Thursday, June 29, 2006

Klein Out Of Line

Ralph Klein has taken it upon himself to offer Republicans advice on re-election:
In a bid to persuade U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney to visit northern Alberta’s oilfields this fall, Premier Ralph Klein told him a high-profile trip would help Republicans win votes from Americans worried about buying oil from unstable countries in the Middle East.

Klein’s unusual venture into U.S. election-year politics came amid separate appeals for a joint Canada-U.S. energy task force to help accelerate Canadian exports of oil.

"It might be good for American politics, and for the Republican party in the U.S., for the vice-president to visit," Klein said following a 30-minute meeting with Cheney in his West Wing office at the White House.

Let's forget the fact that Klein is stepping all over the constitution with his "intrusions" into federal jurisdictions, he is also betraying the basic tenets of diplomacy. How would Klein react if John Kerry showed up in Alberta and lent his support to the Liberals? No matter what the individual preference, governments don't overtly back a particular political party in another nation. Klein is effectively interferring in American domestic politics, an obvious no-no. Klein can be excused for his mistake, afterall foreign relations isn't really part of his portfolio.

Klein's obsession with a Cheney visit to the oilsands, reads like an eager student anxious to impress his tutor. American money is already pouring into the oil patch, it's not like the tar sands aren't on the radar. Cheney's visit would have no practical application, other than ego gratification for Klein. Klein's stupid commentary on the American election could backfire, if, as expected, Democrats gain greater control in the fall. This fact is exactly why government's hesitate in forming overt opinions on another nation's internal politics. Klein shows his lack of sophistication once again.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Israeli Overacts

Time for some perspective:
Israeli troops have dug into positions in south Gaza, having crossed the border overnight following air strikes on three bridges and a power station...

The attack followed sporadic air strikes throughout the day...

The overnight raid destroyed Gaza's main power station and nervous civilians in northern Gaza stockpiled batteries and candles, as well as food and water...

Israeli warplanes flew warning sorties over the summer residence of Syrian President Bashar-al Assad early on Wednesday morning.

Syria said it had responded with anti-aircraft fire.

Don't get me wrong, the attack on Israeli troops was horrible and the captured soldier should be released. Israel is well within her rights to do whatever possible to extract the soldier and return him to his family. However, the Israel government's response constitutes a complete overreaction that threatens to descend the entire region into war. As callous as it may seem, Israel must put this one soldier into perspective and act in a measured way. What we are witnessing now effectively plays into the hands of extremists and alienates moderate Palestinians. The price paid to revenge this attack will obviously outweigh any temporary resolution. The Israeli philosophy of striking back ten times harder has never worked, in fact it has led to more Israeli deaths. Does anyone believe these Palestinians that hold this soldier will simply acquiesce and release him? History and common sense would suggest otherwise.

It was just yesterday that we heard talk of a breakthrough between the various Palestinian factions that allowed for a move to moderation. In fact, there was much discussion that Hamas may have actually recognized Israel for the first time. Mahmoud Abbas has now lost his leverage to weaken the hardline elements of Hamas, as surely we will now see Palestinian casualties that feed extremism. Israel's reaction is completely shortsighted and fails to acknowledge the bigger picture. Is it really worth risking everything over one isolated act, that is relatively minor in a region where bloodshed is commonplace? It would seem that revenge trumps perspective in this instance, with the added irony of guaranteed future Israeli deaths- the vicious cycle continues.

Liberals Have Plenty Of Time

There seems to be quite a lot of speculation surrounding a possible fall election. The Liberals are making contingency plans to prepare themselves for a snap election. I must confess that other than political posturing, I don’t really see a scenario where Harper follows through on the threats. As a matter of fact, Harper would be foolish to force an early election.

Every poll I have seen clearly shows that Canadians don’t want to go to the polls. This fact means that to justify an election call, the conditions would have to be exceptional and urgent. I can’t see any issue on the horizon that would meet this criteria. There is an inherent danger of electoral backlash if an election is called with marginal justifications. Harper must be sensitive to this reality, so his posturing is really more bluster than confidence.

I don’t think you can underestimate the bad optics of calling an election while your main rival is vulnerable. Without a leader, the Liberals are clearly not ready to fight an election and I think Canadians are aware of this fact. Harper would give the impression of kicking the Liberals while they were down. The lack of perceived fair fight would look opportunistic, but it could also garner much sympathy for the “underdog”. Bullying tactics don’t play well, Harper takes a great risk by politicizing the government’s business.

Do I think the Liberals should prepare for a fall election- yes. However, the only true benefit of this plan is too weaken the perception that the Liberals aren’t ready, and in so doing blunt Harper’s perceived leverage. Practically, there is no real danger of a fall election and Liberal should operate within this true reality.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Enough of Volpe

Another Joe Volpe story today. This time Volpe fights back against Harper's hypocrisy, but ultimately he just reminds us of his own problems. Volpe is often referred to as a "good Liberal". This fact may partially explains why he will have decent support at the convention, despite the horrible optics of his candidacy. Volpe intends to remain in the race, which guarantees negative coverage everytime we see his face up until, and including, the convention. Whenever a camera or pencil happens upon Volpe, the image will be prefaced with the standard ethical lines and that stench will overshadow an otherwise positive storyline. For a party desperate to cleanse its image, Volpe is an albatross they can't afford.

If Volpe is a "good Liberal", then he should figure out a way to bow out gracefully, come up with some excuse about funding, or realistic chances- whatever, just get out. Volpe can't win- if he has any influence at the convention whatsoever it will ruin the "renewal" theme. Volpe's vanity campaign, coupled with his negative rhetoric, should make any supporter re-think their logic. Please cite one benefit to supporting Joe Volpe at this stage, other than spite or stubbornness? The guy is objectively a disaster, that is easily avoided if he just chooses to go away. I have heard that many have asked Volpe to step aside, to which he has refused, but clearly some more arm-twisting is needed. The one thing about Harper, he knows how to manage, marginalize and even hide his perceived liabilities. If the Liberal Party really wants to move forward, the first step is quietly getting Volpe off the political radar and out to pasture.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Conservatives Perform Magic

Stephen Harper April 20th trying to score votes in Quebec:
But I do want to return for a moment to the issue that I know has special interest for Quebecers, and that is the fiscal imbalance between the levels of government.

