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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

OMIGOD! Even the French Have Banned Smoking!

Here is a piece today from the BBC News Service!

Bidding goodbye to the Gauloises
By Caroline Wyatt BBC News, Paris


What could be more French than sitting in a cafe enjoying a coffee and a cigarette, watching the world go by?
Not any more.
From Thursday, the plumes of smoke that once wreathed the great thoughts of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, as they puffed away at the café Les Deux Magots on the Left Bank, have been banished by the chill winds of change.
France has imposed a ban on smoking in public places, so Les Deux Magots is now strictly "non-fumeur": a smoke-free zone.
That famous French chain-smoker Serge Gainsbourg once sang an anthem to the habit, entitled "God smokes Havana cigars."
Cafe philosophy
Well, if He does, He will no longer be smoking them in this cafe nor in many others - and absolutely not in offices or government buildings.
Perhaps surprisingly, the move is backed by a majority of the French, and even by a majority of smokers.
The French writer Olivier Todd was a friend of the late, great smoker, Jean-Paul Sartre, and remembers breathing in his philosophy along with the fumes of Sartre's ever-present Gauloises in Les Deux Magots and Cafe Flore on the Left Bank.
Yet, though he feels a pang of nostalgia for the old days, Olivier Todd believes it is time for France to change.
"Those who smoke enjoy cigarettes after a meal or after making love can still do so. It's just that you won't necessarily be able to do so in a restaurant or cafe any more," he tells me, as he looks wistfully at his packet of cigarettes.
"So the ban in public places will not change things - we can still smoke in private. There will not be a revolution, a May '68 over cigarettes, that's for sure. And it will help people to give up."
French paradox
Monsieur Todd pats the nicotine chewing gum he now keeps in his top pocket as a substitute while in smoke-free areas.

For this is a typical French paradox - smoking in public places such as airports, railway stations, hospitals, offices and schools is now forbidden.
But restaurants, cafes, casinos and bars have until December to allow their customers to get used to the idea of their morning coffee without their "clop" or fag.
Yet the owner of Les Deux Magots, Catherine Mathivat, the great-grand-daughter of its original "patron", says she was keen to ban smoking as soon as possible, and is glad to be getting rid of the smoke.
"It will be good for the employees," she says, gesturing at the smartly-attired waiters.
"They are always in a smoky environment, and they get bronchitis and other diseases because of it.
"A lot of writers used to come Les Deux Magots and they used to drink a coffee or a glass of wine while they smoked, but I think that things have changed. The writers of today are not so addicted to cigarettes."
French identity
Her customers agree. Some 70% of the French support the ban, and, in these health-conscious times, customers at Les Deux Magots are appropriately philosophical about the change.
"People have started accepting the fact that smoking is not the thing to do. They have lost so many of their friends to lung cancer that they know that it means something," says Yves.
"I think it's a good thing - too many young people smoke. The ban is good for everyone," insists Rene, himself a smoker.
But in a cafe across the river, the Sarah Bernhardt on Place du Chatelet, there is one last Frenchman willing to defy the ban.
Teacher Gregory Bianchi looks around, rolls a cigarette and defiantly lights up.
"I believe in the right to fresh air, but I believe that it's also a right to smoke in a public place," he says.
"This is supposed to be a place of pleasure where you can relax, and smoking is part of that. They should have smoking restaurants and bars, and non-smoking restaurants and bars. That would be fair."
From today, thousands of French police will have the right to stop and fine smokers they catch flouting the ban, with a penalty of 68 euros or just under £50.
Nearly 16 years after his death, Serge Gainsbourg may be turning in his grave, as a little spark of French identity is finally extinguished for the greater good of the Republique's health, as France finally ends its long love affair with the cigarette.
Story from BBC NEWS:http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/europe/6319133.stmPublished: 2007/02/01 00:46:33 GMT© BBC MMVII

MIGHT ALBERTA BE NEXT?

A New Poll on a Smoking Ban Coming Soon.

The Canadian Cancer Society, Alberta Branch has done a new opinion poll on the issue of banning smoking in public places. I hear it is to be released very soon. Perhaps even as early as tomorrow! I wonder how the support stacks up and the fabled rural – urban split on the issue of banning smoking in public places?

Based on other social values research I have seen for Albertans, the rural-urban divide is very mythological, at least on a values basis. We Albertans are pretty much the same kind of people in terms of what we believe in and what we consider to be important. We may disagree on the ways and means to solve a particular problem. But we Albertans are still very closely aligned as to what the problems are and in what we consider their priority of importance.

This concurrence is pretty independent of what we do for a living or to where we live. Sure there are some occasional differences, between Edmonton and Calgary, or the north and the south opinions. There is really very little difference in our values as Albertans, based on where we live. It seems to make no real significant difference if we are either rural or urban

In the recent PC leadership campaign, “Candidate Stelmach” supported a ban on smoking in public places. But he did say it would be a final decision of Caucus. He is keeping true to that position. It is expected this issue will be dealt with (yet again) in Caucus and likely in this spring session starting February 27.

So if the majority of Albertan wants this smoking ban to happen, at least that is what past polls have said we want. And I am willing to bet the new Cancer Society poll will concur. We better let our elected representatives know how much we value our health and how important this issue is as a policy priority to be dealt with - and as soon as possible.

In any event, this is an idea whose time has come, it will not happen without a concerted political effort by Albertans. This idea has been defeated many times in prior Caucus decisions. But we have a new leader and taht always means a change. Citizens who desire a different result this time have too be mobilized, both personally and within their spheres of influence to make that change happen.

We have to get the message across to the PC Caucus by letting then know that this is an idea whose time has come. As a health wellness and disease prevention issue it is step in the right direction. From that perspective, this is not a very hard political decision for anyone to make. Let your wishes be known to MLAs all over the province. If they tell you it is a hard choice to mae, remind them that is why they are elected - to make hard choices on our behalf.

The new legislative session starts February 27th. It is timely to start writing your MLA. Call their offices. Send an email, or a snail mail is even better, in support of a smoking ban in public places in Alberta. Remember the world is run by those who show up!

Is Buying Political Access Becoming an Epidemic?

I was interested to read this National Post story this morning. It seems this “buying access to politicians” becoming an epidemic? If it is not to pay off campaign debts, it is to fund a think tank, this time the Fraser Institute, a registered charity. Interesting that the political types are backing off, partly I expect due to the $11,000 per delegate price that has been put on the politician’s heads is a sobering influence.

What if the Fraser Institute simply set up an open conference with delegate registration fees and asked these powerful people to speak? That would be buying access too but not likely on an invitation only big ticket “unique excursion” basis.

Buying access happens all the time at charity fundraising events in the form of people bidding on donated fishing trips, golf games and dinners in “auctions.” The attraction of these events are the fact a politician has agreed to “donate their time” to be in attendance. The proceeds do not go to political purposes but to the benefit of the sponsoring charity or institution. Those events are usually very public and easy to see who “bought” the time BUT it is still someone buying access to powerful people.

I wonder if this kind of buying and selling of access via charity donations will become part of the scope of the new Lobbyist and Contractor Registry? That legislation is Premier Stelmach’s flagship legislation as Bill 1 in February? It might not be a bad idea in terms of integrity and transparency.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

There are some Clever Remixes on the Tacky Ads

Jason Cherniak has done a clever take on the Cons job on Dion on his January 29th posting. Clever and funny...and thank what ever omnipresent opmnipotent spritual being that you subscribe to for the freedom and fun of the Internet.

Well done Jason.

...and here is another one - author unknown but perspicatious none the less. What did we eer do before the parallel universe of the Internet?

Harper and Layton: Alliance or Dalliance?

Alliances and Dalliances
I love the political backroom gavotte going on between the Cons and the Dippers over their principles and which ones they will trade offs or defer between getting the budget passed and getting serious changed around environment policy.

We will have to wait and see if this is an alliance or a dalliance.

On the other hand can we soon expect another couple take to the political dance floor? Will the Libs and the Greens embrace in a struggle to see which one will actually lead in the environment agenda? I don't expect May to give up the "lead" in their dance or on the issues to Dion. She will no doubt make him work harder and look even better on the issues before the music stops and the election is called.

Citizens have yet to decide who they will actually trust and respect on the environment and climate change issues. Will it be Scowling Steve and/or Smiling Jack? Such an interesting and intense couple. Is the winner going to be Studious Stephane and/or Effervescent Elizabeth? They are earnest and energetic for sure...effective - well that is still an open question

That leaves Jilted Gilles looking for someone - anyone to pay attention to him. He faces the music alone and will come to realize that the environment trumps his aspirations for more equalization money as the dominant political issue - even in Quebec.

More on Manning's Musings:
I see Jeffery Simpson in the Globe and Mail today picked up on the Manning Op-Ed piece I posted on last Monday. He mentions the “attack ads” and the ironic timing of his message that we citizens should be showing our lack of tolerance for extremism and then the Cons launch their attack ads outside of the election cycle.

