Sunday, April 30, 2006

Conservatives Plan To Do Zip On Emissions

Recent polling puts the environment among the top three priorities for Canadians. So far the Conservative government has essentially pulled out of Kyoto, endorsed the useless Asia-Pacific Partnership and cut funding for environmental initiatives. More alarming, the Conservatives plan to do absolutely nothing on the environment file during this parliament:
"She has publicly said Canada will not engage in post-2012 commitments until after Canada has developed a new plan," Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute said in an interview.

Government officials say such a plan is at least a year away, which is unacceptable given the urgent need to take action, Bramley believes. "There are no mysteries about how to reduce emissions," he said. "It's been studied to death all around the world. There's no excuse to waste time dreaming up a new plan."

Earlier this month, a coalition of environmental groups sent the government a list of programs that could be put into place immediately. These include incentives for energy efficiency, wind power and other renewable energy technologies and regulating industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

There is some public pressure on the issue, since a large majority of Canadians and their elected representatives support Kyoto and the need for emissions cuts.

"It's like being back in the early 1990s when we were begging politicians to do something about climate change," said Bennett.

At "least a year away" translates into a big nothing for a minority government, with a limited life span. The fact that the Conservatives plan to put off action on emissions until after the next election should serve as a warning sign to Canadians. All this government will be able to present to Canadians are cutbacks, withdrawals from commitments and Bush-like rhetoric.

Of all the issues on the horizon, the Conservatives backward attitude on emissions serves as the most glaring weakness to be exploited. It is imperative that the Liberal Party finds a way to seriously champion the environment through the leadership process. Canadians are ripe for bold ideas and Harper's complete inaction will serve as a massive failure. The Liberals need a "vision" and our environment desperately needs a caretaker. Perfect fit, with the added bonus of exposing the Harper government's inaction, unless of course parroting the Bush approach is considered policy.

It looks like the Tories are aware they have a weak spot heading into the next election. Prediction, alot of fluff, little substance.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Families Privacy?

The Conservative counter-argument, on the caskets controversy, revolves around the notion that they were simply respecting the privacy of the families. Which family would that be:
Thousands paid tribute Saturday as the first of four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan was laid to rest.

And the father of Cpl. Matthew Dinning had some critical words for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Dinning was remembered through a video presentation that also criticized how the federal government is handling the return of its fallen soldiers...

The presentation came to a close with footage of Matthew Dinning's remains returning to CFB Trenton, video the media had to gather by peering over a military fence because the Conservatives banned them from the airfield.

Mr. Dinning introduced the clip by saying it contained images Harper didn't want the public to see.

A new poll shows Canadians understand the true motivation:
The Ipsos Reid poll for CanWest News and Global National found that two-thirds of those surveyed feel a media ban on the homecoming of the flag-draped caskets of Canadian Forces personnel "is really a government muzzle and should be left up to families to decide."

We already know the government lied about who made the decision to ban the media, that it was pure politics afterall. It is striking how badly the Conservatives misread the reaction to their transparent attempt to copy the well-known Bush approach. Why they thought Canadians would accept this measure is beyond me and demonstrates some detachment from reality. Canadians will grieve every death in a profound way and on a national scale. It will be interesting to see how Harper reacts the next time.

A Quick Recap

The Conservatives have now been in power long enough for us to get a good sense of their direction. According to the polls, the Conservatives appear to be doing reasonably well, which I attribute more to effective propaganda than actual competence. A quick recap of the "big" issues reveals a disturbing pattern of misguided policy:

GST Cut:
The promised windfall for "the little guy" has been examined from all quarters and the general consensus is it falls far short of providing substantive tax relief, unless of course you are a high income earner or a large bank. Partisan spin? Interesting that the Conservatives are now giving consideration to a more comprehensive tax package in the budget, to offset the reality that a GST cut alone, without personal income tax relief translates into higher taxes. Apparently, according to just about any independent observer, the evil Liberals plan was actually more beneficial to most Canadians. Who knew? Harper will backtrack, in an effort to maintain his credibility as a true tax cutter.

The centerpiece legislation to bring in a new era of openness and transparency. Unfortunately the Conservatives reneged on the key election promise, that they would reform the Access to Information laws. That substantial flip flop aside, we now have the scathing report from Information Commissioner John Reid that reveals the mirage. If anyone thinks this is a partisan attack, this entry shows Reid's propensity for even-handed criticisms.

Maybe even more alarming, the apparent obsession with "message control" and limited media access, which is hardly a benefit to the ideal of transparency. Harper has essentially denied ordinary Canadians access to his government through his strict policies on how information is conveyed. Is this the grassroots approach that Harper ran on the past election?

The Conservatives made a big fuss about the $1200 dollar child care allowance, as though it was some revolutionary advancement. The mounting criticism, from all quarters shows that the superficial appeal of a check doesn't quite translate into real reform. As Canadians learn more about the Tory plan, and have an opportunity to compare and contrast with the existing Liberal initiative, the bloom quickly falls off the Conservative rose. Such is generally the case, with politically motivated policies that show no foresight.

Those are the "big five" issues addresses so far, with the other two to come shortly. I don't know how anyone can spin this government into an early success as they scramble to refine their core election platform for fear of looking foolish.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Layton's Epiphany

I just saw an interview with Jack Layton, wherein he articulated some frustration with the Harper government. Layton said the tone of the government had changed the last couple of weeks. Layton said the spirit of co-operation and a desire to reach consensus had been replaced by strong armed tactics and a certain arrogance. Harper's words weren't translating into concrete measures to ensure widespread consultations on policy. Layton basically said that Harper was failing to live up to his commitments to work within the minority framework.

I read Layton's new attitude as more calculation than actual revelation. Despite Layton's frequent statements about co-operation and a "new" attitude in parliament, he is too politically savvy to have held such a naive view. The statements were more a confirmation of the "unholy alliance" with the Conservatives to rid the world of the dastardly Liberals. The fact that Layton is beginning to acknowledge that the Conservatives are not team players should serve as the first signs of blowback.

Layton's return to forceful opposition is a signal that he is starting to feel the heat for his cozy relationship with a right-wing government. Layton's epiphany, that the minority Conservatives are just as singular and arrogant as the minority Liberals is pure politics, in an attempt to distance himself from the "appeaser" tag which is gaining momentum. Listening to Layton, there was no question that his tone had changed and I can only see this as him reacting to negative feedback from within. You don't have to look too hard to see NDP supporters articulating a nervousness with Layton's subservient rhetoric on Harper.

It was only one interview, but Layton's language was striking. Maybe, we might actually have another substantive player on the opposition side. If so, the NDP can maintain its credibility and avoid the transparent politics-first angle that has characterized its early days in this parliament.

So Much For "Openness"

The cornerstone of the Conservative election campaign was their commitment to restore integrity and accountability in Ottawa. Harper's entire spiel revolved around the amoral, corrupt Liberals and the need for tranparency in government. Is this what Canadians were promised:

Federal Information Commissioner John Reid is expected to issue a damning indictment of the Conservative government's new accountability legislation today, describing it as a recipe for secrecy that will only help to shield government from public scrutiny.

And the kicker:
During the recent election campaign, for instance, Harper promised a Conservative government would "require the prompt public disclosure of information revealed by whistleblowers ..." The pledge came in the wake of legislation passed earlier under the Liberals that said all documents related to a whistleblower's complaint could be kept secret for five years.

Instead, the Harper government is now proposing to give government the power to keep documents secret forever.

Reid notes in his report that if the provision had been law at the time of Adscam, the revelations of corruption and mismanagement likely never would have come to light.

It is simply amazing that the Tory plan would actually weaken the opportunity for disclosure. Instead of adding light to the process, Harper's plan adds another layer of secrecy. The opposition needs to jump all over this report because the whole election campaign was weaved from this simple premise of accountability.

The Liberals stern opposition now finds solid backing in the release of this report because they obviously lacked credibility on their own. Hopefully, Layton and Duceppe join with the Liberals to present a united front and expose this accountability shell game that Harper is playing.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Kennedy's Shrewd Strategy

I was reading some of the press pieces on Gerard Kennedy's announcement today. I found this interesting:
Mr. Kennedy — who is said to be positioning himself as a centrist candidate — made his announcement during a rally in Ottawa, with introductions coming from members of both political and business circles.

“We are the party of social progress and economic progress in Canada,” Mr. Kennedy said.

“This is the party of hope and of opportunities. It is a party of respect that has -- giving everyone what is due to them.”

Social progressive, fiscal conservative:
"Canada needs a vision," he said, and then outlined his own vision of a country for entrepreneurs, but also one characterized by social justice, respect for all and a clear international voice as an "honest broker."

"Canada should be the best place in the world to start and grow a business," he said.

If the speculation is true, and some of the above quotes serve as evidence, that Kennedy is going to campaign near the center, I think it is a very shrewd move on his part. Previous articles on Kennedy invariably referred to him as well left of center. Coupled with his pedigree, Kennedy has a natural appeal to the left wing of the Liberal Party. I don't think Kennedy takes a great risk in alienating some supporters by framing himself as a moderate, who understands the importance of a competitive business climate. As long as Kennedy remains progressive on the social side, he has the latitude to reach out to pro-business Liberals.

