Saturday, November 18, 2006

Foreseeable possibilities

The CP follows up on the Cons' consultation-free plan to add a police representative to Judicial Advisory Committees, including discussion of a couple of ways how the plan could backfire against Vic Toews' presumptive goal of stacking the bench with right-wing ideologues.

First, Joe Comartin points out that police representatives themselves may not share Toews' reactionary point of view:
NDP justice critic Joe Comartin says he has no doubt the Tories want to reshape the judiciary. But he also thinks Canadian cops may have a more sophisticated view than the justice minister of what makes a good judge.

"There are any number of senior police officers and chiefs who don't fall into the mind-set that he's got," says Comartin.

"Toews will be looking for people who are completely ideologically driven. I think he's going to have a hard time finding enough of them."
Which may not so much be a danger of the Cons' plan as a reason to think it'll have little effect in the end. But much more significant effects could come in the longer term - as Patrick Monahan notes:
Patrick Monahan, dean of Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto...believes that letting police play a role in vetting judges could put the government on a slippery slope.

Monahan predicts it wouldn't be long before other groups - victims of crime, prisoners' rights advocates, feminists, aboriginals - all demanded to play a part in the process.

"It's the first step toward politicization," says Monahan. "Then the exercise becomes one of trying to balance all these different perspectives...I think the minister is asking for more trouble than he wants."
Now, Toews stands out even among the Cons' cabinet ministers in failing to recognize the consequences of his proposed policies, which may allow him to ignore these possibilities for the short term. And it could well be that the Cons could avoid them as long as they're in office - the first by choosing a particularly partisan way of selecting police representatives, and the second by simply ignoring anybody who disagrees with them as the Cons are wont to do.

But in the longer term, the Cons' latest needless fight with the judiciary may well have little impact at all...or even open the door to more progressive respresentation on politicized JACs in the future. And if that comes to pass, Toews will likely be left wishing he'd thought to look ahead.


Well put.

Bring it on indeed

Steve V at Far and Wide wants to see the next federal election precipitated by another opposition motion to remove Rona Ambrose as environment minister. To which I can only say, it's about time for the Libs to get the message that Ambrose needs to go. But in case anybody needs a reminder why the last such motion failed:
Liberals on the Commons environment committee abstained from the vote to unseat Ambrose...

"We would rather leave Ms. Ambrose in place because she represents the total incompetence of the government,'' he said. "We would rather let that fruit ripen, if I may put it that way."

Godfrey also denied that the decision by the Liberals -- currently in the middle of a leadership race -- stems from fear over an early election. But he did admit to agreeing with the NDP's view that the minister is incompetent.
From this Dipper's standpoint, it's hard to imagine a better means of precipitating the next election. If a new motion regarding Ambrose is passed leading to the fall of the Cons, then the Libs will have to take full responsibility for Cons' fall session in power - after all, it was their previous failure to vote on precisely the same issue of removing an "incompetent" Ambrose (and government) from office which kept the Cons in charge for that time. And contrary to the blame the Libs so seem to enjoy trying to lay on the NDP, this one actually can be placed solely on the Libs' shoulders, since they alone among the opposition parties failed to vote for the motion.

Mind you, Godfrey also said in June that he didn't consider the committee to be an appropriate place for such a vote - meaning that there's no reason to think the Libs actually would support another similar motion now. And indeed the Cons could reverse their own course in the face of a successful motion and decline to consider it a matter of confidence. Which means that the chances of actually getting to an election this way are remote at best.

But if we're going to head into an election with the Libs and the NDP competing to be the progressive alternative to more of PMS, then I for one would have no problem with the Libs having to explain their past refusal to oppose Harper on the very issue which eventually brings down the government. And if the Libs are getting cocky enough not to see a problem with that, then so much the better.

