Saturday, June 16, 2007

Harpocrisy at its finest

While Stephane Dion pats himself on the back for keeping Deceivin' Stephen in charge, Harper has offered up a prime example of his unfitness for office, proving once again that his deeply-held principles apply to everybody but himself:
Canadians will be incensed if Liberal senators stall or block passage of the federal budget, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is warning Grits in the upper chamber...

"...I think there'd be a sure lot of anger if a bunch of unelected guys decided they could block what the elected people did and what their constituents want."...

"Everyone expects that the elected house's judgment will prevail," Harper said.
Naturally, Harper doesn't offer any explanation for the Senate Cons' filibuster against the House-passed Bill C-288 in the Senate - nor take any responsibility for what would be no less a lack of leadership than any failure by Dion to get the budget passed.

Unfortunately, with the Libs brutally mishandling the Senate dispute and the NDP's attention understandably focused on equalization instead, Harper is largely getting a free pass thus far. But there's still no reason for the Senate's Libs to play any more nicely with the budget than the Cons do with the Kyoto bill - particularly with Harper leaving himself open to attack.

Led further astray

As a follow-up to his efforts to get the Cons' budget passed in the Senate, Stephane Dion is now bragging about his role in keeping Deceivin' Stephen in power. If this is Dion's standard for success, then either we'll be stuck with far more of Harper yet to come than Canada should have to endure...or it'll be another opposition leader who doesn't define keeping Harper in office as a success who ensures otherwise.

On unindicted co-conspirators

Shorter Stephen Harper on being caught violating rules against accepting gifts from private companies or individuals:
We're gonna keep this dog, Checkers. And this Gucci scarf, Mortimer. And these lacquer trays, Biff and Zeke. And this case of Cold-FX, Esmerelda. And...

Friday, June 15, 2007


So let's get this straight: Stephane Dion has responded to the usual Con bluster that he's not a leader by...pushing other people to do what Stephen Harper wants, in this case by twisting the arms of Lib Senators to avoid blocking the Cons' budget.

Of course, the only way this will quiet down the Cons for even a second will be if the budget now gets passed quickly and without resistance - which if it happens will leave Senate Libs with no leverage to overcome the Cons' attempts to filibuster the Kyoto implementation bill. Which means that any leadership shown by Dion seems to be squarely in the wrong direction.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

On principle

The Star reports on another twist in the politics surrounding Ontario's MMP referendum this fall, as the Lib minister responsible for the file is stepping down based on Dalton McGuinty's politicization of the issue. But it remains to be seen what the move will mean for the referendum itself:
Sources say Democratic Renewal Minister Marie Bountrogianni is quitting politics in part because she is disillusioned with the way Premier Dalton McGuinty's officials are handling the referendum.

Bountrogianni (Hamilton Mountain) will stay on until the Oct. 10 election, but will not be running again...

One insider said last night that Bountrogianni, who has feuded with McGuinty's office over various policy matters since the Liberals took power in 2003, was displeased by the fact the government commissioned some polling about the referendum, which is to be held in conjunction with the election, on whether Ontario should adopt a form of proportional representation in the future.

The Liberals, who have so far remained non-committal on the referendum question, conducted polling on the extent to which Yes and No voters would be more or less likely to vote for the governing party in the election.

Bountrogianni, who has been careful to stay neutral throughout the democratic renewal process, was reportedly concerned the referendum vote was being politicized by such machinations.
Bountrogianni's concerns sound like fair ones from a personal standpoint, as there are certainly reasons for concern about McGuinty's apparent lack of any principle on the issue. But for those of us more interested in seeing MMP pass than in internal Lib machinations, I have to figure the polling itself will make for relatively good news.

As I'd noted earlier this week, all indications so far are that Ontario's Cons are holding their fire only until the Libs' wording is released, allowing them to campaign against the Libs directly on the issue rather than criticizing the findings of the citizens' assembly.

If the Cons do pursue that strategy, then there figures to be a strong overlap between "no" voters and anti-Lib voters - giving McGuinty every reason to be at least somewhat publicly supportive of the "yes" side. And with today's indication that McGuinty is indeed setting his position on MMP based on political convenience rather than any strong personal or party principles, that scenario is all the more likely to play out.

