Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Incompetence

My favorite conservative, Olaf at Prairie Wranglers, argues against the calls for Rona Ambrose to resign. The gist of the argument boils down to this point:
If a government minister were to resign every time the opposition disagreed based on policy, the Conservatives would be out of cabinet ministers by now...

The point is you can't reasonably call for the resignation of a government minister based on incompetence, when the only evidence you have of incompetence is that you disagree with them.

Agreed. I don't support Vic Toews or Peter McKay, but this fact doesn't translate into any support that they should resign. When the question moves to Rona Ambrose however, there is ample evidence to suggest that she is woefully incompetent, not to mention her preference for misleading (lying is more apt, but let's be civil).

Rona Ambrose's appearance before committee:
"I have in front of me a list of at least $100 million of money that was used to purchase international credits," Ambrose said in what appeared to be a prepared response to a fellow Conservative MP's question.

She then recited a number of overseas projects and their dollar values.

"For 13 years this was the only plan, to buy international credits," Ambrose told the committee.

However, when Sun Media initially asked for the project list cited by the minister, the story began to change.

Officials in the minister's office on Tuesday said Ambrose alone had a copy and they couldnĂ‚’t provide it, although they said the information came from departmental officials. A spokesman for the department said he knew nothing about such a list and referred matters back to the minister's office.

Shannon Haggerty, Ambrose's new director of communications, then offered up two departmental officials to explain the project list, which turned out to be from the Canada Climate Change Development Fund, administered by the Canadian International Development Agency, or CIDA.

"It's actually not buying credits," one bureaucrat explained. "It's the government subsidizing industry to work on these (climate change) projects."

So how much money has the government of Canada, past or present, spent buying carbon credits?

"As a government, none," said the official. "The government has not purchased outright a Kyoto credit."

Two conclusions, Ambrose lied to committee, or Ambrose has no understanding of her portfolio. Which is worse? Misleading a parliamentary committee is a serious offense, and given the fact that Ambrose was able to list all the allocations, you would have to think she was privy to the origin. However, let's give Ambrose the benefit of the doubt, that leaves blatant incompetence as the only answer.

Before committee, again:
An academic from a progressive think tank based in Washington is furious that Environment Minister Rona Ambrose used recent remarks by her to attack the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

Daphne Wysham, a fellow from the Institute for Policy Studies, said Ambrose is using her think tank's criticism of the Clean Development Mechanism to abandon Canada's responsibility to live up to its commitment under the international agreement.

"I'm horrified by that," Wysham said in a phone interview. "I certainly don't want to see Canada pulling out, did not want to the U.S. pulling out. We want to see Kyoto strengthened."

Ambrose made reference to the think tank on Thursday during a parliamentary committee arguing that the mechanism, which allows countries to get credits for investments in developing nations to reduce emissions, had no accountability.

Misleading or lack of knowledge?

Ambrose has pulled quotes from several organizations to deflect criticism and curry favor. Ambrose used a Canadian Lung Association release as proof of support for her Green Plan. Ambrose stood before the H of C and mislead parliament, because in fact the Canadian Lung Association was critical of the Conservatives, hardly supportive:
The Lung Association has serious concerns that the proposed approach under the Clean Air Act will not reduce emissions of greenhouse gases quickly enough to lessen the health effects of climate change. Warmer temperatures caused by these emissions contribute to the difficulties of Canadians suffering from respiratory illness, for instance, by increasing the frequency and severity of smog conditions in urban centres.

"We are very concerned with the proposed targets for greenhouse gases and the use of intensity-based standards in the short and medium terms, since these will result in a continuing increase in total emissions," said Dr. Barbara MacKinnon, Director of Environmental Research for the New Brunswick Lung Association. "We think both the targets and the time frame need to be revised to bring much earlier net reductions."

Misleading again, or an issue with reading comprehension, neither of which is flattering.

How about changing the language on government websites to manipulate? Check:

The Conservative government has been using federal resources to mislead Canadians about the facts of global warming and to further undermine Canada's international commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, said Liberal Environment Critic John Godfrey today.

"It is appalling to watch this government systematically misrepresent the Kyoto Accord over the last six months," said Godfrey.

