Saturday, June 11, 2005

Remembering the priorities

For all the recent talk about crystal meth, a little perspective is in order.
(Saskatoon's) public believes alcohol, followed by marijuana and crystal meth are the most abused substance in the province. Talwin/Ritalin, cocaine and solvent abuse, respectively, were considered less widespread. Regina respondents ranked the substances in the same order.
Regina Police Chief Cal Johnston said while alcohol abuse is certainly the biggest problem they face on a day-to-day basis, cocaine is probably next on that list and is, for now, a bigger problem than crystal meth...

Brian Checkley, an addictions counsellor at the Metis Addictions Council of Saskatchewan Inc., said he hasn't dealt with a lot of crystal meth addicts in Regina and sees more cocaine and Talwin/Ritalin addicts than anything else. That, however, doesn't mean the problem isn't growing.

As important as it is to confront new issues, the poll shows the danger in giving complete attention to a new problem when past ones haven't been solved. We should be dealing with drugs and associated issues as a whole, not crystal meth to the exclusion of similar issues.

Shutting down hearings

It doesn't only happen in Canada:
The Republican chairman walked off with the gavel, leaving Democrats shouting into turned-off microphones at a raucous hearing Friday on the Patriot Act.
Democrats asked for the hearing, the 11th the committee has held on the act since April, saying past hearings had been too slanted toward witnesses who supported the law. The four witnesses were from groups, including Amnesty International USA and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, that have questioned the constitutionality of some aspects of the act, which allows law enforcement greater authority to investigate suspected terrorists.

Fortunately, on most committees our obstructionist Cons can't do more than raise irrelevant points of order. And with any luck, as well as Harper's plummeting position, maybe another election will reduce their ability to do even that.

Force of international law

Not much new information, but The Economist has a good discussion of the divide between the U.S.' willingness to apply international law to others, and its refusal to accept foreign law itself:
Some, such as John Bolton, set to become Mr Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, believe that treaties that constrain American sovereignty in any way are “not legally binding”; but Mr Bush cited Iraq's transgressions of international law as part of the reason to go to war. Mr Bush has pulled America out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Kyoto agreement on the environment, ignored international laws of war and sent terrorist suspects into legal limbo in Guantánamo; yet America is among the strongest backers of global rules on trade, finance and international investment.

Want more direct double standards?
Under a treaty that came into force last year, extradition rules have been eased between Britain and the United States. America no longer has to present supporting evidence against someone it wants to extradite from Britain. It simply has to claim that an “extraditable” offence—one carrying a prison sentence of at least a year—has been committed. But because the Senate has so far declined to ratify the treaty, the new rules do not apply the other way round. If Britain wants to extradite a suspect from America, it still has to make out a prima facie case against him.

And, of course, the definitive example:
Foreign companies are getting worried, too, about the use of America's Alien Tort Claims Act, passed in 1789, which grants jurisdiction to American federal courts over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States”. This is increasingly being invoked by foreigners in America to sue international companies for alleged wrongs suffered outside the United States. One can imagine the rumpus if such a law were invoked, abroad, against an American company.

And even the Economist's relatively thorough discussion manages to avoid mentioning that the U.S. also happily flaunts trade rules where it sees fit: see e.g. the Byrd amendment and the ensuing legal proceedings.

Granting that states should always make all available efforts to cooperate in their mutual interest, I wonder why the rest of the world bothers trying to negotiate otherwise-binding treaties involving the U.S. What precisely is the point in another state's limiting its freedom of action through a contract, where the U.S. makes it clear that it plans to disregard the contract at will without penalty? The most commitment another state can count on from the U.S. is essentially a statement of intent - why offer to be legally bound in return?

Friday, June 10, 2005

The deal is done

The G7 reaches agreement on an African debt relief package:
Eighteen of the world's poorest countries will have their debts to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund wiped out as part of a $55bn (£30.4bn) package agreed today by the G7 leading economies.
After weeks of intense negotiations, a deal brokered by the chancellor, Gordon Brown, will save countries such as Mozambique and Ethiopia a total of $15bn in debt payments over the next 10 years.

Kudos to all parties for getting the deal done, and particularly to Brown for putting the process together.