For once, cynical machinations among Ontario's most prominent politicians are apparently lining up in a way which could result in real positive change. The question now is whether the issue will play out as seems likely now - or whether there are surprises in store along the way.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Disaster averted

While talk about the latest anti-government fad agreement heats up in Saskatchewan and nationwide, CUPW reports that the previous one thankfully hasn't proven quite as harmful as it could have, as UPS' challenge against Canada Post has been rejected by a NAFTA tribunal:
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and Council of Canadians (Council) are pleased that United Parcel Service's complaint under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been rejected by the tribunal hearing the case.

United Parcel Service (UPS) sued Canada over six years ago, under NAFTA’s Chapter 11, which allows corporations to challenge governments if they think their investments are restricted by government measures. UPS claimed that its investments were being restricted by Canada’s publicly funded network of mailboxes and post offices because this network allegedly provided Canada Post with an unfair advantage. The tribunal had already dismissed several elements of the claim.

The federal government’s media release on the final decision indicates that the tribunal dismissed allegations of unfair treatment with respect to the postal network, customs and the Canadian Heritage Publications Assistance Program. The government says that it will release the full decision within thirty days.

“We are very happy that the tribunal rejected UPS’s complaint but that doesn’t mean we think NAFTA works,” said CUPW National President Deborah Bourque. “NAFTA allowed UPS to put public postal service and jobs on trial. A secret trial.”
Unfortunately, there's no assurance that the next equally dangerous challenge under NAFTA won't lead to massive intrusions against Canada's ability to act for itself. But it's at least a plus that Canada Post is safe for now - even if the challenge only highlights just how much we stand to lose through ill-thought-out trade deals.

Limited immunity

CanWest reports that Harper's Operation I'm Above The Law has hit another snag, as a hearing has been set for August to evaluate Deceivin' Stephen's claim to immunity in Alan Riddell's libel lawsuit:
A Superior Court hearing has been set for August to hear Prime Minister Stephen Harper's arguments that he can't be forced to testify in a libel action because he has parliamentary immunity. Lawyers for Harper and Alan Riddell, a lawyer and former Conservative who sued Harper after he agreed to step aside as a candidate for a Tory nomination in November 2005, appeared before the court's case manager earlier this week to establish a timetable for examinations and other steps that must precede the hearing on Aug. 10.
As I'd noted in my earlier post on the topic, it seems fairly likely that Harper is technically entitled to the immunity. But that doesn't mean he's obligated to make use of it - and it's worth asking again what he thinks he'll gain from postponing his obligation to answer for his actions.

After all, it's hard to think what Harper could want to hide about his public statements about Riddell that justifies making a discussion of whether he's "(impeding) the course of justice" the talk of the barbecue circuit this summer. That goes doubly when the immunity won't insulate him from testimony indefinitely in any event...and indeed would seem to make any election campaign the only available time for him to testify, pushing any embarrassing revelations into the public eye when it hurts most. And much as Harper would like to pretend otherwise, he won't be able to claim any electoral immunity against the consequences.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On no-shows

John Ivison's article on the Cons' Senate-based strategy strikes me as far too kind to a focus that seems destined to flop (if it hasn't already). But it's worth highlighting Ivison's observation that Deceivin' Stephen's first Senate appointee is setting the current standard for sheer uselessness:
(Public Works Minister Michael Fortier)'s view on the legitimacy of the Senate can probably be divined from his voting record. He has voted just five times (all on the same day) in 102 sitting days.
Needless to say, Fortier seems to be just one more example of the Cons readily embracing in government what they used to decry in opposition. But isn't it long past time for the current opposition to start giving Fortier the Andy Thompson treatment over his pathetic voting record to highlight the contradiction?

The waiting game

Sun Media reports that the most prominent provincial figure who seemed likely to oppose MMP in Ontario is still sitting on the fence. And John Tory's continued indecision looks to be a good sign for the Yes side:
The man who would lead Ontario is seldom at a loss for words when asked what he plans to do...

