Saturday, February 14, 2009

Leadership 2009 - Week In Review, February 14

The NDP leadership race was somewhat quieter this week than the previous few, with only a couple of developments worth highlighting.

First off, Lorne Calvert's announcement that he'll be leaving the Legislature at the end of June may subtly affect the race in a couple of ways. First, the Saskatoon Riverside seat which Calvert is vacating would seem to be an ideal fit for Ryan Meili - though it doesn't look like the nomination will go uncontested.

Perhaps more significantly, though, the announcement that Calvert won't be around to mentor a new leader could raise the stakes when it comes to leadership experience. Of course, any new leader will still be surrounded by a number of MLAs with a track record in cabinet as well as plenty of resources within the party. But a longer transition period could have helped to ease a new leader into the role - while Calvert's early departure may result in some greater concern as to whether the next leader can hit the ground running.

The second main development which I'd discussed earlier was Dwain Lingenfelter's press conference to allege political interference in SaskEnergy's gas purchasing policies. So far, the accusation has mostly played out as a sparring match between Lingenfelter and Brad Wall - but as much as the other candidates would surely prefer to stick to their own themes and narratives, they'll need to find some way to inject their own messages into media coverage if Lingenfelter can keep himself in the headlines with similar stories.

Edit: fixed title.


As Greg points out, the Libs' apparent unwillingness to discuss anything to do with Cadscam looks awfully suspicious. So let's compare the Libs' apparent position with what might have been expected in assessing the outcome of the Cons' strategy to suppress a scandal.

Here's Ralph Goodale's response to a question about Pierre Poilievre's latest smear of Tom Zytaruk in Parliament:
Outside the Commons Friday, Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said he could not comment, because the terms of the Liberals' settlement of the lawsuit preclude him from discussing the case.

“Mr. Poilievre, presumably using the protection of parliamentary privilege, made some remarks. Perhaps he should be pressed to explain himself,” Mr. Goodale said.
Now, one of the main unanswered questions about the settlement was just what it was that the Libs had agreed not to talk about. And the more likely prospect also seemed to be the more palatable one: that any agreement limiting the Libs' ability to do their job as the opposition would extend only to the specific bribery accusation that gave rise to Harper's defamation lawsuit, rather than rendering the Libs unable to comment on a matter of public interest.

But from Goodale's response, the opposite appears to be true. While the contents of Zytaruk's tape and other questions about the Cons' offers to Cadman were public issues before any of the statements which gave rise to the lawsuit, the Libs are apparently operating under the assumption that Cadscam as a whole - which of course is far from being resolved - is included in what they've agreed not to discuss. Which raises a serious concern about why an opposition party would agree to those kinds of terms.

And that goes doubly when one notes that Goodale himself recognizes a significant need for Poilievre and the Cons to be held to account for their continued attacks on Zytaruk. It would seem virtually impossible to reconcile the view that Poilievre "should be pressed to explain himself" with an agreement not to make that happen - particularly coming from a party which is otherwise bleating about the need for accountability to originate from opposition benches.

Of course, there isn't much anybody else can do to reverse the Libs' bad choices. But now that their ineffective opposition extends beyond propping up the Harper government to agreeing not to raise subjects which the Cons find inconvenient, there should be all the more motivation to make sure the responsibility to hold the Cons in check is held by a party which is up for the task.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Night Musical Interlude

Some Tiesto to kick off the long weekend.

This time with feeling

Let's note that the Libs' 50th vote to prop up the Cons may have differed from some of the earlier ones in at least one respect: in contrast to the grudging resignation that accompanied Stephane Dion's capitulations, Michael Ignatieff is apparently downright enthusiastic about supporting Deceivin' Stephen. Here's ottawaobserver at babble:
Anyone who was just watching the 2nd reading vote on the Budget Implementation Bill was treated to the scene of Michael Ignatieff being in such a hurry to support the budget, that he jumped up to vote yes before even the Conservatives could.

