Saturday, December 19, 2009

Light blogging ahead

Off to somewhere much less frozen for the holidays - so posting will be somewhere between nonexistent and light for the next week or so. All the best to readers over the holidays, and I'll be back before too long.

Sounds about right

Mound of Sound:
In case you haven't figured that out, what Harper said (in Copenhagen) was code for, "I'm off the hook, I can scam this for years to come and that's exactly what I'm fixing to do." Harper can say that because he can get away with it. No one has the guts to stand up to him and call him a fraud.

So, after having been invited to shred Harper's blustering, what does the Liberal Party's Michael Ignatieff have to say? He responds with this: “We cannot allow Canadian environmental policy to be entirely dependent on American politics. We need an aggressive, made in Canada climate-change plan now. And we're willing to work with Mr. Harper on this if his government brings forward a serious plan that treats our provinces fairly and includes pollution reductions for all sectors.”

That's it? That's what we get for letting Iggy put Dion down? That's leadership? Does this guy not know how to go on the attack? Is he running scared of Harper? Shouldn't he be off somewhere writing a book or something?

Why doesn't he attack Harper when the scoundrel is vulnerable? Why let the guy off the hook with vague arguments over emission reductions that will never materialize while Harper has the key to 24 Sussex Drive anyway? Why not turn to this Tory jerk's abject refusal to recognize the change that's already happening and already enroute, his refusal to institute adaptation policies the far north and both coasts will need in the near future? Harper won't do that. He can't, because that would acknowledge the gravity of the threat and leave him having to explain why he's doing Sweet Fanny Adams about it.

If Iggy can't grasp how to kick Harper straight to the curb on this issue then he's worse than useless as leader of the Liberal Party. Don't give us bullshit about "working with Harper on a serious plan" when, unless you're brain dead, you have to realize Harper has no intention of doing anything remotely like that. Harper will eat Ignatieff's lunch if he goes that route. Look how he played the Liberal leader for a sucker on the Pinata Budget.

I'm sorry but Michael Ignatieff is but a meandering political disaster. You don't get moments like this all that often and, entirely true to course, he blew it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Musical interlude

54-40 - Crossing a Canyon

On fixed rates

Jane Taber rightly points out Con MP Patrick Brown's misleading claim that he and his government had nothing to do with the HST despite voting for it twice personally. But that isn't the only glaring flaw in his attempt to distance himself from his government's policies.

Brown spends most of his column space criticizing the province for not lowering the HST rate while implementing the tax. But there's just one slight problem with that complaint: it's the federal government which has insisted that the province keep the rate right where it is.

I've noted before that the preliminary agreement between the Harper Cons and the McGuinty Libs provided that the province would be required to keep the HST rate where it is for at least two years following implementation. And that's made all the more clear in the comprehensive agreement that's since been signed between Jim Flaherty and Dwight Duncan:
15. The Parties agree that the PVAT Rate in respect of the Province will be 8% as of the Implementation Date.

16. The PVAT Rate in respect of the Province may be increased, or decreased, in accordance with the provisions of this Agreement after a minimum period of two years from the Implementation Date. Following that two-year period, any change in the PVAT Rate in respect of the Province, as permitted under the provisions of this Agreement, will not occur more often than once in any twelve-month period.
So if Brown wants to know why Ontario isn't talking about lowering its HST rate, at least part of the answer is that the Con federal government won't let it. And whether Brown is ignorant enough not to know that or dishonest enough to pretend his government hasn't tied the province's hands, it's fairly clear that his constituents don't have much reason to believe what he has to say on the subject.

Paging all speech warriors

We await your immediate and outraged response to the systematic suppression of disagreement with nuclear power, expressed peacefully through signs on the speakers' private property.

This is where we pause for laughter.

On selective imperatives

I'm not quite sure who replaced the Star-Phoenix editorial board's coffee with BT Crystals this week (50% more wingnutty goodness with none of the shame!). But Monday's easily-debunked column on the HST has been followed up with two more pieces which are at best poorly reasoned on their own, and positively laughable when compared to each other. So here's the shorter version of the two taken together:

Climate change is such a crucial global issue that we have a moral imperative to push ahead with nuclear power in the name of fighting it, without considering any costs, risks or alternatives. But anyone who suggests we should agree to reduce even a gram of emissions from the oil patch is an ungrateful threat to national unity.

