Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bit players

PMS' attempt to slip in a strengthened role abroad as one of his government's top five priorities received plenty of attention over the last few months. So how are the Cons doing when it comes to exerting Canada's influence in the Middle East? The Globe and Mail has the answer - and not surprisingly, the Cons have fallen far short of their supposed priority:
Mr. Abbas's top aide suggested beforehand that there was little riding on the talks. He suggested that Canada's decision to cut aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won control of it in elections last year, and its refusal to allow diplomats to meet with PA officials, has diminished whatever influence Canada once had in the region.

In an interview before the meeting, Rafik Husseini, Mr. Abbas's chief of staff, said that because of the 10-month-old boycott, the Palestinian side knew little about the year-old Canadian government.

"Canada is not a big player in general and because, of course, of what has happened with the [economic] siege and with the no-talk policy towards Hamas, we cannot tell the difference between the old and the new government," he said.
If there's any relatively good news, it's that Peter MacKay seems to be backing off the Cons' previous position that essential actors would be deemed unfit to talk to, stating that Canada is willing to talk to any party interested in helping to solve problems in the Middle East. But this being MacKay, it's anybody's guess whether that actually reflects a change in policy or just a detour off message.

Moreover, even if the Cons have indeed changed their tone to be willing to engage various parties rather than presenting a good vs. evil narrative going forward, it's clear that Canada's influence has declined due to the past actions of Harper and company. And if year two of the Cons' stay in power really isn't going to consist of anything more than undoing the damage they did in year one, then it's hard to see why anybody should want to see them hold office any longer than could be avoided.

On useless advice

The CP reports that while Wajid Khan's stint as an advisor to PMS looks dubious from the standpoint of those who would expect such a position to have some meaning or responsibility, it fits in far too nicely with how the Libs handled similar positions in the past:
Liberals may be basing their skepticism about the value of MP Wajid Khan's report to Stephen Harper on their own experience with special prime ministerial advisers.

Onetime Liberal MP Sarkis Assadourian says he never did a day's work after being appointed a special adviser to former prime minister Paul Martin...

"They put out a press release and he said to the media and the nation with a straight face I was working with him as (his) adviser on the south Caucasus and Middle East," Assadourian said in an interview.

"The whole thing was a lie . . . I never a single day worked in his office. I was never paid a single penny."

At the same time, Martin named MP Sophia Leung as a special adviser on international trade and emerging markets. She stepped aside in her Vancouver riding for star recruit David Emerson, who later defected to the Tories.

At the time, a Martin spokeswoman said that Assadourian and Leung would not be paid for their advisory roles as long as they remained MPs. Whether they'd be paid after the election was to be "decided at that time."

Assadourian said that after the election, Martin's office wouldn't even return his phone calls, although he ostensibly remained a special adviser.
Now, it's hard to see how the Cons seem to expect to gain any political mileage from the Libs' history. After all, it's not as if the Cons look any better for following that pattern. And indeed the claim that Khan's advice is somehow important enough to merit total confidentiality seems all the more dubious given the trend of past advisors contributing absolutely nothing.

Of course, both parties are doing their best to distinguish the respective treatment of the advisors - the Libs by highlighting the fact that their non-productive advisors also cost nothing, the Cons by pointing to the supposed report as evidence of something productive. But in truth, it's all too likely that Khan's appointment ultimately reflects nothing more than Harper's continuation of the Libs' culture of patronage. And neither party should be the least bit proud of that reality.

On compilations

While the Star's list of Con lies and flip-flops is worth a look, its lack of clear criteria or sourcing also helps to highlight one of the areas where traditional media hasn't caught up to the type of work being done by citizen media.

Not that a media outlet couldn't keep close track if it chose to dedicate sufficient resources to doing so - with the blogosphere likely serving as one of the more important sources. But for now, anyone wanting a remotely thorough list of Harper's misdeeds in government is far better off going here than to any major media site. And the Star's brief equivalent only highlights just how far the mainstream has to go in order to catch up.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Just wondering...

Following up on the need for rules to ensure that "loans" can't completely undermine Canada's election financing laws, CanWest's coverage discusses the seeming contradiction in the current rules:
Elections Canada earlier confirmed any campaign loan or a loan to a riding association can be written off by the lender if the 18-month deadline for repayment passes.

