Saturday, December 15, 2007

Burnsy, you're doing a heckuva job

CanWest sheds a bit more light on Stephen Harper's appointments related to nuclear energy and regulation. And in case anybody held out hope that merit might even enter into the equation...
Harper announced Friday evening that he had accepted the resignation of AECL's chairman, Michael Burns, effective Dec. 31. Glenna Carr will take over as chair, while Hugh MacDiarmid will become CEO...

Burns, who was appointed in October 2006, was once chief fundraiser for the Canadian Alliance and chairman of the Canadian Alliance Fund. The Alliance merged with the Progressive Conservatives in 2003 to form the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, cabinet records show that the Harper government named a defeated New Brunswick provincial election candidate to the Nuclear Safety Commission just days before Harper alleged partisan connections between Keen and the Liberal party.

Cabinet approved the appointment of former Tory candidate Ronald Barriault only eight days before Harper made his controversial comments about Keen being a Liberal appointee. Keen has denied any political affiliation.
Now, it might make sense to a point that Harper might acquire some tunnel vision from within a party which doesn't see government as anything more than a patronage machine. And that would explain his apparent assumption that other parties would have just as little interest in merit-based appointments as his own.

But the damage arising out of AECL's poor planning should highlight the dangers of assuming that the ability to wring money out of the Cons' base makes for sufficient qualification to oversee a major industrial organization. And making matters worse, it seems clear from Harper's attitude toward past and present appointees to the CNSC that the Cons aren't any more aware of the need to put actual knowledge ahead of partisan interests when it comes to the regulator responsible for nuclear safety in Canada. Which can only offer one more indication that it's long past time to remove Harper from any position where he's able to decide who'll be responsible for keeping Canadians safe.

I'd like to thank the Academy...

Regular readers of this blog will hopefully know that I'm not big on self-promotion, and may be aware that I involve myself less in blogosphere meta-discussions than a lot of regular bloggers. But I'll take a moment to point out the results of this year's Unofficial Blogging Dipper Awards, where Accidental Deliberations was honoured as the Best Overall Blog - if nothing else to add a bit of context which I hope won't be overlooked.

While the awards may have focused slightly more attention than usual on the nominees, the more important story is that of the evolution of the Blogging Dippers as a whole. Robert, Devin, Ravi and Paladiea have put in the effort to develop the blogroll to where it is today. And roughly 100 separate blogs (some of those featuring multiple contributors) make up the content which keeps readers going to the Blogging Dippers site.

Within that collective, it can never hurt to encourage discussion about readers' favourites - both to place a bit more focus on the Blogging Dippers as a group, and to help each of us to see what readers enjoy within our blogs. And many thanks go to Uncorrected Proofs for putting together the year-end contest to enable that to happen.

But at the same time, the awards only matter to the extent that readers recognize that there's plenty of worthwhile content coming from the Blogging Dippers as a whole such as to justify talking about favourites.

As a result, I'll close off this post by encouraging all readers to take the time to look up some blogs off the Dipper blogroll which may not yet be familiar. And with any luck, the efforts of the Blogging Dippers will help to make sure the NDP as a whole is able to keep up - and indeed pull ahead - as Canadian political parties work to make their presence felt within the blogosphere.

Friday, December 14, 2007

No assurances

Just so we're clear: AECL - under now-former CEO Michael Burns - gave assurances that the Chalk River nuclear reactor could safely operate in violation of safety regulations. And it was those claims which apparently encouraged the Harper government to overrule the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and put the plant back into operation.

But AECL's promise was delivered just before Burns himself resigned - presumably over his own lack of foresight which put the plant on the wrong side of the law in the first place.

If there's anything that could make AECL's self-serving statement less reassuring, it's the fact that the promise was delivered under the authority of a CEO whose previous planning led to his dismissal - which also leads to a complete lack of accountability if the new assurance proves to be wrong. And while there may well have been understandable reasons to get Chalk River running again, there looks to be ever more reason for concern that the cure for a shortage of medical isotopes may prove more damaging than the disease.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Taking a stand

It unfortunately seems to have been buried on a day dominated by Brian Mulroney, the DMCA and other headline stories. But as I'd hoped, Thomas Mulcair appeared before the Bouchard-Taylor commission today to present a strong defence of multiculturalism on behalf of the federal NDP:
The reaction of some of Quebec's political leaders to anxieties about immigration has smacked of dishonesty and gutlessness, says the NDP lone's MP from the province.

Appearing Thursday before a government commission on the reasonable accommodation of immigrants, Thomas Mulcair made thinly veiled attacks against what he described as the opportunism of Quebec's opposition parties as well as the Bloc Quebecois.

