Tuesday, February 28, 2006

American Troops Favor Withdrawal

Interesting Zogby poll of American troops, with surprising results:
An overwhelming majority of 72% of American troops serving in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country within the next year, and nearly one in four say the troops should leave immediately, a new Le Moyne College/Zogby International survey shows.

The poll, conducted in conjunction with Le Moyne College’s Center for Peace and Global Studies, showed that 29% of the respondents, serving in various branches of the armed forces, said the U.S. should leave Iraq “immediately,” while another 22% said they should leave in the next six months. Another 21% said troops should be out between six and 12 months, while 23% said they should stay “as long as they are needed.”

The Democrats who have advocated a timetable for withdrawal have been vilified by Republicans. The fact that American soldiers also favor a timetable should provide Democrats political cover and allow them to turn up the rhetoric. How can anyone question the patriotism of the patriots??

The poll also found that members of the National Guard were more apt to prefer withdraw, as opposed to regular soldiers like the Marines. This finding is hardly surprising, given the Pentagon's misuse of National Guard forces to fill the gaps for an over extended military.

Liberals In Trouble

Yesterday, I had an entry which outlined the Conservatives strategy in Quebec, with the goal a majority in the next election. It is also quite telling that some Liberals are openly musing about a Conservative government for years to come:
Liberals are also looking at the real possibility that Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) will "in all likelihood," win at least a minority or a majority in the next election which is affecting the whole dynamic of a Liberal leadership run.

"If he's got a majority the next time, you're up seven or eight years and nobody coming in this time is going to survive that long, especially older ones," said one Liberal, which explains why the party's heavy-hitters did drop out. "If Stronach and Brison don't do something, they're just going to fade from peoples' memories. They don't have long careers behind them to draw on, so they have to make their mark now or they'll just be distant memories by the time anything happens."

The fact that several high profile Liberals have taken a pass on the leadership race is more than just coincidence. It would appear many Liberals have calculated that their time in the political wilderness may be a protracted affair:
"How often do you have a leadership for a national party and three of the four leadership contenders are refugees from another party and one's an emigrant who's come back home 30 years later," said one Liberal, referring to Mr. Brison, Ms. Stronach and Mr. Rae and Mr. Ignatieff, respectively.

The Liberals admissions, coupled with the Conservatives aggressive agenda to expand their base should give the center-left pause. In the near term, the Conservatives can put forward legislation that has public appeal, in an effort to set up their prospects for the next election. The more contentious issues, that frighten progressives, will be put on the back burner until a time when Conservatives have free reign.

It is hard to envision a scenario where the Liberals can effectively blunt the Conservative incursions into Quebec and provide a forceful alternative. How do you counter "renewed" federalism, in a province bent on greater autonomy? Unless the Conservatives self-destruct, the Liberals may flounder for years to come. And, don't expect the NDP to stop nipping away at the progressive wing of the Liberal Party. Of course things could change, but given the Conservatives clear, and increasingly effective, plans to solidify support, the Liberal prospects look bleak.

The fact that some Liberal insiders have already calculated that the Conservatives will win another term serves as a sobering revelation. The next Liberal leader may be viewed as a short-term bridge to party renewal. Quite a predicament for a Party that only months ago looked like Canada's perpetual rulers.

Monday, February 27, 2006

"Put A Human Face On Justice": Vic Toews

According to Vic Toews, that was the central purpose of today's proceedings. Indeed, we did see that Marshall Rothstein is a brilliant man, who gives careful consideration to his rulings. However, I think people pretty much assumed that Rothstein's selection, based on rigorous consultations, implies a man who is extraordinary and competent. Considering the fact that today's hearing lack practical "teeth", the little nuggets we learned about Rothstein are overshadowed by the risk to the process.

Interesting to note, that during the proceedings, Rothstein expressed concern that the public hearings didn't "degenerate" to a point where justices are humiliated. There has been much debate as to whether this new approach is a positive in the spirit of openness, or a negative ala the American political circus. Given the fact that this process is not a constitutional requirement, offers no recourse or allows for concrete recommendations, it begs the question- why?

Toews argues that the process humanizes the justice system. I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand it justices interpret the law, based on sound legal argument in such a way that personality should be irrelevant. If we put a "human face" on the judiciary, doesn't it detract from the apolitical climate we strive for in our legal system?

Today's hearings went well, no question. However, I suspect the next time we hear of a court appointment, there will be greater scrutiny, as the media investigates and the opposition "vets". It just seems intuitive to think the process will evolve, in such a way where government and opposition support a nominee, based on their own morality. The hearings are a formality, but the government will be anxious to appeal to their base, and the opposition eager to paint judges as "extreme". I don't think Canada is so unique that it can avoid the trappings of the American process. American judges have become so politicized that no one is surprised to see a 5-4 vote on the 2000 election, with each Republican nominated judge voting against Gore, and each Democratic appointment voting in favor. The law is color blind?

This process isn't necessary from a legal standpoint. Why engage in proceedings that have the potential to politicize the process? The hearings today are simply a public relations coup by the Conservatives to trumpet "transparency" and "openness". Legal minds, with government and public consultation have chosen this man to serve. Why not leave the process out of the limelight, where the temptation for political opportunism is muted? I have a feeling the hearings we see 10 years from now will show no resemblance to the benign, friendly affair we witnessed today.

Conservatives "Scare the Hell" Out of Bloc

Great article in The Hill Times, outlining the Conservatives strategy in Quebec. One thing was clear this past campaign, the Conservative strategists are a shrewd bunch, with a coherent plan. Wasting no time in the post-election aftermath, Harper has already shown his hand and therein the future Conservative strategy for electoral domination:
In Liberal circles, one school of thought is that the Conservatives won't put water in their wine in the upcoming Parliament and will charge ahead with their program in an effort to get defeated early to win a majority.

The Tories see Quebec as one of the biggest potential targets to make gains. The Conservatives now hold 10 out of 75 seats in the province.

"That is going at an accelerated pace right now. They're targeting seats and trying to get some legitimate Quebec staffers into the game here now with the existing people and they're trying to crank the Quebec presence," said one veteran Liberal who is watching what's going on.

But in order to make gains in Quebec federally, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) has to do everything humanly possible to make sure Quebec Premier Jean Charest wins the next election provincially, observed one Liberal, who pointed out that the only way that will happen is to have a big block of Tories on the federal side and "pulverize" the Bloc Québécois in the process.

"The Quebec thing is playing big. Most of it is below the radar at this stage, but it's playing and it's playing hard," said the insider.

At a time when new government's are usually preoccupied with setting up shop, the Conservatives have a long term vision in mind, with dreams of a majority. Pretty impressive strategy and a great read of the landscape- Liberals beware.

There is no question that Harper has formed a tight alliance with Charest. The mutual backslapping since their initial visit has been striking. Harper praising Charest on healthcare, Charest trumpeting Harper whenever a microphone appears. The early days of this government have shown a uneven focus on Quebec, which is clearly no accident. No wonder the Bloc is worried:
"My gut feeling is that I don't think anybody wants an election right now. I think that if it was held, we'd be in the best position to make some gains," said Mr. Gervais, a senior consultant at the Capitol Hill Group. "We came out of the last election united. We're strong. We've got money in the bank. We're ready to run the next election."

He said the Bloc is frightened at the prospect of facing a new federalist rival that is promising openness and flexibility instead of the centralizing views of previous Liberal governments.

"Now you've got a more conciliatory type of federalism and that is really scaring the hell out of the Bloc because we are actually picking up francophone voters," he said.

The Bloc have made it clear that they plan to support the new government. The reasons given seem sincere, but I think there stance is a clear recognition of the Conservative threat. This sentiment, coupled with the Liberal Party in short term flux, explains why the Conservatives appear bold, despite the seat count.

The Conservative attitude may be a calculation that they are in a "win-win". They can forge ahead on an ambitious agenda with virtual impunity. The threat of further Tory gains in Quebec effectively neuters the opposition for the immediate future. Force an election, we dare you. The Conservatives may actually force the opposition hand, with legislation that is bound to be contentious. The Conservative strategists seem to be operating with the same frenzy seen in pre-election mode- with dreams of majority dancing in their heads.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Conservatives Risk Deficit

I can't remember the last time I read an article, outlining the risks of deficit spending. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has some juggling to do, fulfilling the litany of Tory promises and balancing the books:

But analysts warn that economic growth won't generate enough cash to fulfil the lengthy list of demands, particularly as the costs rise...

Meanwhile, under pressure from premiers, Harper's government has agreed to extend until March 2007 the existing Liberal child-care plan - an unexpected new cost of about $700 million, according to estimates by the Conference Board of Canada.

Another whopping expense in the first Conservative budget will be the promised percentage point cut to the Goods and Services Tax, a move that one analyst reckons will cost $700 million more than forecast in its first year alone...

It's obvious the new finance minister has very little discretion over the next several years," said Dale Orr, economist with forecaster Global Insight.