On mimicry

After years of indignation over both the merits of the Kyoto Protocol and the Libs' usual gap between words and actions, the Cons have apparently adopted both for themselves in one fell swoop:
As the annual United Nations climate change conference wrapped up late Friday, Ambrose admitted her government was forced to use the past nine months to learn about the climate change treaty so it could be genuine on the international stage about Canada's intentions and its record.

"When I was appointed as environment minister, we were faced with a very difficult challenge, and at that time, I was very hesitant about saying that we would participate in this protocol in the way that we hoped we could," she said.

"We've made a lot of progress in the last nine months to make sure that we can align our domestic policy with what we'd like to do internationally - with our international obligations - and so now we can say that."...

Although Ambrose has criticized Kyoto in the past for not setting binding targets on developing countries, she's comfortable with a decision at the conference to allow this practice to continue.

"It's an evolving protocol, it's still fairly young," she said. "Every step we take to show that the protocol is a success, lays the foundation for opportunities for other countries to consider joining."
It's a small plus for the Cons to have abandoned their previous position that they'd take action on greenhouse gases just as soon as everybody else in the world did first, and then only with the approval of the oil patch. But even with anti-Kyoto rhetoric apparently off the table, there's still an awfully long way to go to actually get anything done.

After all, Ambrose's current position still doesn't include any means of actually reaching the obligations, and indeed Canada's continued failure to meet its commitments can only "lay the foundation" for other countries to follow suit. And if the Cons have indeed simply taken up the Libs' habit of buying time by approving of goals with no plan to meet them, then it's well past time to accord them the same rude awakening that the Libs received from Canadian voters.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Chamber music

Having lost any claim to the government-accountability vote, PMS and company have apparently also blown any chance of winning the approval of big business, coming under fire from the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce in the same day over different issues. Which, if it reflects anything resembling the views of the Chambers' members, seems likely to signal an end to the prospect of a Con majority.

After all, one has to figure that the Cons' hopes of improving their current standing rested largely on their using the trappings of power to win solid backing from the business establishment. But with that effort apparently failing and the party's Lib-assisted Quebec support drying up, it's hard to see who's left to even make up for the votes the Cons have already alienated, let alone add to the Cons' 2006 total.

The tables have turned

It was bad enough news for the Cons that Canadians are now focused on less abstract issues than government accountability going into the next election campaign. But the Cons may soon be in much bigger trouble in being stuck on the wrong side of that issue as well:
The Conservative government is proposing to open a loophole in its vaunted accountability act by declaring that party convention fees not be counted as political contributions under the law.

It is also rejecting Liberal amendments that would toughen the legislation...

In a newly posted government order paper, the Conservatives appear to tacitly concede they were wrong when they claimed there was no need to declare the fees.

The government is now proposing that convention fees not count as political contributions, unless the fees exceed the cost of running the convention.
Now, the Cons will surely bleat about how accountability means only what they want it to mean, and therefore it's everybody else's fault for not implementing their bill without question. But between the new Lib amendments, the NDP's focus on the omission of the promised improvements access to information, the Cons' effective admission that they broke existing rules in the absence of the party-covention loophole as of their last convention, and the Cons' own moves to water down their original legislation, it's not hard to see the Cons' most important swing issue from the last campaign turning into a negative for PMS in the next one. And if that happens, then the Cons' current slide in the polls may be just the beginning.

On victor's immunity

Calgary Grit commented a couple of days ago on the Libs' draft constitution which will go before this month's convention. But while some of the reforms look entirely valid, it's remarkable that one new twist hasn't received more attention in its potential for abuse (not to mention actual abuse among the Cons at the moment).

