Saturday, March 07, 2009

Ever worse

It's been a fairly consistent rule that the more closely anybody looks at the Cons' move to gut pay equity, the more appalling the situation looks. For the latest, go read Dr. Dawg if you haven't already.

On positioning

With Saskatchewan NDP leadership contest finally in full swing, Yens Pedersen has become the first candidate to release a full platform. And while much of Pedersen's platform figures to be fairly similar to what we'll see from each of the candidates, a few aspects of his plan look to have some interesting potential effects on the race in general.

Before the platform came out, I'd figured that Pedersen's most plausible path to a place on a final ballot depended largely on factors beyond his control. In particular, with Ryan Meili having managed to place himself as the main youth/renewal candidate, Pedersen would have to hope for Meili to start slipping in hopes of picking up any support that shook loose.

Instead, Pedersen's campaign has staked out some ground which should set him apart from his competitors for the time being - making it easier for him to draw in support in the short term, but also potentially limiting the likelihood of other candidates' supporters moving to him later on.

In particular, Pedersen's plans affecting the province's relationship with municipalities and other local bodies would seem likely to polarize NDPers either for or against Pedersen. A substantial number of people will almost certainly have significant concerns about dissolving regional health authorities and potentially putting school boards on the chopping block as well. And a campaign theme of "central planning", along with the establishment of potentially costly requirements like the remediation of all buildings containing asbestos, can only feed into the worries of those with a preference for relatively localized and specialized decision-making.

On the flip side, though, it doesn't seem all that likely that the other candidates will mount anywhere near the explicit focus on public-sector centralization that Pedersen has presented. Which means that Pedersen's platform launch could serve to carve out a significant niche as the candidate of efficiency through central management - particularly if he's able to use any mention of SaskPower and SaskEnergy in the news to direct attention to his amalgamation proposal.

Likewise, Pedersen's plan to phase out coal-generated electricity looks to be an unpopular one in some circles and regions. But it's doubtful that any other candidate will take that strong a position against an industry which certainly has its detractors - meaning that the idea looks fairly well calculated to bring people into Pedersen's camp who won't have anywhere else to go.

Again, the downside to the above proposals is that they may also limit the pool of members willing to move their support to Pedersen later on in the race. But Pedersen nonetheless deserves credit for both taking the initiative in shaping the issues which will be discussed, and carving out strong positions from the beginning. And it'll be very interesting to see where the other candidates wind up as the campaign moves toward more discussion of policy positions.

The reviews are in

James Travers:
Conservatives are tilting in the wrong direction. Their stimulus plan skews to the past, rarely lifting its eyes to the horizons of education, research or funding for green or venture industries.

Piling on secrecy, the Prime Minister ludicrously argues that speedy spending and public accountability are so incompatible that he needs a slushy $3 billion fund of the discredited type that funnelled millions into what became the Quebec sponsorship scandal.

Along with the NDP, Liberals are right to balk at Harper's spend now, explain later boondoggle. Still, it isn't certain Liberals are ready to manage the bigger economic issues any better. Stronger leadership has yet to bring clear definition to a party that never quite gets around to seriously considering its purpose beyond regaining power.

Lost in all this is an opportunity. Momentous events are shifting national governments back to the centre of public life. There they can either meet this century's first great fiscal test or fritter their time and our money playing politics.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Musical interlude

Simple Minds - She's a River

Delaying the inevitable

Let's give Jeff this much: the Libs haven't yet said outright that they're capitulating to Deceivin' Stephen once again. But today's announcement that the Libs plan to leave their (itself weak) accountability motion on the back burner until later this month surely telegraphs exactly how the issue will play out.

After all, does anybody honestly think that the Libs will somehow be in a stronger position to force the Cons to give ground within a week of the date when stimulus money could theoretically start flowing - not to mention when the motion might be the only barrier to that happening? And if not, then how can the Libs believe that Harper would offer up any meaningful concessions in the meantime?