Simpson calls the ads “crude and rude.” He might soon be adding to the rhyme scheme and include “sued.” Some commentary is around that the Cons “tacky ad” content misused copyright material that is the property of others. That would be an interesting development if the content is challenged over copyright. I can see the blogosphere quips about the Cons misuse of "intellectual" property in the context of the attack ads.

Another One Bites the Dust:
So Johanne Gelinas, the Environment Commissioner has been “replaced” because her report last September criticized the former Lib and the current Cons over in actions on climate change. The reason for her departure is that her report smacked of advocacy instead of auditing. I didn’t know she reported to the Auditor General and apparently the two did not see eye to eye on things. Too bad. She was a breath of fresh air in her frankness.

Perhaps this role needs to be a separate office that reports directly to Parliament. Then it could be independent enough to audit and advocate by making recommendations for performance changes and improvements in how environment policy is being implemented.

We have seen the Chief Electoral Officer leave under a cloud of interference and now the Environment Commissioner is bounced. I hope there was no political interference in either decision. The controlling nature of the PMO is not reassuring in that regard. Two incidents do not make a trend but you have to wonder if there a pattern forming here and how much of a chill this puts on the senior bureaucracy.

Eco-pets:
I see the Cons are making merry in Question Period over the name of Dion’s dog, “Kyoto.” Perhaps Harper should get a pet Polar Bear and name him “Endangered.” That would symbolically show Steve's soft side and just how much he cares about climate change too.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Will the Alberta PC Government Change Before Albertan's Change the Government?

I had a very enjoyable lunch today with one of Edmonton’s great arts and culture supporters, the Edmonton Journal’s Todd Babiak. We talked about many things – not the least of which is how to get the arts and culture sector more support and respect from the powers that be in the government of Alberta. He posted some of our discussion on his blog today, commenting that I believed Alberta was ready for a “change in government.”

I do believe there is a mood out there for a change in government. The advent of the environment as such a strong top priority issue amongst Alberta is ample evidence that people want some serious change. Ed Stelmach’s leadership win against the “traditional powerful forces” in the PC Party indicates the PC Party wanted changes.

I think Albertans want change, need change - and I think we shall see change. Here is an extended version of my comment back to Todd on what “change in government” (Alberta style) has meant and may mean again:

HI Todd – I enjoyed lunch today too. Thanks for taking the time. You are right about your blog comments that I see the mood “out there” is for a “change in government."

One change I hope for, and am optimistic about, is that the arts and culture life of our province has a toehold again in the awareness amongst the powers that be. A toehold is not a foothold and that is what is really needed to move this agenda forward politically and policy-wise.

I believe that foothold can be established with the provincial government this year. A great deal more communication and relationship building has to be done between the art and culture sector and the government policy makers for that to happen.

I have been in the PC Party since the Lougheed days and have seen the “government” change at least 7 times in that period, but always with the change coming from within the PC Party. In the waning Getty days the PCs were at 17% in the polls and we changed with new leadership.

We have a much stronger position in the polls today and have another new leader. I fully expect the needed “change in government” will also be part of an internal change exercise inside the PC Party. It has to change in ways that responds to the new realities of Alberta and to provide the new kind of governance that Albertans want. If the Party doesn’t change the way they want, the people of Alberta will force the change in the next election.

I just love democracies and free and open societies!

Liberals Run Negative Attack Ads Too!

Here is a short clip from the CBC National News by our friend Allan Bonner who comments on the use of negative political ads.

This clip was done when the Liberals were trashing Harper in an election negative ad campaign. My point is the Liberals are not pure as the driven snow here either. I don't think the Cons attack ads on Dion come close to what they did in 1993 to Chretien.

Allan Bonner who appears it the clip said this to us regarding the Dion attack ads:
"You may have the governing Conservatives in Canada are running negative ads about the new Liberal leader. This may mean an election is coming sooner than expected, they want to test their readiness, or they want to spend money outside the writ period."

We also think this effort is timed to be spending Conservative Party money electioneering but outside the writ period.

Manning Advises Against Extreme Politics - Is Harper Listening?

Preston Manning strikes another positive blow for political reason and democratic reform. In his Op-Ed in today’s Globe and Mail Manning is asking politicians to “Drop the Extremes in the Green Debate.” Once again Manning is showing how well he is aligned with the public sentiment - at least that is how I see his message.

Manning points out “…Canadians place a very high premium on tolerance and avoidance of extremes.” Remember how “Scary” Stephen Harper was in the 2004 elections because of his affiliation with extremists social conservatives? The extremists kept very quite in the 2006 election and that helped to get Harper elected as a result

Manning’s Globe piece points out that political party’s rhetoric and political positioning, especially on the environmental front, are not usually based on analysis and criticism of the actual policies of the various opposing parties. The political effort is more concentrated on intentional mischaracterizations of the opponent’s position as “extreme.” The Liberals and Conservatives are both guilty of this and the NDP will not doubt be doing it soon - to the Greens.


Manning decries the newsworthiness judgement calls made by the main stream media of such stylized conflicts dominating the greater need for informative content around complex issues. Citizens understand all this and it just adds to the cynicism about politics and that undermines our democracy.

The timing of this Op-Ed is likely merely coincidental to the release of the Conservative Party attack ads” that were no doubt authorized by Manning’s protégé, The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. Why are the ads running now? It is really “…because Dion has been getting a free ride in the media as a guy who gets the environment issues.” That is the reported motivation according to Jason Kenney – Harper’s point man on all of this messaging extremism.

What better and more ironic example could we possibly have of that “green extremism” than these Harper Cons attack ads on Dion? This is exactly the kind of stuff that Manning is advising against. They "ads" are more focused on his competency as a person and his capability leader, than on his policies or his vision. We can make that competency and leadership judgement at election time. What we want to understand now is what policy alternatives are the various parties offering us. These attack ads may generate some heat but they will not shed much light.

But the Cons have lots of cash and they are not restricted in how they spend it right now. After all we are in a “non-election time frame” (sic) so the rules about campaign advertising and spending limits don’t apply.

This is clever politics for sure. But it is also a questionable governing technique. Canadians want better government not more politics. Thanks Preston Manning for your wisdom once again. You flirted with the Alberta PC leadership last year. Would you reconsider the leadership of your federal party one more time? The country could use you.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Our Research at Policy Channel Foresaw the Environment Issue as #1 Priority During the PC Leadership.

The Strategic Counsel recent poll widely distributed in the Globe and Mail and on CTV has some surprising results according to pollster Allan Gregg. Foregive our hubris but we at Policy Channel knew the shift to the environment had happened early last October and by mid November 2006 we knew just how big a priority it had become.

The Globe and Mail/CTV poll was done in mid January with a 1000 sample size it showed that “Environmental Issues” are the #1 priority. That has change in the environment replacing health as the #1 issue priority been reflected in other recent polls. That is not the surprise. The surprise comes from the amazing number of Canadians who chose the environment as #1. A whooping 26%! For some context, when the Harper government took over one year ago the environment was #1 for only 4% of Canadians in a much larger poll of 1500 respondents.

Well we at Policy Channel saw this coming back in October 2006 during the PC Leadership contest. We did a web based conjoint study with a strategic partner pollster we know and found that 26% of Albertans who participated saw the environment as the top, #1 policy priority for the Alberta government. I did a number of blog postings on results as they evolved in the PC Leadership campaign. The latest interm blog report #4 on our survey results is the November 19, 2006 posting if you are interested in checking it out.

While the results were not “scientific” because of the self-selecting nature of those who participated are not necessarily reflective of the demographic and geographic nature of the province. The key was we got participation from people who are activists politically and who have influence as a result. They are the folks who show up and make a difference so in many ways and on the key issues. They are the opinion leaders and we know that their influential opinions are, in many ways, more important to the political process and politicians in particular.

Our research results not only indicate the issue priority but the intensity of the commitment to it. So when we say the environment is at 26% it is in the context of how likely are you to trade this issue off for another, like health care, which was the second priority in Alberta late last year. Our numbers help politicians and government decide where the public wants time and effort spent relatively speaking.

In pure Alberta political terms if candidate A “owns” the environment issue in the public’s mind, to neutralize that impact, candidate B would have to control and “own” the next three issues. They are health care quality and access, reducing poverty and the quality of K-12 education. Not easy to do.

NO WONDER HARPER IS AFRAID OF DION TO THE POINT HE NEEDS SUPERBOWL ATTACK ADS TO TRY AND NEUTRALIZE HIS STRONGER PERSONAL HOLD ON THE ENVIRONMENT ISSUE.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

It is a National Apology Mr. Prime Minister - Not Just a Political Opportunity for You and Your Party.