According to Bart:
Interestingly there will only be a leadership review vote after the party loses an election, clearly an implicit condemnation of the Martin tactics of the past decade.
The Libs' planned provision (s. 64(1)) is as follows:
The National Executive, and each EDA President, are responsible to ensure that a ballot (referred to throughout this Constitution as the “Leadership Endorsement Ballot”), in a form approved by the National Executive which permits the voter to indicate whether or not they are in favour of endorsing the Leader, is voted on at the meeting of every EDA held for the purpose of selecting delegates to attend the first biennial convention of the Party held after each general election in which the Leader does not become the Prime Minister.
Now, the Libs would only be following the Cons' lead in deciding that a leader who wins an election becomes entitled to avoid any internal review: see s. 10.6 of the Cons' constitution. But that reality should only offer a cautionary tale as to the effects of such a clause. PMS is currently able to operate without any internal control on his leadership - which can only strengthen the hand of the Cons' insiders as they try to suppress dissent from mere MPs, riding associations or members generally. And that offers one more means by which the Cons' supposed commitment to accountability applies to everybody but the PM himself.

In light of that current reality, it surely speaks poorly for the Libs that their own insiders want to follow the Harper central control model by providing their future leaders with victory-contingent immunity from internal review as well. And while the trade-off may be the potential for more Martin-type shenanigans, that should be a reasonable price to pay to maintain some check on any PM who strays so far from the party's membership as to manage to lose party confidence even after winning an election.

Note that in contrast, the NDP's leadership review process does not change based on election results:
At every convention that is not a leadership convention, a secret ballot vote will be held to determine whether or not a leadership election should be called. If 50% plus one delegates supports the calling of a leadership election, such an election will be held within one year of the convention vote.
On a quick review, the Greens' constitution also allows members to exercise the same review powers regardless of electoral results, though any review is itself only available under the general provision dealing with federal officers: see s. 16.

Which means that regardless of what the Libs wind up passing this month, Canadians do have a choice among parties who believe that electoral success doesn't justify putting a leader above any review by the party's members. And it'll be up to the Lib members to decide whether to endorse and follow PMS' top-down model to concentrate power in any future Lib PMOs, or to recognize that winning power doesn't justify cutting members out of the picture entirely.

Trusting nobody

It's been no secret that Con MPs have been under PMS' thumb ever since the party took power, with only the most reliable parrots of the party line winning a place in cabinet. But the Globe and Mail reports that even cabinet ministers are under the gun from the PMO:
Sandra Buckler, the communications director for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has asked that staff working for Conservative cabinet ministers secretly provide her with assessments of their bosses' communications skills.

The directive has apparently caused tensions between the staffers and the ministers - and between the ministers and Ms. Buckler, who has often been criticized for her less-than-amicable relationship with the national news media.

Communications directors in the offices of federal cabinet ministers have told The Globe and Mail that Ms. Buckler asked them to compile reports critiquing their ministers' abilities and send the reports to her without informing the ministers.

One of them, speaking on condition he not be named, said the request put him in a difficult position because he was being asked to be critical of the minister who hired him - and who could also fire him in short order.
Now, there's nothing wrong with having multiple means of reporting in place as long as all parties involved are familiar and comfortable with the system. But it's something else entirely for the PMO to demand that communications directors go behind the backs of their own bosses.

Of course, the cabinet ministers themselves presumably know enough about PMS' controlling tendencies not to risk sticking their necks out by criticizing the scheme. But when the PMO is willing to foster distrust even among his inner circle solely based on his obsession with image, there's all the less reason for anybody else to see Harper as deserving their own trust.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Fundamental injustice

While the U.S.' hand-selected Guantanamo tour groups have done their best to try to defend the complete lack of access to justice for detainees, the truth about the pitiful process made available to detainees is set to come out:
The U.S. military called no witnesses, withheld evidence from prisoners and usually reached a decision within a day as it determined hundreds of men held at Guantanamo Bay were "enemy combatants," a new report said...

The military held Combatant Status Review Tribunals for 558 prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba between July 2004 and January 2005 and found all but 38 were enemy combatants. Handcuffed prisoners appeared before a panel of three officers with no defence lawyer, only a military "personal representative."

The report noted the representatives said nothing in the hearings 14 per cent of the time and made no "substantive" comments in 30 per cent. In some cases, the representative even appeared to advocate the government's position, the report said...

