Saturday, January 31, 2004

Was it stuffed inside a mattress?

After sticking religiously to a forecasted surplus of $2.3 billion for months, suddenly Team Martin has a rosier outlook. The forecast has now risen to $3 billion and Treasury Board President Reg Alcock is now confident he can come up with even more.
Government "is a big business and there's lots of money all over the place," he said in a recent interview. "There is literally some amounts of money that is just there, just sitting there, that we've discovered."
I feel so much better knowing that they had billions of extra dollars all along, they just didn't know where it was.

It's funny that the 2.3 figure has been the only one we've heard since before Martin and his crew were even sworn in last December, but suddenly, just a couple of days before Martin's first Throne Speech, there's extra money to pay for stuff. Timing is everything, isn't it?

This is off to a bad start

MPs will vet top-court nominees, Liberal says
Judges nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada will face scrutiny from House of Commons committees, says Liberal MP Roger Gallaway, the man Prime Minister Paul Martin has placed in charge of democratic reform.
There might be some merit to this proposal, but there is also a very real danger. We don't need the kind of bitter and divisive battles that we see in the United States where the administration tries to pack the bench with judges of a particular ideological persuasion and the opposition scrambles to block the appointments by any means necessary. This needs to be the subject of thorough and substantive debate, something our new Prime Minister has said he's in favour of. So I have to wonder why Gallaway has tainted that debate right from the start by going out of his way to raise comments made by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin over six months ago and publicly slap her down for them.
And Mr. Gallaway criticized the Chief Justice of Canada for condemning the concept.

Mr. Gallaway, parliamentary secretary for democratic reform, warned Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and other sitting judges who oppose the idea to “remember their proper roles, one of which is to avoid comment on political or parliamentary affairs.”
The voice Gallaway is so abruptly dismissing is the one that speaks for the people who actually do the job. I would think theirs is a point of view that very much needs to be heard here. Who better than McLachlin to speak to the issue of preserving the independence and integrity of the judicial process? If she can't, who can?

There are some things, like minority rights, that shouldn't be decided by opinion poll. That's why documents like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms exist, and that's why we rely for their interpretation, not on politicians, but on independent members of the judiciary who aren't swayed by public opinion and who aren't open to the kinds of compromises that come naturally with the business of politics. When Gallaway frowns on anything that might challenge "the supremacy of parliament" he speaks as though it's impossible for an elected body to make a mistake. If that's what he really thinks then his ignorance of history is surpassed only by his arrogance.

Last month the proposal that surfaced was that MPs would vet prospective senators (sorry, the link's gone dark). So members of the House of Commons would be grilling the people going into the legislative body that's supposed be a 'check and balance' on the House of Commons. Talk about making a bad situation worse.

So far Martin's campaign to overcome the democratic deficit is looking a lot like a campaign to provide MPs with opportunities to act like they're full of themselves. If Gallaway is any indication, it seems to be working. And if this is indicative of the kind of debate we can expect on important issues, I'm not holding out much hope for a good outcome.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Mixed message

Stronach says she'd forfeit her salary as PM
Conservative Party leadership candidate Belinda Stronach has made a pledge that some of the competition might have a hard time matching. She says if she becomes prime minister -- she'll do the job for free.

Asked by Canada AM's Seamus O'Regan Thursday whether she would be willing to give up the cash the prime minister is paid, Stronach responded: "If it demonstrates that I'm in this for the long haul."

"I'm here to make a difference and so I would not be -- I would not be taking a salary," she said.

The multimillionaire made a similar promise over the weekend, saying she wouldn't take the salary offered to the leader of the Opposition. She said she would give up the cash "if it helps to convince people that this is not a job that I need -- it's a job that I want."
I guess Stronach's handlers have given up on the idea of selling her as just another working mother. If they haven't, they probably should now.

The wheels grind slowly

Punitive Damages of $4.5 Billion in Exxon Valdez Case
Fifteen years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska, a federal judge imposed today punitive damages on Exxon Mobil Corporation of $4.5 billion. With interest, the total punitive award amounts to about $6.75 billion, according to lawyers for the 32,000 fishermen and residents who brought the suit in 1989.

Today's decision was the third attempt by Judge H. Russel Holland, a federal district judge in Anchorage, to impose a punitive award that the federal appeals court in San Francisco would uphold. On two earlier occasions, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated awards of $5 billion and $4 billion, not including interest, as too large.
"Exxon cannot escape the fact," he added, "that it knew that it was allowing a relapsed alcoholic to operate a fully-loaded, crude oil tanker in and out of Prince William Sound, a body of water which Exxon knew to be highly valuable for its fishery resources which Exxon knew, or should have known, were relied on by subsistence fisherman.
Here's hoping the third time's a charm. Of course Exxon plans on appealing again.

Link via The Agonist.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004


McLellan to announce Arar inquiry
A full public inquiry will be called into how a Canadian citizen was deported by U.S. officials to Syria, where he was imprisoned for a year.

Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan is expected to announce the inquiry into the Maher Arar case Wednesday morning.
The inquiry is expected to find out what role Canadian security agencies played in his deportation.
Here's hoping it goes even further than that.

Update: The story at that link has already been updated with new information. I gotta run.

Monday, January 26, 2004


...for the sparse posting of late. It's liable to continue this way for a couple more days. This working for a living is a pain in the butt when it interferes with blogging.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Quote of the day

The Ottawa Citizen has a sarcastic and amusing reaction from another journalist to the raid on Juliet O'Neill's home and office. I particularly liked this:
Of course, it's easy to criticize the police, but if they weren't taking away our civil liberties, terrorists could invade the country and take away our civil liberties. Wouldn't you rather this work go to Canadians?
Aren't protectionist sentiments like that frowned upon in these days of free trade?

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Is this story still going?

Grand Jury Hears Plame Case
Sources with knowledge of the case tell TIME that behind closed doors at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse, nearby the Capitol, a grand jury began hearing testimony Wednesday in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to columnist Robert Novak and other journalists.

Prosecutors are believed to be starting with third-party witnesses, people who were not directly involved in the leak of Plame's identity.
The big news here is that there is a grand jury.

This comes on the same day that a group of former intelligence officers petitioned Congress to open an investigation because they're unhappy with the progress of the Justice Department proceedings. Every time I think this story might die, it comes back to life again.

Hat tip to Atrios for the first link, and Just a Bump for the second.

Does this make sense to you?

In an article concerning potential job losses in the Fisheries Department, we learn that there is a lot of concern about the lack of necessary funding required to deal with security issues.
The losses come as concern grows over the state of surveillance and security at all Canadian ports, many of them gateways to foreign vessels some fear could carry explosives and contraband into the country.

A Senate committee last year found alarming deficiencies in port security and recommended a major infusion of cash to beef up resources.

A government panel of scientists and industry officials also warned last year that Canada's inability to detect a terrorist nuclear weapon hidden on a cargo ship is one of the weakest links in the country's security.

Currently, port inspectors examine only about three per cent of the 500,000 containers that pass through Halifax every year.
But we have millions of dollars to spend on a data mining system that will intrude on the privacy of Canadians and make that information available to a foreign government.

What a country, eh?

Not so fast, George

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday George Bush expressed optimism about the situation in Iraq, but that's belied by this story in today's Philidelphia Inquirer (via Just a Bump in the Beltway):
CIA officers in Iraq are warning that the country may be on a path to civil war, current and former U.S. officials said yesterday, starkly contradicting the upbeat assessment that President Bush gave in his State of the Union address.

The CIA officers' bleak assessment was delivered orally to Washington this week, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the classified information involved.

The warning echoed growing fears that Iraq's Shiite majority, which has until now grudgingly accepted the U.S. occupation, could turn to violence if its demands for direct elections are spurned.

Meanwhile, Iraq's Kurdish minority is pressing its demand for autonomy and shares of oil revenue.

"Both the Shiites and the Kurds think that now's their time," said one intelligence officer. "They think that if they don't get what they want now, they'll probably never get it. Both of them feel they've been betrayed by the United States before."

