Saturday, June 14, 2008

Questionable motivations

Impolitical points out another interesting aspect of today's Bernier spin, as Con sources have tried to at least hint that Julie Couillard could have deliberately taken the documents which she later returned. But it's worth noting that any truth to that allegation would seem to invite an extensive investigation into the precise questions which the Cons have tried to label as irrelevant so far.

After all, that scenario would provide an obvious answer to the question of why Canadians should be concerned about Couillard's past. If Couillard's connections raised any possibility that she would have been interested in doing what the Cons seem to be alleging, then there's every need for answers about what the Cons knew about her background and why they chose to disregard any risks.

Moreover, while the new line seems aimed at shifting some blame away from Bernier by making Couillard out to be the villain, it's hard to see how the scenario looks any better for him. To date, the Cons' line has been that the lone reason for Bernier's resignation was his carelessness in leaving documents at Couillard's home on one occasion. And regardless of any nefarious motivations involved, Bernier's document management looks to be in issue: it would seemingly be a serious problem whether he left the documents behind himself, or merely didn't notice they were missing after they were taken.

But the latest allegations would also call into question Bernier's personal judgment throughout his involvement with Couillard. And that would lead directly into questions about how the relationship between the two developed, why Bernier didn't notice anything amiss, and whether any other documents were compromised.

My guess is that the Cons will have little choice but to shift back to their original line in order to minimize the type of investigation needed. But if they really plan to try to discredit Couillard by insinuating that she may have been out to manipulate Bernier all along, then they'll have to face plenty of questions about why they didn't show any of the same suspicion when Couillard actually had access to sensitive information.

An incredible witness

Shorter David Frum:
I can't believe a congressional subcommittee was anything less than bowled over by my attempts to minimize the harm Bushco has done to the U.S.' international reputation. Why, I nearly brought myself to tears.


This time last month, Maxime Bernier was Stephen Harper's hand-picked emissary to represent Canada's interests to the world. Now, the Cons apparently don't even trust him to say for himself that he has no useful information about the circumstances of his ouster from cabinet:
Conservative MP Maxime Bernier did not know he left classified documents at the home of former girlfriend Julie Couillard in April and has no memory of the mistake that cost him his job as foreign affairs minister, Conservative sources said yesterday.

The sources said Mr. Bernier will have little information to provide the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade review of the security breach.

“He doesn't remember forgetting them, that's the question,” one source said. “He doesn't know if he forgot them or if it's her who would have taken them. That's why he doesn't want to say anything and he's waiting for the review to do its work.”
Of course, given Bernier's track record it's easy to understand why the Cons would fear that he'll embarrass himself even in merely stating what he did and didn't know. But surely that obvious reason for concern only makes it all the more appalling that the Cons didn't see any problem having Bernier speak for Canada as a whole - nor anybody in their party more competent to do so.

Friday, June 13, 2008


I won't go into detail about the Cons' copyright legislation for now, as Michael Geist and others are thoroughly eviscerating it already. But I'll take a moment to point out what strikes me as the most obvious sign of the bill's complete lack of balance between consumers and copyright owners.

The excuse for a personal-use exemption within C-61 is found in section 17, which provides for an extensive laundry list of factors which a consumer has to prove in order to be entitled to transfer a work to a different medium for their own use. Among those is a requirement that no "technological measures" be circumvented to enable the copying to take place.

Now, one could make the case that consumers have a choice as to what works to buy, such that anybody concerned about being able to make use of the personal use exemption in order to copy works to a different medium can simply make sure not to buy protected works.

But that depends on some information being available as to what technological measures are - and aren't - included on a given work. And glaringly lacking from the bill is any obligation on distributors of copyrighted works to actually give notice of any technological measures before a consumer buys the work to begin with. (Indeed, the only part of the bill which discusses notice to consumers is with respect to media which collect a consumer's personal information - and even then the consumer's only remedy is statutory permission to try to find an otherwise-banned means of circumventing the technology involved to stop the data from being collected.)