The pundits have already labelled this leadership campaign as having a heavy tilt to the left. Kennedy demonstrates smart politics by filling some of the center vacuum and in turn shaking off the stigma that he is too far left to have great appeal in a general election. I think we are witnessing an attempt to transform Kennedy's image into something that looks attractive beyond this race. In recognizing the importance of appearances, Kennedy shows good political instincts that should serve him well throughout this process. Great strategy IMHO.

I saw a roundtable on Duffy's show, with a couple of reporters who attended the Kennedy press conference. The general consensus of the media that was present was hardly flattering- adjectives like "underwhelming", "flat", "uninispiring" and "less than advertised". There was some acknowledgement that the hype had been so extreme, Kennedy was almost bound to disappoint initially. Take it for what it's worth. I didn't see his press conference, but I thought he performed well in the couple follow-up interviews I caught.

Funny Spin

I saw this title, "Voters Open To NDP/Liberal Merger-Poll", on the CTV News ticker. The numbers:
The Decima Research poll found that 25 per cent of Canadians believed the two parties should unite.

Voters who supported either of the two parties in last winter's election were even more receptive to the idea: 36 per cent of Liberals favoured a merger and 32 per cent of New Democrats.

Moreover, a Decima analysis of the 2006 election results suggests that had the two parties joined forces during last winter's election, they could have blocked the Conservatives from winning a minority government.

I must say, I don't see anything impressive about these numbers. Yes 25% of voters are in favor of a union, but that leaves a whooping 75% that want the status quo. Two thirds of Liberals, and close to 70% of NDP supporters are against a melding, so translating those numbers into "receptive" seems like a stretch. If anything, I would argue that there appears to be a great deal of resistence to any talk of a merger.

However, this poll has added to the discussion and the bad spin has given a shaky legitimacy to the idea. As the chatter intensifies, we may come to a situation where initial resistence becomes tempered as all parties adjust to the idea. It is worth remembering the hostile reaction to the initial overtures to unite the right. In my mind this poll shows a great void, but its publication may offer support to the bad conclusions. I just heard a local station on the street interviewing people, with the question "Do you support a Liberal/NDP merger?".

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Liberals Put The Squeeze On NDP

The Liberals appear to have found the counter to the NDP strategy of marginalization:
This is a strategy that distinguishes the Liberals from the other two opposition parties. Lately, the Grits have been targeting the NDP, who took votes away from them in the last election.

And that strategy was clearly on display in the daily Question Period yesterday, when former finance minister and opposition House Leader Ralph Goodale accused the NDP of being "bought and paid for" by the Harper Conservatives.

"Last November, the NDP traded off a national child-care system for their own short-term partisan gain," he said...

The NDP is saying its support is not yet guaranteed, despite Mr. Goodale's comments that the party is in the pocket of the Tories.

I think this is an excellent strategy for the Liberals to counter the "obstructionist" angle. In framing the NDP as apologists, the Liberals can realistically claim to be the only relevant opposition to the Harper government. I have argued that Layton's strategy is dangerous because it leaves the NDP open to criticism, as well as alienating soft supporters. It is just counter-intuitive to envision a left-wing party can working effectively with a right-center(I'm generous) party. Layton may win some minor concessions, but ultimately it will be the Liberals who provide an alternative.

If I were the Liberals, I would use the "in the pocket" argument at every turn because it puts the NDP on the defensive. This strategy also forces the NDP into taking a tougher line with the Conservatives, to counter the appearance of collaboration. I don't see any risk for the Liberals with this tactic because the other parties have already made their strategy known. When the dust settles, I suspect the NDP may regret their decision to work with the Conservatives to marginalize the Liberals. The NDP prides itself on the perception that it is values driven entity, the Liberals may tarnish that reputation by exposing Layton's "unholy alliance". The Liberals may also gain the leverage next election to claim they are the only true alternative to Conservative rule.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Harper Blows It

First Klein, now McGuinty defies Harper:
Flags at the Ontario legislature will be lowered to half-mast on the days funerals are held for soldiers from the province who are killed in Afghanistan...

While Premier Dalton McGuinty did not criticize Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the decisions, he did say Tuesday that flags at the provincial legislature will be lowered.

"I'll let the federal government make its own decisions in that regard, but the Speaker decided ... that the flags here at Queen's Park would be lowered on the dates of the funerals themselves," McGuinty said.

Apart from showing respect and proper protocol, Harper's misguided decision not to lower the flag is a self-inflicted gaffe. The curious part about the government's decision, lies in the fact that the flag is largely irrelevant to the story. Will the media coverage wane because the flag is high? Will Canadians not feel grief and regret because this symbolism is missing? Harper, the control freak, has effectively out flanked himself with this silly and transparent policy. The man who runs to every military base he can find to look the patriot, is now faced with a public relations nightmare.

Harper made a terrible miscalculation, in not recognizing the obvious bad optics by changing protocol. Nothing to be gained in a practical sense, but lots of potential pitfalls. Now Harper is faced with the embarrassing situation of lowered flags at provincial buildings, while Parliament Hill carries on business as usual. Harper has assured even more media coverage, which is ironic given the initial intention. Another case of the Harper political tin ear rearing its ugly head, no wonder he doesn't like to freelance.

Lack of Originality

The most disturbing aspect of our new government is the apparent inability to develop an original thought. Whether you agree or disagree with the government, people should be concerned at Harper's propensity for adopting "foreign" concepts. The latest example of Harper's plagarism is the decision to ban coverage of the soldier's caskets. Whether you listen to the language, or the framing, everything coming out of this government on Afghanistan mirrors the Bush administration. We won't cut and run, we are fighting them over there before they attack us there, we are in it for the long haul, the terrorists won't win, etc, etc.

The problem is not confined to Afghanistan. On the environment, Harper's "made in Canada" approach to emissions is verbatum Bushspeak. On taxes, on defence spending, on media restrictions and message control, Harper finds inspiration from outside. All these early signs serve as proof for my theory that the Harper government is essentially a collection of "lifted" philosophy. Even the Harper election campaign took its cues from the Australian Conservatives example. I don't see a uniquely Canadian vision, I see aping and latching on to others ideas.

People can point to the Conservative platform as evidence of an overarching philosophy. What I see is a program that isn't about principles, but sustained power. The hyper-politicism, coupled with the lack of originality, makes the Harper government a "soulless" entity. This fact makes the government dangerous because it operates without a core. Is the decision to allow Quebec a seat at UNESCO derived from a sensitivity to Quebec's aspirations, or is it a simple measure to further the Conservatives self interest? Is Harper concerned about the soldiers family privacy, or does he want to limit coverage of powerful negative images like his southern overlord?

More aping evidence here.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Depressing News?

The Hill Times offers a depressing story, for anyone who fears a long Conservative reign:
Political foes say the five priorities are a packaging PR exercise, but Conservatives and even Liberals say if Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets three of his five top legislative priorities through Parliament before the next election, the Conservatives will likely win a majority.

"Unless something extraordinary comes up that we don't know about, I think we will win the next election with a majority," one top Conservative, who did not want to be identified, told The Hill Times last week. "I think Harper is going to get three of his five priorities approved before the next election and with that he can, in my view, win the next election with a majority."

Some Liberals agree. "These guys are in for at least six years. The situation doesn't look that great in Quebec [for the federal Liberals] even now. We don't have a leader and who knows who will be the leader and what kind of [political] skills that leader will have. So, considering the information that we have at this time, it would be fair to say these guys are in for six years," said one top Liberal who also did not want to be identified

I'll admit that Harper's strategy is formidable and presents a daunting challenge for the opposition. However, given the fact that we are at least a year away from another election, the optimism of Conservatives and corresponding pessimism of Liberals is pre-mature. Until the Liberal Party chooses another leader, any predictions are suspect.

It is true that Liberal fortunes in Quebec don't look promising. Also true, that the Conservatives have made a massive push in Quebec, as they try to make a bigger breakthrough. But, the situation in Quebec is fluid, with many factors still in play. I don't think Quebec is forever lost to the Liberals, as the past elections were more of a rejection of the Chretien/Martin approach and the sponsorship scandal. On social issues, the Liberals are still a more natural fit for a relatively progressive Quebec population. If the new Liberal leader is sensitive to Quebec's aspirations within confederation, free of the old Liberal regime ties and daring on the environment, opportunity still exists for the party. The Conservative breakthrough in Quebec was a combination of shrewd overtures and simply filling the federalist vacuum, as many people could no longer support the Liberals. To say that the Conservatives enjoy concrete support and potential for growth is somewhat misleading. Much of the Conservatives future fortunes are directly tied to how the Liberals respond. Afterall, no one predicted any Conservative presence in Quebec prior to the election.

