Reboot Alberta

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Alberta's Tobacco Reduction Strategy is in Trouble

There is lots of good news coming out of the Budget Update. The surplus is up and the spending in under control. Stelmach has brought some much needed fiscal discipline back to this government in the short 3 month he has taken over the leadership.

Some serious concerns on the revenue side are being reported. Not that the revenues are down, they are not. The concern is the increase in tobacco tax revenue of some $40M over budget.

Indications are, according to Action on Smoking and Health this increase is due to higher sales volumes that are in fact caused by price discounting by manufacturers.

Alberta as a Tobacco Reduction Strategy that called for a 50% reduction in tobacco shipments between 2001 and 2011 but only a 15% reduction has occurred since 2001 and there have been repeated sales increases since 2003. The performance success on this health indicator is in serious jeopardy. Stats show that tobacco is the leading avoidable cause of 3,400 premature deaths in Alberta every year.

For the last several years, tobacco revenues have been repeatedly underestimated by Alberta Finance and these increases are a disturbing reminder that the Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy is not meeting its stated objectives. The performance measure for tobacco shipments is 2528 million cigarettes for FY2011 (four years from now). The total shipments for FY2006 were 4380 million cigarettes. This means that tobacco shipments need to decline by over 40% within the next four years in order to achieve the ATRS 10-year performance target. This reduction would require a Herculean effort by the Alberta government.

Dave Hancock, the Minister of Health and Wellness is calling for a total ban on smoking in workplaces and public places, something that was tied many times before but never got passed Ralph Klein, the former Premier.

Here is hoping this is an idea whose time has come under a new Premier.

Peter Russell Weighs in on Judicial Appointments

Peter Russell is one of the most respected authorities on judicial appointments and the process. Everyone who values democracy and ther personal freedom and fear political ideology replacing the statesmanship role of the Prime Minister's office needs to read his Globe and Mail Op-Ed today.

If you are not a G&M subscriber - buy today's edition - this Opinion Piece alone is worth the cost.

Monday, February 26, 2007

"I Read the News Today - Oh Boy!"

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces $200 million for Afghanistan for infrastructure development over 10 years.

Alberta’s Premier Ed Stelmach announces $400 million for Fort McMurray for infrastructure development over 3 years.

Hey Prime Minister Harper - are you serious about solving the problem in Afghanistan or are you just into PR?

Stelmach Will Release Minister's and EA's Expenses Accounts

March 1, 2007 UPDATE: Alberta Government confirms that Ministerial and Executive Assistant expenses are being disclosed.

Premier Stelmach was in fine form at a fundraising breakfast for a number of Edmonton constituencies today. One of the important but subtle messages that he sent was about a new way of doing politics. It was centred on his principle of governing with integrity and transparency.

He said he was going to release the monthly expense reports of Cabinet Minister’s and their Executive Assistants. This is not doubt driven by the recent Auditor General review and pending report of an expense claim made by a Klein era Ministerial Executive Assistant who charged some Las Vegas bachelor expenses to a government credit card.

He has already made a step in the right direction by making public by posting on a government website, every month, the entire manifests of who uses the provincial government airplanes, when, where and why.

This, and a Lobbyist and Contractor Registry Act as Bill 1 in the Spring Session set a new tone for integrity and transparency. It is a sure sign that Stelmach is differentiating his government from the Klein regime.

Now if he would only get his messaging clearer and straight on the economy and the environment relationship.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Al Gore Wins an Oscar - Will a Nobel Be Next?

Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” just won the Oscar for Best Documentary. I predicted this in an earlier posting. At that time I said he would win the Nobel Peace Prize too. I should start taking bets…anyone out there prepared to give me odds?

There are a growing number of Progressive websites in the United States with petitions and pushes to draft Gore to run for President in 2008. That effort should be heating up a bit now.

Premier Stelmach and Dr. Suzuki Need to Sit Down Over a Beer

Premier Stelmach and Dr. David Suzuki need to sit down and have a beer and get to know each other. The media induced tempest between the two is not informative nor helpful.

I was at the Suzuki lecture at the University of Alberta last night and heard him say “I did not write that headline” referencing the Calgary Herald headline attributing a statement to Suzuki on Stelmach’s qualifications to govern. In fact Suzuki admitted he “did not even know the new Premier’s name.” While Suzuki is a man of dedicated passion he is no fool and not prone to reckless character judgments.

I don’t know Suzuki except through his writings, lecture and television programs, which come to think of it, I perhaps know quite a bit about him. I do know Ed Stelmach and that his personal sense of responsibility as Premier is that he is a trustee for Albertans for the natural resources and the environment.

Stelmach has made "managing growth" a principle of his Premiership but that does not mean he is going to intervene inappropriately in the marketplace. As Premier he sees himself as the public’s trustee for the environment and as a working farmer, even today, he has a personal sense of what stewardship means.

There is lots that Stelmach and Suzuki can learn from each other. I think these two men of character and capacity need to have beer and get to know each other personally. The potential synergy of their talents and perspectives will serve us all for the better – at so many levels.

James Rajotte is a Class Act

James Rajotte is a class act. His letter to the Editor in the Edmonton Journal today sets the record straight over the visit by the CEO of CV Technologies (the Cold FX folks) to attend a luncheon on Parliament Hill - at his invitation.

He clears the air over what was talked about and why the meeting was held and deals effectively with the issue of any possible impropriety concerning the Lobbyist Registry Act.

There may be a technical and procedural issue here as to whether the meeting should have been registered pursuant to the Act. I expect it should have been but the parties are not professional lobbyists and were there at the invitation of their government MP. They deserve the benefit of the doubt.

That said the spirit and intent of disclosure of such meetings is resolved by MP Rajotte’s letter where he is putting it all on the public record. In fact his disclosure of the meeting is significantly more information than you usually get from the official records pursuant the lobbyist registration legislation. I expect 99% of citizens don't even know how to access the disclosure information under the federal lobbyist registry system. Rajotte puts this public disclosure right in the MSM. Good for him! Good for the Edmonton Journal for publishing the letter.