On a less positive note, a large "what the hell?" to the IMF:
Sources said last night that the logjam had been broken when it was found that the IMF had several billion dollars available from gold sales in the late 1990s that it could use to cover the losses it would make from writing off debts.

The agency that's done so much to dictate Third World policy can't even keep track of several billion dollars of its own money? I suppose it could be worse - at least the money was put to good use, and hopefully the debt relief will allow more states to stay out from under the IMF's thumb in the future.

Free ideas for the taking

A site I'll be watching closely: the Canadian Cynic and Robert McClelland ridicule Media Bias.

While this is a great step to make sure that the right doesn't get too much of an advantage out of working the refs, I'd love to see two additions to Canada's media-watching landscape: first a Canadian equivalent to Media Matters, and second a genuinely neutral site/study (I've mooted the name "") to impartially examine the amount, tone and placement of coverage given to Canada's federal political parties. My suspicion is that the latter would show that the Lib/Con false dichotomy gets an inordinate amount of attention, but I'd be glad to be proven wrong if the data says so.

It's not principle, but at least it's something

Remember U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns? He's back in the news:
Johanns said re-opening the border was vital for the domestic cattle business. He said beef prices in the United States have risen too high since May 2003, when the border was closed after Canada's first case of mad cow disease.
If beef supplies don't increase and drive down prices, "American consumers will start choosing other sources of protein," he told reporters after the meeting.

This may be the worst reason I've heard for opening the border - but sadly it's also the most likely to make R-CALF listen.

Interestingly enough, R-CALF's CEO shot back criticizing the USDA's risk mitigation. Could the U.S. stumble toward an open border and reasonable consumer protection all at once?

Housing of a sort

The Conservatives don't want to hear about Canada's lack of social housing:
The Parliamentary Finance Committee had set aside a full hour on Thursday, June 9, to hear from three groups on housing. It would have allowed for ample questions and debate on how the NDP-revised budget would have affected affordable housing. But it was not to be. The Conservatives intervened time and time again with points of order that prevented the presentations from taking place.

Maybe this is more in keeping with their housing strategy:
The ripe stench of human excrement is getting stronger in downtown lanes, curling the stomachs of workers who no longer want to relax by the back door for smoke breaks...
Vancouver is set to commission a study to map the size of the problem and is considering spending more money on maintaining public toilets in the downtown entertainment and business districts.
More funding is needed for permanent public washrooms in the Downtown Eastside slum where thousands of homeless drug users have long used alleys as toilets.

The gall (unfortunately backed by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association) is impressive: let's not try to genuinely help people, but merely find a way to push them further out of mind.

Of course, that's not to say that the associated public health concerns shouldn't get some attention. But there's a bigger issue which won't be solved by putting $5,000 a month into Porta-Potties.

Notwithstanding Watch

Campbell says it's Ottawa's problem.
Klein? Not bloody likely.
Calvert says maybe.
Doer appears to avoid the subject.
McGuinty says not yet.
Charest says maybe.
Lord likes private care. (I think he just un-recruited himself from the next Con leadership race.)
Hamm is waiting on legal advice.
And I didn't see any government comments from PEI, Newfoundland/Labrador or any of the Territories.

We may find out more about these positions soon.

Media monitoring itself

CanWest's cover pages today. Funny how there seems to be an inverse relationship between the distribution of a given CanWest paper and the attention paid to the "improve the public system" option implied by the concurring judgment.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

As bad jokes go, this is one of them

The U.S. border continues to be closed to live Canadian cattle, notwithstanding that back in 1997 Canada banned ruminant feed, the most likely means of transmission. Right now the reason for the ban is that a Montana judge decided that opening the border could cause irreparable harm to the American cattle industry.

Is it possible to cause irreparable harm to an industry that's actively mutilating itself?
(M)uch of the commercially produced calf feed available today contains the very stuff that could spread mad cow disease throughout our food chain.
What is the Department of Agriculture doing about this? Nothing. As I said, the Department of Agriculture refuses to even consider stronger regulations that would put an end to this disgusting practice.

And in classic Bushian style:
Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns will, as his press release says, “hold a roundtable discussion regarding the safety of North American beef...” Those invited to participate include USDA officials, producers, packers, and others.
Who are the others? Groups that don’t want more testing and don’t want the government passing regulations that would make calf feed cleaner and thus slightly more expensive. In fact, consumer groups, organic livestock companies, and beef producers who oppose allowing cows to eat cow blood and slaughterhouse waste will not be allowed to participate.

