Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Harper: The Great Strategist?

How often do you read the following, in reference to Harper:
No matter what you might think of Stephen Harper's policies, his strategic abilities and sense of the political jugular are not to be underestimated.

The Harper, "strategy master", has become conventional wisdom in the media. More and more, I question this characterization. The view seems to have started after the last election. No doubt, the Tories ran a tight, focused campaign. However, you can't look at this fact in isolation. The Liberals were awash in negativity, a by-product of too long a reign, scandal and uninspiring rhetoric. In other words, Harper winning a narrow minority was largely predictable, given the landscape. Important to remember, it's not like Harper swept the nation. Harper won because of a "kick the bums out" sentiment, not some masterful strategy to paint Canada blue. I think the media overstates Harper's political "brillance".

The above quote is taken from an article that cites Harper's attack ads on Dion as evidence of his prowness. How can you conclude this, when today we read headlines as ridiculous as "Embattled PM says he now accepts need for climate-change action". Think about this, on a day when scientist conclude the debate long since over, we have the Prime Minister at the back of the line with the stragglers saying "I'm in". Stephen Harper has been a trainwreck on the environment file since this government took office. Harper hand picked an incompetent to manage a massive file, failed to see the obvious growth of the issue, completely blew it on the international stage in Nairobi, released one of the most disasterous pieces of legislation I can remember, re-hashed old ideas, threw billions around with no political payoff and is today, one year later, still on the defensive, trying to convince us all that he cares. This is just pathetic desperation:
Harper vowed Canada would attend a global summit that hasn’t even been called yet — a conference on climate change that some in the United Nations are demanding.

“I have not received an invitation from the United Nations Secretary General. However, if we did, we would accept,” Harper said.

How does anyone find a deft politician in this shit storm that looks like amateur hour? Harper' strength is his tight control, but this ability isn't necessarily a good political fit. Issues are fluid, events largley unforseen. How a politician reacts is the best way to determine instincts and capabilities. In recent weeks, Harper looks increasingly desperate, like a beaver tending to a failed dam. I don't think Harper has ever had any grasp of this issue, as the frequent missteps attest. Harper the master tactician, methinks this is media inspired mirage. The gang that can't shoot straight sounds better.

Hard Times

It's hard to survive, when you only make a profit of 2.6 billion this past year. Clearly, job cuts are needed for to ensure viability:
Bank of Montreal is cutting 1,000 jobs as it streamlines operations and refocuses efforts to increase sales, improve customer service and boost its bottom line after one of its most profitable years ever.

The big bank announced late Wednesday it will eliminate 1,000 jobs, about three per cent of its workforce of 35,000 people, after a major review of operations and the way the bank supports its frontline sales and services functions.

The company said the cost savings from the streamlining are key to achieving the bank's 2007 financial targets outlined in its 2006 fourth quarter earnings report.

Cutting 1000 jobs will surely "improve customer service". For anyone who says the banks are amoral entities that lack soul, the above should put those accusations to rest. Hang in there B of M, as you navigate through the lean times.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

No Sale

I've been waiting for some poll feedback, in the aftermath of the Tory barrage of environmental announcements. It would appear that Canadians aren't so gullible Mr. Harper, that throwing money around doesn't mask motivations:
OTTAWA (CP) - The Conservative government's newfound green policy push is viewed with skepticism by many Canadians, suggests a new poll by Decima Research.

By a four-to-one margin - 64 per cent to 17 per cent - a large majority of the 1,023 respondents in the survey conducted Jan. 25-28 said they believe recent Tory environment announcements are being driven by public opinion rather than genuine commitment.

Ouch! Even the faithful aren't impressed:
It was the dominant opinion in every region of the country, and even among self-identified Conservative supporters. Some 42 per cent of Tory voters in the poll called the government's green thrust poll-driven, while 37 per cent credited a deeper commitment.

Now what? No political payoff whatsoever, despite the billions spent. In fact, the transparency has solidified Canadian opinion that the government isn't operating from conviction. I would venture to say that the Tory blitz is a colossal failure. Harper wanted credibility, received none. Harper wanted to neutralize the issue, mission not accomplished. A boost in support, nope, sorry.

The tactical master's attempt to manipulate Canadians and paint himself green has rightfully failed. Everything is as it should be.

Liberals Bite Back

The main reason I questioned the Conservative attacks ads was because they put even more focus on their achilles heel, the environment. Today, the Liberals bite back:
Stephen Harper, who now styles himself as a green prime minister, once ridiculed the Kyoto accord as a money-sucking socialist scheme and promised he would battle to defeat it.

His scathing view of the global treaty, which questioned the science of climate change, was included in a 2002 fundraising letter sent to members of his now-defunct Canadian Alliance party.

It was circulated Tuesday by the Liberals, who said it unmasks Harper as a climate-change denier.

"Kyoto is essentially a socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations,'' says the letter, signed by Harper.

"Implementing Kyoto will cripple the oil and gas industry, which is essential to the economies of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia . . .

"Workers and consumers everywhere in Canada will lose. THERE ARE NO CANADIAN WINNERS UNDER THE KYOTO ACCORD.''

Harper, who now accuses the Liberals of having done nothing to reduce greenhouse gases, went on to promise a "battle'' to defeat the Chretien Liberals' efforts to introduce Kyoto-implementation legislation in the House of Commons.

"But we can't do it alone. It will take an army of Canadians to beat Kyoto, just as it did to beat (the) Charlottetown (constitutional accord),'' he wrote.

There is really nothing new here, just another reminder that Harper has no environmental legs to stand on, so he best watch all the attacks. Harper doesn't sound credible, his rhetoric is stilted and overtly bland, in short, he can't win this battle, despite the Liberal record. Stephen Harper on the offensive won't fly, if he wants to delve into others "past", then he best prepare himself for "incoming". It's almost too easy.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Playing Games

So much for "getting things done", it would appear posturing and self-interest trump all:
OTTAWA – The Liberals fought fiercely on Monday to prolong study of the government's centrepiece environmental legislation, a bill they have already rejected as worthless.

After some three hours of squabbling at a special committee set up to study the Clean Air Act, the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois joined to defer a deadline to March 30 rather than March 19 as proposed by the NDP.

Okay, let's be frank, partisanship aside. I have come to the conclusion that the Liberals are more interested in delaying any environmental legislation until after the budget, because it suits their preferred non-confidence strategy. I have also come to the conclusion that Layton is in such a hurry because if he can broker an effective deal, he achieves the political cover to actually support the budget with some credibility. The Liberals don't want the NDP to support the budget, the best way too guarantee that, don't give Layton anything on the environment. The budget will then have to be voted on based on simple merit, which causes obvious problems for Layton. If your goal is too bring down the government, you can't have this pesky environmental legislation introducing too many unknowns.

Why do the Liberals want to introduce 40 witnesses to the committee? Why does the NDP want to hear from virtually no one and immediately start writing final drafts? Both parties are now playing a political dance, trying to out flank the other as the budget looms. No party can claim pure motivations, no one should have the arrogance to tell Canadians the environment is the only concern, clearly the environment is a political football. It's hard to take any of these people seriously, especially when they do such a poor job of masking their narrow self-interest.


Did you know?:
Harper has surrounded himself with women.

Polls suggest his Conservatives face a particular handicap with female voters.

Which may explain why four of the five seats to his diagonal rear right - in just the perfect positioning for the TV cameras - are occupied by women. Surrounding that tight, televised circle around Harper is a sea of masculinity.

You have to hand to the government, they are thorough in their propaganda. To be fair, Dion has surrounded himself with his former rivals, but all this reveals is a show of unity and inclusiveness. Quite different from the obvious Tory attempt at visual deception.

A minor point, but another sign that everything isn't as it appears with this government. A consistent pattern of manipulation, entirely motivated by image, that has little relation to the truth. When you try so hard, it begs the question- do you have something to hide? Instead of offering a policy to increase female participation in parliament, like other parties, all we get from the Conservatives is a keen understanding of camera angles, meant to help shore up a weak spot. Newsflash, if you are really interested in attracting the female vote, quit wasting energy studying House of Commons videotape and develop an agenda that appeals. This government is consumed with projection, which is obviously rooted in deceit.

"Buy a dog, name it kyoto and call it a day"

Question period or Yuk Yuks? John Baird describes the Liberal environmental program in the quote above. Mark Holland brings a prop, waving the green scarf at Conservatives. Am I watching some juvenile exchange in the playground, or our elected officials dealing with a serious topic?