Twenty-one first-year law students at Seton Hall University in Newark, N.J., analyzed the documents to create a database analyzed by eight second-and third-year students.

Among their findings:

-The government did not produce any witnesses in any hearing.
-The military denied all prisoner requests to inspect the classified evidence against them.
-The military refused all requests for defence witnesses who were not detained at Guantanamo.
-In 74 per cent of the cases, the government denied requests to call witnesses who were detained at the prison.
-In 91 per cent of the hearings, the prisoners did not present any evidence.
-In three cases, the panel found the prisoner was "no longer an enemy combatant" but the military convened new tribunals that later found them to be enemy combatants.
The latter point is particularly laughable given the complete lack of access to any appeal or review procedure for the detainees: while the party whose freedom has been affected has received absolutely no second chances, the captors apparently haven't hesitated to ignore even what few favourable findings could possibly come out of such a flawed process.

Fortunately, the analysis of the process as a whole should put to rest any pretence that the detainees have received anything close to a reasonable opportunity to counter the arbitrary branding imposed on them by Bushco. Or at least, among those commentators who are more interested in addressing the truth of the treatment of Guantanamo's prisoners than in being part of the next super-special tour group.

On party principles

Michael Ignatieff may have set off a firestorm by being unusually blunt about his own personal disdain for true progressives. But lest there be any doubt as to whether his view accurately reflects the Libs' general style of government, the party's largest provincial administration has been slammed by the International Labour Organization for its neglect of basic labour rights:
The International Labour Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations, has condemned the Liberal government of Ontario Dalton McGuinty for denying 16,000 part-time community college workers the basic right to form a union and participate in collective bargaining.

The ILO's highly critical report is in response to a formal complaint lodged by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) in June 2005. It involves the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA), which denies most part-time employees employed by any of the 24 public colleges in Ontario the right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining...

The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association stated in its ruling:

“While the particular circumstances of the part-time employees concerned here may call for differentiated treatment and adjustments as regards the definition of bargaining units, the rules for certification, etc., as well as specific negotiations taking their status and work requirements into account, the Committee fails to see any reason why the principles on the basic rights of association and collective bargaining afforded to all workers should not also apply to part-time employees.”

“The Committee further recalls that all workers, without distinction whatsoever, whether they are employed in a permanent basis, for a fixed-term or as contract employees, should have the right to establish and join organizations of their own choosing.”
About the only argument available to mitigate the Libs' neglect is that the exclusion of part-time workers is a historical relic which has subsisted through government terms of three different parties. (Though of course the failings of the NDP premier involved now reflect on the Libs as well.)

But for the Libs in particular, it's clear that the issue has been brought to their attention as one in need of action - based on both union submissions like the one in the above link, and the ILO complaint itself. And at the same time, the Libs have made amendments to the legislation in question under a process specifically intended to "ensure that hundreds of the province’s laws are up to date". Which suggests that the Libs have consciously classified the exclusion of part-time workers as a matter which doesn't need updating.

Of course, it could be that the ILO's ruling will manage to break the Libs' inertia where the mere voice of Ontario workers couldn't. But one way or the other, it's clear that those Libs still in power aren't changing from the party's usual pattern of ignoring the needs of workers - and there's no reason to believe that any of the federal leadership candidates would change that anytime soon.

On new opportunities

There was plenty of talk last week that the U.S. congressional elections could prove harmful for Canada due to a presumption that the Dems would try to shut the U.S.' borders. But CanWest points out that the Dems may instead be willing to help Canada's cause in keeping a relatively open border for ordinary citizens of both countries:
Michael Kergin, who was Canada's ambassador to the United States from 2000-05, says control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate by the Democrats offers the hope of compromise on the passport issue.

Kergin told the North Atlantic Treaty Organization parliamentary assembly here that Republicans from the U.S. south, unfamiliar with issues affecting people in northern border regions, pushed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.