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Credit where due

It would be all the better if Michael Harris could point out how consistently the NDP has been further ahead of the curve and/or better attuned to the public than its opponents without going out of his way to reinforce the terms used to try to shunt the NDP off to the sidelines. But his column today is still definitely worth a read:
Even if Jack Layton is looking a little better on the financial management and geopolitical side, there is still that nagging suspicion that he is an old-fashioned, backward-looking wobbly dude who listens to Woody Guthrie songs as he dreams up ways to wreck the country.

Take the environment. Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff have become the Double-Mint twins in support of the Alberta oil/tar sands project. The Liberal leader even called it a national unity issue.

Jack Layton and National Geographic call it a national disgrace.

According to the most recent Ipsos-Reid poll on this subject, 64% of Canadians (and 47% of Albertans) think the mining should be stopped until a more sustainable method of extraction can be found.

Damn that Taliban Jack. He's so out of touch with this country's elites.

On selective pressure

Shorter Chronicle Herald editorial board:

We humbly offer a sensible suggestion to introduce some sorely-needed accountability into the Cons' stimulus spending. But since the Harper government will have none of it, we see no choice but for Michael Ignatieff to cave completely once again.

No closure

It didn't appear to receive much attention at the time. But Bill Siksay's efforts to get answers on Cadscam and the ensuing Con/Lib settlement appear to have been met by a striking talking point:
Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, despite attempts by the Conservatives and Liberals to sweep the Cadman affair under the rug, Canadians still have a right to know what really happened. Sadly, the secret deal between the Conservatives and the Liberals appears to be an attempt to leave those questions unanswered.

Given the extremely serious allegations and the weeks of fury they caused in the House, and in the interests of full disclosure and transparency, will the Prime Minister make public all documents that would have been produced as part of the lawsuit?

Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question and I am pleased to report to the House that the matter is closed.

Mr. Bill Siksay (Burnaby—Douglas, NDP):
It is not closed to the public, Mr. Speaker.

Weeks before this secret settlement was reached, the Prime Minister's lawyer in the Cadman affair abruptly withdrew from the case. This led to speculation. Did he realize that the case could not be won? Was it an ethical issue? The Prime Minister will know that solicitor-client privilege does not prevent him, as the client, from explaining what happened.

Will the Prime Minister explain to Canadians the reasons that his lawyer, Mr. Rick Dearden, withdrew?

Mr. Pierre Poilievre (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, Standing Order 30(5) of the House provides me with the occasion to respond to questions from members across the way, so I add to my previous answer by pointing out that the matter is closed.
Now, it's arguable that Siksay's focus on the lawsuit could be seen as making for questions about something which is effectively done with. But even then, one would think that Canadians could rightfully expect that the terms and nature of the settlement agreement between the Prime Minister and the Official Opposition would be seen as a matter of some public interest.

More importantly, though, it should be obvious that the more serious issues surrounding the Cons' actual offers to Chuck Cadman remain entirely unresolved. And since the Cons have lost the "before the courts" excuse to avoid answering for their actions, now would seem to be the time to make clear that they can't simply declare the matter closed.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Boilerplate

Lest anybody doubt the sincerity going into some of the endorsements being trumpeted by Dwain Lingenfelter supporters, just take a look at the heartfelt back-and-forth in the latest announcement:
“We have decided to endorse Dwain’s leadership bid, because he has the experience and the ability to take on the right-wing Wall Government, and to win the 2011 Provincial General Election,” UFCW Local 342P President Nick Huziek said following an Executive Meeting of the Local, where the endoresement decision was confirmed unanimously.

“I am proud to have received this endorsement from a union that has such a rich history of involvement in our Party, and such a solid record of support for New Democratic Party leaders. This is a great honour, ” Lingenfelter said in thanking Huziek for the decision.
And then try to avoid paying attention to the announcement made two weeks ago:
“We have decided to endorse Dwain’s leadership bid, because he has the experience and ability to take on the right-wing Wall government, and to win the 2011 Provincial General Election,” UFCW Local 248P President Maurice Werezak said following an Executive Meeting of the local, where the endorsement decision was confirmed unanimously.

“I am proud to have received this endorsement from a union and a local that has such a rich history of involvement in our Party, and such a solid record of support for New Democratic Party Leaders. This is a great honour,” Lingenfelter said in thanking Werezak for the decision.