"The Conservative fiscal plan of election 2006 exhausted virtually all fiscal surpluses in sight."

He calculates that the GST cut alone will cost Ottawa about $5.2 billion in foregone revenues every year, considerably more than the Tory forecast of $4.5 billion.

The Tories calculated a surplus of 1.7 billion for the coming fiscal year. Now factor in the extra 700 million for childcare, the extra 700-900 million for the GST cut and the warnings of cost overruns on defence. How do the Tories plan to make up the difference? Raising taxes, primarily on the poorest Canadians:
Watch for higher personal income taxes as the Conservatives cancel previous Liberal tax cuts to pay for their GST reduction.

"It (the GST cut) is their big initiative and it doesn't leave them a lot of room to do other things," said Rick Egelton, chief economist with Bank of Montreal.

About $2.7 billion can be found next year by canceling a Liberal tax cut that reduced the lowest marginal tax rate to 15 per cent from 16 per cent, calculates Orr.

What a disgrace, if the Conservative need to balance the budget by raising the lowest tax rate. The GST cut benefits all??? Analysts are also warning the Conservatives against rosy optimism in their revenue predictions. The Liberals were notorious for "worst-case scenario" budgets, lowballing the surplus numbers. While the Liberals took some heat for this approach, I think it was prudent management to operate with low figures. The Conservative approach leaves no space if projections aren't met, and the consequence will be a deficit. The fact that, despite robust growth, we are now discussing deficits is staggering.

Glimmer of Hope for Palestine?

Whenever you enter a dark room, your vision is lost and you feel disoriented. If you wait a few minutes, and adjust to the new optics, you begin to see some hint of light that allows for a level of comfort. It's still dark, but at least you can see shapes and form. This example seems analogous to the latest developments in Palestine:
Hamas leaders have repeatedly indicated they will not back down over Israel, despite facing tremendous pressure from the United States, Europe and parts of the Arab world.

However, Haniyeh said in an interview published on Saturday that Hamas is "ready to recognize" Israel under certain conditions.

"If Israel declares that it will give the Palestinian people a state and give them back all their rights, then we are ready to recognize them," Haniyeh told the Washington Post in remarks posted on the newspaper's website...

The United States will continue to send humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people even after a Hamas government is formed, a U.S. envoy says.

State Department official David Welch and other U.S. diplomats met with Palestinian leaders in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Saturday.

The United States and the European Union donate about $900 million US each year to the Palestinians. But they've been threatening to pull the funds if the government is led by Hamas, which they list as a terrorist organization.

The fact that Hamas has articulated conditions by which they would recognize Israel is a positive sign and represents a slight softening of previous statements. So too, the American decision to continue aid and in effect pursue diplomacy with economic leverage. Small steps by any measure, at least these developments turn down the volume and offer some possibility.

Abbas is threatening to resign if peace talks with Israel breakdown, which may apply more pressure on Hamas to pursue talks. The weight of the world community, coupled with internal pressures, may force Hamas to go where it is not naturally inclined. Interesting to note that there was a time where the PLO was largely a pariah, bent on the destruction of Israel. I realize Hamas is a unique case, especially as it refers to their religious extremism, but there is a historical precedent for evolution under the right conditions.

The important thing for all sides, is resist the kneejerk reaction and focus on small developments that point to progress. I don't mean to sound naively optimistic, but maybe the landscape isn't as pitch dark, as it first appeared.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Dubai Derails Dubya

The Galloping Beaver has a good synopsis detailing how the Dubai Ports controversy is not really a threat to American national security. What is interesting, is how the facts have taken a back seat to paranoid hysteria and placed Bush on the defensive. It is especially noteworthy for the reasons outlined by The Nation:
Bush was the principal author, along with his straight-shooting Vice President, and now he is hoisted by his own fear-mongering propaganda. The basic hysteria was invented from risks of terrorism, enlarged ridiculously by the President's open-ended claim that we are endangered everywhere and anywhere (he decides where). Anyone who resists that proposition is a coward or, worse, a subversive. We are enticed to believe we are fighting a new cold war. But are we? People are entitled to ask. Bush picked at their emotional wounds after 9/11 and encouraged them to imagine endless versions of even-larger danger. What if someone shipped a nuke into New York Harbor? Or poured anthrax in the drinking water? OK, a lot of Americans got scared, even people who ought to know better.

So why is the fearmonger-in-chief being so casual about this Dubai business?

Because at some level of consciousness even George Bush knows the inflated fears are bogus. So do a lot of the politicians merrily throwing spears at him. He taught them how to play this game, invented the tactics and reorganized political competition, as a demagogic dance of hysterical absurdities, endless opportunities to waste public money. Very few dare to challenge the mindset. Thousands have died for it.

Bush, for the first time, is now the victim of his own creation. The Democrats, and Republicans with re-election to consider, have seized on an opportunity to wave the flag in the face of "terrorist" intrusions onto American soil. The facts are meaningless, all that matters is the appearance of protecting the nation, no matter how absurd the claim. Karl Rove must appreciate the irony.

The Dubai Ports episode, wounding Bush aside, is hardly a positive development for the state of American politics. The Democrats have calculated that there best chance to topple the Republicans, is too out flank them on national security. There is already a co-ordinated effort to entice former military personnel to run for the Democrats, under the moniker of "Fighting Dems". Translation, Republicans aren't the only ones who take national security seriously. On the surface, it would appear to be an astute political move, however the fact that Democrats find it necessary to "militarize" their ranks speaks to a society whose paranoia has radicalized its vision. Traditional Democratic issues are now mostly afterthought, as the two parties jockey to see who is best fit to move forward on the war footing. The left is now a vacant void in American politics, to the point of taboo.

The Bush administration has masterfully changed the rules. The fact that critics have learned the playbook and now use it effectively only entrenches the initial faulty premise. Paranoia and hysteria have won the day across the spectrum.

Pentagon Propaganda

The problems with the Iraqi "national" army are well documented. However, it is still amazing to watch a Pentagon propaganda campaign that would make Goebbels proud. In his last appearance before Congress, Rumsfeld spoke highly of the Iraqi security forces and even had the audacity to bristle at the negativity:
"It is simply a misrepresentation of what's taking place," Rumsfeld continued. "The Iraqi security forces are getting better every day, every week, every month. They are doing a very good job."...

In the end, Rumsfeld expressed confidence the Pentagon's plan would overcome the doubts of legislators. "We just need to tell them truth and hopefully they'll get it," he told reporters.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt of the U.S. military Central Command on thursday:

"Those Iraqi forces are fighting bravely, courageously"..."They are learning the cold lessons in combat, the harsh lessons in combat that is accelerating their development."

You would conclude that Iraq's army is moving forward, right? It is common practice for the American government to release "unflattering" news on Friday afternoon, where it will be mostly forgotten heading into the slow, weekend newscycle. A common manipulation tool to skew the real story, the Pentagon dropped this tidbit yesterday:
The only Iraqi battalion capable of fighting without U.S. support has been downgraded to a level requiring them to fight with American troops backing them up, the Pentagon said Friday.

The battalion, made up of 700 to 800 Iraqi Army soldiers, has repeatedly been offered by the U.S. as an example of the growing independence of the Iraqi military.

The competence of the Iraqi military has been cited as a key factor in when U.S. troops will be able to return home.

What is particularly cynical about the Pentagon's blatant misinformation campaign, is it allows for the false premise that Iraqis can deal with the current challenges. The idea of progress is touted, by manipulating numbers and appearances, while the reality suggests an abysmal failure by any measure. How can it be that with all the resources, time and energy, Iraq is still without a small unit that can effectively operate? What arrogance for Rumsfeld to get testy when questioned about competence, when the truth suggests the chorus of criticism should be deafening. It is staggering, that Rumsfeld and company, are still given a forum to spew the propaganda, when the clear pattern suggests the words have no resemblance to reality.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Conservatives Embrace Kyoto?

What a difference a week makes. Which Rona to believe?

Environment Minister Rona Ambrose Feb 24:
"There's an action plan that we are going to move on very quickly," Ms. Ambrose said in an interview Friday. "I'm very committed. The prime minister has given me a very strong mandate."

She said the action plan will include an emissions-trading system for large polluters and will try to engage the public in a new way.

"I think we not only have the political will from the prime minister, and from myself and my colleagues, on this issue, we also have the public will on our side."

An emissions-trading system would allow polluters to buy and sell emissions permits either domestically or internationally, so that cuts can be implemented at lower cost

Kyoto signatories are required to submit reports in March showing they have made substantial progress toward their targets. Ms. Ambrose said Canada will submit a report. The new plan will likely be a major component in it.

Environment Minister Rona Ambrose Feb 17:
"There will not be opportunities under this government, unlike the previous government, to purchase hot-air credits and allow Canadian companies to pollute on Canadian soil," she said.

"Any sort of emission trading, whether it's domestic, international, has to have a direct benefit to the Canadian environment."