"Most of them (the new Democratic leadership) are from the north of the United States, states such as Michigan and New York, and are more familiar with Canadian realities," Kergin said.

He said American lawmakers are "very determined," about better policing the border.

But the Democrats could be open to a compromise, such as using drivers' licences for identification at border crossings.
Of course, it would help if Canada's current regime was showing any leadership in highlighting the value of a less restricted flow of people between the two countries. And there's a case to be made that the Cons' lack of interest in defending our interests has spread to some of the public affected by the impending rules.

But there's at least some substantial reason to think that the incoming Congress may be willing to actually seek a solution that works for both countries, not merely delay the U.S.' knee-jerk measures. And the sooner we recognize that opportunity and work to take it, the better off both countries will be.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Mocking the vote

Chuck Strahl responds to the Manitoba/Saskatchewan plan for a plebiscite on the future of the Wheat Board by declaring that democracy is a waste of resources:
In Edmonton Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl said plans for provincial plebiscites on the wheat board's future would be a waste of money.

"If they've got that kind of money to throw around ... then they should use it on farm programming or use it on science research, innovation and development or something, rather than hold another plebiscite on an issue that's not in their jurisdiction."
Needless to say, that kind of stand against producer choice is bound to give rise to plenty of concern on the part of farmers who simply want to have a say in their own future. But in fairness, Strahl can't be blamed for inconsistency, as he also appears to be going out of his way to indicate his disinterest in the vote that the Cons have announced for barley producers:
In Calgary Tuesday, Strahl said farmers will have a say on the future of the wheat board's monopoly over barley marketing early next year.

He won't specify which farmers will vote or how the question will be worded and he added that the vote results wouldn't be legally binding.
Now, it's still not clear why the Cons are willing to fund a vote on barley which they'll feel free to ignore, but won't grant the same courtesy to wheat farmers. But it does appear certain that whichever jurisdiction holds a vote on the Wheat Board and however the results turn out, Strahl is already laying the groundwork to ignore the will of the majority. Which means once again that for farmers who want to continue enjoying the benefits of the Wheat Board, the vote which really counts is that in the next federal election.

Amounts owing

The Sun updates the borrowing carried out by the Lib leadership candidates, and notes that it's still an open question as to whether some of the candidates will end up having to hope that both loans and electoral rules aren't enforced:
Big loans and tighter fundraising rules threaten to leave several Liberal leadership candidates at risk of defaulting on their debts and breaking the law, a watchdog is warning.

The most recent fundraising filings by the eight hopefuls to become Grit leader next month show several have borrowed nearly the same amount they have managed to raise since April, totalling $2.3 million...

Democracy Watch co-ordinator Duff Conacher predicts many of the candidates will end up defaulting on the loans, which must be paid back within 18 months of the December leadership vote in Montreal.
It's not clear from the article which candidates will face the biggest crunch, or how much of the money raised has been used to pay back loans rather than applied to campaign purposes. But there's no doubt that the Libs' early-campaign borrowing has only increased as time has gone on. And in the absence of any indication that the candidates' track record of shrugging off Elections Canada rules is about to improve anytime soon, it looks like there'll be a need for a close watch on the candidates as the deadlines pass to ensure that the loans don't ultimately prove a successful means of avoiding federal donation limits.

On transparency

The Cons take their regime of secrecy to yet another new low, placing a gag order on media attending a public conference on global corporate responsibility:
A government-sponsored roundtable concerning corporate responsibility of Canadian mining companies operating in developing countries was subject to media restrictions Tuesday, even as industry and watchdog groups urged "transparency and truth."

Reporters could enter sessions open to the general public during which seven-minute presentations were made by interested parties but were "not welcome to report what is seen or heard," a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said as the Montreal roundtable opened.
And in case there was any doubt whether this was based on need or on animosity toward the press:
Pierre Gratton, spokesman for the Mining Association of Canada, said a subcommittee of panel members considered media restrictions.