These dire scenarios were discussed at meetings this week by Bush, his top national security aides and the chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity.

Another senior official said the concerns over a possible civil war were not confined to the CIA but are "broadly held within the government," including by regional experts at the State Department and National Security Council.

Top officials are scrambling to save the U.S. exit strategy after concluding that Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, is unlikely to drop his demand for elections for an interim assembly that would choose an interim government by June 30.
Al-Sistani can, and has, put tens of thousands of Shiites into the street to demonstrate against the American occupation. It's only because of his influence that the situation in Iraq hasn't been much worse and if his patience runs out things will get much worse. The White House administration desperately wants to get out* of Iraq by the July 1st deadline in the hopes of minimizing the effect of any unrest there on the presidential election campaign. You can bet that al-Sistani and the Kurds know it and will play the situation to their advantage.

One of the sharpest observers of the chess game al-Sistani has played with the Bush administration is Swopa at Needlenose, which is where that last link leads.

*"Getting out of Iraq" is actually a relative term. This article by Chalmers Johnson suggests that the US doesn't plan a complete withdrawal. Which doesn't surprise me.
In order to put our forces close to every hot spot or danger area in this newly discovered arc of instability, the Pentagon has been proposing -- this is usually called "repositioning" -- many new bases, including at least four and perhaps as many as six permanent ones in Iraq. A number of these are already under construction -- at Baghdad International Airport, Tallil air base near Nasariyah, in the western desert near the Syrian border, and at Bashur air field in the Kurdish region of the north. (This does not count the previously mentioned Anaconda, which is currently being called an "operating base," though it may very well become permanent over time.)
The Pentagon is obviously assuming that the eventual Iraqi government will approve a long term American presence in Iraq. I wonder if anyone's asked al-Sistani.

Republicans spy on Democrats

The Boston Globe is reporting that Republican senatorial staff snooped on the computer files of Democratic senators for at least a year:
Republican staff members of the US Senate Judiciary Commitee infiltrated opposition computer files for a year, monitoring secret strategy memos and periodically passing on copies to the media, Senate officials told The Globe.

From the spring of 2002 until at least April 2003, members of the GOP committee staff exploited a computer glitch that allowed them to access restricted Democratic communications without a password. Trolling through hundreds of memos, they were able to read talking points and accounts of private meetings discussing which judicial nominees Democrats would fight -- and with what tactics.

The office of Senate Sergeant-at-Arms William Pickle has already launched an investigation into how excerpts from 15 Democratic memos showed up in the pages of the conservative-leaning newspapers and were posted to a website last November.

With the help of forensic computer experts from General Dynamics and the US Secret Service, his office has interviewed about 120 people to date and seized more than half a dozen computers -- including four Judiciary servers, one server from the office of Senate majority leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, and several desktop hard drives.

But the scope of both the intrusions and the likely disclosures is now known to have been far more extensive than the November incident, staffers and others familiar with the investigation say.
If you read further on in the story, you'll find that Robert Novak is in the middle of this mess, just as he's at the centre of the Valerie Plame affair. He's like Richard Perle -- he turns up everywhere.

George Paine at Warblogging has a good post up covering the story that includes this:
These Senators are the ones who decide how much surveillance power to give the Department of Justice. These people oversee the Department of Justice's use of surveillance against American citizens. They decide whether the DoJ abuses its power to surveil American citizens. And these very same people who must oversee the DoJ's use of surveillance are abusing their own power. They are exploiting a "computer glitch" to gain intelligence on the completely legal political machinations of their political opponents.

How can we possibly expect these unethical dirty tricksters in the Senate to decide whether or not Department of Justice use of surveillance is ethical, proper or Constitutional? How can we expect these people who surveil their fellow senators to refrain from asking the Department of Justice to surveil political opponents?
This should be a major scandal. Whether it becomes one remains to be seen.


Sorry for shouting in that title, but it's becoming so obvious and yet it's just not happening.

Canada OK'd deporting Arar, reports U.S. TV
Canadian intelligence quietly approved of the United States' decision to arrest and deport Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar to Syria, CBS 60 Minutes II reported Wednesday night.
...60 Minutes II, citing senior U.S. officials, said Canadian law enforcement agencies were fully aware and sanctioned Arar's deportation in the fall of 2002 at the same time Foreign Affairs officials were urging U.S. agencies to return him to Canada.
"While Canadian diplomats were demanding answers from the U.S., it turns out that all along it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who'd been passing U.S. intelligence the information about Arar's alleged terrorist associations," CBS correspondent Vicki Mabrey reported.

"U.S. government officials we spoke to say they told Canadian intelligence they were sending Arar to Syria and the Canadians OK'd it."
It seems the "he said, she said" isn't going to go away unless there is a thorough public investigation.

I had to ask myself why I wasn't immediately 'outraged', to use the word that's common currency since yesterday, at the affront to freedom of the press represented by yesterday's raid on the home of journalist Juliet O'Neill. After sleeping on it, the answer was obvious: it's because I'm not surprised.

My own position has long been that our government needs to call a public inquiry, not just to examine the specifics of the Maher Arar case, but to review the security related legislation that was passed in the wake of 9/11 and the way in which our security establishment has been functioning. The law under which these search warrants were issued is one such piece of legislation and it's further evidence that our response to the threat of terrorism (I refuse to call it a 'war on terror' in a serious context) has been heavy-handed and misdirected, and in the process has threatened the very freedoms we're supposed to be protecting. The cure may well be worse than the disease and that possibility needs to be thoroughly examined.

I'll grant that law enforcement agencies have a difficult job to do in trying to protect us, but in attempting to make it easier for them our government has made it too easy for the security of individual Canadians to be threatened in the name of supposedly protecting all of us. We've allowd a mindset to develop where too many can simply take it for granted that security trumps individual rights, the public's right to know and even the right of elected officials to know, the moment there's even a possibility of 'terrorism' involved.

Being outraged today and forgetting about it tomorrow won't change anything. We need to keep this story on the front burner, which is why I keep pounding on it when there are so many others who do it and probably do it better. We need to stay focused on it and take every opportunity to say: we need a public inquiry.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Arar leaks under investigation

Bump and update

Earlier this month Paul Martin "denounced" the leaks by anonymous sources that alleged ties between Maher Arar and al Qaeda, and Public Security Minister Anne McLellan's office announced there would be an investigation. The wheels appear to be in motion:
Mounties spent hours Wednesday searching the home and office of an Ottawa Citizen reporter who has written about the Maher Arar case, looking for evidence of a possible breach of the Security of Information Act.

Charges are believed to be pending against the reporter, said the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Scott Anderson.
Mr. Anderson said the RCMP search was being conducted in relation to Section 4 of the Security of Information Act, which contains broad prohibitions against unauthorized possession of sensitive government materials. The information law, based largely on the former Official Secrets Act, was passed shortly after September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Now, of course, it becomes a freedom of the press issue which further complicates the situation.
“I think this is a black, black day for freedom in this country and I'm absolutely outraged that we seem to be living in such a police state that journalists are targeted who are giving the public information that is of completely legitimate value to them,” Mr. Anderson said.
Mr. Anderson says he's outraged. Personally I was a bit outraged at some of the stories that were published based on single, unnamed sources so I'm not sure the Citizen is entirely blameless in this affair. But I am sure that the reporter and her employer shouldn't be the only ones under scrutiny and if national security was in fact breached, the culprits on the hook for that are the unnamed officials. It's not clear at this point whether the RCMP's actions are really intended to stifle the press or merely use this route to get at the leakers. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, it's been announced that Arar will file a multi-million dollar lawsuit against U.S. Attorney-General John Ashcroft. Arar is being assisted in this by the American Center for Constitutional Rights. This is in addition to a suit already launched against Syria. It appears that legal action is the only recourse Arar has to get both answers concerning, and compensation for, what happened to him. That leads me to wonder who in Canada he will sue. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it happen and in the absence of a public inquiry I'd be inclined to encourage it. It seems some form of legal pressure is the only way to get to the bottom of this.