I hope they clip that video and play it over and over again!

50 and counting

The Libs' streak of confidence votes where they've propped up the Harper government has now reached 50. But let's be fair: on a grand total of two of those votes (both involving Bloc sub-amendments), they weren't alone among the national parties - so the half-century mark for the Libs keeping Harper in power on their own is still to come.

On sorry excuses

Kady's liveblog of the Public Accounts committee may not have intended to focus on the First Nations issues set out in a report on child and family services by the Auditor General. But even dealing with that issue only in passing, her account offers a stunning indictment of the Cons' cluelessness:
Meanwhile, the government members keep wanting to go back to The Residential Schools Apology, and how it made everything better, which, when you think about it, would be a question better posed to a First Nations person than bureaucrat.
Now, it's probably true to say that to the extent the apology may have had an impact, that would probably be better determined by asking the people actually on the receiving end of the apology. But under the circumstances, it's asinine to try to claim that a symbolic apology would have "made everything better".

Indeed, the report mentions the residential school system in passing as only one of the factors in the disruption of First Nations families. The Auditor General's focus was on a multitude of factors affecting the well-being of children on reserves, including socio-economic conditions, jurisdiction, program design and availability of services - all of which would be within the purview of the federal government.

But apparently the Cons' talking points don't involve any interest in how their party is actually handling the substantive issues facing First Nations. (Which would be an equally easy source of softball questions if they had done anything which they believed to be worth highlighting.)

Instead, they've apparently been told to try to pretend that a single symbolic moment should somehow negate any need to deal with the actual challenges - presumably the better to lay the groundwork for a future claim that it's not worth bothering. And that should speak volumes about how little the Cons think should be done to improve the conditions facing First Nations at the moment.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Safe bet

Having laughably cited a couple of shuffled deck chairs as evidence that the Cons are being less partisan, the Globe and Mail will fail to report that Darrel Reid's promotion should be taken as an indication of increased wingnuttiness.

Inequity for all

Earlier this week, I discussed how the Con/Lib attack on pay equity will affect non-unionized employees. Today, Dr. Dawg completes the picture by explaining how unions and their represented employees will be affected:
(T)his is placing federal public service unions in an impossible position. Unions are to be made equally responsible with employers in achieving pay equity at the bargaining table. But, as we all know, the two parties are not on a level playing field. One party can, if arduous conditions are met, go out on strike--assuming that pay equity is a strikeable issue among the membership. The other can bring far more pressure to bear, up to and including back-to-work legislation. Yet, if an individual decides to bring a successful complaint of her own outside the collective bargaining process--a complaint that unions are to be prevented from backing--the union could be held jointly liable.

To add insult to injury, Treasury Board chief Victor Toews is weeping crocodile tears at the moment about the costs and delays inherent in the current process. Those costs and delays, of course, have arisen precisely because Treasury Board, under both Conservative and Liberal administrations, has traditionally fought pay equity complaints every step of the way, spending millions of the taxpayers' money to do so.
Read it all if you haven't already.

On interventions

Naturally, yesterday's revelations about how the Sask Party may have driven up energy bills through political interference in SaskEnergy can't pass without comment. But it's far too soon to say for sure exactly what may or may not have happened in terms of Sask Party intervention. So let's stick to two points which would seem to be beyond dispute: first, the decision which was actually made by SaskEnergy, and second, Dwain Lingenfelter's choice to make the issue public.

Here's what apparently happened with SaskEnergy's supply contracts:
Lingenfelter said the Crown corporation’s decision to lock in a majority of its gas supply last summer when natural gas prices were at an historic high had cost ratepayers $55 million in comparison to spot prices as natural gas costs have tumbled.