It’s not the easiest priority we could have chosen.

But we can no longer allow ourselves, as a country and as a society, to simply bury our heads in the sand and let the problem fester.

As you know, we – unlike the federal Liberals – recognize the existence of a fiscal imbalance.

Because it is a real problem.

Fiscal imbalance impacts almost all Canadian provinces and municipalities
and is a threat to the proper functioning of the Canadian federation.

When one level of government rolls enjoys big surpluses despite bad management and the others struggle to pay for core services without going into debt, the issue must be addressed...

Because, let me be clear, we will develop specific proposals for the fiscal imbalance over the next year.

Jim Flaherty today, sounding downright Liberal:
Flaherty noted Ottawa transfers $61 billion to the provinces and another $2 billion to the territories each year, and said the level of disparity between the federal and provincial governments had moderated during the past five years, with only two provinces still struggling to balance their budgets.

In addition, Ottawa and the provinces have reached a 10-year health-care deal that calls for six per cent annual funding increases, and the Conservative government -- unlike the previous Liberal administrations -- "will no longer run surprise surpluses,'' he said.

"We also have eight of the 10 provinces running surpluses, so the fiscal imbalance environment has changed,'' Flaherty told reporters

Wow, in just over two months the Conservatives have virtually tackled that massive imbalance- these guys are good! What is absolutely shocking, Flaherty uses the Liberal record to demonstrate how the fiscal imbalance has lessened. Equally amazing, all these facts were at the Conservatives disposal when they beat the fiscal imbalance drum to acquire votes. Such is the reality, when you trump up an issue to attain power and then you are forced to deal with your exaggerations.

The truly dangerous part of this blatant manipulation, that insults our intelligence, Harper is about to hand Duceppe the card he has been waiting on. Immediately after the election, Duceppe made it clear that this government would sink or swim on the issue of fiscal imbalance. Duceppe even made mention of this fact when he decided to immediately support the Conservatives budget. Clearly, Duceppe has calculated that Harper has boxed himself in on a promise he can't deliver. Flaherty's comments attempt to lower the bar, but I suspect Duceppe lies in wait to show the political game at play. It is so pathetic, Flaherty in effect praises the "head in the sand" Liberals to justify the coming disappointment. Imbalance, it was all a mirage afterall.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tory Inc.

Every political party "manages" its message and tries to formulate policy which is palatable. However, the way the Conservatives have turned the political process into a "marketing strategy", more akin to a corporation, is unprecedented. Is Harper the Prime Minister or C.E.O? Are these MP's or sales reps? This article details how policy is merely a political calculation, rather than an extension of core ideals:
The federal Tories have identified tens of thousands of individual voters for a pre-election charm offensive designed to help them gain a majority government...

It's all part of a data-gathering project that could be the most sophisticated of its kind in Canadian political history. The party has already compiled two million names in an electronic database that records the concerns and political opinions of voters...

- Use psychographics and geodemographics to create a voter profile of neighbourhoods and ridings expected to become electoral battlefields. These techniques compile information on people's beliefs, values, opinions, and lifestyles, and blend them into a composite sketch for their neighbourhood. Data is drawn from the census, public-opinion polls, and information bought from ad agencies, private companies, and organizations like Air Miles which compile consumer data.

-Developing policies that appeal to key voters, and getting in touch with them through CIMS...

"We try to figure out what excites you about politics or what issues get you motivated. Then we try to match those with what's in our platform.

Apparently, this effort is how the Conservatives decided to adopt the GST cut. It used to be that Conservatives had a philosophical underpinning to their belief that taxes were to high, whereas Harper adopts his tax policy purely for political gain. It is obvious, as we head into the next election, that the Tories will argue policies simply as means to increase power, rather than a genuine conviction. This approach is decidedly dangerous, short-sighted and bereft of values. Like a soulless corporation that is pre-occupied with profit, this government simply exchanges money for votes. Maximize our potential, create a sharp sales pitch and manipulate the unaware voter.

I have heard Kennedy use the "marketing" angle to describe the Conservative government. I think this attack should be a core tenet as we move forward. Make the distinction between developing policy because you believe it is the right path, as opposed to developing a platform simply because it will play well. Clearly, we have reached the low water mark for conviction and principle, as Tory Inc. adopts the WalMart approach to Canadian politics. Ultimately, it will be up to Canadians to decide if they really are gullible sheep that are easily played.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Caution On Immigration

There are a lot of ideas on immigration coming from the various Liberal leadership hopefuls. Maurizio Bevilacqua proposes an "expansionist" approach:
Canada needs to double the flow of immigrants into the country to build up its population and drive economic growth, Liberal leadership candidate Maurizio Bevilacqua said yesterday.

In a bold proposal to throw open the doors to the country, Mr. Bevilacqua proposed that Canada expand its immigration system beyond filling holes in the labour market, bringing in far more foreign relatives of Canadians to expand the population.

His proposal calls for Canada to increase its immigration rate immediately to 1 per cent of the population, or about 325,000 people, rather than the roughly 240,000 a year it brings in now. By 2016, he would increase immigration to 1.5 per cent of the population, which would be about 490,000 people a year based on the current population.

While I appreciate the need for robust immigration, both on moral and practical terms, I find these types of proposals simplistic, and somewhat dangerous to be frank. There is an element of pandering in some of the candidates proposals, that fails to attach a practicality to how we view immigration. The question of immigration rarely factors in the environmental costs. With infastructures already over-extended, you could argue that in fact we need a pause to catch our breath.

In Ontario, municipalities are already so strapped for basic things such as water that they are draining the Great Lakes to quench their thirst. We are already at crisis stage with issues such as urban sprawl, garbage disposal, energy needs and basic transportation infastructure. In other words, the system doesn't have any more "potential" for growth. So, it is fine to favor robust immigration on a philosophical note, but it is equally foolhardy to advocate a policy that amplifies the core problems.