The reviews are in

Stephen Maher:
The Conservatives, who are keen to promote any story that isn’t about how the economy is falling apart under their watch, seized on the fact that a Liberal senator had introduced this bill, and used it to savage Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. Mr. Ignatieff was quick to tell reporters he supports the seal hunt, but that didn’t stop the Tories from saying repeatedly that he doesn’t.

The Fisheries Department issued a news release Tuesday from recently appointed Newfoundland Tory Senator Fabian Manning: "Sealers need to know that Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal party want to ban the Canadian seal hunt," which is, I think, pretty much a lie.
And you know it's a bad day for the Cons when Tim Powers can't find a less damaging story to spin.

Not even close

Just so we're clear, the Cons are now admitting that both Gail Shea and Fabian Manning wrongfully used departmental resources for a false partisan attack. Which has three obvious effects:
(a) applying an illegitimate departmental imprimatur to a partisan political shot;
(b) reducing their cost of dispersing the attack due to the discounted rate given to the federal government; and
(c) forcing the public to pay for both the cost of the press release up front, and the staffing involved in carrying out the attack.

But having been called out on their wrongdoing, they're now claiming that they're entitled to do nothing more than partially make up for (c) by paying back the discounted distribution cost. And this while holding nobody - including the cabinet minister and the senator who put their names to the attacks - accountable for the action.

Needless to say, the opposition parties shouldn't stand for the Cons claiming the entitlement to use the federal government's resources as their own personal attack ad department - whether or not they grudgingly pay back part of the cost when caught red-handed. And it'll be essential to make sure that Shea and Manning actually face the music this time lest Harper decide he's best off pushing the limits even further in the future.

On introductions

CanWest's report on last night's Wascana NDP forum for Saskatchewan's provincial leadership candidates covers the main themes of what Deb Higgins, Yens Pedersen and Ryan Meili had to say. But I'll add in a few details and thoughts from the event.

The most important story of the night wasn't so much the performance of any candidate as the overall turnout. A crowd of over 100 people - responding to invitations focused mostly on members of the Regina federal riding which contributes the least NDP votes, along with a few other scattered Regina supporters - packed into the 4 Seasons on a weeknight before the leadership race gets into anything approaching full swing to get their first chance to compare the candidates. Which would tend to signal that the contest may be set to attract significantly more interest than some might be expecting.

So what did those in attendance get to see? The first two speakers were Deb Higgins and Harry Van Mulligen (on behalf of Dwain Lingenfelter), and both stuck largely to a historical perspective in discussing the Allan Blakeney quote which provided the evening's topic. Interestingly enough, while both regularly dropped the names of Douglas, Blakeney and Romanow as examples of Saskatchewan influencing events despite its relatively small population, I don't recall hearing a single mention of Lorne Calvert - which strikes me as a reflecting a particularly surprising course for Higgins, who would seem to be the candidate with the most to gain by talking up Calvert's time in office and presenting herself as able to build on that foundation.

Van Mulligen's comments were most noteworthy in discussing the opportunity for the Saskatchewan NDP to transform health care nationally on the basis that other provinces see the party as the leader in the field. That could certainly create some promise to the extent it's tied to progressive suggestions - but it might lead Lingenfelter's eventual positioning on health care to come under even more careful scrutiny than it would otherwise have received.

Pedersen was the next speaker, and surprisingly the first to approach the concept of cycles of wealth and penury with ideas intended to alleviate the downside of Saskatchewan's dependence on commodity prices. While a few elements of his speaking style weren't ideal (in particular a distracting tendency to transition from one topic to another with a question-and-answer format), Pedersen nonetheless held up well in a strong field.

Like Pedersen's presentation, Meili's included a solid supply of jokes and applause lines to keep the crowd involved - another element that was surprisingly lacking in the remarks from the two more experienced politicians. Meili too turned the topic into a discussion of how to shift the economy toward long-term development rather than remaining stuck in boom and bust cycles, and was well received in doing so.

All in all, the event didn't do all that much to change the existing status of the campaign. And indeed, it was other developments yesterday (particularly Meili's endorsements from former cabinet ministers Peter Prebble and Lon Borgerson) that may ultimately do more to shape the narrative going forward.