And the former deputy premier alleged that the move was made against the advice of SaskEnergy officials at the behest of Crown Investments Corp. (CIC) vice-president Iain Harry, a former communications director of the Saskatchewan Party Opposition and former special adviser to Wall as premier.
SaskEnergy rates of $8.51 a gigajoule since Oct. 1 have been generally higher than the market price for natural gas — currently around $4.50 a gigajoule — but Cheveldayoff said that was a circumstance of timing.

“What happened last year was that we had very high prices in the middle of summer. SaskEnergy traditionally hedges in the middle of summer and it was looking like prices would continue to rise at that time,” said Cheveldayoff...
What stands out to me about SaskEnergy's decision isn't the question of whether there was any political interference in the actual hedging, but instead the fact that it relies on a complete disconnect between SaskEnergy's interests and those of the province.

After all, it's well known that increased oil and gas prices had boosted the province's coffers to the point where Wall and his party didn't even know what to do with all the money at their disposal. So it would seem to have been a relatively easy matter for the province to coordinate with SaskEnergy to ensure that increases in market prices didn't have to be passed along to Saskatchewan residents who couldn't afford them.

But then, keeping utility rates affordable is apparently seen as part of the NDP's brand rather than the Sask Party's. Which means that SaskEnergy instead saw a need to enter into a hedging transaction which led to a twisted set of risks and rewards for the province at large.

If prices had indeed kept going up, then the hedging would have provided a benefit at the least useful time possible, adding more money to the pile which the Sask Party still hadn't figured out how to deal with. But instead, the precipitous drop in prices meant that SaskEnergy took a loss from the hedging transaction just as Saskatchewan's economy slowed down and the provincial balance sheet started to look precarious again.

In other words, while the early purchases may have been seen as mitigating risks within SaskEnergy as a distinct entity, they also served as a risk amplifier for the province as a whole. And the fact that Saskatchewan citizens are seeing the downside of that move should offer a reminder of the dangers of a view that detaches our Crowns from the best interests of the province generally.

Turning to how Lingenfelter's announcement will affect the leadership race, I'd draw two main points from the intervention - one a significant positive, the other less so.

On the plus side, Lingenfelter is apparently avoiding the usual front-runner's trap of simply trying to keep his head down and coast to the finish line. Instead, he seems to be entirely willing to take some political risks - which in turn should make the race more lively and more likely to find its way into the public consciousness.

The flip side, though, is that it may be a concern that Lingenfelter's first major public presentation since his competitors entered the race was aimed at criticizing procedure by the Wall government, rather than drawing any principled lines in either the leadership race or the wider political scene. While there can't be much doubt that all of the contestants will get their shots in at the Sask Party, the NDP ultimately needs more of a unifying vision than "tear down that Wall" - and if Lingenfelter plans to focus his efforts in the leadership race on opposition rather than party development, that figures to hurt both his chances in the race and the party's chances of renewal.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Deep thought

Surely a responsible pollster would suppress any result which doesn't conform to expectations in order to preserve public confidence in their accuracy and completeness.

As predicted

Long before the Libs made their choice to keep propping up the Harper government, Paul Wells noted that the Cons weren't about to let the concept of a coalition go away even if Michael Ignatieff did try to distance himself from the one actually agreed to last year. And in yesterday's reporting on Omar Khadr, we saw the first hints as to how Con-friendly media will keep the Cons' talking points front and centre.

Here's Kelly McParland introducing the opposition leaders' joint letter regarding Khadr:
The little-loved coalition has revived itself in support of Omar Khadr, the Canadian held at Guantanamo Bay.
And from Don Martin:
That vilified coalition of the three opposition parties staged a family reunion of sorts yesterday, demanding U. S. President Barack Obama immediately free Canadian Omar Khadr from his six-year imprisonment in the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.

The Liberal, New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois party leaders all put their signatures to paper, regrouping to argue their position as the majority of MPs in the House of Commons.
Now, it's worth noting that the attempt to link opposition cooperation to a coalition has no basis in reality. The same three parties worked together on an issue-by-issue basis in the last Parliament without the slightest intention to form a coalition government, and the possibility of a coalition forming is no less remote today.