"What we got from government was that 'public' in their minds did not include media," he said.
Not that it's a surprise for the Cons' idea of "public involvement" to be limited to what they want to report from a session. But given that no harm was apparently done by public access, there's absolutely no reason why a press gag order would serve any purpose other than to keep the actual subject matter of the conference from wider discussion. And indeed, the worst possible outcomes mooted as other possible reasons for the gag (particularly reprisals against speakers) appear to be precisely the ones which would involve people motivated enough to find an individual to attend and report back, rather than relying on media reports.

Which leaves only the combined desire of the Cons and the businesses involved to avoid public knowledge of their actions and policies to the greatest extent possible. And if there's any lesson we should have learned by now, it's that where there's that kind of concerted effort to hide away from the wider public, it usually reflects a need for as much scrutiny as can possibly be applied.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On influences

Given the extent to which the Cons' electoral strategy is supposedly based on the model followed by John Howard in Australia, it's worth wondering whether Howard's sudden turnaround on carbon emissions trading will lead PMS to reevaluate the Cons' repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol. But it seems all too likely that the Cons will gravitate toward Australia's current position, rather than recognizing and following the trend toward action on global warming.

Same old story

There's rightly been plenty of talk today about the appalling content found on the blog of one of Lib candidate Glen Pearson's core campaign staffers. But a couple of points seem to have been largely missed in all the discussion (or at least in the main posts on the issue).

First, it's worth pointing out that a trip to opposition doesn't seem to have put an end to the Libs' usual assumption of insider privilege - and indeed Pearson has taken that to a new level in assuming that another party's candidate should be willing to clam up for the good of the Libs. As noted by Robert, that action doesn't speak highly at all of Pearson's intelligence - but it looks likely that the problem relates at least as much to the sense of entitlement that still forms the main guiding principle for the Libs.

Second, the Burghardt fiasco only highlights similarities between the Libs and Cons that both parties presumably want to avoid. Burghardt's hateful attitudes apparently didn't stop him from fitting into either party, and both parties have now shown that they think little enough of voters to figure they can get away with hiding information about themselves (though only the Cons have apparently succeeded in that effort). Which makes it all the more sad that both appear to be operating under the assumption that they're the voters' only two real choices - and all the more important for the voters of London North Centre to remind them otherwise.

I'll grant that there is one problematic aspect to how the NDP dealt with the issue: there's no apparent reason why the NDP should have considered passing the matter to the Cons rather than revealing the truth for itself. But at worst, the NDP can only be questioned over its means of making facts public.

In contrast, the real embarrassment lies in both Burghardt's initial remarks, and the Libs' attempt to put together an interparty backroom deal to suppress the truth. Which is particularly rich given Pearson's own efforts to call out Haskett earlier in the campaign for her refusal to reveal herself to the press.

The NDP should properly be credited, not blamed, for releasing important information about one of its competitors rather than acquiescing in Pearson's request (whether direct or not) for a joint cover-up - even if that won't stop some Lib hacks from trying to argue the contrary. And in addition to highlighting the discriminatory attitudes and contempt for the voters that still pervade a significant part of Canadian politics, the incident should also make it clear that neither the Libs nor the Cons can credibly claim to be part of any solution.

On court challenges

Back when the Cons first decided to give away additional patent protection to brand-name drug companies at the expense of Canadian citizens, the NDP's rightful concerns went largely unheeded. But now that the generic drug industry is going to court to have the change overturned, the change appears likely to come under the public scrutiny it deserves:
Canada's generic drug industry is set to launch a major court challenge today of new rules that extend the "monopoly" over brand-name medicines, saying the regulations are illegal and will cost the health care system $100-million a year.

The Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association will ask the Federal Court to quash rules that give brand-name drug firms an additional three years of "data protection" -- from five years to eight -- before generics can sell cheaper copies of their products.

