Sunday, November 30, 2003

Colour me pleasantly surprised

In a column in Friday's Globe and Mail, Shirley Douglas, in her capacity as spokesperson for the Canadian Health Coalition, warned that Canada is on the road to a two-tier health care system. She pointed to the fact that inaction on the year-old Romanow report's recommendations is allowing the privatization of health care to proceed almost by stealth.

Pay attention, folks, because I'm about to commit heresy. It's entirely possible that, in the long run, some form of private sector participation in health care may be necessary to sustain a system that's gobbling up ever increasing amounts of cash. But if the fundamental principle of universal access regardless of ability to pay is to be preserved, then that involvement must be carefully managed. That can only happen when those responsible for the delivery of health care at both levels of government start working together to look at the whole system in a way that takes the basic policy goals into account.

It seems to me that's what Romanow was arguing for when he recommended the establishment of a national health council and changes to the Canada Health Act. But while politicians paid lip service to Romanow's recommendations, they seem to have stood around waiting for someone else to go first. Meanwhile the Mike Harrises and Ralph Kleins have allowed privatization to proceed in a way that undermines what the majority of Canadians, time after time, have indicated they want.

So I was pleasantly surprised to read that the McGuinty government has proposed legislation to make two-tier health care in Ontario illegal and to establish a provincial version of the national council. The bill they've put forward would make it a crime for someone to pay his way to the front of the line. While the legislation appears to have loopholes, and has drawn criticism from the opposition for being "all spin" with no enforcement mechanisms, it still seems to be a step forward even if largely symbolic. It's at least an attempt to reinforce basic principles before getting into the nitty gritty of implementation.

I have to eat a little crow and admit that I didn't think McGuinty had it in him. After his recent retreats on two key issues, I didn't think I could expect to see this kind of leadership from him, but I think on this issue he's taking a stand that might actually make him some enemies. To me that's a good sign since he seems to be trying to stand up for all of us on this one. So hats off to you, Dalton.

Now do you think we could talk about re-regulating the hydro market? Hey, it can't hurt to ask.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

Damage report

The recent public outburst by Alliance MP Larry Spencer certainly puts Stephen Harper in an awkward position. While by all accounts Harper moved swiftly to fire Spencer from his role as family affairs critic, and expressed a great deal of anger in doing so, it's open to interpretation whether Harper's anger was a reaction to the actual opinions Spencer expressed or to Spencer's foolishness in expressing them to a journalist for publication. Being the cynic that I am, I'm inclined to think it's the latter.

The incident doubtless gives some of the more socially progressive among the PCs pause for thought in considering a merger with the Alliance and apparently has already prompted one New Brunswick PC MP to come out publically against it.
The proposed merger between Canada's two right-wing parties hit another snag Friday when a Progressive Conservative MP in New Brunswick announced that he will not run for such a group because he does not believe it would be progressive enough.

John Herron, the MP for Fundy-Royal since 1997, said he would stay and fight for the old Progressive Conservative party if delegates reject the proposed merger with the Canadian Alliance at the Dec. 6 ratification vote.
Mr. Herron said his worst suspicions were confirmed earlier this week when Saskatchewan MP Larry Spencer suggested that homosexuality should be outlawed, and that there has been a 40-year conspiracy to recruit children into the homosexual lifestyle, infiltrate the courts and otherwise reshape society's values.
I wonder how many others will be swayed in the same direction.

Even if the merger still happens, the awkwardness for Harper continues with regard to his bid to lead the new party and to influence policy. No matter how carefully he may frame his position on same sex marriage and other social issues, this incident is bound to leave that many more people pondering the attitudes that actually lie behind the language.

Indeed this reinforces the idea that a successful merger between the two parties is the beginning of a process, not the end of one. Following the merger comes the hard work of crafting a policy platform that the entire party can support and doing it quickly enough to wage an anticipated election campaign in the spring. If the candidates for the united right end up publicly contradicting each other it won't help their prospects. If too many voters have to work too hard to figure out what the party actually stands for, many of them are liable to throw up their hands and just vote Liberal. Even though a Liberal cabinet minister has, himself, voiced similarly offensive and ridiculous objections to same sex marriage, the Liberals collectively don't have to wage the same war with perception about their core policies as does the Alliance.

Hat tip to RevMod for that last link.

Friday, November 28, 2003

How many times should we pay for content?

Music group aims to charge Internet users
A group representing Canada's songwriters will ask the Supreme Court of Canada to force Internet service providers to pay them royalties for the millions of digital music files downloaded each year by Canadians.
If successful, the legal pleadings of the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) could open the door to other rights holders -- groups as diverse as software publishers or Hollywood movie distributors -- who could use SOCAN's precedent to force Internet service providers (ISPs) to collect royalties for their members.

Although those groups are prompted to seek new sources of revenue because of what they say are illegal downloads of copyrighted content, SOCAN is asking ISPs to pay a blanket annual royalty regardless of whether the ISP is transmitting legal or illegally downloaded music.
Emphasis added. If SOCAN were to be successful with this suit, you have to know that the additional costs would end up being passed on to consumers and I have a real problem with it. While I believe that songwriters should be fairly paid for their work, the approach being taken here is unfair both to legimate consumers of music and to internet users who aren't, in fact, consuming any music via the internet.

If a download is legal, then the implication is that the consumer has already paid the copyright fee. Why should it be paid twice? As for illegal downloads, why should all users pay for the crimes only some commit? What happened to innocent until proven guilty? This is the same attitude taken by groups like the RIAA in the US. The industry hasn't figured out an appropriate way to deal with the advances in technology so it attempts to make the consumer pay. And pay. And pay.

For the record, I don't download illegal music and I rarely play even legal music on my computer. I have an audio system here in the office with much better speakers on it than the crappy little things sitting on my desk. And since the recording industry started its heavy handed tactics, I buy less music than I used to. It sounds like that trend is going to continue. (And I'll avoid copy protected CDs like the plague until they come up with a protection scheme that doesn't punish me by depriving me of the rights I should have when I make a legal purchase.)

When will the entertainment industry leaders figure out that punishing the consumer for their own inability to adapt to technology is a recipe for disaster in the long term? Or are there not enough people like me who will dig their heels in and refuse to buy the product on the industry's terms?

Update: Here's a Globe and Mail link to the same story in case the CTV link above rots.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Almrei's deportation delayed

Terror suspect given reprieve
A suspected terrorist who feared being tortured if returned to his native Syria will be allowed to stay in Canada while the courts review his case, a judge ruled today.

Hassan Almrei, 29, has been held in a Toronto jail on a security certificate since October 2001. He was facing deportation to Syria unless he could get a federal judge to put the order on hold.

Judge Edmond Blanchard ruled that Almrei "will suffer irreparable harm" if deported to Syria since he won't likely be returned to Canada to have his day in court.
Good. While they have him in court, maybe CSIS will actually reveal the evidence based on which he's been kept in jail for two years. It's called 'due process' and it's supposed to apply to everyone.

Boeing might be in deep doo-doo

A couple of days ago I posted about a brewing scandal involving Boeing and the fact that even though it had been brewing for a while, it was getting very little media attention. The controversy, and the possibility of serious repercussions, seems to be increasing.
Already rocked by a series of ethics problems, Boeing could be facing a deeper crisis that would affect the bottom line for the aerospace giant and one of the largest US defense contractors.

Earlier this week, Boeing sacked chief financial officer Mike Sears for improperly recruiting a US Air Force official to join the firm at the time she was involved in decisions that affected the company.
But the turbulence may only be starting for the aviation giant, which had been sanctioned by the Pentagon earlier this year following the discovery that it had obtained secret documents from its chief competitor, Lockheed Martin Corp., for a bid on a rocket project.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said his staff was investigating if the Pentagon should suspend the 18 billion dollar deal with Boeing to lease 100 commercial wide-body jets and convert them into refueling tanker aircraft.

Asked if the contract should be delayed pending review, Rumsfeld replied: "At a senior staff meeting this morning, I asked our senior folks to ask themselves that question and to look into it."