(Not to mention of course that the Bloc was never to be part of a coalition government, which further highlights the lack of any connection between the proposed coalition and the current opposition cooperation. But that fact already seems to have been edited out of the history books.)

It does seem clear though that regardless of the accuracy or lack thereof, at least some portions of the media will see reason to write about a "little-loved", "vilified" coalition every time the opposition parties so much as agree on a lunch order. And that will pose some interesting choices for the Libs and the NDP.

Having passed up the opportunity to shift the focus from the theoretical possibility of a coalition to the reality, the Libs will now face an entirely unpalatable choice of main options.

On the one hand, they can choose to play dead in Parliament once again so as to avoid a constant association between themselves and the idea of coalition which they apparently see as poisoned. But that of course involves not only giving the Harper government both exactly what it wants politically, but also willingly taking on the Dion brand of ineffective opposition.

On the other hand, they can take up the task of defending the concept of coalition in principle in order to justify any steps they might take to actually oppose the Cons. But that many only raise all the more questions about why they didn't follow through in practice - particularly as Canadians continue to suffer from ineffective Con government.

Either way, the Libs figure to spend an awful lot of time trying to explain their own choices rather than being able to focus all that clearly on the Cons. And that only figures to help let Harper off the hook for his own failures.

Meanwhile, the NDP will face a challenging dilemma as well. Having spent the better part of the last two months spreading the word about a multi-party solution while mostly ignoring direct attacks, it now has plenty of work to do in trying to restore Jack Layton's public impressions to their usual levels. And for the moment, it looks to be trying to put the focus back on its effective work in Parliament in order to turn the page on the events of the last couple of months.

But if the Cons and their media allies aren't about to let talk of a coalition die down, then the NDP's most obvious means to turn that into a plus is to appeal to the broader pool of coalition-friendly voters by playing up its own role in creating an alternative to Harper (and the Libs' weakness in not following through). Which may make for a choice between the relatively safe route of trying to move back to the branding the NDP has set up over the last few election cycles, or an all-or-nothing push to try to unite the left under the NDP's tent.

Whatever happens, there doesn't seem to be much reason to doubt that the now-defunct coalition will continue to affect the opposition parties' choices going forward. And it's probably not too early to suggest that both the Libs and the NDP would be better off if Ignatieff had recognized that reality before he decided to leave the Cons in power.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On growth industries

In fairness to the Cons, let's note that not every industry has suffered under Deficit Jim and Recession Stephen. After all, manufacturers of partisan trinkets have presumably never been so profitable.

The fine print

Following up on my posts this weekend, Paul Wells points out a couple more examples of significant legislative changes which the Cons are looking to force through in the Con/Lib budget:
• Competition law. “The last profound reform of this law was more than 20 years ago and resulted from years of consultation,” Manon writes. “The government’s current project is nearly as substantial. The amendments cover 31 pages and are highly complex. The fact that they will be adopted without real study frustrates those who have been suggesting changes for years, like the Liberal MP Dan McTeague.”
• Foreign investment: a new, high and rising threshold for investment review, with government given a veto over acquisitions in cases of “national security.”
Now, it should be obvious that there's absolutely no need to tie such fundamental changes to any stimulus package. But it'll take a strong stand from the Libs to keep them from ramming these changes through. And since we've seen no sign of that to date, it's looking all too likely that much of Harper's economic agenda will end up being pushed through thanks to the Libs' continued ineffectiveness.

On global solutions

For those looking for some good news out of Ottawa, the NDP has reintroduced its Climate Change Accountability Act which made it through the House but not the Senate last year. And it looks to have already provoked a downright comical reaction from the Cons:
Mr. James Bezan (Selkirk—Interlake, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, today the NDP proposed to reintroduce a climate change bill that would see Canada abandon our shared targets with the United States. This would put in jeopardy our plan for a joint North American climate change strategy.