I suppose there is some good news in all this: the full hearing is set to take place July 27, and surely this information will have to have some effect. Right?

Buried amidst the health-care talk... this piece by Scott Piatkowski:
The NDP should be saying: “The alternative to a Conservative government is not yet another Liberal government, but an NDP government. The alternative to a corrupt Liberal government is not a Conservative government, but an NDP government. It's time to elect an NDP government.” The party's main spokespeople won't say that because they're not convinced that such an election result is even possible. But, until they start saying it, it never will be possible.

The most frustrating moment of the last election campaign for me, and the one time I've doubted Jack Layton as party leader, was when Layton was interviewed by Peter Mansbridge and answered "can you win this election?" with something to the effect of "we can have a significant role in Parliament".

The only correct answer to that question is "yes". If it has to be explained, then fine: make it "yes, if people vote for what they want rather than against what they fear"; "yes, because both other national parties have proven they don't deserve to govern"; even "yes, despite what the critics say". But any national party going into an election shooting for less than government is doomed to a miserable result. I very much hope Jack has learned this lesson going into the next campaign.

What elephant in the corner?

Obviously, this is the big story of the day. Since it's also by far the most-discussed story of the day, I'm not sure how much I can add, other than to seemingly agree with the assumption that the NDP's best tactic is to emphasize para. 158 from the concurring judgment:
In sum, the prohibition on obtaining private health insurance, while it might be constitutional in circumstances where health care services are reasonable as to both quality and timeliness, is not constitutional where the public system fails to deliver reasonable services...(I)f the government chooses to act, it must do so properly.

As for the Notwithstanding Clause option, the problem with Warren Kinsella's position cited by Scott is that I don't see it working on a federal level - the federal government simply doesn't have jurisdiction to dictate provincial policy to that degree. It controls pursestrings, but not delivery of services. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised to see Lorne Calvert bring up s. 33 in a hurry, and put it to use if even a lower-court decision in another province reaches the same result on Charter grounds.

New Liberal strategy?

From the Star, it's anonymous sourcing at its worst:
But a high-ranking minister agreed the government is considering suspending Parliament in the fall while the government writes a new throne speech.
Several sources said the speech would focus heavily on boosting economic productivity, namely by funding post-secondary education, research and development, and introducing targeted income-tax cuts.

The intent here is apparently to cut down the Cons in advance of an election. I'm liking it on all counts - a platform that's not without its plus side, but which seems much more open to attack from the NDP than from the Cons.

We can drive it home with one headlight

A few posts later, it appears I'm not as far away from The Wonderdog's point of view as one would suspect from the back-and-forth. That said, there are still a few ideas worth pointing out here.

First, I'm not sure where the idea came from that I'm advocating a base-only strategy. I reproduce from my comment last night:
Yes, the NDP needs to court leftish centrists (one very important group of swing voters), and part of the way to do that is to emphasize fiscal responsibility and sound, practical policies...
There are other groups of swing voters too, and the NDP should be trying to court all of them with a realistic chance of switching.
Another key group that I'd focus on would be populist and protest votes which went to the PCs last time, and which probably lost us several Western seats. Those votes will be better won with a mix of reason and genuine emotion (i.e. necessary outrage where people's voices aren't now getting heard).
In addition, this is the most likely time for there to be an opening in Quebec, and part of any strategy to sway both disenchanted Liberals and Bloc voters concerned by a new future leader has to include a central vision stronger than "relatively efficient management".

Some have questioned the viability of any attention paid to Quebec, and that's a fair question (if one where I'd still tend to disagree). But the point isn't to reach out only to the NDP's base, but rather to reach out to multiple groups. We can probably move up slightly from 20% by reaching out to left-Liberals; I think we can move up higher by looking for more opportunities.

As for the "not disturbing the apple cart" principle, I'd again think there's room for some subtlety here: we can be in favour of some change without being in favour of radical change, particularly if we explain the reasons for the change in a context of what works best.

Does this mean I agree entirely with the Wonderdog? Not exactly. The example I'll give is the Maher Arar situation, which has been pushed fairly extensively both by the NDP and in the Progressive Bloggers group. On my reading of the Wonderdog, there's no apparent reason to question the government's actions: we don't want to upset the apple cart of relations with the U.S., our government probably didn't violate international law merely by not keeping other countries from possibly doing so, and the economic value of one professional obviously isn't much of an argument for taking action.