The defeatists misread the electorate in my view. Despite Harper's small rise in the recent polls, the support is still relatively soft. Important to remember that Harper's enjoys success during a temporary situation. Once the Liberals choose a leader, in concert with the free media bonanza, we will have a much better understanding of the political landscape. Is there reason for concern? Yes. Is the situation a fait accompli? Come on.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Retired General Balks At Afghanistan Coverage

I don't understand the logic here:
Lewis MacKenzie, the retired major general, a former member of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and one-time federal Conservative candidate, said he was taken aback by full-page newspaper accounts Sunday screaming Death in the Desert and Day of Death in Afghanistan.

"As a Patricia, you say to yourself, 'This is really going over the top,"' MacKenzie said from his central Ontario home.

"Those people who are sitting on the fence in their support for the mission - which they don't really understand - could well have their opinion affected by what's going on the last couple of days."

Canada's intermittent military casualties have generated wall-to-wall coverage on all-news TV networks and days of front-page newspaper treatment ever since the first four soldiers died in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan four years ago.

I'm not sure what news headlines MacKenzie would deem acceptable. Is there a way to sugarcoat the death of four soldiers? MacKenzie's claim of "over the top" coverage is strange, given the fact that yesterday's casualties represent the single biggest military loss of life since Korea. Should the headlines read "Nothing to See Here" or "Minor Development in A Land Far Away".

MacKenzie's other quote is even more perplexing. Why wouldn't anxious supporters reconsider their opinion when faced with the reality of lost lives? Hawks like MacKenzie get all bent out of shape when the reality of war trumps the relatively sterile rhetoric. MacKenzie acknowledges that people "don't really understand" the mission, so events like yesterday should serve as education. If the mission is noble, as is often claimed and I believe there is some rationale, then that fact should counter events like yesterday. What MacKenzie proposes is a muzzled press that lacks the ability to influence the mission. MacKenzie had best realize that Canadians take every single death to heart, so support for this mission is not absolute or open-ended. The only thing that is "over the top" is people like MacKenzie berating reporters, when the script doesn't go according to plan. We are all in trouble the day when dead soldiers are so commonplace that it doesn't cause waves.

Why Canadians Will "Cut and Run"

I use the term "cut and run" because Stephen Harper likes to adopt Bush administration slogans to argue our resolve in Afghanistan. However, the death of these four soldiers tells us a great deal of how much Canadians will tolerate. Last night, I watched a CTV reporter describe the scene at the Canadian base in the aftermath of this incident. Particularly striking was the fact that CTV had footage, taken only a day prior, of Lieut. William Turner engaging Afghans in a southern village. The CTV reporter had met Lieut. Turner and you could see more emotion than you would expect from a supposedly stoic press. There is a intimate character to our mission because the number of troops lends itself to many personal interactions with reporters. This interplay doesn't allow for the relative detachment that we see in the American war coverage.

I marvel at the fact that most American news networks only offer a mention on their tickers if one or two soldiers are killed. Only when the violence reaches a certain threshold is the coverage substantial, the same can't be said for Canada. Each death is viewed as a national event, with the requisite re-examination of our mission. This morning I heard CBC's Sasa Petricic, stationed at the Canadian base, question the military's claim that the local population supports the Canadian presence. Again, the coverage had a personal angle that comes with such close proximity to the troops. Given the relative importance Canadians place on each death, I would argue that our tolerance for a protracted engagement is questionable. Harper can mimic the American rhetoric, but this argument won't resonate in the long term even if there are "minimal" casualties. The pressure to articulate an exit strategy looms on the horizon, despite Harper and the military's open-ended commitment.

It's a good thing that every death is given the coverage it deserves because it doesn't allow for the de-humanization of the sacrifice. I predict the Harper government may recognize the danger of our personalized coverage and attempt to restrict media access to our troops. The flag decision reveals political calculation, and we should expect future attempts to minimize the "bad" press. Harper has a window, wherein Canadians are prepared to accept some casualties, but as each violent episode is discussed, that timeframe shortens dramatically.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Conservatives Concerned about Afghanistan

I guess when you are obsessed with message control, any issue which can't be framed is of chief concern:
Increasing Canadian casualties in Afghanistan are among the few shoals upon which the Conservatives could founder as Harper charts a course towards a majority mandate.

When several high-ranking Tories were interviewed last week for a story about the relative safety of their government, all zeroed in on the same potential problem area.

"Afghanistan. Absolutely," one said.

The Conservative game plan is simple: deliver on a handful of campaign promises in time for the next election, then pick up about three-dozen or more seats to capture a majority.

The Conservatives decision not to lower the flag may have a political angle, in that they want to minimize the attention on casualties. I do find it interesting that the Conservatives are most worried about the Afghanistan mission, because initially there was an essential free pass. Afterall, it was the previous government that committed to the mission, so Harper always had that indirect absolution, no matter what happened. However, Harper has made the mission his own, through his aggressive outreach to all things military. Harper's attempt to look the uber patriot may well backfire as he is forced to react to events outside of the control he craves.

Harper Acknowledges GST Shortcomings?

The Harper government may be close to acknowledging that the GST cut is not the windfall to Canadians as previously argued:
The federal government is looking at ways to beef up its tax-cut package for the spring budget to bolster Conservative claims that their plan will leave Canadians better off than measures enacted by the former Liberal government...

"On the income-tax side there is a problem because if the Liberal-initiated income taxes are repealed and only the GST is cut, then what [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper has been saying about Canadians being better off is not true and that circle must be squared before budget day," a source familiar with deliberations said...

As an alternative to the Liberal tax bracket rate cut, the Tories are considering a different set of reductions, which would see them reduce the two middle-income tax bracket rates instead.

"It is on the table," the source said. "There is going to be something there [in the budget] just so the government can say every taxpayer is better off."

As discussed earlier, Canadians are already paying taxes according to the reduced rate enacted by the past government. If Harper were to rescind this tax cut, he effectively sets up a scenario where Canadians have underpaid for 2006 and would have to make up the shortfall next tax season. Coupled with the increasing consensus from experts that the GST cuts don't leave most Canadians better off, as the Conservatives have claimed, and you have Harper left with a potential public relations nightmare heading into another election. Given the fact that this government makes every decision within the confines of a future majority, the fact that they are reconsidering their tax plan is hardly surprising.

The opposition still has an opening on this issue, because Harper has been so adamant about dropping the Liberal tax plan, in favor of his GST cut. In proposing other tax relief, Harper essentially acknowledges that the best tax relief is done through lowering the rate, not on the consumption side. This argument may get lost in the hoopla over tax cuts, but if the opposition gets out in front of this issue it can be spun as a partial victory.

Friday, April 21, 2006

That's Why They Call it "Opposition"

Those evil Liberals are at it again, unlike those nice NDPers:
He accused members of the previous Liberal government of also being ,"obstructionist" and "particularly vicious" in their criticism of the bill introduced earlier this month...

Harper said he expects "some refining" of the 252-page proposed bill using "useful suggestions" made by the New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois.

Harper seems determined to paint the Liberals in a corner, in spite of the fact they are merely doing their job as the official opposition. I would like to see reporters ask Stephen Harper if he still believes the following:
"And I think the real problem that we're facing already is that the government doesn't accept that it got a minority."

"First of all, I can't forget my first responsibility - which is to be the Leader of the Opposition and that's to provide an alternative government."

"We'll support the government on issues if it's essential to the country but our primary responsibility is not to prop up the government, our responsibility is to provide an opposition and an alternative government for Parliament and for Canadians."

The Liberals are simply withholding judgment, offering stern negotiation as they should, given the nature of this government. Where is the NDP, or are they content to act as Harper's working partner so that Harper can pin the "obstructionist" tag on the Liberals. The NDP are essentially irrelevant on questions of confidence, so Layton can afford to be a vocal dissenter and force Harper to turn to the Bloc for support. The fact the NDP hasn't adopted this strategy is further proof of the "unholy" alliance with the Conservatives to eradicate the Liberal Party. I hope Layton realizes that Harper is using his tepid opposition to gain a majority, while his party becomes a useless faciliator. I'm sure Layton will attain the required window-dressing concessions to save face, but he will also be saddled with his transparent agenda.

Some Wild Speculation

For political junkies, there is nothing like the high drama of watching a leadership convention. After each ballot, we watch intently to see who will make the walk to another candidates side and offer their support. These strategic moves are critical for any candidate to gain the momentum to take the prize in a crowded field. With regards to the looming Liberal leadership convention, I think we already have some insight into possible scenarios.

It is a safe bet that Ignatieff will enter the initial ballot with sizable delegates, if not the most. It is also reasonable to assume Bob Rae will have adequate initial support. Given the number of candidates, it is doubtful any one candidate will have enough support to win on the first or even second ballot. What is particularly interesting is that both Ignatieff and Rae have a built in advantage that others may not necessarily enjoy. Does anyone doubt that these two lifelong friends will not form some kind of alliance?