Senator John McCain, a critic of the leasing plan, said the shakeup this week at Boeing confirmed his concerns about the company's conduct in the leasing contract.
Other woes could be in Boeing's future as well. Federal law prohibits a company from offering jobs to public officials while the official is overseeing government business with the company, and violations can result in prison terms as well as fines.
A quick cruise around the web reveals that if the major American media outlets are covering this story, it certainly isn't with screaming headlines on page 1.

Link via Arms And The Man. (Again. Major Barbara specializes in tracking the intersection of military and corporate affairs with particular focus on the war in Iraq.)

That was quick

In the post below this one I reported on the homophobic comments of an Alliance MP who is also the family issues critic in the Alliance shadow cabinet. Now comes word that Stephen Harper has fired him from the shadow cabinet and he has temporarily resigned from caucus. His timing stinks as I suggested below. A controversy like this has to make PC members who are on the liberal side of social issues think twice about the proposed merger with the Alliance. No doubt that's why Harper has moved into damage control mode so quickly.

How to shoot yourselves in the foot

While the bigwigs in the Alliance and the PC party forge ahead with their plans for merger to give opposition on the right more credibility on the national political stage, an Alliance MP has provided a preview of what the new party will stand for.
Homosexuality is part of a "well orchestrated" conspiracy that should be outlawed, a Canadian Alliance MP says.

Larry Spencer, the MP for Regina-Lumsden-Lake Centre, told the Vancouver Sun that this conspiracy began in the 1960s and included the seduction and recruitment of young boys in playgrounds and locker rooms.
He said homosexuals, due to AIDS and other health problems, have a far lower life expectancy than straight men.

"Let's just say if . . . anybody that used Colgate toothpaste, their life expectancy was lowered by 10, 15 years. What do you think would happen to Colgate toothpaste? It would be outlawed. Well, we know that's what happens to men living a gay lifestyle."

He also said homosexuals can transform themselves into heterosexuals.
No, this is not from the Onion. I'm sure this will give PC members who are on the fence about the merger a warm fuzzy feeling.

Update: There's a longer article in the Vancouver Sun. It doesn't make Spencer look any better.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Déjà vu

Ok, hands up everyone who thinks the saga of the united right is becoming a bigger soap opera than anything on network television. Now it's in the courts.
The ongoing battle over the future of the Progressive Conservative party spilled into the courts today as a lawsuit filed by former leadership contender David Orchard and other disgruntled party loyalists went before a Superior Court judge.

It wasn't long before Justice Ian Nordheimer was forced to put off hearing arguments for several days because of an application for intervenor status by Tory supporters opposed to the lawsuit.

The suit seeks to ensure the Progressive Conservative party's name and assets would survive a merger with the Canadian Alliance, regardless of whether party members support the plan.
So if Orchard wins here, even if they pull off the merger we'll end up with a Progressive Conservative party and a larger Alliance party with a different name. This is where I came in.

Canadian anti-terrorism laws criticised

A former head of CSIS, Reid Morden, has bluntly criticised Canadian anti-terrorism laws passed in the wake of 9/11 as "casting a wider net than Britain or the United States".
In a bluntly worded critique published today, Reid Morden argues Canadian anti-terrorism legislation, passed following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, gives the government "virtually unreviewable" power to label organizations and activities as terrorists.

Morden, a private consultant on security and other public policy issues, served as director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service from 1987 to 1991.

The definition of terrorism in the federal legislation is so wide it could easily include behaviour that doesn't remotely resemble terrorist activity, he says in http://www.csis-scrs.gc.ca/eng/comment/com85_e.html Commentary, a CSIS publication that does not necessarily reflect the intelligence service's views.

"The overall effect is to lengthen the long reach of the criminal law in a manner that is complex, unclear and unrestrained," Morden says in the article.
This is a former spook talking - he deserves to be taken seriously on a subject like this. He notes further down in the article that he hasn't seen the kinds of abuses that might happen, but if he's claiming that our laws have more potential for abuse than some of the things John Ashcroft has done, then I'd be very concerned.

A spokeswoman for Solicitor General Wayne Easter declined to comment.
I'm not surprised.

The article linked to in the quoted section looks interesting but fairly long. Forewarned is forearmed.

Look who's double talking now

The reaction from the opposition Tories to the Ontario government legislating a freeze in auto insurance rates in the province is laughable.
The Opposition jumped on the bill immediately, pointing to it as proof of another broken Liberal campaign promise.

“Another day, another broken Liberal promise,” Tory MPP John Baird said. “This bill is nothing more than a re-announcement of a press conference that Dalton McGuinty had last month.”
Excuse me, John, but don't they have to actually, you know, pass legislation to make something law? Just announcing it in a press conference doesn't really get it done. I know that's the kind of power the Tories wanted, but you didn't quite that far.
Mr. Baird asked the Liberals to explain how Ontario motorists would see any benefit from Wednesday's announcement.
Um, because frozen rates can't go up?
“With the bill brought forward by this minister and this government rates will go down by nothing,” he said. “Auto insurance rates around Ontario have gone up an average of 20 per cent and this minister and this government think that's acceptable.... Ontario motorists deserve better than a nothing response from a nothing government.”
It's funny, I seem to recall that the Tories were in charge less than two months ago and I don't remember them doing anything about rising auto insurance rates. And since Finance Minister Greg Sorbara indicated the freeze is a temporary step while the government explores ways to reduce rates, how does this qualify as a broken promise?

As critical as I am of McGuinty on some issues, the Tories just sound silly these days.

Boot camp to get the boot

From the Toronto Star we learn that Project Turnaround, Ontario's only boot camp for young offenders, will be shut down when the contract with it's private operator runs out early next year. I'm all for this. I was never comfortable with private sector involvement in corrections, although the reasons McGuinty gives for the decision are practical rather than ideological.

Monopoly by stealth

The Register reports that buried in a piece of American legislation co-sponsored by Senator Orrin Hatch (R) is a provision that would leave the RIAA and the MPAA permanently exempt from anti-trust litigation. In other words, it would make them virtually a legal monopoly. This is an example of why "free trade" with the US can be anything but free since signatories to the kind of trade agreements that have been popular in the last decade or so are required to change their own laws to accommodate the provisions of said agreements. And it's typically other countries that change to accommodate the US.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

This is encouraging

From CTV News:
Liberal leader Paul Martin says when he becomes prime minister he intends to "get to the bottom" of the case of Maher Arar -- a Canadian man who claims he was tortured for nearly a year in Syria after being deported there by the United States.

"I believe what happened was simply unacceptable," Martin told an Ottawa press conference Tuesday.

"Let me tell you, when I become prime minister I'm going to get all of the facts and I'm going to make sure this sort of thing doesn't happen again," he said.

Martin said he had not ruled out the possibility of holding a public inquiry into the Arar case -- something the Opposition and critics have been calling for.
That's the strongest statement I've seen on the subject so far from someone who has the authority to make something happen. I just hope he means it.

A mockery of justice

Lord Steyn, "one of the most senior judges in Britain's highest court", delivered a serious tongue lashing to the Americans concerning their treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the military tribunals that will be conducted.
He asked whether the British government should not "make plain, publicly and unambiguously, our condemnation of the utter lawlessness" at Guantanamo Bay.

Delivering the FA Mann lecture at Lincoln's Inn in central London, Lord Steyn added: "Trials of the type contemplated by the United States government would be a stain on United States justice. The only thing that could be worse is simply to leave the prisoners in their black hole indefinitely."
Let's not forget that there are two Canadians being held there.

Link via The Agonist.

Bias? What bias?

Scott Piatkowski has an interesting column over at rabble.ca on media bias. Among other things, now I know why Mark Mullins of the Fraser Institute gets him name in the paper so often.