The reviews are in

Anybody else noticing a theme? Here's Susan Riley:
It is one thing to be irritated, even disgusted, by the Harper government's tendency to disparage or fire conscientious public servants, portray its political opponents as unpatriotic anti-Semites, dismiss parliamentary votes it doesn't agree with, or shroud its most important decisions -- climate change strategy, its deficit- recovery plan -- in secrecy.

But at what point do Canadians become alarmed at the absolute control, the intolerance of dissent and the manipulative messaging, often publicly funded, that characterizes this regime? Why aren't we worried now? We elected a minority government in a modern liberal democracy, representing a messy range of opinion. Yet that government operates like a not-so-friendly dictatorship.

In fact, Harper's no longer "hidden" agenda -- his tough-on-crime, easy-on-climate-change, pro-military and anti-tax policies -- may turn out to be less scary than his methods.
Without independent reporting and the odd, brave "watchdog," we would never know what our government is up to -- not until the big "reveal" in a glossy media campaign. For four years, the government has successfully deep-sixed its critics and confounded the opposition. Low-key nuclear regulator Linda Keen was fired (and the isotope crisis remains unresolved.) Inquisitive parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, is being starved of funds. The government refused to co-operate with the Military Police Complaints Commission looking into the detainee issue and is not reappointing its chairman, Peter Tinsley. It has taken Elections Canada to court, withheld an RCMP study on the gun registry until after a crucial vote, and ignored a vote ordering it to release documents relating to Colvin's testimony.

Short of hauling Sheila Fraser off in leg-irons, sending the dangerously popular Michaëlle Jean on an unescorted fact-finding mission to Mogadishu, or appointing Don Cherry to the Senate, it is hard to know what it will take to provoke a pro-democracy movement here in Canada.

But this we know: Harper will do whatever it takes to hold power, democratic niceties be damned.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Not laudable

Following up on this morning's post, let's note that Brian Topp's latest makes for an unfortunate example of the evaluation of politics purely in terms of a zero-sum competition in which partisan advantage trumps the actual merits of anybody's actions. And that focus is particularly frustrating coming from a writer who more than understands the severity of the Harper Cons' misdeeds even as he labels them as "winning on points" for escaping the well-deserved consequences of their actions.

When no means yes

A couple of shorter Bill Boyds from his nuclear announcement today.

To Bruce Power:

That lousy public has forced us to make a show of saying "no for now" to your current plans. But move a couple of commas around and we'll talk again next year.

And to the rest of the nuclear industry:

We've decided that saying "no for now" on power gives us cover to approve absolutely anything else you throw at us. So help yourself: the province is ripe for the plucking!

The reviews are in

Lawrence Martin describes the Cons' anti-democratic practices in government:
There's an old-fashioned idea, once a Reform Party thing, that regular people – those grassroots folks – should have a sniff of the action. As nice as it sounds, don't go there. You need to amass unparalleled executive power so everything is top down and put through the filter of politics. For your own caucus, you enforce such tight discipline that no one dare cast an independent vote. You issue your members a secret handbook on how to disrupt parliamentary committees. For Question Period, you instruct your members to answer most queries with a putdown of the previous government's record.

A key facet of a downgrading democracy campaign has got to be cutting off access to information – so much so that you leave the Information Commissioner appalled, especially with the stonewalling at the Privy Council Office. Some sensitive documents are going to get out no matter how hard you try. So the strategy is to use national security as a cover to black out all potentially incriminating paragraphs. You may also wish to eliminate a huge government information registry (the Co-ordination of Access to Information Requests System) because the fewer the tracks, the better. You may also wish to prevent the publishing of departmental studies, especially ones that don't reflect well on your law-and-order proclivities.

It is said that a hallmark of democracy is the toleration of dissent. Best leave that one in the church pew. Exceptional measures need be used to crush the opposition. Stuff such as taking the unprecedented step of launching personal attack ads between election campaigns. Or trying to push through a measure that would effectively cut off financing to the opposition.

A heavy dose of demagoguery also can go a long way. Play on simple prejudices by accusing opponents of not supporting the troops or of being anti-Israel. If nothing's working, if the going gets really tough, don't hesitate to bring out the heavy timber. Just after Parliament has reopened, have it shut down.

If your campaign is waged effectively, you will enfeeble the checks and balances in the system and give the d-word a good clubbing, emerging very much in control.

That's effectively what's happened in Ottawa over the past four years. The Prime Minister is now in such command that he can get away with pretty much anything. And he is lauded for his conquests.
Of course, it's worth pointing out the fact that Martin doesn't go so far as to offer up an prescription to go with his diagnosis. Which is a shame, since a bit of consistency in calling out Harper for his anti-democratic actions - rather than lauding him for his "conquests" - would go a long way.

