Saturday, August 26, 2006

Steps forward

Despite Alberta's continued pattern of bigotry, today's news isn't all bad on gay and lesbian issues, as the Guardian reports that a British soccer franchise is taking steps to be recognized as a Diversity Champion:
It is a sport where men are men, players who go down injured are derided as 'poofs', stars may feel forced to deny that they are homosexual and there is no 'out' gay player in any British dressing room.

Yet Manchester City have decided to challenge football's taboo by becoming a champion of equal rights, hiring gays to work at its stadium and training ground and attracting new supporters from the city's thriving gay and lesbian community. The Premiership side have become the first club to join a distinguished list of employers which are officially recognised as 'gay-friendly' by Stonewall, the gay rights campaign group, joining the likes of the BBC, Nike, the Royal Navy and Sainsbury's.

City have just paid a four-figure sum to join Stonewall's Diversity Champions scheme. Firms on the list follow policies designed to recruit and retain gay members of staff, such as banning offensive language in the workplace and to persuade some of Britain's estimated 3.6 million gays and lesbians to spend their 'pink pounds' with them...

Manchester City already give Manchester's main gay amateur team free coaching and match tickets, advertise in local gay publications, back the city's Lesbian and Gay Foundation and support Aids fundraising initiatives. City have trained all their 175 full-time and 500 part-time staff to be sensitive towards gays as part of a diversity training programme on race, religion, disability and sexual orientation, and banned the use of 'inappropriate' language that their staff, 10 of whom are gay, might find offensive.

Alistair Mackintosh, the club's chief executive, said: 'We want to send a welcoming message to gay, lesbian and bisexual supporters, be inclusive and be a progressive employer.'...

Mackintosh stressed that the motivation for joining Diversity Champions was not to increase attendances but to learn the best ways of hiring and keeping talented gay staff and avoiding situations which could lead to the club being sued for discrimination, as some big-name employers have been.

City take a strong stand against their fans acting in an homophobic manner inside their ground. At their derby against Manchester United last season several supporters who were directing homophobic chanting at visiting players were thrown out after complaints.
Based on the context set out in the article, it looks like Manchester City's efforts at inclusion will run into plenty of criticism within the world of soccer. And it remains to be seen whether a more positive organizational structure will do anything to overcome the culture which prevents players themselves from coming out.

But at the very least Manchester City deserves credit for challenging the conservatism which seems to reign at the moment in their sport. And the model is one that other sports franchises, and indeed employers everywhere, should be seeking to emulate.

On your marks...

Congratulations to Elizabeth May on winning the Green Party leadership. She's certainly made a splash in her opening statements, including demanding that Canada give notice to terminate NAFTA, and describing the pursuit of unimpeded economic growth as "the ideology of the cancer cell". It remains to be seen whether her stances will help the Greens' fortunes, but they'll definitely present some serious challenges to some assumptions which generally go unaddressed in Canadian federal politics.

Update: Another interesting if surprising move from May, as she has announced her intention to run in the Nova Scotia riding of Cape Breton-Canso rather than any of the usual suspects for potential Green gains. The move would seem to make May's attempt to get into the Commons herself a lot more difficult, but then could send a much stronger message if she does pull it off - and the riding does have the potential four-way split dynamic that the Greens seem to be pursuing.

On poor excuses

The Star reports that Gordon O'Connor's repeated claim that Canada can't spare troops to help in Lebanon, Darfur or elsewhere in no way reflects Canada's actual capacity to deploy troops:
Canada has 1,200 troops available to respond to global missions, a military briefing note says, contradicting claims by Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor that the army is stretched too thin to consider other big deployments...

Calling for immediate deployment of troops as peacekeepers in Lebanon, NDP Leader Jack Layton said Prime Minister Stephen Harper and O'Connor haven't been "fully truthful" about the state of the military.

"Given that we quite clearly ... have the capacity to assist ... what's the real reason we're not responding?" Layton asked in an interview.

"The fact that Canadians have been denied the knowledge that we have the ability to assist is certainly shocking to me."

The capacity of the Forces was spelled out in a briefing book handed to O'Connor right after the Tories took power in February and he was sworn in as defence minister. The 231-page document was obtained by the federal New Democrats under the Access to Information Act.
Of course, the Cons' consistent unwillingness to tell the truth shouldn't come as much of a shock to anybody who's been closely following their actions in office - though sadly that track record hasn't been as well reported as it might have been during PMS' supposed honeymoon phase. But this should serve as a strong example of the Cons' distaste for the truth when it comes to informing Canadians both of what kind of resources they have available, and what their actual reasons are for refusing to lend assistance to countries in need.

Update: In fairness, it's worth considering whether the Cons may have an honest explanation for the discrepancy in the argument by a spokesman that increased commitment to Afghanistan has reduced the number of available troops from 1200 to 500. Lest there be any doubt, there's no way to explain that decrease innocently.

In fact, the Cons' message as to the increase in the number of troops required in Afghanistan ranged from claiming only a negligible increase at the time of the vote, to grudgingly admitting afterward that up to 100 additional troops might be needed. And it certainly isn't plausible to claim that an extra 600 troops are needed to train an Afghanistan contingent of less than four times that size based solely on the Cons' extension of the mission.