"Quebec has always been a welcoming society, a model in the world," Mulcair said. "There are people who are playing with the sentiments of certain sectors of the population, putting fuel on a fire that doesn't need any."

The NDP is among the last groups to present a brief before the commission wraps up on Friday.

Their position, which prescribes a multicultural solution to the question of accommodating minorities, encapsulates one side of a debate that has been rehashed incessantly in recent months.

"Living in society requires accommodation every day from every one of us, that's part of the definition of living in society," Mulcair said...

Political parties, both federal and provincial, have been given a chance during the final week of hearings to present their own positions to the commission.

Both the federal Conservatives and Stephane Dion's Liberals opted not to take part.
The CP article appears to have focused mostly on Mulcair's (justifiable) shots at the provincial politicians whose intolerance led to the commission's appointment rather than the NDP's substantive suggestions. For those interested in the latter, though, the NDP's memorandum to the commission offers both needed criticism of the current federal and provincial actions which have served to attack the position of minorities, as well as examples of the types of policies which would help to reverse the trend.

It remains to be seen whether Mulcair's message will manage to attract any further media attention to help influence the wider debate. (And it's worth wondering both whether a Lib response would have received more attention, and whether their apparent decision to take a pass will hurt the cause of multiculturalism.)

But whether or not the NDP's submission receives the media attention it deserves, it's still worth highlighting that at least one federal party was ready and willing to stand up for diversity. And hopefully that courage won't go unrewarded.

On battlegrounds

The Gazette reports that Lucienne Robillard is resigning as of January 25, potentially opening up another of the NDP's prime Quebec targets for a by-election contest if a general election doesn't happen soon:
Voters in the riding of Westmount-Ville Marie could be going to the polls sooner than they had expected after Liberal MP Lucienne Robillard abruptly announced yesterday she will is resigning effective Jan. 25.

The announcement, made shortly after question period, took many of her own colleagues by surprise. While Robillard had announced months ago that she wouldn't run in the next election and former astronaut Marc Garneau had been named as the next Liberal candidate, Robillard had said that she didn't want to trigger a by-election.

Bidding an emotional adieu to the House of Commons, her usually confident voice trembling a bit, Robillard did not explain her decision to step aside earlier than she had planned and refused requests for interviews...

New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton praised Robillard but made no secret of his party's plan to make a strong run at her seat.
It remains to be seen whether Westmount Ville-Marie will simply be added to the ever-lengthening list of ridings where Harper refuses to announce a by-election out of fear that his party's own lack of support will be highlighted.

But if it does come up for grabs, then it figures to offer the next test as to the NDP's ability to convert its broader progress into Quebec seats. And if the NDP can indeed take a second Lib stronghold - this time with a candidate not named Mulcair - that momentum would figure to translate into a boost in national polls and commentary before long.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Strategic considerations

With the Libs' recent suggestion that they may consider opposing the Cons in the new year, not to mention some small signs of life in opposing Harper even now, it seems clear that an election could be in the making in the new year. But I'm surprised there hasn't been more attention drawn to the potential impact of the NDP's stand against the Cons' tax-slashing bill in setting up a confidence vote:
Apparently frustrated by the continuing debate over the measure, mostly headed by the NDP, the finance minister told reporters after question period that the Jan. 1 date for cutting the GST from six per cent to five per cent was in jeopardy.

"I said yesterday the bill was moving ahead and was likely to get through the House and Senate before Christmas, now we have the NDP blocking progress of the bill right in the House of Commons," he said...

NDP finance critic Thomas Mulcair called the finance minister's statement ''baloney,'' saying any tax measure can be implemented with the adoption of a ways and means motion. Flaherty's GST cut was announced in conjunction with a series of other tax reductions on Oct 30 and a ways and means motion was adopted in the House on Nov. 1.

Mulcair said his party will continue to oppose the tax implementation bill, even if it means the legislation will not be approved this year.

"Our objection is less with the one per cent GST cut than the across-the-board tax cut for corporations, which we think is going to be more destabilizing for our economy," he said, arguing that the tax cut will mostly benefit the oil patch.
So why does it matter if the tax-cutting bill is dealt with in the new year rather than now? Remember that two of the main concerns in voting down the Cons in the new year are the danger that this year's tax cuts might limit the money available for election spending promises, and the risk that a goodie-laden Con budget might help Harper's position going into an election.