But the leader of the Progressive Conservatives said he’s not sure yet what he thinks about the referendum question on the provincial ballot Oct. 10.

Voters will be asked if they want to change the electoral system to one that would reward political parties based on their share of the popular vote.

“I don’t know,” said the usually decisive Tory when asked when he or his party will adopt a position on the referendum question that would boost smaller parties.
Of course, it seems entirely likely that Tory will eventually wind up on the wrong side of the issue. But it looks like he's biding his time until he can claim that his problem is with the specific wording drafted by the McGuinty government rather than the conclusions of the Citizens' Assembly...which would still bode well for the Yes side's chances for a few reasons.

First, the interim in which Tory remains undecided figures to offer a significant head start to backers of electoral reform: presumably the No side will receive both less media attention and less public credence as long as there isn't a single party leader willing to speak on its behalf.

Second, if Tory is indeed looking to focus his attacks narrowly, that would seem to also suggest that Ontario's Cons aren't spoiling for a fight against PR on principle - which would in turn limit the range of arguments that the No side will be able to make without appearing splintered.

And finally, if Tory is indeed planning to focus future criticism primarily at the government's wording, then the Libs are in turn likely to try to defend their own actions. And that should eliminate much of the risk that the Libs and Cons could work together to try to preserve a first-past-the-post system.

That said, it's still far from sure that MMP will be able to clear the arbitrarily high hurdles set up by McGuinty. But it looks like the voting thresholds, not any particularly forceful opposition, will pose the greatest difficulty for electoral reform.

Let the noise machine roll

While the Cons' government has actively refused to show any real vision in dealing with the environment, the Cons and their allies have at least shown plenty of ingenuity on the propaganda front. In the latest development, CanWest is reporting on a set of Con-requested talking points against the Kyoto implementation bill as if they make for a "warning" from the civil service - and that message is only being amplified by even more distorted headlines at less canny news sites.

Now if only even an iota of that PR machine was being turned toward solving problems rather than perpetuating them...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A measured response

Shorter Peter Worthington:
It's a strange comparison of apples which doesn't take orangeness into account.

On redistribution

Barbara Yaffe points out an intriguing Core Strategies poll (warning: PDF) on the Commons seat distribution that most Canadians would like to see. While there's far more data which deserves further discussion, a few points which jump out at me:

- Most strikingly, the average preferred seat distribution (C: 91, L: 88, N: 56, G: 38, B: 34) looks to be a very close match for how seats would likely be distributed under a true PR system where seat counts were directly linked to a party's popular support - and if anything, it would give a few more seats to the smaller parties than even a straight PR system.

- Even when it comes to supporters of an individual party, there's no current appetite for a majority government: the ideal size for the preferred party of respondents ranges from 83 for Greens, to 151 for Cons. (The Cons were in majority territory among their own supporters the previous month.)

- As a general rule, parties appear likely to either rise or fall across the board: the NDP and Libs both managed to hold steady or improve their standing among voters of all parties, while the Greens saw a slight drop in most groups. But the Cons saw a precipitous drop among their own supporters, even while largely holding steady in the eyes of supporters of other parties.

- Among the interesting lower choices of voters from a single party, Bloc respondents assigned the second-most seats to the Libs despite the historical enmity between those two parties. Meanwhile, Green supporters are on the verge of preferring second place for their own party, as a 28-seat gap between the Greens and Libs (which was already the smallest among any party's supporters) was reduced to 12.

- Finally, as a mandatory "who really opposes the Cons?" note, NDP supporters assigned the lowest number of seats to the Cons for the second consecutive month at 54 - compared with 61 for Bloc supporters, 62 for Greens and 68 for Libs.

(Edit: typo.)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Against state interests

The Globe and Mail reports on the Cons' plan to clarify the "net benefit" standard applied to foreign investment reviews. And true to form, Jim Flaherty is making it clear that he isn't particularly concerned about job losses or economic harm, as long as government ownership isn't part of the picture:
The Harper government plans to draw up principles that more carefully spell out the grounds on which Ottawa could block unwelcome corporate takeovers by foreign, state-owned companies as part of an upcoming review of the Investment Canada Act.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who laid the groundwork for this in a fall 2006 economic blueprint, said in an interview that he thinks Ottawa's current “net benefit test” used to evaluate foreign takeovers lacks sufficient definition and that the Conservatives plan to remedy this.