Damn Foreigner, a Canadian living in the US, is one of the bloggers who's been following the Arar case from the beginning and has detailed coverage on it. His blog is categorized and that link will take you to the appropriate section.

Via CalPundit, I've learned of an American named Katherine at Obsidian Wings who has also written a lot about it. That link is to the most recent post in her series which contains links to the previous posts.


Via Obsidian Wings, among others, here's the story by Juliet O'Neill that led to the searches noted above. After one reading, I have to say it's not one of the quick, smear pieces that were so objectionable though there are still no named sources. But it's actually one of the most detailed articles on the subject I've seen and I'm sorry I didn't see it when it was first published on Nov. 8th of last year. It's still not clear if O'Neill's really being charged, but the story is getting a lot of attention now, both in the blogosphere and the press.

I guess normal is in the eye of the beholder

Andrew Spicer points to this story wherein Paul Cellucci is kind enough to advise us on how to run our country and asks:
Is this normal, for an ambassador to come out and start making legislative suggestions in public?
No, it's not. Unless you're Paul Cellucci. That's why I call him the Mouth from Massachusetts.

Cellucci has done this kind of thing so often that Canada would be within its rights to compose a formal note of complaint demanding his withdrawal and tell him to deliver it to his boss at the State Department personally. But that's not likely to happen in these times of our new, sophisticated relationship with our neighbour to the south.

That's part of the down side to the closer 'integration' with the US that both Martin's Liberals and, seemingly, the Conservatives want. All the Americans have to do is hint at trouble at the border and suddenly our home grown policies have to be reconsidered.

Is it anti-American of me to say that I don't want to be an American?


An alert and unusually astute reader (named Paul Wells...yes I'm sucking up) pointed out in a comment to this post that I got it wrong when I stated that the press had "clarified" one of Belinda Stronach's policies. In her speech she said she wanted to scrap the capital tax. The Globe and Mail reported that as scrapping the capital gains tax. Silly me for trusting the press (except when it's Paul Wells...OK, I'm done now).

Paul provided this link to a PDF document that explains what the capital tax is:
Both the federal and provincial governments in Canada levy taxes on the capital of corporations. Unlike income taxes, which are paid when a corporation has taxable income, capital taxes must be paid regardless of whether a corporation is profitable. In this manner, capital taxes add directly to the cost of doing business.

Capital taxes influence the decisions of both foreign and domestic investors to invest in Canada. Capital used outside of Canada is not subject to federal and provincial capital taxes. Because capital taxes are not profit-sensitive, they increase risk for investors. Because they also have to be paid in the early years of an investment before a project generates profits, they add to up-front financing costs. In short, by reducing the rates of return on investment, capital taxes are a significant impediment to investment and therefore to the creation of jobs in Canada.
Emphasis added. If I read that correctly, this encourages Canadian corporations to use their capital outside the country. Obviously since I didn't even know this tax existed I haven't put a lot of thought into it, but at face value it seems counter productive on that basis alone. And, as Paul also pointed out, the governing Liberals seem to agree since they're already planning on phasing the thing out by 2008. So score one more for Belinda Stronach, except that we don't need to elect her to get rid of the tax.

This makes my rant about the capital gains tax completely irrelevant unless some other candidate is kind enough to suggest scrapping that as a policy. I recycle when I can.

Quote of the day

I know it's early yet, but I doubt anybody will beat this one. Commenting on the various data mining projects that use airline passenger data to build an anti-terror database:
"This is 21st-century phrenology," said privacy advocate Bill Scannell, referring to the discredited art of reading people's personalities from the bumps on their heads. "You might as well stick a couple of employees in a sub-basement and have them read tea leaves."
Link via Cursor.

A reader writes

Someone emailed me earlier this evening and took me to task for not commenting on Belinda Stronach's policies. I've written previously that I was pretty sure I wasn't the kind of voter that Stronach would be trying to appeal to, but since someone insists, I'll go through the speech and tell you what I think.

I'll be skipping large portions of it, though. How do you argue with "my public service will be defined by values"? As for "government is too big", well, that's a bit vague. And predictable when you consider it's the Conservative party.
To create jobs, let’s scrap the tax on capital and reduce the burden of big government red tape.
[Update: I subsequently learned that the clarification referred to in the next paragraph was actually an error. The following brief rant now has nothing to do with any policy Belinda Stronach has announced. See this post for a correction.]

Subsequent press reports clarified this as scrapping the capital gains tax. So someone who's already well enough off to speculate on real estate can flip some properties to earn himself an extra sixty grand and pay no tax on it. But someone who works his butt off to earn sixty grand, and still can't afford a house because the speculators have driven the cost of houses up, should pay taxes. The rich get richer and the rest ... don't. That's not a policy I can get behind.
To give hardworking Canadians a break, let’s make mortgage interest partially tax deductible.
Please see above. And what about people who rent? This isn't entirely a non-starter but there may be better ways to give a break to those who need one. How about we increase the taxes on the rich and eliminate them entirely for the working class? I told you Stronach wouldn't want any part of me.
To secure our competitiveness and to protect our interests, I would place Canada inside, not outside, an integrated North American security perimeter.

In order to have a strong economy we need to promote an efficient flow of goods and services across our border.
This sounds like Fortress America and it's spoken as if there's no down side. There's a down side and it needs to be acknowledged. Until that's done this isn't a policy, it's a platitude. Why are people who are so critical of Paul Martin (who deserves it) so uncritical of George Bush (who deserves even more criticism)? Besides, Martin seems intent on putting us inside that perimeter too.
The Liberals have weakened our relationship with the United States, our neighbour, ally and largest trading partner.

I want to restore that relationship, based on strength, cooperation and keeping our commitments.
What commitments haven't we kept? And why is there no acknowledgement that America has done its part to damage relationships with Canada and a host of other nations?
To defend ourselves and meet our international obligations, I would rebuild our military, giving our troops the equipment, the funding and the recognition they deserve.
One of the first things I blogged about was the fact that the Sea King helicopters are older than the people who fly them and it's a disgrace. By all means let's have a realistic look at what our requirements and international obligations are. Let's also acknowledge that we'll never spend enough to satisfy Don Rumsfeld and Paul Cellucci.
As Prime Minister I would promote the creation of industry-based technology centres, across the country, that allow young people to learn the technological skills that industry so desperately needs to compete internationally.
I'd like to hear where Stronach thinks the job opportunities will be in the next few decades. And does industry-based mean private? Is the primary purpose of education to produce productive workers or are we interesting in builded citizens too?
We should support higher education by allowing both parents and students to deduct post-secondary tuition from their income tax.
I'm not opposed, but why not just work towards lowering tuition and ultimately eliminating it?
To encourage openness and transparency, government should send patients regular statements, so they see the true cost of the services they have received from medicare.
This is the only specific item on health care - the rest was pretty general. Doesn't this add red tape and expense? Why do I need to see a bill I'm not going to pay?
I oppose the decriminalization of marijuana. This is a question of public safety and public health.
I think marijuana should be legalized. A big part of the public safety problem exists because pot is illegal and therefore driven underground.
While strengthening gun control, I would scrap the gun registry. I would use the money to fight against illegal guns and drugs.
The gun registry is a disaster. The laws are poorly written and whoever drafted the initial budget obviously had no experience with large database software projects. (Not to mention the fact that there's doubtless a ton of pork in there.) But if she's talking about bringing the War on (Some) Drugs™ home to Canada, Belinda and I are really going to have a problem.
I would restore Canadians’ faith in democracy by reaching out to consult with people, by allowing more free votes by MPs, and by creating an independent Ethics Commissioner who reports directly to Parliament.
Stronach could have lifted this straight out of a Paul Martin speech. Who's going to argue with making elected officials more accountable and forcing them to live up to a higher standard?

There you go. There are a couple of things I agree with more or less, but on a number of issues Stronach sounds like the Fraser Institute would get behind her. Business good, government bad. The market will take care of everything ('a bigger economic pie') and America knows best. On some other issues she sounds just a little bit like she admires John Ashcroft. This is not good.