Provincial governments, insurance companies and individuals will be forced to buy more expensive brand-name medication in each of those extra years of protection, the lawsuit warns...

Federal legislation stipulates Canada must align its intellectual-property rules with the requirements of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade deals.

But those treaties require only five years of protection, says the court application to be filed today by the generic association. So the changes implemented last month give the brand-name manufacturers three more years of "monopoly" than allowed by law, and must be struck down, the legal action argues.

The new Canadian rules also give generic manufacturers in the United States an advantage over their Canadian competitors because the U.S. data-protection period is still only five years, argued Mr. Keon.
On first glance, it doesn't appear likely that the regulatory change would give rise to a particularly strong legal challenge. But the more important battle is likely that in the court of public opinion. And if the suit brings enough attention to the Cons' reckless willingness to give gifts to big pharma out of the public purse, then it may yet be possible to get the amendments reversed in the longer term.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Pointing out the costs

It's been remarkable how little attention the Alberta/B.C. TILMA has received since the first set of highly inaccurate articles which sang its praises. But Murray Dobbin adds one more voice on the issue:
As part of their sales job, Alberta's Gary Mar and B.C.'s Colin Hansen have claimed the agreement will not result in lower provincial standards — just ones that are “appropriate.” In reality, however, the agreement can only lead to deregulation because businesses are only likely to sue governments over regulations they think are too high, not ones that are too weak...

Governments can go on bended knee to trade investment panels and argue that their regulations were “necessary,” but trade dispute panels rarely accept such arguments. Plus, this agreement only recognizes a limited list of regulatory objectives as “legitimate.”

For example, a city's desire to prevent urban blight is not on the list of legitimate objectives, so municipal bans on billboards would likely be a violation.

No wonder Gary Mar could tell a business audience in Richmond that the dispute process is “everything Canadian business asked for.” The pact creates endless potential for litigation against government right down to the school board level, without any demonstrable benefit. A 1998 study done for the B.C. government found that: “efforts to liberalize interprovincial trade will have almost no effect on trade flows. The reality is that interprovincial trade barriers are already very low.”...

When asked about the constitutionality of the agreement, Steven Shrybman, a partner in the law firm of Sack, Goldblatt, and Mitchell, commented that “a basic principle of constitutional law is that a government cannot fetter its own legislative prerogatives by abandoning its authority to govern.”

Sounds like what the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement is all about.
Sadly, the current governments of either B.C. or Alberta don't apparently see any problem with trading away all chance of effective government for essentially no gain. And indeed it looks like PMS is eager to do the much the same damage on a federal level.

But despite the existence of such clear and present threats to good government at all levels, it's still an open question as to how many (if any) other provinces will throw away their ability to govern by signing onto TILMA. And the more attention we can direct to the real effect of TILMA and any federal equivalent rather than the ridiculous sales pitches of their promoters, the better chance there will be of stopping such indiscriminate anti-government ideology in its tracks.

A growing dissent

The CP reports that Alan Riddell isn't giving in to expulsion by the Cons, bringing a challenge in court to the decision to toss him from the party. And he doesn't appear to be lacking supporters in the fight:
Neil McFadyen, longtime membership secretary for the (Ottawa South) riding association, said he and others on the local executive support Riddell in his showdown with national party headquarters.

“We think what’s happened to him is terrible and unjust,” said McFadyen.

“He’s been the victim of some party bullies who have put their own interests ahead of our riding association...I hope he wins his court case and those guys get fired.”

McFadyen identified the “guys” he’d like to see ousted as Don Plett, the party’s national president, and Doug Finley, the national campaign chairman, both key lieutenants of the prime minister.

Plett refused to comment on the affair on Monday and Finley could not immediately be reached.
It remains to be seen how long it takes for McFadyen and anybody else who speaks out against the central command to join Riddell as ex-Cons. But the list of riding associations who rightly expected better than to be on the end of PMS' leash is growing. And when even Con organizers can see the harm that comes from the party's complete lack of respect for anybody outside its power structure, there's every reason to think that voters won't be far behind.

