Saturday, July 22, 2006

On challenges

The CP reports on Tim Harvey's zero-emissions journey around the world in an effort to raise awareness of global warming. Harvey deserves plenty of credit for drawing attention to the issue, but it's hard to disagree with the comment of a David Suzuki foundation spokesman:
Ian Bruce of the David Suzuki Foundation said Harvey's efforts at raising awareness of what he calls the "greatest threat facing humanity" are crucial.

But he reminds Canadians they don't have to go to Harvey's extremes to make a difference.

"People shouldn't feel alone. Canadians feel this is a top priority," Bruce said.
In a sense, the metaphor of a harrowing journey around the world could only make tackling global warming appear both distant and difficult...when in fact many of the answers are already readily available and accessible. And hopefully that fact won't get lost as Harvey finishes the last leg of his trip.

The more things change...

There's been plenty of reason for concern early in the Cons' tenure in power about attempts by Harper and company to manipulate the media - most glaringly through Colin Mayes' well-reported musings about jailing reporters. But until I stumbled onto this case (Reference Re Alberta Statutes - The Bank Taxation Act; The Credit of Alberta Regulation Act; and the Accurate News and Information Act, [1938] S.C.R. 100) a couple of weeks back, I hadn't realized that attempts to control the editorial content of the media are nothing new in Canadian politics even well outside of wartime. So let's take a look at this example of an attempt to subvert the free press...and note the seeds of a similar attitude within the Cons' actions today.

The background to the linked decision lies in Alberta's provincial Social Credit government attempting to pass legislation to create a social credit-based economy, and seeking to ensure public support for its scheme by limiting media criticism of that effort (emphasis added):
Section 3 provides that any proprietor, editor, publisher or manager of any newspaper published in the province shall, when required to do so by the Chairman of the Board constituted by section 3 of the Alberta Social Credit Act, publish in that newspaper any statement furnished by the Chairman which has for its object the correction or amplification of any statement relating to any policy or activity of the government of the province published by that newspaper within the next preceding thirty-one days.

And section 4 provides that the proprietor, etc., of any newspaper upon being required by the Chairman in writing shall within twenty-four hours after the delivery of the requirement
make a return in waiting setting out every source from which any information emanated, as to any statement contained in any issue of the newspaper published within sixty days of the making of the requirement and the names, addresses and occupations of all persons by whom such information was furnished to the newspaper and the name and address of the writer of any editorial, article or news item contained in any such issue of the newspaper.
While the wider legislation was struck down based on its interference in federal jurisdiction over banking, even 44 years before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms the Supreme Court was less than shy in declaring that such an attempt to undermine the free press was not welcome. Cannon J. discussed the aims of the Alberta government as follows:
It is...essential to control the sources of information of the people of Alberta, in order to keep them immune from any vacillation in their absolute faith in the plan of the government. The Social Credit doctrine must become, for the people of Alberta, a sort of religious dogma of which a free and uncontrolled discussion is not permissible. The bill aims to control any statement relating to any policy or activity of the government of the province and declares this object to be a matter of public interest...The pith and substance of the bill is to regulate the press of Alberta from the viewpoint of public policy by preventing the public from being misled or deceived as to any policy or activity of the Social Credit Government and by reducing any opposition to silence or bring upon it ridicule and public contempt.
And lest there be any doubt what Cannon J. thought of such an attempt to slam the door shut on public debate:
(I)t seems to me that the Alberta legislature by this retrograde Bill is attempting to revive the old theory of the crime of seditious libel by enacting penalties, confiscation of space in newspapers and prohibitions for actions which, after due consideration by the Dominion Parliament, have been declared innocuous and which, therefore, every citizen of Canada can do lawfully and without hindrance or fear of punishment. It is an attempt by the legislature to amend the Criminal Code in this respect and to deny the advantage of sect. 133 (a) to the Alberta newspaper pub­lishers.