At best, one could claim the Cons are telling the truth now only by admitting that they were lying through their teeth earlier. But based on the track record, it looks all the more likely that none of the Cons' claims to do with Afghanistan have had the slightest basis in reality - and there's no reason to think that's changed now.


There's been no lack of well-deserved criticism of Ted Morton's efforts to legitimize hate speech related to gay marriage. But let's not let the rest of Alberta's Cons off the hook for their willingness to indulge Morton's hatred:
(Morton's) bill also would allow teachers to opt out of teaching same-sex marriage and students to opt out of having to learn about it.

But after the Tory caucus recommended changes, it is expected to be amended to focus solely on the opt-out for students.

Kris Wells, who spoke at the protest and works in educational policy studies at the University of Alberta, said the provincial curriculum as it stands doesn't address gay marriage anyway.

“This will do nothing more than create a widespread moral panic in which gay and lesbian issues are seen as a moral contagion,” he said.

Mr. Klein has endorsed the bill, saying it would simply enshrine government policy and assist those who wish to follow their conscience.
Of course, Morton's initial bill was even worse than the expected change. But Alberta's governing party deserves its share of blame for working with Morton and granting its apparent approval to a bill which can at best be described as pointless (given its focus on attacking a nonexistent "problem"), and at worst as deliberate bigotry in treating gay and lesbian issues differently from every other topic which could possibly surface in Alberta schools.

On zealots

CanWest reports that some religious extremists have apparently succeeded in destroying a historical site solely on the basis that it's contrary to their own views. And if that sounds like a report about the Taliban, it's far closer to home than that:
Canada's only major Arctic petroglyph site -- a 1,500-year-old gallery of mysterious faces carved into a soapstone ridge on a tiny island off of Quebec's northern coast -- has been ransacked by vandals in what the region's top archeologist suspects was a religiously motivated attack by devout Christians from a nearby Inuit community.

For years, heritage advocates have sought special protection for the ancient etchings at Qajartalik Island, located about one hour by boat from the 500-resident village of Kangiqsujuaq. Experts believe they were created by the extinct Dorset culture, an artistically advanced civilization that occupied much of the eastern Arctic before they were killed or driven away by the Thule ancestors of modern Inuit...

Now, dreams of global renown for Qajartalik may be dashed after a visit to the island last month by Quebec cultural officials revealed extensive damage to the prehistoric drawings, including deep gouges across many of the faces.

"This is a world-class site," a despondent Robert Frechette, director of the nearby Pingualuit provincial park in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec, told CanWest News Service on Friday.

"I first visited the island 12 years ago and I can see that every time it's deteriorated," he said, describing how tourist looting and natural erosion of the site's soft soapstone first prompted preservation proposals in the 1990s.

"But this time I was quite amazed. Someone has taken some parts of the rock away. There's graffiti. And someone has been carving with an axe or something sharp in the grooves of the faces. It's pretty bad."

Daniel Gendron, chief archeologist with the Inukjuak-based Avataq Cultural Institute, the key promoter of indigenous history and identity in Nunavik, said the latest vandalism at Qajartalik follows the pattern of previous attacks by members of what he called "a very strong movement" of conservative Christians in Kangiqsujuaq and several other Inuit communities in northern Quebec.
It's certainly a shame that delays in action by governments involved have led to a lack of formal protection for the site over the last decade-plus. But that failure does nothing to excuse the actions of those who decided that their own distaste for the unfamiliar could validate the destruction of what should have been a valuable historical resource. And the incident only highlights the all-too-frequent result of blind demonization of other faiths and cultures.

Friday, August 25, 2006

On exchanges

While both the Libs and the Cons have tried to position themselves as the only party capable of defending Canada against the Bloc, there are some issues where neither can even pretend to oppose the Bloc's desire to drain Ottawa of as much influence as possible. Fortunately, the NDP isn't staying quiet:
NDP Leader Jack Layton today blasted Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe for calling on Canada to adopt the American dollar.

“Giving up our dollar means giving up our sovereignty,” said Layton. “This is not about having the maple leaf on our money – it is about controlling our financial future. Canadians – not Americans – should control our destiny. The interests of the U.S. Federal reserve shouldn’t come before the interests of Canadian businesses or Canadian consumers.”

Layton called on Duceppe to stand up for Quebec businesses, home owners and students. “The Bloc needs to re-think their monetary policy and keep the ‘loonie’ in Quebecers’ and Canadians’ pockets. We shouldn’t leave it to US bankers south of the border to determine our interest rates. Canadians want their financial security in Canadian hands.”...

Duceppe joins a long list of politicians willing to gamble with Canadians’ financial future. Conservative MP Jason Kenny (sic), current Liberal leadership hopeful Scott Brison, and Bob Rae’s economic adviser Maurizio Bevilacqua, have all called for a common currency with the U.S.
It should be a fairly straightforward issue to recognize that Canada is best off being able to adjust its currency based on its own economic needs rather than being tied to the choices of the U.S. Fed. But with the other parties (or at least significant figures therein) all wanting to sell out as much of Canada as possible at every opportunity, the NDP is left as the sole party united in wanting to keep Canada's currency in Canadian hands. And that should position the NDP well to the extent that further subjugation to the U.S. will (and should) be an issue in the next election.