But the forum nonetheless looks to have been an unqualified success in terms of both the candidates' performance, and the level of interest it generated. And both of those factors can only be a plus for the party regardless of how the rest of the leadership race plays out.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Deep thought

Nobody could possibly have anticipated that the Con government's decision to let one large foreign purchaser off the hook for its job preservation requirements might lead others to follow suit with illegal job cuts.

Shifting sands

The Cons' spin on Jim Prentice's visit to Washington has been that avoiding any mention of the tar sands represents a success. But for those worried that this means the Cons are actually getting anywhere in throwing the Obama administration off track in dealing with climate change, it's worth keeping in mind just what it was that the Cons originally had planned.

Remember that in the wake of Obama's election, the Cons initially tried to push Obama into developing a common cap-and-trade scheme which would actually include an exemption for tar-sands emissions. Or in other words, the Cons' initial goal was to make sure that the tar sands would be treated more generously than any other North American industry.

From what I can tell, there's no indication that the ultimate result will be anything close to that outcome. Instead, the U.S. debate appears to be between treating the oil sands like any other energy source (which would presumably mean that they'd only be able to operate if they're feasible under a cap-and-trade system), and actually singling them out for uniquely strict treatment based on their environmental effects.

Moreover, with Obama moving on his own to establish a cap-and-trade system which doesn't appear to include any loopholes like the one proposed for the tar sands, the odds of the Cons forcing one into a continental deal later on would look to be remote at best. And that goes doubly given how difficult it would be for Harper to try to bask in Obama's glow if he holds out from a common cap-and-trade system.

Of course, the Cons aren't about to admit defeat any more on this issue than any other. And it's still worth keeping an eye out for any attempts to move back toward the original position. But for now, the result looks to be a failure for the Cons' attempt to grant the tar sands a get-out-of-emission-reductions-free card - and a greater prospect of eventual success for those of us who want to see an effective cap and trade system put in place.

Playing dumb

Yesterday morning: one of the major political stories of the day is the Globe and Mail's report on Chuck Strahl's plan to force massive governance changes on First Nations with virtually no consultation. As part of the story, Strahl changes his position after being confronted with leaked documents discussing the plan.

Yesterday in Question Period: Strahl pretends to have no idea what his questioner is talking about in mentioning the documents cited in the article:

Mr. Todd Russell (Labrador, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I heard the minister's answer. He tries to play first nations like a fiddle but he is only step dancing around the whole damn issue.

The Conservatives have slashed the budget for consultation and they keep their communications “low profile”. Those are his words from his own documents.

Why is he excluding first nations from meaningful consultation? Why is it that he said one thing in June about the apology and did another thing through his actions? Why will he not come clean with the first nations people of this country?

Hon. Chuck Strahl (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for M├ętis and Non-Status Indians, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I have never seen the document that the member is talking about. I have never seen it and I do not know where it came from.
So let's run this past a smell test.

Strahl was obviously aware the story was in the works since he was personally quoted and confronted with at least some of the leaked documents. And he was also apparently expecting to be questioned about it based on a number of his other answers.

From that starting point, it would strike me as nowhere near plausible to suggest that Strahl and his department did nothing to figure out what documents had found their way to the Globe and Mail. But either way there would seem to be a serious problem for Strahl: either he avoided finding out what's going so as not to have to answer for it personally, or he misled the House as to what he knew about the documents. And while either outcome would be entirely consistent with the Cons' usual communication strategies, it's hard to suggest that either is even remotely compatible with competent government.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Lacking definition

Adam Radwanski theorizes that it's too late for an ad campaign attacking Michael Ignatieff to succeed since he's already defined himself. Which raises today's discussion question:

How exactly has Michael Ignatieff been defined?

Of course, I'd see plenty of definitions which could be applied based on some repeated themes during Ignatieff's tenure as leader. Stephen Harper Lite. Dion Part Deux. The World's Least Effective Probation Officer. Everything to Everyone.

But these tend to be more the definitions placed on Ignatieff by others so far, rather than anything the Libs will want to run on in the next election.