She pays some attention to health care and education, but then I'm sure she knows those are hot button issues with Canadians and particularly where health care is concerned, she's not awfully specific about what she intends to do. If my correspondent would like a more nuanced reply, I'd suggest that Stronach needs some more nuanced policies.

You asked.

Update: edited for spelling and grammar. It was late.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Ed's in

Broadbent wins Ottawa NDP nomination
Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent cleared the first big hurdle on the road to his political comeback tonight, as party members in a downtown riding chose him as their candidate for the next federal election.

Broadbent, 67, won the Ottawa Centre nomination, defeating Paul Dewar, a teacher and union representative.

The nomination vote total was not announced but officials said Broadbent won by a margin of about 4-1. About 1,000 people attended the meeting.
His nomination sets the stage for a major showdown in the federal election expected next spring.

Richard Mahoney, an Ottawa lawyer and longtime confidante of Martin, is the Liberal candidate in the riding formerly held by Mac Harb, now a senator.
Mahoney is expected to bring the full force of the Martin machine to his campaign.
This will be an interesting race to watch.

Why am I not surprised?

This Washington Times article describes, among other things, how census data which is supposed to be private was released to NASA for a project that involved profiling airline passengers as terrorists.
The NASA study highlights concerns among civil-liberties advocates that the government is gathering private information and even using its own data — contrary to repeated official assurances from the Census Bureau — to develop a data-mining system to prescreen all airline passengers.
We can't really take any comfort from the fact that it's the American government, not ours, since our government is only too happy to share data on Canadians with them. If you want to live in Fortress America, you play by Fortress America's rules. I'm just sayin'.

Link via CalPundit.

Sheila Copps feels your pain, Lois

Today was the big day. Belinda Stronach confirmed her entry into politics. And already there's a bit of a controversy brewing. In her launch speech (full text here) Stronach made it clear that she intends to run for the nomination in her home riding of Newmarket-Aurora, and did it in a way that implies her commitment to being an MP won't change even if she's not the party leader. At the same time, the CBC reported that she has stepped down as CEO of Magna and her father Frank is back in charge.

But to win the riding nomination she has to get by Lois Brown first, and Brown's team has gone public with their unhappiness over Stronach's tactics:
Ms. Stronach's powerful supporters are using high-pressure tactics to ensure she wins the nomination in Newmarket-Aurora, likely to be held two weeks before the March 19-21 leadership vote, some Conservatives charged yesterday.

Ms. Stronach's team has urged that Lois Brown, a long-time activist in the riding and contender for the nomination, run for the party somewhere else, Ms. Brown's campaign manager said. Ms. Stronach's campaign team denies the charge. Another Conservative said he was encouraged to help stack the riding association board with her supporters.
I wonder if Brown will get a call from Jack Layton? Kidding.

A commitment to try and represent the riding as an MP regardless of the outcome of the leadership race should go some way to answering the inevitable accusations that Stronach is a dilettante with no long term interest in politics. But the kind of publicity that would surround a nasty backroom battle for the nomination could backfire in that regard:
Peter Seemann, Ms. Brown's campaign manager, said a Stronach supporter did suggest the candidate leave the race in Newmarket-Aurora, saying that if she co-operated, other opportunities would be available. He said he took that to mean she would get the nomination in another riding.

"We're just getting a sense that they're going to do whatever is necessary to ensure that Belinda does not face a fight here, and if she doesn't want a fight here, maybe she isn't suited for politics," Mr. Seemann said.
It's an interesting start, eh?

Monday, January 19, 2004

And so it begins

The Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) has announced its plan to sue forty file swappers for copyright violations.
The 40 individuals have already been chosen through their Internet protocol addresses that identify them when they are on the Internet, said sources close to the lawsuits.

The Canadian Recording Industry Association has yet to obtain court orders forcing Internet Service Providers to expose the identities of the downloaders. Legal experts said yesterday they don't expect CRIA will have any difficulty obtaining the court orders.
Several Canadian ISPs, including Rogers Cable and Telus Corp., said yesterday they will cooperate and reveal subscriber information if CRIA has a court order.
Apparently all the ill will the RIAA has generated over similar actions in the US is lost on their Canadian counterparts.

In other news, winners in the second annual Dilbert Weasel Awards have been announced. The award for the weaseliest organization went to the RIAA, which beat out the White House by over sixteen hundred votes. (Link via Bourque.)

Lord Tubby strikes back

When last we saw our intrepid hero, his problems were compounding faster than the interest on his investments and speculation had it that he was considering a return to Canada in an attempt to foil, or at least delay, possible attempts by the SEC to prosecute him. There's no additional news on any attempt to resume his interrupted Canadian citizenship, but there's a host of other news.

This might be a good time to step back and review. Black owns a Toronto based company called Ravelston, which in turn owns a Toronto based company called Hollinger Inc. The latter owns 30% of the shares, and 73% of the voting shares, of Hollinger International (henceforth referred to as HLR) which publishes The Daily Telegraph in London, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Jerusalem Post and over a dozen smaller newspapers. HLR is based in the US and listed on the New York Stock Exchange which is why American securities regulators have jurisdiction.

The fun started when it was claimed that about $30 million in payments unauthorized by HLR's Board had gone into the pockets of Black and several other senior executives. Since then, accusations have escalated to a point where the Board has fired Black as CEO and is now suing him for over $200 million (a figure they say may yet go higher), the SEC is investigating and suggesting there may have been falsification of records, and a couple of shareholder suits are waiting in the wings while the SEC and HLR's internal audit committee try and sort out just what has actually gone on.

(Aside: There seems to be a fundamental difference in opinion here as to management philosophy. Shareholders seem to feel that they actually have some claim on management and some expectation that senior executives, even including Black himself, will act in good faith. Black's opinion, on the other hand, might best be summed up in this quote from an email he wrote:
We have said for some time HLR served no purpose as a listed company other than relatively cheap use of other people's capital.
It makes you want to review your investments and reconsider keeping a stash of cash in the mattress, doesn't it? And now on with our show.)

Black has now gone on the offensive. He's written a letter to the Board (full text here) claiming that documents he was originally prevented from seeing support his allegation that the unauthorized payments were, in fact, authorized after all. (One of the pending shareholder suits is against the entire Board and claims that they would have authorized anything.) On that basis, Black is now refusing to pay back the $7 million he had already agreed to, even while HLR claims he owes a lot more than that. It's also reported that Black is considering counter suits against individual board members.

But the big news is that Black has been quietly negotiating since December to sell his HLR holdings and have done with the whole mess, and he seems to have struck a deal with the Barclay brothers to do just that. And a pretty sweet deal it is:
They have offered to pay $8.44 (Cdn) for each Hollinger common share, more than double Friday's closing price of $3.90. For Hollinger's two classes of preferred shares, the brothers are offering as much as a 49 per cent premium on Friday's closing price.
Some see this as an attempt to do an end run around the board's investigation. Others see it as an attempt to build up a war chest Black can use to pay all the lawyers he's going to need.

If the sale goes through, it would be the end of Black's reign as a newspaper baron. (He'd still be a Lord though, and he'll always be Lord Tubby to me.) But not so fast. The sale "could still be blocked by US regulators". I don't have to tell you we haven't seen the end of this one. And there's more if you want to follow all the links. One article actually invokes the phrase "criminal charges". Conrad Black doing the frog-march? The mind boggles. Another article raises the immortal question: when is a non-compete payment not a non-compete payment? But I'm stopping now. I'm exhausted.

(Is it me, or is this way more complicated than blogging about politics? I'm just sorry I'm out of popcorn jokes.)

Update: I forgot to give a hat tip to See Why? for the New York Times link and the reference. Schmuck indeed. (Conrad, not Chris.)

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Hey! Nice TV!

I considered commenting on this story about the high tech toys that a civil servant treated himself to at taxpayer expense, but there's a post on it at Pol-Spy from someone who's obviously better equipped to comment than I am. I haven't had a working TV in over a year, so go read Sean.

From the mouths of babes congressmen

Comments on George Bush's proposed Moon/Mars project by Tom Feeney (R. Florida):
...somebody on the face of the Earth is going to control and dominate space in the next several decades and centuries. If it‘s not the United States, it may be a hostile nation, a hostile set of nations, or even a hostile or rogue terrorist group.