Maybe it is more striking because of the parliamentary recess, but Question Period looks more and more an esoteric exercise in nothingness. How are Canadians supposed to take the process seriously when you have Ministers who seem more concerned with delivering the "zinger" than actually answering a question? A contest in who wins today's soundbite, how inspiring. Good one Mr. Baird, good one. Hehe.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Laugh Out Loud

Did you know that Stephen Harper "isn't concerned with polls"? The newly contrite Harper is now telling Canadians that he won't force an election. Canadians don't want an election, they want good government. Sounds good, except the Harper logic betrays the real motivations:
After all, Harper told The Canadian Press, there's little imminent prospect of a Conservative majority government.

"What would be the point of an election, especially if it would just result in another minority anyway?'' the prime minister said in an interview.

Oops! Watching the polls Mr. Harper? You mean the agenda does have something to do with personal fortunes and not the honorable spin you spew daily?

Let's go back in time and review the following, with dates included:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006:
A defiant Prime Minister Stephen Harper led off the debate by declaring he would extend the mission by a year, with or without the support of the House, and would be willing to call an election on the issue, putting the ultimate decision directly into the hands of Canadians.

"We cannot walk away quickly," Harper told the House. "If we need further efforts or further mandate to go ahead into the future, we will go so alone and go to the Canadian people to get that mandate."

Wednesday June 21, 2006:

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.

Any committee report can be put to a Commons vote if an MP moves what is called "concurrence". If the government is defeated on a confidence motion, it falls and an election must be called.

Thursday, June 22, 2006:
Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is daring opposition parties to bring down the minority Conservative government and fight an election campaign on the issue of climate change.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already said he would treat the softwood lumber legislation as a matter of confidence that could topple his minority government.

There were so many more examples of the Conservatives bullying the opposition and threatening an election, it was almost a daily occurrence.

Okay, now compare the trigger happy Tories with the recent "Canadians don't want an election" Tories:

Notice a co-relation? This government is consumed with polls, and their posture reveals the true motivations. Who does Harper think he's kidding? Whether Canadians want an election or not doesn't even register in the mental math, it's all about YOU.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Target Dion

The Conservatives are preparing a series of attack ads on Dion:
The Conservative party intends to run TV attack ads against new Liberal leader Stephane Dion, CTV News has learned.

Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenny will hold a briefing tomorrow in Ottawa to unveil the ads that mock Dion's leadership abilities and his environmental record, sources say.

Party insiders say the Conservatives will buy TV spots during the Super Bowl and other prime time slots for maximum impact.

The ads -- which party officials showed to the Conservative caucus on Friday -- cast doubt on Dion's environmental credentials and leadership abilities, according to sources that have seen them.

One Conservative insider told CTV News the party "wants to define Dion before the Liberals get the chance to define him with a free ride from the media."

One of the ads is a clip from the Liberal leadership campaign.

"You don't know how hard it is to set priorities," Dion states in one ad as a perplexed Ignatieff looks on, according to a Tory source.

Another ad mocks Dion's failure as environment minister to meet the Kyoto climate change targets.

"We didn't get it done." Deputy Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff says to Dion in an exchange taken from the Liberal leadership race.

I actually think this is a risky strategy for the Conservatives. I remember the exchange with Ignatieff, and while it may score some obvious points, I'm not so sure the Conservatives want to put even more focus on the environment. The whole strategy the past few weeks has been to take the environment off the table, this will only emphasis the issue. While Dion has problems with the Liberal environmental record, he can talk circles around the pedestrian Conservative environmental rhetoric. I'm not sure Canadians will embrace negative campaigning on this issue, especially when you are obviously trying to detract from your own shortcomings.

The Media And Robert Pickton

There is a curious contradiction going on in the media. Today, I read another navel gazing exercise that attempts to reconcile how much coverage should be devoted to the Pickton trail. Earlier in the week, there was an online poll that found a full 70% of respondents thought the coverage was overdone. CBC radio discussed viewer feedback, and concluded that the decided majority didn't want this story to dominate the news. This information was given, within the context of an ethical debate involving the CBC braintrust about how much coverage was justified.

I'm not sure why the media is openly telling Canadians that it is conflicted, because the fact of the matter is the coverage is bordering on obscene. Case in point, watching a local Global news telecast, the broadcast was interrupted with "breaking news" to tell me one new line that Pickton had uttered- it was all very CNN and sensational. If you visit the Globe and Mail site, you find an entire section devoted to the trial, same with the "conflicted" CBC. This reality begs the question, is all the navel gazing driven by a sense of guilt, because sensationalism is in fact winning the day?

I count how many times a news piece has included the fact that this trial has drawn the world's media. Canada has finally reached the mass murderer bigtime, some strange importance is attached because Canada is getting noticed. We justify more coverage because international rags have taken the predictable interest. The media should concern themselves with what Canadians think, and decide the correct balance to ensure this issue doesn't overshadow the hundreds of other issues that are equally important in the scheme of things.

The fact of the matter, this trial will go on for months, and we can expect subsequent trials. I don't want this trial to become part of the daily digestion for years, but it is all too tempting for the media. The families deserve the right to have all Canadians know their tragedy, but that doesn't translate into wall to wall coverage. We already know that Pickton is an evil, disgusting excuse of a human being. We already know enough about the horrible details in this case. Does knowing every intimate detail, every gesture made in the courtroom educate us properly?

I think the media navel gazing betrays some sense of guilt. Deep down they know that the coverage is disportionionate, but they can't help themselves. From the "story" perspective, this case has all the intangibles, with the sensational at center-stage, despite the internal protests. The hand-wringing is a waste of energy, because ultimately the media will choose the overkill route, the temptation too much to overcome. Public "backlash" won't really factor into the equation because their is an audience for the macabre. I don't get any sense of responsibility, the "where to draw the line" discussions are convenient formality and will be proven again on Monday when everywhere I go will be Pickton, Pickton, Pickton.

Friday, January 26, 2007

No Wonder People Are Cynical

Every so often I try to put my cynicism about politicans on the back burner and actually believe in pure motivations. Today, I watched Arar press conference and thought to myself, we finally got it right. I was actually proud of Stockwell Day for his firm stance this week. It was nice to see Arar, with a sense of closure and genuine relief. Honor and justice finally win the day, great.

The next thing I do is turn on the computer, check out Progressive Bloggers, where I find this tidbit. I hadn't actually read the formal apology from Harper, once I did the whole mood had changed. I wonder if Arar is aware that he is nothing more than a political pawn, a vehicle to embarrass the Liberals and score some cheap points for the Conservatives. This apology is beyond crass, completely classless and unfortunately far too predictable.

Stephen Harper starts every thought within the lens of his own self-interest. Arar isn't a moral dilemna, a tragedy that needs to be righted. Arar is simply another opportunity to "show" Canadians what a great government we enjoy. Arar=vote potential + bad Liberals. Bingo! Canadian politics has always been a curious dance between partisanship and conviction, all too often the former drives the agenda. However, this government has lowered the bar to unprecedented heights. This government is consumed with marketing itself, like a soulless corporation which substitutes votes for profit. Surely to chr*&% Canada can do better than this low brow propaganda enterprise. Even when they get it right, they somehow manage to get it all wrong.

If You Were Jack?

Increasingly, it would appear that Layton will decide whether this government lives or dies. Layton has already stated what his demands are, essentially an ambitious series of amendments to the Clean Air Act. If you accept the premise that Layton is genuine in wanting effective environmental legislation, then it becomes a complicated calculation. Do you prop up a government that you have little in common philosophically, or do you pull the plug and go to the polls?

What Layton enjoys right now is leverage. The makeup of parliament allows Layton to be aggressive in his demands. Public sentiment has Harper on the defensive when it comes to the environment, which applies enough pressure to move him more than he otherwise would want. In other words, the current climate might just allow Layton to get what he wants. Assume that Layton does force an ambitious agenda, it just might be worth propping up the government. Afterall, the issue isn't partisan consideration, it really should be about achieving something effective.

If we do go the polls, with no progress on the Clean Air Act, there is no guarantee that the future looks brighter. Layton forces an election, with the knowledge that the next parliament could well see another Tory government. If Harper were to win re-election, the leverage is gone and Harper would be more inclined to produce his own legislation, independent of others. You have to wonder if an emboldened Harper would mean a less effective piece of legislation. In the aftermath of an election, the government has the momentum, as no one would accept another quick vote.

The problem for Layton, despite what could be achieved on the environment, there will still remain a myriad of issues that contradict any "alliance". It just seems counter-intuitive to believe the NDP rank and file would be comfortable with Layton propping up the government, for any length of time, no matter the one "result". If Harper did agree to Layton's demands, you woud assume there is some assurance that Layton wouldn't turn on the government quickly. You have an important achievement, but there still remains the inherent contradiction on so many other issues. Layton is in a tough spot no matter where he turns, both ethically and politically.

Interesting Travers piece that suggests another consideration:
If Conservatives are successful in sweeping the environment off the table, voter attention will shift from monumental issues to the more mundane management of national affairs. Advantage Harper and the ruling party.