I have had some niggling feelings about the apology by Prime Minister Harper to Maher Arar and his family. No doubt he is owed the apology and deserves the damages settlement. He also deserves the admiration and respect of we lesser mortals for surviving his ordeals. Not just the torture in Syria, the stripping of his dignity and the destruction of his reputation but also for suffering through the McCarthyesque baiting and badgering by CANADIAN officials and politicians.

Why did our Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of this nation and it citizens and about the contrition we feel collectively, individually and INSTITUTIONALLY - why did he have to politicize this moment?

Other bloggers have spoken about this. It is a blogger known as "Rational Reasons" who's post on this who captures my unease of how this apology has been compromised and I encourage you to read it.

This was a time for statesmanship from our Mr. Prime Minister, not gamesmanship from the Conservative Party leader. I feel bad about what happened to Mr. Arar and for what he and his family went through. I also feel sad that my Prime Minister felt the need to continue to use Mr. Arar's plight to try and score cheap political points. Read the blog posting by Rational Reasons for a deeper sense of what I mean.

The Heat is On Over Smoking in Public Places.

Thx to the SurrealityTimes blog for bring this news story to my attention. This is more evidence that the public is making a difference in our attitudes and concerns for each others wellbeing and shifting and shaping our own behaviour changes as a result. Congratulations to Capital Health for this leadership.

I wonder if the smoking ban in public is at the tipping point as public policy now. I recall the Libertarians’ opposition to fluoride in our water and the seatbelt debates of the past. More recently we have had the voluminous over illuminous diatribes over the science around climate change. The more things change the more they remain the same?

Now we are seeing the Libertarians adding heat but not much light as they position for the final political battle on smoking in public places as a personal over our collective health…both physically and fiscally.

This is a most appropraite issue to be resolved politically because it is a community health issue. It is not a human right nor an individual rights issue. Alberta's former Health Ministers like Gary Mar and Iris Evans have tired to get a smoking ban in public places past the PC caucus but to no avail. Will Hancock succeed this time with a new leader in charge? Perhaps. but only if the citizenry makes it known by writing to the provincial politicians to say that they support and insist on such a policy.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Marv Moore Praises Hancock's Efforts for a Smoking Ban




So Dave Hancock, the Minister of Health and Wellness met today with a group of about 60 stakeholder leaders in the health field from all around Alberta today getting their input into practical ideas for wellness, sustainability and innovation in health care in Alberta. The sessions were energizing and enlightening and the ideas flowed freely and the discussion was open and frank. It was a great start for Hancock to take over the Health and Wellness Ministry

It was not surprising to see Marv Moore at the session since he is the Chair of the Peace Country Health Region. Marv is described generally as a rancher and businessman from various sources. Truth be told, he is a long time suffering respected rural stalwart in the PC Party and has run every one of Ralph Klein’s successful provincial election campaigns. Marv is nothing short of an icon in the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

One of the highlights of today was in the plenary wrap up session when Marv Moore spoke up. Moore commented to Dave Hancock to the effect of saying “…that all us here have followed your difficult experiences around the idea of a smoking ban in the past week.” Moore went on to say to Hancock, “…and you need to know we support you.” He said “in fact if we had a straw vote right here I bet no less than 98% would support you” to which the room erupted in applause in response to Moore’s comments.

Moore went on to say that he thought Hancock had “done the right thing to speak out on a possible policy to have a province wide smoking ban in public places” as the Minister of Health and Wellness. Another endorsement of Hancock’s efforts to bring Albertan’s desire for a wellness and health prevention approach to the province from Marv Moore, a guy who not only “gets it” but has “seen it all too.”

Here is a bit of background on Marv Moore that people will not likely know and many more may well have forgotten. He was first elected to provincial politics in 1971 as MLA for Smoky River. He helped form the first Progressive Conservative government in Alberta under Peter Lougheed. Marvin was an MLA for 18 years, until he retired from elected politics in 1989. During his time as MLA, Marvin held five different cabinet positions including Hospitals and Medicare, Agriculture, Municipal Affairs, Transportation and Solicitor General. Marv also worked with a number of committees, including Rural Development, Economic Planning, Social Planning, Finance and Priorities, and the Treasury Board.

After retiring from politics, Marv was appointed chairman of the Alberta Cancer Board, a position he held from 1993 to 1999. He also serves as a trustee of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Science and Engineering Research. He was appointed chairman of the Mistahia Health Region in 2001. In January, Marvin was chosen as chairman of the new Peace Country Health.

If anyone thinks this smoking ban issue is all about rural politicians being opposed to it because it interferes with some sense of a personal right they think they have to endanger others and themselves, they are only seeing part of the puzzle. They need look no further than Marv Moore for an eloquent and informed rebuttal of such a position, this coming from an avatar of the authentic rural Alberta experience and consciousness.

When people of commitment and character come together bringing their best efforts and applying themselves to issues of consequence, like happened today at Government House, we can rest assured good, if not great things, will come of it. Special thanks to Marvin Moore who exemplified that spirit today so well.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Alberta and Continental Energy Supply Issue Heats Up

The geopolitical reality for Alberta in a political push for a continentalenergy supply policy was covered in an Op-Ed in the Edmonton Journal by Satya Das, my business partner. Nothing in the George Bush’s “Reign of Error” called the "State of the Union" speech last night suggested anything was going to happen to the contrary.

America is clearly going to be looking for a safe, secure, reliable and relatively friendly high volume energy supplier. The State of the Union speech talk about a reduction of gasoline usage by 20% in 10 years based on ethanol and alternatives is smog and mirrors from a dead duck President.

We Albertans need some serious thinking and planning about continental energy supply policy. If Harper’s giveaway on Softwood Lumber is any indication of how he will handle continental energy issues, we are going to be in trouble, as a province and as a country.

Ralph Klein is on the file, as is Brian Tobin fronting for the Fraser Institute. Even former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan is now doing a mea culpa on Free Trade and talking about a North American Community – kind of like a "NAFTA +."

Managing Growth is a top prioirty for Premier Stelmach and major concern all over Alberta. The City of Edmonton is now making waves on that point too.

The policy aroudn continental energy supply should not only be made in Alberta it must be made for Alberta. Based on media reports on the U.S. Ambassador Wilkin's meeting with Premier Stelmach today the political process has begun.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Harper Cabinet Rates a 50/50 Approval in Recent Poll

Nicole Martel has an interesting post on an Angus Reid poll on the approval ratings of certain Harper Cabinet Ministers. There net positives are for Harper, Flaherty and McKay…Prentice is not seen in any of the data reports I looked at. Jim is way too far below the radar – working hard and effectively at the coal face but nobody knows it. Everyone else looks pretty bland or just plain bad.

The moral of the story is they are mostly a 50/50 crowd with lots of “Don’t Knows” as you will see when you click the link to the Toronto Star story. This proves the nation is essentially "test driving" the Harper government to see if we what to buy his form of government. Based on these results if is pretty obvious that we are not yet impressed nor particularly dismayed with the performance either. The Harper Cons have not yet done anything to really significnat make a mark that will win our hearts and minds over the past year. The fact that al other recent polls say Harper and Dion are statisticaly tied has to be a discomforting fact for "Steve."

Nicole also directs us to the other Toronto Star piece where the Harper Cons political rhetoric is matched against the factual reality of the Liberals and Dion. I have been waiting and hoping someone would do this comparison. The various examples used are a classic rebuttal of the issues framing done by the Harper Message Machine. He and his goverment is proven to be very disingenuous in their misrepresentations about the Liberals and Dion, and I am being generous in my assessment when I say that.

The Star story is also a very effective rebuttal of the pervasive MSM culture of take things said by politicians that are purely political at face value. We see this lack of background research and fact checking is just much too prevalent in political reporting today. It all gets repeated in other media and gossip gets over reported as "news" and then the misinformation become the "reality." We mere mortals have to wonder if anyone cares about accuracy and truth in politics today.

Anyway, with polling "approval" numbers like theses, Harper better hope Layton doesn’t ask for too much in the forthcoming Budget. There is nothing in these polling approval levels to foster any confidence by, for and about a Harper victory in an election in the near future. Remember also that campaigns matter and yesterday is not a precursor of tomorrow any more.

At 50/50 Harper's fortunes could go either way...but clearly the Cons are not on solid enough ground to want an election anytime soon. With every day that passes the environment embeds as more of an issue and Layton has to wonder about May's momentum and Harper has to worry about Dion getting better known and more acceptable as a possible alternative for the next Prime Minister.

Good for the Star for reporting on the reality over the rhetoric. Thx Nicole for bringing it to our attention. I had $10 bucks riding on a spring election. I think I may have to cough up the cash and eat some crow in a couple of months.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Dion Says the Greens Should be in the TV Debates

The Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly and Stephane Dion are calling for the Green Party to be included in any next federal election television debates. The timing of such an election is ironically within the control of the NDP based on how the seats shake down with floor crossings and caucus expulsions. My expectation is Jack Layton would be happier if the Greens were left in the Green Room and not on the stage.