This is a shining example of open, transparent, accountable and responsive government. If this was the norm for how our elected representatives acted we would not have the “gotcha” mentality exhibited by the NDP over this invitation by an MP to a constituent to tell of her personal and business success story.

Memo to self: It looks like even if an MP asks you to have lunch on his agenda one best register the event as your lobbying activity. An ounce of prevention….

Are Pollsters Being Abused by MSM?

Are pollsters being caught up in the Stockholm Syndrome? Are they being require to position individual poll results as points of “light” as if they were heralding a new Messiah? The distinctions being made are in reality with out a difference because they ignore that the results that are being touted are statistically non-existent or exaggerated based on the margins of error.

The commentary by very qualified pollsters is becoming close to the guest slots on the Entertainment Channels who are seen giving “expert” evidence on compelling stories like why Brittany shaved her head or who gets the custody of the Anna Nicole Smith body. This has seen reputable MSM turning polling, and I worry about political commentators too, into a sideshow at best but closer to farce for the most part.

Sure there MSM commentators who are exceptions. Chantal Hebert, Andre Pratte, Rex Murphy and Lawrence Martin are my trust worthies even if I disagree with them, which I do on occasion. There are more who are not hostages to the system, I am sure...but those are my dependable independent thinkers.

Look at how polls and pollsters are also being used as the attention getters in the rating wars of MSM and how they are being abused in the process. "Political Infotainment" must be included the Oxford English Dictionary by now.

Here are a couple of examples of what I think is the MSM abuse of poll results. A Globe and Mail/CTV polls recently showed we "know" Harper more than Dion. After all he has been in the political party leadership game for five years compared to Dions almost 3 months. That is a ratinale as to why we would give him a bigger nod on speculation as to if he would be perceived as the best PM today. It is hypothetical anyway without an actual election call.

The pollster spokesperson on this "story" says with this polling evidence of a Prime Ministerial preference for Harper he should go to an election soon. The more considered analysis shows the real "issue questions" in the poll results showed both men were statically tied within the margin of error range. Generally 25% of the poll participants were undecided...not an insignificant fact to be considered before calling or engineering an election.

We all knew then that Quebec was going to an election sooner and the outcome there, namely a Charest victory, was key to the Conman’s strategy to a federal majority. Why would Harper go now when waiting gives him a potential for a big edge in Quebec? Quebec support for the Cons is the key to a majority government. No reason to go earlier as the story on the poll results suggested…other than a “surge” in the poll. The Cons "bump" by the way was less that the Green’s “surge” in percentage terms in the same poll.

Not to be outdone Canwest/Global a few days later runs its own poll with another firm and the spokesperson for this pollster says the Cons have the momentum but it is insufficient a margin to go to an election. However the sponsoring newspapers headline, notwithstanding the results reads “Tories Top Liberals in Latest Poll.” The story has the following quote from the pollster:

“The survey, conducted by Ipsos-Reid for Canwest News Service and Global
National, says the Conservatives have the support of 36 per cent of the
population, compared to 34 per cent for the Liberals.

The two-point edge enjoyed by Stephen Harper's Conservatives falls within the margin of error, leaving the two parties in a statistical tie, said pollster Darrell Bricker."

The reality is here the Tories do not “Top Liberals.” They are tied and have been for a while. The headline may be lying, if you decide to impute motive. It misleads in any event, regardless of motive. The headline is factuallly wrong but it is a better reader "hook."

The hype and hyperbole in the competing MSM attention wars is not serving the voter well. No wonder more people are turning to Blogs and the Internet for information and analysis. On the Web you know you need a reality filter but the biases are more obvious and often worn on the
writer’s sleeves.

You will not likely be misled and you can weigh the anonymous Bloggers against those who identify themselves as for credibility and integrity. Competition has been sacrificed the objectivity of the MSM. It is as worthy of your mistrust just as Prime Minister Harper is worthy of your distrust given his reckless and politically motivated meddling with the judicial review

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Public Conversation Has Started on the Anti Terrorism Act...YES!

I am encouraged by the MSM and the Blogs about what I have read on the Anti Terrorism Act review. I still have to find time to read the Supreme Court decision.

For a quality commentary on the ATA and the politics versus the public policy concerns go to Rational Reasons site. The last two postings are there are excellent.

I also like the Garth Turner Blog post on his observations as a newly minted Liberal on how this is unfolding (or unraveling depending on the level of your cynicism).

Also check out the Globe and Mail today Comment piece by Welsey Wark of the Muck Centre for International Studies at the U of T. He puts a better context around the consequences of the Supreme Court decision and points out it is not a crisis but an opportunity for Parliament to build a better law that respects rights, provides grater personal protections and provides for national security.

Surely that is not to must to ask of our legislators. Although under the current partisan political posturing, on all sides, this search and need for a rebalance may be too much to expect.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Stephen Harper is Starting to Remind Me of Richard Nixon

The past few days have been very disturbing. The political interference by Prime Minister Harper in the Judicial Review Committee has escalated. The Supreme Court Chief Justice is now publicly expressing concerns over the continuing independence of the judiciary. Her fears are not unfounded.

Stephen Harper is clearly now all about political power and positioning and is only focused on what he has to do to achieve a majority government in the next election. The personal political power ends apparently justify a wanton disregard for the rights and reputations of people if he decides to vilify or bully then under his Parliamentary privilege protections. He is unapologetic for the damage he may have caused as well.

We see this also in Prime Minister Harper’s implied linking of the Air India Inquiry process to alleging spurious motives to the Opposition’s questioning the continuation of the Anti Terrorism Act. He showed more bad judgment by not ensuring the Inquiry, he appointed, has access and disclosure of government controlled documents so it can do its work.

Instead he sets up a photo op with families of Air India victims as more political positioning and pandering. Is this cheap and tacky politics or, as he would see it, “strategic and tactical messaging.” Either way it is demeaning of the office he holds.