Could the Minister of the Environment comment on how the bill would adversely affect the global fight against climate change?

Hon. Jim Prentice (Minister of the Environment, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, let me compliment my friend on his reasoned language and on his chairmanship of the environment committee of the House.

The NDP bill would have Canada diverge dramatically from the common targets that our government has put forward and that President Obama has put forward. The NDP would lead us down a path toward isolation that would exacerbate the economic downturn.

The NDP clearly does not get it. Everyone agrees that we need climate change policies that are measured to work together in partnership with other members of the international community.

For our part, we will continue to work with the new U.S. administration on this task. I encourage opposition parties to do the same.
Now, it's easy enough to dispense with the main apparent criticism of the bill: nothing in the NDP's legislation would do anything to rule out or undermine any bilateral process. What it would do instead is to bring Canada back in line with the broader international effort which the Cons have ignored in favour of trying to tie themselves to lower U.S. standards.

And that's where the Cons' staged question and answer get all the more laughable. While both Bezan and Prentice try to cloud the issue by tossing in terms which imply a broader effort, both make it clear that the Cons' real focus is solely on a two-country which ignores the work being done around the world.

Of course, the Cons have also made no secret of their desire to build in language to exclude the greatest polluters from even that limited framework. And that offers yet another obvious hole in the Cons' claim: as much as they try to pretend to be working on common ground with Obama, the reality is that the new U.S. administration hasn't shown any sign of buying the Cons' excuses.

Which means that the real choice is to engage with the U.S. along with the rest of the world - which the NDP's longer-term targets would make possible - or to keep clinging to the hope that Obama will be as irresponsible as his predecessor. And the fact that the Cons can manage to be sanctimonious about the latter choice may signal that they haven't yet come to terms with just how alone Canada may be in the world as long as Harper remains in charge.

Scary thought for the day

From Lawrence Cannon:
Mr. Wayne Marston (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, every other country that had nationals in Guantanamo fulfilled their basic obligations and got them out, every country but Canada.

Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler says that attempts over the past year and a half to speak to senior officials at the Prime Minister's office or in the Department of Justice or the Department of Public Safety have met with the same closed door. This is no way to treat a Canadian.

Will the Prime Minister commit today to raise the issue of Omar Khadr when he meets with President Obama next week?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, officials in my department have carried out regular discussions with both the defence and the prosecution in this case. I also want to point out that consular services have been offered to this individual. He is being treated as any other Canadian citizen in detention would be treated.
Now, it seems fairly obvious that Cannon is far off base. But considering the lengths the Cons have gone to in refusing to assist Khadr, how damning would his claim be if it's true?

Journamalism 101

Pop quiz: when a government makes a show of promoting "a former Reformer working in the office of Human Resources Minister Diane Finley" who "previously worked for Treasury Board President Vic Toews" as an example of their being less partisan than before, what should be the theme of any reporting on the story?

(a) Government non-partisan! Government conciliatory! Government focused on policy!
(b) Government spinning like a top! Government still beyond belief!

Update: Keep in mind, the penalty for an incorrect answer is due mockery by Scott Feschuk.

On loyalties

The Star reports on the latest developments in the ongoing Patrick Brazeau saga today. But while its article focuses on the fact that Stephen Harper was well aware of the sexual harassment complaint against Brazeau before appointing him to the Senate, I'd have to think there's another bigger issue raised by the latest story.

After all, in March 2008 Brazeau's core responsibility was to represent the interests of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, and he wouldn't appear to have had any formal affiliation with the Cons (despite the obvious links between them). So why would be have been effectively reporting to Harper already at that time?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Time to be heard

John has a great post up on how the U.S. media conglomerates are looking to use the stimulus bill as an opportunity to tighten corporate control over the Internet south of the border. Which makes for an excellent opportunity for a reminder that we're coming up to another deadline for submissions to the CRTC as to whose rules and interests will take precedence in Canada's online community.