Mr. Godfrey was reacting to changes by the Conservative government to Environment Canada's website that deliberately sought to imply that there was a controversy about climate change within the scientific community.

The government incorporated the following paragraph into the department's webpage defining the Greenhouse Effect:

"There is a great deal of uncertainty associated with climate predictions and, although temperature changes during this century are consistent with global warming predictions, they remain within the range of natural variability."

The government removed the paragraph late last week, after receiving a public complaint from a representative of the scientific community.

One criteria for demanding resignation is the idea of scandalous behavior. If the above examples don't suggest a pattern of overt deception, then the bar is set far too low. If you reject lying, you are left with serious incompetence, take your choice, both give weight to calls for resignation.

Finally, people may have noticed the first positive news stories about Ambrose in quite some time, following the wrap-up in Nairobi. Ambrose has been given some credit for this comment:
Asked whether she was changing her mind about Kyoto, Ambrose made an ambiguous reply, saying she was "learning."

My friend Olaf suggests that wanting to learn is a desirable attribute of a thirsty mind. However, in my view "learning" is a frank admission that Ambrose is in over her head. This comment is consistent with Ambrose's desire to consult with industry in the coming years to understand the solutions. Everyone knows the dynamics, the industries are well known and discussions on this topic have taken place for the last decade. Canada doesn't have the benefit of waiting while Rona Ambrose gets her doctorate. Does Elizabeth May have to "learn"?

The common theme of this past round in Nairobi, where does Canada stand? Other countries expressed confusion about Canada's position, and Ambrose spent most of her time doing "damage control". Does it not speak to the issue of competence that our allies were largely unaware of our policy? Shouldn't government officials have been working the diplomatic phones with our allies to forcefully argue our position and avoid any embarrassing perceptions? Who did the groundwork prior to Nairobi? Apparently nobody, and Canada's reputation was tarnished.

Rona Ambrose is incompetent, it's as simple as that. If you assume a job, and replace someone who was fired, is it acceptable ten months later to say "the last guy really screwed this up"? That tactic might work straight away, but after awhile I doubt the excuse would hold much water with any supervisor. Rona Ambrose should resign, and it goes well beyond her party membership.

23 comments:

knb said...

Really good post Steve and I would agree, incompetence is obvious. Your last analogy was good, but I'd take it a step further and say, this government wasn't just suddenly exposed to this file 10 months ago. (I know you mentioned this too.) For all of their bluster of "13 yrs. of Liberal, blah, blah", (which of course is nonsense in terms of when Kyoto was ratified etc.), were they not looking at this, developing a strategy in all of this time? Apparently not, apparently they were satisfied to rely on those who rejected the concept and thought they could sell that.

I will say this. Her incompetence is likely really Harper's incompetence, in that, he would have insisted that she present the "conservative view". Do you have an option at that point? I suppose, but not if you want to be a Minister. That said, she chose the devil she wanted to dance with and was ill prepared to carry out the task.

Olaf my friend, a thirsty mind is a good thing, unless you sate it while those around you are dying, (had to cue the drama!)

Dana said...

Not only is Kyoto officially dead in Canada so is the entire subject of global warming or climate change.

See http://politicsblog.ctv.ca/blog/_archives/2006/11/21/2517394.html for the whole sorry saga.

These bozos are about as incompetent a gang of anti-science, anti-free press, anti-democratic miscreants as this country has ever had the misfortune to stumble across.

Olaf is a boy. It's an error to afford his opinions the respect due the opinions of a man.

Steve V said...

knb

That's why when Ambrose and company say that climate change is a big priority for this government I laugh. They had policies on taxes, the military, national security, childcare, accountability, crime, etc, etc, but on the environment it was "developing a made in Canada solution". 13 years, you would think they could have developed something, other than we hate Kyoto. It really is ridiculous.

dana

I like Olaf, because even though we mostly disagree, he is normally civil and thoughtful.

ottlib said...

Stephen Harper's incompetence lies in the fact that he believed that he could walk away from the Kyoto Protocol without suffering any political consequences.

When he discovered his judgement was in error he cobbled together something to counteract the damage. That for me is the most obvious feature of the new "Clean Air Act". You can tell it was thrown together very quickly.