On messages

At least one Lib blogger is proud of Gerard Kennedy's plan to devote .7% of GDP to child care by 2012. And in isolation, the plan is indeed one worth pursuing. But what kind of message would it send to make (and meet) a commitment to supply precisely that amount as just the public contribution to child care, when the same percentage commitment to foreign aid made 37 years earlier has completely fallen by the wayside?

Which isn't to say that there's anything but a glaring need for real investment in a child care system. But if Canada really can reach the same numerical target that much more easily on child care than to meet its commitment to improve the condition of those worst off in the world, that can only speak poorly of our willingness to participate in the improvement of the human condition generally. And the same applies particularly to Kennedy if he doesn't plan to ramp up foreign aid spending on at least a similar path.

On standoffs

CBC reports that the Senate is planning to take its time reviewing the Accountability Act, leading to threats from PMS to call an election over the issue:
Liberal senators say they will not be bullied by the Harper government into making a hasty review of the federal Accountability Act.

The Senate committee on legal and constitutional affairs is scheduled to begin public hearings on Bill C-2 when Parliament resumes sitting in September. The bill passed third reading in the House of Commons in early August but still needs Senate approval.

Liberal members of the Senate committee said they want to do a thorough review and will think carefully about amendments to the legislation. The Conservatives have threatened to call an election if the Liberal-dominated upper chamber stalls passage of the bill.
It's hard to have much sympathy for either side at this point. After all, while the Accountability Act is certainly a substantial piece of legislation which should be reviewed appropriately, it's also been available for public review and criticism since early this year (and indeed has been amended through the input of all parties in the House of Commons) - meaning that there's no valid excuse for the Senate to stall matters now.

From Harper's standpoint, though, there's equally no reason why calling an election would be a reasonable response to Lib obstructionism in the Senate. After all, what could possibly be accomplished by rearranging the composition of the chamber which has already passed the bill when the other one isn't going to be changed by the election in any event?

The simple solution would be for both sides to cooperate to make sure the Senate is able to carry out a reasonable review without unduly delaying passage of the Act. Unfortunately, there isn't much indication that either group is willing to make any good-faith effort at this point - nor any particular likelihood that either side will answer in any meaningful way for its posturing, regardless of how far the sniping escalates. Which only highlights just how far Canada has to go in ensuring genuine accountability for all of its political actors.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Little comment necessary

Canada's supposed natural governing party in action:
Party officials provided reporters with three different times and two different locations for a leadership candidates' forum on Monday night.

Leadership contenders were given only a few hours notice that they'd be given a few minutes each to speak at a party rally Wednesday night.

The rally turned out to be a cocktail reception and by the time the candidates were introduced, the well-lubricated crowd was so boisterous that contenders had to shout to be heard above the din.

Martha Hall Findlay issued a piercing whistle to try to bring the crowd to order. She was ignored, as were all the other candidates...

Mercer declined to comment on another, more serious foul-up which the various leadership camps blamed squarely on party headquarters in Ottawa: The release Wednesday of the latest lists of donors to each of the leadership contenders.

The party posted the lists late in the day on its website, pages of donations that were not tallied to provide totals for any of the candidates.

Reporters were in the midst of adding up the numbers themselves when the party shut down the website, having discovered that it had inadvertently posted the home addresses and phone numbers of the candidates.

Privately, senior organizers with various camps were furious that the party had not posted tens of thousands of dollars worth of donations which had not yet been processed by the party, through which donations are funnelled for the purpose of issuing tax receipts.

The party has been taking three weeks or more to process donations, a delay that most cash-starved camps find incomprehensible.

Moreover, some camps were irate that the reporting of donations was inconsistent from candidate to candidate. For instance, loans were reported for some candidates but not for others...

The confusion had senior organizers privately grumbling about the "incompetence" of party officials and demanding a thorough "house cleaning" at headquarters.

Several insiders suggested party officials know their jobs will likely be over once a new leader is chosen in December and are, thus, putting in only half-hearted effort now.


With little having been done to start reinvesting in social programs after the '90s cutbacks, Canada's poor are facing obscenely little support in a time of plenty. But in fairness, the Libs have managed to at least to significantly improve the current standard of living of one group of Canadians.

On threatened supplies

The Tyee reports on water management in B.C., and concludes that province is not only incentivizing the use of groundwater, but also completely failing to measure the effects of that use:
(M)any of British Columbia's fastest-growing municipalities...draw some or all of their water from underground. Among them: Chilliwack, Mission, Langley Township, South Surrey, White Rock, Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and, on Vancouver Island, Duncan as well as most of the rest of the Cowichan Valley. "As municipalities that have a groundwater dependence grow," says Gwyn Graham, provincial groundwater specialist for the Lower Mainland, "I'm seeing an increase in well water use."

Exactly how much water are we sucking out of the ground each year? "That's a very good question," Gwyn says. "I don't know." Nor do provincial record-keepers know how many wells have been punched in B.C., or where. Until two years ago, there was no requirement even to register a newly drilled hole.

There is still no limit on how much water someone can pump (although rules do require the very largest users to report what they take). Unlike water in rivers or lakes, groundwater is free to anyone who can reach it. "If you want to pull out a couple of thousand cubic meters a day from a river, you need a license, and you'll pay some rate depending on use," Gwyn explains. "That doesn't apply to groundwater. [And] because it's groundwater, we don't charge for it. A farmer that wants to irrigate fields or a municipality that wants to supply urban areas can take as much as they want without worrying about the cost." The same laissez-faire attitude applies to industry.