If Layton helps Harper take the environment off the table, does he in fact remove the achilles heel and all but guarantee a future re-election? You help your ideological foe, ensuring a longer neo-con reign.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why are Liberals wasting time debating whether or not to let disgraced sponsorship figures back into the party?
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion is facing questions about whether he supports welcoming back in to the party one of the key figures from the sponsorship scandal.

Dion told Quebec newspaper Le Soleil that he has no objections to Marc-Yvan Cote being allowed to resume his Liberal membership.

Cote, a former party organizer in Quebec, was one of 10 members banned for life from the party by former prime minister Paul Martin in the wake of the sponsorship scandal.

Dion added that Cote's punishment was "exaggerated,'' and that he'd recognized his error and shouldn't be penalized for life.

I don’t care if some Liberals are sympathetic, or feel the punishment was too harsh, the fact of the matter is the optics of a return are HORRIBLE. If these people really are “good” Liberals, then the best thing they can do for the party is stay as far away as possible. You made your bed, lie in it and consider yourself lucky that your fate wasn’t worse than having a membership torn up. If there is a more asinine waste of collective energy than concerning ourselves with these crooks, let me know. What a fantastic message to send to Canadians.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

If Harper Is Really Interested In Minorities...

The Institute for Research on Public Policy published an interesting paper, detailing the disparity between urban and rural voters. Just today our Prime Minister was speaking about improving democracy and representation. The Conservatives have also acknowledged a new "outreach" to visible minorities. I think this conclusion is relevant:
¨ In 1996, the value of a rural vote in federal elections was 1.15, compared with 0.96 for all urban visible-minority votes. In short, votes of visible-minority citizens living in urban ridings were worth 17 percent less than their rural counterparts.

By 2001, urban visible-minority voters had seen the value of their votes decline to
0.91, while the value of the votes of all urban voters was virtually unchanged at 0.96 and that of rural voters increased to 1.22. Vote dilution among visible minorities thus worsened relative to both rural and urban voters, essentially due to the fact that visible minorities tend to cluster in urban ridings that already have relatively large numbers of voters.

Given this clustering pattern, and the fact that the Conservative government is planning to grant citizenship to many immigrants currently considered permanent residents, the problem of urban visible-minority vote dilution is likely to worsen.

The paper details possible solutions to ensure fairer representation. I think the Conservative Party should endorse this paper for two reasons. The findings speak to a better democracy, which the Conservatives always claim to champion. Also, and more importantly, what better way to "reach out" to minorities than to endorse a reform which grants more relative power. Any endorsement would be particularly impressive, given the current vote preference of minorities. How could anyone question the sincerity of a party that endorses reforms which could potentially hurt their own political fortunes?

The Conservatives usually fair better in rural ridings, while the Liberals tend to do well in the urban, ethnic areas. If the Conservatives were to endorse such a risky strategy, based on the fundamental principle of equality, then they would enjoy instant, unquestionable integrity, betraying a real sensitivity. Jason Kenney should get a copy of this study, because it might just be the magic bullet the Conservatives crave.

Dream On

During Harper's propaganda exercise today he admitted that he pinches himself to make sure he isn't dreaming. Harper made the following comment, a recurring theme:
"To a world that thought Canada had fallen asleep, we served notice Canada's back," he told the cheering crowd of supporters.

Everytime I hear this bravado, I wonder how exactly Harper reaches the conclusion. Did the other G8 countries think we continually led the pack whilst sleeping? Isn't Harper the first to remind Canadians that it was the Liberals who made the "robust" commitment in Afghanistan? Was the world impressed when the Harper government dodged the international AIDS conference on its own turf? Were our European partners impressed by our embarrassing display at the Kyoto meetings? Were the Japanese impressed with our freelancing in the Korean peninsula? Are the Jordanians, Egyptians and Palestinians impressed with our diplomatic departure that involved some "evenhandedness"? Why is McKay dispatched to Beijing to smooth relationships that were soured as a result of our own bumbling actions?

The fact that Harper actually believes the "Canada's back" thesis is quite revealing. Harper thinks cozying up to the most unpopular American administration in history is evidence of relevance. Instead of acting as an independent nation, with its own set of values and priorities, Harper sees our role as American patsy as a sign of strength. Approval from Bush translates into status. The world doesn't think Canada is back, but more correctly, the neo-cons in America have found an ally. I would agree that, from the American administration perspective, Canada has served notice- the problem is whether this direction is reflective of Canadian opinion, the answer a resounding NO.

Harper is entirely delusional, in his belief that beefing up the military translates into influence. Canada is not a superpower, Canada is barely a middle power. Adding some troops and fancy hardware doesn't impress the neighborhood, it is really nothing more than egocentric masturbation. The Canadian military is making an important contibution, but no one should fool themselves into thinking we are a "force" on the world stage. Canada asserts the most influence on the world stage diplomatically, a fact which Harper doesn't grasp.

I hate to break it to Harper, but I don't think the world phone lines are buzzing with news of a Canadian resurgence. Eliminate Bush from the equation, and most of what I see is people shaking their heads confusingly. The bravado shows no relationship to reality.

Monday, January 22, 2007

White Out

Another article, this one in The Hill Times, detailing the Conservative strategy to win the ethnic vote. First off, referring to fellow Canadians as "them" denotes part of the problem:
"Look at the traditional voting patterns. They [ethnic minorities] have been voting for the Liberals for years, so I don't know if they're going to change their vote right away," said a top Conservative insider who requested anonymity.

What I find particularly distasteful, the overt admissions that the Conservative don't take action based on conviction, but merely part of a marketing strategy:
'We're doing the Air India inquiry or we addressed the Chinese head tax [issue].' Those are very important symbolic things to get you in the door..

So, the Chinese head tax issue was an initial sales pitch? Gotcha, hard to imagine why those ethnics generally aren't buying. What callous manipulation, that rightfully deserves a complete rebuff. The entire Conservative approach to issues starts from a bad place, a soulless calculation that looks to maximize and acts accordingly. I don't think "they" are foolish enough to not see through this ruse.

The article goes to great lengths to create the impression that Conservatives are making inroads. The only problem with the optimism, my reading of every single poll in the last months show NO hard evidence to support the illusion. I doubt the large Liberal lead in Ontario is the result of Conservative erosion in the farm belt, more correctly a testament to traditional support. Note to desperate Conservative, if you really want to "get in the door", trying being genuine and stop looking at people as a marketing demographic, a novel idea I'm sure.

Trying Too Hard

Conventional wisdom generally says Stephen Harper is a master political tactician. Watching how the Conservatives rolled out their package of environmental initiatives this past week, I would suggest that meme is overstated. Can anyone remember the last time a government spent billions and received so little mileage? The overall impression, the Tories appear to be trying too hard and have really offered nothing new.

Harper calculated that an environmental blitzkrieg would give him the credibility he so desperately needed. Harper's error, rushing announcements that lacked any originality, which in turn left obvious criticisms for detractors. Why did Harper find it necessary to put out so many initiatives in such a short order? Yesterday, what might have been the best announcement, Baird's pledge of 30 million to protect coastal rainforest, was lost within the Energuide II announcement. If you want maximum political exposure, it strikes me as stupidity to have dueling announcements on the same day. As a matter of fact, the whole week is a blur, instead of allowing a reasonable digestion of each announcement, the whole process melds into one.

Harper the cool, political character, comes across as Harper the desperate manager in damage control. What we witnessed this past week was complete overkill, and the media has responded accordingly. There is a disingenious tone to the barrage, that demands the media not look hoodwinked. I can't remember one article I have read this week that was entirely positive, all, including the right-wing media, were negative leaning. You stole from the Liberals, nothing to see here, re-hash, trying to re-shape their image, a general sense that last week had little to do with the environment and much to do with re-election. In other words, last week was a relative failure, which is astounding given the expenditure.

I don't mean to suggest the Tories get nothing from this past week. The Conservatives can now try and frame themselves as the "doers", juxtaposed with the Liberal theoretical. Harper can now point to a list of "accomplishments" and at least have some ammunition to fire back at detractors. However, the general thesis of the past week, that has gelled in the media, is hardly flattering and still leaves the lingering questions. The opposition doesn't seem to be on the defensive, in fact they appear emboldened, with a whole new list of effective talking points. Clearly, the result of the past week isn't what Harper was hoping for, but then again he is essentially getting what he deserves. Little thought, little effort, little splash, little credit.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn made his announcement today at the Toronto home show, although the dog and pony show would have been a more appropriate venue. The Eco-Energy Efficiency Initiative, aka Energuide II, is what everyone expected, with a few concerning twists.