What I find particularly disturbing is this notion that zero population growth is a bad thing. I see nothing attractive in continued encroachment on "virgin" land as population expands. I see nothing attractive about increased use of resources to fuel a ballooning population. A new strip mall here, a new golf course there, a new subdivision over there- where does it end? While Mr. Bevilacqua's proposals may be popular, it guarantees out of control expansion, while the environment suffers the consequences. I think we need to slow down and not look at immigration as simply an economic question, that fails to recognize the underlying costs.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Joining The Liberals

Today, I joined the Liberal Party of Canada. I have always been fiercely independent, so it is actually quite strange to formally fall under a political banner. I would still describe myself as "loosely" affiliated, because my signature doesn't deny crticism, nor does it necessitate the partisan goosestep.

Primarily, my main motivation for joining the party is too directly participate in the leadership process. I like what I see in some of the candidates, and there does seem to be a genuine desire to move the party forward. In addition, I look forward to heckling Joe Volpe relentlessly in Montreal:) While I haven't decided on who I will ultimately support, I have narrowed it down to one of either Rae, Kennedy or Dion. According to the riding rep, we don't actually vote until the fall so there isn't any hurry in deciding.

As I read the rules for "The Blogging Alliance of Non-Partisan Canadians", I can still remain part of this group, so long as I am not affiliated with another online partisan community. I still haven't decided whether or not to join Liblogs, although my sitemeter is on record as being supportive ;) Anyways, a couple of times people have linked to my posts and referred to me as a Liberal, so I guess philosophically my joining isn't much of a stretch. However, I think I can still write about the NDP in a positive light where warranted, because alot of their policies are light-years ahead of the Liberal Party(i.e. the environment). Ultimately, all it takes is a pair of scissors and I'm independent again, but at this moment it feels right.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Interesting Harper Interview

I caught the Mike Duffy interview with Stephen Harper. Here is some of the text that I thought was interesting( slightly paraphrased):
Duffy: We saw this weird thing in the House this week, with the Liberals attacking the NDP and the NDP attacking the Liberals and nobody was attacking the government

Harper: sly grin

Duffy: Jack Layton's people tell me that they really believe the NDP could replace the Liberals as the voice of the left...Is he dreaming, is the Liberal Party on the ropes?

Harper: I don't know. I guess I'm not enough of a pollster to tell if you that is possible. What I can tell you Mike, is that the NDP so far in this parliament, although we often disagree, we know where they are coming from. The NDP was very helpful in the Accountability legislation, because I think politicians of all stripes what to see this country move forward...The Bloc is maybe playing a little more games...The Liberals that we saw in the House, the party stands for nothing. One member stands up and says one thing, another stands up and says the opposite. They vote different ways on the same issue. They contradict things they stood for in government less than six months ago. There has been nothing redeeming about the Liberal performance the last six months. Fortunately for the government the NDP in particular, and to a lesser extent the Bloc, are at least prepared to honestly look at issues based on some principle.

Directly after this interview, Duffy interviews Layton:
Duffy:Mr Layton, we just heard the Prime Minister singing your praises, talks about New Democrats being principled. Today in the House he said he would be happy to work on your ideas for the environment. How do you think things are going here?

Layton:Well I'm glad he said we are principled, but he is taking the country in the wrong direction that people didn't vote for. Lets look at examples like Afghanistan...All New Democrats voted against the deployment...But the Liberals were split, led by Mr.Ignatieff who voted with the government...They failed as an opposition party.

On another issue, Accountability, the NDP enacted 20 amendments to the bill to make it stronger. The Liberals were divided, back and forth...

Duffy:In the last few weeks we have seen the NDP sniping at the Liberals and the Liberals sniping at the NDP. I have talked to a number of your MP's, who say they see a day when the NDP, and not to far away, where the choice is between the NDP on the center-left and the Conservatives on the right. They think the Liberals are in such disarray that they are in danger of disappearing. Is that too bleak a picture?

Layton:You know, Canadians will have to decide that...

On first blush, more evidence of the alleged Conservative/NDP conspiracy to rid the world of Liberals. However, listening to both men I realized something about this perceived dynamic. Harper is propping up the NDP because he doesn't think they are a credible alternative. Harper talks up the NDP to belittle the Liberals, but he sees no political danger in empowering the NDP. It is apparent that Harper regards the NDP as a fringe party, incapable of seriously challenging him in the next election. A crippled Liberal Party would have the effect of dividing the spoils, with the Conservatives gaining the majority of seats.

Do I think Harper and Layton have discussed the Liberals- clearly. However, I think Harper is playing a different game, while Layton's motives are transparent. Obviously, Layton wants to appear relevant in this parliament, and some level of co-operation allows him to make the claim that the NDP is "effective" in delivering for Canadians. You can't really fault this approach, so long as the NDP isn't really "in the pocket" of this government. I wonder though, if Layton is beginning to realize that Harper's praises start from his belief that the NDP is forever a bit player. There is a thread of arrogance in Harper's even-handed approach to the NDP that is really anything but flattering the more you look at it.

Chicken Or The Egg

The NDP/Liberal feud seems to go on without an end in sight, while surely Stephen Harper grins. I challenge anyone to find a transcript of a recent Jack Layton speech that doesn't reference the failed Liberals on several occasions. Likewise, please point to a day in parliament where Liberal questions aren't prefaced with the standard NDP criticisms. It is too the point where the truth is irrelevant, the perception is entirely negative. Has the NDP cozyed up to the Conservatives for perceived mutual benefit? No question, as evidenced by Harper's own words which describe the NDP as "constructive", while referring to Liberals as "obstructionist". Were the Liberals largely a complete failure on the environment, with little credibility? Yes Jack, and Canadians are well aware of this fact now.

It is no longer relevant who started the feud, what is timely is how these two parties move on to avoid this obvious mutual-suicide pact. IMHO, the only way to break this vicious cycle is for politicians to stop acting political- a massive task indeed. Make the point, based on your own philosophical tenets and let Canadians digest the merits. The NDP is developing a wonderful environmental agenda, which has great weight without referencing the failed Liberals. Equally, the Liberals need not worry about this perceived erosion on their left-flank, but instead should champion issues that will allow soft-supporters to return- again on the environment, we see a new sense of urgency developing that is attractive.