That's a powerful motivator to keep on pumping as long as possible. In the Township of Langley, for instance, where about half of residents depend on municipal wells and half draw from the regional water system, "We pay much less for our [ground] water than we do for GVRD water," says water resources and environment manager Brad Badelt. "It's a real economic incentive for us to keep relying on ground water."

How long that can go on is anyone's guess. The water level in Langley's wells has been dropping recently. The province has only recently undertaken -- and has not yet completed -- an inventory of aquifers in the Fraser River basin. Of 153 identified aquifers, 132 are being tapped for drinking water. Nine of these are classified as both "highly developed" and "highly vulnerable" to contamination. The number of "boil water" advisories issued -- a telling indicator of declining water quality -- has doubled since 1995.
Reporter Chris Wood discusses as well some ideas to try to replenish ground water supplies, including the prospect of using "recharge" wells to boost the amount of rainwater that finds its way back into aquifers. But there's a limit to what such action can do, especially when the province is only now beginning to collect a part of the information which would be needed to determine both the current condition of B.C.'s aquifers, and the best available means of replenishing them. And the current incentive for growing communities to use up groundwater makes it seem far too likely that the province's water resources may be irreversibly damaged before either the problem or the solutions are actually determined.


The Cons run into the obvious problems of trying to present the world in black and white, as it turns out that by their own standards Jason Kenney is with the terrorists:
Conservative MP Jason Kenney, who likened Hezbollah to the Nazi party and condemned fellow MPs for urging dialogue with a terrorist organization, himself spoke to a rally organized by Iranian supporters of a banned terrorist group.

A photograph of Kenney, who is Prime Minister Stephen Harper's parliamentary secretary, appears on the website of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the PMOI, or People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran.

The PMOI is one of the names used by the MEK, or Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an armed Iranian rebel group formally designated as a terrorist organization by the governments of Canada, the United States and the European Union. The Canadian government put the group on its official terror list in May 2005.

Kenney is shown addressing an April 6 rally on Parliament Hill, and the group says he welcomed participants "on his own behalf as well as the Prime Minister."
But for those wondering whether any response is forthcoming, Kenney is on top of this in the proud Con tradition of doing and knowing next to nothing while claiming to have done everything possible:
Kenney, MP for Calgary Southeast, said he "would be shocked" to hear his picture was posted on the group's political wing website.

Directed to the website, Kenney said he was "completely unaware of the context as it is presented here, even though we had done our due diligence."...

Kenney said he is well aware that the PMOI is also known as the MEK and is listed as a terrorist group. He then specifically recalled questioning the man who invited him — whose name he said he could not recall — at a meeting in Kenney's office after the parliamentary committee meeting. He asked if the man had any ties to "those radicals in the People's Mojahedin. And he laughed or denied it or something."

"I wanted to be sure there wasn't a connection," said Kenney. "I came away with the impression that there was no connection whatsoever."
Note the seamless transition from Kenney specifically remembering his own words in the alleged conversation, to taking wild guesses as to the anonymous invitor's response. Though I suppose if the same low standard of scrutiny were applied to Kenney's response that he seems to have granted to an anonymous person requesting Kenney's implicit endorsement of his group, that answer could well pass muster, as the issue would be declared closed following a Google search of "laughed or denied it or something".

Fortunately, the Cons can't avoid facing more attention than that, as the NDP's Peggy Nash nicely points out Kenney's hypocrisy (not to mention the folly of taking the Cons' actual black-and-white stance) within the article. But the laughable attempt at a defence by the PM's parliamentary secretary shouldn't pass without comment either, as it highlights the Cons' all-too-frequent habit of responding to controversy by spouting off as many exculpatory words as possible with no regard for consistency or plausibility. And if the Cons really do have this low a standard for due diligence, then those keeping an eye on the government will have to be doubly diligent to point out what are bound to be many other cases where the Cons have similarly failed to do their homework.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Let's not make a deal

Saskatchewan's Con MPs have apparently emerged from hiding after their understandable frustration at Harper was revealed, with Con MP Brad Trost promising the best deal Saskatchewan has ever had. Which given the party's track record on negotiations, presumably means that the province can expect little more than a twisted arm.

(h/t to leftdog.)

Secrets and lies

Your open, accountable governing party in action, as the Cons try to avoid explaining why a nomination challenge to Rob Anders will not be tolerated:
So how squeaky clean must a potential candidate be to challenge one of the most controversial members of Parliament?

Nobody knows for sure since no reason has been given as to why the former Conservative riding president for Calgary West has been disqualified in his bid to challenge four-term incumbent Rob Anders for the riding nomination. James Bereznay, vice-president of the riding association, said Wednesday that businessman Walter Wakula's bid to run against Anders was rejected earlier this month.

Bereznay dismissed suggestions that information should have been released or that the public should be told why Wakula, a member of the University of Calgary senate, was turned away.

The move wasn't secretive, he said, but further comment would have to come from Michael Donison, the Conservative national executive director in Ottawa.
And just in case there was any danger of the buck being passed to somebody with something to say:
Donison did not immediately return calls.
It's hard to imagine what candidacy standards the Cons are applying to Wakula's nomination that wouldn't disqualify Anders himself from continuing to embarrass the party. That said, it does seem glaringly clear that while claiming to want to keep their MPs accountable, the Cons are more than willing to go to great lengths to prevent challenges from being viable or even (in this case) possible - particularly in light of a similar disqualified challenge to Nina Grewal mentioned in the article. And that pattern of arbitrarily preventing challenges should leave PMS as silent as his party is now next time he has to defend the Cons' track record on internal democracy.