The television broadcasters seem to think they should have the control over this aspect of our democracy. They get to say that if a Party does not have a seat in Parliament then you don’t get to participate in the debates. Who made them the boss of the citizens?

The environment is the #1 issue in the country right now and the Greens are the Party most identified with that issue. Besides their Leader Elizabeth May ran a very respectful second place in a recent southern Ontario By-election. She beat the Conservatives and the NDP candidates with a healthy 25% of the vote.

May and her Party are a significant and proven political force to be reckoned with. Seats should not be the only test for inclusion. Performance in voter support plays a role here too. It is no problem to include the Bloc in the debates, and their primary goal is to split up the country for God’s sake.

So regardless of your partisan politics, support the Greens being included in the debates. There is an on line petition on the Green's site. Show your support and sign up. We can show the broadcasters that they must reconsider this policy and include the Greens notwithstanding the lack of a seat.

LET'S DRAFT GARTH TURNER!
If this petition isn’t enough, let’s start a movement to draft the Independent MP, Garth Turner to join the Greens. This would be for the sole purpose of giving them a seat to “qualify” under the broadcaster’s silly rules to be for included in the debates.

I think that would be a refreshing exercise of a strategic realpolitik power play by a Turner and May tag team. It would be a perfect response to the shallow thinking of the opponents of the Greens being included. I would applaud Turner if he were to decide to stay Green or if he chooses to resign from the Greens immediately after their participation in the debates were confirmed.

I am serious about a draft Turner effort if it becomes necessary. Some times you have to fight absurdity with absurdity. It is nice when you can do it with creativity and class. But in the meantime sign the petition and let’s be sure to let the powers that be know the Canadian democracy belongs to the citizens, not the broadcasters or the politicians.

Video of Canadian Troops Engaged in Battle

Garth Turner has an excellent video clip of Canadian forces engaged in battle in Afghanistan. If anyone doubts the danger of this deployment, this clip will remove any such doubts.

We have much to do that is helping that fragile country to rebuild. That is ultimately the most important aspect of this effort. First things first though and tht means we obviously have to make it safe for citizens to rebuild...and that is dangerous and deadly work.

Those of us who live in Edmonton have a deeper sense of community and connection with these soldiers. They are our neigbours. Their kids go to school with our kids. We all must try to better understand what is going on there, what we are doing there as a country and how we can help the Afghan people now and in the longer term.

We citizens better take some time become more informed and stay engaged in what Canada is trying to accomplish in this initiaitve...and how we are doing towards achieving our goals. Let's be sure in the meantime that our troops know that we support them and that we value what they are doing and we are proud of them.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Alberta is Now a Geo-Political Energy Focus


The recent news report of a meeting held in Houston about a year ago around increasing oils sands production in Alberta on a faster track with streamlined environmental processes has been interesting but mostly it has turned into a political farce.

The political attempts to frame the issue by the Harper Cons by trying to make Dion’s knowledge of this meeting or not is misdirection of the real issue here. It is not about something that trite. It has much more significant import and implications.

There is no doubt Alberta is now the centre of serious geo-political interest and concerns because of the oils sands. On the investment side we have Japan, France, USA and China all participating in projects now, with India showing interest as well. On the environmental side it is the lightening rod for GHG emissions and climate change issues.

On the security of supply for the USA in particular we are the closest, safest, more reliable and politically friendly source of fossil fuels they have. The market competition is getting heated too especially from China and India who are both in need of a secure supply of imported oil.

If the Americans ever cost out what they are actually spending in cash and lives or a barrel of Iraqi oil as opposed to saying the goal is to bring democracy to that nation, they will abandon to “struggle” sooner than later. We have Venezuela nationalizing its oil production and Russia destabilizing parts Europe and Central Asia with threats to cut off supplies to certain nations.

Now Israel is reported to be studying a kind of small surgical nuclear deployment on Iran, as if there were such a thing. The House of Saud in Saudi Arabia is not that secure politically either. Then we add terrorism taking place around the world and looking to emerge in North America. The world is a very complex place when you look at it in terms of the politics of energy.

Quiet, little, stable, safe, secure, close, open, eager and friendly Alberta all of a sudden looks pretty good to Uncle Sam. Alberta, along with Canada, would no doubt be glad to oblige and service more of the American energy demand. We have to ensure it is going to be in our best interests when we do this. That is what we better start getting our heads around…what exactly is in our best interest and how do we best serve it under mounting USA pressures to accelerate oil sands production?

We have pretty much botched the deal so far. We have insufficient production infrastructure like upgraders, refinery capacity, transmission power lines, roads and pipelines to handle the current oil sands production of 1 million barrels per day. We have failed refused or neglected to provide the necessary social and public infrastructure to meet the human needs like housing, health care, school, recreational services and cultural facilities for people working in this industry.

We have now turned most of the province into this same overheated economic engine that is about to blow a gasket given the pressure it is under. We have to provide a much better quality of life for people especially in places like Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. That means making the investments needed and to take a more moderate, longer term and purposeful approach to the development of the oil sands.

We have talked loosely in Alberta about possibly ramping up oil sands production to 3 million barrels per day within the next decade. We have no sense yet of if we can, at what infrastructure cost and social costs never mind the unknown cumulative costs on the society and environment.

If the Houston talks was really about a target of 5 million barrel per day to meet American demand, we Albertans, our political, business, environmental a social leaders have some serious thinking to do. We have some big decisions to make and we better start planning to do right - and right now!

UPDATE: Finance Minister Flaherty is courting China as a market for oil sands. Dubya is not going to be amused.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hancock is Staying the Course on Smoking Issues

Interesting news release from AADAC on the focus of National Non-Smoking Week.

The Stelmach government is much more open than the previous regime. Some challenges to be sure but so long as Ministers stick to commenting on their departmental areas, offering personal opinions and spending some "political capital" is a good thing to my mind.

We don't have to agree with the positions they take but it good to see what Cabinet Ministers are thinking on important policy issues and where they want to go with them before it all goes behind the closed Cabinet doors. If they get shot down in Cabinet so be it.

This is the more open political aproach and how I would like to see it operate. Not knowing what is going into a policy discussion/decision, what is going on about it and wondering if anything will ever come out of it does not help to inform the citizenry and give them confidence.

Hancock is being taken on by Ty Lund and Lloyd Snelgrove on the smoking ban idea for "talking out of turn.?" They may disagree with the position he takes but surely he ought to be able to say something about his personal positions on heath and wellness issues as the Minister responsible. A Minister would be out of line commenting publically on policy issue outside their portfolio area but that is not what is happening here.

Hancock says a smoking ban in public places will help prevent death and disease and reduce the costly demands on the health care system over time. Prevention and wellness have to be more than words if we are serious about health care reform.

Here is an excerpt from the Edmonton Journal story today on this:

Hancock said Thursday he offered his personal opinion on the issue when questioned this week by reporters, and he has no plans to keep quiet on important public policy issues. He also hopes to forbid tobacco sales in pharmacies and outlaw large smoking displays in stores.

"I'm not driving a personal agenda. I'm driving a government agenda," Hancock said. "You can't avoid talking about public issues in public, nor should you."


Works for me!

UPDATE JANUARY 20
Graham Thomson has perspective on all of this in his column today.


I see the Canadian Cancer Society is lining up behind Hancock on a smoking ban in public places too. See exceprts from their new release below:

Media Release
January 19, 2007
For immediate release
Canadian Cancer Society applauds Health Minister’s stance on smoking


Calgary… Premier Ed Stelmach’s change of heart on a provincial smoking ban came on the heels this week of Health Minister Dave Hancock’s pledge to make Alberta smoke-free. This could not have come at a better time -- January 21-27, 2007 is National Non-Smoking Week.

“Health Minister Hancock’s recent comments on pursuing strong provincial smoke-free legislation are welcome news to the Canadian Cancer Society,” says Dan Holinda, President/CEO of the Alberta/NWT Division of the Society. “We applaud the Stelmach government’s fresh approach to this issue and are behind them 110%. The new Tory leadership is taking the health of all Albertans seriously.”

Today, 10 Albertans will die as a result of tobacco, and this will happen every day this year. Tobacco use is the leading avoidable cause of disease, disability and premature death in Alberta, resulting in one in every five deaths. Second-hand smoke is responsible for 1,000 tobacco-related deaths annually across Canada.

One hundred percent smoke-free legislation will follow in the footsteps of the Premier’s pledge to improve the health of all Albertans and his welcoming of legislation on this issue reflects his desire for open and transparent government – a pillar he lead with during the race for Premier. If Albertans are interested in seeing the province become a smoke-free province, the Canadian Cancer Society urges them to write the Premier and show their support for a provincial smoking ban.