Under the British system, which is ours, no political party can erect a prohibitory barrier to prevent the electors from getting information concerning the policy of the government. Freedom of discussion is essential to enlighten public opinion in a democratic State; it cannot be curtailed without affecting the right of the people to be informed through sources independent of the government concerning matters of public interest. There must be an untrammelled publication of the news and political opinions of the political parties contending for ascendancy. As stated in the preamble of The British North America Act, our constitution is and will remain, unless radically changed, "similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom." At the time of Confederation, the United Kingdom was a democracy. Democracy cannot be maintained without its foundation: free public opinion and free discussion throughout the nation of all matters affecting the State within the limits set by the criminal code and the common law.
Needless to say, it doesn't seem likely that the Cons would attempt to pass any similar legislation now - particularly given that the notwithstanding clause would almost certainly be required for such legislation to be upheld under the Charter. But there are still hints of a similar view that information should be completely one-sided.

From Harper himself we of course saw a complete refusal to answer media questions on any terms other than his own, an attitude which he's now spread to Lebanese refugees being used for his political purposes, who have been told to send an e-mail to Harper's office rather than disturbing his flight of fancy. And then there's Peter MacKay, who has parroted the Social Credit view all the more strongly, demanding the names of sources and claiming that no critical article should be written without a government rebuttal.

Now as in the 1930s, there's little reason to think that public-pressure methods alone will manage to suppress information to any great degree. But there's still a serious danger in even a small incremental decrease in the media's willingness to report truths which the government doesn't want told. And in that sense, we can only hope that the Cons' current attempts to suppress dissent end up a historical footnote like Social Credit's...and not the start of any new pattern in Canadian media relations.

Recognizing the cure

Gordon Guyatt of the Medical Reform Group criticizes the CMA for refusing to consider the best option in dealing with health care:
Last month, the Canadian Medical Association presented the public with four choices regarding the future of Canadian medical care. Their options include the status quo and three progressively more extreme moves toward privatization.

Unfortunately, they left out the fifth, best choice — strengthening publicly funded health care, delivered by not-for-profit providers...

The position paper released last month, the CMA's next step, has major limitations. The first problem is that it endorses the myth that publicly funded health care is unsustainable...In the past 15 years, publicly funded health care has grown parallel with the rest of the economy. In a picture that differs from almost every other developed country, Canadian public spending on health care as a proportion of the GDP remains at the same level as in 1992, under 7.5 per cent.

Second, in setting up its four options, the CMA neglected the choice made by the three key health-care reports of the past decade: the National Health Forum of 1997, the Romanow commission, and the study by Senator Michael Kirby.

All recommended a strengthening of publicly funded health care, with national home-care and pharmacare programs.
Kudos to Guyatt for highlighting the all-too-often neglected facts showing that the public system is both completely sustainable, and the best option to ensure high-quality care for all Canadians in the long term. Hopefully between Guyatt's group and the Canadian Doctors for Medicare which formed earlier this year, there will be enough internal pressure to push the CMA to itself recognize those factors in making future decisions.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Choosing sides

Just in case there was any doubt which side the Con government is on in the softwood lumber dispute, take a look at the official Ottawa reaction to yet another win in court on the softwood deal, this one potentially resulting in an order of a full refund:
Friday's 74-page ruling sided with the Canadians in a decision an industry spokesman said opens the door to refunding about $5 billion US in duties and interest...

Federal International Trade Minister David Emerson was unavailable for comment but his communications director said the ruling changes nothing.

“The fact is this decision can be and most likely will be appealed rather quickly to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the federal circuit,” Robert Klager said from Ottawa. “The final outcome of that probably wouldn't be learned until mid-2007.”
It shouldn't be much of a secret that the winning side in a decision should generally want to highlight the outcome, not minimize it. But for Harper and Emerson, a win for Canada is a personal loss, since they've staked their credibility on the claim that Canada can't do anything more than grin and bear it while the U.S. does what it wants. Which makes it less than surprising that Canada's supposed leaders are calling for us to declare defeat in the face of victory...but also begs the question of how long enemies of Canada's cause should be left in charge.

A predictable split

As would be expected, there's been lots of discussion of Jim Karygiannis' resignation as Joe Volpe's campaign manager, mostly in the context of wondering whether this will finally cause Volpe to drop out of the race just a few months too late.