The Harper response to his critics was a counter attack approach, adding more despondence and increased questioning about his personal agenda. Concerns now arise over the content and the quality of his character to be the leader of a country like Canada. His approach may serve him well in pursuit of power in today’s Venezuela - but not Canada.

Then we have the Supreme Court decision on the unconstitutionality of the security certificates process under the ATA. This decision a welcome impetus and opportunty for Canadians to consider the extension of the ATA. It frames the trade off between personal freedoms and security from terrorists. We need to understand and consdier the implications of the ATA legislation and we need to make the trade off choice consciously as a citizenry. Perhaps that will happen in the pending election. One can only hope.

I have not yet had the time to read the SCC decision but I shall soon. I think, based on media reports only, we citizens are being advised by the Court that we need to be worried about potential abuses of these extreme powers by police, security and intelligence agencies and those with discretionary political powers too….like Prime Ministers.

In this Blog have drawn parallels between Stephen Harper and George W. Bush. Those comparisons are still valid between the two men as politicians and political players. There is not valid comparable in terms of their capacity as leaders and holders of the highest office in their lands. Harper is clearly much smarter and is more clever and conniving than the befuddled Bush could ever be.

Harper the man is now less like the bewildered George Bush and is starting to remind me more of the cunning the Richard Nixon we discover in Watergate. I am not suggesting Harper has a Watergate type problem now or in his future. I am suggesting that he worthy of profound distrusts, just as Nixon was found to be untrustworthy. I say this because of how Harper is starting to reflect more of a Nixon personality and political approachs in how he handles opposition, criticism and challenges to his authority.

I am also starting to see Harper’s demeanour in terms of Pierre Trudeau as the “gunslinger” we came to know during the FLQ Crisis. The famous Trudeau line from those days of the War Measures Act was in response to a TV journalists question about “how far would he go?” Trudeau said “Just watch me!”

To my mind Harper has proven himself as someone we need to watch. Canadians need to be very careful how much power and discretion we give him in the next election. In the past week I have withdrawn any benefit of the doubt I previously afforded Stephen Harper as the man I might trust to lead Canada. He raises more questions than he answers. He creates more concerns than he solves.

I have not posted for a few days because I have been busy but I think I would have deferred anyway so I could mull over the events of the past week. I am glad I did take some time. I have mulled and have come to a considered conclusion about Harper suitability for leadership. I have concluded that Mr. Harper is motivated by a goal of personal political power but he is not equipped with the strength of character necessary to govern well. As a result, in my opinion, he is profoundly dangerous to our democracy and disrespectful of the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Canada. He must be opposed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Harper Gets to Surge in a Poll...Bush is Still Waiting to Surge in Iraq

A BANNER HEADLINE IN THE GLOBE AND MAIL PROCLAIMS A TORY “SURGE.” Is anyone still surprised that Harper’s political hero and mentor is George W. Bush? Now Harper is intent on outdoing the “Dubya” by having his “surge” first… while the “Decider” is still waiting for his “permission slip” from Congress so he can have his Iraq troop “surge.”

This new Globe and Mail / CTV poll is just daring Steve to call an election. Let’s look at the ploy. The poll of 1000 Canadians done between Dec 15-18, with 3.1% margin of error, shows Harper has 36% versus Dion’s 18% indicating he “would do the best job of Prime Minister.” Layton is a respectable 16% but the real story is 23% undecided. Let’s put some context on this support.

Harper has been a federal party leader for almost 5 years, since March 20, 2002 when he took over the Alliance Party in a decisive first ballot victory from Stockwell Day. He has been Prime Minister for over a year in some of Canada’s most uncertain times. When this poll was taken Dion has been the leader of the Liberal Party, winning on the fourth ballot for a grand total of 75 DAYS, including political hothouse times of Christmas and New Year.

Smilin’ Jack Layton has been the NDP leader more than four years again winning with a first ballot victory on January 25, 2003. He is Mr. Charismatic winning that most meaningless of political questions at 36% nosing out Harper by a point. Harper has to be asking himself, “What is a poor economist to do to after five years to make people warm to him?”

The recent performances of the Liberal party under Chrétien and Martin have not been confidence builders by any stretch. The 36% support for Harper is amazing…amazingly low under the circumstance. The 18% for Dion is also amazing…amazing he has that much support at all when he is virtually unknown, leading a disgraced party who is still in the political penalty box in the mind of Canadians.

On name recognition alone one would expect Harper to be a big winner…”the devil you know.” The most important number on this question…again the 23% undecided. That should scare the “beejeezez” out of Harper and give Dion a glimmer of hope. Remember campaigns matter.

The headline reporting on this poll is a pure ploy to bait Harper into an ego driven early election. I say this because the headline is a misdirection of the poll results as a whole. The real story was on A7 of the Globe and Mail. Taking the 3.1% margin of error in context the critical political questions show a statistical tie.

The key question of “…how would you vote today” has the Cons (34) and Libs (29) still in a statistical tie. “Who do you identify with the most,” Cons (27) Libs (28) another statistical tie. The statistical tie story is the same on questions of who would govern best, manage the economy best and deal with the environment and global warming. About 25% of Canadians are undecided on each of these questions…that is the real story here.

Harper’s five years in leadership politics and focus on only five political promises in the past year has given him the clear edge to where 50% see him as having “…the clearest vision of where HE (emphasis added) want to take the country. He is also seen as the most decisive by 53% of respondents.

The real question these numbers beg is do we share HIS vision of the country…it is not decided yet – just look at the size of the undecided voters. Being decisive is not helpful if we don’t trust you or your decisions or your agenda. What if the voter’s true sense of Harper is one of a man often wrong but never in doubt! That will not win an election.

As for the personal characteristics in this poll, it is old news. We have already seen them from Nik Nanos at SES in his February 12 poll. Read my post of Feb 12 for my take on it then too.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Could the Week of March 20 - 26 Change Canada?