The whole exercise is a desparate attempt to make the environment in general and climate change in particular go away before the the expected election in the Spring.

One way to keep it from going away is to keep demanding Ms. Ambrose's resignation.

Conversely, if this is still an issue in January expect Ms. Ambrose to be moved somewhere else. That will be the last desparate attempt to change the subject before the election.

Steve V said...

ottlib

"When he discovered his judgement was in error he cobbled together something to counteract the damage. That for me is the most obvious feature of the new "Clean Air Act". You can tell it was thrown together very quickly."

I think this also explains why the Conservatives were so willing to let the opposition amend in committee. I honestly believe that these guys calculated that their do nothing act would fly with the right packaging. Harper is "learning" that he serious mis-calculated the importance of the issue.

wilson61 said...

Ministry of Finance Investigation
Majority (58%) Say Ralph Goodale Should Resign as Finance Minister Until RCMP Investigation is Complete - 42% Say It Is Okay For Him to Stay On''
Goodale did not resign, and he is being investigated!!!

''House passes motion asking Liberals to resign
Tue. May. 10 2005
In what could be seen as the beginning of the end for Paul Martin's minority government, the Liberals lost a vote on a controversial motion in the Commons Tuesday night.''
Paul Martin Liberals did not resign, even tho a majority in the house voted them out!!

knb said...

Steve, everything you point to, in terms of what Harper had policies on, was domestic, or for domestic consumption. They had no International agenda on the radar.

So focused were they, (as I guess any opposition relegated there for so long would be), on gaining power, all of there effort went to the domestic message. Remember Bush when elected....national issues. He, like Harper had never travelled and seemed to show little interest in International affairs. Both of them, have been faced with quite the opposite of what they expected. IMO, they are both failing on that score. To reduce climate change and Kyoto, to some "Made in Canada", (who coined that anyway?), is not just laughable, it's ridiculous.

Ottlib, if he moves her to another file in Jan., he admits defeat. Where would he put her anyway? Foreign Affairs?, just kidding.

dana, olaf is a thoughtful conservative, who doesn't just toe the company line. Would that there be more of his ilk to discuss these issues with.

knb said...

Ahhh and right on cue arrives wilson61...one who does not give much thought to what he says, but toes that damn line.

Steve V said...

wilson

Thanks for sharing. Huh?

knb

Bingo!!

Dana said...

Olaf and I had an interaction somewhere once, I don't remember where, maybe at the Beav, where I tried to communicate, perhaps too forcibly for the boy's tender sensibilities, how ultimately foolish and isolating it was for Con supporters to paint anyone and everyone who disagreed with them about something, anything as "loony lefties".

A day or so later I went to his blog where someone whose prose read as though he were some kind of rightie-tightie mentor to Olaf admonished Olaf to "stay out of the gutter".

That Olaf coninues to lurk and even post on occasion around more progressive blogs than Small Dead Brains or Blogging Whories is a mark in his favour. It at least shows curiosity.

He's a poli-sci student at U of C. Guess what you are - a thesis subject. A bug under a microscope. Nothing more.

In January of '97 when I first got online I started trying to find thoughtful, intelligent, historically minded, honest members of the North American conservative community with whom to have a reasoned discourse.

At first I didn't understand the lesson of Diogenes.

Now I always carry a fucking stick.

knb said...

At first I didn't understand the lesson of Diogenes.

Now I always carry a fucking stick.


LOL dana. I can't and won't judge what you and Olaf have exchanged.

Stick with us though, Steve always provides interesting discourse and if reasoned people from the other side appear...all the better.

Steve, I find it odd that Harper hasn't realised this will sink him. He is a lot of things...stupid is not one of them.

Myopic and convicted I guess...myopic wins though...and then you lose.

Olaf said...

Haha,

Is Olaf the real issue we should all be considering? Is his reputation more important than the survival of our planet?

For anyone who wants to read the infamous Dana/Olaf incident, here's the link. It's a very interesting read, to say the least - and I'm quite sure that in the exchange, I was the one who came off looking reasonable (for once!)

