Saturday, September 08, 2007

A power play

As Buckdog has already noted, the Saskatchewan Party is already in serious trouble over its continued antipathy for Crown corporations. But I have to wonder if they've also provided another issue that will result in some serious mileage for the NDP down the road - even if it largely escaped notice at the time.

I alluded briefly in this post to a discussion about SaskPower's options for new generating capacity. The article focuses mostly on SaskPower's decision to pursue natural gas, wind generation, waste heat recovery and biomass rather than clean coal to meet the province's capacity needs over the next five years. But here's what Dan D'Autremont - Sask Party's chosen spokesman on the subject, and not coincidentally the same MLA who let the party's mask slip when it came to the Crowns - had to say:
(D'Autremont) added the Calvert government has its "blinders on" when it comes to nuclear power and other options that could provide safe and secure energy for the future "We need to be looking at all of the technologies, including nuclear, to see what's economically viable."
Let's mostly leave aside the questions of whether nuclear power is either economically viable in the first place, or realistically capable of being constructed quickly enough to meet the demand discussed in the article. (Though in brief, the answer is "no" on both counts - even if there always seems to be some nuclear apologist willing to massage cost projections enough to try to pretend otherwise when it comes to the cost factor.)

What's particularly striking is that while D'Autremont attempts to paint the NDP as refusing to consider "all of the technologies", he doesn't seem able to name a single source other than nuclear that the Sask Party would see as a viable option. Which provides a strong hint that given the chance, the Sask Party would be looking for excuses to bring nuclear power into the picture regardless of the ready availability of a myriad of other sources.

Needless to say, that figures to be a political loser for Brad Wall and his troops if it becomes an issue. There's obviously little (if any) natural constituency which would be attracted to the Sask Party based on a desire to see nuclear power plants in Saskatchewan, particularly with the province's utility rates already the lowest in the country.

Meanwhile the NDP, which has already been working to burnish its environmental credentials (particularly over the last year), would surely welcome the chance to argue against the risks of both nuclear power generation and the resulting waste. And an imminent danger of nuclear power could make any frustration with the NDP's willingness to develop the uranium mining industry seem relatively inconsequential in comparison.

We'll see whether D'Autremont's comment will simply be ignored in the longer term, or whether a debate on the subject will actually materialize. But if the Sask Party continues to want to see nuclear energy put at the top of the list of options, then there's every reason to think that in addition to harboring a desire to attack the province's existing Crowns, Wall and company are also severely wanting in judgment as to what the province should look to build for itself in the future. And that can only help the NDP's effort to point out the similarities between Wall and the PC government he once assisted.

On declarations

Shorter Joseph Quesnel, trying to justify the Cons' aversion to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:
Indigenous peoples are just plain wrong in claiming to know better than I do what rights they actually want.

More listings

The Halifax Daily News adds to the list of Con candidates implicated in Conadscam. And even one of the Con reps interviewed for the article (who still seems to support both the party and the scheme) seems to be admitting facts which confirm the scandal:
The Liberals are accusing the federal Conservatives of laundering more than $20,000 through three metro Halifax ridings during last year's election. It's part of a tactic involving 68 constituencies that's under investigation by Canada's elections commissioner...

The campaign manager for Halifax Conservative candidate Andrew House said the federal party suggested the deal to that riding association.

"What the federal party did was it said, 'Look, it will benefit them through controlling the advertising, but it will also benefit the local association because you can maximize the spending,'" Jordi Morgan said yesterday.

"From our understanding of the legislation, it was totally straight up and there was nothing that was seen as underhanded or any of that."

The House campaign got a cheque for $4,733.48 from the Conservative Fund of Canada on Jan. 12, 2006. It transferred $4,736.48 back to the party's national fundraiser Jan. 23.

Rakesh Khosla's campaign in Halifax West shuffled $11,841.20 with the national party.

Official agent Jim Melvin could not be reached yesterday.