As a result, consumers don't figure to have any opportunity to make an informed choice. Instead, distributors can put copy protection on a product without any warning, and then rely on the hidden restrictions to prevent the consumer from legally making even personal use of the work in another medium.

Now, that particular imbalance is far from the biggest issue with C-61: merely requiring some notice of any technological measures on a work would be a relatively small fix compared to the size of the general problems with the bill. But from what I can tell, it offers a perfect symbol for the mindset behind the bill: while consumers are faced with onerous obligations to avoid doing anything which could possibly infringe on copyright, the beneficiaries of those obligations aren't required to even let consumers know which of the restrictions apply before taking their money. Which is why C-61 shouldn't be headed anywhere other than back to the drawing board.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One of our least precious resources

Sure, any reasonable observer of yesterday's residential school apology would recognize that the driving force behind our national shame was a bigoted view that some cultures should be suppressed or outright eradicated in order to preserve what was then perceived as mainstream. But count on Blogging Tory Hunter to somehow respond to the apology by declaring that Canada ought to value its First Nations people primarily as an excuse to keep out immigrants.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Our continued national disgrace

Shorter Pierre Poilievre:
I can assure everybody that the Con government is just as sincere about today's statement on residential schools as it was about its last high-profile public apology.

Update: More from the CP. And lest the Cons try to distance themselves from Poilievre's comments, now might be a good time to remember their own description of Poilievre as "known to stick strictly and strongly to the party line".

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Weakness in numbers

Blogging Horse lists the Lib MPs who were nowhere to be found when the Libs had an opportunity to put a stop to the Cons' immigration changes. But while it's worth pointing out the names involved, it's more important to remember which party it was that instructed them to avoid doing their jobs.

In that respect, it may be worth pointing out that for the budget vote - as for many of the other votes where the Libs have allowed the Cons to have their way - Dion seems to have left plenty of room for error. While only a dozen Libs were allowed to participate, the bill passed by a margin of 30 votes.

Which leads me to wonder why Dion has instructed dozens more MPs to stand down than would have been required based on the actual number of members in the House. Was it a matter of concern that the Cons would take a dive on the vote to bring themselves down? Or was it based on the risk that given a vote close enough to count, some of his own MPs who are agitating for an election might break ranks and topple Harper?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Foul polling

It's bad enough when pollsters limit Canadians' perceived choices by omission - for example, by only collecting full leadership data about Harper and Dion. But Decima Harris's latest poll for the CP not only does the same with questions about the parties involved, but manages to take a couple more steps in the wrong direction by actively pushing for results which would exclude the NDP, Greens and Bloc in favour of the false dichotomy - then spinning those results to say something they don't:
A polarized electorate may be tilting toward the federal Liberals at the expense of Stephen Harper's Conservative government, a new poll suggested Monday.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey compared attitudes toward the Tories and Liberals in a head-to-head, two-party format. The telephone poll of just over 1,000 Canadians found that 44 per cent of respondents said they'd prefer a Liberal government after the next election, compared with 37 per cent who preferred the Conservatives...

Since the 2006 election, the Conservatives "have not been able to enlarge their tent," said Harris-Decima president Bruce Anderson - notwithstanding a generally strong economy, fat government coffers and the incumbent's opportunity to control the agenda.

"If anything, the leaning and the second-choice support profile of Canadians is disproportionately headed in the direction of the Liberals right now," said Anderson.

He said the poll, conducted Thursday through Sunday, was premised on the idea of a sharply polarized election campaign in which the ballot question becomes a stark choice between the incumbent Tories and the only practical alternative.
Now, it's bizarre enough that the poll would be premised on limiting what "practical alternatives" voters have.

But the analysis manages to get even worse than the poll itself. After all, the numbers don't deal at all with actual "leaning" or "second choice" support (which would be exactly where the parties other than the Cons and Libs would have a chance to make up ground). And the poll didn't ask whether respondents were actually willing to vote for either the Libs or Cons - merely which would be the least distasteful of the two if no other options existed.