There have been some very significant dates in the modern history between Quebec and Canada. The two referendums, the defeat of the Accords Charlottetown and Meech Lake, the FLQ Crisis and I rank the election of Rene Lévesque in 1976 as amongst the biggies.

Now we are poised for another one…the pending Quebec election speculated for March 26 as at the time of writing. The week of March 20 to 26th could be monumental for the future of the country.

On March 20 we are rumored to have a Federal Budget and 6 days later Quebec will elect a new government. Depending on the Quebec election outcomes Stephen Harper will do his best Charlie Chaplin staged pratfall and will cause a federal election to be called, perhaps by engineering the defeat of his budget.

That budget is going to be as bountiful for Quebec as you can imagine. The Mulroney CF-18 favoritism to Quebec is going to look like downright penury in comparison. Dion may be dancing with the devil Chrétien for political advice but Harper is siting at the feet of Mulroney, at least when George Bush is too busy to return phone calls because his is preoccupied with destroying American influence in the world.

Mark your calendars. March 20 Federal Budget and a give away to Quebec designed to “ensure” a Charest victory. All this for the feigned federalist forces (a.k.a the CPC election positioning for more Quebec seats). This will be the biggest news on Canadian television since Anna Nicole Smith’s death took Iraq and Iran off the 24 hour news cycle.

I have a sense that Dumont and the ADQ are going to spoil the party for Charest and Harper. He is not going to win but he is going to be the winner. Quebecers like to make favourable federalist deals but they don’t like to be bought off overtly nor played for fools.

Don’t under estimate Dumont. Back-of-the-packers have done rather well of late. Stelmach in Alberta, Dion in the Liberal leadership – even Stephen Harper was seen as a second rater until the RCMP thought they should announce their Income Trust investigation and helped Harper out in the 2006 election.

Quebec people do not like being played like cheap fiddles but they want change too. Hence Harper can utter a few choice words, like “fiscal imbalance” and “Quebec Nation” in the dying days of the last election. Harper did not even have to understand the words or the concepts behind them and he gets 12 Quebec seats. Not bad and not because they like Harper but because they wanted to send the Liberals a message…they could not be bought by cheap political tricks and they were humiliated by the implications of same in Adscam.

So come March 20…six days before Charest’s electoral D-day, Harper’s budget will offer a cornucopia of fiscal favours to Quebec and he will cozy up to Charest with so many promises it could only be described as fiscal promiscuity. Quebec will have to decide if it is only the price of their soul we are talking about or the fact of their soul.

It is going to be a fundamental and future changing week for Canada, never mind the shenanigans of Harper and Charest. My guess is Quebec will take the money, Charest will win, the PQ Boisclair will be a bust and told by his party to hit the road and Dumont will hold the balance of Quebec power at the end or the day. Then Dion will force the federal election on the Harper Budget and the future of Canada as a nation will once again be at play.

Bookmark your favourite iconoclastic Blogs and columnists for frequent reading that week. It is going to be fascinating.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Perfect Image of Harper's Preferred Supreme Court

If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then an inspired political cartoon is worth 10,000 of them. Cartoonist, deAdder's brilliance shows through and he captures the essence of Prime Minister Harper's end game on Judicial Review Committee political meddling. There is a fine line between laughing and weeping but this cartoon made me do both!

I posted earlier on Graham Thomson, the Edmonton Journal political columnist going to Afghanistan. His piece today puts what is happening and how difficult it is to have a positive outcome for the Afghan people. Staying the course and keeping our eye on the long run is key to being effective. Thanks Graham for the insights and information. Keep them coming.

Kudos to Alberta's Finance Minister Lyle Oberg on his clarity and context on what equalization is and how it works. The Edmonton Journal Editorial Board and mark Lisac's Insight Into Government both comment on Dr. Oberg's enlightened approach this week. I get pretty hard on Dr. Oberg from time to time, but he has busted a Ralph Klein era myth that equalization is somehow a punishment by Ottawa on Alberta. I have posted on this in the past too.
There are real issues of Alberta's role in confederation we need to deal with. Now Lyle has to sit down with his PC Leadership Campaign supporter, Guy Boutilier, the new Alberta Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, and explain how Alberta fits in Canada in terms of equalization, and perhaps otherwise too. Guy's recent comments show he does not get it yet.
UPDATE: FEB 19: Excellent piece by Robert Roach of the Canada West Foundation in the Edmonton Journal today on equalization.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Diefenbaker Was Right...Polls Are for Dogs!

Some trivia, trivialization and triteness for your late night consideration! I booted up this blog this evening and was thrilled to have a total of 917 votes on the site “poll” that asks which leader do you trust on environment issues? The poll on my blog site says 37% of you think no leader can be trusted on environmental policy. This site based “polling” is not only unscientific…it is not even dependable enough to be considered non-scientific. But it is fun.

All but some 100 poll participants of the 917 totally“random respondents” happened on the site this Saturday night. Lots of lonely misanthropes out there I expect. I think it is time for you to take your 8 Tracks and donate them to Value Village. It will be an opportunity to advance society as you know it, feel good about yourselves and get on with your lives.

I am flattered to have been “invaded” because it implies I have more influence than I deserve. Yes only a lawyer could be that arrogant. The other reality is that such site based polls are more pathetic then prescient. I prefer to think of them on both criteria of, non-prescient and yes they can be pathologically pathetic too. But they can be fun.

That said, I welcome the 917 citizens who have taken the time to make both points and demonstrate the folly of such “polls” (aka surveys) in general. In fact I expect the 917 “visitors” to my site are no less self selecting but slightly more “robotic” than those found to respond to traditional polling processes...but I could be wrong…do not mistake this comment for sincerity – it is unadorned and purely feigned humility.