Remember when the prospect of six-figure job losses was considered a grave warning of the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rather than just another month in the life of Deficit Jim?

Nickel and dimed

Shorter Tony Clement:

Our attempt to require Xstrata to preserve 700 jobs as a condition of taking over Falconbridge hit a teensy little snag when Xstrata figured out that we wouldn't actually enforce the deal. But now that Xstrata claims it will preserve less than half that number, the remaining workers should have no reason to worry.

On neutral parties

At least one Lib blogger has tried to justify Carolyn Bennett's attacks on Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page by suggesting that Page is intruding on the traditional role of the official opposition. It would be easy enough to respond that if the Libs were concerned with a public perception that they're not really opposing the Cons, they might want to look first at what they themselves are doing in propping up the Harper government. But let's look a bit more closely at the role of the PBO to see why there shouldn't be much reason for concern.

Here's what seems to me to be the central part of James Bowie's argument:
Criticizing the government, identifying the flaws in its policies, and making public statements in those areas is the traditional role of the opposition. Having another body of people performing that same job and identifying that body as "independent" can only serve to make the opposition itself (whatever party it may happen to be) less credible. The Library of Parliament is very dangerously becoming the perverted stepmother of the opposition benches, encroaching on the opposition's mandate and usurping their legitimacy as the authoritative critics of the government.
The problem with this view is that it misstates the role of the PBO. Kevin Page's description doesn't involve "criticizing the government, identifying the flaws in its policies, and making public statements in those areas".

Instead, it involves independent research and analysis of the country's finances, on an ongoing basis and based on specific requests from parliamentarians. And in addition to providing information to all parties, that role inherently includes some potential in principle to bolster or undercut the arguments of any party in Parliament depending on the context of any given report. So to the extent the Libs may be concerned with constraints on future governments, the simple answer is that if they generate reasonable budgets, the office could prove to be an ally rather than an enemy.

Of course, Kevin Page's actual statements have tended to be less than flattering for the Harper government. But the main reason for that is a problem with the Cons, not with Page's office: when a government is operating based on implausible assumptions and incomplete disclosure, it would seem impossible for any analysis to avoid pointing those factors out by contrast.

And there wouldn't figure to be much to be gained by pushing Page out of the picture and letting the Libs try to make the same arguments for themselves without a supporting analysis. After all, the nature of a partisan system is that one party's criticisms of another tend to be given relatively little weight (and to be counterbalanced by accusations sent in the other direction). Given that reality, it's hard to see who but the party with the largest megaphone would benefit from eliminating a means for the public to try to assess who's actually in the right.

Which means again that the Libs should be building off of Page's analysis as part of their own case why the Cons shouldn't be left in office - not attacking the PBO as a competing form of opposition. And hopefully the end result will be a government more responsible than the one we're stuck with now.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Deep thought

The Libs who said that they'd deal with the Cons' attacks on pay equity when the time came seem awfully quiet now that the time has come.

On vote suppression

Good catch by Chrystal in pointing out just how many eligible votes might have been lost to new identification requirements in 2008. But it's worth comparing that number to one of the main narratives following from the election.

For all the hand-wringing about decreased turnout as a sign of voter apathy, Chrystal's numbers would suggest that nearly two-thirds of the decrease from the 2006 election actually resulted from the voter ID requirements. Which means that the issue may have been less whether citizens cared enough to vote, and more the fact that every party in Parliament other than the NDP deliberately made it harder to do so.

Off target

While the Cons are back to their usual habits, it looks like the Libs are outright regressing. Rather than pointing out any of the problems with the Cons' budget, they're instead attacking one of the few institutions which has managed to shed some light on the Harper government's manipulations.

Now, this is far from the first time the Libs have taken a bizarre stand against government transparency from opposition benches. And as in the case of the Accountability Act when the Cons first took power, it appears that the Libs are eager to allow the Cons a free pass for now if it means less checks on their own actions in a future government.