But what does it say about Karygiannis that he:
(a) left the campaign over disagreement over a single policy point (even granting that I'd agree with Karygiannis in the argument) rather than the continuing saga of Apotex, questionable donations and repeated shots by Volpe at his own foot; and
(b) apparently wasn't sufficiently aware of Volpe's track record of favouring Israel's position ahead of all else to identify the potential problem long before he signed onto the campaign?

Update: And to show the depth of the belief he's supposedly defending, Karygiannis apparently hasn't ruled out returning to the Volpe camp:
Later, Karygiannis said he quit, adding he might work for another candidate's campaign or even go back to Volpe.

"People's minds do change," he said.

Making the case

The NDP's Alex Atamanenko chimes in on the Cons' attempt to exclude many farmers from any say in the future of the Canadian Wheat Board:
“The Conservatives call this an opportunity for dialogue among farmers, but it’s really a setup to design an end to the Canadian Wheat Board,” said Atamanenko. “They’ve only invited their friends and people who tout the corporate dual-marketing agenda, and they’ve excluded all those who support the Board’s single-desk selling system.”

Atamanenko called on Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl to cancel July’s partisan event. He noted that the Canadian Wheat Board is a self-sustaining organization whose representatives are elected by farmers — and whose future should be driven by all sectors of the farming community.

“This event is an outrage,” said Atamanenko. “This government is spending tax dollars to cover expenses for a rent-a-crowd at a forum whose only goal is to discredit farmers’ own organizations and promote the corporate agribusiness agenda.”...

“The Conservatives must stop pretending that the last election was a plebiscite on the Canadian Wheat Board’s future. They have no mandate to apply a back-door process to dismantle what farmers have worked for decades to build,” said Atamanenko.
It remains to be seen whether the movement to force the government to acknowledge either the current democratic structure of the CWB or the vast number of farmers and groups who support it. But a little more attention now can't hurt...and may well be enough to force the Cons into a more reasonable process in the long run.

A plausibility gap

CanWest reminds us that the Cons' child care cheques will benefit those who need child-care support more than those who don't, in particular by eliminating the young child supplement under the child tax benefit. But don't worry, the Cons are at the ready with their excuse as to why that fact hasn't been highlighted:
Fiona MacLeod, a spokeswoman for National Revenue Minister Carol Skeleton, called the lack of an explanation about the benefit cut an oversight caused by "a communications gap."
So where does that gap in communications originate? Well, one could look to the Cons' platform, which promises "$1,200 per year for each pre-school child". Then there's Diane Finley's comments about "a $1,200-a-year benefit for all parents of preschoolers". And then again after the introduction of the budget, Finley continued to insist on an actual gain of $1200, with a convenient lack of any mention of the clawback. And I'm sure there are plenty more examples of the Cons trumpeting the $1,200 number while merrily ignoring the planned clawbacks.

But now, Canadians are supposed to believe that it was simply because of an unintentional oversight that the Cons went out of their way to avoid mentioning the clawbacks in their child-care plan.

Which I'd think is fair enough...but only if the Cons will at least acknowledge the need to close the gap starting now. So I can only assume we'll see a summer of Finley, Skelton and others giving their public appearances in front of a backdrop printed with "-$249. Screw the Poor" to even things out.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fading issues

There's been lots of discussion of the latest Strategic Counsel poll. But I'm not sure there's been much attention paid to a couple of relatively well-hidden issue numbers which seem likely to cause some trouble for the Cons in particular, and possibly the Libs as well.

First, and not surprisingly, the sponsorship scandal has effectively dropped off the radar as a voting issue, going from the top-ranking issue with 11% of the population to 1%. It could be that the fact that the Accountability Act has passed will ultimately hurt the Cons in the long run: now that there's an impression that the matter has been dealt with, nobody seems particularly interested in continuing to hold the sponsorship issue against the Libs.