Ironically, if political fortune is the consideration, the party that breaks away from this pissing match will have the most to gain. Look positive, highlight your agenda and leave the other to wallow in the mud. Canadians are sophisticated enough to smell political opportunism (i.e see Layton's debate performances or Martin's pandering), so there is incentive to act in a "pure" way. In fact, if one party can actually rise above the mud slinging they in turn look attractive in their relative nobility. Rise above the naked partisanship, because ultimately this negative approach turns people off to no end anyways. Focus on the real target, where the philosophical disagreement is pronounced and points can be made from a place of natural conviction, as opposed to pure calculation. This is not to say that the NDP and Liberals shouldn't engage in the compare and contrast, but maybe it is more a question of degree. As it stands now, both parties seem to think of the other, before they think of themselves.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fall Election?

Maple Leaf Politics has a post, detailing the Tories threats to call an election if a motion passes demanding Rona Ambrose resign. Unbelievable:
But the Conservatives are raising the stakes and threatening a fall election should the motion pass.
Conservative Whip Jay Hill confirmed to The Globe and Mail last night that he told NDP House Leader Libby Davies late yesterday that a motion that passes through committee would be considered a confidence matter if the committee report is put to a vote this fall.

Everytime the opposition challenges the government, they threaten to go to the voters. This posture is especially arrogant this time, given the fact that the environment is clearly the government’s weak spot. I say call the Tories bluff, because they surely can’t be serious. Do they really want to drag Canadians to the polls, with their non-existent environmental agenda as the centerpiece? I am willing to bet if a poll where taken, with the question “do you approve of the the job Rona Ambrose is doing?”, Canadians would overwhelming answer NO.

The Tories would look opportunist, taking advantage of a leaderless Liberal Party, and petty for calling an election over this point. Eventually, the opposition has to take a stand against this continual threat of an election, otherwise they allow the government to operate as though it were a majority. I can’t think of a better scenario than this one presented by Jay Hill to expose the false bravado. If Canadians are forced to go to the polls over Rona Ambrose, it represents a perfect storm of sorts. Lose, lose for the Conservatives and the opposition should react within this obvious truth.

The Liberals have no stomach for calling bluffs. I don't understand the logic.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Layton Calls On Ambrose To Resign

Layton was on CBC Newsworld today and was quite strong on the environment. I believe this is the first time the NDP has called on Ambrose to resign:
"We have called for the resignation of the Environment Minister today because she doesn't enjoy the confidence of Canadians in the direction she is taking us".

Layton also made a terrific point, with regards to the Conservatives "made in Canada" jargon:
"I don't know where Mr. Harper felt he could arrive as Prime Minister and not have a climate change agenda ready to rollout, that has been a big shock."

Layton nails it with statement. If this government were truly serious about emissions, then why did they not have a policy developed when they took office? All the years in opposition, the Conservatives policy bluebooks and yet no strategy whatsoever. The fact that Ambrose and company will need a full nine months to develop an approach is a basic admission that they took office with nothing particular in mind, apart from some general criticisms of existing initiatives. It is simply reckless to abandon commitments, without replacements to fill the void.

Layton' statement should become the standard criticism against this government. This issue didn't materalize overnight, in fact pre-election polling put the environment at, or near the top, of issues cited by Canadians. The Tories had their Accountability Act, the tax policy and childcare, yet we only able to devote a couple meaningless lines to the environment in their platform. We are almost in a situation where the clock ticks while the government familarizes itself with the portfolio, inexcusable given the circumstances. Harper bragged about "hitting the ground running" with his new government, which makes this lack of policy all the more alarming. Incompetent or indifferent, those are the only two options to explain the complete inaction of this government.

Ambrose Faces More Embarrassment

Whether he was fired, or quit, the fact that Ambrose's chief of staff is gone further undermines her stature:
Facing non-stop pressure over her government's climate change policies, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose has parted ways with her most senior political adviser.

Ambrose's chief of staff, Daniel Bernier, a former Progressive Conservative strategist, packed his belongings at the office Friday, just as the Sierra Club of Canada gave the new government a failing grade for its actions on climate change and biodiversity.

While a spokesperson for Ambrose refused to say why Bernier left, several people have suggested he did not share the government's philosophy.

"When I met Daniel, I think he was generally interested in the issue of Kyoto, and arguably wanted to do things differently than the Liberals did,'' said Greenpeace spokesperson Steven Guilbeault on Monday. "I think that doing things differently for him may not have meant scrapping everything and putting together a (public relations) campaign to make people believe that they are doing something while doing nothing at all.''

If the quote from Guilbeault is accurate, Bernier's withdrawal represents another embarrassing episode for the forever faultering Ambrose. Ambrose makes another interesting quote:
"I will not jeopardize the long-term opportunity for the government to put a good plan in place for short-term political gain,'' she said in the House of Commons on Monday. "That is exactly what the last party did for 13 years, and not only did it get an F, it got kicked out of class.''

Despite the claims, I suspect Ambrose is rushing to cobble together some patchwork plan to deflect criticism. The loss of her chief of staff is another revelation that Ambrose may lack the competence for this demanding portfolio. Cutting effective programs without any kind of credible review, scrapping Kyoto without an alternative on the horizon, lacking the political instincts to see the inherent hypocrisy of her chairing the Bonn talks and now losing her top advisor all converge to show that Ambrose may not be the rising political star, as previously advertised. Ultimately, Ambrose merely reflects Harper's environmental perspective, which apparently means cutbacks and tarnishing Canada's international image.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Canadians Heed Harper's Advice

Harper has repeatedly implored Canadians to contact their elected representatives to make their voice heard:
Conservative supporters and Canadians at large should flood their MPs with demands for the kinds of change they want to see in government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today...

"We're going to need all of them writing, e-mailing, faxing and telephoning their MPs to tell them to get on with the plan."

Canadians have heeded the advice:
Furious Canadians bombarded the prime minister with e-mail following controversial spring decisions not to lower Parliament Hill flags for soldiers killed in Afghanistan or allow the public to view their return to Canada, documents obtained by CanWest News Service show.

The letters, sent via Stephen Harper's website and obtained under the Access to Information Act, provide a glimpse into the public psyche during one of the first major missteps by the new Conservative government.