Asked if he believes there's a need to increase protection for Canada in foreign investment screening, Mr. Flaherty said Ottawa must bear in mind that there are foreign, state-owned firms looking for acquisitions which may be beholden to another government's agenda.

“I think there's a need to look at the world as it is and the fact that there are some [corporate] entities that have less independence than others from their states,” Mr. Flaherty said in an interview...

One concern the Conservatives are targeting is foreign, state-owned firms with murky business structures.

They say they fear Canada's long-term interests could be hurt by investments from such companies: ones with “unclear corporate governance and reporting” that are guided by “non-commercial objectives.”
Note that there's no particular reason why even the stated reasons for targeting state-owned entities should result in a limited review: presumably there are plenty of privately-owned investors which could also pose concerns about security and/or opaque governance. But Flaherty doesn't seem to have any apparent interest in those broader issues...just as long as there's no government ownership involved.

Of course, given the Cons' interest in selling off whatever isn't nailed down by a minority Parliament, ownership by foreign states may seem like a distant issue for Canadians. But Flaherty's position offers another hint of the knee-jerk suspicion of government that explains so much of what the Cons do - and again begs the question of why Canadians should want their government in the hands of a party which sees it as a negative force.

Open-court federalism

Deceivin' Stephen is apparently pushing toward his party's goal of putting an end to bickering over equalization. After all, it's hard to classify the formal litigation which Harper is now demanding as mere "bickering".


Steve covers most of what I was planning to say about Innovative Research's poll on the Cons' secrecy and media wars. But it's worth pointing out one more way in which the poll bodes extremely poorly for the Cons' chances in the next federal election.

Steve is right in noting that it's largely the most attentive Canadians who are aware of the issue so far. But the flip side to the current lack of awareness is that the Cons are now stagnating or sliding in the polls even as 3/4 of the Canadian public has yet to discover one more issue where the Cons are generally seen as being in the wrong.

Of course, the press feud wouldn't necessarily pose a future problem for the Cons if it figured to stay quiet from here on in. But in an election campaign, each party's relationship with the media is bound to receive a substantial amount of commentary. And whether the Cons continue their current adversarial stance or shift into full suck-up mode in a campaign, any coverage figures to include at least some mention of their treatment of the press while in office - meaning that a large number of Canadians will discover another reason to distrust the Cons just in time to decide how to vote.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Another damaging exhibit

Shorter Bev Oda on why Canadians shouldn't care if museums across the country have had their already-meager funding cut even further:
We've built a couple of shiny monuments to Canada's New Government; what more history could we need?

(Edit: added label.)

Whose lie is it anyway?

Apparently the Cons' attempt to get Gordon O'Connor out of the spotlight hasn't led to any better-informed answers on Afghan detainees, as Peter MacKay is now under fire for conflicting stories on the number of complaints of torture:
Canadian officials have received allegations of torture or abuse from six Afghan detainees, two more than reported by cabinet ministers during testimony at a Commons committee a few days ago.

The change of facts prompted Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre yesterday to accuse Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day of "misleading the House and the people of Canada."

The higher number was cited by MacKay at a news conference Friday, after two days of inquiries by opposition MPs and reporters about discrepancies in testimony he and Day gave at a joint meeting Wednesday of the Commons defence and foreign affairs committees.
MacKay's defence is supposedly based on a difference in the time periods involved. But it's worth noting that any attempt to artificially cut off the time period was itself nothing but a Con creation: see for example this exchange from Question Period, where Denis Coderre's straightforward question the number of allegations of torture and abuse received a heavily-spun response about MacKay's latest sightseeing expedition.

As a result, MacKay has nobody but himself to blame for the confusion he's fostered. And with the Cons' backup talking head apparently having no more idea what he's talking about than the minister who's been pushed out of the limelight in disgrace, the Cons' incompetence in dealing with Afghanistan is only becoming more clear by the day.