Of course, the counterbalance to the loss of such protest votes should be the Cons' current advantage in selling their message. And in that regard, it's amazing to see the decline in Canadians who see "government stability" as the top issue, dropping from 18% last year (when it ranked as the top issue) to 7% now - and that after a campaign which resulted in both a change in government, and a second consecutive minority Parliament.

As far as I can tell, that number has a couple of implications. First, it suggests that an awful of lot Lib votes in the last election may have been based more on inertia and incumbency than any great support for the Libs' policy platform. And if that's the case, the Libs have plenty of work to do now that "more of the same" isn't an argument in their favour anymore. (Indeed, the lessened fear of the unknown may only help the NDP's cause in presenting itself as the better alternative to Harper.)

As for the Cons, though, it also means that Canadians aren't buying Harper's arguments that a "stable majority" is needed to allow the government to deal with voters' priorities. Canadians are a lot more concerned with their health and their environment than with any fear of another election or change in government. And if Harper does want to force an election, whether on national security, softwood lumber or any of the other areas where he's threatened to drop the writ, the vast majority of Canadians have no fear of breaking whatever continuity the Cons may have created.

Recycled plans

Meanwhile on the home front, the CP reports that the Cons' much-ballyhooed environmental plan will take the general shape of...a plan which involves the environment in some way. Ordinarily I'd criticize any effort in reporting such glaringly content-free and self-serving leaks...except that it's not clear that some key parts of the plan will themselves be any more substantive:
Some elements of the proposed plan such as setting air-quality objectives for the long term but not the immediate future, mirror similar measures in the United States...

Pierre Sadik of the David Suzuki Foundation said environmentalists will be vigilant to ensure that the plan is not just a public relations exercise to boost Conservative prospects in the next election.

"We've seen this kind of green plan before, what with Mulroney's original Green Plan, and then the Liberal government had its Project Green, and in both cases, after the fireworks of the announcements and so on . . . the plans kind of fizzled.

"Unless this new plan has clear targets to quickly cut pollution in the short term, then the promised relief will always be just over the horizon, kind of just after the next election."

Sadik worries that the emissions-cutting targets will be set 10 or 15 years in the future.

"We'll be watching the government very closely to make sure the plan doesn't leave the government any wiggle room to get out of its environmental commitments to Canadians."
Needless to say, with several sources strategically leaking information on the issue as well, the Cons are trying to be seen doing something. But there's plenty of reason for concern Sadik's fears are well-founded. And it's worth pointing out now that the Cons won't be believed any more than the Libs in claiming that vague long-term goals are a meaningful substitute for real progress.

An obvious lesson

Shorter Stephen Harper: "So it turns out the rest of the world matters. Who'da thunk it?"

The hard-working face of poverty

The National Council of Welfare has released its most recent annual report, suggesting that not only is one full-time job insufficient to keep a lot of families out of poverty, but even two falls short of the mark in a large number of cases:
A job, even two, is no guarantee against poverty, indicates a new report, which notes one-quarter of poor families in Canada have a breadwinner who works full time.

"Employment is vital to avoiding poverty, yet, many jobs do not pay enough to keep a family out of poverty," the National Council of Welfare says in its latest annual report on poverty in Canada for the year 2003.

Even having two earners in a family is not always enough to lift a family above the poverty line, the federal advisory council says, noting 6.2 per cent of two-earner families were living below the poverty line.
Of course, since the report is discussed is in a CanWest article, there's bound to be some attempt to pretend that government can't do anything to help the situation. And sure enough:
Meanwhile, the report also notes that despite the impact of government transfers and income taxes the gap in after-tax incomes between rich and poor has widened.

Since 1980, the average income of the poorest 20 per cent of Canadians has, after discounting inflation, increased by four per cent to $12,000 while that of the richest 20 per cent has surged 14 per cent to $105,800.
It shouldn't have taken too much research to determine that the gap could easily be explained by decreasing government involvement via the mid-90s cutbacks and ensuing anti-tax fixation. But far easier to pretend that "government transfers and income taxes" have stayed constant yet failed to alleviate the hardships facing low-income workers.