After meeting Alberta counterpart Guy Boutilier in Edmonton on Thursday, Ambrose spelled out the Tories' opposition to emissions trading, saying she saw no benefit to "shipping hot-air credits overseas."

Partisanship aside, if Ambrose has dramatically changed her position, it represents a positive sign. I remain skeptical, given Ambrose's big oil ties and the Conservatives pitiful environmental plans, outlined in their election blue book. What will she say next week?

The Butterfly Effect

Quite a few news stories today debating whether or not Iraq is now in the midst of civil war. What is particularly scary, aside from the obvious implications for Iraq, is the broader conflict that would follow.

The tensions between Sunni and Shia are not confined to Iraq. We have already seen massive demonstrations by Shiites across the region protesting the shrine bombings. A country like Pakistan is particularly vulnerable to an escalation in violence. The events of the last days may provide the final spark that allows Pakistan's Sunni-Shia conflict to bubble over out of control. Afghanistan has also seen a rise in Sunni-Shia conflict, which threatens to destabilize an already precarious situation. Religion trumps any sense of nationalism by a wide margin in most of the regions countries. If Iraq falls into a sectarian war, I wonder how long before the rest of the region is draw into the conflict.

Iraq is home to the holiest of places for the Shia. Can anyone realistically hope that Shia throughout the region will not rise up to protect their religion from the Sunni? It is counter-intuitive to say a country like Iran would sit idly by while a religious war rages next door. Predominately Sunni countries would also feel compelled to assist their brethren out of duty, and/or counter Iranian involvement. The entire situation could easily spiral out of control to the point of a war the world has not yet seen.

Alarmist? Factor in the fact that the Americans and British are right in the middle, with no way out. Does anyone truly expect the coalition forces to remain disengaged while Iraq crumbles? The fact that the world community is currently pressuring Iran serves as another excuse to enter the fight. Any overt Iranian involvement to assist the Iraqi Shia would force the coalition to act and that would translate into support for the Sunni. In the grand scheme, Washington would calculate that the Shia represent a more significant threat to American interests and alliances would form accordingly.

Canada, which has now taken the lead in Afghanistan, would be surrounded by instability, on all sides. Coupled with the new government's apparent preference to be America's eager lap dog and you have a recipe wherein Canada is engaged. I also don't put it past the American administration to calculate that "a divide and conquer" strategy against Islam may be to America's benefit. I fear, that we make look back at these last few days in the same way historians point to Serbia when they speak of WWI.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Defence Minister Favors Deficits

How else can you interpret Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor's statements on forging ahead with the Conservative promises, despite clear warnings that the costs are well above the rosy Tory estimates:
But analysts say the promises already look far more costly than the Tories have suggested.

"I think the Conservatives did low-ball their spending estimates," says Steve Staples of the Polaris Institute...

The Canadian American Security Review, published at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, is also doubtful about the Conservative accounting.

"A cost of $2 billion for both ships and deepwater port seems ... doubtful," the publication said. "Election promises are more convincing when better fleshed-out."...

Staples said the surveillance system which would spread sensors across the Arctic to listen for submarines or other foreign vessels is a pricey option by itself.

"My understanding is that this proposal has been around for a while and it was shelved because it was too expensive."

He says a modern weapons system for the icebreakers "would cost a fortune."

Ethics aside, it is common practice to promise the moon during an election. However, once in power the fiscal realities often force "broken promises". Not so for the new government, who are determined to press forward with their misguided adventure that will threaten Canada's financial bottomline:
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor He told a conference of defence groups that the Tories plan to carry through with their ambitious election promises, including 13,000 new regular soldiers, new icebreakers and a northern port, new transport planes and infrastructure.

''We made a number of commitments in that platform and we intend to implement every one of them,'' he said.

He said the policy is simple: ''It's about having a three-ocean navy, a robust army and a revitalized air force.''

The Tories promised more money for defence and O'Connor said that will start soon.

''The Conservative government will provide new funding for National Defence in the upcoming federal budget.''

He wouldn't say how much will be in the first budget, but added he's sure the cash will be there.

''The prime minister has assured me that over the next few years we will get the money necessary build the armed forces the way we planned.''

Despite the warnings of massive cost overruns, the Conservatives will implement their plan. O'Connor had one other minor tidbit, Canada is willing to re-open the missile defence debate. Philosophical issues aside, how would O'Connor fund another massive expenditure? We have heard estimates of 500 million just for Canada to enter the game. The entire project could top the trillion dollar mark, which means that even a relatively meager contribution would be enormous for Canada. None of these fiscal concerns address the fact that practically missile defence looks more dud than deterrent.

Conservatives lauded Harper's economic credentials during the election. However, right out the gate, Harper is showing a dangerouresemblancece to the fiscal disaster that is the Bush administration. Cutting taxes and recklessly raising expenditures defies common sense. The fact thaknowledgeablele people are openingly questioning the Conservatives numbers should serve as red flag on the defence commitments. The litany of promises, coupled with stubbornnessss to ignore the warnings, will bring Canadians back to reality- fiscal health is not an infinite given.

Iraq Past Tipping Point

I think we can operate under the assumption that Iraq is now in a civil war. The bombing of a Shia mosque, and the massive violent reactions have started a chain of events that realistically can't be contained. The "national" element of Iraq's army is a mirage, really nothing more than sectarian militias who have regional considerations. The national government is really a dysfunctional farce, that has little credibility to force its will. The level of violence is staggering:
A wave of sectarian strife and recrimination swept Iraq Thursday after Wednesday's bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra. The interior ministry said that more than 100 people have been killed in the violence.

Officials in Baghdad, struggling to restore order, expanded an existing curfew in an effort to get people off the streets after dark and canceled all leaves for Iraqi security forces.

The process of forming a new government also appeared to be in jeopardy, as some Sunni politicians, protesting what they said was a lack of protection for Sunni mosques attacked overnight, said they were pulling out of negotiations with Shiite parties.

There were a great number of disturbances reported across the country Wednesday night and Thursday, too many to accurately track let alone verify.

A lot of people have argued that civil war was inevitable, despite the propaganda of progress. One person who has always provided a calming influence during the various crises is Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Unquestionably, the most powerful figure in Iraq, the fact that for the first time Sistani signals a preference for violence should serve as proof that the genie is out of the bottle:
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani was shown on Iraqiyah television meeting with the other 3 grand ayatollahs in Najaf, among whom he is first among equals. They include Bashir Najafi, Muhammad Ishaq Fayyad and Muhammad Sa`id al-Hakim. Sistani called for self-discipline and for peaceful demonstrations. He said Shiites must not attack Sunni mosques, but called for them to demonstrate peacefully. He laid responsibility for security on the Iraqi government, saying that it "is called today more than at any time in the past to shoulder its full responsibilities in stopping the series of criminal actions that have targeted holy spaces. If the security apparatuses are unable to safeguard against this crisis, the believers are able to do so, by the aid of God."

Astonishingly, Sistani seems to be threatening to deploy his own militia, Ansar Sistani, if the Iraqi government doesn't do a better job of protecting Shiites and their holy sites. One lesson Sistani will have taken from the bombing of the Askariyah shrine in Samarra is that he is not very secure in Najaf, either. But all we need in Iraq is yet another powerful private sectarian militia!

If Sistani abandons the political process, Iraq is lost. Sistani's demand that the Iraqi government needs to do a better job on security is a hopeless request, given the circumstances. The Iraqi government doesn't command an army or have the ability to offer any practical security. You can conclude that Sistani is acknowledging the failure of Iraq's government and moved passed a national ideal. Ditto for the Sunni elements, who have pulled out of political negotiations.

For all intent and purposes the civil war has started. Neither the coalition forces, or the Iraqi army, has shown any ability to stop terrorist strikes aimed at fueling sectarian tensions. There are now daily reports of militias carrying out revenge attacks. The level of hostility continually gains momentum, with no counter sentiments of good will to provide balance. When we look back at the last few days, it may serve as the watershed moment where Iraq finally passed the tipping point.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Too Funny

What will we do when Ralph Klein retires?:
Klein touted the benefits of using what's called "clean coal" during a televised address on Tuesday night, when he also boasted about the province's utilization of the energy source.

"We already use clean coal to meet more than half of our electricity needs," said Klein...

Mary Griffiths, an environmental policy analyst with the Pembina Institute, says the premier's comments are confusing.

"I don't know what is being referred to by clean coal. It's possible we could do something in the future which could capture the emissions, but not at the present time, to my knowledge, is there anything in Alberta that is capturing emissions from coal-fired power plants."

"All our coal-fired plants at the moment in Alberta are conventional coal-fired plants which emit from the stack sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and other heavy metals, and greenhouse gases."

Too much exposure to sour gas Ralph? If Klein really believes his rhetoric, it makes his anti-Kyoto stance all the more curious. Given that 20% of Canada's greenhouse emissions stem from coal, "clean" coal would certainly allow Canada to meet its Kyoto commitments.