That said again, I will continue the folly and offer such “polls” on this site. The questions in the future may be more appropriate to the "mind set" of the robotic respondents however. We need to focus so we meet the needs of this audience that I have attracted. I want them to feel welcome and to come back to the blog because they could be the essence of the George Bush “base” that inevitably want ot relocate troops into Canada when he pulls them out of Iraq. He needs the troops to go somewhere to s4cure oil supplies. He needs an alternative for returning troops other than unemployment for the next year so his term can end on a high note patriotically. Why not have the disenchanted retreating Bush Republicans become more appreciative of their northern energy alternatrive - Canuckistan? I hope this blog helps?

Please come back to this blog often you robotics, retreating Republicans and Harper Cons and invade the polls at will and even feel free to comment on occasion - but only if you are sentient.

I come from the premise that the best way to support democracy is to lie to a pollster. I am hardly a pollster but admire the "dissing" inherent in the civil disobedience, the prank-like dishonesty and intellectual disingenuousness exemplified by such a "poll" invasion. Such participation has invigourated this little blog site, perched as we are way out here on the edge of the blogosphere.

I neither honour nor salute you but I do offer you my indulgence. What questions would you like to see posed on this blog that are so trite that the answers will symbolize the essence of vagueness and vaccuousness (presuming that is a word)? Please no Anna Nicole Smith suggestions please. She has already had more MSM coverage than 9/11…there are limits of tolerance in the universe of tripe!

Is Harper More Audacious Than Authentic?

Prime Minister Harper’s trustworthiness and integrity is starting to go into meltdown. His audacity outstrips his gall given reports on his comments and political stance in light of the RCMP single criminal breach of trust charge on the Income Trust investigation.

His obstreperous refusal to pull or at the very least change his French language attack ad to correct what is clearly misrepresents the facts on Ralph Goodale’s relationship to the Income Trust investigation based on the RCMP findings. This attitude is reprehensible for someone who aspires to be a national leader and an avatar for Canadian values of fairness and honesty.

His original Harper government stance on Bill C-288 that requires some government planning on how we might meet Kyoto targets this last week, was reckless and disrespectful of democracy. Harper’s government said it was “toothless” and denied it would have any application to his Conservative government. This Bill, regardless of if it is good or bad, has been passed in the House of Commons by the duly elected representatives of the citizens of Canada. It is now in the Senate for approval and on its way to soon becoming the law of the land.

NO politician, not even the Prime Minister of the country has the luxury of ignoring the law. Harper has belatedly come to his senses and has now given a half-hearted acknowledgement that he will be bound by the law. Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister, for that concession to democracy and to the rule of law.

Speaking of the rule of law, the intrusive political meddling of Prime Minister Harper in the Justice Review Committee process adds to Canadians diminishing confidence in his character and competence to govern. Winning an election with tactics and guile is one thing. Governing with wisdom and authenticity is something entirely different. It appears now that Prime Minister Harper may have imbued with oodles of the form talents but have a dangerous dearth of the latter.

The MSM and blogosphere is starting to pile up with commentary on the clear and present danger Mr. Harper’s approach to politics and governance represents. In the face of such a threat, the typical citizen’s cynicism, skepticism and indifference of the recent past are dangerous responses with dire consequences.

Canadians had better engage and become active in the political process and consciously and conscientiously participate in the next election. Otherwise “their” government will be made up of fundamentalists and ideologues with a nasty brutish and short temperament.

These people are on a mission to control and limit our personal freedoms and to impose their own prescribed moralistic value set on the rest of society. In a free and democratic society they have every right to pursue those ends within the democratic means of open and free elections.

In a democracy with majority rule we always get the kind of government we deserve, even if we did not select it ourselves due to indifference. Majority rule is a myth if a majority of citizens do not even show up to vote. Remember the world is run by those who show up! Canadians better show up in this next election and send a clear message about what kind of Canada they want. We have to “take back” our government by informing ourselves on the issues and then voting our own consciousness…but voting for sure.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

RCMP Get Their Man - But Only One!

I see the RCMP have laid one solitary charge out of a 14 month criminal investigation around allegations of leaks from the Liberal government Income Trust initiative.

The investigation was announced during the last election by the RCMP and had an obvious negative impact on Paul Martin’s support and some argue changed the outcome of the election. Interesting allegation and hard to prove but serious questions still remain about the judgment of the RCMP around the launching of this investigation. Not that they did it but how they did it.

The RCMP confirmed today that no politicians were involved or facing any charges. No Liberal government political staff was involved or facing any charges. Just a single bureaucrat in Finance is now accused of breach of trust.

Almost makes you want to reinstate the former RCMP Commissioner who resigned over his incompetence on the Maher Arar affair just so you could fire him again for this fiasco.

I know the official line of the RCMP will be they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t pursue a criminal investigation in the middle of an election. The tragedy is they rarely ever let it be known publicly that they are launching such an investigation in the first place. But to not follow the usual procedure and do a public announcement of a criminal investigation right in the middle of an election is too coincidental for my “sniff test.”

This is not a Catch 22 for the RCMP – it was poor judgment at best and political interference at worst. And I don’t care which it is, either one is reprehensible.

And Prime Minister wants the police to have representation on the committees to make recommendations for political appointments as to who is qualified to be judges now too!

Is Harper's Justice Review Meddling Forfeiting Our Freedoms?

The Globe and Mail piece today by Kirk Makin outlines an example of what can go wrong when the separation of powers between the judiciary, the police and prosecutors get clouded.

The disturbing reality in the Truscott story is captured in this quotation:

"Defence counsel Phil Campbell told the court that the true nature of the evidence in the case was distorted and concealed for decades. "This kind of case -- where evidence starts to conform to the charge, rather than the charge conforming to the evidence -- is the hallmark of so many wrongful convictions."

"Mr. Campbell said that an honest belief held by Mr. Truscott's trial lawyer, Frank Donnelly -- that police and prosecutors would not mislead him about the exculpatory evidence -- was sadly misplaced. He said that Mr. Donnelly was far too diligent to have ignored evidence that would have bolstered his case."

