Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tory expense fun, it's not just for the Senate

Ahoy Tory riding associations!

Canadian Press follows the dollar trail to show us how political donation limits are playing out in Canada: "Eye-popping Tory riding war chests raise eyebrows." This is something we have known for a bit but it's nice to see reporting on it today in the wake of the Mike Duffy Senate expense extravaganza. It tells us that you can put in place all the low level limits you like but let's also look at where the money ends up. And at the need for that publicly subsidized money to be accounted for.

The Whitby-Oshawa federal Conservative riding association has $70,000 in "travel and hospitality" expenses? Crikey, that's high! No surprise here in the Conservative response: "...The Canadian Press did not receive any response to repeated requests for explanations from some of the biggest spending Conservative associations, including Flaherty's and Leitch's." The party of Senator Mike Duffy has apparently learned nothing from that ongoing investigative experience.

Who is helping to raise all that dough anyway? Tory Senators?

Carry on with all the great reporting out there!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Random thoughts on the cabinet shuffle

If we must. Alternative blog post title could very well be: Everything old is new again. I agree with the Canadian Press header: "New faces in Harper's cabinet overhaul, but old guard stands economic watch." I also agree, unsurprisingly (!), with Bob Rae's fun take on all the hullabaloo: "With shuffle, the Harper Revolution continues its slow, steady crawl."

First, an under-noted development perhaps. Chris Alexander goes to Citizenship & Immigration. Jason Kenney's old stomping ground. Literally. Just ask the Doctors for Refugee Health Care who have taken the lead on protesting the cuts by this government to health care coverage for refugees. Whether Alexander will remedy this situation is a key question. Will he continue on with the "gold plated benefits" propaganda nonsense or as a GTA denizen amend this government's ways on what is an uncompassionate policy?

Another aspect of this move is the political angle. This ministry is clearly viewed by Conservatives as a key part of their political equation. Putting Alexander, an ambitious pol from the GTA into this ministry as a successor to Kenney is an intriguing political dynamic. Kenney nevertheless tweeted:
Speaking of himself, Kenney goes to HRSDC. It was termed Employment & Social Development today but it is HRSDC, as Kenney's tweets also indicate. Succeeding Diane Finley. No one is calling this a demotion but it does have that tinge to it. I suppose something transformational could be in the works, given Kenney's being Kenney and we shall see.

Working with Kenney, kind of, will be Kellie Leitch who is put in Labour & Status of Women. I find putting a surgeon in the Labour portfolio to be odd and not necessarily congruent with her experience. Raitt is a lawyer so at least she was steeped more in the framework, Leitch not so much. Although when your government's labour relations policy is just to legislate industries back to work under the guise of "the economy," it may not be an issue for Leitch at the end of the day. And also with Leitch, Status of Women continues to be an add on hobby for a Harper minister.

Pierre Poilievre to Democratic Reform? What more could one possibly say here? This is the MP who has been sicced on Elections Canada for years. If this day was meant to be about Harper turning a new page, this move surely undermined that thinking. But really, who would have expected a day free from some patented Harper partisanship.

The big news elsewhere in democratic reform today, by the way, is that Bob Rae has joined Fair Vote Canada's advisory board.
“Canadians need to know that their votes will really count. This means moving beyond our first past the post system”, says Rae, a long-time supporter of adding proportionality to Canada’s electoral system.
The key democratic reform challenge for Canada's future is not the Senate, the priority should be reforming the House of Commons. Liberals also joined that message on democratic reform today.

Lisa Raitt to Transport is interesting given the debate going on in the GTA - or should I say GTHA - over transit funding and dealing with Toronto's overdue needs and the Metrolinx proposals. Subway fever is everywhere and the funds to underwrite Toronto's transit needs are pressing. Raitt has her sexy portfolio now and it could provide opportunity for the Harper gang in Toronto. Emphasis on could. Whether they will be willing to work with Premier Wynne or keep showing up and wearing t-shirts for Team Hudak is a question.

Aglukkaq to Environment on its surface might seem like a less dug in approach in the offing. Here is one take that seems fair: But it's the oil and gas regulations that will be the big test for this government, as everyone knows.

Elsewhere, countries have ministers designated for climate change. It's time for this in Canada too.

Probably much more that could be said but that's it from this corner of the internet peanut gallery.

P.S. Oh, almost forgot the obligatory note for long time readers...Gerry Ritz should have been fired.

Friday, July 12, 2013

One man in Lac Mégantic

This is a very powerful report on Raymond Lafontaine of Lac Mégantic who lost a son, two daughters-in-law and an employee in the train explosion. He's making a difference on the ground there in many ways, chief among them this:
In the minutes after Saturday’s explosion, he rushed to the town’s centre, using one of his front-end loaders to pour gravel and smashing buildings to stop the path of the flames. Then, beginning on Monday, he emerged to speak publicly and resolutely, a native son who shares his town’s grief — and carries its pride.

Shaking with rage he told reporters on Wednesday that he, personally, will make sure that trains of crude oil don’t pass through town the way they did before the blast.

“I am not a terrorist,” he said. “There is a way to organize this. That track was laid to transport wood. The government needs to put on its shoes,” he said, using a French expression for taking charge.
Lafontaine is striking a note that no politician has or perhaps could. And if he is doing so in Lac Mégantic, how many towns across the country are watching and having the same concerns?

Moodys has taken notice. Life could become quite different for the oil industry with means of transport and routes being challenged, increased costs and heightened scrutiny.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Place your Keystone bets

Joe Romm is betting it's off:
Harder writes:
To the surprise of everyone outside the White House, Obama mentioned the pipeline in his speech. It was a politically savvy move for three reasons: 1) He called out the elephant in the room and thus avoided both criticism from groups like the Sierra Club and the subsequent media coverage of his omission; 2) He took ownership of the issue, showing everyone on every side of the fight he is personally involved; and 3) He shifted the debate over the pipeline from one of economics to one about the effects on climate change.
I agree with #2 and #3 — which is precisely why I think the speech makes it less likely he will approve Keystone. Obama owns KXL and he’s said the deciding factor is climate, not economics. As a new Scientific American article sums things up, “If built, the Keystone XL pipeline will be a spigot that speeds tar sands production, pushing the planet toward its emissions limit.”
...
And folks who have been around Washington politics a lot longer than I have think it would be very un-savvy to spend so much time laying out a strong moral case for climate action and then bringing up Keystone IF the president is planning on approving it. He would have been far better off not talking about Keystone at all in that case. As it is now, he will rightfully be called an extreme hypocrite if he ultimately opens the spigot to the dirty tar sands.

There’s no question Obama could approve Keystone, but I believe the smart money has shifted from betting he will to betting he won’t.
CTV was reporting that Peter Kent may be moving on and therefore would be out as Environment Minister. Not sure there's much a new Canadian minister might do to sway the Obama administration but Keystone has got to be figuring into Harper's thinking. Is Rempel, currently the Parliamentary Secretary to Kent, the one?

Whoever it is, they're also going to have to deal with this burgeoning - and very warranted - focus on petcoke. This oil sands byproduct gained greater visibility recently given the Koch brothers' piling of it on the Detroit waterfront to the discomfort of Windsorites looking on from across the river.

We, for the most part, won't burn it for fuel due to its high emissions levels and the "Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow any new licenses permitting the burning of petroleum coke in the United States." So it is largely being shipped overseas to China and Mexico, nations that don't care much about emissions levels. Shouldn't we Canadians be concerned about that? Particularly if Keystone were to be approved, with the amounts of petcoke that will be produced.

Over to you, next Harper environment minister.