That said, I'll argue that the NDP was right to highlight the emotional side of Arar's case. The helplessness and the fear involved in being rendered help point out where a wrong was committed, and our knowing the facts should offer a guide to better action in the future.

As for the Wonderdog's examples, I don't see for a second why we can't make use of all our arguments in favour of these policies. To blatantly plagiarize:

Subsidized daycare should be about giving children a better opportunity and about allowing parents to get to work. Staying out of Iraq, and similar future adventures, is about both keeping civilian limbs attached to civilian bodies where they belong, and about international law and multilateralism. A new deal for cities is about the economic engine of the country, and about ensuring that homeless people don't die in Toronto. And so on.

The proportions of which argument we want to use will vary; I suspect fear for our soldiers will always be a huge factor on war issues, while emotion cuts both ways on daycare when the Cons start up about "giving parents the right to stay home". There's room for debate on the best proportions for each isue, but I don't see cutting emotion out entirely as desirable on any of them.

As for the previous focus on unions, I'll agree that there's been a demographic shift, and that too much of a focus on union leaders results in both bad politics and bad policy. That's not a question of emotion vs. reason, but rather one of different forms of pragmatism.

I suspect the one irresolvable issue is the question of whether emotions are included within pragmatism. My take is that emotions themselves inform rationality, and to try to cut them out is to make reason less than it can be. I strongly suspect that the Wonderdog would disagree, and I don't see that as a huge problem - particularly for someone who's obviously a strong advocate for the NDP even if we disagree somewhat on tactics.

Five seconds to air

In the recent discussion about the NDP's best possible message now, I'm reminded of a passage from the movie Airheads:
"All I'm saying is, We want to be heard!"
"OK, you're on the air. What do you want to say?"
"I dunno. We just want to be heard!"

(Sadly, IMDB doesn't have the exact quote. If you can correct this, please do.)

We're on the air. We're being heard. We need to have something to say.

I agree with the concept that we do need to demonstrate that the NDP is fiscally responsible. However, that doesn't mean we can afford to limit ourselves to trying to emphasize that point, for a few reasons.

First, by doing so we'd open ourselves up to the "methinks thou doth protest too much" criticism. The more we try to bring up as a point of debate whether or not the NDP is a practical party, the more we invite commentators to say otherwise. My preferred framework is, "We all agree with the importance of a balanced budget. Given that, here's what we would do with it." Make fiscal responsibility a premise, not a conclusion.

Second, we're simply not in a position to show what we can do as a federal government: there's no way to back up the claim, making it easy for other parties and for the media to dismiss such talk as sheer rhetoric.

Third, it doesn't make for a good story. Right now we're getting lots of positive attention. If our message changes to something that isn't newsworthy (and let's face it, "NDP Continues to Claim Fiscal Responsibility" isn't going to be a fixture in the headlines), that attention goes to waste.

The Wonderdog wonders whether it'll be possible to form a federal government without first governing successfully in Ontario. My take is that it probably can be done - but an essential first step is a successful period as the Official Opposition nationally, and we're not going to get there by reinventing ourselves as the Technocrats. Nor will we get there by running away from protest votes, nor by trying to avoid discussing policy until the start of a campaign.

There are good issues receiving plenty of attention at the moment: health care, prescription drugs, global and national poverty, the environment, EI and education. Our best chance in Ontario and elsewhere is to show why we're right on these issues, and how good policy can fit within a balanced budget.

Brief follow-up on Rorschach

From Alexa McDonough, precisely the kind of statement I want to see from the NDP at this point:
Canada has the fiscal capacity to meet our international obligations. What is lacking is the political will. Canada must also address our failure to eradicate child poverty here at home, a commitment adopted unanimously by Parliament in 1989. Yet one million Canadian children still live in poverty.Today we congratulate the Make Poverty History campaign dedicated to ending poverty around the world and here at home in Canada. Let us sign on as full partners.