If Rae is forced to concede, I can already picture the momentous walk to Ignatieff's perch. So while we look at individual candidates, people like Kennedy, Dion, Dryden and Brison must also be aware of the "group" dynamic at play. If either Ignatieff or Rae can secure another ally, then their candidacy may prove to be unstoppable. For this reason, a person like Kennedy must "network" with other candidates and form his own alliances if he is too have a chance. You can even speculate that Rae and Ignatieff have already had discussions, wherein Rae's bid is really some cover for Ignatieff and in turn Ignatieff offers Rae a prominent role in any future government(i.e foreign affairs).

Ignatieff can enter Montreal knowing that he has a built-in momentum grabber in and amongst the uncertainty of a convention. So, as we draw nearer the convention and we get a better idea as too possible support, I will tally the Ignatieff and Rae support as essentially one. The other candidates face an uphill battle and had best plan accordingly because appearances may mask the true reality. Of course, this all speculation and I could be dead wrong.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Klein Blinks

Great news for universal health care:
Public discontent has dealt a near-fatal blow to Alberta's controversial Third Way health-care reforms.

Premier Ralph Klein's Conservative government has backed away from the two most contentious aspects of the 10-point plan, the same points that were recently criticized by the prime minister...

"We are not prepared to proceed with private insurance at this time," Health Minister Iris Evans told reporters following a government caucus meeting Thursday.

"We are not recommending that doctors working in both (the public and private) systems be part of the policy framework."

I have little doubt, if Alberta proceeded with some of these reforms it would have represented the death knell for public health care. The fact that public pressure, as well as some surprising tough talk from the federal government, have forced Klein to abandon his plan shows that Canadians still have faith in our system. Other provinces have proposed legislation which may have dangerous implications, but Alberta's proposals were in another category all together.

Maybe Klein should think about investing the billions from oil and gas into making Alberta's public system the cadillac of the world. I always found it interesting that the province which cried the loudest about unsustainability actually had the resources to keep the current system intact. Today's announcement is a good day, it doesn't fix the problems, but it keeps the notions of equality and the general good in tact.

Kennedy Gains Momentum

I don't think there is any question that Gerard Kennedy is quickly emerging as the new era Liberal:
A group of about a dozen young Liberal MPs acting as a bloc is poised to support former Ontario education minister Gerard Kennedy's bid to become leader of the federal Liberal Party.

The group's support would be a boost for Mr. Kennedy, 45, who has never been a member of the federal Liberal caucus and is not well known outside Ontario. The Kennedy campaign team is emphasizing generational change and the support of young MPs would underline that and show he has early momentum...

it is believed that the group numbers between 12 and 15, of which the majority are young MPs elected in the last two elections.

These endorsements are particularly important because these MP's are largely outside of the old Liberal power structure. I firmly believe the only hope for the Liberal Party is a decisive break from the past, so that Liberals can argue the reform angle with some credibility. The growing support from young Liberals and relatively fresh MP's solidifies Kennedy as the true progressive. Coupled with the perceived lack of political baggage, Kennedy is poised to make the generational change.

It is quite encouraging to see so many people moving to Kennedy so early because it serves as an acknowledgement of the political reality. There is little time for half-measures and timid reform, if the Liberals hope to regain power in the next decade. Kennedy is the only candidate in the top-tier that has the "outsider" status to effectively present a modern party. The fact that these MP's are making a bold endorsement speaks to ambitious reform. No wonder Layton is getting itchy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Liberals Issue

Yesterday it was childcare, today Stephen Harper is bullying the opposition parties on its crime legislation. Clearly, Harper has calculated that his priorities are unstoppable and he can operate with relative impunity. We are beginning to detect a certain arrogance with this government, which is not without justification. How can the opposition argue against tax cuts, childcare money and tough action against violent criminals? For Liberals, there is only one realistic issue on the horizon that trumps Harper's full proof plan.

The new Strategic Counsel poll offers the glaring clue to pierce Harper's strategy. When Canadians are asked what issue is most important to them, for the first time I can remember the environment comes in a solid second. This finding reflects the emerging consensus that we must act on the environment in a decisive way. Other polls have shown that the Conservatives score their lowest approval when it comes to the environment. Conclusion, the Liberals must make the environment their centerpiece issue as they emerge from this leadership debate. Harper is obsessed with staying on message to attain a majority, the only realistic option to sideswipe the manipulation is to trump him on environmental issues.

Despite what Harper may claim, he will never be able to champion environmental issues. The ties to big oil and gas, evidenced by the Environment Minister's past stances, negate any real chance for a progressive environmental agenda. If the Liberals are bold, and resist half-measures, they will find an electorate that is increasingly ready to tackle the reality. Even the death star had a weakness.

Harper: "It's Popular"

Harper's decision to call out the opposition over the Conservatives childcare proposal looks unnecessarily combative. I don't think anybody really believes that the opposition would bring down the government at such an early stage. Harper's leverage centers around his claim that this legislation is widely popular with the public. We hear the same rationalization with regards to the GST cut.

I don't dispute the fact that Canadians favor childcare reforms. What is in question is Harper's claim of popularity. Is Harper speaking to the 36% of people that backed his party, because if so that hardly represents a ringing endorsement. Is Harper referring to Canadians support of reform, because you could just as easily argue popularity with regards to the Liberals legislation. Harper doesn't enjoy the political latitude of a majority where he can simply sluff off criticism under the guise of his relative popularity.

In a minority situation, and a slim one at that, every piece of legislation is up for scrutiny. Harper doesn't enjoy widespread support, despite the soundbites, so his mandate is predicated on the notion of compromise. My way or the high way arguments display an arrogance that may ultimately prove to be Harper's undoing. Yes, Canadians want certain reforms, but all the evidence suggests that "popularity" is a less partisan affair.

It is up to the opposition to continually make the case against the popular argument, otherwise they give Harper more control than is warranted. Harper seems to be operating under the assumption that the opposition is largely toothless. Whether or not that is practically true in the near term is irrelevant, appearances should not be sacrificed. Someone needs to remind the government that, in reality, they are one of the least popular governments in Canadian history.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Layton's Dangerous Game

Remember when Harper and Layton had those meetings prior to the opening of Parliament. With each passing day, the substance of those "talks" become apparent. The NDP and the Conservatives have formed a loose alliance forged out of mutual self-interest- hobble the Liberal Party and divide the spoils.

It is hard to find a Layton soundbite that doesn't reference the Liberal Party. Layton continually compares the new government with the last, inferring that Canada is clearly in better hands. For his part, Harper seems determined to paint the Liberals as obstructionist, unlike their opposition counterparts:
Asked if he was afraid the opposition parties wouldn't support his plan, Harper said, "there's been a lot of beating of chests, particularly by the Liberal Party."

There seemed to be two distinct schools of criticism emerging, he said.

"The NDP and the Bloc are saying the program doesn't go far enough or doesn't pay enough, and they're suggesting some ways to make sure families get the benefit they should. And we're interested in looking at those changes.

"But the Liberal Party is opposing to the idea of paying parents at all."

Translation, all parties are willing to work together except for those evil Liberals. Harper can play this game with relative impunity, but the NDP is engaging in a dangerous tactic. Ideologically, it doesn't take much thought to conclude these two parties have little in common, much less so than either does with the Liberal Party. Layton is quick to speak to issues of purity, wherein he puts the interests of Canadians ahead of any agenda. With this wink/nod dance with the Conservatives, Layton may just make himself largely irrelevant, coupled with the appearance of an opportunist.

There doesn't seem to be any question that the Liberal Party leadership contenders have a tilt to the left. Substantatively, this reality may translate into more palatable stances for the soft-NDP voter. While Layton dances with the Conservatives, he exposes himself further to the claim that we must unite the left. The Liberals can position themselves as the only true alternative to the Conservatives, while the NDP plays footsie. I think Layton's strategy is short-sighted and may backfire as Canadians see the hypocrisy of bashing the Liberals, while tamely defying the Conservatives. Layton may win some symbolic concessions to maintain a sense of relevance, but this could be overshadowed if the Liberals react effectively. What looks like an opportunity now may prove to be Layton's undoing.

It's Up To Iran

The other day, during the annual Easter get together, my brother-in-law, who drops by this blog occasionally, asked me if I ever write anything that isn't "left" leaning. I suspect my opinion on the Iran crisis will satisfy the call for philosophical fairness. If we reach a situation where all diplomatic avenues are exhausted and Iran still persists, I think we reach a stage where the military option is justified.

In the end, Iran has the power to avoid conflict by simply adhering to the IAEA demands, as well as those of the international community. Iran can choose whether or not it wishes to engage the world, or isolate itself into a dangerous pariah. It is important to remember that any discussion of military options is done so within the realization that there is a choice. Iran has essentially lied to the international community, their nuclear program is not entirely peaceful and much of their program remains beyond the grasp of the regulators. Therefore, this crisis is self-inflicted and the sneaky approach suggests that suspicion is warranted.

I have heard many arguments that use the relative inaction with regards to Pakistan and North Korea to show a bias against Iran. I would suggest the international community failed in allowing further proliferation in unstable regions, but that doesn't detract from the fact that this time we can get it right. If Iran's program is really peaceful, then the demands from the IAEA are relatively benign. If Iran's program involves weaponization, then it is imperative that the world looks at who holds the key to the switch.