Sick of Stronach

Maclean's has a piece debating the potential of Belinda Stronach's leadership bid. The article highlights many of Stronach's shortcomings, but offers:
one Liberal organizer, who says he will support Ignatieff if he takes the plunge, observed ruefully, none of them can catch every eye in an airport baggage-claims room the way he saw Stronach do recently.

I guess this "star power" explains the disproportionate coverage and focus, but the impetus is a serious media turned tabloid. As the article points out, Stronach is a lightweight on policy by anyone's definition. The depth of her comments are embarrassing for someone who has the temerity to think they can lead a nation. Nothing screams the notion of entitlement like a privileged, rich person who wants a title.

I'm sure supporters would argue that Stronach is passionate about Canada's future and her intentions are pure. However, all I see is naked ambition, where personal destiny is the primary motivator. If Stronach were merely a devoted public servant, then her passion would be apparent in her speeches and ideas. Instead, her lack of ability to string together two coherent sentences on most topics betrays her true passion- ambition and power.

Practically, I think most Liberals will see through the veneer and Stronach will fail in her leadership bid. Apparently some Liberals actually get it moving forward:
As potential candidates figure out how to raise money, other Liberals are more worried about raising their party's fortunes. "There is a deep-seated desire to use this hiatus from power as a time to attract new people to the party," says Steve MacKinnon, the party's national director. He said there will be less tolerance this time around of the party's provincial wings using their control over arcane membership regulations to cramp the ability of candidates to sign up new members.

Some Liberals are calling for a sweeping review of the way the party keeps rank-and-file members feeling connected -- enough to make regular donations. The Conservatives do it better. Ottawa MP David McGuinty, brother of the Ontario premier, is calling for "far greater engagement at the grassroots level," starting with a serious look at switching from a convention at which delegates elect the leader, to a one-member, one-ballot system with telephone voting. The view that something must be done to jump-start the faithful who grew disillusioned with the way Martin organizers dominated their party is now conventional wisdom. "We are a deeply factionalized and divided party," Ignatieff told student Liberals at the University of Western Ontario last week. "The test of things will be to find a leader who can bring us together."

Stronach's candidacy speaks to all that is wrong with our political system. At least the other "star" candidates like Ignatieff and Dryden ooze substance of ideas, Stronach offers the "Britney factor". I don't think Stronach is a serious contender, but her media appeal constantly enhances her profile. This media generated profile is the best explanation for why the Liberals decided to make Stronach the environment critic- it surely isn't based on strength of ideas. Now, as new Environment Minister Rona Ambrose marches forward with her plan to dismantle Kyoto, the environment has Stronach as primary defender- good grief. Sorry to be harsh, but Stronach shows little and receives plenty, while other more competent people are overlooked.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Emerson to Court

Interesting article on the possibility of legal action to right the Emerson wrong:
Based on my understanding of s. 3 Charter rights, and the publicly available evidence respecting the context and timing of the “crossing”, it is my opinion that the post-election actions of David Emerson, and perhaps, the Prime Minister as well, nullified the s. 3 Charter rights of the citizens of Vancouver-Kingsway to play a meaningful role in the election of their elected representative, and it further denied them the right to “effective representation” by the Party of their choice (Liberal) and their “party-affiliated” representative – “David Emerson qua a Liberal”. I also assert that the actions of David Emerson and the Prime Minister are neither fair nor equitable to the citizens of Vancouver-Kingsway, who essentially had their s. 3 right to play a meaningful role in the election of their representative stripped away.

Given that Figueroa(November 2003 case of Miguel Figueroa v. Attorney General of Canada, SCC File No: 28194.) suggests that s. 3 imposes a positive obligation on government to set up an electoral system which will provide for democratic government in accordance with the choices of Canadian voters, one can well conclude that in this context, the government, parliament, Elections Canada, and Minister of the Crown, have clearly failed to provide that positive obligation.

Unlike other citizens in other constituencies of Canada who got the “party-affiliated representative” they elected, the citizens of Vancouver-Kingsway have been denied that basic right. Cannot it not then be asserted that said denial is injurious to their “political equality” rights and basic dignity as citizens, a dignity protected by the s. 15 Equality Rights provision of the Charter.

There is a healthy discussion at Cerberus on how to make the liberal(small l intentional) blogosphere more effective. If you presuppose the validity of the legal arguments argued above, this case offers an opportunity for practical application. A "community" blog like Progressive Bloggers could set up a legal fund to support action against Emerson. Affiliates could draw attention to this legal fund, as well as support it. The "buzz" of a co-ordinated blog initiative would also garner the attention of mainstream media, which in turn could draw others into the process. The threat of a legitimate legal action, the bad press, could well tip the scale and force Harper to act, or risk the embarassment of dragging this issue into the courts. Just an idea on how the blogs can have practical relevance.

Harper Press Conference

Stephen Harper emerged from his cave today to meet with Canadian reporters. I thought, substantively, Harper performed well and offered some detailed responses. However, while the words were well crafted, the delivery was awkward, stiff and uncomfortable. Harper displayed a palpable unease with reporters and a body language that suggested he wished he was anywhere but there.

When Harper was asked why he hasn't been available, he replied "I will be make myself available when there is something to announce". On the surface that seems a reaonable approach, but it also belies a lack of understanding of media relations. During the campaign the Conservatives were masterful in getting their message out, but the governing period offers a different dynamic that Harper best adjust too. Unless Harper reverses his naturally tendency to shy away from questions, he risks alienating the power that presents the message.

Today, you could already sense a wall between reporter and politician, highlighted by some pointed questions with a hostile tone. I think Harper commits political suicide if his availability is sporadic, approached with a "get this over with" attitude. The press will turn on an aloof administration, despite the claims of objectivity.

Today's press conference may be a signal that Harper recognizes the need to make his case in the first person. However, it will be more difficult for Harper to counter his propensity to answer questions in a curt, uptight fashion. Harper has to connect with the Canadian people, but maybe more importantly he must connect with the people who give Canadians the pictures.


If anyone doubted how abysmal the opening weeks have been for our new government, the Conservative's internal reactions say it all:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has replaced his communications chief just two weeks after taking office, in what will be seen as a blunt acknowledgement of the bad public-relations tone set by his first days in power.

The Prime Minister's Office issued a terse statement late last night, announcing that the new communications director was Sandra Buckler, who was the lead person in the Conservatives' "war room" during the election campaign.

Buckler abruptly displaces William Stairs, who had been confirmed in the communications post less than two weeks ago.

Ouch. Nothing says complete failure like an early dismissal. Strangely, Harper's decision to replace Stairs due to poor press, has the effect of generating poor press and highlighting the government's initial failures. Shuffling staff at this early stage has no precedent:
Around Ottawa last night, there was shock and surprise that Harper had tried to dispatch his communications problems so bloodlessly and quickly. It is almost unheard-of for a Prime Minister to send a top official packing so soon into a new regime.

Sources said Stairs was called into Brodie's office yesterday afternoon where he was summarily dismissed, a move that clearly caught many staffers — including Stairs — by surprise.

So is Stairs to blame for the public relations mess, or is Harper the problem? The good news for progressives is that the new P.M. takes control. I say good news because these early blunders suggest complete incompetence and a political tin ear:
The sources said Mr. Stairs departed after arguing 10 days ago that the PMO and the Prime Minister needed to deal more forcefully with the Emerson problem. The Prime Minister had kept mostly silent on the difficulties surrounding Mr. Emerson despite the urgings of Mr. Stairs and a number of other individuals within the government.

Harper believes he knows best:
Mr. Reid says Mr. Stairs’s biggest challenge is Mr. Harper’s attitude toward the media.

"This is a prime minister who is seen to be his own most senior adviser, his own communications director, his own chief of staff," he says. "So that will have implications for how William can do his job. On the positive side of the ledger, people may be less willing to hold William up to criticism personally, because they may tend to discount his role necessarily in things that occur."

Mr. Powers agrees that Mr. Harper may want to run things himself.

"That’s true," he says. "The prime minister has a tendency to want to manage many things, and that’s true whether it’s Harper or anybody else. Leaders want to get their hands on everything, so Stairs’s challenge is to manage that."

Harper's decision to ignore Stair's warnings on Emerson, remain silent and let the story fester, illustrate his lack of political instincts. Leaving Stair's out of the loop to prepare the ground for Emerson, telling him the night before, is a shocking failure. Harper doesn't much care for the press, but he has already set a standard of aloof detachment that will inevitably hobble his government.

Stair's argued that Harper needed to be out front on Emerson, with greater press availability. Harper chose to ignore a basic tenet of good politics, which should make for interesting decisions as we move forward. Harper looks to be his own worst enemy.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Axe The Governor-General

Canada's Governor-General Michaelle Jean made big news today with her first official visit to Ontario. A spectacle of choirs, 21 gun salutes and the usual pomp and circumstance greeted this important figure- cough. Jean made an impassioned plea to stop the marginalization of young people and stressed equality of opportunity.