“Smoke-free legislation across Alberta will help protect all Albertans - not just minors and not just those lucky enough to live in cities whose council voted in favour of the health of their constituents,” says Holinda. “Banning powerwalls, or displays of tobacco products in such places as convenience stores and pharmacies, will help prevent youth from starting to smoke, and will also help prevent impulse-buying by smokers who are trying to quit.”

Evidence shows us that smoke-free legislation, restrictions on advertising and marketing of tobacco industry products, denormalizing the tobacco industry, higher tobacco taxes, and bans on where tobacco products can be sold are all a part of an approach that must be taken to reduce the burden tobacco places on the health of our communities and the healthcare system as a whole.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is to eradicate cancer and to enhance the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

-30-
For more information, please contact:
Lorie Boychuk – 403-541-5375
Canadian Cancer Society, AB/NWT Division office

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Harper's New Green Con-version – Is it Environment Policy or Political Envy Driving the Conservative Eco-Agenda?

I am starting to wonder about the Harper Cons quick conversion to green. Is it the result of a real concern for the environment and a thoughtful purposeful reconsideration of an important public policy position? Or is it a just quick fix political response founded in fear and desperation and a large dose of green envy over Stephane Dion’s grasp of the issues.

Today Canada's Environment Minister, the Hon. John Baird spoke out and, according to media reports, appeared to do the usual Ottawa unilateralism with his disparaging and defensive comments on oil sands tax incentives in the news today. He says: "I cannot explain why the Liberal government of Mr. Dion made these changes," Baird said, speaking in French.

This is just altogether too cute because he is also trashing the Alberta government with these comments and he knows it - or at least he ought to know it. Doing it in French is the really cute part. Did he think Albertans would not hear about this if he only commented in French?

The tax incentive deals Baird is trashing was part a broader deal including more than just federal taxes. It was done in the mid 1990’s in collaboration with industry, Alberta’s PC government and the federal Liberals and covered royalties along with provincial and federal taxes.

This deal was done by the Chrétien government, and negotiated by Anne McLellan as Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources and Premier Ralph Klein and Syncrude’s Eric Newell. This is clearly not the “Dion government deal” as Baird tries to characterize it in the media today.

Premier Stelmach is widely known to be embarking on a royalty review of Alberta’s oil sands resources. But nowhere does Baird acknowledge this and suggest there nees to be come coordination and communications on this. He is trying to blame Dion for something that Dion was not any part of. Baird is ignoring, or worse, he is oblivious, to the impact of his actions and statements on Alberta’s energy sector and the Government of Alberta.

It would be nice if there was some evidence of a cooperative spirit between Progressive Conservative Alberta and Conservative Ottawa on this issue. But as Ralph Klein said last year “It doesn’t seem to matter who is in control in Ottawa, it is still Ottawa.” That reality was sure evident today.

Obviously it is timely to revisit the royalty and tax regime but industry needs certainty. An open honet porcess with a collaborative spirit from the two orders of government and input from the oil sands operaters is needed if this is going to work.

The Cons can obviously do what ever they want with the federal corporate taxes payable from oil sands extractors. But this tax review is not going to be at Dion’s expense. It is looking more like yet another Harper broken campaign promise akin to income trusts. Here is what Pierre Alvarez, the head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers is reported to have said today about the Harper Cons oil sands tax review: “… (he) was puzzled by Baird's comments about the tax regime, noting Prime Minister Stephen Harper had insisted in December there would be no changes.” Ouch!

In the days the tax regime was set up we had with oil prices in the “teens” and oil sands production costs around $20 per barrel. The deal was predicated on industry doing some serious risk investing in oil sands development, committing $5B over the next 25 years in exchange for the royalty and tax deal.

Well we know what happened. In the 10 years following since the deal was done and how successful it was. In fact industry invested about $27B in the first 5 years of the deal and we have about $100B of oil sands related projects in the hopper that is running much of Canada’s economy today.

Pitbull Baird was keen to try on the rhetoric to trash Dion but he missed his target today. Instead he ended up chewing up his leader’s credibility - and mostly in Alberta - and particularly in Harper’s home town of Calgary. Not a bad day’s work if you are looking for a career change after the next election.

Yes Minister Baird was cute and clever today, but he was definitely not wise…and at so many levels.

UPDATE January 19, 2007
Interesting to see the Edmonton Journal Editorial Board and Paul Stanway of the Edmonton Sun being on the same page about this today.

The Grand Content

As we parse and prod our way along the paths of politics and pathos, we often get caught in the trap. The "seriousness of it all" trap from which only humour can release us. Props to Les Brost for one again opening the trap.

Here is the link to show PowerPoint at its best.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What is Stephen Harper Thinking?

Nicole Martel is asking why Stephen Harper is doing so much to alienate his base in western Canada. First the income trust betrayal and now he is looking at non-renewable energy revenues as part of the calculation for equalization payment calculations, as a pander to Quebec. Saskatchewan and Alberta are upset as is Newfoundland and Danny Williams is speaking in Fort McMurray on January 27th. I am sure he will have some choice words for Prime Minister Harper on equalization formulas.

Top that off with rumours of a $1.4 Billion payment to Quebec to restore the Harper Cons position there. It won’t hurt Jean Charest either, which is a good thing with his pending election.

Wasn’t it just this kind of pandering to Quebec politics that started the Reform Party in the first place? Wasn’t Stephen Harper around then?

Then the recent Globe and Mail poll done by The Strategic Counsel is being parsed in the media for its meaning with a plethora of preconceived notions. The fact that Dion is in a horse race with Harper so shortly after a leadership change and so close to Adscam is amazing. Harper has dropped from 49% to 41% support in the west in the year since the last election. He is down 10% in Quebec from 25% to 15%. In Ontario Harper is at 32% trailing Dion at 45%.

The next election is being touted as far off because the tight race between the major parties. Lets face it the next election will be called when Jack Layton decides he is ready because he has the votes to sustain or bury Harper. So we have to watch just how much and how fast the Greens are closing in on him too.

In Ontario the Greens are up to 9% and the NDP are down to 15% since the last election. Enough said! Jack Layton can hear the Birkenstock footsteps right behind him and they are getting louder. That trend will determine the next election based as much on Jack Layton’s fear factor over Elizabeth May’s Green Party emergence.

Old line Reform/Alliance types must be shaking their heads and asking themselves “Stephen – what are you doing?”

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hancock is on the Right Track

UPDATE January 18, 2006:
I see the old guard die hard - and the idea of a smoking ban is one of the die hard issues for them. Ty Lund, a Klein Conservative if ever there was one, and I think one of the most under-rated government Ministers of his day, is ticked at Hancock on the smoking ban proposal.

This reaction is going to be framed as a rural urban wedge issue by some political players. It is not that - it is a public health issue that impacts all of us, even if only in our pocketbook as taxpayers. This issue will be a major test of the Stelmach government and governance style to see if it is different and progressive and responsive.


UPDATE January 17, 2006:
I see the Edmonton Journal Editorial Board is applauding this effort by Hancock as a preventative health care initiative.

Who in their right mind would want to be the Minister in charge of heath care anywhere in Canada today? Regular reader of this Blog will know I am a big Dave Hancock fan and worked on his campaign. So for me to support him on this idea politically will not be surprise. I also support the idea as a public policy position - beyond the politics involved.

Hancock’s first foray out of the blocks is to propose and promote the much overdue ban on smoking in public places all over Alberta as provincial policy – not as a local issue. We know second hand smoke kills so it is not just an individual choice issue anymore. It is a limitation on individuals that is needed for the greater public good.

If the Stelmach Caucus supports this initiative it will go along way to breathing life into the prevention and wellness side of heath care in Alberta. That is were the big gains are to be made and that is as much an individual choice and responsibility as it is a public policy concern. This is not social engineering any more than a stop sign at a roadway intersection is interference in how we drive. It is all about the greater common good.

Hancock is big on the prevention and wellness side of the health equation and he is spending some serious political capital to prove it. This issue never got past the former Premier because he did not want to alienate a certain segment of Albertans. That attitude costs lives that could be prevented and tax dollars that could be put to better use.

I think the overarching policy issue is still you are free to do whatever you want so long as it does not hurt me…my health, my family, my community, my environment or my pocket book. Smoking is proven to harmful all of those aspects and so it is not appropriate in public places any more.

Stay the course Dave and don't blink

Sunday, January 14, 2007

John Baird Better Get Busy

John Baird better get busy on the environmental file if the Harper Cons are going to be accepted as authentically engaged. The Decima poll reported on in the Toronto Star today shows the Dion Liberals approach is making sense to most Canadians who see the Dion "carrot and stick" approach. Tax incentives and breaks for good environmental behaviours and changes balanced by penalties for bad behaviours.

Canadians get the Dion message that the economy and the environment are intertwined in a complex relationship and they are not mutually exclusive or in a zero-sum game where what is good for one is therefore bad for the other.