On this thread, I especially liked the "Olaf is a boy" comment (who knew Dana knew so much about me, including my age and maturity level!), and how I am "a poli-sci student at the U of C", although I've been on the campus but once and am no longer a student. And, for the record, I'm officially scared of Dana's conservative cyber-whackin' stick! Yikes!

ANYWAYS, I really liked this post Steve. It actually made a reasonable argument as to why Rona should resign, and notably relied on post-NDP resolution evidence. I think that Rona should have to account for the committee "truthiness", but I'd give her an opportunity to explain before I chalk it up to "lying".

Personally, I think she is definitely not the Conservatives best choice (Werner brought up Diane Ablonczy, who DEFINITELY should have gotten a cabinet posting), and despite the evidence you provide, I wouldn't call her necessarily incompetent. I don't think that the Conservative party had many avowed environmentalists to choose from, so they all had to learn a great deal (as would many in the other parties, but to a lesser degree).

I mean, as I've said before, if we ever (God forbid) elected an NDP government, I'd expect the finance minister to make quite a few mistakes the first time out.

Maybe I sound like an apologist, but I really don't think that Rona's missteps justify to a resignation, especially considering the mistakes of past ministers who have screwed up in equal manner without resigning. And I do think that the majority of those calling for Rona's resignation are doing so on the basis of policy disagreement, as opposed to the reasonable arguments you put forward.

No one can reasonably defend the Conservative environmental policy as sufficient, just as no one can defend the Liberal record, but I think that Rona's failings have more to do with the government in which she was elected than her own incompetence. And I think that she and the Conservatives should receive at least muted applause based on the fact that they let the legislation go to committee, and seem to be expressing a desire to improve and, yes, "learn".

In any case, great post Steve.

Olaf said...

Steve,

Apparently I've double commented... oh the embarrassment!!!

Please discard the second (or the first) and forgive my grave indiscretion...

Olaf said...

Also,

Sorry to dwell on this, but the "some kind of rightie-tightie mentor" which Dana refers to is Rene Bol, who is a wildly intelligent, very informative and generally left wing regular commenter on my site, who challenges me on just about every post.

Anonymous said...

A very informative post, Far&Wide. I'd recommend it especially for all those home-schooled children learning about the world and its environment.
It is also very revealing about government, for those interested.
Rona Ambrose is incompetent. Even more so if she allowed herself to be muzzled by Harper.
An elected Minister of this country has a duty to this country above and beyond any party loyalties.
She mislead Committee, she mislead the people of Canada, she tried to hoodwink the world, and according to QP today Ambrose and Lunn exchanged emails regarding directives to remove the words and phrase Kyoto and Climate Change from the Government of Canada's website.
What authority do either of these Ministers of Parliament have to alter or change that which belongs to the entirety of Canada? None.
Incompetence is a kind word in the face of more serious implications.
Yes, the transparency is becoming clear.

Adam C said...

Olaf:

On the contrary, if the NDP were to select a finance minister who was unfamiliar with the idea of a "budget" and couldn't understand what senior bureaucrats were telling her, I would be quite upset.

There's no prerequisite for the Environment Minister to be an "environmentalist". However, they should be able to understand the main environmental issues and be familiar with their government's policies on them...

Ti-Guy said...

Surprise, surprise. Mention Olaf and the topic magically turns into...How's Olaf's learning curve today?

I dismissed that post of his on Rona Ambrose precisely because the core thesis was so wrong: It can't be a about disagreeing with Rona's (short-cut here for 'her government's') policies because there aren't any. That much is clear. It was the same with national child-care.

It's the typical Conservative ruse of pretending they're doing something about an issue while doing absolutely nothing.

Olaf said...

Adam,

if the NDP were to select a finance minister who was unfamiliar with the idea of a "budget" and couldn't understand what senior bureaucrats were telling her, I would be quite upset.

Do you think that Rona is unfamiliar with the term "environment" or "global warming"? I think you assume too much about her level of knowledge and intelligence, based on an assessment of her governments policies. I'll remind the crowd that she has a masters degree in political science, and is fluently tri-lingual. She's no dunce, as seems to be the general consensus.

Unlike Ti-guy, who has resolved all of the worlds most complex issues in his head long ago (if only he'd share his wisdom!), I still have much too learn, and I'll admit it. Same with Rona, perhaps that's why I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt here.