And it seems particularly implausible to suggest that a more solid definition will serve to put Ignatieff on a stronger footing than Stephane Dion. After all, Dion was well on track toward a fairly clear title along the lines of "earnest, environmentally-friendly academic" until he came under fire.

In contrast, even the Libs' messaging doesn't seem to have given Ignatieff any clear theme other than "not Stephen Harper". And while it may not be a bad strategy to try to focus attention on the Cons while glossing over Ignatieff's role in keeping them in power, that hardly figures to offer a definition which will stand up to an ad blitz.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Proof by wilful blindness

Jim Prentice claims that everybody must be gung-ho about unfettered tar sands development, because he won't admit to having heard anything to the contrary:
Speaking to the Toronto Star last night midway through a series of key meetings with his American counterparts, Environment Minister Jim Prentice insisted Canada "is on the same page" with President Barack Obama's climate advisers.

"There have been no protesters at any of the meetings I've been at today. From my perspective, we're very much on the same page. And the proof positive are the excellent meetings we are having."
There's just one problem: the protests whose absence Prentice cites as evidence were in fact well-documented. And that includes activity which was well within range of Prentice's meetings:
Privately, one Canadian official told the Star "we are getting killed on oil sands" by the deepening concentration of protests highlighting both Alberta's oil sands and the U.S. coal industry.

Yesterday, an estimated 2,000 campaigners, including at least 50 Canadians, converged on Washington to highlight the twin issues. The midday rally marched on the capital's last remaining coal-fired power plant, which provides the steam that keeps America's political leaders warm at work.
...
Earlier yesterday, native Canadian groups chanted "Stop tar sands now" outside John Kerry's office as Prentice met inside with the prominent Democratic senator.
At best, one could take Prentice's statement at face value and suggest that he managed to stay insulated in the Cons' publicity bubble to avoid hearing any of the actual protests. Which would at least make it possible for his statement to be true, even if it amounts to trying to prove a fact based on his own ignorance.

Or more likely, one could surmise that Prentice was well aware of the protests, and is simply wishing them away as the Cons seem to be doing with everything that doesn't fit their PR scheme.

But either way, there's every reason to think that the rest of Prentice's message is every bit as implausible as his argument that the non-protests in his mind trump the real protests in Washington as a measure of public opinion.

Government by denial

Just when you think the Cons can't become any more devoted to suppressing reality, they lower the bar even further:
A spokesperson for Indian Affairs, Margot Geduld, declined to answer a list of specific questions for this story.

"We don't comment on leaked documents," she said.
That's right: if a document hasn't been preapproved for public consumption, the Cons have apparently ordered Indian Affairs to pretend it doesn't exist - even once its contents are out in the open.

In this case at least, we can take heart in the fact that Chuck Strahl wasn't quite so quick to clam up. Which means that we now know how he was planning to pull a fast one on Canada's First Nations:
In an interview, Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl said it is "completely untrue" that his department is secretly proposing measures that were in the Governance Act.

"There is no legislation planned and so it's not like the Governance Act," he argued. "But my goodness, if you want to scare people in first nations country, you just talk about [former Liberal Indian Affairs minister] Bob Nault's Governance Act."

That assurance appears to be contradicted by the documents, which show the areas being addressed in the Conservative reform...are the very issues that were at the heart of the Liberal initiative. In fact, the minister changed his tone when told The Globe had documents describing the measures as a less-ambitious version of the Governance Act.
...
"A low-profile communications approach is recommended," states one document, titled "communications strategy" and marked "protected."

Under the heading "risks," a July 10, 2008, Indian Affairs presentation states that it may look like Indian Affairs "has already decided" on its reforms and that "with little time and funds, first nation participation will be limited."
But while the Cons obviously failed in their attempt to keep a lid on their decision to make zero-consultation changes to how First Nations are governed, that should offer little comfort when it's obvious that Strahl and his department have been going out of their way to mislead the public. And the fact that the Cons' new strategy is to declare any document which might expose their duplicity to be out of bounds should only make it all the more clear that their public assurances can't be trusted.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Garbage in, garbage out

Con MP Gary Goodyear's meltdown story has been discussed elsewhere since it came to light this morning. But nobody seems to have yet picked up on a couple of consistent themes from Goodyear which hint at problems far beyond the single incident with representatives from the Canadian Association of University Teachers:
The screaming erupted last Wednesday afternoon, just down the street from Parliament Hill, in the offices of a Conservative cabinet minister.