With all the problems in Canada, wasting time, energy and resources to prop up practically useless ceremonial entities gets me riled. If we really want to give young people more opportunity, I'm sure the 41 million(2003 figures) wasted on Jean's post would be better served by investing in programs that actually help kids. What are Jean's important duties that justify the position:
Representing the Crown and ensuring there is always a prime minister.

Acting on advice of prime minister and cabinet ministers to give royal assent to bills passed in the Senate and House of Commons.

Signing state documents.

Reading throne speech.

Presiding over swearing-in of prime minister, chief justice and cabinet ministers.

I'm fairly certain that Canada's government would survive without notifying the GG. Surely, someone else could read the throne speech- are her oratory skills and inflection so unique? Pardon the sarcasm, but Canada can't afford to invest in appearances over practicalities. I would much rather have an MRI machine than waste money on fancy lunches with stuffed shirts.

How many provincial legislators and staff wasted their day to accommodate the "first official visit" of nothingness? The people of Ontario are not well served when the government is handicapped so it can listen to hollow words from a glorified ornament. In a time where governments struggle with expenditure and tough choices, axing the Governor General, and the Lieutenant Governors for that matter, seems a no brainer.

I don't mean to suggest the money saved would alter the world in any significant way. But, equally, where is the ideological consistency in a society that can afford to waste expenditure on ceremony and concurrently cry about practical revenues. Our history is not compromised, our traditions not neglected, if we do away with the irrelevant obsolete. Can someone please tell me why we need to keep the Governor General?

Bloc Will Back Tories

I'm not sure what to make of the Bloc's co-operative tone towards the new government:
The Bloc Quebecois says it intends to keep the Conservative minority government in office for a "good while," encouraged by the Tories' openness toward Quebec....

In an interview, Bloc House Leader Michel Gauthier said his party has no intention of imposing such demands and will simply be happy with an end to Liberal centralization and the Conservative pledge to respect the constitutional division of powers.

"We don't want useless battles. We want to help the government function for a while. I have no shame in saying I will be urging my colleagues . . . to conduct ourselves in a way that the government stays in place for a good while to do what needs to be done," he said in French.

"[The Conservatives] have already shown more openness than the Liberals. The Liberals were centralist in everything they did, trying to infringe on the responsibilities of Quebec. It couldn't be worse that that. I think the Conservatives will be more respectful of Quebec's responsibilities."

The Bloc takes a curious position, by openly praising the Conservatives attitude towards Quebec. We have already heard alot of speculation that the Conservatives see Quebec as key to a any future majority. Doesn't the Bloc's position feed the perception that the Conservatives are good for Quebec? On the surface, defending the government might translate into the Bloc risking their own relevance in future elections. The decision to prop up the government, might translate into more Conservative seats in the future.

Or, are the Bloc supporting the Conservatives, as a tactic to make the Liberals irrelevant in Quebec? The Liberals are the traditional federalist party in Quebec. In addition, the Liberals are a more natural fit for Quebecs on social issues, while the Conservatives will always be to the right of the majority. Does the Bloc see an opportunity to gain, at the expense of the more historically relevant Party? Painting the Liberals as the centralists, forever opposed to Quebec's aspirations may work in the long term, and the alternative will be the awkward Conservative agenda.

The Conservatives may see a certain risk in the appearance that their government serves at the pleasure of seperatists. It will be interesting to see if Harper is satisfied to pass legislation without the support of the other federal parties. The Liberals and NDP will definitely exploit the seperatist angle, but the Conservatives may see the potential gains in Quebec as paramount. It will be an interesting dance, as both the Bloc and Conservatives look for political advantage, without alienating their potential voter base. On the surface, the Bloc at its word is simply interested in good government, but underneath their stance may be a shrewd political move with long term benefits.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Hamas, Israel and the Vicious Cycle

The Israeli government has decided to withhold monthly tax payments to the Palestinians, as punishment for the new Hamas dominated Palestinian Authority. On the surface, one can hardly blame the Israelis for refusing to fund an organization that doesn't recognize Israel and prefers terrorism to make its political points. However, Israel's latest counter only serves to embolden the forces the decision means to suppress.

Hamas has risen to prominence, primarily as a function of Palestinian frustrations over their current third-world conditions. Extremism thrives in an environment where people generally lack hope and optimism. Desperation leads otherwise "moderate" people to employ more radical tactics to achieve their aspirations. While the Palestinian Authority is partially to blame, through their mismanagement and corruption, Hamas has rose to prominence mainly because average Palestinians see little opportunity.

Israel's decision to punish Palestinians monetarily, coupled with other nations threats to stop aid, will only exasperate the situation. Lowering the standard of living of ordinary Palestinians is certainly not a recipe for future moderation and concessions. This pattern of Israeli action, Palestinian reaction, followed by further Israeli action is a vicious cycle that seems neverending. The latest move by Israel has the ironic effect of actually providing terrorists with another recruitment tool. Marginalizing Palestinians is not in Israel's self interest- it weakens the security situation.

What is Israel to do then? Obviously, they can't accept Hamas under its present configuration and justifiably so. The only hope to stop this downward spiral is some third-party nuance. Of course, the Bush administration demonstrates their complete lack of diplomatic understanding with its blanket threats to stop aid, without looking at solutions. What is needed is a way to continue the flow of aid to the Palestinians through channels that don't overtly support Hamas, and all the baggage that comes with any validation. The international community provides a great deal of aid to many Arab nations. Surely, these Arab nations could assume a more prominent role, with the backdoor backing of the West. The money still flows, from sympathetic nations, but the source is essentially the same. Wink, wink, nod, nod.

All sides need to recognize the wisdom in the old saying, "you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". Israel wants security and a lasting peace. Palestinians want a homeland and self-determination. America, and the rest of the international community wants stability, which will defuse much of the tension in the region. All efforts should work towards this goal, and when a development arises that appears a setback, reaction must be muted and approached with overall detachment. Israel's latest actions only serve the people they wish to punish- so goes the story of the holy land.

Note to Tories: Beware Bush

We hear lots of conciliatory talk coming from our new Conservative government, as it relates to the Bush administration. Words like "tone", "co-operation", "professionalism" and "mutual interests" are offered to denote our new approach to our southern neighbors. The Conservatives imply that our strained relationship of the past few years was primarily the doing of an unnecessarily combative Liberal government. The Conservatives have pledged a new era as we move forward. Sounds great, but in reality, with partner's like these, who needs enemies:
Ontario's Environment Minister says a Bush administration proposal to weaken pollution laws on hundreds of the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the United States is a "backward step" that will undermine the province's clean-air programs.

The U.S. proposal is "bad news for the health of people living anywhere in our shared air shed, no matter if you've got a postal code or a ZIP code," Laurel Broten said yesterday.

Her comments came after Ontario joined 11 U.S. states, mainly from the northeast, in filing objections to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal that would allow aging coal-fired power plants to continue operating without up-to-date pollution controls. Most of these plants are in the Midwest or the Ohio Valley area...

Good relations at the expense of Canada's wellbeing:
Environmentalists welcomed Ontario's intervention, but expressed concern that the federal government hasn't indicated whether it will take a similar high-profile stand.

There are worries that the new Conservative government may not be anxious to raise a cross-border pollution issue with the Bush administration, even though more than half the Canadian population lives downwind of harmful U.S emission sources.

"I really hope this is not a case where the Prime Minister and the new Environment Minister think that by being silent they gain favoravour with the U.S. government," said Paul Muldoon, a spokesman for the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

"I think most Canadians, particularly those in Ontario and Quebec, should be appalled by the lack of federal action."

The fact that the Bush administration has undercut emissions regulations in the name of profit is appalling. I would also use the word shocking, but given the consistent assault on all things environment, nothing the Bush administration does anymore should be a surprise. How can you work effectively with such a backward, frankly asinine, administration?

Quite a statement, that American state governments have seen fit to formulate their own environmental policy, the federal government so inept and destructive. The question, as posed in the article above, will the Conservatives stand tall for Canada, or appease for fear of strained relations? Harper's government may well sell out our interests to give the impression of friendly relations. The bottomline with the American administration, they don't play well with others. Arbitrary decisions, unilateral actions with narrow focus are the norm. Bush is not a partner, unless of course Canada is comfortable in a subservient role that merely reacts to American policy.

Our relations with the Americans have deteriorated, not because of a Canadian government with a preference for conflict, but because you can't deal with these guys. I've said this before, but a quick poll of foreign diplomats would overwhelming support the "bully on the block" thesis. Are we more interested in kissing ass, or looking out for our interests, first and foremost, with NO apologies. The Bush administration is a dangerous scourge which must be met with forceful rebuttal, not hollow rhetoric in the name of misguided diplomacy.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"Former" N.B. Tory Sets Bad Precedent

Michael Malley's decision to quit the Tories and sit as an independent in New Brunswick's legislature looks more opportunism than conviction:
Michael (Tanker) Malley has gone from disgruntled backbench MLA to potential kingmaker...