Robert Campbell's Dartmouth-Cole Harbour riding association exchanged $3,947.07.
To my recollection, Morgan is the first riding official to state flat-out that the sole purpose of the transactions from a riding perspective was to boost spending in order to be able to claim a greater reimbursement. And that admission looks to be a huge one, as the lack of any candidate-level interest in the ads themselves says plenty about who was intended to benefit from the actual advertising (not to mention who was "controlling" the scheme).

We'll see how many more stories come out in the next little while highlighting the local candidates caught up in the Cons' national scandal. But there's no reason to think the list will be exhausted anytime soon...and the Cons may soon find that the rightful negative publicity from their attempt to circumvent election spending limits will far outweigh the effect of the ads themselves.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A growing list

The Citizen's story on Conadscam from earlier today adds ones more set of candidates whose 2006 results are apparently tainted by illegal advertising - including another of the Cons' most prominent cabinet ministers:
A further Citizen review of TV ads broadcast in the Toronto area has revealed the ads may also have allowed candidates with little support and few donations in ridings dominated by the Liberals and NDP to bankroll costly television advertising that likely benefited star Conservative candidates...

Seven candidates with no chance or little chance of winning, including those in ridings such as Trinity-Spadina, Toronto-Danforth and York-South Weston, paid tens of thousands of dollars each for advertising that was broadcast in the ridings of three Tory stars in the Metro Toronto region. The three, who were not among those paying for the ads through the transfer scheme, were now-Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in Whitby-Oshawa, former TV anchor Peter Kent, who ran against prominent Liberal Carolyn Bennett in St. Paul's, and John Capobianco, a former organizer for onetime Ontario premier Mike Harris who ran against Liberal Michael Ignatieff in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

All three had received tens of thousands of dollars in individual and corporate contributions -- Mr. Capobianco's war chest included a $5,000 transfer from Mr. Harper's riding association in Calgary -- and ended the campaign with overflowing bank accounts.
Fortunately, the Cons apparently only managed to win one of the seats in question despite the ads - making for significantly less impact on the overall election outcome than their similar scheme in Quebec. But with more and more of the Cons' ridings and cabinet members now caught up in the scandal, it's worth wondering just how much strength the Cons would actually have in a legal campaign - and how far the Cons have to fall if they have to answer for their abuses next time Canada goes to the polls.

Radioactive policy

The Globe and Mail goes into more detail about the Cons' plan to put Canada on the hook for international nuclear waste disposal through the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. And the assumptions behind the Cons' current stance show just how problematic their position is.

First, here's Gary Lunn's take:
This week, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said he believes it is inevitable that the spent fuel, which contains significant energy potential, will be reprocessed, and then reused by the domestic Candu owners. However, Mr. Lunn denied Canada would be required to accept imported waste under the global partnership agreement.
Once again, it's worth highlighting what the Cons are willing to assume for the sake of signing on to the nuclear deal. Lunn's view is based on the assumption that as-of-yet nonexistent technology to reprocess nuclear waste will "inevitably" turn up in time to avoid the requirement to dispose of the waste otherwise. And if that doesn't happen...well, it's inevitable, so why worry?

Compare this to the Cons' stance on Kyoto, where they can't repeat often enough that it's simply impossible to meet international standards where (1) the technology already exists to actually meet Canada's targets, and (2) there are other compliance mechanisms available besides implementing immediate technological change.

Based on that contrast, it's clear that the Cons are as devoted to pushing the increased use of nuclear technology as they are determined to avoid doing anything about global warming. And the former position seems to be downright contagious among the Cons and their provincial allies.

Mind you, Lunn wasn't the only Con to speak out about the nuclear proposal. So let's see what Deceivin' Stephen is concerned about in considering the GNEP:
Mr. Harper told a Friday afternoon press conference in Sydney that he felt no pressure to decide, within a particular time frame, whether Canada should take part in the initiative.

"Obviously, in terms of anything internationally in this, Canada would have two priorities. One is to ensure that our uranium industry and our nuclear industry are not left out of any of the international opportunities that other countries may take advantage of," he told reporters.