Harper makes these blanket statements, as though he is the champion of direct democracy and accountability. Why is then that we only hear about the "bombardment" through the Access to Information Act? Shouldn't the PM have responded to his constituents who uniformally expressed their disapproval? Again, Harper illustrates the gulf between the rhetoric and the reality. The convenient populist strikes again.

Dangerous View of Federalism

The Ottawa Citizen has a long piece, detailing Canada West Foundation's President Roger Gibbins outline for a new federalism. If Canada were to enact all of Gibbins suggestions, the term federalism would essentially be a nice term to marry virtually independent states. Some of the highlights:
The boldest element of Mr. Gibbins' proposed national policy is a realignment of responsibility for health care and post-secondary education...

Hence health care delivery -- its standards, forms of delivery and funding levels -- should be primarily a matter of local preference. That would also allow more innovation in methods of health care delivery, an added benefit.

Post-secondary education is a different matter. College and university graduates are highly mobile. And the skills they possess are fundamental to national economic success. "Here, then, the logic of federalism suggests greater federal responsibility for post-secondary education."

Gibbins proposes that the federal government turn over its funding for health care, and in exchange assume a greater responsibility for post-secondary education. On the surface, and as Gibbins argues, this sounds like a simple shifting of priorities that equalizes any change in balance of powers. However, Gibbins argues that the federal government shouldn't have any real power over education standards, but simply supply the funding for students, while the decision makings remains local. Translation, the feds do nothing except cut a bigger check. This philosophy of the federal government as simply a bank it a common thread in Gibbins view of federalism.

On the health care front, the federal government relinquishes national standards, because as Gibbins argues:
"We put far too much emphasis on the role that national standards play in knitting us together,"

Allowing more "innovation in methods of health care delivery" is simply code for legitimizing rouge provinces who want nothing to do with the Canada Health Act (i.e Klein). Gibbins cavalier dismissal of national standards demonstrates a narrow regionalist perspective at its best. There must be areas where a symmetry exists so that a nation develops with a uniformity. Gibbins view guarantees a future with massive disparities that isolate regions from one another.

Gibbins goes on to argue that the federal government has no role in childcare or urban development, but allows for a role in infastructure, again simply as an entity that funds development:
"There is room for a literally more constructive federal role in building the transportation infrastructure and corridors that connect the Canadian economy to continental and global markets"

I suspect Gibbins offers new federal areas of influence to counter-act the other obvious signs of de-centralization, but unfortunately he never quite gets around to moving real power, unless of course it goes to the provinces. Again on immigration, the surface acknowledgement of federal relevance is simply a front to move money:
There's also a "clear, essential and continuing role" for the federal government in recruiting, settling and training new Canadians, he says. But federal officials should be indifferent to where they live.

"To be blunt, if recent immigrants leave Quebec for better economic opportunities out West, their federal funding should also move. To shape national immigration policies and funding to fit the geopolitics of a past era is a recipe for failure in the 21st century."

Nothing new, except where the money ends up. Hardly surprising that Gibbins opinion has a decidedly western slant.

The real surprising proposal that Gibbins makes is a call for a national energy plan:
Mr. Gibbins thinks the federal government has a crucial role to play in orchestrating and calibrating a national energy strategy.

"We are becoming an energy player on the global stage. That's going to increase. It would be very strange not to have some kind of national policy recognition of the potential that's there."

Surely, Gibbins makes a major concession to federalism in allowing for talk of this taboo. Not so fast:
The West has less to fear than it once did from federal involvement in such a strategy, he argues, in part because NAFTA acts as a kind of insurance policy against a renewal of the approach taken by the much-despised National Energy Program.

And the real kicker:
"Washington would come to the aid of Alberta if there was any threat of a new NEP," Mr. Gibbins says.

That's right, nothing says a strong Canada like American influence over national resources. A federal state is never undermined when a province approaches another country to intervene against its own national government. Gibbins entire proposal for a national energy plan is a toothless joke that accomplishes nothing. In fact, as a whole, I read Gibbins as adopting the "firewall" approach to federalism, with some symbolic overtures to appear balanced. Bottomline, if Gibbins view of federalism where to take hold, the national government would simply be a tax collecting entity that wrote checks to provinces. The piece is titled "The Future of Federalism", but an more apt title, given Gibbins views would be "What Future?".

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Kennedy Should Amend Gas Guzzler Tax

Generally, I support Kennedy's environmental approach that essentially demands accountability for reckless emissions. The proposed tax on "gas guzzlers", coupled with tax breaks for hybrids is a good example of the carrot and the stick approach. However, I think Kennedy needs to amend his proposal to take into consideration the practical realities.

Criticism of Kennedy's position came up in the debate, as well as in the media. A blanket tax system puts an unfair burden on people who drive high emission vehicles for practical purposes. Punishing farmers, tradesman and anyone else who has a practical application for large vehicles alienates people unnecessarily. As Kennedy fleshes out his ideas, I hope he amends his proposal to exclude those that can legally justify their need for bigger vehicles. There is a massive difference between someone who has a "gas guzzler" for status and convenience, over someone who needs such a vehicle to carry out their economic survival. Living in rural Ontario, it is beyond obvious that farmers need bigger vehicles for a myriad of tasks that are essential for their livelihood. Lumping these people into the mix disportionately punishes those with practical needs. The true target in this debate should be the urban/suburban driver whose automobile choice is "recreational", with no relationship to objective need.

At this stage in the policy discussion, candidates are giving us a flavor as to how they approach environmental matters, as well as a level of seriousness. I think Kennedy's policy paper shows an understanding of the gravity of the situation and is a good first step. I hope, over time, as Kennedy gets a better understanding of consequences, he elects to modify his approach to show a "fairness" that zeros in on the true targets, without collecting people who have legitimate needs. A simple look out into the summer sky from various locations clearly shows where are the main concerns. The difference between shades of blue and varying degrees of brown clearly illustrates where the problem lies, hopefully Kennedy addresses this asymmetry as his policy evolves.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Trudeau Makes Sense

Justin Trudeau had some interesting thoughts with regards to the Liberal Party's attempt at renewal:
Liberals need to stop offering quick-fix political solutions to complicated long-term issues, said Trudeau, who spoke without notes and leaned casually on the podium, in a style that mirrored his father.