"He was defending a 14-year-old boy he was attempting to keep from the gallows," Mr. Campbell said. "There is no way he would take it on the chin . . . if he knew there was a body of evidence that he could use to rebut the Crown and turn it to his advantage."

"Mr. Campbell said that, almost 50 years later, a combination of sound science, new witnesses and the unearthing of long-buried witness statements point directly toward Mr. Truscott's innocence. "

Here we have examples of suppressed evidence that might have proven the innocence of a citizen at trial. As a result a potentially innocent life is destroyed by the system. We have to await the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal on the Truscott case to be conclusive about this.

We have, in the meantime, evidence that in Truscott' s trial prosecutors and police colluded to withhold evidence that did serious harm to a citizen's rights and freedom. That citizen was a 14 year old boy at that. It brings our system of justice into question. Why did they do this in the first place? To win at all costs?

What if the primary success factor of the legal system was measured by how well the police, prosecutors and judges were at "getting hard on crime" as Prime Minister Harper says he wants? Does that mean the system is successful if it gets a "win" by getting a conviction by what ever means it takes? Again at what cost will this be to our legal protections, the rule of law and the professional and independent role of the Bench, the presumption of innocence and due process?

I don’t know if that "win at all costs" attitude was the motivation in the original Truscott trial or the many other wrongful convictions that are now coming to light. But I do know if the test of a “successful” legal system is to get tough on crime and a conviction at all costs, that encourages the suppression of exculpating evidence. Then ask yourself, what kind of a chance will an ordinary citizen have in such a "justice" culture?

Imagine for a moment how vulnerable we all become in the face of such a system. The only real protections we have had so far is a qualified Bar along with independent Bench whose only master is a total dedication to a system based on the rule of law. If there is any equivocation of that dedication because it is fettered in any way by a political agenda of powerful people in the government, then, as Shakespeare said “…the state doth totter.”

Prime Minister Harper's inappropriate meddling in the Judicial Review Committee structure and process is inviting the state to totter. This is not some political posturing prank or a petty minded attack ad silliness. This recent action by the Prime Minister is designed and intended to increase the political influence on judicial recommendations and to disrupt the balance in the judicial review process. By the Harper government's own admission in Question Period on February 13, the existing system was working. (see my post yesterday).

Harper is now able to use his political discretion by accepting or rejecting the judicial appointment recommendations from the current review process. His recent political actions to extend his political influence into the judicial review committee itself are a danger and a threat to the freedoms of every citizen. It must not be tolerated in a free and democratic society.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

If the Judicial Review Committe is not Broken Why is Harper "Fixing" It?

This is an excerpt from Question Period February 13, 2007 on the appointment of judges by the Harper Conservatives. It is worth a careful read.

Hon. Marlene Jennings (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, within months of taking office, the Conservatives began stacking the bench with their friends: the former president of their party in Quebec, the Conservative co-chair from New Brunswick, a Conservative fundraiser from Alberta, and on it goes. These appointments were made by the former justice minister until we caught him with his hand in the cookie jar.

Will the new, moderate justice minister do what his predecessor refused to do and stop appointing Conservative Party hacks to judicial positions?

Hon. Rob Nicholson (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, there may be some confusion in the hon. member's mind. I should point out to her that all the appointments that have been made by this government have been recommended by the judicial appointments commission that the Liberals set up. Every one of them were recommended by the members that they put on that board. What is their complaint?

My question is about the answer by the Hon Rob Nicholson on the source of his government’s partisan appointees to the bench. He says:

I should point out to her that all the appointments that have been
made by this government have been recommended by the judicial appointments commission that the Liberals set up. Every on of them were recommended by the members that they put on that board. What is their complaint?”

Here is the complaint Mr. Minister. If the system was working – and by your own admission in the answer above - then why change it? If you could get your preferred appointees recommended anyway, why change the process and compositoin of the judicial appointments committee?

BECAUSE the changes you made will result in ONLY your preferred candidates getting through the review process. You will not have to deal with ignoring or rejecting any other qualified appointment recommendations that do not fit with your ideological agenda.

You have rigged the system sir to predetermine the answers you want, and to ensure you only to receive recommendations for appointments that meet a partisan ideological political agenda. It is disingenuous to suggest this meddling with judicial appointment reviews is about safe communities sir!

It is simply a reprehensible abuse of political power for its own sake. Nothing more. Nothing less

Judicial Review Process Should Diminish Politics not Facilitate Politics

Here is an example of shallow understanding of the judicial review and appointment process. This columnist stretches facts beyond credulity for effect but adds nothing to understanding the implication of the Harper Cons recent changes to the judicial review committee make up and processes.

Lawyers are often political activists and even partisans because the people who go into politics make the laws. Little wonder they are interested. To think that donations to a single party by a lawyer should disqualify them from judicial appointment, as implied in this column, is folly in the extreme. To imply that an Executive Director of the Quebec Liberal Party who is said to have testified in the Gomery Commission that “about eight lawyers who campaigned for the Liberal Party in Quebec during the 2000 federal election were awarded judicial appointment" is pointless, trite and sophistic. What does that prove?

Judicial appointments are not “awards.” They are earned and not by virtue of political activities or party donations. The review committee process of citizens, siting judges and lawyers representing the profession are all there to ensure that does not happen. The process, to my knowledge, has been stringent and rigorous for applicants to qualify for a recommendation for appointment to the Prime Minister. It is that office along with the Minster of Justice who makes the appointments in the end result, not the review committees.

The problem with the Harper changes is he has altered the mix of membership and relative powers of the parties in the process. That change is clearly to accomplish Harper’s political ends of ensuring that he gets review recommendations that fit his preconceived view of more social conservatives for appointment to the bench.

By the way, when, in fairness to the representations in the column, when Anne McLellan was Justice Minister she also accepted a well known activist Progressive Conservative and a New Democrat lawyer appointed the the Queen's Bench in Alberta. Both were quality lawyers and have proven to be excellent jurists. It is not always partisan and many examples exist to prove that point, regardless of party.