Two officials with Canadian Association of University Teachers sat on one side of a boardroom table and on the other sat Gary Goodyear, Minister of Science and Technology, his policy adviser Wesley Moore and a civil servant ready to take notes.

CAUT, a lobby group that represents 65,000 staff at 121 colleges and universities, had planned to raise concerns over the government's handling of research funding. But within moments, it became clear they wouldn't get very far.

“The minister was very angry,” said David Robinson, associate executive director of CAUT. “He was raising his voice and pointing his finger … He said everyone loves their [federal budget] and we said, ‘A lot of our members don't love it'… and he said, ‘That's because you're lying to them, misleading them.'”
...
Mr. Goodyear said he has met university presidents, deans of research, and researchers themselves and believes government critics are few. “You're going to see that one person who didn't get what they wanted,” he said. But “eight out of 10 folks I talk to get it … they are very positive.”

Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., said the government has been steadily investing in science and technology since 2006, with a new emphasis on commercialization and that it has designed an overall strategy to ensure Canada remains a world leader in research.

“We have done everything right,” he said.
...
CAUT, however, is less confident. It was the position of researchers fretting for the future the lobby group hoped to represent at last week's meeting with Mr. Goodyear.

They had barely begun to state their case, Mr. Robinson said, when the minister accused them of twisting facts.

When CAUT staff said the Conservatives have a spotty record on science and noted they abolished the office of the national science adviser, Mr. Robinson said, the minister's assistant screamed at them to shut up.

“Then the minister said, ‘You've burned all your bridges with us!' and they stormed out.

“In all the meetings I've been in like this, I've never been shouted at and told to shut up,” Mr. Robinson said. The civil servant who escorted them to the elevator suggested it would not even be a good idea to return to the minister's office to collect their coats, he said. Instead, she retrieved them.
Now, my first reaction in seeing the Globe and Mail article excerpted was to figure that CAUT's take must have been at least somewhat exaggerated: surely even the most Kool-Aid-addled Conbot couldn't honestly believe that "everyone loves their [federal budget]", and that the opposite position could only be the result of lies and misinformation.

But if anything, Goodyear's remarks after the fact sound even more self-congratulatory and reality-averse than his position during the CAUT meeting. While at least allowing for the fact that support for the Cons is slightly less than unanimous, Goodyear's response - even having had time to reflect on the CAUT incident - was to claim that "we have done everything right". Which would seem to be the type of absolutist position that could only exist based on a combination of belief in the Cons' infallibility, and a lack of curiosity to try to determine how his department could function better.

And that may also go a long way toward explaining a gap between actual perceptions and those which find their way to Goodyear. After all, if criticism of the Cons' policy gives rise to reactions like the one CAUT received, then it's remarkable if even one in five people meeting with Goodyear dares to speak out rather than patronizing the Cons by pretending to agree more than they do.

Which would tend to suggest that the cabinet minister responsible for research and development is not only downright hostile to reality, but also on the receiving end of a highly selective set of information about how groups actually perceive his government's actions. And that combination looks to cause far more problems for Goodyear's ability to function in cabinet than a single temper tantrum.

The reviews are in

Let's keep it positive to start the work week. Hassan Arif:
Vindicated. That is how many New Democrats must feel these days. While the party's poll numbers are stagnant - hovering in the mid-to-high teens - many of the party's ideas have gained new popularity.

With the collapse of the financial sector on Wall Street, social democratic ideas emphasizing government's role in helping the poor and the middle class and curbing corporate abuse have regained popularity.

During the 1990s, when deficit slashing and tax cutting were the dominant goals among policy-makers, the New Democrats were accused of being mired in the 1970s.