If the Cons are to become credible on the environment they are going to have to change a lot of their political culture and quickly. Preston Manning has been strongly advocating this for change in Conservative eco-consciousness for a couple of years now. It has been falling on deaf ears as the Harper Cons have been more interested in running down the old Liberal party than running as a viable and preferred governing alternative.

The intensity of the public’s commitment to the environment as the top policy issue is more dramatic than the fact it is all of a sudden #1. The line is forming very quickly for the hearts and minds of Canadians on this issue and the early trends are not promising for the Harper Cons according to this report.

One poll doesn’t decide anything. But most Canadians have decided the environment is the big issue for them now. They are engaged and watching the political parties on this issue and they will reward or punish politicians at the polls as they see fit. The implications are clear for all politicians be they federal, provincial or municipal they need to be on top of the issues and govern accordingly.

Over to you Mr. Baird...Canada is watching

Dion's Visit and Record Shows He Gets Alberta

It is interesting to see the diverging perspective in the MSM print media in Edmonton over Stephane Dion and his policy ideas, especially on the environment. The Edmonton Journal is sympathetic and the Edmonton Sun is mostly sarcastic. Even the Toronto Star is running an op-ed from the Dominion Institute suggesting Dion run in Alberta.

The Harper Cons are trying to say Dion was a disaster as Martin’s Minister of the Environment to try to undermine his high ground and personal ownership of the #1 policy issue in the country – the environment.

As an Albertan I know one thing Dion did in that portfolio that was very positive for this province. When Chrétien unilaterally committed Canada to Kyoto without any advanced notice the resource sector in Alberta went apoplectic – and rightly so given the uncertainty that political chicanery caused, especially in the oil patch.

GHG emissions were the hot topic and the cost and controls for CO2 reductions was the source of the energy sector angst and anger to fight Kyoto at all costs. Then the mood shifted dramatically when some energy industry leaders did some real calculations on the costs of Kyoto. They determined it to be pennies a barrel and all of a sudden the emphasis shifted from one of costs to what are the levels and the controls.

That is where Dion came in. He and his senior staff came to Alberta and negotiated directly with industry the GHG emission levels and timing for implementation with all of the so called “big emitters.” Those deals were done in about three weeks under Dion’s stewardship and to the satisfaction of all the big emitters. The levels Dion negotiated were based on the Alberta government’s intensity model and not any absolute targets.

That Dion/Alberta model is still applicable today and is the reason behind the increases in total GHG emissions the Harper Cons like to trot out as an indication of Dion’s shortcomings while in Environment. The intensity model requires amount of GHG per barrel of oil decrease but total GHG can increase because of the overall growth of the economy and in the energy sector specifically.

The second part of the Alberta government response to Kyoto was a solution based on improved technology. Dion also embraced this aspect of environmental policy as Canada’s Minister of Environment and pushed it in his successful Liberal leadership bid and now as Leader of the Opposition.

For the Cons to say Dion did nothing on his watch in Environment is patently not true. To say he is at odds with Alberta and the aspirations and needs of the energy sector here is also not supported by the facts. Dion now says that we need to do better on GHG emissions and start to really deliver on the technology solutions. He is very clear that policy and fiscal “carrots and sticks” will be how he will change behaviours to enhance our environmental sustainability and improve our economy at the same time.

To suggest Dion run in Alberta would be fun for journalists but not great for the country. Alberta and Quebec have often had strong political alliances especially when provincial jurisdiction interference is threatened by the Feds. I believe it is time for such a Quebec/Alberta alliance to be revived again. That means we first need Charest to win in Quebec and the sooner the better.

If the next Prime Minister is to be from Quebec, we don’t need him running for office in Alberta. We need him to respect and understands Alberta and our potential as a way to strengthen Canada not weaken it. Dion is well positioned on both counts. He has proven that “gets” Alberta already and need not run here to prove it again.

Truly Terrifying Stuff

It is a rare incident where I merely forward a copy of another piece without commentary and opinion. This op ed is a worthy exception. It speaks for itself and is truly terrifying stuff.

January 14, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
He’s in the Bunker Now
By FRANK RICH
PRESIDENT BUSH always had one asset he could fall back on: the self-confidence of a born salesman. Like Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” he knew how to roll out a new product, however deceptive or useless, with conviction and stagecraft. What the world saw on Wednesday night was a defeated Willy Loman who looked as broken as his war. His flop sweat was palpable even if you turned down the sound to deflect despair-inducing phrases like “Prime Minister Maliki has pledged ...” and “Secretary Rice will leave for the region. ...”

Mr. Bush seemed to know his product was snake oil, and his White House handlers did too. In the past, they made a fetish of situating their star in telegenic settings, from aircraft carriers to Ellis Island. Or they placed him against Orwellian backdrops shrieking “Plan for Victory." But this time even the audio stuttered, as if in solidarity with Baghdad’s continuing electricity blackout, and the Oval Office was ditched, lest it summon up memories of all those past presidential sightings of light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel. Mr. Bush was banished to the White House library, where the backdrop was acres of books, to signify the studiousness of his rethinking of the “way forward.”

"I’m not going to be rushed," the president said a month ago when talking about his many policy consultations. He wasn’t kidding. His ostentatious deep thinking started after Election Day, once he realized that firing Donald Rumsfeld wouldn’t be enough to co-opt the Iraq Study Group. He was thinking so hard that he abandoned his initial plan to announce a strategy before Christmas .

The war, however, refused to take a timeout for the holiday festivities in Crawford. The American death toll in Iraq, which hovered around 2,840 on Election Day, was nearing 3,020 by Wednesday night.

And these additional lives were sacrificed to what end? All the reviews and thinking and postponing produced a policy that, as a former top Bush aide summed it up for The Daily News, is nothing more than "repackaged stay-the-course dressed up to make it look more palatable." The repackaging was half-hearted as well. Not for nothing did the “way forward,” a rubric the president used at least 27 times in December, end up on the cutting-room floor. The tossing of new American troops into Baghdad, a ploy that backfired in Operation Together Forward last year, is too transparently the way backward.

“Victory” also received short shrift, downsized by the president to the paltry goal of getting “closer to success.” The “benchmarks” he cited were so vague that they’d be a disgrace to No Child Left Behind. And no wonder: in November, Mr. Bush couldn’t even get our devoted ally, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to show up for dinner at their summit in Amman, let alone induce him to root out Shiite militias. The most muscle the former Mr. Bring-’Em-On could muster in Wednesday’s speech was this: “If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people.” Since that support vanished long ago, it’s hard to imagine an emptier threat or a more naked confession of American impotence, all the more pathetic in a speech rattling sabers against Syria and Iran.

Mr. Bush’s own support from the American people is not coming back. His “new” Iraq policy is also in defiance of Iraqi public opinion , the Joint Chiefs, the Baker-Hamilton grandees, and Mr. Maliki, who six weeks ago asked for a lower American profile in Iraq. Which leaves you wondering exactly who is still in the bunker with the president besides the first lady and Barney.

It’s a very short list led by John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and neo-conservative dead-enders like William Kristol and Frederick Kagan, who congregate at The Weekly Standard and the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington think tank. The one notable new recruit is Rudy Giuliani, who likened taming Baghdad to “reducing crime in New York” without noticing that even after the escalation there will be fewer American troops patrolling Baghdad than uniformed police officers in insurgency-free New York City.

Mr. Kagan, a military historian, was sent by the White House to sell its policy to Senate Republicans. It was he, Mr. Kristol and the retired Gen. Jack Keane who have most prominently pushed for this escalation and who published studies and editorials credited with defining it. Given that these unelected hawks are some of the same great thinkers who promoted the Iraq fiasco in the first place, it is hard to imagine why this White House continues to listen to them. Or maybe not that hard. In a typical op-ed article, headlined “Stay the Course, Mr. President!,” Mr. Kagan wrote in The Los Angeles Times in 2005: "Despite what you may have read, the military situation in Iraq today is positive."

Yet Mr. Bush doesn’t even have the courage of his own disastrous convictions: he’s not properly executing the policy these guys sold him. In The Washington Post on Dec. 27, Mr. Kagan and General Keane wrote that escalation could only succeed “with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops” — a figure that has also been cited by Mr. McCain. (Mr. Kagan put the figure at 50,000 to 80,000 in a Weekly Standard article three weeks earlier. Whatever.) By any of these neocons’ standards, the Bush escalation of some 20,000 is too little, not to mention way too late.

The discrepancy between the policy that Mr. Bush nominally endorses and the one he actually ordered up crystallizes the cynicism of this entire war. If you really believe, as the president continues to put it, that Iraq is the central front in “the decisive ideological struggle of our time,” then you should be in favor of having many more troops than we’ve ever had in Iraq. As T. X. Hammes, an insurgency expert and a former marine, told USA Today, that doesn’t now mean a “dribble” (as he ridicules the “surge”) but a total of 300,000 armed coalition forces over a minimum of four years.