Score one for Paul Krugman

Over two months ago, during an interview with BuzzFlash, Paul Krugman had this to say:
There's an enormous scandal right now involving Boeing and a federal contract, which appears to have been overpaid by $4 billion. The Pentagon official who was responsible for the contract has now left and has become a top executive at Boeing. And it's been barely covered in the press –- a couple of stories on inside pages.
Today on SFGate.com:
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday questioned whether the Air Force should go ahead with a multibillion dollar lease deal with Boeing Co. after the company announced the firing of two senior executives, including one linked to the lease negotiations.

When asked whether the contract signing should be delayed until the Pentagon reviews the matter further, Rumsfeld said, "At a senior staff meeting this morning I asked our senior folks to ask themselves that question and to look into it."

Via Arms And The Man.

Suddenly Dalton doesn't look so bad

I've given Dalton McGuinty a hard time recently but after reading this Los Angeles Times (registration required) article, I have to admit things could be worse. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California recently he inherited a $10 billion budget shortfall. He's already made that worse by repealing a recent car tax and now he's tabled his proposals to try and trim the deficit back.
The cuts, intended to help close a budget shortfall of at least $17 billion through mid-2005, would end art therapy for the developmentally disabled, scale back food stamp eligibility, reduce fees to doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients and eliminate recruitment programs at public universities.
The cuts affecting the developmentally disabled drew immediate criticism. Schwarzenegger's proposal would save $282 million by eliminating music, art, camping and other nonmedical therapy programs for the roughly 626,000 Californians who have mental or physical impairments that make it difficult to learn, speak or care for themselves. Another cut involves suspending the Lanterman Act, which guarantees myriad services for the developmentally disabled.
Another reduction would save $385 million by cutting cleaning, transportation and other in-home services that the state provides to the elderly, blind and disabled to help keep them out of nursing homes. Advocates for the poor say it would result in 74,200 people losing their care.
The big, bad action hero is going after the most defenseless members of society. It certainly puts things in perspective.

Edited to indicate registration required at LA Times, rather than subscription. My bad.

Do as we say, not as we do?

While continuing to complain about American treatment of Maher Arar, Canada is now planning to deport a suspected terrorist to Syria. I emphasize the word 'suspected' because the individual in question, Hassan Almrei, has been held without charge for two years on a CSIS security certificate. This is a document which allows law enforcement to hold an individual in custody based on secret evidence which the accused and his lawyer are not allowed to see.

This is simply disgusting. How can we look the US in the eye and complain about Maher Arar's treatment when we're prepared to make a mockery out of our own justice system in the name of the so-called war on terrorism?

Links via TalkLeft.

Monday, November 24, 2003

A brief public service announcement

The New York Times has provided a handy page that allows you turn a link to one of their articles into a blog-safe link, i.e. one that won't rot. Nice touch. Hat tip to See Why?.

Credit where credit's due

After giving McGuinty such a hard time recently, I guess I have to acknowledge that I agree with this.
Ontario's new Liberal government introduced key legislation Monday to roll back corporate tax cuts and cancel other personal tax credits as it wrestles with a projected $5.6-billion deficit.

The legislation, which would also scrap the private-school tax credit and axe a property tax break for seniors, fulfils a promise made by the Liberals in the campaign for the Oct. 2 election. The bill also takes the first step toward raising Ontario's tobacco taxes to the national average.

One way or another

Maher Arar sues Syria, Jordan
Maher Arar has filed a lawsuit in Canada seeking millions in damages from Syria and Jordan, accusing both countries of kidnapping, assault and torture.

"He is seeking justice in Canadian courts because unfortunately he will not be able to obtain justice in either Syrian or Jordanian courts," said Lorne Waldman, Arar's lawyer.

"He is seeking justice so the people who tortured him can be held accountable for what they did."
Am I the only who thinks that, aside from the financial motive, this is another way to get at the truth about what happened? More power to him.

The honeymoon's over

A couple of days ago I wrote about the McGuinty government's failure to stop development on the Oak Ridges moraine despite a campaign promise to do just that. I was particularly scornful of the way the outcome was presented as some kind of victory on the Government's web site. Here we go again.

McGuinty campaigned on a promise to end the public-private partnership (P3) hospital deals that the Tories had entered into. The promise wasn't to renegotiate terms more favorable to the taxpayer, but to end the deals. Instead, this is what we get:
Ontario's Liberal government has re-negotiated deals with two Ontario hospitals, allowing private firms to cover the cost of building them with taxpayers repaying the money in the way homeowners pay down a mortgage.
Private companies will provide some services such as laundry in the hospitals, but Mr. Smitherman says the private sector will not be involved in clinical services.
Neither Mr. McGuinty nor Mr. Smitherman would provide many details, saying the contracts will be made public by the end of December.
Maybe here, as with the moraine development, they've made the best of a bad deal. But it's difficult to say when the details of the contract are being kept secret. So when I visit the Government's web site and see this headline:
I get that much more discouraged with our new government. I wonder when they'll announce that the chocolate ration has been increased. These are still P3 hospitals no matter how much McGuinty's spinmeisters try and pretend otherwise.

This Toronto Star article does a fair job of summarizing the last six weeks or so, and indicates that the honeymoon may nearly be over. As far as I'm concerned, it is over. McGuinty obviously made whatever promises he felt would get him elected without worrying about whether he could deliver. He ignored the warnings from various sources, from the NDP on the left to the Fraser Institute on the right, that the deficit was larger than the $2 billion he himself anticipated because it would have contradicted all the claims he was making about what he intended to do. Now he excuses every defeat by blaming it on the Tories and tries to spin every less than satisfactory result as a victory without reference to the fact that it falls far short of what he committed to do.

I'll acknowledge that he's followed through on some things - he's kept some of his promises. But I, for one, can't give him the benefit of the doubt any longer. I pointed out a while back that it was McGuinty himself who made a joke out of the Tories' Balanced Budget Act and then turned around and embraced it. At that point, he accepted responsibility for his predicament and now he has to accept responsibility for backing away from the vision he presented in his campaign rhetoric.

Keeping the terms of this hospital deal secret is a direct contradiction of his promise to bring transparency to government. Pretending that the deal is something it's not is cynical public relations spin of the sort we came to expect from the Tory government that preceded the Liberals.

Sorry, Dalton, from now on you're fair game.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Still stupid after all these months

It's become almost conventional wisdom that the Coalition Provisional Authority erred badly when they simply disbanded the entire Iraqi military. In one bold move, they sent 300,000 disgruntled and armed men out into the streets. Apparently, Bremer and the Governing Council he created haven't learned much despite the increasing evidence that resistance in Iraq runs deeper than just dead-enders and foreign infiltrators.
American's top man in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer, last week fired 28,000 Iraqi teachers as political punishment for their former membership in the Saddam Hussein-dominated Baath Party, fueling anti-U.S. resistance on the ground, administration officials have told United Press International.
Way to win hearts and minds there, guys.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

See Dalton spin

After campaigning on a promise to halt all development on the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Toronto Star reports that the McGuinty government has reached a deal with the developers to drop the number of homes to be built from 6,600 to 5,700, to build those units under stricter environmental guidelines and to expand a proposed park on the moraine. The article characterizes this as "making the best of a bad deal".

The news release on the Government of Ontario web site on the other hand, has the cheery headline:
Government Delivers Bigger, Better Park on Richmond Hill Lands on Oak Ridges Moraine
The outcome may be marginally better than it would have been under the Tories but it hardly matches the promise on which McGuinty campaigned. It's a defeat and presenting it as a victory is just so much spin. And no matter how much McGuinty tries to blame the Tories for the situation this, along with other recent developments, only underlines that the promises he made during the election campaign were rashly made at best, or disingenuous at worst. Treating it like a victory in the web site announcement reminds me of nothing so much as the government he replaced.

The press release on the web site also details some other proposed changes affecting future municipal development and the creation of a 600,000 acre greenbelt in the greater Golden Horseshoe area. This all sounds encouraging but given the shameless attempt to sell a broken promise as some kind of victory, you'll have to forgive me if I hold my applause until these proposals actually become legislation.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Bad move, Howard

Speech gets 2nd reading
A mischievous NDP protest forced the throne speech to be read twice, delaying proceedings for about 40 minutes.
NDP Leader Howard Hampton warned the filibuster is a preview of things to come.
That's right. Forget about doing what's best for the people who voted for you and do everything you can to waste the legislature's time. It only reinforces the image that Ontario's legislators act like a bunch of adolescents. (My apologies to adolescents everywhere.)