The key elements:
- It points out Liberal failures, both nationally and internationally.
- It presents both a concrete plan (signing on to an international movement) and an aspiration for future improvement.
- It discusses Canada's fiscal capacity to carry out the plan. (Granted, I'd like to see this part played up even more. But there's only so much one can say in one statement.)
More to come.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Try this exciting new test!

That's right, it's a Rorschach test for Dippers:
The Decima survey showed the Liberals with 37 per cent support and the Tories with 23 per cent, in a virtual dead heat with the NDP at 21 per cent...
The survey, released to The Canadian Press, indicated the New Democrats held small leads over the Tories in Ontario, among women, among single people and with voters under age 34. The results are less reliable for these smaller samples...
The Ontario results suggested the Liberals held a 26-percentage-point advantage over the Tories in the province. The Grits were at 48 per cent, the NDP was at 24 and the Conservatives held 22 per cent in Canada's largest province.

The reactions so far:

Well-deserved schadenfreude.

More well-deserved schadenfreude.

Well-deserved schadenfreude, part III.

A combination of hope and frustration.

From this corner, I tend to side with the Wonderdog, though with a bit of a different spin. The poll reflects an opportunity, but nothing approaching a win. While it's important to keep kicking the Cons while they're down to make sure they stay there, it's more important to get our message out and start convincing all those voters who list the NDP as their second choice.

There's now no basis for any self-respecting media outlet to give the Cons substantially more air time than the NDP. This is the party's time to make good use of that extra exposure.

That said, I disagree with the Wonderdog's take on this point:
Appeals to emotion have to be banned. The party has to present an unrelentingly practical image.

On the contrary. Now that we have a bit more of the limelight, it's time to make sure people remember what the NDP has to say. While the party's caucus should keep pushing practical issues within Parliament, this is also our best opportunity in a long time to highlight progressive issues in the media and push the public discourse to the left. And the NDP's signature issue is getting media attention.

Let's not waste this chance by going out of our way to be Liberal-lite.

Sunlight in action

Who knew? A damning Amnesty International report, a comment or two from Jimmy Carter, and now the White House starts paying attention:
President Bush left the door open to an eventual closing of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay on Wednesday amid mounting complaints and calls for it to be shut down, including a broadside from former president and human rights champion Jimmy Carter.

Naturally, he's paying more attention to the symbol than to the actual problem, apparently wanting somewhere else to hold people without charges just in case. Even so, this is an impressive demonstration of what good information can do.

Anonymous sources

Ira Basen on the type of anonymous sources which reporters actually should avoid:
The fact is that too many times when you see a quote attributed to a "source" who wishes to remain anonymous, what you are reading is political spin dressed up as news. And the person hiding behind that cloak of anonymity is no civic-minded deep throat, but a government communications flack who has decided to use a selective leak to further his or her department's strategic communications plan.

And the grand finale...
(B)eating the other guy to the story only matters if it is an actual story being reporting. Yes, anonymous sources should be used when they expose bad behaviour, but not when all they're providing is government sponsored spin.

Sources tell me: "amen to that".

Frames of reference

A great post from Cathie fron Canada on Amnesty International's genius. All I can add is that the effectiveness of the tactic is only partly in framing the debate. More importantly, it's in ensuring that the debate received any attention at all - does anybody think this story would have had the same shelf-life without every key administration official trying to counter it? All the better that with the administration on its heels, trying to explain how the U.S. wasn't quite as bad as the Soviet Union, suddenly the truth once again became the middle ground.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Canada's only progressive party

The Liberals want to reintroduce their corporate tax cut later.
Now the Cons and the Bloc want to keep it in the budget now.

A very interesting piece of political theatre. My favourite part is how business leaders are rewarding PMPM for cutting corporate taxes repeatedly in the past:
Business groups said they don't have faith that the Liberals will reinstate the corporate tax cuts for large companies at a later date.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Ms. Hughes Anthony said. “I cannot determine from the government's statements when that might be or whether they would be the same amount [of reductions].”
Mr. Stewart-Patterson said the Liberals should immediately move the tax cuts to a separate bill if they want to remain true to the NDP deal but also send a signal to investors.

And meanwhile, only one party has the nerve to suggest that after cutting off a quarter of our corporate tax revenue already, maybe it's time to start reinvesting.