This is a matter in part of national security and homeland defense. If we lose our dominance of low Earth and high Earth orbit, bottom line is, we‘re going to risk our very security in the United States of America.
Aside: Al Qaeda has a space program? Who knew?
Ultimately, somebody will dominate space. If it is not the United States, it‘s going to be somebody very hostile to our interests. We can‘t permit that to happen. And NASA, while it needs to work closer with the Defense Department, NASA is part of America‘s leadership and dominance in the future of space exploration and in protecting our security and homeland.
I think America is the only country with the moral capability and authority to establish what I consider a Monroe Doctrine in space, guarantee all free nations can use space, but no hostile nation will use it to take us over.
I think that, ultimately, America has a moral obligation to lead the world in exploration of space. And I think we have a duty, as Congress persons, to make sure that we are able to dominate low Earth orbit, which means the satellites give all of our great military capabilities, the laser-guided weaponry.
There you have it. America has a moral obligation to dominate space for the greater good of the free world or terrorism will win. Could David Pratt explain one more time why weaponizing space isn't something we need to worry about?

While politicians like Feeney use the fear of terrorism to whip up support for this, NASA abandons other science projects like the Hubble telescope because they have to concentrate all of their resources on the Moon/Mars mission, and American corporations like Halliburton, Lockheed and Boeing are blissful at the thought of the all the pork contracts they stand to gain. Does anybody really think Bush had a 'Kennedy moment' when he came up with this plan?

The first link is via Hullabaloo. The rest are via Tristero from a number of posts.

Will Lord Tubby return?

Updated: please see below.

Original post, Jan. 17, 11:22 pm:

Conrad Black left Canada in a huff some years back when Jean Chrétien moved to prevent Black from accepting a British peerage. Now, according to the National Post:
Sources confirm the Montreal-born businessman is preparing to reapply for his Canadian citizenship.
Is he homesick, do you think? Does he miss us? Not hardly. The Post speculates that his reasons have more to do with self-preservation than with any pangs of regret over abandoning the country of his birth. My most recent post about Black's business woes is here, and the adventure continues. As interest in his dealings grows in the US, Canada may end up being a safe haven for him even though there's interest in his affairs here as well.
...if Lord Black regains his Canadian citizenship, the Ontario Securities Commission would likely get the first crack at him even though the provincial regulator is only in the early stages of gathering documents trying to build a case about improper corporate disclosure. The same would be true if the RCMP were to start sniffing around Lord Black's affairs.

And why shouldn't the RCMP join the party? It seems everyone else is 'sniffing around' Lord Black's affairs these days.
A committee investigating alleged financial wrongdoing by newspaper baron Conrad Black has been unable to account for dividend payments from a newspaper in the Cayman Islands to a Toronto-based holding company controlled by Black, The Post has learned.

The development suggests the probe is extending beyond financial deals between Black and Hollinger International — the company that operates Black's newspapers — to detail a pattern of alleged financial misdeeds by Black, sources say.
And the SEC, accusing some Hollinger 'insiders' of attempting to obstruct their investigation and making accusations that raise the stakes even higher than they were, is now playing hardball.
U.S. securities regulators launched a pre-emptive strike against Conrad Black Friday, filing an unusual court action that severely limits his power at Hollinger International Inc., the embattled company he controls.

And for the first time, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged Hollinger's books were tampered with and material information not disclosed.

The SEC obtained an injunction in Chicago that ensures a special committee of the company's board can continue its job of investigating $32-million (U.S.) in alleged unauthorized payments to Lord Black and several of his colleagues.

The SEC said in its complaint that some of the Hollinger insiders who “improperly received corporate assets are attempting to thwart and obstruct the efforts of the special committee.”

The regulatory body, which previously had been silent as the scandal at Hollinger unfolded, also alleged that certain Hollinger employees “falsified” corporate books and records, and that the company failed to disclose material information relating to certain deals. For example, the SEC claims that, in February of 2000, books and records were “altered” in order to “mischaracterize certain payments as non-competition payments.”
Sounds serious. If I had any spare investment capital laying around I think I'd put it here because lots of us will be watching this one.

Telegraph tycoon sacked and sued
Media tycoon Conrad Black has been removed as chairman of the Hollinger group and is being sued for damages over unauthorised payments to him.

He is the subject of a $200m (£108m) lawsuit but denies any wrongdoing.
It's getting hard to keep up with this.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

You asked

As I mentioned in the comments to this post, I've had quite a few hits over the last week or so from google searches on Belinda Stronach. Since people are obviously curious about her, here's a link to a fairly long Globe and Mail piece that provides as much information on her as anything I've seen recently.

You won't find out much about her stands on particular issues.
For more than a week, Ms. Stronach and her new cadre of political advisers waffled over giving media any early access to her thinking. She first promised a family friend and adviser that she would happily speak at length to The Globe and Mail at her home, then dropped it down to a telephone call, then to not even returning the friend's calls due to “complications.” When it became apparent that a story would appear with or without her involvement, an adviser said early Friday she would make time to talk. In a three-hour period Friday afternoon, the interview was on again and off again so often the newspaper lost count, only to have it finally cancelled owing to what were termed “corporate responsibilities.”
But you'll get some details on her background and a little on her decision to enter the leadership race. That's all I've got for now.

Why don't I feel safer?

Air travellers face screening
The Canadian government is spending millions of dollars on a program to assess the terrorist risk posed by air travellers.

The project aims to develop a sophisticated "risk scoring" capability and the technical ability to share that information with the United States, according to interviews and documents released under access to information legislation.

The initiative goes beyond the collection of basic passenger information that the federal government authorized after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
The article goes on to say that, essentially, we're cloning the controversial American system that will label each traveller with a colour code. If the system indentifies you as "red", you don't fly.

Recently I pointed to the fact that Revenue Canada's database will be available to American officials, giving them access to your financial records. Now they'll have access to your comings and goings as well. In the name of the War on Terror™, our government seems to be quite willing to give up any claim to privacy Canadians might have. And I don't recall the matter being subject to any consultation or debate.

Given the recent performance of CSIS and the RCMP, I don't feel any safer. I feel more at risk.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Why Arar was under suspicion

Arar case began amid fear of attack on Ottawa
Canadian counterterrorism agents were investigating the possibility of an al-Qaeda plot to blow up targets in Ottawa when they began a probe that would lead to the detentions of Maher Arar and several other Canadian Muslims half a world away.
In late August, 2001, U.S. border guards discovered a single sheet of paper — a schematic map of Ottawa marking government buildings and nuclear research facilities — in an 18-wheeler driven by a man named Ahmad Abou El-Maati.
The story goes on to describe the chain of events that ultimately led to Arar's deportation to Syria. It also quotes a "government source" saying:
I know a lot of people don't believe this, but we are involved in a war — it's called a war on terror. And in any kind of war, innocents are hurt.
No, we're not at war. The danger from terrorism is real but when you allow the Bush administration to frame it as a "war", you allow it to justify the erosion of civil liberties and the abuse of the justice system in a way that would never be tolerated if you view terrorism as a criminal justice issue. It's become increasingly apparent that the Bush administration used 9/11 in a cynical manner to push a prior agenda. Whether Canadian officials were just as cynical, or simply overreacted, remains to be seen but the Arar case makes it plain that something's wrong.
...Muslim and Arab groups are beginning to push for a broadening of any public inquiry into the Arar case to examine why information gathered in Canada seems to be playing a recurring role in the detention of Canadians abroad.
They have my support.

Make a liar out of me. Please.

On our behalf, our Defense Minister David Pratt has written to Donald Rumsfeld to formally indicate Canada's interest in participating "in the current US missile defence program and expanding and enhancing information exchange". The full text of Pratt's letter, along with Rumsfeld's reply, is here.

And while Pratt acknowledges Canada's long standing opposition to the weaponizing of space, he feels that's a concern we need not have.
But Mr. Pratt feels that that prospect is so remote as to pose no problem.