I wish McGuinty would give the NDP official party status because I think the 15% of the vote they earned warrants it, and because I think it's in keeping with the spirit of many of the things McGuinty has said about the kind of government he wants to run. But tactics like this make the NDP look irresponsible, not like a party that should be taken seriously.

The further adventures of Lord Tubby

According to this Globe and Mail article, the entire audit committee of Hollinger Inc. has resigned
after the board headed by Conrad Black rejected their recommendations amid allegations of wrongdoing at subsidiary Hollinger International.
It seems to me that when the entire audit committee resigns they're doing so to avoid putting themselves in a position of liability. That's not a good sign.

It was already reported that Black was one of several Hollinger executives to receive secret unauthorized payments. This latest story also discusses investigations by securities authorities both in Canada and the United States, the possible breach of an agreement Black had previously made with the SEC and the possibility that Hollinger International may have "understated" taxes payable in the US by $17 million. It's a mess. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. (I really need those sarcasm tags.)

09:45 PM: Edited for clarity.


I'm back but not entirely up to speed.

Don at Revolutionary Moderation was kind enough to link to me but seemed to be, uh, concerned about my template. Never let it be said I don't listen to my readers. I'd been meaning to fool with it a bit anyway. ("Yeah, sure." I can hear you saying.) We'll see how this goes though I'm sure I'm be playing with it some more. And RevMod is now in the blogroll at right.

By way of actual content, Paul Wells has posted the text of a speech he gave recently and I think it's well worth a read. It concerns the Canadian media, and specifically the state of political reporting and commentary in the country. Wells thinks we're being poorly served and while I disagree with him on one point - I think there was a place for the reporting on cabinet ministers hobnobbing with the Irving family - I agree with the rest. And his blog, Inkless Wells, has also been added to the blogroll.

I'll have more when I get caught up on my reading.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Light blogging ahead

I'll be on the road for a bit, so there'll be nothing new here for at least 24 hours. If there was one topic I'd be trying to stay on top of it would be the Maher Arar affair, but you don't need me for that - there are lots of blogs covering it:

April Follies
Body and Soul
Damn Foreigner
Living In A Society
Revolutionary Moderation

And no doubt a lot I've missed. Take care all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Easter lays an egg

Earlier today, it was reported that Wayne Easter seem to be taking the case of Maher Arar seriously and that it could jeopardize information sharing between Canada and the United States if the rights of Canadians were going to be ignored by American authorities. After one meeting with John Ashcroft, suddenly he's singing a different tune.
While Canadians need assurances that their rights will be respected, Easter cautioned against letting one case shift focus from the importance of security and information-sharing with Canada's biggest trading partner.

"Part of the reason for the discussion is to try to negate the fact that these kinds of things can happen," said Easter. "What we're trying to do is look forward."
One case is too many. It sounds like Easter is saying we should put this down to collateral damage and carry on as we have been. That's not good enough. We need a public inquiry.

I had no idea I was that influential

Ottawa to move on health council without Klein
Despite persistent opposition from Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, the federal government is leaving him on the sidelines and pressing ahead with the other provinces to set up a national council to monitor health care.

“We have got a time track in place that moves us toward the creation of a health council in the coming weeks,” federal Health Minister Anne McLellan said Wednesday.

She said she and her counterparts from other provinces have advised Alberta Health Minister Gary Mar that “we understand his premier's concerns, but the rest of us feel it is time to move forward.

“We welcome at any time the province of Alberta to join us.”
I had no idea Anne McLellan reads my blog. (I should really add smilies or something so y'all know I'm not serious. Actually it was Roy Romanow who suggested they should carry on without Alberta.)

The article goes on to quote Klein to the effect that Canadians are completely ignorant of everything beyond their own individual concerns and have no clue or concern how their tax dollars are spent so Ottawa should fork over the cash and mind its own business. How does this clown guy keep getting elected?

Credit card watch - an ongoing series

Dear Amex:

I asked you people not to do this anymore.


News on Maher Arar

The Washington Post reports "Top Justice Aide Approved Sending Suspect to Syria".
A senior Justice Department official personally approved sending a Syrian-born Canadian citizen suspected of terrorist links to Syria last year after consulting with CIA officials, according to U.S. officials.

Then-Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson, in his capacity as acting attorney general, signed the highly unusual order, citing national security and declaring that to send the man, Maher Arar, home to Canada would be "prejudicial to the interests of the United States," according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
I'd rant but I don't have time right now. I'm sure I'll get to it later.

Meanwhile, from the Globe And Mail:
The United States could lose access to Canadian antiterrorism intelligence if it uses information supplied by Ottawa to deprive Canadians of their rights, Solicitor-General Wayne Easter says.The minister said he intends to raise the case of Maher Arar -- a Canadian deported from the United States last year to Syria as a terrorist suspect -- when he meets today with U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft in Washington.

If there were other cases similar to this, of course, I believe it would jeopardize the [intelligence-sharing] relationship with our greatest trading partner," Mr. Easter said yesterday after a cabinet meeting.

Mr. Easter said Canada and the United States should be able to share intelligence to combat international terrorism and border crime but not at the expense of Canadians' rights.

"We need to ensure that . . . when we exchange information, the rights of Canadian citizens are not jeopardized in that process."
I'd still very much like to see a public inquiry. In fact, I insist. But this is progress.

Update: I should have credited that first link to Body and Soul.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

So now we know

Paul Martin will be Prime Minister on Dec. 12th according to this CBC story. His cabinet will be sworn on that date and we'll have a new government. So we can start bashing them on the 13th. Prepare to present arms.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Mission creep

A computer system to track assets in the Canadian military has taken on a life of its own, it seems. MASIS stands for Materiel Acquisition Support Information System and when development began it was originally supposed to cost $147 million and be used to track "a single equipment category in each of the navy, army and air force". The Canadian Press used the Access to Information Act to review a report prepared by consultants Iteris Consulting Inc. which indicated that projected costs are now $325 million. It seems those in charge didn't know when to stop. Instead of fulfilling the original goals before looking at additional requirements, the project was expanded while under construction to include all equipment in all categories. Since it's now not scheduled for completion until 2006 there's another three years for it to get even bigger and more expensive.

Can you say gun registry? I can.

One more time

After ranting below about the national health council and then going away for a while, a thought occurs. Once upon a time in Ontario, we had an Education Minister named John Snobelen who accidentally got himself videotaped making comments about purposely creating "a crisis in education". His thought was that doing so would make it easier to ram through the kinds of changes he was interesting in making. For those who don't know Snobelen, he was a Tory and part of the original Mike Harris Common Sense Revolution. That particular revolution turned out to be as much a variation on 'privatize the profit and socialize the risk' as anything else.

If I wanted to think the worst of Ralph Klein, I'd be wondering if that's what he's up to here. The more of a crisis there is surrounding public health care, the more vulnerable the system becomes to calls for privatization. But Ralph wouldn't do that, would he? Nah.

What a difference a day makes

Immediately following yesterday's meeting between the premiers and the PM-to-be in Regina, it sounded like real progress had been made. Reports that a national health council was back in the works were particularly encouraging.
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein had been strongly opposed to the health council, which he feared would be bureaucratic and give Ottawa another means of imposing its will on the health-care system, which is controlled by the provinces. The council was proposed a year ago in the Romanow royal commission, which envisaged it shining a spotlight on the effectiveness of the $70-billion government-funded system.

Federal sources said Sunday that Mr. Martin and some premiers spoke up in favour of the council in the meeting, and that Mr. Klein then finally agreed to join.
But today we seem to be back where we started.
Paul Martin's attempts to smooth federal relations with the West hit a snag Monday when Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said there has been no health-care agreement between the future prime minister and the premiers.