In 2009, it is conservatives who seem out of touch with the times.
...
Jack Layton's defence of the coalition formed in December with the Liberals showed that his party has moved beyond these earlier stances, and is ready to take a more central role in Parliament, working with other parties as a participant in government. It is unfortunate that the media were unfavourable to the Coalition and that Ignatieff's Liberals turned away from it. It had the potential to provide a progressive government that would take a more active role than the Conservatives have, in dealing with the economic crisis.

Jack Layton, after some false starts, seems to have found his voice. While the NDP still has a steep hill to climb if it is to improve its poll numbers, the party has nonetheless gained new energy in the battle of ideas.

Deep thought

It shouldn't come as a surprise that MPs promoted to cabinet solely for their willingness to spout talking points in the face of reality may sorely lack any ability to deal with their responsibilities.

On unelected opposition

It's probably for the best that Lib senators are planning to actually review the Harper/Ignatieff budget rather than complaining that it's pointless to even try. But the contrast between the Libs' unelected Senators and their elected MPs looks to be an important one:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff are both threatening a spring election, but the chair of the Senate National Finance Committee says he won't rubber stamp Bill C-10, the $258.6-billion budget bill and $40-billion stimulus package, by rushing it through in two days. Instead, he wants the government to split the 500-page piece of legislation into two.

"The bill amends 42 statutes, it's over 500 pages long. The Senate will not deal with that in two or three days. We will not," said Liberal New Brunswick Senator Joseph Day, who chairs the National Finance Committee.

Sen. Day said that the committee still has to deal with last year's budgetary measures such as the $3.9-billion supplementary estimates 'C', the $236.1-billion main estimates that were recently tabled, interim supply for the public service to continue operating and doesn't expect the committee to get to Bill C-10 until after the new fiscal year starts on April 1. He said that "if the government tells us it's not a priority for them to have money to run the civil service," the committee could look at the bill before then, "but we're not going to rubber stamp anything."
...
Sen. Day said he has asked the government to separate some of the "non-budgetary" items in Bill C-10, such as changes to the Navigable Waters Act, the Competition Act, and pay equity issues in order to be able to focus solely on the budget items. If the government did that, he said he would "make every effort to get the other portions through absolutely as soon as possible."

"I have given them an option of how we can handle this, lift the non-budget items out of them and we will go right at the front and deal with the non-budget things later, go to the budget items first," he said. "Absolutely it's urgent [but] they surely don't think it's very urgent if they've put all this non-budget stuff in there, that's pages and pages long. People are writing to me from all over Canada saying you can't just pass that, that requires amendment and study and we want to speak on it. We can't turn our backs on those people. The government knows that, get it out of that bill. Split the bill."
Needless to say, Day's position raises some serious questions about what the Libs in the House of Commons have done with precisely the same bill. After all, any rightful concerns about "rubber-stamping" and "turning...backs on people" affected by the bill can only highlight just how ineffective the Lib opposition in the House has been.

And while it's for the best that at least one set of Libs on Parliament Hill sees some point in doing its job, the fact that the elected Libs chose not to do so has once again put the Senate in the position of having to do a first review of a bill that didn't receive proper scrutiny at the House level. Not to mention that by leaving it to the Senate to make the kind of offer that Ignatieff should have made personally, the Libs have once again allowed Harper to once again turn the topic of discussion to the nature of the Senate rather than keeping the focus on the more toxic parts of the budget.

In sum, Ignatieff's decision to follow in Stephane Dion's footsteps by ordering his MPs roll over and play dead while leaving the job of opposition to the Senate can only make the Libs' elected members look ever less useful. And given that we're less than a year away from the point where a Senate opposition strategy will no longer have a chance of slowing down the Cons, it's long past time for the Libs to recognize the need to actually start doing their work in the House of Commons.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Next excuse, please

The Cons' attempt to spin their way out of their politically-based funding of First Nations schools:
At the heart of the issue is a March, 2008, memo from John-Paul Fournier, the department's Toronto-based head of capital planning. Regarding the need for a new elementary school in North Spirit Lake, north of Kenora, Ont., Mr. Fournier writes: "Chief has recently expressed concern about the continued delay of project start. The existing facility is a 30 to 40 year old wood structure. No real issue, just sitting in an opposition riding." Mr. Fournier repeats the comment about an opposition riding in describing the school needs of Wabaseemoong, also north of Kenora.