“I think there is a recognition that even the possible use of weapons in space is so far off into the future, that this is not a concern that we're having to deal with,” he told The Globe and Mail last week. “This is not an issue that this government will have to deal with, that the next government is going to have to deal with, or even the government after that. This is so far off into the future that it may never happen.”
I think I can guess at Pratt's preferred method of birth control: don't worry, honey, I'll pull out in time.

The current White House administration believes in America's right to pre-emptively invade sovereign nations. (Given the occupation of Iraq, I don't think I need to back that up with a link.) It has moved in recent months to renew research on nuclear weapons and has stated publicly that it reserves the right to use these weapons on a first strike basis, even against non-nuclear powers. And it has a publicly stated policy of weaponizing space. (See in particular Chapter 3.)

If our government has any compelling reasons for pursuing a closer defense relationship with an American administration whose policies so clearly contradict the positions Canada has publicly taken in the past, Pratt certainly isn't presenting them. Instead he's assuring us that we need not concern ourselves simply because by the time the weapons are actually in space, some other government will be in charge.

Personally I'm adamantly opposed to the policies Pratt so clearly favours, but if a majority of Canadians disagreed with me then our government would be correct to pursue those policies. But how can we determine that without a thorough consideration of the issues and some kind of public debate? Can we agree that this represents a serious development in terms of Canadian foreign and defense policies? And all Pratt can come up with is that the logical extension of those policies won't happen for a few years so we should stop worrying and ... what? Go shopping?

I've gone on record here as saying that the Martin Liberals will win a majority government in the upcoming election. I would so love to be proven wrong.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Not quite a coronation

Tony Clement is definitely in the race for the Conservative leadership.
"I'm in, and I'm in to win," Clement told a news conference in Ottawa.
And he's coming out swinging.
He also took a swing at his leadership rivals. "The new leader must not just have the ideas to govern, but also the proven experience to govern," he said.
He went on to say that both MacKay and Harper should "step aside" for the party to have a chance to win. That's about the tone I expected from Clement.

And Belinda Stronach will formally announce her candidacy next week.
Ms. Stronach, president of Magna International Inc., has already attracted substantial organizational support, including former Ontario premier Mike Harris, former Harris chief of staff Guy Giorno, a number of builders of Mr. Harris's Common Sense Revolution in Ontario, and some supporters of Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. Tory organizational guru John Laschinger is expected to manage the campaign.
So Stronach is the 'Common Sense' candidate. Great. This oughtta be fun.

Meanwhile there's a little dissension in the ranks. It's now expected that Chuck Strahl will bow out.
Canadian Alliance MP Chuck Strahl said yesterday he has become increasingly frustrated by his inability to get hold of the rules under which the race will be run.

"I think that the way I have to milk information out of the organization as a candidate that would like to run, I think, is appalling," he said.

For example, he said he has no idea yet whether the committee that sets the rules will cap the amount an individual can donate. He has received an offer of a $25,000 donation, but is not sure whether it would be all right to take it, he said.

"It's going in the direction opposite of what it should be going," Mr. Strahl said.

"It should be more open. You should be helping people to run, rather than leaving them guessing and hoping for the best."

He also said the $100,000 fee to run for leader is also too high.
And there are some complaints that Harper's tactics border on intimidation.
Several sources told The Globe and Mail that supporters of Mr. Harper fanned out through the Alliance caucus in late October and early November seeking signatures of support for his intended candidacy as leader of the new, merged party.

The effort angered some caucus members, who said the move smacked of intimidation, while some others said the request was offensive because their word of support should have been good enough. The effort took place in the fall, when Mr. Harper was still leader of the Opposition.
They wanted some profile for this contest. Be careful what you wish for.

Syria frees Canadian

Muayyed Nureddin, an Iraqi born Canadian who was detained by Syria and has been held since Dec. 11th, is now free and on his way home. The last post I did on Nureddin is here. Dan McTeague, the MP with "special responsibility for Canadians abroad", said:
Once we knew of his detention, consular officials did their very best to get in touch with him, I know (Foreign Affairs Minister) Bill Graham had worked diligently with the Syrian ambassador and I did the same, to try impress upon them that if this man was not being charged with anything he ought not to be detained.
There's nothing in the article to indicate why Nureddin was detained in the first place or precisely why he was released. It will be interesting to see if there's any follow up on this case. The article does note that two other Canadians are being held by Syria:
Since the release of Canadian Maher Arar and now, Nureddin, two Ottawa men remain in Syrian jails. McTeague said last night he did not have any new information concerning Abdullah Almalki, who Arar said he saw while detained, and Arwad Al-Bouchi.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Maybe he should forget touring and just stick to the studio

Yesterday we saw our new Finance Minister Ralph Goodale talking out of both sides of his mouth. Either that or reporters from two different newspapers heard the same words and took two diametrically opposed meanings from them.

Today Goodale continued his pre-budget tour and proved that, aside from having trouble with numbers, he doesn't understand the meaning of the word irony either.
The purpose of the meeting was to let a small group of people see the process a finance minister goes through, said Goodale, who stood in front of two large red banners bearing the words "Listening to Canadians."
Listening to only a select group of Canadians, it seems. It was by invitation only.

We've been had

By all accounts, Bill Graham and Paul Martin are busy patting themselves on the back. They've reached an "unprecedented" arrangement with the American government concerning the possibility of the deportation of Canadian citizens to third countries where those citizens might face imprisonment and torture without the legal protection they would receive here in Canada. Those deportations could still take place, you understand, but now Canada will be informed in advance and have the opportunity to "consult". "Expeditiously" even. Big hairy deal.

When Martin first addressed the case of Maher Arar, he made much of the necessity for the Canadian passport to be respected. Apparently it isn't the person who actually holds the passport he's concerned about, but the diplomatic officials who were "blind-sided" when the Americans acted without informing Canada first. Martin insisted he wanted to get to the bottom of what happened to Arar, but apparently as long as he's satisfied the rest of us, including Arar himself, will just have to take Martin's word for the fact that everything is fine now. We have an arrangement. We even have a letter from Colin Powell. That and a couple of bucks will get you a coffee at Starbucks.

The point of this exercise should have been to ensure that no Canadian citizen would be denied due process. Instead:
Martin also said it was unrealistic to expect the Americans — or the Canadians for that matter — to totally give up the right to deport citizens to a third country, and this was not among Canada's demands.
What purpose does the deportation to third countries serve except that those third countries, such as Syria, employ methods to extract information that are illegal here? Martin has now confirmed that his administration, like the Bush administration, reserves the right to decide which of us should benefit from the legal protections to which we're all supposed to be entitled, and which of us are expendable. As far as I'm concerned we've been betrayed. Maher Arar, the real victim in this incident, has been betrayed again. And he knows it.

I still intend to take every opportunity to call for a public inquiry. But I seriously doubt we'll get it. It seems Martin will act to satisfy himself and the rest of us will just have to be satisfied with that.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Things that you go "Hmmmmm"

National Post, Jan. 13, 2004
The federal Finance Minister says he expects the budget surplus this year will be well above the current forecast of $2.3-billion, and he intends to earmark some of that extra money to pay down the debt.
"Our objective is to make sure that it's more than $2-billion, indeed substantially more than $2.3-billion, so that we can not only stay in the black and deliver on health care, but also have the flexibility to do some other things, and also make a reasonable payment on debt," he said in Regina where he kicked off two weeks of pre-budget consultations. "We think we'll be successful in that."

Mr. Goodale said the federal government's goal is to pay down $3-billion a year on its debt of just more than $500-billion.

Toronto Star, Jan. 13, 2004
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale is sticking by his forecast of a $2.3-billion budget surplus for the current fiscal year, despite Opposition claims it will be anywhere from $4 billion to $8 billion.

Speaking to reporters following a speech today in Montreal, Goodale said he wants to retain a cautious forecast in case he can't meet promises to pay an additional $2 billion to the provinces for health care during the fiscal year ending March 31.