Klein said he had not agreed to a federally-proposed health council, despite Martin's announcement Sunday that all premiers and territorial leaders endorsed the idea.
So who's playing who? I don't really care. I've previously reported on Roy Romanow's attempts to draw attention to the lack of progress on this. Romanow indicated that if one premier wanted to drag his feet, he thought the rest should start without him. I agree completely and I'd add that if one province wants to hold things up then Ottawa should make it pay for the privilege. Hold back its share of the extra funds the federal government has promised for health care.

Klein's problem appears to be that he doesn't want to give up jurisdiction. Tough. As previously reported here, maintaining our universal health care system is going to be tough enough without people playing politics with it. We need everybody working on the same page. We need everyone's ideas and insights, every opportunity to save money through economies of scale and every savings that can be achieved through pooling resources. I'll bet if you put it to Albertans in those terms, most of them would agree too.

I also found this annoying:
"We started to lay the foundation for a much better working relationship," Mr. McGuinty said after the meeting. "This was a first date. The good news is, we've agreed to meet and go out again."
I guess it's a cute analogy, Dalton, but you make it sound like working together is optional. It's not - it's your job. Grow up.

Links 'r' us

No longer can I be referred to as pogge the permalinkless. They work now. My bad.

Thanks to blogger support.

How much plastic do you people think I need?

I'm taking this brief respite from posting about current events to address a whole group of organizations too numerous to mention by name. I don't need any more credit cards, thank you.

Please don't phone me. Don't snail mail me. Don't email me. Don't stop me on the street. Don't even think about it.

Thank you in advance.

Normal blogging will now resume.

But he couldda been a contender

In the most definite statement I've seen him make so far, Bernard Lord has taken himself out of the running for the leadership in the united right party.
"I'm not running. I've been clear on that since Day 1. Nothing has changed my mind," he said.
Since he's fluently bilingual and a proven winner as Premier of New Brunswick, he would have made a credible candidate. More credible, I dare say, than Mike Harris. So who's left, aside from Larry Smith whom I mentioned yesterday?
The most likely candidates in the leadership race are Alliance Leader Stephen Harper and Tory Leader Peter MacKay. Former Alliance leader Stockwell Day and Tory MP Scott Brison, who ran for the party leadership last spring, are also believed to be considering becoming candidates.
I'm going out on a limb right now to say that most of Canada, and most particularly Ontario and Quebec, would see Day as a joke. Electing him leader of the party would seal its fate as an also-ran. So it's Harper, MacKay, Brison and Smith. Stay tuned, I guess, but I still can't get too excited about it all.

By the way, I loved the headline on this story.
Lord won't run for right-wing leadership.
I guess petty politics is beneath Him.

Conrad's been naughty while he's been away

The MediaGuardian reports that Canada's own* Conrad Black will be stepping down as chief of Hollinger International after admitting that he received secret payments.
The dramatic turn of events comes after months of bluster from Lord Black, who contemptuously dismissed the "corporate governance zealots" and critics who demanded answers over the �120m in management payments that were uncovered earlier this year.

Lord Black said the �19m, which was uncovered after an independent investigation into the company, would be paid back with interest.

Hollinger International, the newspaper group controlled by the Tory peer, admitted on Friday night that payments received from rival publishers had not been authorised by the board or disclosed to shareholders.
Bluster? From Conrad Black? Naaaah. (As you may have gathered, Black has never been one of my favorite people.)

* He was Canada's own until he and Chrétien had a spat and the latter refused to allow the former to accept his peerage and remain Canadian, whereupon Black moved to England. I was crushed, of course.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Now he's done it

More on Bush's impending visit to London from the Daily Record:
And there was more controversy yesterday over the preparations for his arrival.

It was claimed White House requests for extra security at Buckingham Palace, where Bush is to stay, had infuriated the Queen.

The requests, which were turned down, included rebuilding part of the palace to blast-proof it and having a heavily armed Black Hawk helicopter hovering overhead.
He wanted to rebuild part of Buckingham Palace? Who does this guy think he is? King of the World? Oh, wait.

Do you smell something?

One of the issues that's been much in the news since the recent Ontario election is the matter of development on the Oak Ridges moraine, an environmentally sensitive area that provides much of Toronto's fresh water. The previous Conservative government had imposed a freeze on development there two years ago, and then it was suddenly announced that they had backtracked and given developers the OK to proceed.

During the campaign Dalton McGuinty promised to put a halt to it but since taking office he's begun to hedge on that promise. Apparently the developers who own the land are in a better legal position than McGuinty thought.
...a source close to the talks says the Liberals decided not to challenge the developers' legal right to build.

"They've looked at various legal positions and they've decided they're unable to, or won't, take on the developers."
Further down in that article is this:
In 1999, developer Joey Tanenbaum bought a piece of woodland there. It was so beautiful he called it Gan Eden, the Hebrew name for the Biblical paradise.

Tanenbaum proposed a 2,500-home subdivision for the forest garden. The town and Durham Region rejected the plan. It appeared no development could ever take place.

In 2001, another developer, Mario Cortellucci — a major contributor to the Conservatives — bought the property. People wondered why, Liberal MPP Mike Colle said when he raised the matter in the Legislature earlier this year, as a member of the opposition.

"Your biggest campaign donor ....buys this land, and people said: `You're crazy, Mr Cortellucci. Why would you buy this land? It's frozen.

" You can't do anything with it. It's useless,' " Colle said.

But soon after the sale, the property was made part of the protected moraine area.

That entitled Cortellucci to trade it for development land in Seaton.

How much he'll get has yet to be revealed.
It makes you want to ask "What did he know and when did he know it?", doesn't it?

It's becoming increasingly clear that, at the very least, McGuinty didn't do his homework very well when he put together his list of campaign promises. It's also becoming clear that the developers involved won't lose on this deal no matter what happens. But the rest of us will.

I'm glad he's not coming here

The Observer has a piece on the arrangements being made for Bush's visit to London.
Home Secretary David Blunkett has refused to grant diplomatic immunity to armed American special agents and snipers travelling to Britain as part of President Bush's entourage this week.

In the case of the accidental shooting of a protester, the Americans in Bush's protection squad will face justice in a British court as would any other visitor, the Home Office has confirmed.

The issue of immunity is one of a series of extraordinary US demands turned down by Ministers and Downing Street during preparations for the Bush visit.

These included the closure of the Tube network, the use of US air force planes and helicopters and the shipping in of battlefield weaponry to use against rioters.
The Americans had also wanted to travel with a piece of military hardware called a 'mini-gun', which usually forms part of the mobile armoury in the presidential cavalcade. It is fired from a tank and can kill dozens of people.
A mini-gun? Geez.

A new hat in the ring?

From the Toronto Star:
The man who went from a Canadian Football League fullback to running the league will soon announce a run for the leadership of the newly minted Conservative party, a spokesman said Saturday.

Larry Smith, publisher of the Montreal Gazette, has been gauging support for his candidacy in a series of telephone calls over the last week and will likely enter the race next month.
Sounds about right. It's third down and long for these guys.

(Yeah, I know it's a cheap shot but I couldn't resist.)

Saturday, November 15, 2003

On condition of anonymity

The New York Times today has an article on the Maher Arar affair and once again anonymous "officials", this time American, are attempting to somehow justify Arar's deportation by making claims for which no proof has been offered.
While the administration has yet to make its case publicly, American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the evidence was strong that Mr. Arar had associated with suspected Islamic militants over a long period in Canada. They say he confessed under torture in Syria that he had gone to Afghanistan for terrorist training, named his instructors and gave other intimate details.
While noting in passing that confessions obtained under torture are notoriously unreliable, my main point is directed as these brave souls who continue to speak from behind a veil of anonymity: even if Arar is guilty of something, and that has yet to be proven, it doesn't matter. American authorities broke the law when they deported Arar to Syria and it's entirely possible that Canadian authorities were complicit in that crime. The article states that American officials find the matter "deeply embarrassing". Being embarrassed should be the least of their problems.