First off, Lunn lied when responding to a question about cutting the Energuide program. Lunn argued that that program was still operational until March 1/07, the "checks are still flowing". Lunn attempted to show that, in fact, there was an overlap between the two programs, so the government hadn't missed a beat. Lunn failed to mention that auditors were fired within 24 hours of the government announcement last spring. All that is left of the program, a few accounting loose ends. To paint the program as still functional demonstrates how desperate the Conservatives have become.

It would appear that the Conservatives have actually weakened the old Liberal program. The Energuide program had two audits, while the Tory plan will only have an initial audit, with NO follow-up to verify actual results. This approach will reduce the administrative cost, but what of accountability?? The Tories also have done nothing, despite advice, to deal with low-income and seniors who want to participate, but don't have $15000 for new windows.

Lunn made two curious points. Lunn argued that the investment was more than a potential $5000 because you need to look at the subsequent savings to the environment, year after year. In other words, the program has an unending positive impact. Good point Mr. Lunn, which is exactly why the Tory argument about administrative fees with regard to Energuide was a bogus proposition. The initial 50% administrative cost was a one-time expenditure, while the savings to the environment and the homeowner went on "year after year". Lunn also stated that only 30% of people who had the initial audit had actually followed through with the renovations. Elizabeth May had the line of the day, saying she was one of those 70% who hadn't completed the program yet, as a result of the program being cancelled. How many other people were still moving through the process, when the Conservatives canned the program?

Everybody recognizes that this latest announcement is a fraud, nothing more than a re-tool, which might actually be worse. The situation is so pathetic, this is how Craig Oliver starts off his interview with Gary Lunn:

But really, it's a program you stole off the Liberals, why don't you admit that and then we want to hear how you are going to do it.

Nobody is buying, the transparency so profound.

Seeing Red

Fashion irony. Liberal red seemed the appropriate color, as the Tories unveil their "new" initiatives.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Apples And Oranges

Maclean's has an story which tries to equate two Martin "special advisors" with Khan's role. Titled, "Liberals throw stones in Khan affair while living in glass house", the gist of the argument:
Onetime Liberal MP Sarkis Assadourian says he never did a day's work after being appointed a special adviser to former prime minister Paul Martin.

At the same time, Martin named MP Sophia Leung as a special adviser on international trade and emerging markets.

Leung said she was never paid either but did provide verbal advice on "a free, informal basis." She accompanied Martin on a trade mission to China but paid her own travel and other expenses.

"Mine was sort of an honourary appointment. It was not a paid job," she said in an interview.

Liberals counter that Assadourian and Leung were never sent on taxpayer-funded fact-finding tours and neither ever promised to produce a public report.

I could care less who Paul Martin named as "advisors", what matters is the public trust. It would appear that Leung paid her own way on government business and Assadourian received nothing for his services. Canadian taxpayers have no interest in these people, because they are irrelevant. Okay, these people did nothing, but were paid accordingly; I'm fine with that outcome.

To try and compare those Martin appointments with Khan is intellectually dishonest. Khan has spent public money, the Prime Minister has stated a report was filed. This reality begs certain questions, based on legitimate concerns about accountability. Khan is "working" for the government, and as such his dealings are subject to public scrutiny. There is no "glass house", as the article suggests, because frankly the discussions aren't even in the same neighborhood.

The Insincere Environmentalist

Jeffrey Simpson has an interesting column on the Prime Minister's rush to go green. This point is relevant:
You don't have to be a cynic, just an experienced observer of Canadian affairs, to appreciate that the vast majority of Canadians won't follow any of the details of the various parties' environmental policies -- unless one of them proposes to impose a tax.

What will therefore count politically when election judgment day arrives are not the specifics of this or that policy, especially since the Conservatives are now borrowing somewhat from previous Liberal ones. Rather, what will count are perceptions about which leader and party seems most committed, sincere and competent to deal with climate change. The political choice, therefore, will not be about policies as much as sincerity and values.

But in politics, the ultimate judgment won't be about policies, but about perception of who really believes what they are saying.

I completely agree, ultimately sincerity and real passion will seperate the politically motivated from the genuine. Despite Harper's "green" blitz, I think he will still have a hard time selling himself as the environmental Prime Minister. Of course Harper says the right things, he will be able to point to pieces of legislation, but what can't change, his natural body language and inflection that reveals indifference. Stephen Harper isn't passionate about global warming, he just isn't. The environment was an afterthought in the Tory platform, as evidenced by his first choice for Minister. Harper can scramble, but he will be hard pressed to convince Canadians that his new found concerns are a product of real conviction.

People can criticize Dion, but there is no disputing his passion when he speaks on the environment. Dion comes alive when he muses on sustainability and the threats to the planet. Layton is quite articulate and emotional, conveys a real tone of urgency when he speaks on environmental issues. May is generally riveting whenever she opens her mouth on global warming. Contrast these politicians with Harper's wooden, analytical rhetoric on the environment and he clearly loses the sincerity test.

This issue will come down to question of political expediency vs natural concern. The last year, and before, demonstrates a clear pattern, wherein Tory concern is directly related to public demand. Harper can roll out programs forever, but in the end, he will still have to "sell" his vision to Canadians. Contrasted with the other leaders, I suspect the next election will reveal Harper as the convenient environmental champion, a by-product of the ballot box, as opposed to real leadership. It's not about the environment, it's about re-election, Harper's lack of sincerity will reveal the fraud.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Notice A Trend?

As reliable as the sunrise, you can always count on a Conservative to slam the Liberal record on the environment. I'm not here to defend the Liberal record (why would you really?), but I do find it interesting that the party that "did nothing for 13 years" seems to be the architect for every Conservative announcement on the environment. Find the common theme:

The federal government made another “green” announcement Friday, this one promising more than $1.5 billion for a new ecoENERGY Renewable Initiative to strengthen Canada’s renewable energy sources.

The government’s renewable energy initiative is similar to the 2005 Liberal budget's commitment of $920 million over 15 years for wind power.

a $230-million investment over four years into research on clean technologies

Emilie Moorhouse, spokeswoman for the Sierra Club of Canada, said the Conservatives are "just kind of reviving an old Liberal plan."

The Conservative government has launched a $300-million plan to curb the use of toxic chemicals in Canada.

The plan, which will be implemented over four years, focuses on chemicals that are harmful to human health and the environment.

The announcement follows an exhaustive seven-year scientific survey of the 23,000 chemical compounds, not including pesticides, now used in Canada to identify the most dangerous.

The package will require biofuel content of 5 per cent in gasoline by 2010 and 2 per cent in diesel fuel and heating oil by 2012, Environment Minister Rona Ambrose and Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl told a news conference yesterday in Saskatoon.

The Liberal government made significant direct investments in the expansion of ethanol production in Canada. It invested $118 million in 11 projects across the country. These projects helped create new markets for Canadian farmers, diversifying Canadian farming and injecting new vitality into rural economies. The government also committed itself to increasing the ethanol content in gasoline to 10 per cent in at least 35 per cent of all gasoline sold in Canada by 2010.

Sunday, it is expected to unveil a new program dealing with energy efficiency in the home.

The government is expected to deliver its own version of the EnerGuide program’s house retrofit incentive initiative, a program that the new Conservative government pulled the plug on in May. It allowed homeowners to have their homes evaluated before renovations and then provided a rebate for retrofitting their homes in energy efficient ways.

Observers and critics have said the government should not be given too much credit for this week’s announcements, saying the initiatives are little more than a revival of old Liberal programs that were suspended or cut by the Conservatives last year.

It really is laughable for the Conservatives to criticize the Liberal record on the one hand, only to make announcement after announcement that is rooted in that record. Imagine if those Liberal clowns actually did something while in government? I hope a reporter asks what the cost is too the taxpayer for the the Energuide name change??

A Tale Of Two Wars

Whenever Harper is asked a question about Afghanistan, a common theme emerges. Harper argues that the war in Afghanistan is a just cause, his decisions are based on fundamental principles, that will not be altered by polls. Public opinion will not shape our foreign policy, our commitment is based on a higher ideal. Harper is not afraid to make the tough decisions, risking his own popularity, because the cause is just. Fair enough, right?

Reading Paul Wells scathing article on Harper today, it is interesting to contrast Harper the resolute leader on Afghanistan, with Harper the "blowing in the wind" political opportunist on Iraq. Wells does a fantastic job of laying out the evolution in the Harper rhetoric, which essentially reveals a man that isn't necessarily committed to his ideals, if that support hurts his own personal fortune. In other words, the Harper that claims the moral high ground on Afghanistan shows no resemblance to the Harper that bails out when the going gets tough in Iraq.

I would have more respect for Harper's view, if he remained committed to his initial position on Iraq. The arguments for toppling Saddam were clearly stated, nothing in the aftermath should detract from this initial logic. The question was essentially a simple one, people like Harper, a "good Canadian", sided with the neo-con arguments, while people like Chretien resisted, based on another line of reasoning. Harper's changing opinion is an example of cowardice, quite remarkable given his strong language on Afghanistan. Afterall, isn't it Harper that chastises any Liberal who dares question the nature of the Afghanistan mission?