In my view, the Iranian President is largely irrational and increasingly provocative. The tone is threatening, aggressive and defiant. The real power base in Iran are the hard line clerics, who openly speak of martyrdom and extremism. When religion, in this case intolerant religion, and politics meet it is a dangerous circumstance. I feel the same way about the American crackpots like Robertson and Falwell, their "crusader' mentality is a threat to peace. It boils down to the notion of tolerance, of which the Iranian government has no concept.

On most occasions, I side with the Palestinians in their conflict with the Israelis. However, my support for a equal and free Palestine doesn't equate to a belief that Israel shouldn't exist, nor does it support terrorism against innocent Israelis. It is reasonable to see the logic in the Israeli's position that Iran must never acquire nuclear weapons, as long as the present situation persists. Iranian support of terrorism is well documented and largely unapologetic. How can Israel allow a country, that regularly speaks of its annihilation, the means to accomplish its goal? It is counter-intuitive to not expect some reaction to a clear threat.

The views of the world are clear. All nations have expressed an uneasy with a nuclear Iran. Defying the world community represents a conscious decision on the part of Iran. If we want to avoid a conflict, then it's up to Iran and I don't think we should forget this fact as move forward. This crisis isn't the dreaded pre-emptive doctrine, nor is it unilateral. The real story is this is a crisis of Iran's making and they hold the cards to avoid an escalation. If Iran continues to resist, in a sense they provide the answers to the question of purpose and legitimize the military option.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Grasping At Straws

I always find it amusing when conservatives try to counter mountains of evidence with shaky counterpoints. Whether it be a topic like global warming, or in this case Iraq:
Good News From Iraq
Picking up where Arthur Chrenkoff* left off, Bill Crawford has pulled together a collection of under-reported "good news" items from Iraq for National Review. Read it all (especially those of you confused by my criticism of CTV's Lisa LaFlamme).

A few exerpts;
In addition to taking over battle space, Iraqis continue to take the lead in more security operations. Operation Cobra Strike was lead by soldiers of the 8th Iraqi Army Division. The operation was planned, and conducted by Iraqis, with U.S. soldiers in support.

139 Iraqi soldiers recently graduated from commando school, and are ready to fight:

39 of 45 planned border forts along the Iran-Iraq border are complete. The border posts are manned by Iraqis.

In another raid, a senior al Qaeda operative was killed. Abu Umar was the terror groups "ambassador," and was charged with forming relationships with other groups in Iraq. Umar was an associate of Osama bin Laden. More than 115 top al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured in Iraq over the last few months.

Now for the bad news:
-the current American casualty rate for April is the highest since last November, more than triple last month. So much for the "Iraqis taking the lead" angle. Also interesting that three years on, the Iraqis still aren't able to claim one battalion that can run operations effectively(there was one, but it has since been downgraded). Another example of the Iraqi forces inability to deal with the insurgents.

-on the politics front, another day without a government, furthering the argument that Iraq can't act as a single entity, despite the propaganda of elections.

-nothing says positivity like a brewing battle to replace the American defense secretary. When generals, who normally don't question the civilian authority, say it a mess, chances are its a mess. Traders, emboldening the enemy??

-quite telling that the debate is largely a question of whether or not we can use the phrase civil war yet. Talk of victory doesn't even register with sane minds.

-on the issue of Iraqis manning the borders, for anyone who thinks this will be effective I suggest a close look at the most comprehensive, technologically advanced attempt to secure a porous border.

Yep, no question that the situation is improving in Iraq, with many high profile examples as proof. If only the liberal media would tell the true story.

Consequences of Iraq

The other day Cerberus asked the question- "what if the US had not invaded Iraq?". The question related to the situation in Iraq itself, but I think it important to look at how the Iraq invasion has impacted the international scene.

There is no question that the Iraq war has damaged American prestige within the world community on several fronts. America now has little credibility on issues of intelligence, which has a direct impact on the other world "hot spots". The world community is suspicious of any American claims and this hurts their diplomatic effectiveness. Coupled with the torture scandals, and you have an America which lacks the moral clarity to champion human rights.

The diplomatic chasm that still remains as a result of Iraq has led to a hardening of opinion and essentially divided the first world governments. There also exists a lack of will to deal with other "problem" areas, as there is no appetite for any talk of military action, with visions of Iraq fresh on everyone's minds. I would argue that the current Iranian crisis has reached such a critical stage as a result of the failed Iraq war. Iran has been able to advance its nuclear program with little concrete concern of ramifications, as the world shows little desire for a real conflict. Had the Iraq war ceased to exist, it is reasonable to see a world community far more united, with the necessary military threat to force concessions. Internally, the American public and elected officials would be far more "hawkish" with regards to Iran, if not for the trepidation over Iraq. Can anyone envision a scenario now where the U.S. congress gives Bush the green light for military options on Iran? Any administration arguments for a tactical strike on Iran will be met with a "cried wolf" mentality. A real threat may be questioned because a manufactured threat was manipulated. This situation may well effect American foreign policy for a generation.

For Canada, I have little doubt that our role in Afghanistan would be much different if not for Iraq. The American military was obsessed with Iraq, at the expense of the fragile situation in Afghanistan. Had the focus remained on Afghanistan, I seriously doubt there would be any present day discussion of Taliban remnants or Al Qaeda lurking on the Pakistan border. The security situation would be far more advanced, with Canadian troops acting in their traditional role of peacekeepers, as opposed to makers. Canada's decision to send troops to Afghanistan relates to the American's need to replace their thinly stretched forces. Our role allows the American military more latitude to continue the presence in Iraq. It is legitimate to ask whether Canada would even be in Afghanistan if not for Iraq.

When the Americans invaded Iraq, it provided extremism with potent fuel, as nightly images of dead Muslims were broadcast throughout the world. Muslim extremists were given concrete proof that America was an imperialist nation, that wanted to control the world. How can the west counter the reality on the ground? The Iraq war has set the stage for a future war of cultures, as an entire generation is now indoctrinated with suspicion and hatred. I'm not sure we can comprehend the future consequences of this misguided war. The Iraq war will haunt the world for decades to come and may well prove to be the watershed moment for a wider conflict.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Soft Underbelly

It is quite refreshing to see environmental issues emerging as a serious debating point for the Liberal Party. Chretien and Martin hit the right talking points, but had the vision of a bat at noon when approaching our environmental policy. No matter how you approach the issue, whether tactically or morally, or a combination of both, the environment represents opportunity for the Liberal Party. On the tactical front, we see a largely successful Harper, with this glaring weakness:
63 per cent of respondents said they thought the Conservatives were doing a poor job on the environment. That was before the news came out that the government was pulling funding for a number of climate-change initiatives.

Anderson said public opinion research suggests Canadians are becoming more focused on global environmental issues and that Harper should take note.

"It's important for them to position themselves as progressive advocates of envrionmental solutions domestically and internationally if they want to broaden their support base," he said.

As people are quick to point out, Decima's polls are suspect, so this overwhelming opinion on the environment looks even more impressive. Of all the issues, the Conservative's are most vulnerable on the environmental file. The trick for the Liberals is too articulate why environmental concerns should be given primary consideration at the voting booth. All too often, people say they favor environmental reform, but it tends to get lost in the discussion and becomes a tertiary issue.

The Liberal Party is in the midst of a navel gazing exercise to discover who they are and what they represent. I can't think of another issue where the Liberals can demonstrate their relevance than an aggressive debate on the environment. Canada can't afford the glacial tinkering of its policies, we desperately need to employ words like "revolution". If the Liberal Party can bring forward a "radical" vision for environmental policy as we move forward, Canadians may finally be prepared to listen. A policy that isn't afraid to speak of sacrifices can be well received if it is accompanied by the real sense of urgency.

Where are the Conservatives most vulnerable- check. How can the Liberals re-define themselves and adopt a coherent vision that sets them apart- check. What can the Liberals do to stop the bleeding in Quebec- check. How can the Liberals appeal to the disaffected NDP and Green voter- check. What issue demands revolutionary thinking- check. It's a no brainer, as far as I'm concerned and a moral imperative to boot.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Walk The Line

You can't really fault a government for seeing the importance of appearances. "Staying on message" is a key tactic to show the population that the government is focused, consistent and has a clear vision. However, in a free society, any measures that confine expression and overtly attempt to eliminate any contrary opinion should be seen as a threat to our core principles. The Harper government seems obsessed with managing the discourse, to such an extent that its tactics don't have any resemblence to true democracy. The latest:
Ministers in the new Conservative government have been warned they could be banned from travelling, publicly humiliated or even fired for verbal gaffes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined not to have his agenda derailed and his ministers have been made aware they will face punishment for loose-lipped indiscretions.

Harper's chief of staff, Ian Brodie, has given colleagues in ministers' offices stark warnings about sanctions for cabinet members who either embarrass or contradict the government in public, sources say.