Blogger Mambrino's Helmet reports that the Center for Constitutional Rights in the US is investigating the matter and plans to launch a law suit on Arar's behalf against the American government. Somebody gets it. Too bad our own government doesn't when Canadian officials have been so quick to pull the same slimy trick - smear Arar anonymously as if that somehow makes everything understandable.

Matthew at Living In A Society notes that a group of academics from several Canadian universities, led by U of T law professor Audrey Macklin, have written an open letter to Solicitor General Wayne Easter demanding a public inquiry. Let's hope Easter listens because all indications are that he hasn't been listening so far.

Friday, November 14, 2003

A brief bloggy aside

If you're interested in watching the runup to the Democratic Primaries, there's probably no better place to do it than Daily Kos. This site is more than a blog, and more even than a group blog. Kos recently switched the site over to Scoop, the same software that slashdot uses, and is building quite a lively community of Democrats who are closely watching the polls while debating the virtues of various candidates and various policies. They all seem to have one thing in common, though. They're all members of the Anyone But Bush Association. It's an interesting place to visit from time to time.

(I wonder if I'll get in trouble with The Armchair Garbageman for feeding his habit.)

Holy crap

This BBC story about the Henan province in China is just scary.
In the mid 1990's the communist party authorities in Henan encouraged poor rural farmers to sell their blood.

Mobile collection units toured rural villages.

Millions of villagers took up the call.

But the blood collectors ignored even the most basic standards of hygiene.

Dirty equipment was used over and over. Donor blood was mixed together, the plasma removed, and then what remained pumped back into the donors blood streams.

HIV spread out of control through the whole blood collection system.

No-one [knows] for sure how many people were infected, at least 500,000, maybe more.

Link via Crooked Timber.

In his own words

Jean Chrétien, in what will probably be his last major public address as Prime Minister (although with Chrétien you never really know):
My friends, we cannot be complacent, at a time when the opposition is getting together. When in a country of the centre, the opposition is moving to the right.

Canadians should beware of those on the right who put the interests of Bay Street over the interests of Main Street.

Canadians should beware of those on the right who put profit ahead of community ... beware of those on the right who put the narrow bottom line ahead of everything else.

Canadians should beware of those on the right who would reduce taxes at the expense of necessary public services ... beware of those on the right who do not care about reducing social and environmental deficits.

Canadians should beware of those on the right who would weaken the national government because they do not believe in the role of government.

My friends, my fellow Canadians, my fellow Liberals, if you remember only one thing that I say tonight, remember this ... we must never ever lose our social conscience.
Say what you will about Chrétien, most will agree he's a damn shrewd politician. The movement to unite the right has looked so much like a soap opera that I haven't yet given them a lot of credibility as a political force. But if the 'little guy' thinks I should pay more attention, maybe I should. Of course, I suspect that last paragraph is directed at Paul Martin as much as anyone else.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

C'mon, Dalton, be a mensch

Dalton McGuinty is being urged by a group called the Coalition for a Fair Opposition to grant official party status to the NDP. Although the latter won 15% of the popular vote in the election, through the miracle of our First Past the Post system that only translates into seven seats out of 103, which is one shy of the required eight. So the NDP doesn't get a research budget, their time in Question Period is limited to whatever McGuinty will graciously grant to them and the seven elected MPs are referred to officially as Independents and not New Democrats. Government House Leader Dwight Duncan's comment was interesting.
"It's an attempt to get pay increases for their members," said Duncan...
I see political discourse in Ontario has returned to its normally high level.

Personally I think McGuinty should grant the request. He's talked about transparency and he's committed to look seriously at electoral reform. It seems inconsistent to stick to the letter of the law on this point. Of course I voted for the NDP in that election although my guy didn't win.

Monday, November 10, 2003

The right guy won - too bad I don't live there

While I was born and raised in Toronto, I haven't lived there in over a decade. If I was still there I would have voted for David Miller. As it is, my record of never voting for a winner remains unsullied. Anybody who's reading this blog should probably know that.

Don't open that email! You don't know where it's been.

According to the BBC, it's the twentieth anniversary of the computer virus. For a second it occurred to me wonder how one is supposed to celebrate, but I've decided I don't want to know.

Now everyone's annoyed

It seems our illustrious senate has thrown a monkeywrench in the works.
In a bizarre day of politicking, the Senate thumbed its nose at both the outgoing and the incoming prime ministers, and threw a wrench in the timetables of both.

In a 47-32 vote, 21 Liberal Senators joined Tories yesterday to effectively kill a bill creating an independent ethics commissioner, spiking a showpiece of outgoing Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's legislative agenda.

The Senate also failed to pass an electoral boundaries bill creating seven new Commons seats — key to the timing of incoming Liberal leader Paul Martin's expected spring election call.
Senators. Can't live with 'em, can't vote 'em out of office.

This bit certainly caught my attention.
The ethics bill — which would create an independent commissioner to scrutinize the affairs of MPs, senators and public office holders — was part of the "legacy" agenda that Chrétien embarked on last year.

Many senators insisted on the Senate's right to appoint its own commissioner and resisted scrutiny of their private affairs.
Which part of accountability don't these folks understand?

It seems Paul Martin is upset that, instead of a fresh start, he'll have to spend the first part of his mandate cleaning up old business. Democracy's messy, Paul. Better get used to it.

Roy's not the only one who's annoyed

On Friday I noted in passing that Roy Romanow was frustrated because the national health council which the provinces and the federal government committed to forming last February had yet to materialize. In the Nov. 10 issue of Maclean's I found Mary Janigan complaining about the same thing and providing a little more context.
Last year, both the Romanow commission and the Senate report on health care called for the creation of a federal-provincial council to do that monitoring. Premiers, in turn, faithfully promised to create it by last May. They missed their deadline. Two weeks ago, they once again guardedly chatted about the council's creation; most are even preparing lists of their nominees. But it is clear they want to wait until Paul Martin is prime minister, probably early next year. Then, if he finds more federal cash for health care, some will likely move faster on the council.
She also expands a bit on Ralph Klein's problem with this concept.
...the council's mandate remains unsettled. Some provinces, principally Alberta, want to limit its purview to an examination of progress in home care, pharmacare and primary health care.
Meanwhile, back at the Globe And Mail, Jeffrey Simpson is sounding the alarm. Simpson points to numbers from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and concludes that we simply can't afford what we want - a publicly funded all-embracing single payer health care system - without sacrificing other programs or paying higher taxes.

The numbers Simpson quotes are interesting, but I think taking them at face value is a mistake. When there are billions of dollars being spent in what often seems a haphazard manner, it seems likely that some money is being wasted. Still, Simpson makes the case that the issue requires more attention and more honesty from our politicians than it's been getting and I agree. He also provides the rebuttal to Alberta - we need to get the big picture here and limiting the council's mandate won't accomplish that. If Alberta only wants part of a council maybe it will settle for only part of the money?

Finally I found this in a good post from Paul Wells entitled End Game:
...if the Parliamentary press gallery had devoted one-thousandth the energy it has committed to sterile guessing about Chrétien's exit date to even one or two topics of actual interest to Canadians, our readers would know a hell of a lot more about the country than they do.
True that. Maybe if the press corps could take their eyes off the Jean Chrétien Retirement Countdown Clock and focus on a real story they could shame the politicians into living up to their promises.

Perhaps we can't have what we want, or perhaps we'll have to sacrifice more than we realize to get it. It seems to me that answering that question is, at least in part, the reason for having a national health council in the first place. And it seems to me the issue deserves to be treated with a tad bit more urgency than either the media or our elected officials have been able to muster.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Graham Fraser gets it

A powerful call for a public inquiry into the way Canadian officials have handled both Maher Arar's case and William Sampson's.