What the Harper contradictions on Iraq reveal, a man who plays politics with foreign policy, the exact motivation that Harper attempts to scold. Stand by your fundamental principles Prime Minister, don't alter to curry favor with the masses. Your cause is just, Canada must lead, there is nothing that can question our resolve. At the very least, the Harper Iraq timeline tells us that his words are mostly convenient, not based on the moral bedrock he likes to claim.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Baird Trolls For Votes In Stanley Park

They care, they really care:
Newly-appointed Environment Minister John Baird has pledged $2 million to help restore Vancouver's Stanley Park, heavily damaged by a series of winter storms.

"We think the future of the park is something that's important -- it's very important to people in Vancouver, but it's also a national treasure," Baird told reporters as he stood beside the city's mayor, Sam Sullivan.

He also said that the financial pledge "is a real signal that our government places a real high priority on the environment."

I wonder if anyone remembers the last time two federal ministers were present to announce a 2 million dollar expenditure? Don't get me wrong, the federal government should commit money to the cause, but did we really need another photo-op? Baird and Lunn presented the mayor with the cheque, which measured six feet by three feet, just in case your eyes are failing.

Baird just visited Stanley Park last week, why did he and Lunn find it necessary to waste taxpayer dollars for a return visit? Mileage, mileage, mileage. Look at us, we care, we'll be back.

As an aside, apparently during this tour, Baird happened upon a dislodged eagle nest, in and amongst the debris. As Baird bent over to examine the nest, he noticed a baby eglet inside, still alive! Baird cuddled the abandoned eglet and gently placed it inside his jacket pocket. After conferring with Lunn, Baird told reporters he planned to bring the bird back to his residence in Ottawa, personally nurse the eglet back to health and then return it to the park once it reached maturity. Baird said "it's the least I could do for the people of the lower mainland, especially those in Liberal held areas." What a guy, he really does care.

Let's Just Forget It

Cancel the committee, enough with the announcements, let's just forget the whole exercise. Many bloggers have already commented on the oil sands expansion, but I would like to add my two cents.

First off, industry experts don't think you can increase production five-fold in the short term. Estimates range from 2.5 to 3 million barrels per day by 2015, so we could triple production in 8 years. I use the more "modest" estimates, lest anyone accuse me of fear mongering. I also use 2015 because it just so happens that the Tories are planning on introducing short-term targets:
Sources said the government will soon announce a short-term target of 2015, by which time companies will be required to reduce the amount of energy they use to produce every barrel of oil or megawatt of electricity.

What a farce! Baird plans to announce "intensity" targets, which will reduce emissions per unit. For arguments sake, let's be optimistic and say the government can reduce emissions by 25%. 100 megatonnes becomes 75, woohoo! Now, factor in the expansion of the oil sands, that 75 megatonnes now becomes 225 megatonnes. In other words, emissions more than double in the eight years. It is so ridiculous, I'm not sure if I laugh or cry?

No one argues that Alberta's economy isn't operating beyond full potential. No one argues that Klein had no plan to deal with the rapid growth and Albertans are having an difficult time dealing with the challenges. Water shortages, labor shortages, housing shortages, infastructure shortages, environmental damage, etc, etc, etc. I'm not an economist, but given the current situation, plus the fact that the tarsands are now a guaranteed revenue stream, is it not time for a plan that ensures solid growth, while addressing the problems. Is it really in Alberta's best interest to have such massive American investment for short-term gain? Is there not a way that tempers development, while still maintaining good growth? Why do we need a five-fold increase? What if development only rose 5-10% a year, is that not enough to keep Alberta humming?

What is in the best long-term interest for Alberta? Are we only interested in quenching the American appetite, so we can claim the "energy superpower" booby prize? Someone needs to be bold, and tie future development to environmental considerations and sustainability. In other words, someone needs to stand up to big oil. The problem, no one every steps up to big oil, hence the futility. Our current "debate" on the environment is a mirage. Who will really tackle the elephant in the room??

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Another Cabinet Shuffle

I didn't see this one coming. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is taking over Foreign Affairs from Peter McKay:
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, in China to boost trade ties and mend fences amid a string of diplomatic spats with Beijing, said Wednesday he still plans to raise human rights concerns during his talks with Chinese officials.

Mr. Flaherty said it was his “duty to be frank” about Canada's concerns and that he would to raise the issue of Huseyin Celil, a Chinese-Canadian being held in a Chinese jail for alleged terrorism links.

“We raise issues that we believe are important to Canadians,” Mr. Flaherty said. “We believe in protecting the rights of Canadians around the world.”

With all due respect, why is Flaherty even speaking on this file? It is especially confusing, given who he meeting:
during meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Jin Renqing, and with the governor of the People's Bank of China, Zhou Xiaochuan.

Mr. Flaherty was also scheduled to meet with China's top insurance regulator, as well as banking and securities regulators and officials from its state planning agency, the National Development and Reform Commission.

If you want to tackle human rights issues, then bankers and the insurance industry are clearly the place to start? Huh? What exactly can Flaherty accomplish, except to further alienate? I thought Emerson's visit was primarily an exercise to thaw relations, now you have Flaherty spouting off to officials, that have no practical influence.

If Canada wants to raise human rights issues, then McKay and Harper should take the lead, either directly or indirectly. Canada doesn't need a Finance Minister shooting his mouth off to state planners. This area isn't part of Flaherty's portfolio, and the fact he feels it necessary to publicly chastize the Chinese lends credence to the view that he isn't well schooled in diplomacy. I'm sure the bankers will heed Flaherty's stern words.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Going To The Polls

Despite what Harper says, it is becoming increasingly clear that he will orchestrate his own demise this spring. The Tories are going to school:
Stephen Harper's Conservatives have put their candidates on election footing by scheduling a campaign training school for March, in time for a possible vote after the next federal budget.

Party officials and candidates were informed of the conference, to be held March 15-18 in Toronto, in an e-mail from Jenni Byrne, a senior adviser in the office of Mr. Harper's chief of staff, Ian Brodie,

Candidates and local officials will be asked to attend a number of tactical training sessions. They include a candidate preparation seminar, which would include everything from how to dress to preparing for an all-candidates debate.

"It's not extraordinary to do this prior to when we assume an election is going to be taking place, either by our hand or someone else's," said another former Conservative candidate who asked not be identified.

Quite an admission, especially when the leader says he will not force an election anytime soon.

I take the above as a clear sign, but what is more striking, the new sense of urgency on the environment:
The Conservative government will attempt to convince Canadians it is serious about fighting global warming by making a flurry of policy announcements on the environment in the next few weeks, including short term targets for greenhouse gas emissions and the repackaging of a number of Liberal initiatives that were cancelled when the Tories took office.

Sources said the government will soon announce a short-term target of 2015,

Why the hurry? I thought we were all working together in committee? Clearly, this committee won't have time to get its work done, because we are heading to an election. The Conservatives are so desperate, they will re-introduce the dreaded Energuide Program and the Liberal renewable strategy- cough, hack:
Meanwhile, sources in Ottawa suggest the Conservatives are also set to release a plan aimed at boosting the use of renewable energy. The plan is said to be a repackaging of a $1-billion renewable power strategy introduced by the former Liberal government in the February, 2005, budget.

Bureaucrats at Natural Resources Canada were conducting consultations and in the midst of developing eligibility criteria, for release last April, when the Conservatives came to power. The program was put on hold as part of a government-wide review of climate change initiatives. But with the Conservatives now facing criticism over the environment, the renewable scheme is back on.

Sources also believe a new version of the former EnerGuide plan will be unveiled. EnerGuide was a retrofit program that offered financial incentives for improved energy efficiency in homes.

I'm not defending the Liberal record, but considering they did "nothing", how is it that you can steal their nothingness? Strange. Anyways, the "flurry" is clearly motivated by the looming election call, with Harper hoping to neutralize his achilles heel. I see the urgency on the environment as proof positive that Harper is taking us to the polls in short order.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Conservatives Hypocrisy

The Canadian Wheat Board is attempting to squash Chuck Strahl's undemocratic "gag" order:
The Federal Court should fast-track the Canadian Wheat Board's challenge of a so-called government gag order so the board can play a meaningful role in an upcoming barley plebiscite, the board's lawyer argued Monday.

"But producers are entitled to a full understanding of the facts and the board has an obligation to ensure they have access to the information they need to make an informed decision.''

The result is an environment where the board is gagged, said McDougall.

"You can't muzzle one side ... You can't do that in our country. The law of the land is that the farmers decide.''