"And, at the same time, we would obviously want to make sure that any kind of international agreement or any kind of international co-operation on nuclear energy fully respects the non-proliferation agreements and the non-proliferation objectives that Canada and other major countries have long subscribed to."
That's right: priority one is the almighty dollar, priority two is...basically an excuse for implicit posturing toward Iran, since nothing in the GNEP looks to actually change the non-proliferation regime already in place. And if you're looking for any mention of the risk associated with nuclear waste...well, that's just not a priority as far as the Cons are concerned.

We'll see whether the current public pressure is enough to make the Cons take a second look at their plan. But it seems all too clear that any change would be purely for political reasons rather than because of any recognition that there's some serious risk involved in the GNEP. And that complete disinterest in the obvious downside of a dangerous agreement offers just one more reason why Canadians shouldn't trust the Cons' judgment.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

On risk assessment

When it comes to a non-binding declaration on aboriginal rights, the Cons continue to be the leading global opponent based on supposed fears about limiting government action.

When it comes to signing on to a binding agreement to turn Canada into a nuclear waste dump, the Cons can't see what could possibly go wrong.

Is it any wonder the Cons are more afraid than ever to answer for their decision-making?

Poor excuses

Shorter Jay Hill, trying to justify Deceivin' Stephen's extra month of summer vacation:
But being in government is hard work - especially in my job as whip. Why, just last spring I had to deal with one of the trained seals clapping out of time. So clearly I need another month off.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

On questionable speech

Shorter Pierre Poilievre, trying to claim that the Cons' now-all-but-admitted breaches of the Canada Elections Act should be ignored on free-speech grounds:
And while we're at it, we now firmly believe that there's no more important form of political speech than the right to leave large amounts of cash in an unmarked bag.

Dirty money

The Citizen reports on the latest developments in ConAdscam. And it looks like a number of the Cons' Quebec star candidates - including two cabinet ministers - may have joined the federal party in exceeding their spending limits through the scheme:
The dispute between Elections Canada and the party hinges on whether the ads were intended to promote local candidates, or whether they were part of the national campaign...

Another TV ad for the Quebec market features the party's star candidates in the province, Lawrence Cannon, Josée Verner, Maxime Bernier, Daniel Fournier and Jean-Pierre Blackburn. But small print on the ad says it was authorized and paid for by official agents for 12 other candidates, as well as agents for Ms. Verner and Mr. Cannon.
Now, there's probably a fairly strong argument to be made that an ad featuring the Cons' featured Quebec candidates should be viewed as promoting individual campaigns - making the ad one which may not count toward the federal party's spending limit. (Which would reduce the amount by which the Cons had exceeded their federal cap - though not likely far enough to bring the party below the limit.)

But that designation should equally plainly be directed toward the individual candidates featured prominently in the ad, rather than ones listed only in small print. And if so, then a number of the listed candidates look to have exceeded their riding spending limits if any substantial money was put into the ad.

Take a look at the candidates' actual expenditures compared to the 2006 limits:

Candidate - Stated Expenses - Riding Limit (Name)
Lawrence Cannon - $72,148.27 - $89,728.35 (Pontiac)
Josee Verner - $74,577.18 - $79,200.40 (Louis-Saint-Laurent)
Maxime Bernier - $79,344.54 - $81,496.69 (Beauce)
Daniel Fournier - $73,903.31 - $74,512.38 (Outremont)
Jean-Pierre Blackburn - $36,273.44 - $79,025.04 (Jonquiere-Alma)

It appears fairly safe to assume that Blackburn wouldn't have exceeded the riding limit based on his campaign paying a share of the expenses for the ad. Which would make his campaign at worst a facilitator of a scheme to evade the Canada Elections Act. And let's give Cannon the relative benefit of the doubt as well since his campaign both had some real leeway under the spending limit, and took on some of the cost of the ads.