The worst of those penalties — being dumped from cabinet, shuffled to another portfolio, or barred from official trips — have not been imposed yet.

Harper's inner circle seems obsessed with message control, to the point of disturbing paranoia. Are these minister's people with opinions, or simple propaganda faciliators? Implementing a formal sanctions regime for anyone who dare's to speak out of turn hardly speaks to Harper's claim of welcoming "open votes" and greater power for lowly MP's. If the minister's are forced to do the PMO goosestep, how does our democracy become more egalitarian?

All this obsession with message begs the question, what are you so afraid of? Afterall, it was this media that gave the Conservative's a relative free ride this past election. Much of the press in the election aftermath has been at the very least balanced, if not mostly positive. Where is the boogeyman that haunts Harper's mind? Or does Harper's agenda reveal a basic disinterest in true accountability and openness. Clearly, we have a disconnect between the rhetoric and the practice. I look forward to the day when Peter McKay can't attend a G8 summit because his flying privileges were suspended. Again, all parties attempt to manage, what is particularly concerning with this government is a question of degree.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Simply Amazing

A theory gains more credibility as you amass evidence to support the thesis. The idea that Stephen Harper is the "ideological twin" of George Bush, who is determined to mirror the American approach, is often dismissed as simple partisan fearmongering. However, now that Harper is in power and we see the emerging Canadian/United States government symmetry unfold, all the fears of Harper taking his cues from the Bush approach seem warranted.

The latest example for the "parrot" file revolves around global warming. People will remember the high-profile global warming dispute between the Bush administration and a prominent NASA scientist:
James Hansen, NASA’s leading researcher on global warming, spoke out on 60 Minutes last night. His claim is that the Bush administration is “Rewriting The Science.” Hansen told 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley that “the Bush administration is restricting who he can talk to and editing what he can say.

Concidence or part of a disturbing pattern:
Publisher Elizabeth Margaris said that Mark Tushingham, whose day job is as an Environment Canada scientist, was ordered not to appear at the National Press Club to give a speech discussing his science fiction story about global warming in the not-too-distant future.

"He got a directive from the department, cautioning him not to come to this meeting today," said Margaris of DreamCatcher Publishers.

"So I guess we're being stifled. This is incredible, I've never heard of such a thing," she said.

Let's not forget, that Harper adopted the American position on Kyoto with his "made in Canada" language. This attempt to stifle a scientist's novel is consistent with the message control of the Harper government. The directive is also eeriely familar to the Bush attempt to write the global warming story, sort of like the "cut and run" line.

It is common practice for the Bush administration to do a "news dump" late in the day, at the end of the week, to manipulate the newscycle so certain unpleasant measures are largely forgotten. For example, a few weeks ago the Pentagon officials were called to Congress to speak on the progress in Iraq. Both Rumsfeld and Pace(I think it was a Tuesday) spoke to the increased effectiveness of Iraqi forces in fighting the insurgency. Then, late on Friday the Pentagon released a short memo, stating that the only Iraqi battalion capable of independent operations had been downgraded, so that they were now unable to operate without American assistance. An embarrassing admission for the Pentagon, it was released at a time where it would get the least exposure.

Another coincidence:
Thursday at the same time the Conservative government was quietly axing a number of Kyoto programs.

The bizarre sequence of events on the eve of the Easter long weekend provided...on the eve of a long weekend when governments traditionally dump bad news for the least possible public exposure, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn issued a news release saying 15 programs were being eliminated.

It is simple logic that if you are serious about global warming, you don't commit an immediate slash and burn on environmental programs. If the Conservatives had replacements ready, they could make the argument that they are re-focusing their efforts. Instead, they lurk in the shadows and come out with a press release while they hope Canadians aren't listening. For anyone who believes the Americanization theory, as well as the "big oil" alliance, be afraid, be very afraid.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Weak Reasoning On Afghanistan

I saw this National Post article, where a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel tells us the ten reasons why would should be in Afghanistan. A couple of the reasons are certainly legitimate, but the fact the author insists on a David Letterman approach to war detracts from his arguments. Here are the ten reasons:
1.Canadian Security- You could argue our security is at stake by extension, but using the "fight them over there, before they get here" argument reminds me of Bush's Iraq rationalization.

2.Pride- What an assinine justification for our war footing. Violence and death so we can feel good about ourselves is hardly a moral standard.

3.Canada-US Relations- Huh? What a callous idea, to send troops into harm's way to so we don't rock the boat. Maybe we should have signed an agreement- we enter Afghanistan and you drop the softwood tariff.

4.Central Asian regional security- Okay, this has some validity. A stable Afghanistan is certainly good for the region, while instability tends to shake the entire reason. Agree or disagree, you can see the logic in this justification.

5.Treaty Obligations- We are part of NATO and have a mandate. In and of itself, I don't think this reasoning is strong enough on its own, but Canada does live up to its NATO commitments.

6.Reinforcing Success- The author makes the argument that Afghanistan has a great chance for sucess than other war-torn regions of the world, so our presence is best placed there. You could just as easily argue that Afghanistan has shown itself to be a complete mirage of a country, with a infinite history of upheaval that can't be fixed within the present borders.

7.Democracy- Obviously, Canada is interested in fostering conditions to make democracy flourish. However, it is not our role to force democracy on other societies. Are we invading China soon?

8.Rule of law and human rights- Of the entire list, this is the one that has the most relevance and/or moral footing. If there is one positive that could come from our mission it would be to see Afghans have greater personal freedom and rights.

9.Poppies- Merely mentioning such silly justifications, entirely detracts from legitimate points. I hope the invasion of British Columbia is successful.

10.Economics- The author mentions oil and natural gas as legitimate motivators. What a cynical reason for our presence in Afghanistan- opportunity.

Clearly a case of less is more when crafting a coherent argument. I would say two are valid reasons, with another two partial and the rest, your basic nonsense.

Harper Out Of Control

The message control agenda of the Harper government is reaching Goebbels like proportions:
Stephen Harper's dispute with the Parliamentary Press Gallery escalated yesterday when he reluctantly ceded control over which journalists could ask about his proposed federal accountability act -- and then took questions from just two of them.

The skirmish began when the press gallery stated its intention to set up two microphones at a morning news conference in the House of Commons lobby. That arrangement would have allowed reporters to determine who could ask questions and in what order. Mr. Harper's press assistant has made those choices ever since the Tories took office.

Some members of the media say that if the Prime Minister's Office controls who gets to ask questions, they won't call on reporters whose stories they don't like.

This latest draconian measure is the equivalent of a payoff for government friendly reporters and overt punishment for anyone who dares to criticize. I am glad to see the press refused to follow the Harper rules, although Harper did single out a Canwest reporter for a question, despite the fact he wasn't in line. Harper's measure resembles the Bush pressers, wherein he refuses to call on reporters known to have critical opinions of his Iraq policy.

There is no other way to spin this new policy, it represents selective journalism that detracts from the notion of a free press. Ironic, that on a day when Harper trumpets his new accountability and openness agenda, he also reveals his disdain for open debate. All these measures to limit the press beg the question, what are trying to hide? What is so heinous that the government needs to go to such lengths to censor the press?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

McKay Didn't Get The Memo

Who does Peter McKay think he is challenging the elephant?:
Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay says he'll use a trip to Washington this week to argue against American plans to require passports or special ID cards for Canadians at the border.

That appears to contradict Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent public statement that Canadians must get used to the fact a secure document system is coming. MacKay is to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Washington on Thursday....

MacKay says the Canadian position was made clear during the recent Cancun summit attended by Harper and U.S. President George W. Bush, adding: "I'll be bringing forward the same position to Ms. Rice and their administration."

But after the Cancun meeting, Harper told reporters that there would be no turning back on Washington's border security plan.

subservient- Subordinate in capacity or function, compliant and obedient to authority, abjectly submissive; characteristic of a slave or servant. Translated to Harper speak, subservient means "friendship", "best friend" and "improved relations".

McKay needs to realize that Harper already ceded the issue to Bush in Cancun, effectively rolling over despite the massive harm it will do to the Canadian economy. Remember, this is a American administration which is assured a prominent historical place, not to be taken lightly. McKay must be under that old misconception that his job as Minister of Foreign Affairs is to stand up for Canada. McKay is new to his portfolio and should be given some latitude. In time, he will have a better understanding that his main task, when speaking with American officials, is to access as much information as possible, so that we can better parrot their policies. It is important that no one can perceive light between our two positions, otherwise the friendship may suffer and clearly that is no one's interest.

MP's On The Clock

I had the misfortune of tuning in for the big Afghanistan debate yesterday (shown live on both CBC and CTV news). I was curious to see if the debate would help clarify the longterm plans for our troops in Afghanistan. I didn't expect a busy populus to drop everything so they could hear members speak to this issue. However, I did expect to see some MP's present, instead it looked like a Montreal Expos game, circa 2004. Where were these people, do they punch out at five?