A section of the Canada Elections Act says such a loan would be considered a donation if not repaid by the deadline. In Khan’s case, the donations would be illegal because of their amount. Even prior to the passage of the Accountability Act last December, unions and businesses were limited to donations totalling $1,000 a year.

But an Elections Canada spokesman pointed out a subsequent clause in the act says loans are not considered contributions if they have been “written off by the creditor as an uncollectible debt in accordance with the creditor’s normal accounting practices.”
Which leads me to wonder: who besides a commercial lender (or at least a business of some sort, though that might well validate Khan's loans) can realistically be said to deal with "uncollectible debt(s) accordance with the creditor's normal accounting practices"? Using some of the Libs' leadership loans as an example, how would one go about defining how Rod Bryden "normally accounts" for loans such as that to Stephane Dion, or how forcefully Ken Dryden should pursue himself to determine that his debt is uncollectible?

While the questions sound absurd, the answers actually do matter. Based on the interaction of the provisions mentioned in the above article, I don't see how one can reach the conclusion that there's no scope for prosecution based on loans which are written off without being appropriately pursued. But Elections Canada unfortunately seems to be avoiding the question of where the line should be drawn - with the effect of making the loophole far bigger than it has to be.

Poor excuses

I'm amazed that the Cons' latest attempt to weasel out of a campaign promise even made it onto the party's well-worn Wheel of Excuses, as Jim Prentice tries to claim that a promise of compensation for students who attended the Île-à-la-Crosse residential school was merely a "mistake":
It's "extremely unlikely" Ottawa will keep a Conservative campaign promise to compensate students at a northern Saskatchewan residential school, the federal Indian Affairs minister says...

Prentice now says his party made a mistake and didn't have all the facts when it made the original commitment. That means the court-approved settlement deal that would pay some 80,000 former residential school students an average of about $25,000 each won't apply.

"The school doesn't qualify," Prentice said. "The ad, to the extent that it had a different assumption, was in error and that's unfortunate."
In fairness, Prentice's claim might be relatively plausible if the promise had been the result of an off-the-cuff response to a request to lump Île-à-la-Crosse in with other residential schools. But let's expand on the "ad" from his quote and take a look at where the promise actually came from:
During the campaign a year ago, Conservative leader Stephen Harper said in a radio commercial that if he were prime minister, former students from the school would be compensated.

"We'll provide full compensation for residential school survivors, including those attending the Île-à-la-Crosse school," Harper said in the advertisement.
Needless to say, Prentice's explanation can only suggest gross incompetence on the part of not only whoever wrote the commercial and decided that the promise should be made, but arguably Harper himself for failing to ask just why Île-à-la-Crosse should be singled out for specific treatment.

Meanwhile, the effect going forward is to offer just one more example of how the Cons' supposed commitments ultimately stand for nothing. After all, if "we didn't bother checking the facts" is supposed to be a valid excuse for breaking promises from the past campaign, there's no reason to think that PMS won't suddenly discover an entirely new set of "facts" to justify breaking a new set of promises. And the mounting evidence that the Cons' word isn't worth a thing should be one of the key facts which voters take into consideration in deciding whether to leave Harper in charge.

Renewing the call

With the Wajid Khan situation serving as a prime example of why insider loans can make a mess of electoral financing rules, the NDP is repeating its message that it's time to close the loan loophole:
The New Democratic Party is calling for government to close the loophole in the Canada Elections Act that allows “loans” to become de facto donations. NDP MP Pat Martin says the recent Liberal leadership loan debacle and ongoing case of Wajid Khan provide ample evidence for the government to act on behalf of ordinary Canadians and plug the loophole.

“This is about fairness for ordinary people. The Elections Act is supposed to create a level playing field,” says Martin. “But it’s too easy to circumvent the donation limits with a shell game of so-called ‘loans’.”

The NDP tried to stop the “loans loophole” at the committee stage of the Federal Accountability Act. They proposed amendments so that loans made to candidates:

can be made only through banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions;
and no person may co-sign or guarantee a loan to an amount greater than their personal donation limits, less any direct contribution.
The amendments were defeated by the Liberals and Conservatives.
It may not be likely that such an action will be any more popular with either of the two largest parties than it was when Martin brought the issue up last year. But with the Libs' leadership race now over and the Libs presumably eager to denounce both Khan's tactics and the Cons' lack of accountability, it may not be beyond the realm of possibility that the opposition parties could team up to finally make the needed changes to close the gap.