Democracy means what we say it means

Iraqi workers, eager to flex their new found democratic muscles, are trying to organize unions to bargain for better wages and working conditions. Apparently that's just a bit too much democracy for the Coalition Provisional Authority's liking.
Whenever the new unions try to talk with the managers or ministries that operate the plants, they're told that a law passed by Saddam Hussein in 1987 is still being enforced by the CPA. This law says that workers in state-owned enterprises (where the majority of Iraqis work) have no right to form unions or to bargain for contracts.

The law violates at least two conventions of the United Nations' International Labor Organization. But on June 5, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer III backed up this decree with another that Iraqi union activists say bans strikes and demonstrations that would disrupt economic activity.
Hasn't the CPA heard that President Bush has discovered democracy? It was in all the papers.

The Washington Post doesn't get it

In an editorial about the Maher Arar case, the Washington Post quite rightly condemns the deportation of Arar to Syria. But that's all the editorial gets right. The solution to the problem of what to with folks like Arar, apparently, is to give Guantanamo Bay a thin veneer of 'due process' and send them there. Sorry guys, but you're dead wrong. Arar is a Canadian citizen who, to this day, hasn't been charged with anything let alone convicted. What happened to 'innocent until proven guilty'?

And while we're at it, what's happened to the Washington Post?

(Thanks to TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime which just got added to the blog roll.)

Saturday, November 08, 2003

An open letter to Dalton McGuinty

Dear Dalton:

I read with interest of your intention to keep the Balanced Budget Act and abide by it.
"We've got to balance our budgets, and we've got ensure they are transparently so, so that people have faith that when we say the budget is balanced, it really is balanced," he said.
Transparency has nothing to do with the numbers themselves. They're two different issues.

I can understand that you found the $5.6 billion deficit sobering. And I'll acknowledge that the secret deals the Tories made have left you fighting for the public interest with one hand tied behind your back. But you appear to be beating too hasty a retreat when you embrace a piece of legislation that you, yourself, have mocked and discredited.

Running a reasonable deficit during an economic downturn in pursuit of sound policy shouldn't be a crime. It's too easy to imagine circumstances when this would be a viable option. The corporate world's all consuming fixation with the next set of financial reports isn't something that government should emulate. Shouldn't you be thinking farther ahead than the end of the year?

By keeping this legislation, you effectively agree to play the game by Tory rules. Falling back on the Tory record every time you back away from a promise becomes a losing proposition because you've chosen to play by those rules. You might want to rethink this one, Dalton.


Would you like fries with that?

When productivity rises, jobs can be eliminated. Apparently productivity has been rising.
Economists at Alliance Capital Management in New York took a close look at employment trends in 20 large economies recently, and found that since 1995 more than 22 million factory jobs have disppeared.

In fact, the United States has not even been the biggest loser. Between 1995 and 2002, we lost about 11 percent of our manufacturing jobs. But over the same period, the Japanese lost 16 percent of theirs. And get this: Many developing nations are losing factory jobs. During those same years, Brazil suffered a 20 percent decline.

Here’s the real surprise. China saw a 15 percent drop.
Manufacturing replaced agriculture as livelihood. IT has already boomed and imploded. So what replaces manufacturing?

Friendly fire

In his most recent column for the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson argues that Canadians will never get satisfaction in their quest to know what really happened to Maher Arar. He doubts that a public inquiry will be held and suggests that even if one does come about, it's unlikely to produce answers. The reasons for this, according to Ibbitson, are political.
The United States has invited Canada to join in creating the so-called North American Security Perimeter. The success of that perimeter depends on close interdepartmental co-operation among the many police, intelligence, customs and immigration agencies in both countries.

The sort of hue-and-cry involved in a public inquiry, which could expose the names of officials and the methods used in exchanging information, would erode goodwill between the two countries, leading to mistrust and excessive caution. The perimeter would suffer, along with Canada-U.S. relations.
Ibbitson goes on to imagine a hypothetical terrorist attack that might not be prevented because of hypothetical rules resulting from the public inquiry some of us would like to see. There are too many hypotheticals in that argument for my taste. Arar's torture wasn't hypothetical at all.

If it turns out that Arar is really innocent of any wrongdoing then he's essentially collateral damage in the war on terror - another Canadian who got clobbered by friendly fire. When Canadians in Afghanistan were killed and wounded by American bombs, there was a full military investigation. In fact, there were two since Canadian forces conducted their own. Whether or not we're all happy with the outcome, at least we know what happened and who was involved. Why should we expect any less in this case?
The incoming prime minister has made improving Canada-U.S. relations one of the key priorities of his government. Paul Martin will personally chair a cabinet committee dedicated to the subject.

Ask yourself: how likely is it that the Martin government, anxious to mend political fences with the Republican administration in Washington, will risk pulling those fences down entirely by exposing the bilateral workings of the two countries' security establishments?
I would hope that Martin would also be anxious to ensure that the security perimeter is about protecting the citizens of all the countries inside its boundary. If Americans intend to continue disposing of Canadians in any manner they choose, regardless of international law, then how do Canadians benefit from this improved relationship?

And I would hope that Martin would wish to respond to Paul Celucci's comment which has been characterised in the following manner:
He has said that elements of the Canadian government were pleased that Mr. Arar had ended up in Syria instead of in Canada.
That requires a serious response. If Canadian security officials are conducting, or are even complicit in, so-called 'extraordinary renditions' then Canadians have a right to know and to make a judgement for ourselves whether that's a price we choose to pay for our security.

Ibbitson closes his column with this:
Here's another fact beyond dispute: Since the introduction of defensive security measures in Canada and the United States following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there has been no successful terrorist action against this continent.
Given the secrecy that cloaks the subject of terrorism these days, how do we know that? And even if it were true, I could as easily argue that the lack of terrorist attacks on this continent since the American invasion of Iraq, which has been sold to us as part of the war on terror, somehow validates that invasion even though, by all recent accounts, the attempts to link Hussein to 9/11 were false and the terrorists weren't active in Iraq until after the invasion - after they were issued an invitation by George "bring 'em on" Bush.

I won't credit for a moment the idea that in the haste with which our new security perimeter has been cobbled together, administrations on both sides of the border have gotten everything right every step of the way. And I can't credit the idea that something that appears to be working in other respects, and only appears so by virtue of a lack of evidence, shouldn't be examined when a case like Maher Arar's comes to light. If the agencies that are to protect us from terrorists are themselves above scrutiny, then they're effectively above the law. That makes them potentially as much a threat to our individual lives and liberty as the terrorists are. And if you think I'm the one who's now dealing in the hypothetical, ask Maher Arar.

Friday, November 07, 2003

The post of the week...

belongs to Tacitus I think.


Is there any significance to the fact that we're saying goodbye to Jean Chrétien and Voyager 1 in the same week?

Roy's annoyed

Roy Romanow is peeved. Back in February, it seems, there was a multibillion dollar health accord signed by the provinces and Ottawa. As part of that accord and in keeping with the recommendations Romanow made in his report on Canadian health care, there was supposed to be a new health council established. It hasn't happened yet, and apparently it's because Ralph Klein is dragging his feet.
A key portion of the accord was the implementation of a special council to monitor health spending, set goals for the system and measure progress in reforming health care. However, Mr. Klein has been strongly against the idea, saying the council would be too broad in scope.
I'll bet Ralph wants the money, though. It always amuses me to see someone who styles himself as a fiscal conservative bridle at the idea of having to be accountable for money and apply what would normally be seen as good management practices.

Home improvement

Paul Desmarais spent a cool $40 million renovating his estate near Sagard, Quebec. He's got an 18 hole golf course, 30 private lakes, hunting, fishing - sounds like a great place for parties. Now I'm sure M. Desmariais worked hard for his money and earned every dollar, but I have to wonder why it's fallen to the taxpayers to refurbish the local airport to the tune of $5.3 million so that M. Desmarais' guests will have some place to park their corporate jets.

More spooks

Our former ambassador to Tel Aviv believes Israeli undercover agents are still using Canada as a 'false flag' and getting away with it. Maybe those are the guys we should hire to find out what happened to Maher Arar.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Be vewy, vewy quiet

From Reuters:
Influential Pentagon adviser Richard Perle said on Thursday that Iran was "up to its eyeballs in terrorism" and the United States should quietly be encouraging a democratic revolution from within
How quiet is it going to be now that Reuters has it?