Someday, this could all be...hey, it's ours already!

The uranium mill at McClean Lake, Sask., will close next summer, resulting in about 140 layoffs, but company officials say it will reopen when the economy improves.

Areva owns 70 per cent of the mill, while Denison Mines Corp. and OURD Canada Co. Ltd. own the remainder.

Denison said Tuesday that the McClean Lake project is being placed on "care and maintenance" mode, starting in July 2010.
The company didn't provide a date for reopening, saying processing will begin again "when economically viable."

The layoffs will take place at the mill site and Areva's office in Saskatoon. Areva employs about 270 people at McClean Lake and about 200 at the Saskatoon office.
So what can we learn from the closure? Well, let's recap the interaction between the Wall government and Areva since the Sask Party took power just two short years ago.

When the Sask Party took office, it declared its intention to make the nuclear industry an economic centrepiece. And in hopes of making that happen, it handed the industry millions to draw up a wish list for future development.

Not surprisingly, Areva and other participants responded by putting together a report which claimed that exploration and mining should be a top priority for immediate expansion due to the certainty of a global boom in demand. And of course the report featured nary a mention of even a remote risk of downturns in the industry to counterbalance such optimistic declarations as "demand for primary uranium will grow substantially over the next 10 years".

But Areva's enthusiasm for provincial investment apparently wasn't matched by its own willingness to keep its existing operations going. And so when the chips were down, the Sask Party's eagerness to be the uranium sector's best friend didn't save a single job.

Just so we're clear: it's not that Areva can be faulted for the decision it's made. After all, its job is to value the interests of its shareholders over those of the province where it does business.

But while the story doesn't necessarily have a villain, it certainly stars Brad Wall as Chump #1. And hopefully the combined lessons from today's closure announcement and this year's potash fiasco will encourage the Sask Party to stop basing its expectations on unreliable and unrealistic resource development plans in time to set its direction for the industry in the future.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Deep thought

It's positively shocking that the spending announcements allotting the last slice of federal infrastructure spending have been no less patronage-based than those which doled out the previous 90%.

(Edit: fixed wording.)

HST = More Red Ink

Following up on this morning's post, Erin has the details on how the HST and related measures will increase Ontario's deficit:
(I)t is important to note that Bill 218 does not actually provide more revenue. The 2009 provincial budget indicated that the sales tax changes would generate an additional $2.2 billion annually. However, the personal income tax reductions and credits to compensate for those sales tax changes will cost $2.3 billion annually. Recent concessions on prepared food and real estate will cost the provincial government a further $0.6 billion annually.

So, the whole harmonization process will actually reduce provincial revenues available for public purposes by approximately $0.7 billion per year. On top of that, Bill 218 enacts corporate tax cuts that will cost a further $2.3 billion per year when fully implemented in 2014-15.

This budget legislation amounts to a transfer of $3 billion from the public purse - and billions more from Ontario consumers - to the corporate sector.

On factual deficits

I've spent no lack of time on this blog dealing with zombie lies and other false claims about the HST in B.C. and Ontario. But remarkably enough, the absolute worst argument I've seen for the HST lately originates not in either of the provinces which has actually been debating harmonization, but right here in Saskatchewan. So let's take some time to debunk the excuse being pushed by the Star-Phoenix to try to reopen an issue which otherwise isn't under discussion:
In Canada, where the federal government foolishly cut the GST to five per cent from seven per cent, and in the process weakened its finances, squandered its surplus and reduced its options just as the country was heading into the worst downturn in decades, economists are suggesting it would be better to increase the tax now in order to reduce the deficit.

Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, is warning that, without increasing consumption taxes, Canadians could face the kind of destructive cuts to education and innovation that took place in the 1990s.

Adopting the HST rather than resorting to the "big chopping exercise" on program spending resorted to in the past, is Ontario and B.C.'s best chance to continue reducing the prosperity gap with the U.S., Mr. Martin says in his report, Navigating Through the Recovery.
But if creating jobs, tackling deficits, competing with 130 other nations that have such a tax or increasing personal wealth isn't enough reason to convince governments and citizens to adopt a harmonized tax, perhaps one should consider Mark Carney's dilemma.
Now, one can make the argument that the editorial never quite goes so far as to directly claim that harmonization itself will reduce the province's deficit. But considering that the need to deal with a provincial deficit is repeatedly cited as an argument in favour of harmonization - and chopping program spending listed as the alternative - it's hard to reach any conclusion other than that the Star-Phoenix editorial board is trying to get Saskatchewanians to believe that harmonization would reduce the provincial deficit.