Of course, that type of obfuscation is needed to try to pretend there's no available answer to a situation which all but the most extreme right-wing theorist would recognize to be a problem. It's painfully clear that many Canadians are indeed working extremely hard and playing by the rules, and still facing life below the poverty line as their reward. And that shouldn't be an acceptable outcome regardless of one's political stripe.

Update: The C.D. Howe Institute, meanwhile, is criticizing Canadians who don't want to pull up stakes and race to where the jobs are, with no apparent regard for the fact that the areas booming most also have severe housing and infrastructure shortages which could eat into any employment income in a hurry.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The definition of insanity

It certainly can't speak well for the provinces' ability to reach a consensus on federal/provincial funding when not only has there been no apparent movement in previous positions, but they're trying to excuse their past inability to agree on anything by claiming they weren't really trying:
McGuinty said all 13 provinces and territories appear to have different positions but he remains optimistic they can find consensus.

Lord said he doubts that will happen next week at the Council of the Federation meeting in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"I'm hopeful and doubtful at the same time, in the sense that I'm hopeful we can arrive at a consensus, but I'm doubtful it can happen next week," said Lord.

Lord said their last meetings in Montreal and Edmonton were confrontational, but he feels confident everyone will seek common ground in St. John's, N.L.
It wouldn't seem too difficult to move toward a hybrid position which looks primarily at expanding the envelope of funding to the provinces, rather than arguing over whether to fund only equalization or program transfers to the exclusion of the other. But so far, the proposals moving in that direction seem to have fallen on deaf ears in Ontario and New Brunswick...and there's plenty of reason to think each of McGuinty and Lord is looking for the other to make the first move toward any compromise.

Needless to say, the only way a positive deal is going to come about is through concerted provincial pressure on the Cons - and surely most provinces want something better at the end of the day than another set of federal tax cuts coupled with a dare to raise taxes provincially. But as long as McGuinty and Lord are more concerned with posturing against their fellow premiers, there won't be any reason at all for optimism in St. John's or elsewhere.

On choosing one's words

CanWest reports on a focus group analysis discusing attitudes about Canada's First Nations. But while there's plenty to be dubious about the content of the analysis, a particular element of the structure of the focus group strikes me as even more questionable.

According to the article, the focus groups were held between November 7 and 21, 2005, and discussed in large part the question of aboriginal "entitlements", including issues such as housing and education within the scope of that term.

Technically, the use can be seen as accurate. But the choice of the word "entitlement" seems rather curious in light of the other way in which the term was making headlines around that time, referring of course to the Libs' "culture of entitlement" (with of course very little of the associated commentary being positive). For examples of the phrase being used in the time not long before the focus groups were conducted, it appears to have spread widely around May 2005 (see e.g. this column crediting Chantal Hebert with the phrase), appeared in an October 16 editorial in the Toronto Sun, and of course figured prominently in the first Gomery report released on November 1.

In case one wanted to argue that the term was likely drawn from another source, consider that the word "entitlement" doesn't seem to be used to any great degree by First Nations leaders in defining either treaty rights and commitments or Canada's general fiduciary duty. On a quick search of the AFN website, for example, the word "entitlement" is used primarily with respect to either individual pension entitlements or the formal Treaty Land Entitlement process - and hardly ever with respect to general funding for First Nations initiatives.

It's hard to say what impact, if any, the terminology would have had, though it seems likely to have had at least a slight effect in a couple of respects. First, it could easily have put a negative face on First Nations issues for the focus group participants. Second, and most dangerously, it could have presented an impression that necessary programs for First Nations should be classified under the same general title as Liberal Party corruption - which, needless to say, both unduly flatters the Libs in light of the sponsorship scandal, and unduly diminishes the importance of First Nations issues. And unfortunately, this latter effect is only amplified now that the focus group analysis has been made public and the label included in the headline.

It could be that the use of "entitlement" was unintentional, or indeed influenced unconsciously by the presence of the term in the media around the time the focus group was conducted. But nonetheless, the unnecessary inclusion of loaded political language in a study on attitudes about First Nations seems likely only to feed into the unfortunate tendency of many to minimize the importance of the issues in question.