"We live in a world where our citizens demand of our politicians short-term results," he said.

"Politicians are locked into immediate returns, polling data. Long term for a politician is four years. There is no more long term in our society. This is how we got into this mess we're in of people not being engaged."

Trudeau speaks to the lack of vision in most political policies, instead most measures are crafted for immediate gratification. This condition is a combination of an electorate that demands results now and parties who put attaining and retaining power as their paramount concerns. What is the political advantage to favor legislation that may have a societal payoff long after an administration is gone? There is a tension between self-interest and the long-term health of the nation.

Harper's government represents the end point of this approach, wherein every measure is a calculation of immediate power. Survival is the impetus, which is essentially a narrow view that causes long-term problems. This is not to say past governments weren't guilty of short-sighted political opportunism, only that Harper is unique with regard to degree. Despite the talk of principle, you can pick almost any measure and find self-interest at the core. If you take Trudeau's thoughts as truth, then the nation withers because complicated issues demand leadership that looks beyond mandates.

Trudeau argues that the environment is the defining issue for the future, with a great quote on approaching issues:
"If we deal with what is urgent, we never get around to what is important"

Government as simply reactionary, plugging holes in the dam as they emerge, instead of looking at solutions in their entirety. Quick fixes that avert immediate disaster, but don't address the core problems. Trudeau's comments are bang on, but if politics are to regain a vision, it necessitates an electorate that is willing to move beyond immediate gratification. If people are won over with simple payoffs like GST cuts, then they say to politicians "we are sheep" that can be easily manipulated through our own short-sightedness. Ultimately people, and my extension the media, must demand "vision" and reward that boldness. It might just be that politicians simply mirror society, in that we now live in a world of immediate gratification that demands nano-second responses. The only issue on the horizon that has the capacity to force a long-term view is the environment, both for people and politicians. Hopefully, this issue can act as a catalyst to blunt the tendency for short-term fixes, that leave the future wanting.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Conservatives Receive an "F"

The Sierra Club is out with its political scorecard. According to the Sierra Club, "made in Canada" translates into failure:
The biggest slide was in the subject of climate change. “Last year, the federal government was awarded a B-,” says Emilie Moorhouse, Atmosphere and Energy Campaigner. “But this year, Minister Ambrose did not read the crib notes from Minister Dion and we had to award her an ‘F’ for her work domestically and expelled for her irresponsible actions on her Bonn field trip.”

The federal government’s performance earned them five ‘Fs’ this term, and an overall GPA (Green Perspective Average) of 0.75. “Canadians simply cannot accept such underachievement,” says Mr. Bennett.

Other tidbits:
The governments of Qu├ębec, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador received high grades for climate change programs while the Feds and Alberta were dismal students in virtually all subjects...

Ontario received an ‘F’ for its decision to invest $46B in nuclear power, the most expensive and dangerous choice for power.

Completely expected, especially given the fact that all the Conservatives have accomplished so far is to undermine any and all environmental initiatives. With the Liberals apparently ready to engage in substantial dialogue on the environment, the NDP proposing a myriad of initiatives and the Greens remaining steadfast, the Conservatives look more and more like environmental dinosaurs. Despite the spin that concrete measures are on the way, it is simply counter-intuitive to expect much from a Minister who's alliances are well known. At least next year, when Ambrose gets a D, she can claim progress- set the bar low, real low.

Harper is "Naive"

Today, Harper announced a 250 million initiative to bolster security for the transportation network. Harper's logic:
"Canada can choose to ignore terrorism and suffer the consequences, or we can take action..."

"This is how the fight against terrorism will be won, modernizing equipment and procedures, plugging the holes, filling the gaps, thinking one step ahead of the agents of hate," Mr. Harper said.

Harper refers to Canadians naivete, in not appreciated the scope of the threat from terrorism. I would suggest Harper is naive if he truly believes the "fight against terrorism" will be won by spending a massive amount of money on security measures. Today's announcement, coupled with the other expenditures for border security, etc., are essentially a waste of money in a practical sense. Sure, Canada can shore up "hard targets", but the infinite availability of other targets only serves to re-focus a would-be terrorists sights- in other words, unless people aren't allowed to congregate, the risk will always exist. Look at your own community, think to yourself how many high density targets there are and then try to fathom a world where we eliminate any vulnerability. This is not to suggest that we don't need airport security, protection at the reactors and other obvious targets, but Harper seems to believe that we can "win" the war on terror by investing in security.

I am starting to believe, and this point has been addressed by Bin Laden, that the actual victory for the terrorists will be achieved, not by acts, but through financial ruin as a consequence of fear. With this sentiment in mind, O'Connor's request for an additional 15 billion for defence is another example of how we may spend our way into uncertainty and weaken our balance sheet. There is no question that the Americans have paid a massive price in the post 9/11 world, which has jeopardized their future economic health in an unprecedented way. Canada appears to be headed on the same path, despite the fact that most of the overtures attempt to do the impossible. You can't have a free society and absolute security, the two are diametrically opposed propositions. If Harper actually holds the view that we can stop terrorism through expenditures, then he falls right into the trap of economic consequence. There is a reason financial institutions are preferred targets, Harper accomplishes the goal without realizing it. Our futile attempts to create an fortified island play into the hands of the forces that are supposedly addressed.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Interesting Poll

Just a poll, by an outfit with less than a stellar track record, but interesting none the less:
The Strategic Counsel released by CTV and the Globe and Mail. 36 per cent of respondents would support the Tories in the next election to the House of Commons.

The Liberal party is second with 27 per cent, followed by the New Democratic Party (NDP) with 19 per cent, and the Bloc Quebecois and the Green party with nine per cent each.