Keep hope alive

The union movement in Canada isn't dead just yet...
Currently, farm workers are exempt from most of the statutes under Alberta's Labour Relations Code, including mandatory workman's compensation, rest breaks, the right to unite, and a (governed) safe working environment.
Musekamp, who formed the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, has been on a heavy campaign in recent weeks, to raise awareness to the importance of equal status for farm workers. By law, the Farmworkers' Union is actually an illegal union.

It's appalling that the union is technically illegal. It's great that it's still pushing forward, with public-awareness ideas like this:
On Monday, Musekamp, FUA secretary Darlene Dunlop, and supporters served up 50-cent hot dogs and soda pop next to the 'Meet the Minister' fundraiser where tickets sold at $50 each.
"We want to demonstrate to the $50 a plate crowd that the 50 cent crowd matters too," said Musekamp.

Of course, the Conservative MLA who was targeted wants to give with one hand while taking with the other. There's a long way for the Farmworkers' Union to go - but hopefully a bit more exposure will help give them due credit for their making it this far, and more opportunities to keep on in the right direction.

Textbook ads

Count me among those solidly against this idea. How long would it take before creationist groups started buying ad space in evolutionary biology texts?

Aftermath of Arar

The very limited good news: this time Wayne Easter (or an equivalent) can't whine about lacking jurisdiction.
The far greater bad news: Even in the face of the Arar inquiry, Canada can't get assurances that the U.S. won't render its citizens to be tortured:
"Basically, all (the new protocol) requires is notification and consultation...The same thing could happen to another person."

And American human rights observers are demanding that Canada stand up to the Bush administration:
Yale-Loehr, who teaches at Cornell University and practises immigration law, said Canada should keep pressing for a veto...
Julia Hall, legal counsel for New York-based Human Rights Watch, which has studied the Arar case, dismissed Graham's attitude as showing "deference to the United States in all matters related to national security issues.
"For the Canadian government to say, 'Well, we just simply couldn't do better,' is a really significant and profound statement about whether it's a level playing field right now, whether the Canadian government can negotiate with the United States as an equal partner or whether the United States will always have the upper hand."

I know I feel more secure already.

How we treat the worst-off

It's probably out of fashion to mention that governments aren't providing for Canada's most needy. If so, I don't care.
“Total welfare incomes everywhere in Canada were well below poverty lines once again in 2004,” the report said.
Adjusting for inflation, the report said, many provincial and territorial benefits in 2004 were at their lowest levels since the 1980s. Typical welfare incomes across Canada, it noted, were thousands of dollars below the poverty line.
Single, employable recipients in New Brunswick were the worst off, with total incomes amounting to $3,388 – only 19 per cent of amount at the poverty line.

The shocking part to me is that even with the end of the fiscal crunch in the '90s, the relative funding for welfare programs has still declined. This is a failure of both policy (doesn't a below-sustenance level of welfare pretty much assure that a person can't so much as appear presentably at a job interview?) and compassion.

Update: And of course, that ever-leftist CBC news completely ignored the above story, while giving substantial air time to this. A story yes...the more important one, not by a long shot.

A natural Liberal

While some have criticized the Liberals' referendum strategy which involved dumping lots of money onto both sides of an issue, Belinda Stronach apparently decided to try the same thing:
Former Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach donated $100,000 to help pay off the campaign debt of third-place finisher Tony Clement, a move that has raised questions among Tories over whether she was trying to buy Mr. Clement's future loyalty.

Of course, there's also this:
Sources said Mr. Harper's team also donated $10,000 to Mr. Clement in the aftermath of the campaign, which took place in early 2004.

I'm sure the Conservatives were hoping to develop a Liberal-style election machine, but this was an awfully quick step toward the worst parts of it.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Spot on

Linda McQuaig's columns tend to be hit or miss. This is a direct hit.
European-style social welfare systems do nothing to prevent a country from being highly competitive in the modern world.
If you doubt this, check out the latest findings of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, which ranks the economic competitiveness of more than 100 countries around the globe. Among the top six globally competitive nations are four European countries that have extremely comprehensive social welfare systems —Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Altogether, 15 European countries rank in the top 30.
Right-wing commentators find it best to ignore this reality. It's easy to see why — it utterly destroys their argument that generous social welfare systems undermine competitiveness.