Which, needless to say, is absolute nonsense.

The usual operating premise of harmonization has been that the combination of tax increases on consumers and reductions on business - in the absence of any measures to compensate for the higher consumer costs - roughly evens out (i.e. is "revenue neutral"). Which would seem to be an easy enough theory to test if the governments involved had actually let people know what the impact of the policy would be before ramming it down their throats.

Curiously enough, though, neither B.C. nor Ontario seems to have actually provided any public estimates to show whether that's true: while the amounts of the corporate reductions and compensatory measures have been thrown around at every opportunity, I haven't seen any actual dollar amount placed on the cost to consumers of paying HST on a broader set of items by the governments who are imposing that change. And that should itself serve as a signal of just how little chance that would be of the policy surviving if people actually had full information about it.

Fortunately, at least one government has now offered up a simple, accurate set of estimates (warning: PDF) as to what harmonization would mean. And in Manitoba, the result would be $134 million less annual revenue for the provincial government based on harmonization. (Or $105 million looking only at the impact on consumers and businesses - which is probably the fair number to use given the discussion about different levels of government below.)

Put in terms that even somebody who gives John Gormley regular column space can understand: harmonization makes deficits worse. And that's before a province even lifts a finger to try to mitigate the regressive effects of the tax on individuals.

Granted, the federal money being offered as a bribe to encourage harmonization would paper over that gap: in Manitoba's case, it would cover a little over two years' worth of lost revenue. But it's not as if that money is ultimately free either. In effect, the Star-Phoenix is encouraging the federal government to carry a deeper deficit in the near term, in order to pay off the province to agree to go into deeper deficits in the medium and long term. And all in the name of fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction.

Moreover, all of the above applies even without the province doing anything at all to try to mitigate the effects of increased taxes on individuals. And if the Star-Phoenix thinks that the governments in B.C. and Ontario have had trouble trying to sell the tax while being able to point to factors which could even out some of the damage, just wait to see what would happen if the tax were introduced without even a pretense of concern for the people affected.

Before I close out this post, the deficit claim looks to me to be both the biggest whopper in the editorial. But there's no lack of other claims which are equally easily debunked, including such gems as:
(P)oliticians from all major parties...promoted the shift.
Quick, name one from the NDP - which obviously has to be included for the wording to be "all" rather than "both". Yeah, didn't think so.
In the next decade, the change is expected to create almost 600,000 new jobs in Ontario alone that wouldn't exist under the current regime.
Asked and answered.
Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, is warning that, without increasing consumption taxes, Canadians could face the kind of destructive cuts to education and innovation that took place in the 1990s.
Included above, but let's address it on another front. If the goal is to increase income by raising consumption taxes, why on earth would that be done by eliminating consumption taxes on the entire corporate sector?

In sum, then, the Sask Party's mismanagement isn't a reason to bring in a harmonized sales tax. And the fact that the Star-Phoenix is so eager to present the HST as a solution to a problem which it would only exacerbate - while being so shamelessly off base in so much of the rest of its argument - should offer reason to be skeptical about anything it says on the topic in the future.

(Edit: fixed typo.)

Plan B

Following up on last night's post, it seems that there's some consensus that a committee meeting can't officially operate in the absence of quorum - whether due to the clerk having to take notice of the numbers, or otherwise. So carrying on formal hearings in the absence of the Cons apparently isn't an option - as dangerous as it is for Stephen Harper to have an effective veto over any formal oversight from Parliament.

But while the Cons may have fled their workplace in order to try to silence the Afghan torture story over the holidays, there's no need for the opposition to let them avoid the damaging headlines they so richly deserve. At last notice, there still seemed to be plenty of documents which hadn't yet been publicly compared between the form supposedly redacted in the name of national security and that openly disclosed in court or through other processes. So now might be a great time to present a "cover-up of the day" to make sure the Cons' past lies get a full airing before the next time they show up to answer to the committee.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On countermeasures

I posed the question in comments at Macleans in the wake of the Cons' decision to hide out from the committee which was supposed to be following up on the Harper government's torture cover-up. But I'll ask it here as well: is there any reason why the meeting couldn't proceed until somebody entitled to participate actually raised a question as to whether quorum existed?