The government' argument, the Canadian Wheat Board can't use funds for advocacy. I have a whole host of problems with this position, because it is simply counter-intuitive to expect a Board to not defend itself. However, what is particularly concerning, the government doesn't seem to mind using the taxpayers money to peddle its own propaganda.

Why is Strahl using taxpayer money to spread the word:
NDP Agriculture Critic Alex Atamanenko (BC Southern Interior) today denounced the Conservative government for engineering a July 27 roundtable in Saskatoon to continue undermining the Canadian Wheat Board.

“The Conservatives call this an opportunity for dialogue among farmers, but it’s really a setup to design an end to the Canadian Wheat Board,” said Atamanenko. “They’ve only invited their friends and people who tout the corporate dual-marketing agenda, and they’ve excluded all those who support the Board’s single-desk selling system.”

Atamanenko called on Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl to cancel July’s partisan event. He noted that the Canadian Wheat Board is a self-sustaining organization whose representatives are elected by farmers — and whose future should be driven by all sectors of the farming community.

“This event is an outrage,” said Atamanenko. “This government is spending tax dollars to cover expenses for a rent-a-crowd at a forum whose only goal is to discredit farmers’ own organizations and promote the corporate agribusiness agenda.”

Should Tory MP's use their influence to generate a propaganda campaign against the Canadian Wheat Board:
The Canadian Wheat Board is facing a propaganda campaign involving longtime-opponents of the Winnipeg-based agency who Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl has named to a task force aimed at ending its marketing monopoly.

A Regina-based communications firm sent out an e-mail last week asking three Prairie farm groups to join in a letter-to-the-editor drive to ``to get us into the propaganda game.''

The e-mail from Charlton Communications begins by stating that ``it has been suggested to us by government and MPs and others that we must get into the game with letters to the editor in weeklies, dailies and agricultural trade publications.''

But Charlton said her clients have been told by government MPs that it is important for their members to make their views known in the media.

The way in which the government is conducting itself with regard to the Canadian Wheat Board is alarming, to say the least. Attempting to stifle debate, firing people who resist, all the while using its own resources to undermine. It is complete hypocrisy to try and shutdown opponents, under the guise of allocating money, while you yourself are engaged in the same activities. Obviously, Strahl isn't the democrat he tries to convey, he is doing everything in his power to tilt the playing field to the government's advantage. The Canadian Wheat Board should be allowed to defend itself, if members see this as an abuse, then there will be natural resistence. On this file, we are seeing the Conservative full monty, authoritarian, mean-spirited, undemocratic and manipulative. This whole affair is a national disgrace, no matter the outcome. Bullies.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Layton To Harper: No Hugs

Layton delivered a great line, in response to a question about the Conservatives cozying up to the NDP:
"I notice they're trying to hug us. What I say is stop trying that. Why not just try to deliver on the environment and on some fairness for the average Canadians for a change?" Layton told Question Period.

I thought Harper was a handshake man?

Environmental Tidbits

A new poll shows Canadians favor tax incentives to go green:
Canadians are more likely to support tax cuts tied to good environmental behaviour than tax cuts with no strings attached, a new poll suggests.

Decima Research asked people to choose between two hypothetical election promises - a $1,000 Conservative tax break for every household and a $1,000 Liberal break limited to households that took pro-environment action.

Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they would prefer the Liberal promise versus 28 per cent who preferred the Conservative pledge, say the survey results provided to The Canadian Press. Twenty-one per cent were unsure.

"I think what we're seeing here is a signal that's really about what kind of policies people want," Decima CEO Bruce Anderson said in an interview.

"While they appreciate the idea of tax cuts they also appreciate that policy should be increasingly directed towards achieving environmental improvement. That's what that 51 per cent are telling us they think."

Those are pretty impressive numbers, because normally polls show people just want their taxes lowered, period. Another example of the Harper government being behind the curve.

Suzuki, with some interesting comments on Baird:
"Mr. Baird called me within two hours after he was appointed. When I called him back, he said completely out of the blue, 'David, I want you to understand, I'm not a flat Earther'," Suzuki said.

"He said I believe the information scientists are accumulating about global warming. I'm not denying its occurrence. Well to me that was a huge step up from what the previous minister had really been saying. So that was a very good start."

Suzuki said Baird wouldn't give him a straight answer when he asked him about whether Harper's agrees that global warming is taking place.

I met Mr. Harper before he was even a leader of the party. I happened to run into him while he was being interviewed in the Parliament Buildings," Suzuki said.

"At that time he was denying global warming was an issue, and he was saying then, this is years and years ago, there's no way that we can meet a target like Kyoto. It's too expensive. Well it's a hell of a lot more expensive now."

I'm somewhat surprised that Suzuki gives Baird credit for acknowledging global warming exists. I guess Suzuki is using relativism as a guide, but it does demonstrate just how ridiculous the debate has been to this point, that it's considered progress admitting reality. During the interview, it was noteworthy that Suzuki was generally impressed with the candor until the question turned to Harper. When Suzuki asked if Harper shared Baird's perspective, Baird was hesitant and "political".

CBC had an interview this morning with Preston Manning. I must say it was amazing to listen to Manning argue so aggressively for environmental sustainability. He actually sounded like Dion, endorsing carbon-trading and some level of "regulation". For a man who spent his career opposing the government, advocating free, unrelegated enterprise, it says alot that Manning is open to big brother intervening to make progress. Manning is touring Alberta to packed houses, so this message is important, he has credibility with the natives ;)

The one striking thing about Manning's position, it begged the question, what the hell is wrong with Harper? Here we have his mentor, who apparently has discussed his views with Harper, advocating aggressive actions and Harper still doesn't seem to get it. Polls show his base open to action, which makes the Harper approach all the more confounding. If Harper adopted Manning's views, he would have a popular advocate selling his plan to the one province he seems to be concerned about. Harper's whole approach makes less and less sense with each passing day.

Khan Report Uncovered

There has been alot of controversy surrounding the "report" from Wajid Khan's trip to the Middle East. Through a reliable source, Far and Wide has obtained a copy of the elusive report from Mr. Khan:

I apologize if people can't make out the writing, but as we all know uploading images can be difficult. For the readers benefit, here is the text of Khan's extensive report below:

Hello Prime Minister and First Lady:

Having a wonderful time. Egypt is wonderful, I must say the visit to the Sphinx has been the highlight. The food is excellent and the lodgings have all been five star (see receipts). Jordan was wonderful, the people were very friendly. I also enjoyed Syria, had a wonderful conversation with a cab driver on the way to the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus- stunning architecture by the way! The cab driver felt that two-state solution for Palestine was the best way to ensure lasting peace in the region. Good advice for sure, I will speak more when I return.

Anyways, I had best wrap up, there is wonderful restaurant with dancers, on the Nile, that I am told is a MUST SEE. I will probably leave Egypt in a day or two, then on to Israel. I will be sure to garner some opinions while visiting the sandy beaches in Tel Aviv.

Again, thank-you for this opportunity as special advisor Prime Minister. I haven't felt this relaxed since the 0% financing sale at the dealership.

Yours, Wajid

Hopefully this puts the controversy to rest.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Harper Invites "The Terminator"

Pardon my cynicism, but this invite reeks of a convenient photo-op:
The Prime Minister's Office has sent Arnold Schwarzenegger an invitation to visit, CTV News has learned, at a time when both the California governor and Canada's Conservatives are focusing on the environment.

Schwarzenegger, who drives a hydrogen-powered Hummer, has made the environment a central issue in his state.

We've already had the showy press conferences to announce nothing, we don't need a high-profile photo-op to guide our environmental course. This invitiation is pure politics, trying to draw a parallel between California and Canada. Just enact the legislation if you are truly serious, you certainly don't need Arnie to show us the way. I'm sure Harper can draw on a host of experts to explain the details of California' approach, he doesn't need to fawn in front of the cameras and say "look at me".

Actually, I find the fact that Harper has sought out Schwarzenegger to be a further indication that his government is more interested in appearances over substance. Here is an idea, why not make the "big splash" with legislation that actually has some teeth, then invite Arnie to town? Just do something already, enough with the grandstanding nothingness. And if Harper does need Schwarzenegger to show Canadians he is serious about climate change, isn't that a sad admission of failure and an act of pathetic desperation.

Support For Afghanistan Mission Grows

Interesting poll out today:
Support for Canada's mission in Afghanistan has grown...
The online Jan. 8-10 survey of 2,206 Canadians by Innovative Research Group found 58 per cent of respondents support the military action compared with 38 per cent who are opposed.

Sixty per cent, up seven points from October, agreed that Canadians "are providing critical assistance to local Afghans and are trying to create a peaceful and democratic country." Thirty per cent agreed to an opposing proposition that the government is putting Canadian lives at risk for "no apparent reason."