"The best advice I have at the moment is that our margin remains at $2.3 billion even though the growth estimate for 2003 was reduced to 1.6 per cent," Goodale said, compared to 3.5 per cent growth forecast in the last federal budget. "That could put even greater pressure on our situation."
I was trying to think of something to say, but it really speaks for itself.

Timing is everything

Bush Signs Anti-Corruption Proclamation
President Bush acted Monday to bar people involved in corruption from the United States, a move that coincides with one of his goals at a summit meeting of 34 Western Hemisphere nations.

Corruption of public institutions hampers U.S. efforts to promote security and strengthen democratic institutions and free-market systems, Bush said in a proclamation the White House released at the two-day summit, which began Monday.

Cheney's Nigerian Mess
A judicial investigation has been opened with regard to “the bribery of a foreign public official”, for the first time in France. It focuses notably on the French company Technip and the American Halliburton, which were associated in a Nigerian operation. ... It’s within this new judicial framework that the Judge Renaud Van Ruymbeke is conducting his investigations and the Paris court contemplates an eventual indictment of the present United States’ Vice President, Richard Cheney, in his capacity as former CEO of Halliburton.
They may have to move that 'undisclosed location' way far away.

The game is afoot. Sort of.

Sunday's post on the Conservative leadership contest was obsolete by Monday morning, when Jim Prentice withdrew citing a lack of funds. For a while there, no one was running. But as expected, Stephen Harper formally kicked off his campaign yesterday evening with a big sloppy kiss from Marg Delahunty, Warrior Princess. (The campaign was expected, not the kiss. Did I have to explain that?)

So far Harper is the only contender. Peter MacKay announced today that he is not running, saying that "this is not my time". And while Belinda Stronach, Tony Clement and Chuck Strahl (who I overlooked on Sunday) are all still seriously considering it, none of them have officially announced.

Don at All things Canadian has a post up with a link to a PDF copy of the speech Harper gave to start things off. Not surprisingly, it reads as though the Conservatives expect to win, to "drive the Liberals from power", though I certainly don't think that's likely this time around.

In fact there's nothing too surprising in the speech. Lower taxes. Law and order. More power and money to the provinces. Harper has brought forward the Alliance policies of an elected senate and fixed election dates. There's also a fair amount of Martin-bashing with Harper casting himself as more the common man than Martin, more in touch with the lives of everyday Canadians. In many ways that may be true. And since the Prime Minister is a pretty conservative Liberal, the Conservatives will have to work to find ways to differentiate themselves and their leader from Martin.

Don wonders if the leadership race won't amount to a coronation, a single ballot victory for Harper. I think he's right. Since Harper has the support in the west, Strahl needs support elsewhere and doesn't have the profile. Stronach doesn't have the experience or the profile in politics, and Clement is tainted in Ontario by his association with the Harris/Eves Tories. Yes, Don, a few more candidates would make it more interesting for us, but like you, I doubt it will affect the outcome very much.

So what happens in the spring election? I'm still expecting a Liberal majority unless there's a scandal or disaster of major proportions. I'm no fan of Stephen Harper, but I've always known he's a smart cookie and he's proven to be a much more savvy politician lately than I originally gave him credit for. I just don't think he can overcome the obstacles he would face in the short time left before an election. The Conservatives are too far behind, and they have to overcome the perception that they're just the Alliance with a new name. And the speech I read didn't do all that much to dispel that perception.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Quote of the day

Our new Finance Minister, Ralph Goodale, launched his pre-budget tour today. (Geez, that sounds strange. Do you think the Liberals spent too much time with Bono at that convention last November?) Most of his remarks were quite bland - the usual stuff about sound fiscal management and living within our means, yada, yada, yada. But he couldn't resist taking a shot at NDP leader Jack Layton, and after chiding Layton for vastly overstating the size of the corporate tax reduction that came into effect this year, he followed up with this:
He espoused principles of arbitrary taxation which went out of fashion about the time of the Boston Tea Party.
Now the pre-revolutionary Americans were quite excited about "no taxation without representation", but I don't think Goodale is suggesting that corporations are denied representation or he'd be suggesting that corporations shouldn't pay any taxes at all. So what the hell is he talking about? It certainly sounded impressive though.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Somebody still doesn't get it

You would think an article with the headline "PM to press Arar issue in talks with Bush" would suggest hope that a case like Maher Arar's might never happen again. But a close reading suggests otherwise.
Canadian officials agreed yesterday that Ottawa likely will never receive a blanket promise from the United States that it will not deport to third countries Canadian citizens suspected of being security risks. These instances almost invariably would involve Canadians with dual citizenship, such as Mr. Arar.

“A veto would be perfect, but we don't live in a perfect world,” a Canadian official said.

But, at a minimum, there must be notification and full consultation with Ottawa — and not just involving officials in the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, but at senior political levels. In some cases involving Canadians suspected of being security threats, another official said, Ottawa could deem deportation acceptable. But never if the government is kept in the dark.
So the deportation of Arar would have been acceptable if the Canadian government had been kept 'in the loop'? That's ludicrous. And so is this:
It is unlikely that Mr. Martin and Mr. Bush will make an announcement on this issue on Tuesday after their meeting, which remains a get-acquainted discussion and will touch on other bilateral issues such as the mad-cow crisis, the softwood lumber dispute and the ban on Canadian companies winning reconstruction contracts in Iraq. Canadian officials say, in fact, that any protocol arising from the Arar case may never be made public — or at least details of it — owing to security concerns. But rules, they emphasize, must be drafted and followed.
Emphasis added. If the rules are kept secret from us, then how will we know that governments on either side of the border are abiding by them? And how does revealing the specifics of a policy which, by its very nature, is generic and doesn't include any specific information about people or events compromise national security?

If this is wishful thinking by officials who are hoping for a situation where they and their cronies will still be able to cover their asses, then I hope Paul Martin will disillusion them very quickly. If this is really Paul Martin's idea of policy, then I think we'd better be ready to fire up our email programs and deluge Martin and his ministers with complaints, because this is unacceptable. And the time to make Martin understand that is now, while he's preparing for a spring election. You can bet I'll be watching the news over the next few days.

Let the games begin

Tomorrow is the day when Stephen Harper officially announces what everyone already knows: he's running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Given that, I expect we'll finally see this thing move from speculation to actual campaigning.

Harper's announcement will mean there are officially two candidates for the position, the other being Calgary lawyer Jim Prentice, who previously mounted an unsuccessful bid for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives. Conventional wisdom had it that Peter MacKay would be in the race, but lately it seems that's up in the air since a run by Belinda Stronach would divert some of the funding that MacKay was counting on.

Stronach seems set to enter the race, saying she's 'intrigued' by the idea. I wonder if she'll still be intrigued when she experiences the rough and tumble of politics first hand. Meanwhile, the positioning has begun:
Sources in the Ontario PC party say Stronach will be promoted as a "working woman" who juggles work and a home life like millions of others.
Yeah, right. She's just like any other working woman who makes $9 million a year. I think that one will be a tough sell.

The other hat that seems increasingly likely to get tossed into the ring belongs to Tony Clement. For those not familiar with Ontario politics, Clement is an original member of the Mike Harris 'Common Sense Revolution' crew that came to power in Ontario in '95, served two terms, and then got unceremoniously dumped in the election last October. Clement lost his provincial seat in that contest.

His reputation is that of a pretty conservative conservative and during his tenure as health minister he was give the nickname 'Two Tier Tony', suggesting his commitment to single payer healthcare is somewhat less than whole hearted. It should be pointed out that even many on the left admit to grudging admiration for his handling of the SARS crisis in Toronto. He wasn't AWOL when the heat was on, so it isn't his willingness to work that's likely to be scrutinized - it's his politics. And maybe his campaigning style.

The Ontario Tories earned a reputation for negative campaigning and it already seems that Clement may be employing the same backroom people. Referring to Belinda Stronach (from the Toronto Star link above):
"She's Paul Martin in a cocktail dress," said one senior Clement adviser, noting that like the multi-millionaire Prime Minister, she has little in common with ordinary Canadians.