And even if the Libs are still too focused on their own big-money donors/"creditors" to play along, it's always worth pointing out the continued influence of big-money loans in Canada's political well as the determination of some to preserve that status quo.

Suing the homeless

Somewhere, a Republican candidate search committee is saying "jackpot".

Update: Or maybe is instead an example of the just how little difference there is sometimes between the two American parties, as the individual responsible is apparently a Dem donor.

On new targets

There wasn't much doubt that the Cons were going to end up looking to new pools of voters in an effort to reach majority status. But did anybody anticipate Tony Clement's apparent effort to bring the crystal meth industry into the fold?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


It wouldn't be too much of a problem for Stephane Dion to bide his time by planning to evaluate the Cons' budget on its merits. But instead, Dion has offered PMS far more job security than the Cons deserve, declaring that he doesn't want to see an election anytime soon:
Canada went to the polls in June 2004 and again in January 2006, and Dion said he wanted to wait until voters had more of an itch for another election.

"I don't want an election. I don't think Canadians want an election. I worry about the turnout in this country. Each time we go in(to) an election by surprise, it's not helping Canadians go to the ballot box," Dion said.
Needless to say, Dion's search for excuses not to go to the polls leads to an important question: how long until one of the Blogging Dippers puts together a clock to count the time in which Dion has personally and directly supported the Cons' stay in power?

Technical difficulties

The Libs appear to have properly concluded that they can't simply start up a new riding association in Mississauga-Streetsville to walk away from debts owed to Wajid Khan's dealership. But there's new reason to wonder whether the national party, along with another riding which managed to elect an MP, has been asleep at the switch over the past year:
The Ontario Liberal president also confirmed another Toronto riding - Beaches-East York - has been deregistered by Elections Canada. He said it was for a technical breach of the rules that does not compare with the Mississauga case.

"I believe it's a matter that's just being worked out with the financial agent, and I believe it's something that's going to be resolved in short order," said Crawley.
Yes, that would be the same riding where the Libs' critic for the Status of Women narrowly managed to hang onto her seat against a strong challenge from Marilyn Churley in 2006. Which means that there's no reason why the riding association should have been anything but active over the past year-plus...and makes even a "technical breach" seem rather problematic.

Update: CTV reports that the problems with riding associations aren't limited to the Libs alone, though unless there's some glaring omission from the story it looks like Minna is the only sitting MP whose current riding association was de-registered:
Twenty-seven riding associations have been deregistered by Elections Canada, including three Liberal associations, two NDP associations, a few fringe party associations and a host of Green Party associations. Failure to file financial reports is cited as the reason for delisting in a number of cases, including Liberal MP Maria Minna's Toronto association.

Choosing the issues

The Greens' impending conference on poverty, along with speculation that the party will take up a call for a guaranteed annual income, has surprisingly received little (though at least some) attention in the blogosphere. But with the Libs lurching toward a passivist view of government, it's worth acknowledging that the NDP isn't the only federal party which is aware of both the importance of poverty as an issue, and the need for the federal government to be involved in the solution.

Which isn't to say that the Greens apparently have all the answers either. Contrary to Elizabeth May's apparent expectations from the Star article a guaranteed annual income wouldn't solve all the problems related to poverty in Canada. And it's worth asking whether the NDP's more targeted means of addressing specific poverty-related issues such as child malnutrition, seniors' income and benefits, and improvements to the existing safety net would offer both a better chance of being implemented, and more bang for the federal buck.

But whatever the ultimate solution, there shouldn't be much room for doubt that the issue of poverty needs to play a far more prominent role in Canada's political discussions. And hopefully the Greens' action will help to make sure that's the case from here on in.

Bare denial

After the firestorm this week surrounding the Cons' apparent plan to break their promises on equalization, PMS' provincial and federal allies alike are going out of their way to say that nothing's been set in stone - while of course refusing to suggest what else might be on the way instead.

It's certainly for the best if there is indeed some chance that the Cons will go back to the drawing board and decide their promises are worth keeping. But given the Cons' track record, it's easy to wonder whether this is merely another case of their planning to take credit for "solving" a problem of their own making by eventually offering something slightly closer to their promises than the leak would suggest.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Stretching the excuse

The Cons show their continued commitment to open and accountable government by refusing not only to release the contents of Wajid Khan's alleged report, but even to confirm publicly-reported details surrounding Khan's itinerary:
Stephen Harper's office won't disclose the names of people who met with MP Wajid Khan during his tour of the Middle East, much less the report he submitted to the prime minister.

Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas said Wednesday that Khan met with "government officials, stakeholders, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), members of our own diplomatic corp" during his 19-day tour of the strife-torn region last September.

But he wouldn't provide any more specific information, even though the names of some of Khan's contacts have been reported in the media.

A foreign affairs spokeswoman was similarly non-forthcoming, referring the question to Harper's office.
Now, given that the Cons had settled on a relatively firm excuse ("confidentiality") as to why they wouldn't release the report itself, the new refusal to even mention who Khan met with only gives rise to more questions. Was Khan's trip planned around such a biased set of sources that merely disclosing their names would make it obvious how Khan would then advise Harper? Or was it such an insignificant group as to render the mission a farce?

Not that we can expect answers out of PMS anytime soon. But if Harper really prefers to face those questions than reveal even the most basic details about Khan's trip, then it's all the more clear how unlikely the Cons are to disclose the information that really matters about their government - and how important it is to end their stay at the controls as soon as possible.

Highly questionable

The Cons are whining about the wording of Manitoba's CWB plebiscite which actually accurately portrayed both sides. (For those trying to claim otherwise, isn't the Cons' entire argument that the CWB should have to make a go of it in the "open market" as phrased in the second option?)

But they seem to have no problem claiming Canadians don't want to push toward Canada's Kyoto targets based on a poll with far more glaring wording problems. From Idealistic Pragmatist:
I often find their questions somewhat difficult to answer, but there was one on the last survey that took the proverbial cake: choosing between "Canada must do its part to fight global warming, and implementing the Kyoto accord is the best way to do it" and "Canada must do its part, but implementing the Kyoto accord is just one way we can do it". If you believe, as I and many others do, that Kyoto is important but not nearly enough, what do you check?

After some deliberation, I finally checked the second dissatisfactory option. And what do we find today? Headlines in the Ottawa Citizen...declaring that "Voters will forgive PM for ignoring Kyoto" (!) because "59 percent" say that Kyoto is "only one possible way to go."

The time is right

I'm not quite sure how "no election until 2008" became the conventional wisdom so quickly. But I'll not only add to the list of commentators who figure a spring election is fairly likely, but suggest that the current poll numbers which some think will put off an election may in fact help to set the stage for a 2007 campaign.

Before getting to the reasons for that conclusion, I'll note first that the recent polls effectively rule out one reason for an election campaign, as they do seem to ensure that nobody's going to go into a campaign seeing a majority government or a massive gain (or loss) in seats as a foregone conclusion.

But then, the Cons are the only party with the power to call an election without cooperation in any event. Which means that it if Lib numbers were headed to majority territory, not stalled in support as they currently stand, that would likely force Harper to severely moderate his budget and parliamentary agenda in order to avoid an election, with the other opposition parties also having a strong motivation to play along.

In contrast, the current numbers leave each party with some reason to speculate about both the benefits of a quick election and the dangers of waiting much longer.

For the Cons, there's at least some case to be made that a quick election would minimize their risk, as the Libs haven't had much time to coalesce around Dion and the other opposition parties won't have a lot of pickup opportunities unless the Cons utterly tank on the Prairies. That can be weighed against the hope that Quebeckers and urban immigrant communities will buy the Cons' recent PR efforts in enough numbers to boost PMS to majority territory. Sure, that combination doesn't offer a great prospect of a majority - but if Dion grows quickly as the Libs' leader, it might well be the best chance the Cons will have.

From my perspective, that all adds up to a fairly neutral scenario: the Cons may not call an election themselves or seek to force one, but also won't be motivated to compromise much on this spring's budget. Which leaves the question of which opposition party would see a reason to support the budget rather than voting it down to precipitate a campaign. And I don't see how any of the opposition parties would find one.

The Libs would surely like a bit more time to let Dion and his team grow into their roles. But any claim the Libs now have to be Harper's main opposition would be endangered if they decided not to vote down this year's budget, particularly if it's anywhere near the Cons' fiscal framework to date. And the upside of an election is obvious given their current lead in the polls, as well as a possible internal view that the apparent reunion between the formerly feuding camps within the Libs could make any election the Libs' to lose.