On sovereignty

While the Cons have spent plenty of time turning attention to the need for Canada to maintain sovereignty over its Arctic areas, Charlie Angus rightly highlights the fact that with sovereignty comes responsibility:
MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) says that if Stephen Harper is serious about asserting Northern sovereignty he will take responsibility for a growing toxic crisis caused by the Department of Defense. At issue are 17 radar bases that were abandoned in the 1960s by DND. Government documents obtained by the NDP reveal a disturbing picture of PCB contamination of water, animals and human residents.

Angus says the Federal government continues to stonewall on taking responsibility for the threats posed by this contamination.

“Negligence on the part of DND has resulted in the steady poisoning of the land and people of the far north. DND has been aware of the threat. And yet, they have done nothing to mitigate the threat posed to wildlife and citizens,” says Angus. “It’s time Stephen Harper put boots on the ground to deal with the toxic time bomb ticking away on the shores of the northern waters.”...

Among the toxic threats revealed:

- Along the shores of the Winisk River, there are 50,000 abandoned barrels that are seeping unidentified quantities of oil, diesel and PCBs. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands more barrels have already been washed away by spring flooding.
- At Site 60 groundwater contamination has been found to have PCBs at 16 000 times the allowable limit.
- High levels of PCBs have been noted in humans and animal life in the region.
Of course, taking responsibility for Canada's past damage to the North would require more cost and effort than a flawed military maneuver. But besides improving the living conditions for Northern residents and making for responsible resource management, such a move would also ensure that Canada is recognized as taking on all aspects of sovereignty and control over the North. Which gives the Cons an excellent opportunity to demonstrate whether they're really out to preserve Canada's Arctic region, or only looking for excuses to throw money at military contractors.

Update: Stephane Dion offers his ideas on Northern sovereignty as well. But while setting up parks and inviting scientific cooperation are nice plans to be sure, they're far less significant steps than actually cleaning up Canada's own messes - which Dion of course conspicuously failed to do as Environment Minister.

On head-scratchers

CanWest reports that a change in federal government hasn't changed the habit of underestimating federal surpluses. But the explanation from the Finance Department for part of the reason can only be described as curious:
The federal government's surplus this year will be fatter than forecast in the May budget, the Finance Department said in a fiscal update Tuesday.

The department credited lower-than-projected spending on government programs for its expectation that the surplus will be "somewhat" higher in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2007, than the $3.6 billion it forecast in its May budget, noting that revenues are expected to be in line with the budget projections...

(B)ased on the results of the first three months of the current fiscal year which began April 1, it now expects that corporate tax revenues will be weaker than forecast in the budget but that personal income revenues will be greater.

"The strong growth in personal income tax receipts seen last year is continuing so far this year, reflecting strong growth in employment and wages and salaries combined with the progressivity of the personal income tax system," it said.
Now, I'm normally among the first to applaud any recognition as to the value of progressivity, especially coming from a Con-controlled department. But it's hard to see what the update intends to say by highlighting the concept in this context.

At worst, it could be argued that the Cons are trying to emphasize current "progressivity" within the tax system as both an effort to paint the Libs as left-wing, and as a justification for a swing toward more regressive taxation. Though if that were the intention, it's odd to see the concept listed alongside such positive elements as growth in employment and wages which Canadians presumably won't want to see reversed.

At best, the explanation could be seen as a statement of the glaringly obvious: that under a progressive system, a boost in jobs and wages will result in increased receipts. But then, it's hard to see how the progressivity element is relevant enough to be worth mentioning. After all, the same would presumably be true in all but the most absurd of tax systems.

Mind you, the current system might well not be that far away from such absurdity in any event, given that stronger-than-expected economic growth didn't manage to push receipts above expectations. Instead, the increased surplus is based on unprojected spending cuts - which leads to questions both as to how corporate tax receipts have managed to go down, and as to where the Cons have been cutting funding beyond the environmental programs and other matters which were discussed around budget time. And these questions in turn give rise to one last theory: that the Cons are simply repeating as many buzzwords as possible in order to avoid answering the real questions raised by the update.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Zombie nation

More fun commentary on the Libs' current mess courtesy of John Ibbitson:
This week, the Liberals are holding a caucus retreat of the Undead.

The party is in limbo, stuck in the middle of an interminable leadership race that is sucking all the political life from the caucus. MPs are valuable for their endorsements and as organizing fodder for leadership candidates. Otherwise, these honourable members will have little to do in the approaching fall session but perch, insensate, behind whoever is manufacturing outrage in Question Period.

Until there is a new leader, shadow cabinet and platform to sell, the Liberal caucus is little more than an assemblage of animated cadavers.
Mind you, Ibbitson goes pretty far afield in the rest of the column. But it's still striking to see that just what a (deservedly) cool reception the media has given the Libs during what was alleged to be a time for renewal rather than experimental reanimation. And with the Libs using what little force they can summon for another round of wrong-headed finger-pointing at the NDP rather than anything which could justify any positive press in the future, there's little reason to think the Libs will be brought back to life anytime soon.