I think she's at least intelligent, which is more than you can say for a lot of Conservative (and Liberal and NDP) MPs, and although perhaps not the best choice for Environment minister, I can tolerate her.

Adam C said...

Olaf:

I think you assume too much about her level of knowledge and intelligence, based on an assessment of her governments policies.

I know it's been a while, but re-read Steve's post at the top of the page. What part of that is an assessment based on her government's policies? It's more an assessment that she doesn't know what those policies are or else lies about them.

I'll remind the crowd that she has a masters degree in political science, and is fluently tri-lingual.

That's very nice. We're still, however, interested in any evidence that she understands the problem of global warming, or the Canadian government's efforts to comply with (or evade) the Kyoto Protocol. I suppose this is evidence that she misunderstands the issue in three languages.

Ti-Guy said...

Unlike Ti-guy, who has resolved all of the worlds most complex issues in his head long ago (if only he'd share his wisdom!)...

You only needed to ask, Grasshopper. And that wisdom is this...when people with power lie they are no longer credible and no longer deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Olaf said...

Adam,

That's very nice. We're still, however, interested in any evidence that she understands the problem of global warming, or the Canadian government's efforts to comply with (or evade) the Kyoto Protocol

See, this is the point. To you, a lack of desire to act strongly enough against global warming is an indication that she doesn't understand the topic, which doesn't follow.

I can't defend Ambrose's missteps completely, and won't try to. I don't know what happened with the $100m credit thing, although I do suspect that it wasn't her who composed her speech before the committee, but rather a bureaucrat, as is how things usually work.

Regarding her mischaracterization of Wysham's comments, here's the quote from the article:

Ambrose made reference to the think tank on Thursday during a parliamentary committee arguing that the mechanism, which allows countries to get credits for investments in developing nations to reduce emissions, had no accountability.

Is this untrue? When providing evidence against one aspect of a policy choice, need one give a complete understanding of the quoted sources opinion of the broader topic? No, of course not.

If she's making the point that the system is unaccountable, she is free to quote whoever shares that opinion, whether or not they share all opinions on the Kyoto protocol.

We all do this: we select and provide evidence that supports our position, where it supports our position, and we fail to provide evidence to the contrary. That is how arguments are made. If she said something like "this institute supports the Conservative governments environmental platform", she would be misleading. If she says "like us, this institute thinks that Kyoto trading system is unaccountable", so long as it did in fact say this which has not been disputed, than she is being accurate and making an argument.

My point is that we can't take a disagreement on policy as indication of understanding.

Now, Steve has pointed out a number of substantial flubs, and makes a strong argument. I agree that there seemed to be no plan at the Nairobi conference, and that she should be held accountable for other mistakes. I just don't think it's grounds for dismissal or resignation.

I think the conservatives have put themselves in a very tough position on the environment by not taking the political implications seriously enough from the get go, however I think this reflects less on Rona as it does the government at large, and a leadership that should have made it a priority but didn't. She has had to answer for a lot that she had little control over.

I don't think she's unintelligent or incompetent, I just think that she's had to do damage control since day one, because the Conservatives didn't take the path they should have. That's my take.

Adam C said...

To you, a lack of desire to act strongly enough against global warming is an indication that she doesn't understand the topic, which doesn't follow.

Please recall my earlier comment: in Steve's post it's not the policies or actions themselves, it's that she doesn't appear to understand them. The injection of disagreement over policy in this discussion is entirely yours.

However, since you do bring it up, I am forced to wonder how well she could understand the problem of global warming and still do damage control for a government that has chosen to do nothing about it. I'll set aside your "strongly enough" qualification - the difference between the "do something" and "do nothing" options is pretty stark.

As analogy, if I yell "The bridge is out!" and Ambrose doesn't even touch the brake, then regardless of whether braking would have been a sufficient response she clearly doesn't understand the problem.

Incidentally I largely agree with your last comment: there's little point in getting Ambrose to resign as it wouldn't change her government's policies.

Olaf said...

As analogy, if I yell "The bridge is out!" and Ambrose doesn't even touch the brake, then regardless of whether braking would have been a sufficient response she clearly doesn't understand the problem.

Good line...