents on the costs of their proposed F-35 purchase.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Why Flaherty was so upset with the PBO yesterday

Well, there was the main takeaway from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page's report release yesterday on the fiscal sustainability of Old Age Security that Flaherty would not have been too pleased with: "OAS sustainable under current rules, says budget watchdog." That main point runs counter to the government's messaging. And so, "...Kevin Page's report drew and [sic] immediate — and hostile — reaction from from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who dismissed Page's assessment of the program's sustainability as "unbelievable, unreliable, incredible."

This looks like the sleeper point in Page's report at page iii of his Summary that may have ratcheted up Flaherty's hostility:
In fact, the budget officer insists there is even some wiggle room for the program. The report said "the federal government could reduce revenue, increase program spending or some combination of both by 0.4 per cent of GDP annually while maintaining fiscal sustainability. This amounts to $7 billion in 2011-12."
$7 billion in present day budgeting flexibility would undercut the Conservatives' rationale for various austerity plans. Am no economist like our Prime Minister, but it sounds like a wrench was thrown into the Flaherty budget plans right there.

More on the fake OAS crisis: "There’s no old age security ‘crisis,’ PBO report shows."

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

A banner day in Ottawa

Yes, it was a banner day in Ottawa yesterday, replete with Hitler references from a Conservative MP and a Canadian minister of the crown telling Canadians that Canada will now act on information gained from torture. The video above is Rae, in the scrum after the Commons goings on, commenting on both developments and nailing both issues very well. Just a few points to add here on watching these Conservatives in action.

We know they're going to do away with the long gun registry. We well know it, opponents of this move. Canadians, who approve of the registry, also know that this is what they get - like bad medicine - as a result of the Harper majority. But why do the Conservatives have to carry out their agenda in the manner of uncouth embarrassing dolts? You watch them for years and think it couldn't get worse, but it does. You fruitlessly wonder if they could exhibit some sensitivity to the very point that they do not possess majority support on this issue. Yet clearly, it's too much to ask of them.

The leaders of the pack yesterday were in fine form. Larry Miller's abhorrent Hitler comments might have seen a storming out, had it occurred in France, as they did indeed do in their seat of government in response to similar comments yesterday. The Conservatives have Hitler on the brain in a bad way this week. Then there were Dean Del Mastro's silly, trivializing remarks arguing that a long gun registry is as excessive as having a "kitchen knife registry," to bring up the rear to colleague Miller's full frontal assault on civility.

There are a few thing about watching these specimens that occur to a person. There's the sad decline in humanity that you see unfolding before you. It's like a form of caveman politics is upon us. It's an alien, head shaking experience. Sure, it's not new and it's not just dawning on me. It's just the new low hitting home.

Then you wonder, don't these people have any kind of internal checking mechanism that would put the brakes on the Hitler references? Do they not have any sense that they represent us all and owe a duty to us all? That sense is missing. Basic, decent Canadian sense that has been present in all preceding governments, until now.

On torture, the world will take note of Canada's wretched, Toews ordered shift to permit the use of information gained from torture. Here's BBC on it: "Canada security services 'can use torture material'. With Harper planning on raising human rights issues with China this week, the torture directive news is so timely. What kind of moral authority does this add to the Prime Minister's cause? Nada.

High times in Harper's Canada. They're winning ugly, for now, but Canada is better than these puerile displays, that's for sure.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

U.S. Court of Appeals says Proposition 8 unconstitutional

From the American Foundation for Equal Rights this afternoon, a big court victory for same sex marriage in the U.S. When equality and love prevail, it is always worth celebrating:
San Francisco, CA – Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling in Perry v. Brown upholding the historic August 2010 decision of the Federal District Court that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. In an opinion authored by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the Ninth Circuit concluded that Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Proposition 8 stripped gay and lesbian Californians of the fundamental freedom to marry.

“Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect in California, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for laws of this sort,” Judge Reinhardt wrote.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) is the sole sponsor of the Perry case.

“Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, as the courts have repeatedly throughout our nation’s history, that singling out a class of citizens for discriminatory treatment is unfair, unlawful and violates basic American values,” said AFER Board President Chad Griffin. “Like many other Americans, our plaintiffs want nothing more than to marry the person they love. Committed, loving couples and their families should not be denied this most fundamental freedom.”
Here's a bold prediction from the notable Republican lawyer who took on this case:
“This is a huge day: The United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit, which represents nine states and certain territories, has decided that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional," said Theodore B. Olson, one of the attorneys representing the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which challenged Proposition 8. Speaking at a news conference here Tuesday morning, Mr. Olson said he was now “very confident” the Supreme Court would uphold this decision and nullify the voter initiative.
That looks like where it is headed. The narrow decision that the 9th Circuit made is the basis for Olson's view.
The decision, though, was narrowly cast. The judges specifically avoided drawing any grand constitutional right to marriage, unlike the decision by Mr. Walker. Instead, they decided it on narrow grounds, referring to California law and its handling of the rights of domestic partnerships, in a way that might make it difficult to extend the logic of the ruling to other states.

"It's striking that the court - or at least the two judges - went out of their way to define the judgment as narrowly as they could," said Douglas NeJaime, an associate professor at Loyola law school in Los Angeles. He said the narrowness of the decision could influence the Supreme Court to take a road it often favors: issuing narrow and incremental decisions instead of sweeping ones.

"The laws of other states won't be directly impacted," he said.
That latter point leading some to speculate that the U.S. Supreme Court won't hear an appeal from this case at all. We shall see.

A good day for those fighting the good fight.

Late night

One of the Superbowl ads that has had a bit of a political backlash. It's Clint Eastwood's ad for Chrysler that Karl Rove whined about Monday, to the effect that it is supportive of Obama in that Obama made the decision to bail out the auto industry and the auto industry is now doing well. Balloon Juice has a good response to Mr. Rove.

The ad was political in its undercurrent, that's for sure. The appeal on coming together, overcoming discord and division, those themes are definitely associated with Obama. As is the government decision to bail out Detroit which the Republicans would have hung on Obama had it worked out differently. You can understand why a Rove would complain.

It's a popular ad style in political quarters these days, with a familiar air to it for we Ontarians.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Friday night

A late Friday night music addition. The blog is turning into a music blog toward the end of this week, I see. Anyway, came across this during the week. Put together a 3 hour soundtrack of music in the last few days so I was actually listening to and including some jazz. Yes. So here you go. I know some readers of the blog will like this, an all-time classic. For those not familiar with it, it may have been in one of your favourite Woody Allen movies. Or something like that.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

About that death penalty issue that wasn't reopened yesterday... the Conservative Senator who mused about giving prisoners a rope in their cells to hang themselves. He later apologized.

The death penalty issue actually was reopened by the Conservatives, years ago. They have reversed a decades long Canadian policy of our government seeking clemency for Canadians abroad who face the death penalty. They seek clemency now only on a case by case basis and their application of their new standard is uneven.

This death penalty issue doesn't get that much attention. There's a mention in Lawrence Martin's column today. And social justice advocates keep a watchful eye on the government: "Canadians Continue to face Death Sentences Abroad - Is The Canadian Government Doing Enough?"

For a nation that does not support the death penalty domestically, our government's policy abroad runs disgracefully counter to our Canadian standards. It's not a stretch to say that they have reopened the debate. It's just kept far away from domestic viewing audiences.