But both of those problems are based on the tax implementation bill actually passing before the new year. If it doesn't, then there's a ready-made confidence vote awaiting the opposition long before the budget will come up for discussion. And if the Cons' efforts to drain the federal treasury don't come to fruition through the implementation bill, then there will be far more room for a campaign debate as to how best to apply federal resources while there are still some left to use.

Now, it may be that the Libs will be cowed into voting for the tax bill anyway, particularly given their unwillingness to stand up to it before. But at the very least, the NDP looks to have thought a couple of steps ahead of the Cons on the tax implementation bill, giving the opposition parties a needed chance to bring down Harper quickly in the new year. Which leaves only the question of whether they'll take that opening - or whether the Libs will once again play dead in the face of the Cons' agenda.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A measured agreement

A couple of weeks back, Dalton McGuinty and Jean Charest announced a plan to negotiate some regulatory harmonization which received comment here and elsewhere. The apparent consensus then was that the deal had the potential to turn into either a TILMA-style disaster, or a relatively reasonable means of addressing the ever-overblown issue of internal trade barriers.

Today, the Financial Post's Patrick Grady offers up the anti-government view on the talks. And from his reaction, it looks somewhat more likely that the McGuinty/Charest deal will fall into the latter category - if much to the chagrin of pro-corporate ideologues across the country.

Here's Grady's attempt to criticize the Ontario/Quebec announcement:
The TILMA between British Columbia and Alberta, the new gold standard for trade deals, addressed the two key generally recognized defects of the AIT, namely its lack of coverage and its ineffective dispute-settlement mechanism. The TILMA, unlike the AIT, includes all measures that restrict or impair the movement of goods, services and labour between the two provinces unless they are specifically excluded, and not just those specifically included. The TILMA also introduced a binding dispute-settlement mechanism, with easier access for private parties and significant monetary penalties (up to $5-million). Spurred by the TILMA, the Committee on Internal Trade is now also considering introducing monetary penalties to make the AIT dispute-settlement mechanism more effective. What exactly is Ontario and Quebec proposing to do to address these deficiencies in the AIT as it affects trade between them?...

(I)n contrast with the TILMA, which tackles regulatory barriers head on, the Ontario and Quebec governments only talk of eliminating "unnecessary" barriers and express their belief that "eliminating such barriers and restrictions can and must occur simultaneously with maintaining and enhancing governments' policies for labour, environmental and consumer protection standards, health, education, culture and regional economic development." This isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of the need to eliminate regulatory barriers and really isn't any more ambitious than the existing AIT.
Now, it speaks volumes about Grady's dedication to the anti-regulation cause that he's willing to criticize the Charest/McGuinty deal both for recognizing that there's a difference between necessary and unnecessary regulations, and for highlighting the continued need for provincial governments to be able to govern. And the fact that Grady simultaneously describes the TILMA as his "gold standard" should offer a strong hint that the TILMA itself does nothing of the sort.

Fortunately, it seems fairly likely from Grady's commentary that Canada's most populous provinces have indeed decided that an attack on the very concept of provincial regulation isn't in the cards. And if they end up sticking to that position, then the Harper Cons will be hard-pressed to try to force the TILMA onto the two provinces most crucial to their drive for a majority.

Monday, December 10, 2007

On mushiness

Just over a year ago, the Libs went through a convention which was supposed to offer a chance for party renewal. So let's take a look at just what kind of inspiring new vision they've managed to develop under their new leader. From David McGuinty in the Hill Times:
"When Mr. Dion kicks off the campaign, in due course, whenever that happens, I'm confident that he will present to the Canadian people the same kind of scenario and that is if you want to stop a right-wing Republican-like party, which is embedded in its Alliance Reform DNA, then you have to make the choice. You either have to vote for the Liberal Party of Canada who can form the government or you'll have to vote directly or indirectly to support the Conservative Party of Canada," said Mr. McGuinty.

"They [NDP] fear what they know is coming, which is ultimately a two-way race in Canadian society to decide whether they want a centrist party possibly even a centrist-left party, i.e., the Liberal Party of Canada, or do they want a right-wing party."
Now, the gap between words and actions is reason enough not to take the Libs seriously. After all, the same party which now plans to sell itself as devoted to "stopping" the Cons is also the one which has been deliberately propping up the Harper government since this fall's throne speech. And an opposition party trying to position itself as the comparatively left-wing option presumably shouldn't be egging a right-wing government on toward even more gratuitous corporate tax cuts than it already had planned.

But perhaps more interesting is McGuinty's choice to portray the Lib/Con dichotomy as centre-against-right - with "possibly even centre-left" seemingly tossed out as McGuinty's idea of a carrot for progressive voters.