With friends like these...

FBI Director Robert Mueller criticizes Canada for its continued insistence on fair trials and reasonable sentences. Can a future demand for a true Guantanamo North be far behind?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Worth a read

The Guardian's Rebecca Front takes the time to put into words what I always consider to be unstated assumptions about the value of libraries:
I find it hard to understand how anyone can fail to see that libraries are a great institution which deserves to be cherished. If someone said to you, "I know this place where you can go and hang around for as long as you like, browsing books, newspapers and magazines, using the internet, keeping out of the rain. And if you see a book you fancy, you can take it home - free. Take a few, why don't you, and some CDs and DVDs while you're at it. And then, when you've finished reading, and you're fed up with them sitting around cluttering your shelves and gathering dust ... you can take them back and swap them for something else"... you'd think that was pretty amazing, wouldn't you?

And yet, when you ask people how often they visit a library - if indeed they belong to one - you discover that they regard it in much the same way as having a composting bin in the garden. It's a great idea, you can't fault it and, sooner or later, we might get round to trying it. So it's no surprise that councils across the country are cutting back their funding, presumably working on the assumption that, famed as they are for their quietness, library users won't make too much noise about it.
Front notes the lack of funding facing many UK libraries...and it's not hard to draw a connection between that reality and the similar problems facing those at home. And while the challenges here have only confirmed that there's no lack of people devoted to making sure that the wonder of free access to information is maintained to the greatest degree possible, it never hurts to remind oneself just how important a concept is being defended.

Hurting those who can least afford it

Sun Media reports on an annual exercise in absurdity, as Canadian seniors who don't pay federal income tax face the prospect of losing their low-income pension supplement due to a failure to file tax forms this year:
Thousands of Canada's poorest elderly citizens are having their low-income pension supplement cut off without advance warning because they didn't complete this year's tax forms.

Service Canada is being bombarded with calls from stunned seniors who received letters advising them they won't be getting monthly payments because they failed to file tax returns. Many seniors don't realize they must return tax forms even if they don't owe money.

One Service Canada operator told Sun Media about 75% of the current incoming calls are from worried seniors recently advised that their Guaranteed Income Supplement, which tops-up the Old Age Security pension, will be cancelled if they don't fill out a new application or file a tax return. Many of them will now have to wait several extra weeks to get the payment...

NDP seniors' issues critic Chris Charlton said the sudden cut-off is an annual problem caused by an "irresponsible policy."
While there can be little doubt that there's a need to keep track of supplement recipients through annual returns, there's still a serious problem with the current process as described in the article. There doesn't seem to be any reason at all why notices couldn't be sent with enough lead time to ensure that low-income seniors can respond without facing a multi-week delay in an already-meager payment. And it's an embarrassment to both past governments and the current one that such an obvious step hasn't been taken to ensure that Canada's low-income seniors are able to make ends meet.

A booming market in echo chambers

As if we needed more examples of the Cons utterly refusing to listen to anybody with an even remotely different viewpoint from their own, two more glaring examples surfaced yesterday.

First, Diane Finley is supposedly in the middle of consultations to figure out how to try to get at least a couple of child-care spaces out of the funding which according to the Cons' campaign promises should create 125,000. But those consultations have completely excluded the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada.

Second, as pointed out by timethief, Chuck Strahl is holding meetings to determine how to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board. And in keeping with the "no dissenting views" policy, nobody from the CWB itself or any other group which would tend to support the CWB was granted any opportunity to join the discussion.

Of course, there is a downside to making decisions before tolerating any opposing view, as those who do disagree with the Cons will be all the more motivated to make sure they don't have the power to exclude anybody in the future. And considering how few Canadians have anything to gain from the Cons' stubbornness on both of these files, it's not hard to anticipate the bubbles being popped with a vengeance before too long.