On barely-lesser evils

James Travers writes that previous Lib governments had managed to overwork and mismanage Canada's civil service to the point where even Stephen Harper's paranoia and disinterest in facts has managed to look good in comparison. Now just imagine how much better matters would be under a party which is both interested in taking advice and willing to get things done...

Softwood in all the wrong places

The Cons have officially declared that they think there's enough support for a softwood capitulation to put the question to Parliament. But as noted by CBC's article, there's no indication just how far the Cons relaxed their standards from the 95% approval requirement built into the initial agreement. And it wouldn't be too surprising if the standard for "support" was similarly loosened to "any company who neither hung up on nor swore at David Emerson".

Meanwhile, Canada's industry group doesn't approve of the Cons' Parliamentary tactics any more than their strongarming of lumber producers:
David Gray, a western spokesman for Canada's Free Trade Lumber Council, said he was disappointed Harper is making the deal subject to a confidence vote.

"If I was in politics what I would suggest to the opposition is that they just walk out and refuse to vote and leave this for the Conservative government to wear," said Gray, who runs the Mill and Timber Co. Ltd. of Vancouver.
Needless to say, Harper hasn't made any friends by shoving the deal down producers' throats. The question now is whether the industry will respond with similarly generous tactics when the next election rolls around.

Update: Scott Tribe has more on the parliamentary implications.

On bravery

Rafe Mair issues a challenge to PMS and other Canadian politicians, making the argument that any truly brave leader should be at the forefront of the movement toward proportional representation:
Any sort of proportional representation gets the insiders upset because they lose control for the same reason prime ministers and premiers do. When there's a minority government such as will certainly happen under proportional representation, the MPs gain power at the expense of the government, which is to say the prime minister and cabinet -- especially the prime minister.

I don't have the passion for majority government that many Canadians do. I think that many Canadians are far more concerned with "peace, order" than with "good government." They like things settled -- who it is they like, who it is they hate...

Political bravery, defined

In effect there can be no meaningful change without the unanimous consent of all the provinces and the federal government. It takes a very special sort of politician to propose changing the way he got elected for a system wherein he might lose. And the Canadian woods aren't full of such people.
I don't see much reason to share Mair's optimism that Harper could be the "very special sort of politician" in question: instead the Cons seem devoted to defining their ideal government in terms of simplicity of thought and the singleminded pursuit of additional power. Which all too often makes their actions "brave" only in the sheer audacity needed to defy public opinion, logical reasoning and readily-available data all at once.

Not only is PR hurt by being on what's generally the right side of all of those issues, but it would also likely limit the Cons' power in the long run, due to the end result of allocating more seats to Canada's left-leaning majority. Needless to say, PR thus doesn't seem likely to receive any serious attention from the Cons anytime soon - though a toothless task force may well be seen as enough of a political advantage to win Con support.

That said, there shouldn't be much room for doubt that the current system indeed prioritizes polar arguments in the name of the "order" that comes with a majority over good (and inclusive) government. And if the Libs and their leadership candidates are looking for a principle to bring together the anti-Harper opposition, a brave stand in favour of PR would be a great place to start.

Politics over policy

The Star reports that despite their supposed commitment to encouraging mass transit use as a means of cutting pollution, the Cons refuse to commit funding to a TTC subway line largely for political reasons:
Federal funding to help extend the Spadina subway line to York University and into Vaughan is far from a sure thing, warns Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

In his most pointed comments yet on the proposed $2 billion TTC expansion, Flaherty had some sobering news yesterday for subway riders.

"There isn't any firm money on the table," he told the Toronto Star.

While Flaherty said he has been having "constructive discussions" about the long-awaited subway extension with Ontario counterpart Greg Sorbara — including a private meeting Aug. 14 in Ottawa — a final decision is not expected until year's end.

The federal minister noted the Conservative government is balancing competing transportation priorities, including new highways...

Insiders note that partisan politics could also be at play. The extended Spadina subway line would run through ridings that are held provincially and federally by Liberals. That would likely help Premier Dalton McGuinty's provincial Liberals in their re-election bid on Oct. 4, 2007.

But it is less clear how a new subway in that part of Toronto would be politically advantageous for Harper's minority Conservatives, who could face the electorate as early as next spring.

Conservative sources point out that the federal largesse could be more fruitfully spent on other transit priorities in and around Toronto, where the federal Tories have a better chance of winning seats in the next election.
It'll be particularly egregious if the money which would be needed to complete the TTC line instead gets used on highways which only encourage additional single-vehicle traffic rather than doing anything to promote transit use. But in any event, this looks like just one more area in which the Cons are looking for an excuse to put their own political gain over any semblance of good government.

Update: Peggy Nash and Olivia Chow are on top of it.

Monday, August 21, 2006

On empty victories

The CP offers an interesting survey of industry "support" for the Cons' softwood lumber capitulation:
The lumber agreement would end years of legal and trade wrangling between Canada and the United States. But it appeared that any support for the deal would be half-hearted at best.

A source said there is a split within the B.C. Lumber Trade Council that has made it impossible for council president John Allan to express a position on behalf of his members.

Allan had been expected to appear at a House of Commons committee hearing with other softwood industry representatives Monday but did not show up.