On the surface, the NDP would appear the big winners in this latest poll, up 5 points. However, I think the interesting fact is that Conservative support remains static since the election, despite incredibly favorable conditions. The Liberal Party is leaderless, largely directionless, saddled with a dubious past, and yet Harper remains flat. The Liberals have sagged, which was predictable in the short-term, yet voters have not moved to the Conservatives, instead preferring the NDP as an alternative. So while Liberals may well worry about there own erosion, the fact that Conservatives aren't the beneficiaries should give some comfort. The NDP boost implies soft movement among the center-left, which can be countered once the leadership race heats up and a direction is crafted. Harper should be doing much better, given the circumstances and his shiny new government.

Charest Implements Carbon Tax

Ignatieff may have found a timely ally:
Quebec plans to tax oil and gas companies to finance its plan to implement the Kyoto protocol but also says it needs money from Ottawa to fight climate change, Premier Jean Charest said Thursday.

"The Kyoto protocol isn't perfect but currently it's the best thing on the table," Charest told a news conference...

Matthew Bramley of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, said Quebec's tax on carbon-based fuels sets an important precedent.

"It's the first carbon tax in Canada. While Liberal leadership candidates argue about whether we should have a carbon tax, guess what, Quebec is implementing one."

Merits of a carbon tax aside, Charest's concrete action to implement Kyoto serves as an embarrassment for Harper. While Ambrose wastes all her energy arguing against Kyoto's targets, provincial governments are leading the way to contradict her claims. Charest hits the right balance by acknowledging Kyoto's shortcomings, while at the same time finding solutions within the framework- as opposed to the Tory plan of simply scrapping the entire exercise without any attempt.

It is curious that Charest reveals a carbon tax, right after Ignatieff makes his bold statements this past weekend. Me thinks Ignatieff may have had some advance knowledge of the Quebec government's thought process- the timing is far too coincidental.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Who Cares?

It was somewhat ironic that MP's found it necessary to address "a lack of decorum" with an embarrassing display that turned parliament into a schoolyard. With a myriad of important issues before the country, our representatives decided it more important to debate the merits of gestures, while simulateneously hurling their own racial invective. I don't dismiss the fact that the Conservative MP's in question acted in a poor manner, but that point is now lost as parliament descended into name calling and posturing, leaving an overall impression of complete disgust.

I haven't seen Bill Graham this fired up since he was accused of leaking sensitive information. Surely Bill can muster up some of that energy to berate the government on issues that actually matter to Canadians. As a political junkie, I generally eat up anything political, but I actually turned off the political shows today because I couldn't comprehend how this story deserved the lead, other than to show how ridiculous the House had become. Newsflash, if you want to see the "italian salute" drive down the 401, or Robson Street at rushhour. Canadians aren't impressed by the MP's actions, but just as sure they aren't as "appalled" as the opposition suggests.

The MP's looked as though they lived in some parallel universe, with no comprehension of what happens in the real world. Canadians have watched parliamentarians hurl insults, clamor, hiss and act boorish for an eternity- the latest "controversy" simply more of the same. Somewhere John Crosbie is laughing at the over the top indiginations. Much theatre, little substance and low-brow partisanship on full display. I hate to break it to MP's, but Canadians long ago abandoned the idea that parliament was a place of decorum and honor, that operated on a higher plane than everyday life. Who cares? Get on with it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What About the Toonie?

Up until now, there has been a great deal of speculation on the plight of the polar bear in the wake of global warming. It looks as though reality is starting to take hold:

Two polar bears have starved to death and two others were found dead this year in the region where scientists previously discovered unprecedented cannibalism within the population...

What sets the 2004 deaths apart is the calculated manner in which the bears appear to have been sniffed out, stalked and killed by large males bears hunting for food.

“These are very rare events. The fact that we observed three in a row is very profound,” Dr. Amstrup said.

This year, researchers found two females with radio-tags were found dead from starvation in Alaska and the remains of a third.

Canadian researchers found one dead polar bear in their study region.

“We've never seen anything like that before,” Dr Amstrup said. “Two of the dead bears were extremely emaciated and appeared to have starved. We don't know what the cause of the starvation was. We're concerned these could be another symptom of changes in the habitat, but we don't know enough yet to know.”

Canada's much-hyped symbol of the north is now feeling the concrete consequences of global warming. If you believe the "tipping point" theory, we can expect to watch the slow burn as a great species fades away into pathetic extinction. The sad thing, this is likely an inevitable sequence of events.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Equalization Highlights Division

The divisive debate over equalization highlights the problem with dilution of powers within a federation. Watching the various Premier’s approach this issue is a perfect example why firm centralism isn’t necessarily a bad concept. The narrow self-interest exhibited by all sides demonstrates why we need a decision making body that rises above regionalism and can approach matters with a level of detachment that incorporates the “greater good”. What we are witnessing with regards to equalization is a complete failure of a system, that shows how quickly things can deteriorate if these men are left to their own devices. Harper’s “firewall” analogy is exactly the mentality that will be displayed within a federation where power is decidedly provincial.

I realize that ultimately the feds step-in on equalization, but the debate does give much insight into how quickly Canada would unravel without an overriding voice that has the necessary constitutional teeth to blunt self-interest. It is simply counter-intuitive to believe that a Premier would compromise to such an extent where he risks backlash with his own constituents. There is no such thing as the notion of totality in a Premier’s mindset.

This reality is what makes Harper’s philosophy about “federal incursions into provincial jurisdictions” all the more troubling for the long term health of the country. Any talk of federal-provincial power sharing by Harper always speaks of what the feds should give up, never what measures are required to strengthen the core. If Harper’s view of federalism achieves concrete application, then the recent equalization acrimony is nothing more than a precursor of things to come.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Ambrose Successfully Undermining Kyoto

I read this article detailing Ambrose's latest comments on the Kyoto negotiations:
Rich and poor countries are at an impasse over how to proceed in the battle to curb climate change, says Environment Minister Rona Ambrose...

"At Bonn, the developed countries including Canada reached a consensus that they would not take on further commitments until the developing world also considered targets," she said.

"The developing nations on the other hand reached a consensus and held firmly to the position they will not take on such commitments.

"This will be the crux of the debate on Kyoto in the next few years."

Ambrose outlines the disconnect between the industrialized world and the emerging economies on how to proceed. This sentiment would be justified, if not for the fact that the impasse is largely a result of Ambrose's own actions:
Canada has stirred up the controversy because it is the first developed country to say publicly that it cannot meet its target. This provides fuel for developing countries who say the rich countries aren't sincere about cutting emissions.