If the review and recommendation process is apolitical the system has a better chance of working to ensure an independent judiciary. If the system is politicized, as in Harpers review process changes, an independent judiciary will be subject to more suspicion. That is something we do not need.

Thanks to freedom of the press so we can have the chance to read and rebut such opinion as in the Calgary Sun. I wonder if how long a socially conservative bench will tolerate such imprudence, even such as this blog posting, even if made in the name of freedom of expression?

Canadians should not have to be asking themselves such a question. Ever since the Mulroney changes to the judicial appointment review process in 1988 we have not had to wonder. Has Harper changed all that? I wonder!

Is Harper's ecoTrust Really a Fiscal Imbalance Fund?

Is Harper taking his western base, particularly Alberta and Saskatchewan, for granted, yet again? Premiers Stelmach and Calvert are taking the Harper eco-Trust idea to task. They are calling for the funds to be distributed in a way that responds to solving the emission issues by focusing funds where the GHG problems are, like Alberta and Saskatchewan. Instead, the Harper Cons are proposing a per capita distribution and a pre-emptive promise to Quebec that is tied to elections, in Quebec and federally.

Quebec is the place Harper chose to announce a potential (subject to budget approval) funding for reduction of air pollution and GHG emissions. Quebec has to amongst the least offensive place when it comes to GHG emissions. They have Quebec Hydro and are very clean comparatively.

Politics is trumping sound policy and effective programming in this initiative so far. This is more about a back door delivery of “fiscal imbalance funds” and a political message to Quebec. Harper’s speech is tribute to “self” and a menu of the Cons concessions to Quebec in the past year, none of which I begrudge. Think UNESCO voice for Quebec, big cash into the 400 anniversary of Quebec City, and bridges, highways, water systems and airport expansions are the items Harper mentions in his “eco-Trust-me” speech.

The speech pays a nod to the different “energy profile” of each province and the different priorities they have. He notes the “solutions have to be customized” and that GHG “emissions have to be mandatory across the country.”

This all this distinctiveness in these provincial energy profiles, priorities and need for “customized solutions” it is hard to see the logic behind a per capita fund distribution. Unless the logic is to favour Quebec and Ontario because it is about where the votes are in puruste of a majority and as for the environment, well not so much.

All this happens at the expense of Alberta and Saskatchewan – yet again! I am sure Prime Minister Harper has heard the expression "The West Wants In?" Well a new version is emerging under the Harper government. "Why Are You Leaving the West Out?"

Harper is quickly becoming the closest thing we have seen to a centralizing Prime Minister since the reigns of Chrétien and Trudeau. Strange isn't is, what power will do to some people, and what they will do to retain it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Harper is Now Messing with the Justice System...and He is Starting to Scare Me!

The Harper government changes to the review process for how judges are selected are disturbing. I don’t take too much exception to the fact the government of the day appoints members to the review committees and makes the ultimate selection and appointment of judges. I do get alarmed however about some aspects of the changes in the review and recommendation processes Harper has made.

Mulroney put this judicial appointment process in place years ago to reduce political interference. In fact when I started out as a young lawyer in 1974 the process of appointment to the Bench was entirely political…and pathetically so. That said, the lawyers who were the personal choices of the Prime Minister (or the Minister of Justice on occasion too) invariably became quality judges who fulfilled their roles independently, dispassionately and skillfully.

Even though the system “worked” it was inappropriately political and so these review committees came into being. They were designed to review applicants for judicial appointment, and to make some recommendations to the Prime Minister for appropriate appointment. This system has worked well and has been modified and adapted over the years. The ultimate political discretion in the appointment process has been retained by the Prime Minister, but the politics of the process was fettered significantly .

Not any more however. The Harper changes are most disturbing. The inclusion of police representation in the process is a concern. In fairness, the police ought not to be choosing judges. As one jurist put it, should there also be representation for accused and convicted citizens too? The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has broken a tradition of official quiescence and recently wrote a letter to the Prime Minister expressing reservations over including the police in the judicial appointment review process.

Harper’s next moves were to shift the actual balance of power on the committees towards the political by adding another member from the government, now four instead of three. This puts eight committee members, half political appointees plus the police, to be “balanced” by four other representatives, from the local provincial government, the provincial Bar amd Law Society and the Judiciary.

Finally there is no sense of nuance when considering the complex process of determing capacity and suitability for appointment. The committee recommendation is simply determined to be "qualified or not." The original third category of recommendation, that of highly qualified is now gone. This leaves the Prime Minister more latitude in picking favourites because he would not have to ignore some others with higher qualification recommendations but not the right political slant.

The clear motivation here is to influence the kind of candidates who get recommended for appointment so they will more closely align with the conservative and ultra-conservative values of the Harper Cons and their so-con supporters. The judicial activism they decried while in opposition is now being institutionalized. The judicial activism they seek is the kind that is acceptable to them and reflects the dominant conservative social values of the Conservative Party of Canada.

This is dangerous stuff, especially for citizens. Some times our only protection from abuse by the state, its officials and agents, like the police, is the independent and indifferent judiciary. Just ask Maher Arar, or Steven Truscott, and Donald Marshall and so on, and so on, and so on. Ask yourself where would they be without an independent judiciary? The answer is rotting in a jail, somewhere while innocent.

This stuff may be seen as legal esoterica or just so much justice system mumbo jumbo to some people. It is not. It is fundamental to your freedoms and protections as citizens. The system works well, for the most part. When it breaks down, you only have the protection of an independent Bench and Bar to protect you as a person and as a citizen. If the Bench is biased you are screwed.

I do have a constructive suggestion to make for positive change of the system however. Prime Minister Harper, go back to the original system but make one significant change. The Prime Minister's personal appointees to these review committees ought to be brought before the appropriate Parliamentary Committee to be questioned and it should be televised. This way we can be assured about their values and views. We can have confidence in their capabilities and be satisified that they understand the roles and responsibilities of their undertaking.