Chisholm Pothier, Lord's press secretary, said putting together a cabinet in New Brunswick is a delicate balancing act.

There are gender, language and geography issues to be taken into consideration, he said.

"I can understand Mr. Malley's disappointment," said Pothier on Friday night, adding other MLAs were also unhappy they didn't ascend to cabinet.

"Everybody who gets into this business eventually wants to make it into cabinet. But the reality is, not everyone can."

The arguments put forth by Malley are probably sincere, the Tory cabinet does lack regional balance. I also take Malley at his word that the Miramachi region has been neglected by the Lord government. However, despite these legitimate issues, I still think it a bad precedent to essentially say, "give me a cabinet post, or I'm out". Malley's move is the ultimate powerplay, he essentially holds the balance of power.

I don't think anyone's interests are served when politicians use strong arm tactics to promote their personal agenda. Malley should have stayed in caucus and continued to argue his case from within. It is Lord's decision to pick his cabinet. The fact that Malley was left out, despite the regional need, may say more about Malley's shortcomings, than it does blatant neglect. Lord's criteria may simply have been a question of competence, period. The voters can decide how too interpret Lord's decision, but Malley was elected as a Conservative and should remain one.

Switching parties and becoming an independent strike me as the same scenario. Malley should offer to run in a by-election to allow voters the opportunity to pass judgment on his decision. Apparently, Malley is set to met with the Premier to discuss the regional snub, which could possibly conclude with his re-entry into the Tory stable. If this scenario happens, it will serve as further proof of opportunistic politics.

The fact that Malley is a Tory shouldn't make his decision anymore attractive to progressives. Emerson had his "reasons", which his apologists speak too. Malley has his "reasons", which I won't support just because the political implications favor my personal preference. I think Malley sets a bad precedent, the timing stinks of cynical calculation.

Tar Sands Threaten Canadian Sovereignty

I read an interesting piece that highlights the American perspective on Alberta's tar sands. George Bush's declaration to end America's "addiction" to foreign oil was supposed to be a plea for new energy alternatives, while instead it has increased the focus on Alberta's oil deposits. 60 Minutes did a piece that offered Alberta's oil as America's energy savior, while daily news publications tout the possibilities moving forward. The Americans seem to forget that Alberta is "foreign", instead they seem committed to ensuring that the oil flows south, and south only.

Arguments like this, even though tongue and cheek, reveal the challenges ahead for Canadian sovereignty:
Last month, Canada threw out its namby-pamby liberal government and ushered in a new era of conservative rule. Thank goodness for small favors. Now when we run out of crude oil and natural gas down here in the United States, we won't have to invade our neighbors to the north to make sure the lights stay on. We can just arrange a friendly annexation.

O Canada! We love your beer, your funny accents, your flag with the botanical theme. Now be a dear and just let us have Alberta. Hey, it's just one province. You have nine more, plus three territories. You can keep the ones named after a dog (Labrador) and an SUV (Yukon) and all the rest. We just want the one with those nasty, dirty tar sands. We'll practically be doing you a favor...

You may have heard that President Bush, in his State of the Union address last week, mentioned that the U.S. must slash its dependence on oil from "unstable nations" in favor of cute little science projects like ethanol, nuclear plants and solar panels. But surely you knew that was sort of an inside joke. Most of those projects are a decade away from viability.

What he really meant was that we'd rather strip-mine our BTUs from the perfectly stable Alberta tar pits, which are so close to home that they might as well be ours.

Dick Cheney wants to visit the tar sands. Alberta has an office in Washington. American investors are encouraging Americans to get a piece of the action. The tar sands have inspired frenzied debate, and clearly America is betting its future on Canada. I see a scenario wherein American companies attempt takeovers to secure control. The lure of money will entice Canada to encourage more American investment, a "partnership" will evolve. The goal will be extraction, with little consideration for the long term consequences to Canadian sovereignty.

Americans are treating these oil deposits as if they are there own, and once a dependency takes hold, it will compromise Canada's independence. We have already seen early warning signs, that oil money translates into a province assuming supposed federal roles. Alberta's Klein found it necessary to reassure Americans that our policy on Iraq wasn't necessarily a reflection of his province's views. Canada's ability to forge an independent vision is handicapped by our "co-operation" with America.

Despite the current scenario, where "the west is in", practically, as a matter of population, future Canadian governments will always slant east. We can reasonably expect situations where Albertans continue to feel alienation, where their voice is marginalized. Couple this reality with the hyper friendly Americans, offering bags of money and goodwill, and you can see the temptations. Conventional wisdom usually looks to Quebec as the main threat to a future Canada. I would suggest, as tar sand potential becomes reality, Canada will face its greatest threat as Alberta is Americanized. The appearance of innocuous deals and mutual benefits, belies a threat to Canadian sovereignty. I fully expect the Americans to exploit Canada's "internal" issues to their benefit, just as they do now throughout the world.

Friday, February 17, 2006


New Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is set to succeed Stephane Dion at the UN as president of The Conference of Parties, which will oversee further implementation of Kyoto. How can Ambrose assume this important role, when she is on record criticizing the Accord she will oversee:
But despite the appointment, Ambrose did nothing to diminish the perception that the Conservatives aren't committed to the agreement.

"We are a signatory to 59 international agreements that I'm learning about all the time and a lot of them we're very active in," said Ambrose, an MP from Edmonton.

"On Kyoto, I will tell you that our government and our prime minister is very clear that there has to be a direct benefit to the Canadian environment and potentially to Canadian commercial investment in clean-air technology."

Ambrose said the government will pursue elements of the Kyoto protocol that fit within her mandate to focus on domestic air pollution.

The use of emissions credits under Kyoto to offset over-production of greenhouse gases is a problem for Ambrose.

"There will not be opportunities under this government, unlike the previous government, to purchase hot-air credits and allow Canadian companies to pollute on Canadian soil," she said.

Harper allowing Ambrose to replace Dion is akin to the American administration appointing John Bolton as U.N ambassador, despite his clear contempt for the organization. What will other nations think of a key player who isn't committed to the process? Mixed messages anyone? How will someone who is clearly in bed with Alberta oil and gas approach these issues in good faith?

Despite all the hot air about "domestic solutions", Ambrose's agenda is clear- don't allow any treaty that threatens Alberta's energy sector. Under the guise of a flawed emissions credit program, Ambrose will pull us out of the Kyoto Accord, which is why putting her in this important role is such a cynical move.

Harper to Afghanistan?

A few different news stories today, speculating on whether Stephen Harper may make Afghanistan his first public visit:
Ottawa — Stephen Harper is considering one of the most chaotic corners of Afghanistan as a preferred destination for his first prime ministerial foreign trip.

Perilous, sandswept Kandahar is being weighed against a more genteel option — visits with the presidents of the U.S. and Mexico — for Mr. Harper's first trip abroad.

Mr. Harper is expected to make all those stops eventually. He began pondering the Afghanistan option in the days after his election win.

In a post-election briefing with top military brass, Mr. Harper was urged to visit Canadian troops stationed in the southern Afghan city.

The prime minister was told that such a visit would send a strong message about his commitment to the military, and about Canada's desire to make a difference in the world.

Partisanship aside, I think it would be a great political move for Harper to show up in Kandahar. Images of Harper with our troops, demonstrating our resolve would surely make for good press(I can hear Don Cherry now). Harper would solidify himself as strong leader, with practical application. The Conservative strategists proved masters at propaganda during the campaign, I can see how this opportunity is attractive for their purposes.

Apart from politics, a Harper visit would focus attention on an increasingly dangerous mission. I'm not convinced that Canadians have a good understanding of what is happening in the Kandahar region. Essentially, Canada is now on the frontlines and can expect the body bags to prove it. A Harper visit would force more discussion on what our goals are as our role increases, while simulatenously the security situation worsens. Canadians still see ourselves as peacekeepers, when in fact it is a combat zone, with a clearly defined enemy. The tight security involved for a Harper visit may act as a sobering reminder of the true mission.

Promises, Promises

Remember during the election campaign, when the Liberals accused the Conservatives of faulty accounting with regard to their spending proposals. The Conservatives dismissed the Liberal concerns as partisan politics, pointing to respected economists who had validated the Conservative plan. One of the more ambitious Conservative proposals surrounded the Canadian military expenditure. Well, it looks like this election promise was more fantasy, than practical:
Conservative election promises to bolster the military with new ships, soldiers and an Arctic force are long on ambition, but may have come up short on money, say defence analysts.

The Tories promised to recruit 13,000 new, full-time soldiers and another 10,000 reservists; to build three heavy, armed icebreakers, an Arctic deepsea port and a surveillance system to keep watch over the North; and to buy new ships and planes.

They pledged to add $5.3 billion to the defence budget over five years..

But analysts say the promises already look far more costly than the Tories have suggested.

"I think the Conservatives did low-ball their spending estimates," says Steve Staples of the Polaris Institute.