Monday, July 17, 2006

More shady dealing

The NDP (led by MP Dennis Bevington) points out that the softwood lumber sellout may not be the only bad deal Harper's pushed for now that the Cons have played a supporting role in a natural gas partnership between PetroCanada and Gazprom:
“Canada has so many opportunities in the energy sector and in conservation that we don't need our government to be a cheerleader for Russian LNG,” said Bevington. “It doesn’t matter whether you look at this deal from a trade perspective, from the perspective of workers drilling for natural gas, from an energy security perspective, from a government revenue perspective, or from an environmental perspective, this deal is just plain bad for Canada.”

This deal will have the following negative impacts:

- Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the amount of natural gas Canada must provide to the United States would increase if we imported gas from Russia, however, if Russia cut back on the amount it was supplying, the American quota would stay the same, thus forcing Canadians to give up supplies we might need for ourselves;
- Canadians working in the natural gas exploration and development industries will face loss of employment as Russian imports replace the need for new wells;
- Canada’s energy security will be undermined as we come to rely on imported sources of energy, when we could be self-sufficient;
= The federal government will see a loss of potential revenue as every cubic metre of Russian LNG means lost royalty revenues from an equal amount of Canadian natural gas; and
- The liquefaction, transportation and regasification of LNG are energy intensive processes which would result in as much as 40 per cent more Greenhouse Gas Emissions than would result from burning domestic natural gas supplied by a pipeline.
In case you were wondering, that's the same Gazprom which Harper bashed just days ago based on its history of manipulating gas exports for political purposes. But now that it's Harper's political purposes at play, the problem seems to have vanished rather quickly.

So what comes next? It's worth taking a closer look to see if there are ways of mitigating the harmful effects of the natural gas deal (I hear the Standing Committee on International Trade has a few meetings planned already). But based on the Cons' track record, it doesn't seem likely that any of the potential negative effects have been taken into account in the deal as negotiated...and once again there's no basis to justify substantive problems down the road based primarily on Harper's desire pretend to be a competent dealmaker now.

Don't get your hopes up

In his column this morning, James Travers somehow came to the conclusion that Stephen Harper would learn based on this weekend's events to place a higher value on good policy than politics, and as a result avoid embarrassments like his knee-jerk response to last week's events in the Middle East in the future.

Later this morning, Harper proved that optimism to be unfounded, refusing to retract a word of his original comments despite this weekend's G8 diplomatic intervention.

Sadly, Travers and others in the media seem no less resolute in their determination to claim that Harper is willing to be flexible than Harper is in his own infallibility. And there isn't much reason for optimism that anybody is interested in budging from their position anytime matter how often Harper proves his media supporters wrong.

Update: As Woman at Mile 0 points out, it's far from clear that Harper succeeded on the "good politics" angle either. But the "knee-jerk response" part seems all the more certain.

Ever less doubt

A BBC poll takes a look at opinions about energy around the world. And lest there be any doubt, the poll confirms that those in favour of improved conservation and energy use are in a massive majority both in Canada and around the world:
Nine in 10 Canadians fear that the way the world uses and produces energy is harming the environment. Only in Australia and Great Britain are levels of concern higher.

Canadians are also among the most concerned that energy shortages or rising prices will destabilize the world economy, with 85 per cent expressing that fear.

And more than eight in 10 Canadians are worried that competition for energy will lead to greater conflict between nations.

On all three questions, Canadians express higher levels of alarm than the international average. In all 19 nations, 81 per cent fear that energy use is harming the environment, 77 per cent think energy shortages and prices could harm the world economy and 72 per cent think energy competition could spark more conflict.

Canadians are among the most enthusiastic supporters of tax incentives for renewable energy, with 91 per cent in favour, and for requiring automakers to increase fuel efficiency, with nearly eight in 10 backing the idea.
It remains to be seen whether the Cons will continue going against the weight of public opinion by remaining disinterested both in the environmental implications of further energy development, and in the need for national conservation programs. But if so, then it may not be long before Harper and company become inextricably associated with problems which a vast majority of Canadians want to see addressed.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

An obvious cause

The CP reports on the Con cheque-swapping scandal, with a distinct flavour of "but everybody does it" based on the fact that cheque-swapping was a common practice until a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, that angle largely misses the central point, which is that there's a very good reason why the other two main parties stopped the practice in 2004:
(U)nlike the Tories, who continued to promote the scheme to help defray delegate expenses at their 2005 convention, the two opposition parties say they stopped the practice in 2004 after political financing laws were overhauled...