But the difference now is that Harper has joined the Libs in the fight against oversight - and has had several years of experience in taking advantage of the secrecy which the Libs are so eager to preserve. Which means that if the Libs don't remind themselves soon that they're still in opposition and start choosing their targets accordingly, they may end up strengthening Harper's hand even further.


It's been laughable enough to see the Cons' attempt to paint themselves as willing to work with the opposition parties taken as fact by media and Libs alike in the absence of any real evidence that the Harper government plans to do anything but resume strongarming the Libs into submission. But Ted Menzies' latest should put any doubt to rest:
The Conservative government will not agree to any more budget amendments but it's keeping its options open to inject more stimuli later this year.

"In this budget we're not going to accept any amendments and why should we," said MP Ted Menzies, parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance.
Now, the obvious answer is that the Cons have just unveiled a 551-page monster of a budget bill which is laden with problematic content - some of which was at best hinted at in the Cons' budget motion, and some of which is completely new.

But Menzies has given notice the Cons won't even consider the idea that a single provision in their mammoth budget bill should be subject to review or negotiation. Which would seem to be as strong an indication as possible that the Cons are back to their usual shove-it-down-their-throat style of government - leaving only the question of whether the Libs will once again be happy to play along.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


Not surprisingly, the pay equity portion of Deficit Jim's budget bill looks to be one of the more significant flashpoints. But let's look at a couple of the ways in which these provisions are even worse than one might have expected based on the Cons' usual distaste for pay equity.

First, the premise of any pay equity assessment is that one of the two main factors under consideration is the employer's - such that any inequity in an employee's "market value" can and should be duplicated by public-sector employers:
4(2) The criteria to be applied in assessing the value of the work performed by employees in a job group or a job class are

(a) the composite of the skill, effort and responsibility required in the performance of the work and the conditions under which the work is performed; and

(b) the employer’s recruitment and retention needs in respect of employees in that job group or job class, taking into account the qualifications required to perform the work and the market forces operating in respect of employees with those qualifications.
That would be a problematic enough starting point based on the fact that it would only tend to replicate any lack of pay equity that already exists in the "market". But it gets worse when one looks at who gets to decide what the employer's recruitment and retention needs are. So let's examine the process for non-unionized employees.

First, the employer decides for itself whether or not any of its job groups or classes are "female predominant". If so, then it gets another specified period of time in which to decide if any pay equity matters need to be addressed, and then another one to determine what if anything it wants to do in response.

Of course, a dissatisfied employee may make a complaint. But the first step of most complaints travels right back to the employer, who gets another crack at deciding whether or not it should do anything differently.

It's only if the employer once again falls short in its response to an employee that the employee has any recourse to another party, that being the Public Service Labour Relations Board. But the problems for the employee aren't done yet.

For most of the possible violations (i.e. those that don't arise out of the last step in the process of complaining to the employer, including where that's the employer's fault due to its failure to provide required information), the Board's lone options are to dismiss a complaint, or to order the employer to once again go back to the drawing board.

And matters aren't much better if the employee has succeeded in launching the other type of complaint - which isn't even available until after the employee has previously provided a specific allegation to the employer, received the employer's response, and provided a detailed statement to the Board.

Under that process, the Board is again limited in its initial response: it can either dismiss the complaint, or ask the employer to provide another report about its assessment process. But the Board isn't given any authority to follow up on that report unless it includes a "manifestly unreasonable" error. (And again, keep in mind that the employer is explicitly directed to consider its own staffing interests - meaning that it'll almost by definition be "reasonable" for an employer to conclude that its best interests are served by doing nothing.)

Even at that point, the employer gets another chance to report back before facing any order which actually requires it to pay compensation to the affected employees. And that's only applicable if the employer is found a second time to have been "manifestly unreasonable" rather than merely wrong in its assessment.