Of course, the welfare system has be well-designed to ensure competitiveness. First, it needs a strong emphasis on research and education. (How much was in the budget before the NDP amendment?) And that education needs to be targeted toward the job market to ensure that people out of work for the moment need not stay there for long. If only somebody was working to reform EI in that direction.

Independent Press

The Tyee on how CanWest helped keep Gordo in power:
BCTV News Hour’s May 11 edition led off with “something that could have a big impact on the provincial election campaign,” Tony Parsons told his viewers. “We have secret documents from the BCTF suggesting that teachers could take a strike vote very soon after next Tuesday’s election. And how a possible strike might play out very much depends on which party forms the next provincial government.
“Because one of them has already designated education an essential service. And the other has said it is in favour on the teachers’ right to strike.”
Very clearly laid out, Tony, but the problem is that it’s not true. There are at least six errors or lies in the statement.

A couple of points:
(1) At the very least, thanks to the Tyee there is enough independent media in B.C. for this kind of story to be told - even if it's too late to change the results now. In Saskatchewan, that's not the case; any indy papers are weekly and poorly circulated.
(2) This story also highlights what the federal NDP is up against. It's not enough to be slightly, but distinctly, more desirable than the other two federal parties: as soon as the NDP is within striking distance of the top spot in the polls, any perceived weakness (whether real or not) in the NDP or in any perceived supporters will be blown far out of proportion. As one consequence, the NDP can't afford to focus on taking down only one of either the Libs or the Cons: it has to have a message against both so strong that it gets heard even with minimal exposure.
(Shall we start thanking Gurmant Grewal now?)

Smog watch

Why Layton's persistent questions on smog are entirely justified:
The study measured the impact of extreme cold, extreme heat and air pollution on premature deaths in...four cities over a 46-year period.
It concluded that extreme heat was killing an average of 120 people a year in Toronto, 121 in Montreal, 41 in Ottawa and 37 in Windsor.
Extreme cold was responsible for an average of 105 deaths a year in Toronto, 143 in Montreal, 54 in Ottawa and 32 in Windsor.
The air pollution that causes smog was found to be the cause of 822 deaths a year in Toronto, 818 in Montreal, 368 in Ottawa and 258 in Windsor.

For those counting along at home, that's 2266 deaths due to smog alone. (Edited to emphasize: per year.) Or in U.S. terms, a justified invasion of over one country. (Edited to emphasize: per year.) Of course we don't consider the deaths to be as sudden as a terrorist attack, but they're just as real and probably more preventable.

No disinfectant like sunlight

Lest anybody think the Bush government is the only one in North America which tries to keep control over public information, Canada's freedom-of-information ombudsman, John Reid, points out some of the actions of the Canadian government:
(Proposed whistleblower legislation) contains an amendment to the access law that would allow the government to keep under wraps, for 20 years, information collected or compiled as a result of a whistleblower's report. It means the government could cloak in secrecy the identities of whistleblowers and accused persons as well as details of the allegations of wrongdoing, actions taken to investigate the accusations and any disciplinary decisions.

(A) provision in the Anti-Terrorism Act...allows the government to stop an investigation by the information commissioner into a federal refusal to disclose material considered sensitive to national security.

How has the ombudsman's work been rewarded?
Reid, whose staff investigates complaints from requesters, says his office has been denied the money to do its job properly. As a result, the median time to complete an investigation rose to almost 7.5 months in 2004-05 from about 5.5 months the previous year. Reid argues having the government hold the purse strings of his office compromises the commissioner's independence.

Let's hope that Reid's term is renewed, and that his work gets a bit more publicity as he works on draft legislation.

Compare and contrast

Canada takes added steps toward a productive drug strategy:

As part of their structured outpatient program, Drug Treatment Court participants attend both individual and group counselling sessions, receive appropriate medical attention (such as methadone treatment) and are subject to random drug tests.
Participants must also appear regularly in court, where a judge reviews their progress and can then either impose sanctions (ranging from verbal reprimands to expulsion from the program) or provide rewards (ranging from verbal commendations to a reduction in court appearances).
Drug Treatment Court staff work with community partners to address participants’ other needs, such as safe housing, stable employment and job training. Once a participant gains this social stability and can demonstrate control over the addiction, criminal charges are either stayed or the offender receives a non-custodial sentence. If unsuccessful, an offender will be sentenced as part of the regular court process.