A senior Ontario industry official who did appear called the deal a "capitulation," one which eliminates Canada's numerous legal victories before international trade panels.

A Quebec counterpart said the agreement follows a "bastardized" process where the industry faced frequent take-it-or-leave-it threats from the federal government.

The head of Canada's Free Trade Lumber Council said the federal government's own political calculations were behind the deal.

"I think the government's political will to draw closer to the U.S. has played a major part," said Carl Grenier.

He said the industry will likely take the deal because struggling softwood producers are desperate to get their share of a $4.3-billion-US refund from the American government promised under the agreement.

"They want to have the money right away. They need that money," he said.

"They're in very serious trouble, just think it's been four years that they've had $5 billion taken from them."...

Grenier scoffed at Wilson's suggestion (that the U.S. had offered the best deal possible).

"Of course not," he said. "Just look at the previous (Canada-U.S.) deals - in 1986, 1996. They were demonstrably much better."

The Ontario Lumber Manufacturers' Association criticized the deal but suggested many of its members were prepared to "capitulate."

The group's president also mocked the suggestion that Canada achieved the best possible agreement. David Milton said previous Canada-U.S. agreements were better than the one currently in the works.

"Enough of the propaganda and the face-saving. It's a very bad deal," he told the Commons international trade committee.

"Yet the OLMA has members ready to accept it because the threats of the government are impressive: no future help, no co-operation, no negotiation."...

Guy Chevrette, head of the Quebec Forest Industry Council, bemoaned Ottawa's heavy-handedness, which included warnings to the industry that the deal was final.

He said industry officials were twice told they could "take it or leave it" - on April 27, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper first announced an agreement in principle, and again when a so-called final text was unveiled July 1.

Both times, Ottawa was able to extract improvements after having proclaimed the negotiations over, Chevrette noted.

"We will need a much more intelligent and sophisticated process (to negotiate next time)," Chevrette told the committee.
And these aren't even apparently the most unenthusiastic voices available, given that the article doesn't even directly cite any of the actors who wouldn't be brow-beaten into agreeing with the deal - a group which includes the anti-capitulation side of the B.C. council cited in the article, as well as Saskatchewan's industry group which according to tonight's CBC local news is maintaining its stance against the deal.

Emerson may yet try to claim enough support from the industry tomorrow to declare his intention to push the deal forward. But as I've discussed before, the Cons have really done nothing more than win a fight against the very group whose side they were supposed to represent. And that decision to side against Canada won't be soon forgotten - either by the lumber industry, or by every other Canadian who wants to see our government representing our interests abroad rather than undermining them at every turn.

The firing line

Another rare instalment of Rider blogging due to the firing of Roy Shivers. Having attended one of the better and more entertaining Riders games I've ever seen on Saturday, I'm not quite sure whether the over/under on keeping Shivers was 52 points. But in a general sense, it's seemed to me that the team's problem has been more one of talent deployment rather than player acquisition ever since Shivers first took over, which makes it surprising for Shivers to get the axe while Danny Barrett stays on. And the specific timing is even weirder, as it leaves the team effectively unable to sign players at a time when it's stuck with approximately 1.5 healthy CFL quarterbacks.

We'll see whether the move ends up sparking the 'Riders the rest of the way. But I'm not sure many fans realize just how big Shivers' shoes will be to fill - and his replacement will have to fill that role and more in a big hurry for the move to actually help the team this season.

Update: In fairness, the move looks a lot less problematic now that Eric Tillman has been brought in to fill the GM role.

On gatherings

The Hill Times reports on the NDP's upcoming policy convention in Quebec City. Unfortunately the article is long on discussion of the convention itself, and short on any talk of how that will translate into support at the polls. But hopefully the reality on the ground will include more of a long-term presence to help get the NDP into the race in La Belle Province.


Your Con government: covering every angle to eliminate societal evils such as hope.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Deal or no deal

The Financial Post points out just a couple more ways in which the supposed concessions which allegedly made the softwood lumber capitulation palatable enough to accept are ultimately meaningless:
The U.S. industry had initially bristled at reports this week out of British Columbia that it and the U.S. government had made major concessions to see the deal conclude.

As it turns out, some of the apparent concessions -- such as those dealing with when the U.S. could end the deal or the timing of when prices are calculated -- are essentially the same as allowed under U.S. trade law.

"Keep in mind, it would take the U.S. over a year to build a new case against Canada so now giving six months' notice instead of one month doesn't really mean all that much," said one industry observer.
So the Cons had managed to negotiate a deal which was initially worse than the law which applies to every other industry in a similar situation. And now, the key provinces involved have decided to back the deal based on its including the minimum treatment which would apply with or without any agreement, as well as the unenforceable "comfort letter" discussed as the lead in the FP article.

With tomorrow's deadline looming large, it's not too late for the industry to recognize a bad deal when it sees it. And if Harper faces the embarrassment of seeing one of his few supposed achievements die out because the industry doesn't agree with the Cons' claim that Canada can't do better, then it may not be long before we have a new federal government who's actually willing to defend Canada's interests.