Not that this should let the Cons off the hook for their cowardice. But surely by now the opposition parties should have at least a few strategies in their back pocket to respond to the Cons' most obvious ways of obstructing Parliament - and this would seem to be one with an obvious potential solution.

On common interests

Shorter Chrysotile Institute:

It's not as if we necessarily agree with the climate change denialists we're promoting with federal money; it's just that their beliefs are similar enough to our own that we're perfectly comfortable throwing in our lot with them.

A zombie lie is born

Yesterday, I noted one problem with the CCPA's report on the HST. But as has consistently been the case when it comes to the HST, the most-repeated talking point is one that's based on ripping two words out of context: in this case "revenue neutral". So let's make absolutely clear what the CCPA's analysis does - and doesn't - say about the effect of harmonization.

There are two key assumptions which explain where the phrase comes from in the CCPA's report. First, as I noted yesterday, there's the fact that the HST is being compared to unrelated tax measures applied to individuals. While the "revenue neutral" declaration applies only if one compares the price hike resulting from the expansion of sales taxes on individuals to the credits being offered through other tax channels, there's no reason to actually assume that one is inextricably linked to the other. And if one looks at the HST alone (which can easily be done at page 8 of the CCPA's report), the result is a tax hike on families averaging approximately $500 each year.

More importantly, the CCPA's global conclusions are based on the effect of the HST and other tax measures on individuals only, and don't take into account the loss in public revenue resulting from corporate exemptions. Which is where the growing zombie lie comes in.

The next wave of pro-HST spin seems to involve pretending that the CCPA's study somehow shows that the HST scheme as a whole would be revenue neutral for the provincial government. But in reality, the corporate exemptions which are explicitly excluded from the CCPA's study will cut provincial revenue by $4.5 billion per year (the same number as the oft-trumpeted amount of eliminated "embedded sales taxes").

So no matter how desperately its proponents try to rip phrases out of context, the HST isn't revenue-neutral by a long shot - whether one looks at its impact on individuals (where it imposes real costs), or on the government as a whole (where it substantially reduces the public resources available for the provincial government). And as with the "591,000 jobs!!!" declaration that's previously been debunked, anybody claiming the HST to be "revenue neutral" based on the CCPA study can safely be dismissed as arguing in bad faith.

Edit: fixed wording.

The reviews are in

William Johnson:
The fundamental issue is no longer the appropriate treatment of detainees. At issue is the credibility of the government and its responsibility to answer to Parliament and so to the people of Canada.

The government has subverted Canadian democracy by its constant misinformation, by its withholding and censuring of documents, by making non-credible claims that it cannot release documents for reasons of national security.

Only an impartial judicial inquiry can determine the facts and finally restore badly abused ministerial responsibility. We cannot trust this government to report honestly on itself.

Monday, December 14, 2009

More sad than funny

Sure, the spoof press release claiming that Canada had put forward serious greenhouse gas emission reductions made fot a nice enough topic of conversation.

But isn't it usually a sound rule that proper satire has to have at least some basis in reality? And isn't the prospect of the Cons actually offering up the spoof targets somewhere in the range of "alien invasion causes recession and Tiger Woods' infidelity" on the plausibility spectrum?

Update: And this is why I need to remember to read CC before posting snark.

On self-absorption

Shorter Peter Goldring, Parliament's fifth-highest spender on ten-per-centers:

I have no opinion on whether allegations of anti-Semitism or outright lies about MPs' voting records might make for an unreasonable use of mailing resources. But dammit, any publication which might help the NDP to win my seat is by definition an affront to democracy.

On baselines

One can understand why the CCPA's study on the HST might have been designed at one time to assume that other tax moves designed to minimize the pain of shifting the tax burden onto individuals would be linked to harmonization. But considering that the McGuinty government has declared that the other changes will happen regardless of whether or not the HST is implemented, doesn't any accurate calculation now have to involve the effect of the HST on its own rather than tossing in credit for what would happen with or without harmonization?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On complex problems

This morning, I posted about the problems with a couple of the Cons' recent excuses for concealing information about torture in Afghanistan. But while it's not that difficult to dispense with those or indeed most of the Cons' other diversions, there's a more fundamental issue with the Cons' tactics which deserves to be pointed out.

There was plenty of attention paid this fall when Stephen Harper's mentor Tom Flanagan offered up his view that what a political party says doesn't have to be true, it only has to be plausible. But from what I can tell, the Cons have taken that philosophy a step further when it comes to scandals associated with their government.