If the Conservatives forge ahead with their ambitious plans, the cost overruns weaken our financial bottomline. If the Conservatives abandon some of their defence platform, it serves as a broken promise. I suspect, as time passes, the Liberal concerns raised during the campaign will be validated.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Poll: Good News for Harper

Decima has released a new poll that shows the early controversies haven't hurt the Conservatives fortunes:
The Conservatives would win another minority and the NDP would gain at the expense of the Liberals if Canadians had a chance to redo the Jan. 23 election, a new poll suggests.

The Decima Research survey of 1,010 adult Canadians, conducted between Feb. 9 and 13, suggests there has been no significant change in national support for the Tories.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents said they would vote Conservative, compared with 36 per cent who cast ballots on election day.

The poll put support for the Liberals at 25 per cent, down five percentage points from Jan. 23.

Twenty-four per cent of respondents backed the NDP, up from 17.5 per cent election day...

Food for thought when considering the relative sickness of the NDP:
"Finally, the NDP number confirms yet again that the NDP enjoys a bigger opportunity than they have in the past, because of effective leadership communications and a fiscal situation that makes more NDP policy ideas seem affordable."

The poll also found that the Bloc's support has fallen to 35%, down from 42%. The Liberal numbers aren't terribly surprising, given the current transition period which doesn't offer a clear figurehead.

This poll confirms the Ipsos results, which also showed that there has been no erosion in Conservative support, despite the cabinet controversy. Again, I would attribute this fact as more a statement of Canadians willingness to give the new government a chance, in the spirit of fairness. However, it just seems intuitive that the Emerson fiasco has tarnished the Conservative commitment to ethical purity.

The NDP is in a virtual deadheat with the Liberals and Conservatives in vote rich Ontario, which should embolden Layton. With all the recent blogosphere debate as to the practicality of the NDP, these numbers should silence any criticism that the Party is not a relevant alternative. I think this parliament provides the NDP with a golden opportunity to siphon supporters from the Liberals, as they struggle to retool and find a new voice. I suspect NDP strategists are trying to exploit the current conditions and this may explain their early aggressive tone.

I think the cabinet controversy does register, not simply a minor detail that has no bearing. However, given the timing of a shiny new government, Canadians prefer to withhold judgement until we learn more about how this government plans to govern. Polling has clearly shown that Canadians don't approve of Emerson, but the overall numbers support the premise that Canadians also look at support in totality.

Wilson Mischaracterizes Can/US Relations

Canada's new ambassador to the United States starts his tenure with a criticism of the former Canadian government:
The tone of Canada's relationship with the United States is "set at the top" and a changing of the guard should pave the way for improved relations between the two nations, Canada's new U.S. ambassador said Thursday.

"This all starts with the tone at the top and I think the Prime Minister has indicated he wants to see a change in the tone from the top," Michael Wilson told reporters shortly after being tapped as this country's new envoy to the United States.

"As that tone from the top changes, I think it will make it easier for me as ambassador to reach into the administration, reach into the elements of Congress who have got very distinct points of view and have a dialogue with that proper tone."

What bothers me about Wilson's comments is they imply that Canada is too blame for strained relationships. You can criticize the Chretien and Martin governments on a host of issues, but respectively both operated effectively in terms of diplomacy and multilateral frameworks. The fact that our relationship with the Americans is strained speaks to the rigid, uncompromising, bully on the block philosophy of the Bush administration. Wilson mischaracterizes our relationship as a consequence of our inability to work with the Americans, when in fact a poll of other world leaders would clearly support the opposite view. The list of countries that currently have a strained relationship with the American administration is endless, the same can not be said of Canada.

I do agree with Wilson however, relations will improve under the new Canadian government. Afterall, Wilson is on record supporting the misguided American foreign policy. Harper has mirrored the American position on Kyoto and given strong indications that he favors the missile shield. Obviously, the tone will improve if you agree with everything the Bush administration presents. This new tone doesn't speak to a better sense of diplomacy, that the previous governments lacked, merely the fact that philosophically there is more natural common ground. Improved relations with one of the most disastrous administrations in American, if not world history, is hardly a plus in the grand scheme.

Liberals Talking Tough

Don't expect the Liberals to compromise, according to Bill Graham:
Opposition Leader Bill Graham said he will not be afraid to defeat Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority Conservative government, even though the Liberal Party will spend much of the year in a leadership race.

Mr. Harper must either accommodate Liberal positions on key issues such as child care and income-tax cuts or turn to the New Democratic Party and Bloc Québécois for support in the House of Commons, Mr. Graham said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

He placed the onus for avoiding a quick election on the New Democrats and the Bloc, saying they triggered the last election out of political opportunism.

"We're not in the business of propping up the government," he said. "We're the Official Opposition. And that is our role, and we will stick to our points where they are important to the future of the country.

I must admit, I am encouraged by the feisty Liberal tone, despite the obvious practicality that it is mostly bluster. In placing the responsibility on the Bloc and NDP, Graham imploys a prudent political tactic, because it gives the Liberals latitude to vote against legislation without the baggage of arbitrarily bringing down the government. Given the numbers, the Liberals can operate as an effective loyal opposition, while other parties will be forced to decide the Tories ultimate fate.

I don't really think Graham is serious in his threatens, at least for the first few months. Despite the claims that the Liberals can quickly go into election mode, logistics and monetary considerations betray the claim. However, it is essential that the Liberals stake their ground and look strong in opposition, otherwise it leaves the impression that Harper can use pressure tactics to enact legislation. Graham is posturing, but it sets up a scenario where Liberals can pound the government without much backlash.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Harper Misleads Charest

Jean Charest came out of his meeting with Stephen Harper and offered hope that the new government would keep its Kyoto commitments:
Charest says the Kyoto Accord is far from dead even though Harper's Conservatives campaigned against the international climate change protocol.

Charest says Harper will stick with the accord and will seek ways to implement it with the provinces including Quebec.

I was surprised that Harper committed support for Kyoto, especially given his clear position that he would kill it. Well, only a few hours later, the new Environment Minister finally speaks, and her comments serve as proof that Harper was merely telling Charest what he wanted to hear:
EDMONTON (CP) - Canada's new environment minister says she won't support trading emissions credits with other nations or any other international deal that does not have a "direct environmental benefit to Canadians."

Rona Ambrose said she does not see the trading of emissions credits with other countries as being a high priority in her mandate of "cleaning up the air Canadians breathe."...

"That is something that will not happen under a Conservative government. The prime minister has been clear about that."

The Conservatives will use the issue of emissions credits to get us out of Kyoto. There are obvious holes with the credit framework and the Conservatives will exploit this flaw to justify the "made in Canada" approach. Given the fact that Ambrose did work for the Alberta government on the Kyoto Accord, her position is hardly surprising, but it also shows where he loyalties lie- big oil and gas.

Whatever Harper said to Charest today is now irrelevant, when seen in the context of the Environment Minister's first public comments. I hope Charest realizes that Harper was merely feeding him a line on Kyoto to appease, while his government simultaneously begins the assault to dismantle it.

Bilingual Leader Required?

The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece on whether it is a necessity for the future Liberal leader to be bilingual:
The next leader of the Liberal Party has to be bilingual to connect with Quebeckers and francophones across the country, influential Quebec MPs say.

Echoing concerns expressed by many Liberals in private, Pablo Rodriguez, an MP and past Quebec wing president, said a unilingual anglophone cannot take the helm of the party that built Canada's official-languages policy.

"In my view, to become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the person must be bilingual," he said. "The leader must not only be bilingual but be able to understand the cultural reality of Quebec and of francophones outside Quebec.

No surprise, that francophones would view bilingualism as a prerequisite for any Liberal leader. The question is whether from a national perspective, do Liberal leaders have to pass this litmus test? If you took a survey of the western provinces, you could assume that bilingual credentials would not be the paramount concern. Does a regional requirement dictate national considerations?

I would argue that one, a bilingual candidate would be preferred, but two, this ideal should not slant the selection process to favor Quebecers. Obviously, if you require language duality it presupposes a prefence for francophones from a practical point of view. However, one of the main challenges the Liberal Party faces moving forward, is it most broaden its appeal beyond its traditional powerbase. A never ending parade of leaders from Quebec has lead to the impression that the Liberal Party is not truly national in scope. Attempts to appease Quebec, have concurrently alienated other regions. What is the solution?

In an ideal scenario, I would favor a new leader that is bilingual, but resides outside of Quebec. No one can question that there has been a disproportionate percentage of leaders residing from one province and this has led to problems. It is time to change the equation somewhat as a matter of political survival. I don't suggest this tone as a snub to Quebec, but merely an accurate reading of the political landscape. This time around, the Liberal Party needs to send a signal of compromise.