In the future, if I hear one MP speak too Afghanistan, the first thing a reporter should ask is, were you present on April 10/2006? Sadly, last night's turnout is nothing new for the House of Commons- apart from question period and non-confidence motions, it is rarely full. The situation has become so ridiculous that MP's are strategically seated at the camera positions to give the appearance that there is more people present. I appreciate the fact that MP's have other commitments, but their job should dictate a semi-mandatory presence in the House.

After last night's embarrassment, I propose that MP's should be required to use punchcards. Whenever they physically enter the House of Commons, the time is recorded until they leave- do the same for committee meetings or other formal responsibilities. At election time, MP's attendance should become public knowledge so we have a better handle on what these people are doing with their time. As politicans like to say during an election, they work for the people. I guarantee the House of Commons would look like a beehive of activity if there was formal accountability.

I'm a political geek. I don't expect everyone to have the same interest in politics that I do. However, is it too much to ask that MP's show up for an important debate? Last night was disgraceful and should serve as the final straw for a system of accountability that is clearly flawed. How many people were present for the pay raise vote? I have a strange feeling, busy schedules were cleared for this important national debate.


Progressive Right has a better idea.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Another Premier Favors Scrapping Senate

A few weeks ago, Ontario Premier McGuinty responded to the Harper Senate reforms by proposing we scrap the body all together. Add Manitoba Premier Doer to the list of abolishing proponets:
Manitoba Premier Gary Doer has jumped into the debate over Canada's Senate, calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to abolish Parliament's upper house.

Doer made the remark after Harper's throne speech last week made vague references to reforming the Senate.

Doer says Manitoba had a senate once, but got rid of it in 1876 to save money.

The fact that we now have two Premiers advocating abolishing the Senate should give the reform people pause. Harper's bandaid solution is not progress, in fact it will undoubtedly open up an entirely different set of problems. Once elected, Senators have no accountability to the electorate and can operate with impunity until they are 75. Senator's will also be emboldened to challenge parliament because the main criticism that it lacks legitimacy because it is an appointed body will be lifted. The potential for gridlock and partisan politics, ala the American system, is a real concern with this patchwork proposal.

Harper shortsighted reforms, meant to appease westerners is clearly generating some resistence with Premiers, who ultimately will have to have a say if any reforms are to have constitutional relevance. McGuinty's call for abolishing could be dismissed because of Ontario's power, but adding Manitoba's voice gives the idea more credibility.

Liberals Can Move Left

One of the central themes, already emerging within the confines of this leadership campaign, is the discussion of where Liberals should go on the political spectrum. Many commentators have looked at the overall field and expressed concern that it has a lefty bias, at the expense of the center. The argument seems to be the Liberals risk alienating the soft-Tory voter and even moderate Liberals if they go in this direction. There is also concern that the Liberals will effectively cede the center to Harper and in turn allow him to drift right, without fear of a moderate counter.

The counter-argument to any potential pitfalls is the potential appeal to the soft NDP voter. There is no question the NDP has been successful in eroding the Liberals support on the left. If the Liberal Party can adopt a true liberal philosophy, it can effective take on the NDP in a substantive debate, instead of the usual electioneering. If there is less light between Liberal and NDP policy, it allows for a realistic call to "unite the left" to "stop" Harper.

The one issue, where the Liberals can appeal to progressives is on the environment. Early signs suggest that environmental policy will be a central theme with the leadership contenders. The NDP has championed this issue with striking success, as opposed to the glacial approach of the Liberals. In adopting a somewhat revolutionary tone to their environmental policy, Liberals can counter the NDP and seize a core ideal. If the Liberals can craft an environmental vision that demonstrates some economic potential, instead of defending economic damage, they can move left without ceding the center on the fiscal side- in effect the best of both worlds.

This isn't America, Canada is vote rich on the left so the strategy isn't as risky as some would argue. The Liberals must address the biting dog on their left flank because Layton means to make then irrelevant. If the Liberals ignore the erosion, then the NDP makes the case without much rational retort. If the Liberals pick and choose certain issues that speak to the left, then the "don't waste your vote" argument has impact. I thought Ignatieff had a good soundbite the other day, with his "we must plant our flag on the center-left" argument. I can think of many former Liberal majority governments that had no qualms with that place on the political spectrum. Given the current political party makeup, I would argue a move to the left isn't a gamble, but more correctly a necessity.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

GST Cut May Hurt Conservative Fortunes Next Election

Consumers appear to be quite excited about the proposed GST cut. It looks as though Canadians have another unexpected bonus waiting for them this tax season:
Canadians filing their tax returns this month are in for a pleasant surprise of the found-cash variety.

Average taxpayers will discover more than $300 coming their way in mostly long-forgotten election goodies served up to voters by the previous Liberal government...

the Canada Revenue Agency implemented the changes to the tax system anyway, and by another stroke of good fortune, the breaks were made retroactive to the beginning of last year.

That means most ordinary working folk whose taxes are stripped directly from their weekly wages were probably overpaying the treasury for all of 2005, and are now entitled to a hefty rebate.

It is already well documented how the GST cut will not benefit average Canadians in the same way as the Liberal tax plan. However, the Conservatives win on appearances, because the GST cut is so hated and high profile. Where this argument may fall apart is this time next year, when the tax changes show concrete results. We are all paying taxes right now based on the Liberal plan of the lower rate on the first 35 000, as well as the higher exemption. If Harper nixes the Liberal plan, he effectively sets up a scenario where people have underpaid on their taxes and will need to pay the balance next April. The Liberals have the perfect opportunity, because the gap is even more pronounced when you compare this year's rebate to next year's shortfall. How do you like the GST cut now?

Nothing is more disturbing than paying taxes all year, only to find you owe more when you do your return. Harper's short term "victory" with the GST cut, may be overshadowed as the practical comes into play. Interesting too that the chickens come home to roost around the same time many predict the next election talk to heat up. Harper's transparent plan to curry favor, may backfire as soon as Canadians get the bill next year. If Harper is smart he will run the GST cut and Liberal plan concurrently this year, to avoid the underpaying tax scenario on next year's return.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Liberal Leadership Forum

I had a chance to watch the Liberal leadership contenders speak at the Alberta party convention. The general themes were hardly surprising, renewal and unity sprinkled with the required Tory bashing. Dion and Godfrey were most impressive on the environment, each seemed to grasp the urgency. Kennedy, Brison and Rae were all strong and composed. Ignatieff was generally good, although when he started defending the Liberals funding of museums it seemed an odd issue to champion.

Several speakers stressed the need to fight as one and avoid the Liberal on Liberal tendency of leadership struggles. Clearly, there seems to be an emphasis on a united front so it would appear the main players will take the high ground during this debate. The only element that rang hollow was the Conservative bashing, or maybe the way it was presented. Several speakers attacked the Conservatives record, as though they had been in power for years and we needed reform. I don't see that angle playing well with Canadians, although it may be more palatable to hardcore partisans. I can't stand Harper, but several times I found the attacks poorly argued and it seemed like simplistic, kneejerk politics.

I thought Ignatieff had the best quote, when he said Liberals must plant their flag and make their stand on the center-left of the spectrum. Rae took the microphone and walked to the center of the stage, saying that position was where he was most comfortable. It looks as though, direction of the party, will be the key debate as the process moves forward. This importance may explain the NDP's interest:
Five NDP staffers have been assigned to "blast out" reality checks on what leadership candidates are saying, according to NDP communications director Brad Lavigne. The goal is to show that Liberals are talking a different game out of power than the one they delivered during their 13 years in office. ...

Lavigne doesn't say so explicitly, but what the NDP fears is that Liberals will be using this time in the political wilderness to position themselves as the only "progressive" party in Canada.

The NDP concerns appear to be warranted, because there does appear to be an overall tilt to the left, with Kennedy adopting the NDP beware reference "progressive pragmatism". I can't wait for the divided left arguments as we move forward.

Impressive Liberal Field

When you look at the top-tier Liberal hopefuls, it is hard not be impressed. The slate is chalk full of intellectuals, who have all shown an ability to offer the elusive "vision". Ignatieff set a good tone for a substantive debate with his declaration that he would not run against fellow Liberals, but contrast with the Conservative agenda. Kennedy's emphasis on "progressive pragmatism" illustrates a keen sense of the waning importance of rigid ideology. Dion has made the environment a cornerstone of his campaign, clearly an issue that demands entirely new ways of thinking. Rae's speech's always have a philosophical tone wrapped within a practical agenda. Dryden, if you can get past the lack of inflection, offers inspiring words that always show a clear direction.

I read an article this morning that asks if this leadership race will be one of ideas or politics. It is somewhat early to say, but given the lack of clear frontrunner, the admission of distractions like Stronach and the general mood of the key players, this looks to be a highly substantive debate. Obviously, the political element is there, with candidates scrambling to get organization and "work the rooms", but none of these men give the sense of politics first. There does seem a genuine desire to articulate an agenda, an opportunity to present their ideas and direction.