In effect, then, employers get a minimum of four chances to put forward their preferred assessments, and are given the ability to stall at every turn in the face of a complaint. And it's only after failing utterly in that task - including a second chance to avoid being "manifestly unreasonable" after one finding to that effect - that employers can face any real consequences.

As a result, employees are left to rely almost entirely on an employer's willingness to voluntarily provide reasonable assessments. And the process to challenge any assessment is effectively designed to make for more trouble than it's worth from the employee's standpoint.

Which shouldn't come as much surprise given the Cons' obvious hostility toward pay equity. But it'll be interesting to see how the Libs can possibly pretend to care about pay equity while voting for a warped set of criteria and a Kafkaesque process.

Muddying the waters

Another nasty surprise from the Cons' budget implementation bill: it would significantly narrow the scope of the Navigable Waters Protection Act by severely restricting the types of projects which are subject to regulation.

The current law applies to any structure that affects navigable waterways, as well as any dumping or excavation that affects a waterway. In contrast, the Cons' revisions would eliminate any regulatory role except where a project interferes with navigation alone - with no regard for any other effect on a waterway. And even within that narrowed definition, the Cons' revisions would allow for two separate processes (one by regulation, another by ministerial order) to bypass the usual approval requirements.

It's particularly striking that the Cons felt the need to toss both elements into the legislation. One could perhaps rationalize a streamlined process in order to speed up infrastructure spending as part of their supposed stimulus. But if that process is put in place, then it's hard to imagine what purpose the Cons would have to also narrow the circumstances where the legislation applies other than sheer contempt for the concept of regulation.

Now, the Cons have already signalled their response to concerns about environmental damage resulting from their budget. Having needlessly and without warning inserted attacks on the environment into a budget implementation bill, they're now criticizing anybody who dares to point out the issue as as unduly focused on specifics within a larger bill.

But it's the Cons who have chosen to ensure that the impacts of hastily passing the budget bill may affect Canada's waterways for a long time to come. Which means that they should rightly face the choice whether to step back from their attacks on the environment, or to answer for forcing through the changes now.

In the dark

Following up on last night's post about Bill C-10, let's start taking a look at a few potentially problematic areas of the Cons' budget implementation bill.

To start with, there doesn't seem to be much dispute over the need to create some new flexibility for the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation to stabilize Canada's financial system. But there doesn't seem to be a significant need for the CDIC to be substantially more secretive in taking those steps - and indeed there's probably a case to be made that more disclosure is needed in the case of emergency action involving potentially huge amounts of money.

Which means that it's worth noting that the "bridge institutions" which the Cons want the authority to create would be shrouded in secrecy:
253. The Act is amended by adding the following after section 45.2:

45.3 (1) Subject to subsection 12(1) of the Privacy Act, any information with respect to the affairs of a federal institution designated as a bridge institution or of any person dealing with it is confidential, shall be treated accordingly and shall not be disclosed.
While there's a limited set of exceptions set out by the draft legislation, those refer to disclosure within government rather than allowing for any public scrutiny. And the provision would also override the Access to Information Act (see section 255).

Compare that to the general operations of the CDIC, which are subject to the oversight normally applicable to Crown corporations. Rather than applying the same set of rules, the Cons are looking to blanket bridge institutions with a prohibition on any public disclosure.

Which makes for a serious problem, since the potential costs associated with bridge institutions are probably the largest created by the economic crisis. A bridge institution is by definition a financial institution pushed into receivership - and the U.S.' experience, with single-institution bailouts ranging well into eleven figures, should hint at the potential downside if the CDIC is required to step in and keep an institution afloat.

Of course, it's in keeping with the Cons' usual practices that they apparently think costs which could dwarf the amount of money being put into the economy at large should be hidden from public view. But that should raise a red flag at the best of times for those of us who recognize the danger of massive spending in secret - and can only look even more dubious given the Cons' lack of honesty and transparency even when they know the facts are likely to get out.