But that would mean asking Americans for sacrifice, not giving us tax cuts. Mr. Bush has never asked for sacrifice and still doesn’t. If his words sound like bargain-basement Churchill, his actions have been cheaper still. The president’s resolutely undermanned war plan indicated from Day 1 that he knew in his heart of hearts that Iraq was not the central front in the war against 9/11 jihadism he had claimed it to be, only the reckless detour that it actually was. Yet the war’s cheerleaders, neocon and otherwise, disingenuously blamed our low troop strength almost exclusively on Mr. Rumsfeld.

Now that the defense secretary is gone, what are they to do? For whatever reason, you did not hear Mr. Kagan, General Keane or Mr. McCain speak out against Mr. Bush’s plan even though it’s insufficient by their own reckoning — just a repackaged continuance of the same “Whac-A-Mole” half-measures that Mr. McCain has long deplored. Surely the senator knows that, as his loosey-goosey endorsement attests. (On Friday, he called the Bush plan “the best chance of success” while simultaneously going on record that “a small, short surge would be the worst of all worlds.”)

The question now is how to minimize the damage before countless more Americans and Iraqis are slaughtered to serve the president’s endgame of passing his defeat on to the next president. The Democrats can have all the hearings they want, but they are unlikely to take draconian action (cutting off funding) that would make them, rather than Mr. Bush, politically vulnerable to blame for losing Iraq.

I have long felt that it will be up to Mr. Bush’s own party to ring down the curtain on his failed policy, and after the 2006 midterms, that is more true than ever. The lame-duck president, having lost both houses of Congress and at least one war (Afghanistan awaits), has nothing left to lose. That is far from true of his party.

Even conservatives like Sam Brownback of Kansas and Norm Coleman of Minnesota started backing away from Iraq last week. Mr. Brownback is running for president in 2008, and Mr. Coleman faces a tough re-election fight. But Republicans not in direct electoral jeopardy (George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) are also starting to waver. It’s another Vietnam-Watergate era flashback. It wasn’t Democrats or the press that forced Richard Nixon’s abdication in 1974; it was dwindling Republican support. Though he had vowed to fight his way through a Senate trial, Nixon folded once he lost the patriarchal leader of his party’s right wing.

That leader was Barry Goldwater , who had been one of Nixon’s most loyal and aggressive defenders until he finally realized he’d been lied to once too often. If John McCain won’t play the role his Arizona predecessor once did, we must hope that John Warner or some patriot like him will, for the good of the country, answer the call of conscience. A dangerous president must be saved from himself, so that the American kids he’s about to hurl into the hell of Baghdad can be saved along with him.



Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The "Accountability" of the Harper Cons

Look at this link and ask yourself if the Harper Cons really believe they are aligned with the letter, spirit and priciples of their much vaunted Accountability Act. The document is actualy signed by Prime Minister Harper. Read the story and ask yourself if he still has any credibility with you on matters of openness, transparency and accountability.

Can you imagine claiming a new era of transparency and then actually reneging on a promise to pay a candidate a cash settlement. It was a deal they made for the original candidate to give up his nomination so a so called "star" candidate (who lost the election by the way) could run in the riding. And so much for respecting the local Cons constituency membership's right to choose the candidate they would like to represent them.

Then the Cons force the former candidate to go to Court to get the dough, the Party claiming the deal was void. Why? Because the former candidate allegedly told the media about the cash deal apparently in breach of a confidentiality clause written into the deal. So the Harper Cons refused to pay out the guy. Here is another media link on this story.

Can you imagine doing this kind of backroom deal in the first place. Then making it subject to a gag clause, then not paying the guy out forcing him into a court action. This is how they treat one of their own. Imagine how an ordinary citizen would be treated by these guys.

Classy and scuzzy all at the same time. So much for any credibility about accountability and your allegations of a new day of transparency Mr. Harper.

Friday, January 12, 2007

More Commentary on Alberta in Canada

I see Paul Boothe from the U of A has weighed in on the runaway rhetoric of Boutilier and has added a dash of Dr. Morton to boot in his Edmonton Journal Op Ed opinion piece today.

It is good to see some good old fashioned free speech coupled with some facts, sound analysis and an authoritative opinion emerging from the halls of academe. We need more of those informed voices in the public conversations of the day. Thanks for doing this Paul.

I have one bone to pick with Paul in his piece though. He states: “It seems like the new Stelmach cabinet bent on picking a fight with the rest of Canada.” I think that is an over generalization. We have only two Ministers in that mode. True, Stelmach made a comment in his first news conference about the concept of the Quebec nation saying, to the effect; that it should not take anything away from other provinces. And why should it and why would it? That is the sum total of cabinet commentary and it doesn’t add up to the entire “new Stelmach cabinet.”

For years, I, like so many other Progressive conservatives, just sat back and let the far right have their say and never really responded. I believed they were so obvious in their marginal ideology that it was unnecessary to rebut debate or challenge them. As a result of such inaction the rhetoric of the far right has become the voice of Alberta to the rest of Canada in the "minds" of the CBC in particular.

The recent CBC radio show “The Current” that Boothe refers to regarding Dr. Morton’s comments is a good case in point. I have not heard it yet so I will not comment on the content. However seeing Dr. Morton being slated as a guest to be a voice for Alberta discussing our provincial role in confederation rankles me both as a Progressive conservative and as an Albertan.

He would not come even close to representing any dominant Alberta perspective on the topic. He is entitled to his POV and has a right to express it. I just wonder who else they had on that program would represent a more inclusive and integrated Alberta perspective within Canada. I will be checking the program archives to give it a listen and hope they had a Progressive perspective included as well.

My business partner, Satya Das, does a lot of CBC French radio and television commentary on Alberta events and perspectives. He recently wrote a book called “The Best Country – Why Canada Will Lead the Future” which is an Albertan speaking about what makes Canada great. {which you can buy at Tix on the Square in Edmonton now}

For regular readers of this Blog you will know we co-write a regular monthly column for the LaPresse newspaper in Montreal on Alberta issues and topics too. Das would have made an excellent Edmonton counterpoint to the Morton position for the Calgary-centric CBC show segment on The Current.

When I saw Dr. Morton as a panelist I contacted the Calgary and Toronto producers of The Current by email to offer Satya’s services to provide another perspective on the subject of Alberta's role in Canada. No reply at all. Proving to me once again that the central Canadian idea of what an Albertan is has been forfeited to the far right and fundamentalists diatribes.

That mistaken caricature of the character and consciousness of Alberta has to be rebutted. I am working on it, including through this Blog. I see Paul Boothe is obviously engaged and like minded. It is sure nice to have such informed and effective allies.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Bad Boy Guy Boutilier

There is mounting evidence that Albertans are getting tired of suffering the insufferable Guy Boutilier? He is clearly becoming one of the least effectual politicians in the minds of Albertans today.

His recent misadventure is to engage in the mock battle over the meaning and implication of the Harper “mis-muse” about the Quebec “nation” and to assure Albertans that we can and should be the "bad boys of Confederation" to be sure we get our fair share. Nobody better try to mess with Guy Boutilier's Alberta. We can be tough and no body better try and us push around or short change us, least of all the government of Canada.

Boutilier in his new role as our “chief diplomat,” has stepped right into this "Quebec nation" business. It is a political cow pie if there ever was one. He does it with the classic and tired grumpy old Reform/Alliance framing mantra of panting over an implied or perceived pandering to Quebec that must be costing Alberta something somehow. He reverts to putting the proverbial political chip on the proverbial Alberta shoulder and dares anyone in Ottawa to knock it off.

Today Albertans are looking for politicians that will move forward to find ways to design and define a new positive leadership role for Alberta within Canada. We are not interested in trying to perfect the past based on perpetuating the angst of "the west wants in." Lets face it, Alberta is in.

Not since the Mulroney days have Albertans had so much power and influence in the federal government. The Prime Minister and his man for all reasons, Jim Prentice a de facto Deputy PM both come from Calgary. The key nation building national agenda setting Intergovernmental Affairs portfolio is also an Albertan. The Minister of Human Resources and Social Development is Albertan and Stockwell Day the Minister of Public Safety was recently Albertan and is still very Alberta sensitive. Calgary’s Jason Kenney, the former Parliamentary Secretary to the PM and now Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity around out the "Alberta In Team."

Newspaper reports, editorials, along with letters to the editor of newspapers and the blogosphere are all now commenting at length on the Boutilier shortcoming and limited capabilities including his most recent posturing making Alberta appear as a reactionary about the Quebec nation issue.

I particularly liked the comments of the more reflective thinker like Paul Boothe of the U of A put it best about Alberta’s role in Confederation when he said, "Confederation is working well for Alberta," and went on to say "I'm not interested in Alberta being a bad boy. I'm interested in Alberta being a leader."