"Why would we, as the Conservative Party, pick a leader like her, who cannot attack Martin for being Richie Rich with a private jet and wealthy friends?" said the insider.
This could yet get interesting. Bloggers, start your engines.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Privacy? Who needs privacy?

Yanks will see your tax data
U.S. border agents will soon have access to the immigration and tax records of Canadian residents for use in nabbing terrorists before they cross the American border. U.S. officials said an impending merger of Canadian and U.S. immigration and customs databases will also help them intercept illegal aliens, criminals and fugitives.

Officials said ... U.S. officers will have access to Revenue Canada files, which contain tax information on Canadians, including their work records, property owned and investments.

That information may lead to unemployed people being refused entry into the U.S., officers said.
Right. Because everyone knows 'unemployed' is just another word for 'terrorist'.

Syria's got him

Last Sunday CTV News broke the story of Muayyed Nureddin, an Iraqi born Canadian who had gone missing after visiting family in Iraq and who had intended to come home early in December by way of Syria. I pointed to the initial story here, and followed up subsequently with the news that CSIS had shown a great deal of interest in Nureddin and the school at which he was principal.

On Tuesday we learned that Dan McTeague, the new parliamentary secretary for the foreign affairs minister with "special responsibility for Canadians abroad", was getting personally involved with the intention of determining Nureddin's whereabouts. (I guess the government learned something from the Maher Arar case.) That story provides a timeline of Foreign Affairs' involvement in the case up to that point.

On Thursday, government sources confirmed that Syria took Nureddin into custody on Dec. 11th and that he's being held in a Syrian prison. Apparently, Foreign Affairs is still waiting on Damascus for information as to precisely why Syria took this action. Or perhaps Foreign Affairs knows why and doesn't want to say. As I wrote previously, the absence of public scrutiny into cases like these only encourages suspicion about our own government's involvement.

During all the publicity about Arar and William Sampson, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham was questioned about the soft spoken approach he was taking with foreign governments in cases like these. He defended that approach as the best way to get results, but since we now have another Canadian in custody in Syria, and Damascus still seems to be taking its sweet time in providing information about him when Canada's first formal inquiry concerning his whereabouts dates back to Dec. 22nd, I have to wonder whether it isn't time to be a little more aggressive.

I also find it interesting that while the story broke on CTV, a Google News search on "Muayyed Nureddin" turns up only Toronto Star stories subsequent to that. Given the amount of publicity generated by the Arar case, I would have thought that the other major media outlets would find this story more newsworthy and I find it curious that they haven't. I hope the Star, at least, stays on top of it. The media pressure can only help.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Silence is golden?

According to the site meter my traffic has gone up a bit over the last few days while I haven't been posting. Are you folks trying to tell me something?

Thanks for dropping by. The project which has consumed all my time lately is almost done and posting will resume shortly, so please come again.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


It's the time of year for reflecting on the past and contemplating the future and bloggers, it seems, are as much prone to both as anyone.

I've only recently discovered How to Save to World, but I've quickly learned that when Dave Pollard does something he does a thorough job of it. In this post he discusses the 10 most important ideas of 2003 in the realm of blogs and blogging. Complete with flow charts. I told you he's thorough. As a taste, here's idea number 4:
Blog functionality is a critical component of Social Networking, and Social Networking will transform blogging (and also transform the Internet, the media, the way we communicate, and even the evolution of business) - Social Networking Applications (recently voted Technology of the Year by Business 2.0 magazine) will go beyond just allowing you to publish what's on your mind and browse what's on other people's. They will allow you to map and manage your networks, the communities to which you belong, your strong and weak ties. They will evolve blogging from clumsy, mostly one-way communication to a rich, two-way seamless multi-media communications medium that will allow you to identify and connect simply and powerfully with people you want to know better (for personal, practical or business reasons). Build deep relationships. Collaborate on awesome projects. Find the next president.
Emphasis in the original. And remember that part about finding the next president.

A couple of days before this post, Dave also gave us Time Savers for Bloggers: 14 steps to writing a better, more effective blog in less time. I'm still working on them. Seriously, there's good advice here if you're determined to 'be all you can be' as a blogger. Just don't get too cocky and forget one of Oliver Willis' wishes for 2004:
Less blog triumphalism. It's geeks with websites.

The Blogging of the President: 2004 is an ambitious group blog established to document the way blogging is changing the face of American politics.
Larry Lessig recently wrote, "When they write the account of the 2004 campaign, it will include at least one word that has never appeared in any presidential history: blog. Whether or not it elects the next president, the blog may be the first innovation from the Internet to make a real difference in election politics."

The Blogging of the President will document the role of the blog in the presidential campaign of 2004.
In this post, Christopher Lydon looks back at their first year, ahead at the next one, and speaks hopefully of the role the internet can play:
At the level of individuals, as blogging now demonstrates, the Internet can lift the suffocating burden of "mass" media off the expressive ambition that is born in each and all of us. At the national level--as in Iran's reform movement, in South Korea, in the Dean campaign--free Internet conspiracy can topple holy hierarchies of corruption and other bad habits. Globally, the Internet is the main avenue and new model of instant interactivity across borders of every kind. The way is open, easy of access, inherently anti-imperial, as individual and intimate as it needs to be, and also a public resource for mobilization on a staggering international agenda.
So it's all that? I just wanted a place to rant. But I guess that's the beauty of it. You can make these things into almost anything you want them to be.

Update: Hat tip to Melanie at Just a Bump in the Beltway for pointing me to the Christopher Lydon piece.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Guilt by association

Damn Foreigner points to a good piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on Maher Arar by an American named Christopher Pyle, who teaches constitutional law and civil liberties. The whole story is worth reading but here's the money quote in my opinion:
Why was Arar on our government's watch list? Because "multiple international intelligence agencies" had linked him to terrorist groups. How many agencies? Two. What had they reported? Not much.

The Syrians believed that Arar might be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Why? Because a cousin of his mother's had been, nine years earlier, long after Arar moved to Canada. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that the lease on Arar's apartment had been witnessed by a Syrian- born Canadian who was believed to know an Egyptian Canadian whose brother was allegedly mentioned in an al Qaeda document.

That's it. That's all they had: guilt by the most remote of computer- generated associations.
Unlike those who keep insisting that Maher Arar really is a terrorist, this fellow puts his name on his work.

Is the relief pitcher warming up?

It seems like just yesterday I accused Paul Martin of leaving a pitch hanging out over the plate. Oh wait, it was. And sure enough, Paul Wells gets hold of the story, takes a completely different angle on it than I did, and hits it out of the park. The post is called Minister of Unintended Consequences.

More on Muayyed Nureddin

Yesterday I linked to a CTV News story on a Canadian who's been missing for 25 days and may have been detained in Syria. There's a follow up story in today's Toronto Star that discusses the possibility of CSIS involvement.
According to friends, Nureddin, a former principal of an Islamic school in Scarborough, was being monitored by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) before he left the country in September to visit relatives in Kirkuk, Iraq.

Just one week after Tawfik Kettanah drove his friend to the airport, CSIS agents came to ask him questions about Nureddin's religious views and friends.

"The timing is so curious," said Behrens, whose organization pushes for public trials for men detained on national security certificates. "Why would a friend of Mr. Nureddin be contacted by CSIS after he leaves?"
As with yesterday's story, this one makes the connection with the prinicipal of a neighbouring Islamic school, Mahmoud Jaballah, who was detained on a national security certificate in August of 2001 and is still in custody in solitary confinement. The story adds:
The mosque and school have been under intense scrutiny in the past two years from both CSIS and the media following the detainment or searches for men with alleged terrorism links who were said to pray at the Scarborough building.

Hindy said the mosque is being unfairly targeted, adding CSIS agents have been approaching those who pray there and offering $3,000 a month if they agree to spy.
Hindy, referred to above, is the Imam at the mosque in question.

Maybe it's a leap to assume that CSIS had something do with Nureddin's disappearance, but when the justice system operates behind a veil of secrecy, all we can do is guess. Unanswered questions are always fodder for conspiracy theories. That's why we need a public inquiry into the way that agents of the Canadian government, who operate in our name, are conducting the battle against terrorism.

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