Ambrose laments the wedge, which is ironic considering she is the root cause. Where is the moral leverage to demand other nations cut emissions, when one of the major polluters has no intention of implementing targeted cuts? Canada's hedging allows cover for other nations, who rightfully can point to the hypocrisy. Clearly, Canada is a cancer within the Kyoto talks and we are now seeing concrete ramifications. While the Tories try to save political face at home by "staying at the table", they effectively kill any hope of unanimity with their dual purposes. It is simply amazing to hear Ambrose speak of a divide, as though she is a detached observer, rather than the driving force.

Advantage Ignatieff

This whole mess will invariably affect the dialogue within the Liberal leadership race. A quick perusal of the various candidates positions leads me to believe that Ignatieff has the most to gain politically from the new environment. Ignatieff's consistent "hawkish" stance, which has garnered much criticism, now has powerful imagery to blunt detractors. Ignatieff, whether you agree or disagree, is quite eloquent and knowledgable whenever the discussion turns to foreign policy matters. The entire "war on terra" is Ignatieff's domain, in the sense he has devoted much of his intellectual energy to the subject. It is quite reasonable to see a scenario where Ignatieff shines if the focus is on terrorism.

As a strategist, Ignatieff's stock rises as people speculate on the framework of the next election. Harper is sure to make national security a key plank, as he occupys the natural terrain of the right. Ignatieff is somewhat unique for a Liberal, in that his stances mirror that of his foe, in effect negating any advantage for the "get tough" Bush-inspired Tory speak. A debate on security and terrorism is something Ignatieff may well relish, which is unique amongst the current crop (with the possible exception of Rae). The tactics used by the American right to marginalize "dovish" Democrats don't apply to Ignatieff and this gives his candidacy added weight. The new math favors Ignatieff in my mind, and I would expect his handlers to take full advantage and guide the discussion to his "strong" suit.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I Am Afraid

I have no quibble with professing our resolve to maintain the status quo and not succumbing to fear and paranoia. However, I am afraid and I believe the fear is well-founded. I am afraid that Canada has now crossed a threshold, which has a self-perpetuating quality that negates positive intention. Like it or not, this alleged terrorist plot will dominate the news cycle for years, as justice slowly moves toward a full disclosure. This fact guarantees a daily diet of negative influences, which invariably counters any desire to pretend as though things remain the same. The feelings of victimization, unfairness, exploitation may make for regular discussion amongst the Muslim community, while the non-Muslim community debates the merits of inclusiveness and perceived societal chasms. In other words, a constant debate that highlights divisions, despite the fact that the impetus is not representative of the majority.

The interesting aspect to terrorism is the fact that a handful of people can wreak such havoc, not so much with the actual violence, but the threat and the resulting paranoia. To deny this power is too ignore historical precedent, wherein rational detachment is replaced by reactionary fears. Despite our intentions, the change is already occurring and moves us toward a new reality. You don’t get to take back the plot, or the resulting backlash, it is part of the experience and the future is viewed from this lens. With this event, I firmly believe that Canada has lost its innocence and we can expect continued fallout.

I believe that we are slowly heading toward a war of cultures, with the recent events another step that widens the potential. Canada is steadily being dragged into the war on terror in a frontline capacity, as other “western” nations align themselves against the perceived threat which widens daily. As our involvement increases, coupled with the new fear, issues such as national security and war come to the forefront, primarily the domain of right leaning parties. This shift allows for an erosion of progressive values as we desire toughness over tolerance. The forces of division capitalize on the paranoia, which further exacerbates the root problems (see Bush administration).

There are ways to avoid further deterioration, but all signs point to the opposite. The new reality involves tougher security, tighter control, more surveillance with lesser cause, sensational news and tribalism. You don’t go back, the Prime Minister never again wades into the crowd to shake hands with the people, the detachment is now cemented and that isn’t insignificant. Canada will now institutionalize fear and create permanent walls. Things have changed, to pretend otherwise is to deny that events have consequences.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Things That Grate Me

There are so many aspects of this supposed terror ring that grate me:

- Global News fear-mongering poll, asking whether we need to adopt the asinine American terror-alert level system. I'm on board, so long as we find a way to incorporate the much ignored color teal.

- "Experts" arguing that the real roots of radicalism are poor socio-economic conditions. I find this logic strange, considering Al Qaeda's top man comes from one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest families, and the number two is a doctor. You can't explain away radical views with simplistic rationalizations.

- American politicians using a "successful" police exercise to criticize Canada as a bastion for terrorists. Aren't the American hawks constantly reminding people that future attacks are inevitable. When you live in a glass house...

-CBC radio, and others, reporting from the courthouse with a strange pre-occupation about how many international media news outlets are here. There is an overriding bizarre pride with reports that mention how "international" the coverage is, as though Canada has finally made it to the terrorism bigtime. Even during a crisis, it is nice to see we still find the time to worry about whether the Americans notice us.

-The constant interviewing of the suspects families. Don't get me wrong, it is important to have balance, but do we really expect anything other than "this is a disgrace" and "he is such a good boy". Pick a horrific crime, the family is always the last to know and/or except- these interviews add nothing to the reporting.

-Reporters asking law enforcement officials detailed questions over and over, so we can count how many times we hear "I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of this case".

-One of the lawyers for the accused arguing that the suspects are being mistreated because they haven't been allowed to pray together. Yes, it is common practice to allow co-defendants free access to each other so they can "discuss" things. Suspects have to be separated, for beyond obvious reasons.

Generally, the real tragedy with this whole mess is the inevitable wedge developing. Every conversation contains a Muslim and some white guy, as though each has some unique perspective to offer, in turn fueling division and isolation. It is sad to hear interviews with Muslims, wherein they are forced to defend an entire religion, because of the actions of a few radicals. Christians aren't forced to apologize for Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, who regularly broadcast intolerance and hate. The real fear is that an air of suspicion is allowed to take hold in our psyche that could force the Muslim community to internalize and further isolate itself from Canadian society. Tolerance and inclusiveness have seen better days.