Flanagan's construction seems to suggest that parties should at least care whether or not their claims are based on some rational argument. If a particular message isn't at least plausible - not just on its face to somebody who doesn't know the issues, but upon serious review - then it's a dangerous one to be make public.

But Cons seem to have cut the ultimate plausibility of their excuses of the picture altogether. Rather than worrying about whether any particular distraction even passes the laugh test once somebody with a reasonable amount of background knowledge goes to the trouble of examining it, they seem to have decided that their only requirement is that any implausibility require some work to demonstrate, creating a disproportionate burden on anybody seeking the truth compared to the ease with which the Cons can parrot talking points.

From that starting point, it really doesn't matter at all just what it is that the Cons bring up as an excuse. Sure, the fact that the Canada Evidence Act and the Privacy Act have something to do with the realm of information management might make them relatively easy ones to point to in an effort to deny responsibility for covering up documents. But the story wouldn't play out any differently if the Cons instead said they had to deny the information under the Bank Act, and accused the opposition parties of hating capitalism. Or, for that matter, if they said they were prohibited from releasing the information by Matthew 2, and accused the opposition parties of making Baby Jesus cry.

Whatever their shiny object du jour, the Cons can count on having enough mouthpieces parroting their talking points to fight a particular point to something approaching a draw for the first day of coverage when it receives the most public attention. Then, by the time somebody who actually understands the issue looks at it in detail, making it clear to those paying close attention just how devoid of merit the Cons' claims are, the Cons already have a new excuse ready for dissemination. (And as an added bonus, they can cycle through the excuses to ensure the expertise required to debunk the last one isn't of much assistance in dealing with the newest one - further stretching the resources of the media, opposition parties and anybody else with an interest in the ultimate subject.)

So the problem goes beyond secrecy and cover-ups, beyond bucket defences and shifting goalposts. In effect, the Cons have figured out how to take advantage of the complexity of Canada's system of laws and institutions - but only as a means to avoid accountability by always having some excuse at the ready which Canadians don't know enough to recognize as false on its face.

Which means that anybody trying to cut through the obfuscation - on Afghan detainees or any other issue - is always going to be at a disadvantage so long as the Cons' claims are taken seriously enough to be seen as deserving refutation. But while the detainee issue would seem to be a perfect opportunity to change that state of affairs (given that some of the documents nominally being withheld based on the Cons' excuses are already available for public inspection), there hasn't been much sign yet of the Cons being treated with the absolute distrust they've done so much to earn.

Now As Seen On TV

I held off as long as the segment was buried in a full-length episode. But I'll mention now that Accidental Deliberations was highlighted as Bill Tieleman's Site of the Week on Friday's edition of Power & Politics - so readers may be interested to check out the Bloggerheads segment which is now available on its own.

Still irresponsible

As part of last week's developments on the Afghan detainee cover-up, the Cons have started using two new excuses for refusing to turn over the information demanded by Parliament. So while I'll note in another post today why it's pointless to spend much time answering the Cons' deflection tactics, I'll take a moment for now to note why neither the Canada Evidence Act nor the Privacy Act actually gives the Cons any excuse for continuing to hide the information.

Simply put, both of the statutes involved - like the Access to Information Act which I discussed earlier - create express ministerial responsibility for the decisions made surrounding information. Which means that anytime the Cons effectively claim that decisions about disclosing the information aren't theirs to make, they're hiding from their own job descriptions just as plainly as they're hiding the information from the public.

In the case of the Privacy Act, it's the head of a government department (i.e. the responsible minister) who's required by law to assess whether requested information should be disclosed - including under a public interest exemption (see section 8(1)(m)). Which means that any time a Con minister claims that the Privacy Act somehow ties his hands, he's deliberately abdicating his statutory responsibility.

In the case of the Canada Evidence Act, it's at best questionable whether the section relied on by the Cons even applies to the treatment of information generally as opposed to its handling within a specific judicial proceeding. But it's absolutely clear that any decision to certify information as "sensitive" or "potentially injurious" must be made by the Attorney General rather than by some group of anonymous staffers - and that the Attorney General also has explicit authority to allow information to be disclosed even if it meets those definitions.

So while the excuse has changed slightly, the story remains the same. As part of their cover-up on torture, Con cabinet ministers are both misleading the public about what their duties actually are, and falsely claiming that there's some legal reason why they can't release information about detainee treatment when they hold specific power to make that information public. And no matter how much (or how little) significance there is to what the Cons are keeping hidden, the fact that they're so eager to mislead Canadians about how and why they're hiding it should itself provide reason to consider the Cons unfit for public office.