When McKenna took a pass, and to a lesser degree Tobin, it set the stage for a real debate, instead of some air of inevitability. When you look at the likely successors none of them looks overtly political in the negative way people often portray. What I mean by that, is we have a slate that will probably prefer honest debate, as opposed to appeasing people to "look" a certain way. Ignatieff is sticking by his controversial opinions, and whether you agree or not, it sets a good tone for the debate because it looks apolitical. All the signs point to a juicy discussion, that should accomplish what Liberals desperately need, a new direction.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Layton Obsessed With The Liberals

Almost every speech or soundbite offered by Jack Layton invariably references the Liberals. Even in cases where the subject matter has little co-relation to the Liberals, Layton finds some way to offer a contrast. Layton's pre-occupation with the Liberals is understandable from a political perspective because he needs to attract the soft Liberal support to expand his own appeal. However, I think the NDP's interests would be better served if they focused on their own platform, offer a positive vision and stop undercutting the Liberals at every turn.

I voted NDP the last election, but I must say I almost didn't precisely because I found Layton's unrelenting Liberal bashing annoying. The debates were a ridiculous display of political opportunism at the expense of a discussion of ideas. No matter the question, Layton would turn to Martin and hurl some accusation or criticism, instead of more time spent on his ideas. With the hopes of Liberal renewal, I will probably gravitate back to the Liberals and re-join the party, but that decision will be made much easier if Layton continues with this pre-occupation, that essentially helps the Conservatives.

Harper's political motives are obvious, almost all his comments are meant to appeal to a pre-determined audience. With Layton, the hyper-politicism is especially disappointing because it detracts from the legitimate policies. When Layton speaks to issues like the environment or childcare he offers Canadians his vision in a positive manner. When he berates the Liberals, Layton looks the opportunist that is merely interested in siphoning off votes. I understand the calculus, but I doubt the NDP will get results with their current strategy, and as a consequence he plays into Harper's hands. Layton may see his Liberal bashing strategy as a matter of political survival and for that reason it is unrealistic to hope he would stop. However, the real question is one of degree and too often Layton comes off more interested in dumping on the Liberals than he does arguing why people should vote NDP.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Harper Challenges Klein

I spend alot of time bashing our new Prime Minister, I guess it only fair to acknowledge a positive development. Finally, Stephen Harper speaks out against Klein's clear threat to public health:
In a letter to Premier Ralph Klein, Harper hints that allowing doctors to practise in both the public and private health-care systems at the same time may violate the Canada Health Act. "Dual practice creates conflict of interest for physicians as there would be financial incentive for them to stream patients into the private portion of their practice,"...

"Furthermore, dual practice legitimizes queue-jumping as it provides an approved mechanism for patients to pay to seek treatment at the front of the line."

"Moreover, such dual practice may be a magnet for rural physicians to migrate to urban centres."

Harper sent this letter to Klein last Friday, but it was only divulged today. On the surface, it is great to see Harper stand up for the Canada Health Act in such a forceful way. Interesting that the heir apparent to Klein, Jim Dinning, is now also trumpeting the same concerns:
The early front-runner in the race to replace Premier Ralph Klein is cautioning against two of the most contentious planks in Alberta's Third Way health-care reforms.

Jim Dinning, one of at least six contenders for the leadership of Alberta's Progressive Conservatives, suggested that with roughly eight months remaining as premier, Klein should not proceed with a plan to allow doctors to practise in both the public and private health systems. Rural leaders have warned the move could further reduce the availability of surgeons and other specialists in their communities...

Dinning also spoke out against allowing patients to pay cash for some procedures, including joint replacements, in order to get faster treatment - a move critics say would create a two-tiered health-care system.

Now for my suspicious mind. Harper's timing here is somewhat curious, because he has been strangely silent prior to this letter. Could it be that Harper has tested the waters and calculated that he can afford to take on Klein without alientating his base? It is also interesting that Dinning raises the exact same concerns as Harper- could it be that they have had conversations? I suspect there has been some dialogue and this allowed Harper the opportunity to dive in to the debate. The issues raised in the letter have been raised by other people since Klein came out with this proposal, but Harper seemed hesitant to challenge. The letter was sent just prior to the Conservative convention, but the air of vulnerability was already present. Harper and Dinning appear to be working in concert to shelve Klein's proposal. Whatever the motives, it is good to finally see some foreful rebuttal.

Stronach's Tasteless Exit

Despite the obvious transparent political calculation, Belinda Stronach bows out of the Liberal race and finds a convenient target:
The auto parts heiress and onetime Tory leadership candidate blamed a flawed leadership selection process for her decision, saying she wants a more open and democratic system...

"I want to be more free and open to express what I think the party needs to do to renew. That's the reason I'm not running," she told a news conference.

I would argue, that the one candidate who would benefit least from a more "democratic" process is Belinda Stronach. But, instead of offering a gracious exit, with the required rhetoric, Stronach deflects from her own shortcomings with negative spin. So far, I have seen three different newspieces debating the openness of the Liberal leadership race. Loyalty has never been one of Stronach's strong suits, but this silly excuse shows her me first agenda.

I welcome Stronach's exit because I think her campaign would essentially be a media distraction from the real debate. And, if anyone doubts the hypocrisy, recall these words from Stronach a few weeks ago:
Until now, party officials said neither Stronach nor her team ever raised concerns about leadership selection.

Indeed, Stronach praised the "more open, accessible and accountable process" in a statement last month, after the Liberal national executive announced the rules for the Dec. 2-3 leadership convention.

"The rules . . . demonstrate the party is vibrant and is ready to take the next steps to renew and rejuvenate itself," she said at the time.

For the Liberal leadership, I think we can safely say this represents addition by subtraction.

Liberal Leadership Is The Wildcard

There seems a growing consensus, even amongst Liberal partisans, that Stephen Harper has been relatively effective to date. The relentless focus on winnable issues makes for a daunting task for the opposition. I have already argued how Harper's "message control" is a formidable strategy, that allows for the possibility of a future majority. The difficulty for the opposition will be drawing the Conservatives off the public relations campaign, into a situation where they can frame the debate, instead of merely reacting to "popular" priorities.

I firmly believe, that the single best hope to stop a Harper majority is the Liberal leadership campaign. The leadership campaign is the only wildcard that Harper can't control or manipulate. If the Liberals offer a substantive debate, that truly sets out a broad agenda it can blunt the propaganda machine. The Liberals can count on continued media coverage, outside of the parliament agenda, that gives them mountains of free advertising to change people's perspectives. As the coverage reaches a frenzy prior to the convention, people will be engaged to look at the "new" Liberal Party. Liberals will get a boost in the polls, the extent of which will be reflected by the tone of the convention. The free media event will continue as the new leader finds his way in the House. This concrete timeframe sets the Liberals up for a challenge to the government next spring, when a restless media will already be speculating on "how long can this minority last?"

The leadership race gives the Liberals a chance to take back the momentum and present their own "revolution", to a public that is largely soft in support. I admit, I am quite worried that Harper's agenda is working and he is effectively positioning himself for the next election. The only glimmer, besides the unforeseen, is the real opportunity that lies ahead for the Liberal Party. The signs point to a substantive debate, bolstered today by Stronach's pass. The stakes are enormous, this convention sets the stage for the next decade, nevermind the next election.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Peterson Wrong On Rae

Former Ontario Premier David Peterson came out swinging against Bob Rae today:
David Peterson warned Wednesday that erstwhile NDP rival Bob Rae won't be welcome in the federal Liberal leadership race...

"Here's a guy, a lot of people went to war with him and now he wants to lead the army without even enlisting..."

Peterson argues that Rae has considerable baggage, that will hurt his leadership chances. Peterson's opinion is fine in and of itself, but it's his "pay your dues" Liberal hierarchy talk that is dead wrong:

Party politics "is tribal and it's primordial and it's based on trust and affection and shared experiences," Peterson observed...

Peterson insisted he doesn't hold any personal grudge against Rae but is simply being realistic about the reception he'll get from Liberal militants who've given blood for the party through good and bad times.

The article also points out that Peterson is likely to support Michael Ignatieff in the federal leadership race. While Ignatieff does have historic Liberal ties, clearly his candidacy falls outside of the Liberal "militants who've given blood" meme. How can you be in the trenches, when you weren't in the country? I like Ignatieff, but I question Peterson's inconsistent logic.

What really irks me about Peterson's stance on Rae is that it illustrates the "old boy's" network, where your stature within the party is more about alliances and posturing than about ideas. The Liberal Party, if it is to move forward effectively, should project an air of openness. Bob Rae is not some political rookie without pedigree, so if he wants in then make the tent big enough to welcome his candidacy. Rae is not without ties to prominent Liberals, so his presence isn't completely surprising.

David Peterson's comments represent all that was wrong with the Liberal Party- patronage and the buddy system. Rae's candidacy represents an opportunity to expand the vocabulary, who cares about the pecking order. I am not offering my support for Rae, because like Peterson I think he may have too much baggage to be a realistic hope. However, having someone enter the Liberal leadership, who can speak with eloquence on just about any subject, is a clear positive for anyone who wants an open discussion of ideas, not a contest of who has earned the most brownie points.