From what I can tell, McGuinty is operating under the assumption that left-wing Canadians will be entirely happy to see a continued shift of Canada's political centre toward the right as left-of-centre ideas receive - at best - some "possible" role within the Libs. And of course, that effect can only be amplified by both the Libs' track record of shifting to the right in government, and their unwillingness to stand up to the Cons while in opposition.

Fortunately, voters aren't stuck taking McGuinty's word as to what options they'll have at the polls. And with the Libs having shown no sign of new ideas or new principles after their effort at internal renewal, a wholesale electoral shift to the NDP offers the best opportunity for a real countervailing force against the Cons - and the only option for a strong left-wing voice on the federal political scene.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On misdirection

It's been no secret that the Harper Cons developed a sudden allergy to accountability as soon as it could be aimed in their direction. But the last week offers two particularly blatant examples of the Cons' efforts to deceive their way out of trouble.

First, there was the story surrounding a climate change report which the Cons seem to have conveniently misplaced:
The federal government isn't secretly plotting to cover up its studies about the impacts of global warming across the country, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday.

"The government is not hiding any particular reports," Harper said in the Commons during question period. "This government is more than aware of the problem of climate change and this government has laid out in the throne speech the very precise actions and positions we are going to take to combat climate change, both here and internationally ... There's no conspiracy here."

Harper made the comments in response to revelations this week about internal government research from the Foreign Affairs Department along with a major Natural Resources Canada report that warned the government about regional impacts of climate change in the country and the importance of setting policies to avoid crossing a tipping point of irreversible damage to the earth's ecosystems. While the first research paper was obtained through an access to information request, the government has delayed the release of the second report that was expected to be made public last month...

Despite Harper's assurances, the government was unable to explain what happened to the second report.

"I have not seen the report, I only learned about it this morning," Environment Minister John Baird told a parliamentary committee. "It's a report commissioned by another department. The Department of Natural Resources, and I encourage you to put that question to the minister of natural resources."

Baird's comments came one day after Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn refused to answer questions about the study.

"I've seen it," Lunn said after question period on Monday. "But talk to John (Baird). He's our lead spokesman going into Bali, and he's aware of all those issues."
After such a blatant attempt at deflection, I'd think the Cons would at least be relatively hesitant to use the same strategy again. But it took a matter of only days before the Prime Minister's office itself was actively directing inquiries to a minister who had no intention of speaking about an issue - this time on the Cons' polling controversy:
Last Tuesday, following reports the government spent a record $31 million in 2006-07, Public Works Minister Michael Fortier stated in the Senate that the government, "effective today, will ask all its departments to refrain from using public funds for polls until further notice."

Hours later, his spokesman Jacques Gagnon clarified that a moratorium was merely under consideration.

Within 24 hours, Gagnon had a different story for the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, or MRIA, which represents Canada's polling industry.

In an advisory to its corporate membership obtained by The Canadian Press, the association reported it had been in contact with Gagnon as well as Laurent Marcoux, the director general of the government's Public Opinion Research Directorate.

Gagnon told the MRIA's government lobbyist on Wednesday that the Tories "had no intention of proceeding with a moratorium on public opinion research," said the advisory from Brendan Wycks, association executive director.

And on Thursday, Wycks himself was informed by Marcoux that "Prime Minister Harper and Minister Fortier had decided the government definitely would not be placing a moratorium on public opinion research."...

Asked to clarify matters, Harper's spokeswoman directed inquries to Fortier, who declined to be interviewed. His spokesman also would not speak to The Canadian Press by phone.
It's not clear whether the Cons are deliberately pointing the media toward known dead ends, or whether it's simply a matter of internal policy to deflect questions to another department in order to buy time.

But one way or another, it's clear yet again that the media's time would be far better spent challenging Con suggestions and directions rather than accepting them. And the more obvious it becomes that the Cons are trying to play their media questioners for suckers, the more reason those same questioners will have to cast the Cons' honesty into doubt when public opinion matters most.


John Baird's latest excuse excuse for deferring to Bushco's refusal to accept any emission reduction targets is that an "environmental Armageddon" could result if a deal doesn't rein in emissions for the U.S.

The statement will be worth tucking away for the next time the Cons try to pretend that global warming isn't really a problem worth dealing with at all. But if taken at face value, it only highlights the dishonesty of the Cons' bargaining position.

After all, how could Baird's own dire prediction possibly be averted by Canada's refusal to allow a deal to happen at all? And if global emission reductions are indeed needed to avoid "Armageddon", why would Canada have any hesitation in agreeing to reductions of its own?

Update: More from Steve V on the incoherence of Baird's position.