Funding agreements are being finalized for each of the successful proposals from Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg and Ottawa, with each new court expected to begin operations in the coming months. In addition to this investment in new Drug Treatment Courts, the Government will continue funding existing courts in Toronto and Vancouver.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down any attempt by the states to do the same:

In a 6-3 vote, the justices ruled the Bush administration can block the backyard cultivation of pot for personal use, because such use has broader social and financial implications.

The court's reasoning strikes me as questionable. If states can't legislate on anything that has so much as an indirect effect on interstate commerce (and the argument in this case was based on an argument that 'garden patch weed would affect "overall production" of the weed' even though it wasn't actually sold), what precisely can they do?

That aside, the more significant difference is in the respective positions of the federal governments. While the Bush administration not only rejects positive policy but actively argues against the ability of states to do the same, Canada recognizes an individual-based problem and allows people to take responsibility for their own lives (with due controls in case an offender doesn't go along).

Actual product development

And for those who think Canada is free-riding in terms of medical development, not so:
Jubilant Canadian researchers have announced a world breakthrough in developing vaccines against the lethal Ebola and Marburg viruses.
Working with the U.S. Army, researchers at Health Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg have produced a single-dose vaccine that successfully protects monkeys against the two closely related viruses.

Congratulations to the researchers, and let's give due credit to the success of focused government funding.

Good news reporting, bad news reporting

Good news reporting:
The Leader-Post features coverage of a talk from two Harvard Medical School doctors who call Canada's health care system "a model we all need to follow", and point out the drug industry's hypocrisy in keeping high prices for the sake of "research" then spending twice as much money on marketing as on product development.

Bad news reporting:
One of my pet peeves from the National Post. Since when is it news that the business lobby wants to see tax cuts for business and nothing for anybody else?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The big picture

The Green Lantern has the essential World Environmental Day post, featuring this article on a Pentagon report on climate change:
The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents...Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors.

Sadly, the report was made public in 2004, and the article was wrong in predicting that the presidential election could turn on Bush's ignoring what the Pentagon report described as a vital national security issue. But it should be a reminder of what's ultimately at stake when we talk about environmental policy - and why "they're not being responsible, why should we?" isn't a valid argument.

On looking in mirrors

Condoleeza Rice rightly blasts several allies for not doing enough to prevent human trafficking, a "modern form of slavery":
(W)herever the trafficking trade flourishes, the rule of law erodes.

Very true. For example, there's Florida.


It looks like the G8 may be making progress after all:
Separately, the Treasury has brokered a groundbreaking agreement with the US to cancel its International Monetary Fund debt for Africa - meaning the US would have offered more on debt relief than Germany or Italy.
Crucially, however, it has also offered extra money ensuring the debt relief will not be paid for by cuts in other aid programmes, at least for two years. The final amount remains under discussion, but the deal follows months of lobbying, led by Brown, of his US counterpart, John Snow.

Part of any agreement will likely involve large donations from states with oil wealth, and who knows whether or not they'll sign on.
Of course, there is a downside here:
And while some around Brown argue it is time to spend the political capital gained from Iraq to push Bush into a deal, Downing Street insists it is wrong to portray him as an obstacle. 'It's about the personal relationship between Tony Blair and George Bush in advancing the agenda,' said the official.

I very much hope that this won't require the use of all the political capital the UK picked up in Iraq - shouldn't the U.S.'s contribution to stabilizing an entire continent include at least more than half a cent on each dollar spent in Iraq?

Good stuff

Mike's letter on SSM - precisely the type of comment that would be particularly persuasive in a rational debate. I fear it won't change a single mind on SSM.

Look! It's the glaringly obvious!

Today on Question Period, Jane Taber went out of her way to point out that Tim Murphy had been invited to appear, but had chosen not to.
I can't imagine why he wouldn't want to go on tape at this point.

A Different Kind of Politician

Obviously, this is Canada's big political story of the day.
Other blogs have dealt with a lot of the issues surrounding the departure, so I'll limit myself to commenting that much as I dislike the separatist cause, I have to respect a politician who puts his party ahead of himself even when offered a clear shot at regaining power next election. If Stephen Harper thought like this, Belinda Stronach would still be a Conservative and the Tories would probably be in the middle of a successful election campaign. Good thing for the rest of us that he doesn't.

(Edited: title plus one typo.)