One lesson of this past campaign is that Quebecers will respond to a geographic stranger if the message is right. Despite the fact that Harper was completely unappealing on social matters, his overtures to Quebec were welcomed. The Liberals should heed this signal when they discuss litmus tests for leadership contenders. Message is as important, if not moreso than the messenger. The unpopularity of native sons Chretien and Martin also serve as proof to back up this argument. A kneejerk preference for a candidate, based on his superficial "credentials", doesn't guarantee anything and coupled with the outside reactions, may do more harm than good.

A leader must be able to convey his ideas through language, to all the people. This requirement leaves people like Stronach and Brison with a serious handicap, for valid reasons. However, eliminating unilingual candidates shouldn't translate into a decided advantageous for a Quebecer, as it has in the past. Dion shouldn't instantly become a frontrunner based on one consideration. Instead, the person's vision and ideas should be given paramount consideration, followed by a discussion of appeal. I realize this argument is awkwardly presented, maybe it is best just to simply say language is merely one component, not the starting point.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Change The Channel

It looks like the Americans want to restart the talks on the softwood lumber issue. On the surface, any signal from Washington that they want to end the dispute is a positive development. However, the circumstances on both sides of the border present a worrying urgency. The American administration can't claim compromise as a core ideal, more prone to bullying and unilateralism. Why the desire to cobble together a deal:
A source close to Canadian industry said the U.S. government was pushing to reopen negotiations because Canada was winning the legal battle with trade authorities...
A source close to Canadian industry said the U.S. push to resume talks was partly based on a court case brought by Canada against the Byrd amendment which will be heard in late March.

"Canada has filed a case in the U.S. court of international trade that the Byrd amendment cannot be applied to goods coming from Mexico or Canada because the U.S. did not notify them, according to NAFTA rules," the source said.

"Their claim to the money is about to be defeated in court and we are very close to the end in all of the other NAFTA and WTO cases, many of which are not going their way," the source said.

Translation, the Americans have calculated they will lose the upcoming legal fights, in turn eliminating any remaining leverage. This latest overture represents a preemptive strike to get the best deal possible before their position is weakened. So, we have the Americans right where we want them, right?

Enter the embattled David Emerson, and by extension the Conservative government. Under the present circumstances, the politically expedient move for Emerson would be a high profile negotiation on lumber to effectively distract from his current problems- change the channel. It is this reality that worries me. Will Canada settle for a lesser deal in the short term to look relevant? Maybe, Canada should remain elusive until these court proceedings provide more firepower for our position. Will Emerson's desperation to get away from this scandal force a relatively bad deal? One thing we have learned, Emerson is a political animal, despite his resistance.

I don't like the timing of this American overture. If the bottomline is a deal for a deals sake, the timing may be brilliant. But, whatever framework is established will essentially be written in stone, much like a constitution, so it is imperative to get the best solution for Canada. I'm not an expert on the nuances of this conflict, but anytime this American administration is gregarious we should be suspicious. Emerson will surely be tempted to look the hero to silence his critics.

New Poll:No Cover For Emerson

The new Ipsos-Reid poll of British Columbians offers little comfort for the defiant Emerson:
Trade Minister David Emerson, who dismissed his critics Monday as "partisan zealots," has the backing of only 28 per cent of British Columbians for his decision to bolt from the Liberals to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, according to a new poll...
Emerson's assertion that he has broad grassroots backing isn't supported by a new poll of 800 British Columbians done for Global TV, said Ipsos-Reid vice-president Kyle Braid.

The poll, conducted starting the day after Emerson entered cabinet on Feb. 6 and ending Sunday, found that six out of 10 British Columbians disapproved of Emerson's defection.

And slightly more than three-quarters of British Columbians believe MPs should be forced to run in a byelection before they can switch parties.

The worst news for the Tories is that only 28 per cent approve of Harper's controversial appointment. That compares with 37 per cent of British Columbians who voted Conservative on January 23.

I guess this poll negates Emerson's "partisan zealots" defense. Next. What is more important, the opinion of a disastrous former PM like Kim Campbell, or average Canadians?

The Liberals Have A Bad Head Cold

As someone who has voted for both the Liberals and the NDP, I think I can approach this debate without the clutter of partisanship. The criticism of the NDP seems to resolve around this premise that supporters are rigid idealists, who lack the pragmatism necessary to be a viable alternative. The argument implies a stubborn philosophy that only attracts purists who will never build the necessary coalitions to govern.

I think it a fair point to suggest that the NDP does adhere to certain concrete ideals and their policy positions reflect their basic tenets. There are occasions where the NDP appears elitist and holier than thou, I would suggest Layton's recent debate performances serve as examples. The perceived purity is partly a function of not having to govern, which gives the NDP an appearance of moral superiority, with a dash of detachment from practicality. However, despite the shortcomings of perpetual opposition, it is an unfair criticism to attack the NDP for holding firm ideals.

It is ironic that the NDP is attacked by Liberals for their ideals, when in fact the main obstacle Liberals face moving forward is their perceived hyper pragmatism, at the expense of consistent philosophy. The Conservative Party has a clear set of principles, not much different from their NDP counterparts. It is the Liberal Party that seems idea challenged, which may partially explain the bleeding of supporters to the NDP on the left, and the Conservatives from the center. People, whether they agree or disagree, know where the NDP stands on most issues. With the Liberals, their arguments lately revolve around what is wrong with others, as opposed to what is right with them.

It is folly to suggest that the NDP is forever relegated to a minor player in federal politics. It is also erroneous to make the claim that if the NDP ever were to usurp the Liberals, the new configuration would simply mirror the vanquished. Is the new Conservative Party a replica of the old Progressive Conservatives? There are the obvious similarities, but you can also point to profound differences. The left, center left, will always be the same, but how a party conducts itself is an open question.

Pragmatism is a necessary tool to be effective in politics. The NDP may have some lessons to learn in this regard if they are to move forward. However, equating the demand for pragmatism with the need to abandon core ideals is a dangerous suggestion. Where has constant pragmatism left the Liberal Party? You could suggest that the Liberal Party is relatively soulless in a historical context, as a result of always bending and compromising. If you compromise too much, water down your rhetoric to the point of mushy politico speak, you project nothingness and are left to employ scare tactics and other unseemly angles.

The main reason why I voted NDP this last election is twofold. First, I liked the NDP platform, it presented a positive agenda for moving forward. Despite the fact that Layton's constant peacock act was a distinct turnoff, overall the party had a vision. The Liberals on other hand, rarely offered policy, instead focusing on why we should fear Harper and how we were wasting our votes with the NDP. How can get excited about ideas and vision, when we are bombarded with pure politics? So, instead of bashing the NDP for hurting Liberals, Liberals are better served looking at what is the NDP appeal and formulating policy that attracts soft supporters. And, the NDP shouldn't allow itself to be preoccupied with bashing the Liberals as a means to gain support, instead it should offer its program on its own merits.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Harper's Gambit

By all indications, the first test of the new government will surround the child care question. Given the fact that all the opposition parties are on record opposing the Conservative plan, Harper's bold promise to move ahead with the childcare agenda represents a calculated risk. Since the election, Harper has repeatedly promised that parents would start receiving their childcare allowance by July 1. This declaration doesn't give Harper much time to force this bill through the House.

I actually find it surprising that the Conservatives are so focused on this issue, willing to test the minority government. The NDP is already on record with Olivia Chow's National Child Care Act proposal as a counter to the Conservative proposal. Liberal MP John Godfrey has suggested that the Conservatives force their childcare initiative "at their peril". Duceppe has said that the Conservatives must respect the current agreement on daycare. So, why make such public statements on a fast track approach to the Conservative plan?

Harper is clearly banking on the idea that the opposition threats are mostly bluster. The fact that the Conservatives can frame the argument into a simple question of money for parents, represents a challenge for anyone who considers defeating the government. Telling people that you will give them a check for $100 per month, per child, is superficially attractive for obvious reasons. It presents a challenge for the opposition to make the counter argument, because the alternatives aren't so easily articulated. The Conservatives have calculated that their proposal is transparent and popular, despite the seat counts.

There is no way the Liberals are prepared to defeat the government in the next four months. Despite recent events emboldening the faithful, logistically the Liberals are toothless in the near term. The Bloc is certainly not anxious for a quick election so it is doubtful they will draw a line in the sand over this issue, especially if Harper meets his promise to offer a "special" transition deal for Quebec. The NDP looks the best prepared to define the terms of the debate, but ultimately they are not powerbrokers in any concrete way.

Within this context, Harper's gambit still looks risky, but certainly demonstrates astute political calculation. Clearly, the Conservatives are counting on the lure of hard cash, a public not anxious for another election and a disjointed opposition. Assuming the Conservatives can pass their child care initiative, coupled with the GST cut and a few more innocuous portions of their platform, they are then banking on a resume that will give the opposition pause for the future. The Conservative plan is simple, pass out the goodies and leave the more unsightly measures on the backburner. If the opposition forces a vote, then the Conservatives can run on the attractive results. Placing such early emphasis on the childcare allowance offers us a clear window into the Conservative strategy.