Political financing reforms in 2004 addressed he (sic) practice. Under the reforms, personal donations were capped at $5,400 each year and, in a bid to prevent attempts to circumvent the limit, a clause was added expressly forbidding anyone from making a donation in the name of or on behalf of another person or entity.
But while the other two parties made sure to comply with the new law, all signs point to the Cons failing completely either at determining the effects of the law, or at making sure that their riding associations complied with it:
MMike Donison, the Conservatives' executive director, has said the party had no knowledge that local organizers were using cheque-swapping and did not approve or condone the practice...

(Liberal national director Steven) MacKinnon said the Liberals went to considerable effort and expense to analyse the complex political financing reforms and to ensure no one in the party inadvertently breached the law.

Similarly, (NDP federal secretary Eric) Hebert said he spent six months on the phone with officials at Elections Canada, going over every detail of the changes in the law. He acknowledged that some of the complicated details might have been lost on local Tory organizers, but he said it's the responsibility of the central party to ensure all party members respect the law.
Needless to say, given how clear it appears that the Cons couldn't be bothered to ensure that their riding associations understood or followed the law, it's hard to have any confidence that the Con government is any better at policing itself now that it's taken power. And Harper may well have one more reason to push for the earliest election possible in order to minimize the likelihood of anybody else tracking down any similar tendency to play fast and loose with the rules within the government before Canada next goes to the polls.

Questionable period

It's always amusing to see how Question Period's Craig Oliver will warp the facts to fit his message, and he was in fine form today asking his guests how many casualties it'll take before Canadians "lose faith" in the Afghanistan mission. Now if only any of the guests had been paying enough attention to the consistent public consensus against the mission already to call Oliver on his false premise.

(Edit: typo.)

Democracy on the brink

A couple of stories have come out this week suggesting that the relative calm following Rene Preval's election in Haiti is now coming to an end. First, supporters of the exiled Jean-Bertrand Aristide held a peaceful protest to demand Aristide's return:
Thousands of people have demonstrated in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, demanding the return of exiled former President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Supporters chanted "Aristide or death!" and "Aristide's blood is our blood!" as they marched to the National Palace on the ex-leader's 53rd birthday...

President Rene Preval had said during this year's election campaign he would consider allowing him to return home...

Saturday's march was largely peaceful although there were some stand-offs with riot police.
Of course, such a non-violent protest should be exactly the type of freedom of speech which should be available to Haitians as well as to citizens of other countries. But while Aristide's supporters took peaceful democratic action, the violent gang warfare that has marked far too much of Haiti's recent history also made its return:
The killings began before dawn. Men armed with automatic rifles walked through the hillside slum of Grand Ravine, warning of a fire and yelling for residents to come out of their cinder-block and sheet-metal shacks. Those who obeyed were gunned down.

Several hours later, Haitian morgue workers and UN peacekeepers from Sri Lanka piled bodies in one of the slum's main thoroughfares, a rocky stream bed at the bottom of the ravine after which the neighbourhood is named. The body count totalled 21, including three women and four children. Most of the victims were killed with a bullet to the head...

The massacre was as unexpected as it was gruesome. For several weeks, rival gangs had exchanged fire in a turf war over control of the slum. But the massacre that took place last Friday was so arbitrary - family members, neighbours, human rights observers and police all agree the victims were not gang members - that UN and Haitian officials believe it may have been in part an attempt to destabilise the newly elected government of President Rene Preval.
Whether or not Aristide returns to the country, it's readily apparent that plenty more international support will be needed to ensure that the democratic will of Haiti's people won't be overturned yet again. Hopefully Canadian and other leaders will take notice of the current instability, and take action to make sure that Haiti's new regime continues to respect legitimate protests while also having the means to clamp down on its gang wars.

(h/t to catnip.)