Having already limited respondents' choices for no apparent reason, though, Anderson then manages to pretend that a question where the Libs (or Cons) could be labeled as the preferred option based on being a respondent's fourth choice out of five says anything about their actual potential to win votes.

Fortunately, there's no indication that voters are in fact prepared to accept the assumption that their only choices are Harper and the non-opposition which has propped him up. And with the Cons and Libs thoroughly botching their respective government and opposition roles, there should be plenty of reason for Canadians to decide that the only practical option is to demand better than both.

On creative ideas

Following up on yesterday's post about what the NDP can do to challenge the Cons on gas prices, I should note that the concept of a contest is hardly a new idea for the party. But the most recent similar effort looks to have left only a small amount of room for creativity. And as a party which is looking to take on the mantle of leading a united opposition against the Cons, the NDP should be looking for all kinds of different messages and ways of expressing them, rather than limiting the scope of its contests to a single, party-designed catchphrase and concept.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Of media and messages

Robert offers his suggestion as to what the NDP could do to stake out their own territory in reply to the Cons' carbon tax attacks on the Libs. And I agree entirely that the NDP should be pointing out at every opportunity that it's the Cons who have repeatedly declared their refusal to do anything about the same high gas prices which they now want to use a a weapon against the Libs.

But while I largely agree with the substance, I'd argue that there's also an important opportunity to criticize the Cons' method of delivering their ads. After all, the Cons' campaign seems to be based on the assumption that it's worth trying to repeat their attack on the Libs a few more times at the expense of further irritating Canadians who are already annoyed with the prices at the pumps.

Rather than choosing the same route, I'd think the NDP is probably best served aiming its message through less-intrusive media which attack not only the current high gas prices, but also the Cons' decision to nag consumers:

"It was bad enough when Stephen Harper told you he wouldn't do anything about high gas prices. But just when you thought filling up your car couldn't get any more painful, Harper's Conservatives started lecturing you as well.

We say you've suffered enough punishment at the pumps. Join Canada's NDP."

Of course, even better would be to focus less on top-down messaging and more on creative, individual involvement - or at least add a separate, grassroots-driven component to get people thinking and talking. Maybe a photo/video contest for individuals' ideas as to how to tell the Harper government that prices are too high?

Update: Meanwhile, Stageleft's suggestion as to how consumers can respond to the Cons' ads is definitely worth a look.

On pushback

It didn't receive the attention it probably deserved when first announced. But in another sign of just how politically toxic the federal Cons are at the moment, one of the provincial governments which had previously been seen as relatively friendly to Harper's regime is now organizing opposition to a corporate giveaway which the Cons would presumably prefer to keep away from the public eye:
New Brunswick is calling for a united front of provinces and territories to oppose Ottawa’s plan to extend the patent life on a number of popular and costly prescription medications.

Health Minister Mike Murphy said Thursday that generic drugs save provincial drug programs millions and he accused the federal Conservative government of bowing to the "greed" of the brand-name drug industry.

"There is only so much greed that can be supported with regard to this industry," he said in a statement in the New Brunswick legislature.

Murphy also described the move as "a cash grab" by big drug companies...

Murphy said New Brunswick spent $14.5 million last year on just three brand-name drugs for which generic versions may be delayed.

He said Ottawa’s new regulations, which would postpone some generics by at least two years, would cost the province an additional $4 million per year.
Murphy's current push looks to be aimed at building a united front at the provincial and territorial level. But there shouldn't be much doubt that there will be at least one national voice also working to keep prescription drug costs affordable - not just by pushing back against the latest attempt to hand out freebies to brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers, but also by leading the charge for the universal access to prescription drugs which the provinces have already agreed to pursue.

While the NDP looks to have another opportunity to build connections at the provincial and territorial level, the effect for the Cons is just the opposite. Instead, the evergreening issue also offers yet another example of how the Cons' corporate giveaways are damaging the interests of Canada's provinces. And the less shy the provinces are about making that case, the more likely they'll be able to look forward to a federal government whose goals better match their own.

(H/t to contratianna at Babble.)