Meanwhile, a delayed election always risks the Cons figuring out how to more effectively use the platform of government to build their own support. And a Harper majority in 2008 would figure to give rise to far more risk to both Dion's leadership and the current claimed party unity than any election result that's reasonably likely now.

The Bloc may be the most likely to support a Con budget given both their history of doing so, and the Cons' apparent decision to give Quebec the better of the equalization formula. But such a move could also amount to signing the Bloc's own death warrant: if the Bloc declares that Quebec has already received a fiscal deal from Ottawa worth supporting, then what's left for the party to do other than take up space in the House of Commons?

As a result, the Bloc seems likely to say either that the equalization fix isn't enough, or that other factors make the budget (and continued Con government) untenable.

As for the NDP, while its poll numbers are down from the last election, the numbers have recovered slightly from the Libs' post-convention bounce. Accordingly, the base support doesn't figure to be much lower than it was in '06, particularly if Dion's inexperience as leader shows during a campaign. From that base, there are more than a few obvious pickup opportunities based on both riding-specific candidate changes (Vancouver-Kingsway, Nickel Belt), as well as the possibility of the Cons' support in the West being hollowed out.

In addition, it's plainly in the NDP's interest to make sure that the next election happens at a time when nobody figures to win a majority government - which may not be the case a year from now.

And that's just the strategic side of the issue. When it comes to policy, there's simply no way for the NDP to vote with the Cons unless all or substantially of their budget demands are met. Which, as noted above, doesn't seem likely from the Cons' side.

In sum, while no party in Parliament seems to have a risk-free prospect of huge gains in a spring election, the current poll numbers do point to both a relatively low downside to an immediate election, and a greater risk the longer the Cons stay in power. And with that risk/reward calculation offering no reason for any party to go out of its way to avoid an election, the policy differences between the Cons and the opposition parties figure result in a trip to the polls.

An effective investment

Scott and Robert posted yesterday about the strong show of support for the Canadian Wheat Board in a Manitoba plebiscite. But it appears that the poll has had more than just a symbolic effect, as its release was followed in short order by Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl finally declaring that the Cons won't eliminate the CWB's single-desk status for wheat without a full vote:
After months of refusing to promise farmers a vote on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board's wheat monopoly, federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl has promised a second plebiscite...

In a statement Tuesday that caught the farm community off-guard, Strahl confirmed a further plebiscite on wheat marketing will be held at an "appropriate time."

"Western Canadian farmers have the government's commitment that no changes will be made in the Canadian Wheat Board's role in the marketing of wheat until after that vote is held," Strahl said.
Of course, there are concerns about how any Con-run vote will be worded and administered. And in fact a spokesman for Strahl hinted at how the Cons would try to twist their own wording, attempting to downplay the Manitoba plebiscite by claiming its question should have included a claim that the CWB would continue to operate effectively even without single-desk status.

But at the very least, the Manitoba vote has helped to provide some numbers which even the Cons can't ignore as to just how many farmers continue to support the CWB. And the more that reality forces the Cons to back off their plan to force wheat producers to play by the rules of American agribusiness, the better off rural Western Canada will be.

Update: Greg suggests the wording that the Cons would like to see applied.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Proudly under investigation

Wajid Khan responds to the question of whether his car dealership's loans to his former Lib riding association violated the Canada Elections Act:
Khan said he's been cleared. "Why don't you talk to the authorities and find out yourself instead of me telling you. Let Elections Canada let you know," he told
The only problem with such a statement is that it tends to lead an enterprising reporter to actually ask Elections Canada. And from them, the story is somewhat different:
Elections Canada said it is "in the process of reviewing" the case.
Granted, an ongoing review is far from a finding of guilt - but no further than it is from a final decision that's "cleared" Khan at the other end of the spectrum. And if Khan is as far out of touch with Elections Canada's actual rules as his new party-mates, the last thing he may want in the long run is for Election Canada to be the one "telling" Canadians whether what he's done was valid.

Far short of serious

The National Post reports on the Cons' sad attempt to earn positive environmental press without offering anything that hasn't already been announced or implemented:
The Conservative government will attempt to convince Canadians it is serious about fighting global warming by making a flurry of policy announcements on the environment in the next few weeks, including short term targets for greenhouse gas emissions and the repackaging of a number of Liberal initiatives that were cancelled when the Tories took office.

Sources said the government will soon announce a short-term target of 2015, by which time companies will be required to reduce the amount of energy they use to produce every barrel of oil or megawatt of electricity...