But for the Cons' other star candidates - including two current cabinet ministers - any substantial investment in the ads would have put their own campaigns over the spending limit. And even for those whose campaigns wouldn't have exceeded the spending limit, their apparently willing participation in the shell game demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the Canada Elections Act.

In sum, today's information suggests that the Cons' latest scandal goes even further than expected. And now that the Cons' most prominent Quebec figures themselves apparently have dirty hands when it comes to the party's electoral violations, there's ever less reason for Quebeckers to believe that Deceivin' Stephen will offer any improvement on the scandal-ridden Libs in the province.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Prorogue states

It's official: Deceivin' Stephen is so afraid to deal with opposition questioning that he's prorogued Parliament just to avoid publicly answering for his government's failures for another month. But the new session will still start before long - and the opposition parties should all be looking both to get done what they can in the current Parliament, and to make sure that any election this fall takes place on their terms rather than Harper's.

A developing consensus

Over the last week or so, former Con candidates and supporters went public criticizing the party for various reasons. This week, some key voices in the media are joining the fray as well - and it looks more and more likely that the Cons will pay a serious (if justified) price for their own culture of entitlement.

First, there's a Vancouver Sun editorial slamming the Cons for their ethical lapses:
Paul Martin would likely still be prime minister today were it not for public disgust over the smug abuse of power uncovered by the Gomery Commission. The specific crimes and misdemeanors were all the more damaging politically because they fit into a public perception of the Liberals as a party that had been in power so long its members could no longer see the difference between national and partisan interests.

Now Canada's "new government," as the Conservatives like to call themselves, is showing signs that it is fundamentally not much different from the old government when it comes to resisting the temptations of power...

Meanwhile, the Conservative member of Parliament who is chair of the British Columbia caucus has been hard at work trying to profit from the principle that drives patronage, the notion that the benefits of government are most readily available through partisan channels.

In the face of an ethics complaint, the federal Conservative party says it did not approve of a decision by Dick Harris, the MP for Cariboo-Prince George, to "appoint" a Tory in a riding held by a New Democratic Party MP to act as a conduit to the government.

But neither has it condemned his statement that people in the Skeena- Bulkley Valley riding would get better service from the government if they deal with the nominated Tory candidate, Houston Mayor Sharon Smith, than they will through their elected MP, New Democrat Nathan Cullen...

In opposition, Harper's Conservatives claimed the high moral ground by repudiating patronage. As we have already seen, that ground is harder to hold in government.

It's worth the effort. Otherwise, Canada's new government will look pretty old when the next election comes.
And then there's the Star, with a particular focus on the Cons' patronage appointments:
When Stephen Harper became prime minister, he pledged to end most patronage appointments by creating an independent commission that would select people based on merit, not political party ties.

That pledge is now just one more of Harper's broken promises...

Harper's flip-flop on patronage has been stunning, given that his Federal Accountability Act, enacted in December, allows for an independent commission to control appointments. But after a fight with opposition parties over who should head the agency, Harper opted not to set it up. Since then, he has made hundreds of appointments. In just one week in March, he gave jobs to 10 party faithful.

Under Harper, the tradition of patronage clearly is alive and well.
Now, it's unlikely that patronage alone will be seen as an important enough story to topple the Cons in the next general election. But both editorials also point out the connection between patronage and the wider issue that the Cons simply can't be trusted to keep - or even believe in - their campaign promises. And that reality should not only highlight just how old the Cons have become in office, but also thoroughly discredit Deceivin' Stephen next time he asks for the trust of Canadian voters.

Monday, September 03, 2007

On isolation

CanWest offers up another story about the possibility that the Cons could prorogue Parliament to try to avoid opposition questioning for an extra month. But the more important part of the story lies in how disinterested the Cons are in working with the other parties in Parliament no matter when it starts up:
New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton has called for Parliament to get back to work as scheduled. An NDP official says proroguing would be a needless waste of precious parliamentary time because MPs would wrangle for days over confidence motions and, if the government survived, motions to restore bills that died on the order paper...