Update: As noted by Robert, the Cons' executive council could instead (or perhaps in addition) remove the entire riding association. Though sadly, the bylaw setting out the exact process for withdrawing recognition doesn't seem to be among the Cons' "key documents". (So much for trying to earn some extra credit.)


While Canadians want to see action on health care, the environment and the quagmire in Afghanistan, Canada's Reactionary New Government is instead focusing its efforts toward a war on innovation. It remains to be seen which other concepts will join equality and innovation in the Cons' dustbin - but it doesn't seem at all unlikely that the resulting list of terms would offer a far better reflection of Canadian values than anything the Cons could plausibly use to describe their own policy slate.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Costs in context

Robert beats me to the punch in contrasting the Cons' modest investment in microcredit to the massive expenses put into the military. While the new investment is certainly better than nothing, it's shameful both that Canada has been so late to react to the effectiveness of microcredit, and that the Cons seem downright proud of such a small commitment to a strategy which can do more than any other to build economies and lives in underdeveloped countries.

Update: And it gets worse, as it turns out that the announced money isn't new at all:
While MacKay told the opening of the conference that the announcement marks an "elevated level of support," the Canadian International Development Agency said spending on such programs won't actually increase.

Over the past five years, CIDA has spent about $32 million a year on microcredit initiatives, representing about one per cent of its spending budget.

Sunday's announcement "will likely fall within that $32 million," said agency spokeswoman Bronwyn Cruden.
Needless to say, that revelation surely won't stop the Cons from taking full credit for the announcement, however meaningless it may be.

(Edit: typo.)

The stenography continues

Joining David Frum on the official "Guantanamo is a Super Happy Fun Land Tour" was Peter Worthington, who shows his own embarrassing lack of ability to look behind the expected facade set up for visitors being led around the facility:
While I can’t speak about what went on in the past, after visiting Guantanamo, I have no hesitation in affirming that nothing resembling torture or cruel or inhumane treatment is going on — unless it’s actions by some of the detainees. In fact, I’d argue the American are being ridiculously considerate, if not soft; their “humane” policy invites the contempt of their wards, more than it does appreciation or respect...

(A)s a visitor there was no chance to talk to detainees — not because Admiral Harris was unwilling, but because Geneva Convention rules forbid it. And Gitmo goes beyond Geneva Conventions, and has annual reviews of inmates to assess changes of attitude and treatment. No photographs, no recorders, no laptops. Just eyes — and notes.

Some could argue — and undoubtedly activists and lawyers will — that on a guided tour, a visitor is susceptible to spin and what those in charge tell him.

True, up to a point, but when the average weight gain among of the 432 detainees (from 24 countries) is 18.4 lbs. — end of argument. Who’s ever heard of victims of prolonged “torture” ever gaining weight? It simply doesn’t happen.
In other words, Worthington is apparently of the view that if Syria had only kept an ample supply of pastries on hand, then Maher Arar would have had absolutely nothing to complain about.

Needless to say, the issue is far more complex than that. There's little basis given for the officials' claim as to weight in the first place; plenty of reason to doubt whether weight gain correlates in any way to proper treatment of prisoners; and indeed some reason to suspect that large-scale, systemic weight gain could reflect a deprivation of access to any physical activity. And any remotely balanced report would take those factors into account, rather than ignoring them entirely or writing off "what went on in the past" as irrelevant.

But then, the U.S. has never had the slightest interest in balance, and is apparently on yet another PR offensive to try to pretend that the Guantanamo detainees are having the time of their lives. And with Worthington and Frum playing along in exchange for being part of the "specially selected" group allowed to visit Gitmo, it looks like the impending Dem investigations into Guantanamo and other issues will have to counteract yet another round of disinformation.