Yesterday, Mr. Fournier released a statement saying he was simply noting that because schools listed in his memo were in an opposition riding, they could be raised as issues by opposition MPs.
In effect, Fournier's excuse is to say that the line about "just sitting in an opposition riding" merely points out the hypothetical possibility that an opposition MP might raise the issue. There's just one problem, though: in both cases, that prospect was far from a hypothetical at the time Fournier's memo was written.

From Hansard, February 7, 2007:
Mr. Roger Valley (Kenora, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, today I would like to recognize two members of the Wabaseemoong First Nation First Nation. Chief Eric Fisher and Councillor Waylon Scott are two men who have worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life in their community.

The Wabaseemoong First Nation, or, as it is commonly referred to, Whitedog, is located just over 100 kilometres north of the city of Kenora. Wabaseemoong is an example of how hard-working community leaders can achieve great things for their communities. However, Wabaseemoong is also an example of the government's inaction on aboriginal issues. This community would have benefited greatly from the initiatives outlined in the Kelowna accord but the government decided not to ratify it.

Chief Fisher and Councillor Scott have traveled to Ottawa this week to bring to the minister's attention the unnecessary delay in the construction of their school. The condition of the current school is such that the community had to order it closed for a period of two weeks as the community could not ensure the safety of the students.

The Conservative government has delayed the start of a new school. The parliamentary secretary to the minister comes in to the riding and does not announce a date for starting the school. The students of Wabaseemoong need a chance at an education. The community of Wabaseemoong needs a new school.
And better yet, from Hansard, February 1, 2008, just a month before the memo was written:
Mr. Roger Valley (Kenora, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, first nations people deserve better from the Conservative government. Conservatives have been cancelling education projects all across Canada. The latest cancellation of the school in North Spirit Lake is appalling.

On August 22, 2006, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs promised in writing to build this much needed school. For two years the community invested time and money into starting construction on December 1, but guess what. It was cancelled eight days before the project started.

Chief Donald Campbell and the community of North Spirit want to know why they have been cheated by the government. They want to know when the minister will stop making their children beg for a new school.
So what seems more likely: that the memo was intended to make reference to "just sitting in an opposition riding" as raising the possibility of hypothetical questions at a time when questions were actually being asked by the opposition MP? Or that the phrase means what it seems to on the surface: that the lone holdup on funding was the party representing the area?

Leadership 2009 - Week in Review, March 1

Last week, I held off on doing a Week in Review for lack of any surprising developments. And I was set to do the same this week...except that we've now reached the point where the lack of news from one camp looks to make for some noteworthy news itself.

By way of comparison, three of the leadership candidates have put together regular public updates over the month of February: Dwain Lingenfelter with a steady stream of publicity based largely on his injecting himself into the issue of SaskEnergy rates, and Ryan Meili and Yens Pedersen through their websites which have featured regular blog updates and other developing content as the campaign progresses.

And then there's Deb Higgins. One would expect the apparent top challenger to Lingenfelter - not to mention the only leadership contestant now in the Legislature - to have a fairly consistent public presence during the course of a leadership race. But Higgins' website and Facebook page feature a grand total of zero announcements since her entry into the contest. And her news presence looks far more consistent with that of any MLA rather than somebody who's ramping up a leadership campaign.

Of course, as I've noted before, much of the work associated with the leadership race will be done behind the scenes. And it could be that Higgins' plan is to count on her being well-enough known already to be able to focus solely on persuading current members and reaching out to new ones outside of the public eye.

But I'd have to think that Higgins' efforts will be a lot more difficult if anybody trying to compare her to the other candidates in terms of policy positions or personal interest runs into a dead end instead. And particularly considering the results of the NDP's leadership race in 2001, there shouldn't be much doubt that a candidate with cabinet and legislative experience can't count on that outweighing the organization of others with less political history.

Hopefully Higgins' campaign will realize and react to that possibility in the near future. But if not, then there's a real danger that the seeming top contender might instead end up at the back of the pack heading into the convention.