About the same percentage, 58 per cent, agrees with the proposition that Canada should send troops to dangerous, war-torn, underdeveloped countries threatened by "systematic human rights abuses."

Good news for Harper, minus this tidbit:
The Innovative poll shows Canadians are evenly split on whether they respect Prime Minister Stephen Harper's motives for strongly backing and showcasing the troops' efforts.

Forty-five per cent of respondents said they believe the Harper Tories are championing the mission because "they think it is the right thing to do."

But 44 per cent agreed with the statement that the Conservatives are keeping troops in Afghanistan "because they want to make the U.S. happy."

The article makes the point that the rise in support isn't just because of lower casualties, but also because the government has done a better job on messaging. That conclusion is only true in this sense, the absence of casualties has provided a quiet period, wherein the government can argue its case. If we see a return of casualties similar to last fall, Harper can sell forever, it will be overshadowed by powerful imagery. In other words, violence drives support and Harper's effectiveness is tied to this reality.

Canadians want to support a mission that provides "critical assistance" and offers a humanitarian angle. Having said that, I would expect support to slip come the summer, if all the predictions are accurate. This poll also doesn't ask the fundamental questions about our course and the balance of the mission. If you asked the question, should Canada spend 10 dollars on security for every 1 on infastructure(i.e. re-construction, domestic training, government support), you would probably get a better understanding of what Canadians want. Canadians do support the mission, but that doesn't necessarily translate into open-ended support of Harper's approach.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Dion: "I'm Not A Treehugger"

In my biased opinion, Dion's visit to Alberta has been relatively successful. While there are the predictably boring detractors, there is also encouraging commentary:
Better to be true to your beliefs, and present your party as an alternative to the one in power...

Dion said he plans to use both “carrots and sticks” — incentives as well as regulation, but not impose rules so unreasonable that they would drive industry away. “I’m not a tree-hugger. I’m not a socialist,” he declared. “I believe in the market economy.”

Dion is a sincere and likeable man who deserves credit for reaching out to Alberta. If he hopes to overcome wary voters, however, he’ll have to be a lot more specific on what his green plan will mean to the economic heart of this province.

Even the oil patch is open-minded:
The oilpatch appeared to respond favourably to Dion's approach to environmental tax reform.

Greg Stringham, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said while his members want to study Dion's remarks in more detail, they like his tone.

"This is relatively new that they (the Liberals) would use the incentive mechanism to try and bring out new technologies to address environmental issues," Stringham said from Calgary.

Dion has been honest in discussing his environmental solutions. Today, Dion offered the carrot and stick approach:
Calgary —

Federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion says Canada needs penalties for energy companies that don't reduce carbon dioxide emissions and water use, especially in Alberta's booming oilsands region.

"If you do the right thing, you pay less; if you don't do it, you pay more," Mr. Dion told a Calgary radio talkshow Friday. "The ones who are doing that will be rewarded and the ones that are not doing that will be penalized in the market where they need to be competitive."

Apart from offering tax incentives, Dion also spoke of a domestic carbon trading system. Most of the criticism surrounding carbon trading revolves around lost capital, leaving Canada to meet our targets. A domestic system avoids this critique, while lowering overall emissions. The system also allows for some flexiblity for industries that are particularly challenged, an idea which should calm oil patch nerves.

Dion also made his views known on nuclear energy, and I found his comments here quite interesting:
Speaking to the Calgary Herald editorial board, Dion acknowledged nuclear is part of the “energy mix” in Canada, but doesn’t believe it’s a viable option due to lingering concerns about whether waste can be safely disposed.

“I have no power to stop a province to do that. It’s provincial jurisdiction,” Dion said. “I am concerned about the waste and I don’t hide my concerns. It is something I would like to see as a debate in Canada.”

It's really none of my business, you can do what you want, but I have an opinion. Perfect. Dion is showing that he isn't shy, his words aren't political motivated and I think some Albertans will respect that. Albertans are quite concerned about the environment, so people are willing to listen. Dion's tour of Alberta has shown us many things, but the most striking in my mind is how inadequate the Tory rhetoric. Can someone please cite one quote where Harper has actually said anything meaningful, other than massive generalities and easy platitudes? We have one leader offering ideas, while we have another who conveys infinite negativism and no solutions.

Layton and Dion Should Meet

Isn't it about time for a high-profile, extensive, meeting between Stephane Dion and Jack Layton? The NDP has had several consultations with the Conservatives on the Clean Air Act, but we never seem to hear anything regarding the opposition leaders developing an understanding. All I have heard from Layton, he has spoke with Mr. Dion, but there was no sense of any substantive talks.

If everyone is completely pure in this process, wanting to craft effective environmental legislation, than a united opposition that projects a common front would seem to be the best path. Dion and Layton are both genuine in their environmental concerns, so it would seem natural that the two could come to a mutually beneficial position. As I read the leaders perspectives, it would seem there is much to agree on.

The whole debate over the Clean Air Act will largely come down to leverage. It is imperative that the opposition work together to put maximium political pressure on Harper. A united opposition, doesn't allow Harper the power to negotiate, he will be faced with a yes or no proposition. Layton has argued that parliament "must work together", so why not overtly court the Liberals to act in unison?

If you want to move beyond the ethical consideration, such an alliance would also have political benefit. I think Canadians would respond positively to news reports of two leaders working together on such an important issue. It would show a principle beyond partisanship, something which Canadians rarely see. Both parties could be far effective if they operated as one, as opposed to the parallel paths we see today. The last thing Harper wants to see, the NDP and Liberal Party working together, with the real foe exposed.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Khan Slams Dion

Khan seems to be engaging in some revision, that defies logic:
Former Liberal MP Wajid Khan says his decision last week to defect to the governing Conservatives was no snap decision, but rather born of disillusionment with the Liberal party that grew out of several events dating back nearly two years...

His frustration neared its breaking point last June, when 17 people were arrested in Toronto on terrorism-related charges.

Oh really?:

Last July, during the war in Lebanon, Mr. Khan argued in a letter to his local newspaper, the Mississauga News, that the Tories should be building diplomatic relationships with Iran, Israel and Syria, rather than emulating U.S. policy.

"From the machinations of the past week however, it has become obvious that Canada's attempts to create its own strong and independent voice in the global arena, and the chance to act as the honest broker, are in danger of being squandered by the foreign policy manoeuvres of the Conservative government. At the G-8 leaders meeting, Harper unequivocally wrapped himself around the U.S. policy of unqualified support for Israel's military actions," he wrote.

"While it has always been important to maintain good relations and where appropriate, support the actions of the United States, the Conservative government's inability to articulate its own policy in the Middle East and attempts to curry favour with the Bush administration cannot and should not supplant Canada's existing foreign relations capital, nor our potential to be a sober and moderate voice of reason in the world."

Someone please reconcile the contradictions.

Khan also offered a direct criticism of Stephane Dion:
Khan also expressed disdain for Liberal Leader Stephane Dion, whom he said did not support his work with Harper and wanted him to give up the position.

"He's now taking the Liberal party in the direction I do not wish to go," Khan said. "He has no coherent foreign policy, no commitment to family values, no background in enterprise and no interest, that I can see, in helping new Canadians."

At a news conference in Edmonton, Dion refused to respond to Khan's comments, which he described as "too ridiculous."

Can someone explain "family values", because it sounds like neo-con talk to me? Newsflash, Stephane Dion doesn't care about families, how juvenile. Khan's comments are laughable on one level, especially the immigrants crack. Maybe Wajid should go look at the old Reform manifesto that Harper helped craft, because it is objectively anti-new Canadian, bordering on racist. The only motivation for "helping" is the never-ending search for new votes. I'm glad Dion took the high-ground. All Khan creates with his potshots, a concerted effort to bring him down next election. A used car salesman indeed.

Layton's Time

Ever since Layton managed to bring the Clean Air Act to committee I have been conflicted. At first, I applauded Layton and later became increasingly concerned. What caused my skepticism, Harper's repeated, relatively positive, references to the NDP. Harper's purposeful attempt to separate the NDP from the other opposition parties made me increasingly suspicious of just what exactly was at play here. Coupled with Layton feeling the environmental squeeze from other parties, and you have a dangerous formula.

Having said that, after listening to Layton the other day on The Hour, as well as recent comments, I am swinging back to the "cautiously optimistic" camp. During the informal interview Layton shined, in the sense that partisan language was absent from his comments. This was the principled, genuine Layton that is too often overshadowed by bluster. The bottomline, Layton cares about the environment on a fundamental level. His voice reveals real concern that goes beyond the political arena. It for that reason that I see a glimmer of hope in this dance with Harper.

Layton's language is increasing assertive:
"I wanted to urge Mr. Baird to be ready to take some dramatic action. His government has got to have a sea change in the way they approach this issue of climate change," he told reporters.