Wednesday, November 05, 2003


It's been suggested that what happened to Maher Arar is called an 'extraordinary rendition'. That's a term that the CIA spooks have for "the practice of turning over low-level, suspected terrorists to foreign intelligence services, some of which are known to torture prisoners".


Alan Dershowitz thinks it's possible and says it's a common practice. Dershowitz has opinions which I think are dead wrong, but on this we agree:
Mr. Dershowitz said that Canadians should be furious about this case and that Ottawa should do whatever it can to hold to account the people responsible for sending Mr. Arar into harm's way.

“If that person knew or should have known that he was sending the person to be tortured, he's violated treaties, probably violated criminal statues as well. Clearly there are consequences,” he told globeandmail.com from his Boston office.
But while we're looking for blood south of the border, let's clean house here too. Wayne Easter thinks we should be satisfied with the RCMP Complaints Commission. That body has little authority and less obligation. And that body is unlikely to shed much light on why, when Canadian consular officials were aware of Arar's plight while he was still in New York, even visiting him there, Arar still ended up in Syria.

The background chatter continues. Now the Washington Post has an anonymous "official" connecting Arar to "al Qaeda". But all the facts presented so far suggest is that he had a passing relationship with someone else that our spooks had put on a list, so they put him on a list too.

We need a public inquiry.

Comings and goings

Sheila Copps has made a deal to back out of the race and let Paul Martin be acclaimed unanimously. Except she hasn't. With all due respect, I find it difficult to get excited either way.

Chrétien is being a tease about exactly when he's going. But he always was a tease.

We're not quite sure where John Manley is going.

But Bernard Lord is staying put. He thinks.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Well exactly

Spotted in a story about a new FCC ruling requiring electronics manufacturers to redesign their products to recognize the digital broadcast flag:
Hollywood's representatives have made clear their desire to have computers, video recorders, CD and DVD players and home networks redesigned to prevent unauthorized copies of movies, songs and TV shows from being made or played. These changes would have to be implemented through government regulations, for which the studios are laying the groundwork in Washington.
Succinctly put. That's exactly what they're doing and their handiwork is in the FTAA proposals too. Trade associations are writing the legislation.

Say what?

A CBC article reviewing the leadership possibilities on the right now that Mike Harris has opted out had this to say about Stephen Harper:
Harper hasn't officially announced whether he'll run, but said he shouldn't be discriminated against because he is the Alliance leader.
Translation: When that leadership race starts nothing I've ever said previously about social policy can be held against me. Pretend I'm a different guy who just happens to look like the one who led the Alliance Party.

Need to know

"Daily life in that place was hell", said Maher Arar, speaking publicly for the first time about his detention and treatment in Syria.

We need to know what happened. Call a public inquiry.

Update: There's a transcript of Arar's statement here.

The quote of the day...

comes from Lewis Lapham.
A government that must hold Senate hearings to discover whether it has a reason to go to war is a government that doesn't know the meaning of war.

Bye, Jean

Chrétien plans to adjourn the House this week and start the transition with King Paul immediately after the leadership convention. He's packing it in. It should be a festive week for some and particularly for those who get early patronage appointments, er, Christmas presents. I don't imagine a lot of work will get done, though.

See you, Jean. It's been interesting.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Log on, log off

The US and Canada may be sitting back down at the table to try and resolve the softwood lumber dispute. They should have had it done months ago but you know how it is - just because trade is free, doesn't mean it's not complicated.

Who asked for this?

Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew proposes that the FTAA contain the same wording regarding health services as NAFTA. I guess that way he doesn't have to work too hard drafting policy documents. Does anyone out there remember being consulted about this? Did I miss another meeting?
[Anti-free-trade activists] think Ottawa is deliberately laying the groundwork to transform Canada's health-care sector into an engine of export growth. That would require a reciprocal opening of the Canadian market.
Maybe their tinfoil hats are on too tight. On the other hand, I don't remember any public policy debate concerning the FTAA and health care. I do remember a lot of discussion about the Romanow report and it argues for something much different.

When NAFTA was negotiated we lost sovereignty. Our ability to make decisions about how this society and this country should run was traded out from under us. Apparently it's going to happen again. Or maybe not.
Unions, churches and international development organizations are mobilizing to scuttle the Miami talks. They have collected more than 54,000 signatures in their "FTAA: It's hazardous to your health" campaign.
That might buy some time, at least.

Lies, damned lies and budgets - part 2

Shorter John Manley to the provinces: Look, guys, there isn't any more money. You know we wouldn't lie to you about this, there really isn't any. And just to prove it, here's two billion dollars. Don't get used to it, though. There isn't any more.

You've had your turn

Mark Mullins has been busy again. This time he's issued a report on behalf of the Fraser Institute criticising McGuinty's deficit fighting measures and disputing the Liberal party's numbers. The Toronto Star article was good enough to supply some context about Mullins' credentials.
[Mike] Harris remains a senior fellow of the institute, while Mullins says he's the institute's "non-partisan" director of Ontario policy studies.
Right, Mark. And I'm Valerie Plame.
Mullins accused the government of "playing politics with the deficit numbers."

"The people of Ontario need to know exactly how the budget will be balanced. What we know today is far short of the clarity and transparency promised by this government."
Our previous government was composed of your ideological brothers and sisters in arms and their clarity and transparency left more than a little to be desired. In fact, the phrase "smoke and mirrors" comes to mind. I think the Fraser Institute should shut up and sit down for a while. It's somebody else's turn.

I wish I'd said that

Several of my recent posts have dealt with secrecy in government in one way or another. Mark Kleiman, discussing Bush, said this:
Last week I posted a note at Open Source Politics listing a number of ways in which the Bush Administration had sought to deceive the voters, misdirect their attention, or keep information from them. Some of the commenters there thought I was being unfair because not every instance I cited involved a direct verbal lie.

That shouldn't be the standard. The standard ought to be that our public officials work for us, and owe us as complete and accurate a statement of the truth as possible, limited only by the need to protect actual state secrets. When they behave otherwise, they are acting disrespectfully towards us, their bosses.
Emphasis added. The onus shouldn't be on us to ask, but on elected officials to make information available. When they make us work for information we're entitled to, democracy suffers.

There's a pattern developing here

This article at rabble is mainly concerned with David Dodge and his time as deputy minister of health (1998 to 2000). But comments from Michael McBane, coordinator of the Canadian Health Council, caught my eye.
McBane says, “Fraud can happen because there is no accountability in Health Canada.”

He told rabble that there is a “culture of secrecy” at Health Canada, which tends not to give breakdowns of its annual expenditures to Parliament.

“[Health Canada] used to have detailed breakdowns, of how the budgets are allocated within a branch: how much money is going to food safety, how much money is going to drug safety, how much money is going to other programs. Now, we have no idea of what's going on,” McBane says.

Furthermore, McBane says that downsizing and restructuring of federal departments — including Health Canada — since the days of Brian Mulroney helped drive out “competent” senior managers.
A "culture of secrecy", eh? There seems to be a lot of that going around.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Access denied

One of yesterday's entries drew attention to government stonewalling of attempts to learn the details and costs of the travelling PMO circus of the last year or so. Today we have this piece by Ann Rees in the Toronto Star.
Political interference is the single greatest obstacle to the public right to know in Canada.

Canadians' right to access government information is being subverted, delayed and denied by federal and provincial bureaucrats and politicians.

A year-long Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy investigation has uncovered massive surveillance and interference in federal access to information requests, and in Ontario freedom of information requests for records that governments fear will lead to bad press and embarrassing questions from the opposition.

The covert surveillance, known federally by such code names as "Amber Light" and in Ontario as "contentious issues management," are run by communications advisers and strategists working for the top elected officials including the Prime Minister, the Premier and their cabinet ministers.
Unelected officials are deciding what information to hide from us and what can be revealed. We've got a problem.

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