Boothe gets the mood of Alberta today. Boutilier is trying to hold on to a past Alberta that has long since been the past. Albertans have moved on and we want politicians ready to move on with us not just try to hang on to the past.

Yes a strong Alberta does make for a strong Canada. But to most of us Alberta more of a notion than a nation. The notion of Alberta is that we are adaptive and innovative. We are energetic and engaging. We are inclusive and curious. I think being a notion, an idea, a work in progress is a better description of the dynamics of Alberta today than any artifical mimicry of a Quebec nation concept.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Ambrose Survives Cabinet Shuffle Smelling Like a Rose

For those who think Rona Ambrose was benched or even marginalized in the recent Harper Cabinet shuffle, should think again. Sure she is no longer on the short leash she suffered as Environment Minister. That issue is becoming the “hot button” political and policy area leading up to the next election and the jury is out on John Baird . I am still optimistic he will get enough latitude to change things in the Harper government culture.

Intergovernmental Affairs is a brain trust portfolio with lot of interesting issues and complexity. This is a perfect place for someone like Ambrose who loves a challenge with interesting issues and moving targets and drama. I have noted in earlier postings I expect Ambrose to flourish in this arena.

The equally, if not more interesting development coming out of the Cabinet shuffle for Ambrose are the side bars to her appointment. As head of Western Economic Diversification I expect she will become very activitist as the face of the Harper government in the WED primary areas community development, innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the west. This should help assure her re-election and allow her to do some good too.

The other very interesting sidebar is her influence as President of the Queen’s Privy Council and her committee assignments. She sits on three of the seven key Cabinet committees and two of them are chaired by Jim Prentice the de facto Deputy Prime Minister. Prentice, by the way, sits or chairs a full five committees and takes care of a full portfolio as well as being the political Minister for Alberta. Jim Prentice has to be the hardest working guy on the Hill.

Ambrose sits on Prentice’s Operations Committee that does the day-to-day coordination of the government agenda, issues management, legislation, house planning and communications. All of it is critical stuff for the continuing success of the Harper government going into the next election.

The next Ambrose committee is Social Affairs that deals with issues around health care, justice, aboriginal, training and skills development, culture and immigration policy issues. Again we see a plethora of critical issues and concern to Canadians.

Finally she sits on the new Environment and Energy Security Committee that is chaired again by Prentice. Here is the place where the environment and the economy will be balanced with concerns over energy security ad related policy issues.

Anyone who thinks Ambrose is out of the loop in this Cabinet shuffle is not looking at the devil in the details and the fine print behind the press releases. To focus on the typical personality driven news noise coverage of who is in, who is out, who is a comer and who is falling from grace is to miss a great deal of the import and impact of the shuffle. By any objective measure Ambrose has done very well through it all.

Stephen "Kermit" Harper Goes Green

Stephen “Kermit” Harper is now saying it isn’t going to be easy being green but be green he must, according to the headline in the Globe and Mail today.

It wasn’t long ago he was saying it wasn’t all that important to be green because a 1% GST cut and $4 bucks a day for families to provide child care was more critical. The introduction of the underwhelming Clean Air Act had such a long fuse before anything real happens that it was not seen as anything like the greening of the Cons.

Then the opinion polls putting the environment as the #1 political and public policy issue started to pile up. Harper all of a sudden started paying attention. He is now saying everything has changed. All of a sudden the Cons are abandoning their anti-Liberal political rhetoric. The mantra “…that the Liberals did nothing on the environment for 13 years” or “GHG emissions went up 30% during the Liberal government watch” is about to disappear. It wasn't working anyway.

Now Prime Minister Harper appears to be running hard to catch up to the environment issues bandwagon. He now knows he has to if he hopes to win a majority government in any pending election.

He is admitting in the G&M that “Emissions of greenhouse gases are on track to rise dramatically over the next five years. He pledges to “do a lot more” about the environment with his new Minister at the helm but also seems to accept that Canada will be 50% over Kyoto targets by 2012. So much for blaming the Liberals for past sins. Harper's government is finally accepting the reality of climate change and admitting it can’t be fixed overnight but that it must be fixed.

Don’t you love it when political rhetoric has to bow to the facts and a more honest positioning of policy issues ensue? It is not like Harper has not been active on the environment front. Look at all the environment programs Harper’s government has cancelled in the past year, from home retrofits to funding Ontario’s coal plant shutdowns. One suspects a major motivation was simply because they were Liberal ideas and therefore, by definition, without merit.

The Decima poll of January 4 has some very bad news for the Cons. Decima’s numbers show that most of those who voted Con in the last election don’t yet think the environment is the big issue. Only 12% of Con voters cite it as #1. To 13% of them health care is still #1. The voters for all other parties are in a very different world from the Cons. All of them identified the environment and the #1 issue.

The Greens were not surprisingly the most vociferous group at 35% picking it as #1. That a lower number than I would have expected of the Greens but perhaps it shows they are no longer just a one issue party. 30% of the Bloc voters, 27% of NDP supporters and 22% of Liberals see the environment as the #1 issue facing the country. The Con voters are clearly not main stream on this issue.

I want to accept Harper’s green conversion as real and authentic. I will be giving the Harper Cons the benefit of the doubt and be waiting to see what they actually do. They sure have a long way to go to be worthy of our trust and to prove that they actually “get it.”

Harper will be running against his own party's inclinations if he really goes green. But can’t win a majority unless he convinces Canadians he gets it and means it. He has to also be convincing to Canadians as to his sincerity and most importantly, that he is capable and trustworthy on the issues.

To his reform/alliance oriented conservative base all this dramatic change in focus may be too much to ask. I wonder how many of them will continue supporting his leadership if they feel brtrayed by himne again. Think Income Trust!

To the majority of Canadians being green is now expected of their government. Harper will need time to make his turnaround credible to Canadians and to reassure his reform/alliance base that he has not abandoned them in their quest to bury the old Liberals in the next election. Unfortunately for Harper and the Cons main stream Canadians do not identify Dion's leadership with the old Liberal arrogance and corruption. They have moved on!

You can bet voters will be staying “attuned" and it is going to be very interesting.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Too Many Unanswered Questions on Goverment Credit Card Incident

It was with great dismay that I read in the recent media accounts about a leaked memo around an inappropriate private purpose credit charge on a government credit card by an E.A. to a former Alberta Cabinet Minister.

I know the former E.A. who is involved. I am disappointed in the obvious lack of judgment he has displayed, and admitted to, regarding this issue. Paying the money back is the minimum response one could expect and at least that was done.

Those actions, to my mind, are beyond inappropriate. They are also a breach of the public’s trust. Not in the lawyer’s sense of a private breach of trust but in the public’s context. We need to be able to trust our governors, and their political staff, to exercise sound judgment in the public interest. An Executive Assistant to a Minister of the Crown is directly involved in our system of governance and we need to be confident and assured that they too are worthy of our trust and they are acting in the public’s interest.

We don’t need agree with everything our governors say and do. But we ought to be able to rest assured they are always acting in ways that THEY believe is in OUR BEST INTEREST and that they can explain how they see their actions serving that end. We can disagree with a policy, an opinion and a judgment call, but the least we can expect is to be fully informed and advised about them at all times.

I am disturbed by some of the alleged facts I have read in the MSM surrounding this incident as well. I feel neither informed nor advised from what I know so far. I have questions about what we know and don’t know and why the government has not been cooperating with a full disclosure of all the records and facts involved.

I don’t like what I see and sense about some of the timing and sequences of events surrounding this incident. While the funds were paid back I wonder how long a time had elapsed after the debt was incurred. When was the incident disclosed to the appropriate departmental authorities and what did they do in response? Why wasn’t the matter immediately turned over to the Auditor General to deal with? Why did he first find out about this from the media, like I did?

Were there immediate remediation, mitigation and disciplinary actions taken or did this all only come to light after the Minister’s loss of the 2004 election and as the E.A. was leaving government? Was this Las Vegas trip a single event or was there a pattern of actions here? And if so what are the details as to timing, amounts and frequency of any pattern? Has this happened before involving other parties, and if so, how was it handled? How big is this problem in our government?

Why has the government refused to turn over the records even when asked to do so by the Privacy Commissioner, who apparently agrees with the media that they ought to be made public? Now the Auditor General is investigating and he is also after the records. I trust that at least he will have full and unfettered access to them and will make them public in a timely way. And I trust he will be able to “follow the money” as well.

All this happened before the PC Party chose Ed Stelmach as our leader and the next Premier of Alberta. Since then Premier Stelmach’s identified five priorities for his government. At the top of the list is to “Govern with Integrity and Transparency.” He has recently demonstrated some of his personal commitment to that priority in dealing decisively with an allegation of a fast track promotion of his son in the Solicitor General department. With this credit card incident, he has just been handed his first real leadership test of this top priority. I expect he will rise to the occasion when he returns from holidays next week.