"we want to see very tough and strong action on the biggest polluters. . . . I spoke to him about how we've got to stop subsidizing big oil and gas companies with tax dollars and start putting money into solutions."

"What we will do is try to craft a piece of legislation on climate change that's strong and reflects the urgency of the situation, that addresses auto emissions, big-polluter emissions, subsidies to oil and gas, and starts to get us moving on solutions."

Someone has to take the government "out to the woodpile" on climate change because "they don't get it," Mr. Layton said. "And we are prepared to do that."

I think it encouraging that Layton isn't conciliatory, and is actually quite aggressive. You don't here the "something is better than nothing" speak, which is code for half-measures. Listening, and reading, Layton, it might just be the case that he is completely unprepared to throw the Conservatives a lifeline, unless it is deserved. Indirect threats to topple the government on this file raises the stakes, which may cause Harper to blink. Do the Conservatives really want an election, with this issue centerstage and largely unresolved?

It will be interesting to see how things unfold. Time will tell if Layton stays true to the rhetoric, but hopefully he has the courage to walk away if need be, or better yet, actually help craft a real agenda. Partisanship aside, we should all hope that Layton pulls it off. This is your moment Jack, let's see if it's the calculating peacock, or the principled environmental caretaker that wins the day.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Put Up Or Shut Up

Everytime I write an environmental post, or read someone else's, invariably some Conservative asshat drives by and brings the requisite Tory line. Kyoto is a flawed process, Energuide was inefficient, emissions rose under the Liberals, the Chinese are building 100 coal-fired generators, Canada will kill it's economy while accomplishing little, blah, blah, blahbladdy, blah. Never, and I mean never does any apologist offer an alternative, it's just pure negativity.

I like to deal in relativities. Were all existing initiatives a complete success, that don't require improvement? Absolutely not, we need to see exponential progress. However, when you compare where we were to this embarrassing sideshow, accompanied by laughable legislation, it starts to look like environmental utopia- that is how bad this government has performed.

We are entering year-two, and the Kyoto haters still don't have an alternative. What happened to "made in Canada"? I want the apologists to sprinkle some ideas into the conversation, in other words put up or shut up. You don't get to blame and criticize for eternity. You don't get to twist everything so it fits into an outdated ideology. I tire of dodge and weave, and thankfully so are the vast majority of Canadians.

Harper: We Can't Do Something We Were Already Doing

The Sleveen Institute has an interesting post, which details the Harper absurdity:
Harper is on record saying that:

"We can't tell the Canadian population to heat its homes one-third less of the time"

the Liberal Programs appear to be effective according to U.K. Officials who intend on delivery their report to Harpers doorstep . So if the Liberals manged to get homes to reduce, why is Harper saying its not possible?

"EnerGuide for houses, actually averaged a 35 per cent energy reduction on residential heating costs".

''In fact, the Canadian government was helping Canadians reduce their energy bills by one-third, and they were doing it on a daily basis, and (Harper) cancelled the program.''

Isn’t it amazing for Harper to reference a number that just happens to equal the results of a program the Tories shelved. Has any reporter asked Harper why he cancelled an objectively effective program? Isn’t such an initiative an example of “made in Canada”, completely separate from the concerns about Kyoto. Harper’s comment serves as the best example of the Conservatives nonsensical approach. Killing the Energuide program was inexcusable, and I have yet to hear the media effectively reveal the double-speak. Hopefully Harper’s comments bite him in the ass, because the hypocrisy is staggering.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fraser Institute Criticizes Harper's Tax Cuts

The right-leaning Fraser Institute released a publication today, essentially criticizing GST cuts:
Canadian governments are too reliant on personal income and business taxes and need to rebalance the tax system to make it more efficient through additional use of consumption taxes such as the GST, according to a new study released today by The Fraser Institute, an independent research organization...

“Canada has a great opportunity to improve our economic performance by simply rebalancing our tax system to rely less on capital-based taxes and more on consumption-based taxes,” Clemens said.

The authors also point out that among 30 industrialized countries, Canada has the fourth highest reliance on income and profit taxes, accounting for 46.5 per cent of CanadaÂ’s total government revenues. By comparison, other OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries obtain an average of 34.4 per cent of their total revenues from income and profit taxes. These taxes are considered to be more costly to society in terms of their incentive effects and the cost of compliance.

On the other hand, Canada ranks 24th out of 30 OECD countries for its use of taxes on the consumption of goods and services (for example, the GST). Canada relies on consumption taxes for 25.9 per cent of its total revenues compared to an average of 32.3 per cent for other OECD countries. These types of taxes impose much smaller costs on society.

Harper has effectively created the illusion that the Conservatives are the taxcutters. Even though personal income taxes actually rose in the last budget, Harper used the GST cut to maximum advantage. The Fraser Institute's findings gives the Liberal approach to taxcuts credibility, whisimultaneouslysly exposing Harper preference for glitz over real relief. It will be interesting to see if this report finds its way into the discussion the next time Flaherty and Harper spout off about "helping average Canadians". If we are too believe this paper, our tax system is entirely out of balance, and the Conservatives are onexasperatinging the inherent problems. Another example, wherein callous attempts to maximize vote potential results in bad policy.

Trudeau To Run

It looks like Justin Trudeau is in:
Justin Trudeau is set to enter federal politics and seek a seat in the Montreal riding of Outremont, according to a report.

Pierre Trudeau's eldest son joined the Liberal riding association in the relatively safe riding of Outremont about two months ago, Montreal's La Presse newspaper reported.

But it appears some Liberals are opposed to the idea of seeing the former prime minister's son run for the seat, the newspaper added.

La Presse reports that Liberal leader Stephane Dion was planning on reserving the riding for high-profile candidates who could help the rebuild the party's support in Quebec.

According to the newspaper, Dion has made it clear to some Liberals that the 35-year-old Trudeau is not the star candidate he was seeking.

I understand Dion's hesitation with Trudeau. One has to wonder if there isn't some concern that Trudeau might cast too great a shadow. Just imagine reporters fawning over every word in the House of Commons hallways, as though defacto leader. Trudeau has the ability to suck all the oxygen out of a room, this disporportionate attention might marginally diminish Dion. There are star candidates, ala Iggy and Dryden, but they are minnows compared to the attention Justin would draw.

If Trudeau enters politics, everyone immediately assumes the goal is eventual leader. A mere career MP simply isn't part of the equation. Trudeau's presence might create some insecurity and unintentional tension, that will only grow over time. I like Justin, what I'm not looking forward to is the media frenzy that is mostly distraction.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Minister of Bad Sports Analogies

Listening to John Baird yesterday, I was struck by often he used the following phrase "move the ball forward". Today, touring Stanley Park, Baird said the following:
"We are sort of behind the 8-ball in that the starting pistol went off 10 years ago when Kyoto was negotiated but the challenge for us is to play catch-up," he said.

Wow, Baird weaved three sport references into one sentence. Am I seeing a trend with our new Minister? Anyways, let's just hope the Conservatives step up to the plate, lace up their skates and deliver a punishing blow to greenhouse gases, it's crunch time.

McKay Gets It Right, Sort Of

Today's announcement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter McKay is objectively a good one:
He announced Canada would contribute $10 million toward regular weekly salaries of Afghan police officers in an effort to stop corruption and co-operation with the Taliban within the force.

"[P]roviding a national civilian police force with an adequate and regular salary is critical to helping restore security and the rule of law in Afghanistan," said MacKay in a news release.

"Our contribution will help further this objective, resulting in a more professional police force to better serve the people of Afghanistan."

A leaked U.S. government report in December said the U.S.-trained Afghan police force was riddled with corruption and incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement. Washington, which contributes $1 billion US to train the force, says the force has about 50,000 members, although the report said 70,000 were on its payroll.

In my mind, this sort of commitment should be the principle Canadian strategy as we move forward. If you can't provide Afghans with a domestic force that is credible, then you have failed. If you don't provide the funding to counter the lure of drug money, then the mission goes nowhere. Afghanistan will only succeed if the Afghan army and police force succeed, foreign occupation is only a temporary bandaid.

McKay's announcement is much more substantial than his earlier paltry commitment. My only criticism, this new expenditure is still small, when compared with the money allocated for security. The government had no problem recently committing an extra 189 million for 15 tanks and a anti-mortar unit. I would like to see the same expenditures allocated for domestic security and training. Imagine the impact if Canada dropped an additional 200 million into the police forces?

If success is really the goal, then the government should offer a bold re-construction and domestic security package. I think Canadians would support a further commitment, in the order of billions, if there was a sense the money lead somewhere. Today's announcement is hopefully one of many along the same lines, the situation demands it, unless we are content with the sadistic reality of whack a mole. Gentle applause for McKay today.