The short-term target announcement is seen as crucial to turning around perceptions that the Conservatives are weak on the environment. The Clean Air Act announced in October by former environment minister Rona Ambrose was widely panned because the only target date it mentioned was 2050. Ms. Ambrose, who has since been replaced by John Baird, said at the time that short- and medium-term targets would follow in the new year.
Now, it's bad enough that most of the Cons' plans amount to nothing more than re-implementing programs which they were responsible for cutting last year. But the balance of the announcements figure to be even more insulting to the intelligence of Canadian voters, consisting of targets which are (a) utterly useless in their focus on "intensity" rather than real emission reductions, and (b) a reiteration of precisely the same plan which was almost universally panned last fall.

From the Cons' existing Notice of Intent to Regulate (emphasis added):
Short-term (2010–2015)...

For GHGs: the Government intends to adopt a target-setting approach based on emissions intensity...
In sum, while the Cons may have changed their face and rhetorical approach on the environment since John Baird took over as the responsible minister, it doesn't look like their actual policy has improved in the slightest. Instead, they're apparently trying only to take the focus off their much-ridiculed long-term targets, and instead pretending that their scheme will result in anything getting done on a reasonable timeline.

Which isn't to say that there's no chance of anything getting done over the current session of Parliament. After all, it's not too late for the Cons to work with one or more other parties to actually put together an effective emissions-reduction regime, or for the opposition parties to agree on a plan to put the Cons' to shame.

But it should be clear that nobody's going to be interested in lending support (either in Parliament or in the media) to the Cons' existing inaction plan. And if the Cons really think their sole problem on the environment is one of how their flawed policies are perceived, then it shouldn't take long for electoral reality to prove otherwise.

Easily exploited

The Globe and Mail follows up on the status of the Libs' riding association in Mississauga-Streetsville. And while NDP MP Pat Martin is rightly concerned about the loopholes exploited by Wajid Khan while he ran the show, it looks like the Libs themselves plan on making use of an even bigger one:
The Liberal Party said it would create a new riding association in Mississauga-Streetsville. Party officials said the new entity will not carry any outstanding debt from Mr. Khan's time, saying he has to settle the matter with his former financial agent.

Liberal president Marie Poulin said Mr. Khan's outstanding debts are not the responsibility of the Liberal Party.

“We have no intention of helping Mr. Khan to raise funds to pay his debt. Not at all,” Ms. Poulin said.

She said the Liberal Party has no information on the size of the remaining debt, and that the party was unaware that the association was late in filing its returns to Elections Canada.
Poulin's statement confirms my suspicion that the Libs utterly failed to look into the status of their riding association once Khan's departure became a likely scenario. But regardless of how the Libs got into their current mess, their way out of it looks even more problematic: as dangerous a loophole as Khan seems to have exploited, it's even more worrisome where a riding association and its debts can simply be disavowed by a party.

After all, there are many ways in which a riding association can be deregistered - either involuntarily where the association fails to meet its obligations under the Canada Elections Act as in the present case, or by party request. In the latter case, the Chief Electoral Officer doesn't even seem to have any scope to look into the circumstances behind the deregistration.

As a result, it would seem fairly simple for a party to create riding associations with no intention of preserving them, arrange for the associations to take out loans on commercial terms from entities who would be willing to donate the money otherwise, use that money for electoral purposes, allow the riding association to lapse, then form a new one to start the cycle again. A single financial agent would be left with the responsibility of filing a return for the defunct association, but it's not clear that anybody would hold any obligation to actually repay any money owing if the party is able to wash its hands of the mess.

In fairness, the Libs' apparent plans don't rise to anywhere near that scale, and it seems safe to say there was no intention not to repay any loans until Khan's departure. But the precedent is one that could easily set the stage for the worst-case scenario to become commonplace in the future. And if the Libs are willing to let their understandable anger with Khan serve as an example of how to subvert the Canada Elections Act, the result could be harmful for both the Libs as a party and Canada's electoral system as a whole.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ideology or value

CanWest reports that if the Cons were really interested in ensuring value for money within Canada's justice system, it would put additional money toward harm prevention strategies rather than cutting those in a push for stricter drug enforcement:
A new study published today says roughly three-quarters of federal spending to fight illegal drugs is going towards unproven and possibly counterproductive enforcement measures while an insignificant amount is being spent on potentially more effective "harm-reduction" measures...