Mr. Goodale is affronted that the Conservatives have not engaged the official opposition in any parliamentary planning since the adjournment. He says Harper governs as though he has a majority, "probably more than any minority government in Canadian history." And a "civilized" majority government, he notes, should engage the opposition in parliamentary planning and negotiation.

"Minorities are very difficult by their very nature," he says. "They require some give and take, some real appreciation of what a parliamentary system is. It is not a republican system. It is not a presidential system. It is different. Parliament does matter.

"And Mr. Harper and his key ministers have just refused to acknowledge that. If you keep being rude and belligerent, thumbing your nose at your colleagues across the floor, it creates a certain atmosphere in that place."
While Goodale's main concern is apparently with civility rather than accomplishment, the Cons' actions appear virtually certain to prevent either from making much of an appearance as long as the Cons are in charge.

In particular, a minority government surely figures to have far more trouble getting any bills of its own through the House of Commons if it doesn't make at least some effort to talk with the opposition parties. But from the sound of it, the Cons are too obsessed with leaving open their political options to even try to find common ground with any of the other parties in Parliament. Which can only help to solidify opposition to what the Cons end up trying to strong-arm onto the agenda this fall - and make it all the more clear that Deceivin' Stephen is proud to be out of touch both with the majority in the House of Commons, and with the very concept of good government.


Chantal Hebert writes about the September 17 Quebec by-elections. And while I'm not sure what's behind some of the conclusions, it looks like the Libs may be in even bigger trouble in Quebec than most pundits would have thought:
Nine months into Stéphane Dion's leadership, the number of safe Liberal seats in Quebec is continuing to shrink.

With a set of by-elections only two weeks away, the Liberals are in a battle for third place with the NDP in two of the three ridings at play while they are fighting for their lives in a Montreal seat that they have held for most of the past century...

Outside Montreal, the low Liberal numbers have even become a concern for the sovereignist Bloc Québécois, whose strategists worry about a pooling of federalist votes behind the Conservative contenders.

Those fears are not totally exaggerated. In Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean, Liberal candidate Louise Boulanger spent last week scrambling to explain why she had become a paid-up member of the Conservative party on the occasion of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to the riding in June.

So far, the battles for Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean and Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot are strictly two-way races between the incumbent Bloc and the Conservatives.
Now, I've noted before that the lower-party races in both Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot and Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean figured to be important ones for the longer term. But I'd expected the Libs to regain at least some of the support they lost in the Martin/Chretien feud to push their way into a fight for second with the Cons, rather than declining even further from single-digit results in 2006.

After all, the Libs were the strong second choice in both ridings as recently as 2004 - meaning that they should have a far larger pool of past support to draw from than the NDP. And in Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean in particular, the Libs seemed to have a strong opportunity to capitalize on some serious discontent among previous Con supporters.

Instead, Hebert's column suggests that Boulanger, the Libs' star candidate of the two ridings, has somehow managed to turn a seeming strength (the transfer of herself and other former Con supporters to the Libs) into a weakness. And the Libs as a whole apparently haven't manage to muster anywhere near the organization to position themselves as a primary opponent to the Bloc.

Now, it may be that the Libs are simply focusing their resources on Outremont in order to try to fend off the NDP's challenge there. But the loss of Outremont would be far easier to spin as a single-riding/star candidate aberration if the Libs could show some broader-based party strength through gains in the current Bloc/Con battlegrounds.

Instead, it looks like the Libs may be headed for a worst-case scenario of both losing Outremont and continuing to bleed support - perhaps even falling behind the NDP - in the other two ridings up for grabs. And if that happens, then it wouldn't be surprising to see the Libs continue their decline in the next general election and beyond.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Turning back the clock

Ted Byfield argues that it's long past time to make child labour the norm once again. Stay tuned for the next column in his "Bring Back the 19th Century" series, where Byfield wonders whether it's time to reconsider universal suffrage.

(Edit: While the Byfields probably are interchangeable, might as well correct who's responsible for this column in particular.)