On false positives

The CP reports that Garth Turner apparently won't face a nomination battle after all. But in discussing the story the writer, Michael Hammond, seems far too ready to pretend that the Cons alone have a system which allows MPs to be held accountable:
Unlike other political parties, the Conservative party does not guarantee that incumbent MPs will receive the party's nomination.
Now, the first question which comes readily to mind is what "other political parties" are included. Surely somebody writing on Canadian politics should have at least some awareness that one NDP MP actually lost a riding challenge last year, and another recent article which actually appears to have looked into the issue suggests that the Bloc also provides for open nominations.

By my count, that leaves exactly one of the federal parties with any seats to defend which is currently immunizing its members from challenge. And however divided the Libs may be in the midst of their leadership race, describing them alone as "other political parties" is a bit of a stretch.

But Hammond's statement looks all the worse when considering the Cons' record, as that party itself doesn't value such challenges enough to have permitted them before this year. Which stands in stark contrast to the other two non-Lib parties which hold federal seats.

Unfortunately, Hammond does not appear to have looked into either the current reality or the Cons' history. Instead, he outright says that a pluralized set of federal parties allow for less accountability than the Cons - and implies in the process that the Cons are unique in their willingness to force MPs to defend their record, rather than joined to the Libs as the parties who allow internal democracy only when it seems convenient.

Of course, the quoted line forms a relatively small part of an article devoted mostly to other issues. But Hammond's careless assumption allows the Cons to benefit from an unwarranted appearance of principle. And the more undeserved positive press the Cons get now, the more difficult it will be to point out the Cons' actual governing record (which has of course tended toward central control rather than actual grassroots involvement) during the next campaign.

On caricatures

Throughout the 2006 election campaign, the main charge levelled at the NDP by the Libs was the complaint that the Dippers were treating the Libs and Cons differently. Never mind that the Libs and Cons were indeed in different positions (the former as a longtime government with a record which could be thoroughly assessed, the latter as an opposition party who couldn't reasonably be attacked for anything but its stands on the issues), or that the consistent "wrong on the issues" line toward the Cons surely can't be taken as a compliment in any fair analysis. The mere fact that the NDP opposed the Cons in a different way from the Libs was somehow interpreted to mean approval of the Cons, helping to fuel the Libs' irrational blame of the NDP for their own election failures.

Never ones to be bothered by consistency of thought, Lib bloggers are now starting to include just the opposite complaint within a "blame Jack" framework, claiming that the NDP is unfairly lumping together Libs who accomplished little on progressive issues with Cons who are actively avoiding accomplishing anything in a "same old story" narrative.

Contary to the position of these bloggers, there would be more than a bit of justification even if the NDP's position was generally to highlight a relatively similar lack of results from both the Libs and Cons in government. After all, wasn't it the Libs that prioritized corporate tax cuts over reinvestment in the programs which were slashed during Martin's reign as finance minister? And who was it that admittedly didn't have Canada on target to meet its Kyoto commitments, and who hemmed and hawed over daycare for over a decade before doing anything? If the Libs had cared about progressive issues in the least when they held a majority (or even early in their minority tenure), then there would be established structures in place today which the Cons could never have undercut, rather than a series of preliminary ventures which the Cons could back away from at relatively little political cost.

Instead, it took a resurgent NDP to push the Libs to finally reinvest in the health care system and move forward on child care, and an NDP budget deal (which, in case the Libloggers haven't noticed, was the only reason the NDP voted for a budget associated with Martin) to reinvest in postsecondary education and housing. And the NDP has pressed Harper in much the same manner as it pressed the Libs on all counts, calling PMS' bluff when he threatened not to fund the NDP budget and successfully pushing the Cons to fund housing programs.

So it would be fair enough to recognize some similarity between the results of Lib and Con government in any event. But then, any realistic portrayal of the NDP's position reveals that the party's actions have been far more nuanced than that: working with either the Cons or the Libs where appropriate, similarly casting blame on the Libs and/or the Cons alone where justified, and recognizing the difference between the Libs' relatively-minor failings and the major Con equivalents where matters really have gotten worse.

For those wondering just who's really been opposing Harper when it counts, though, the NDP has opposed the Cons on each issue of interest to progressives - unlike the Libs, whose ranks provided enough votes to hand Harper his desired vote on Afghanistan even when the mission was going to continue in any event, and who chose to support Rona Ambrose's continued mismanagement of the environment file when the NDP moved to hold her accountable for her failings. And now one of the leading leadership contenders is buying without question Harper's spin that Canada can't meet its Kyoto targets - even though the Libs' own platform still recognized the need to fulfill our commitments earlier this year.

About the best that can be said about the Libloggers' argument is that the NDP has indeed disappointed in the polls since the election, and presumably thus hasn't taken advantage of the opportunity created by a Lib party in disarray. But the Libs continue to be as fantasy-based as ever in trying to explain that drop - and with the Libs still aiming their fire at something which in no way resembles the NDP, the door still appears wide open for the actual NDP to be recognized as Canada's best progressive alternative.

Update: Meanwhile, there's no need for any caricature to show that at least some Libs haven't learned anything from Canadians' concerns about the party's arrogance and sense of entitlement.

On targets

CanWest reports on the Young Libs' contest to track down photos of some Con MPs who are generally kept away from the press. But doesn't it seem a little pointless for the contest to involve only a photo (which on its face seems likely to make the MPs look relatively positive) rather than an actual quote showing the extremism of the Cons involved? Or are the Libs rightly concerned that for any quote from one of the Cons' most embarrassing MPs, there's bound to be a Paul Steckle special to match?