"While the stated goal of Canada's drug strategy is to reduce harm, evidence obtained through this analysis indicates that the overwhelming emphasis continues to be on conventional enforcement-based approaches which are costly and often exacerbate, rather than reduce, harms," states the report in HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review, a publication funded partly by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the American Bar Association.

Meanwhile, federal funding to deal with health issues such as rampant HIV infection rates among addicts is "insignificant," the study notes.

"This stands in stark contrast to recent comments made by various stakeholders suggesting that there has been an over-investment in harm-reduction programming."

The comment was in direct reference to a statement by the Canadian Police Association on the same day, Sept. 1, 2006, that federal Health Minister Tony Clement questioned preliminary research suggesting Vancouver's supervised injection site for drug addicts is effective..., analysing publicly available documents, said 73 per cent, or $271 million, of the $368 million spent by Ottawa in 2004-05 went towards enforcement measures such as border control, RCMP investigations and federal prosecution expenses.

Of the remaining $97 million, $51 million went to treatment, $26 million was spent on "co-ordination and research," $10 million went to prevention programs, and $10 million was devoted to harm reduction...

The study says the proportion of federal spending on enforcement has dropped from 95 per cent in 2001 to the most recent figure, 73 per cent, after the former Liberal government responding to criticism from the federal auditor-general and other critics that Canada's drug strategy was unco-ordinated and ineffective began emphasizing alternative anti-drug strategies such as harm reduction...

(M)ore intense enforcement measures push drug users outside urban centres, where they have less access to needle exchanges and treatment, and cause more violence, property crime, and high-risk injecting behaviour, according to the study.
But unfortunately, the Cons' interest in saving money seems limited to cutting programs which could actually be beneficial rather than in considering the costs and benefits of their own drug strategy (among other policy areas). And unfortunately, it'll be left for a future government to deal with the real costs of their ideology.

On ruthlessness

There's been some talk today about the questionable financial arrangements between Wajid Khan and the Libs' Mississauga-Streetsville riding association. But I haven't seen any commentary on what seems to be the more important part of the story - which is that thanks to the combined effect of the timing of the party switch and the way in which his loyalists ran the riding association previously, Khan left the Libs helpless to start rebuilding in the riding for at least some time afterward:
Elections Canada revoked the legal registration of new Conservative MP Wajid Khan's former Liberal riding association in December because it failed to file financial returns for 2004 and 2005, the Ottawa Citizen has learned...

An Elections Canada spokesman did not comment on the details of the financial returns, but said the association's registration had been revoked as of the end of 2006 because the returns had not been filed well beyond their deadlines of May 31, 2005, for the 2004 period, and May 31, 2006, for the 2005 period.

"The Mississauga-Streetsville federal Liberal association was deregistered effective Dec. 31, 2006," said spokesman Stephane Bachand. "It is still deregistered. They can apply to be registered again."

Mr. Bachand said Elections Canada finally received the returns Jan. 7. They were postmarked Dec. 30, but the deadline for deregistration had already been given.

An unregistered riding association may continue some informal activities, but cannot accept contributions or provide goods or services or transfer funds to a candidate or to registered parties or other associations.
Needless to say, the timing could offer some explanation as to why Khan may have waited until after the new year to make the jump. Khan and his supporters could easily have seen a benefit in leaving the riding association in disarray (both in the damaging contents of the returns, and in the real risk that the riding association would be de-registered) if they knew that a party switch was imminent. Meanwhile, the last-minute submission of the returns would offer some deniability to the former executive.

So why aren't Lib bloggers up in arms over the possibility that Khan and his cronies engaged in a scorched-earth strategy before crossing to the Cons? It's possible that some just haven't looked at the issue all that closely, or that they're genuinely more interested in the financial matters (which would seem to implicate the riding association itself at least as much as Khan) than the fact that the riding association itself may have been sabotaged by Khan's departure.

But it seems more likely that they recognize that their own party could have done plenty to anticipate and avoid the problem. After all, Khan's announcement that he planned to serve as Harper's adviser was met with ample concern that his future affiliation with the Libs was in doubt. And in light of that suspicion, there's no apparent reason why somebody wouldn't have checked out the current state of the riding association and pressured Khan's loyalists to either submit their returns in time to avoid deregistration, or at least decide on their future sooner to enable somebody else to carry out the task.

Instead, the Libs appear to have done nothing while one of their riding associations was run into the ground. And as a result, a riding which presumably has no lack of Libs motivated to defeat Khan is unable to take direct donations or otherwise act in response to his defection. Which gives Khan (who moves to a riding association facing no similar difficulties) a significant head start on whoever his Lib opponent turns out to be...making it all the more clear that the Libs won't be able to treat Mississauga-Streetsville as a safe seat.

The goings-on in Mississauga-Streetsville may play into a U.S. Democrat (circa 2004)-like image which the Libs want to avoid: that confronted by Khan's (and the Cons') pursuit of power over principle, they've limited themselves to a meek PR-based defence while failing to take even the most basic substantive steps to prevent real internal losses. But while admitting and learning from Khan's defection could be painful, the Libs will be even worse off if they try to pretend the incident never happened and leave themselves open to similar incidents in the future - which could lead to the party losing far more than a mere riding association.

(Edit: fixed wording, typo.)

An idea worth expanding

Tony Clement has announced his intention to remove his own "carbon footprint" by donating enough money to a foreign non-profit (the Carbon Fund) to invest in renewable energy. While he deserves plenty of credit for doing so personally, couldn't he accomplish far more by pointing out the value of such an investment to a government which seems to believe that emission reductions don't count for anything unless they happen in Canada?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

On technicalities

I'll second Robert's frustration with the Decima poll which somehow credits the NDP's longstanding environmental platform of targeted tax cuts for environmentally-friendly purchases (which win majority support over an untargeted tax reduction) to Stephane Dion. But in fairness, maybe Layton needs to make more clear that while the NDP is glad to make its ideas available for free, that doesn't mean they're intended to be without attribution.

Choosing the right side

David Suzuki weighs in on John Baird's time as Environment Minister. And while it's remarkable how low Suzuki's expectations were set based on Baird's predecessor, some of the conversation seems to hint that Baird knows better than to try to play both sides of the street when it comes to climate change:
"Mr. Baird called me within two hours after he was appointed. When I called him back, he said completely out of the blue, 'David, I want you to understand, I'm not a flat Earther'," Suzuki said.

"He said I believe the information scientists are accumulating about global warming. I'm not denying its occurrence. Well to me that was a huge step up from what the previous minister had really been saying. So that was a very good start."...

However, Suzuki pointed out that former environment minister Rona Ambrose also approached him shortly after her appointment.

Ambrose said all the right things and seemed to have the best intentions, but failed to deliver substantive policies to improve the state of the environment, he said.

The onus is on Baird to get things done and set himself apart, Suzuki said.

"I think we've got to wait and see now that the photo op is done. Now let's see what can be actually delivered in terms of very hard targets and timelines to actually begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions deeply."
It's not exactly clear who Baird is painting as a "flat-Earther" - whether it's Ambrose herself, Harper, or simply an effort to invent a straw-man who can be portrayed as even more irresponsible than the Cons. But given Baird's expectation that he'll have to fight his own caucus to get anything done, it seems likely that at least a few Cons would have to fall within the scope of Baird's term. Which figures to have some internal ramifications for the Cons - but may also hint at what kind of policy the Cons are now willing to work toward.

After all, Baird's rhetorical shot at climate-change deniers seems likely to win him enemies among groups which have supported the Cons in the past...not to mention some of the Cons' own anti-science MPs. And a party as politically calculating as the Cons doesn't seem likely to accept that kind of loss unless it was going to be accompanied by some corresponding gain among more environmentally-concerned voters. Which in turn could only happen based on a policy strong enough to win over both the NDP's support in Parliament, and the favour of Suzuki and others outside it.

Of course, it'll still take some strong negotiating from the outside to ensure the best possible result. But unless the Cons have completely ignored the obvious lesson from Ambrose's tenure (that nobody's going to be fooled by talk not backed up be substance), it looks like they have little choice now but to work toward a strong environmental program.

Low-hanging fruit

It's always a plus to see a rabid right-winger recognize the positive role that regulations can play in balancing the interests of businesses and individuals. But it would nice to see slightly less painful reasoning than Rachel Marsden uses in arguing for a cap on cell phone termination fees.

Shorter Marsden to Telus: "What, would you make one of our brave and noble troops leaving for Afghanistan pay termination costs too? Oh, you wouldn't? In that case, what makes some lousy soldier more deserving of a break than me?"

(Edit: reworded for added snark.)