Harper's Cons did that for a recent Supreme Court judicial appointee. I think the public has a right to know what kind of people are being appointed by the Prime Minister to review the applicants for the Bench too. It will tell us something about them and a lot more about the Prime Minister's personal judgement and his agenda too.

This move by Harper to re-politicize the system of review and recomendation for judicial appointment is the most dangerous and reckless thing he has done in the whole year he has been in office. I am now wondering if I need to start being more than merely politically skeptical and cynical about Harper and company.

I am wondering if I need to start to being afraid of the Harper Conservative government. They are clearly showing a wanton disregard and disrespect for proven processes that serve to protect my fundamental freedoms as a citizen.

UPDATE: EDMONTON JOURNAL EDITORIAL of Feb 14 express many of the same concners I have. It is worth a read.
Link Byfield gives a very articulate perspective on this issue as well. He obviously does not see this change as a manipulation and politicization of the process as much as I do. The key clarification I would make on Link's Commentary is the committee merely recommends a list of qualified judicial appointees. The PM makes the final decision from the list the committee recommends. Control the process, you control the list, and you control the outcome.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Harper Does a Muroney and Sets Out to Buy a Quebec Election

The Cons announcement of the Canada ecoTrust for Clean Air and Climate Change is coming out of part of the anticipated 2006-07 budget surplus and will be part of the March budget. Truth be told, it is another reinstated, rewrapped Liberal climate change program presented in a blue ribbon. It is based on political opportunism wrought by the standard shallow Con sense of whatever they can adopt from the old Liberal regime they cut, then imagine as their own and call it a new environmental policy of “Canada’s New Government.” (sic).

A total of $1.5B will be distributed on a per capita basis amongst the provinces. I wonder if they will use the old provincial population figures. That means Alberta gets screwed on the per capita formula (again) because the rapid population growth in the province in the past few years will not be accommodated in the old census numbers? That was an old Chrétien Liberal trick designed to short change Alberta.

The census people are even saying the numbers from 2006 are not accurate anyway. Is there any institution left in our society that has not screwed us around one way or another? Please Prime Minister, don’t pick up that policy chicanery of the Chrétien Liberals too. Please don’t let it be said that you are now screwing the west too!

So Harper is now sending $350,000,000 cold cash in Quebec to buy their loyalty but at least without the fraudulent subterfuge of the ad scammers. Harper is doing this cash timing scam straight up. It is a cynical attempt at purchasing Quebec support couched in an Orwellian label of an ecoTrust…soft on the eco and not worthy of the word “Trust.”

The money, we are told, is to come from the surplus of 2006-07, which is not yet known but is already spent. Prudent, Mr. Prime Minister, mighty prudent. Too bad the surplus doesn’t go against the national debt which is a smarter solution. As I recall Harper promised any interest saved as a result of debt pay down would mean lower taxes for all of us taxpayers.

NOPE – let’s not fritter the surplus amongst Canadians by lowering taxes as originally promised. Remember the day when Cons told us a government surplus was simply caused by over taxation? Will that promise of tax reduction simply have to wait? Let’s go buy us some Quebec votes instead. And how do you square that circle? It is the Mulroney years all over again, this time Harper style?

Different issue entirely we will be told…this program is necessary to respond to the top priority of Canadians. Refresh my memory, is that top priority the environment or to pay Quebecers immediately to get Prime Minister Charest re-elected? I am all in favour of re-electing Jean Charest - but do we have to do it this way? Do we have to buy Quebec again? Harper says this way we can avoid another referendum? I think it is a cynical playing of Quebecers for fools and ought to have the same backlash of Quebec sense of insult that Adscam did.

Let’s deal with the real issues of a distinct Quebec society honestly and openly and give them a real reason to feel included in Canada. This scam is just Harper submitting to the classic political extortion patterns of the past – and before it is even threatened this time. How prescient of you Prime Minister Harper.

Quebec was believed to have had a “price” for loyalty to the Confederation in Chrétien’s day. He wantonly and wilfully turned a blind eye and enabled Adscam as a result of that mistaken belief.

Harper is redoing the Mulroney pandering without the intrigue and insult of the CF18s fiasco. NOPE Harper is doing the very thing – pandering to Quebec for the purposes of power. That was the final straw that spawned the Reform party in the first place. Spare me. It is game show politics…the price has to be right?

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Next posting! I feel the need to weigh in on “activitist political appointees” who are being chosen based on their partisan pedigree and being charged with the duty of picking an “independent” judiciary. Will they be activist enough to protect citizens from abuse by the state or intellectually lazy or inept legislators? This new committee to recommend judicial appointments is an exercise of pure political power and is of a scale to make one weep!

This development for me goes over the line, and confirms that the Harper Cons are not only not yet ready to govern with a majority in the next election…they are not fit to govern period in a modern progressive democracy.

Dion or Harper - Who is the Greenest?

Angus Reid released a very interesting poll yesterday. Who is the greenest given “the heightened attention to environmental issues….” They conclude that “neither of the two major party leaders has effectively positioned himself as a champion of green causes.”

Dion (+31%) has a clear lead over Harper (+13%) in the answer to the question of “…who cares the most about the environment and global warming?” the really interesting stat on this question is a whopping 55% say neither (28%) or not sure (27%). The jury is clearly still out on which leader they think really cares enough…and enough is the acid test on this issue.

The fact that women are the most undecided or negative at 64% collectively is a key to future success. Every gender and age group is overall more negative or unsure of who is the leader who cares the most about the environment and global warming. The only exception is the 55+ age group where more are positive in their choice than negative. They favour Dion over Harper in a 34% to 20% difference but 25% say neither and 21% are unsure.

The climate change issue is going to be a ballot question if not the ballot question in the next federal election. It is seen as a serious threat to the world in the opinion of 73% of Canadians with Atlantic Canadians at the highest at 81% and Albertans the lowest but still a dominant 63%. Alberta is essentaily50/50 on if we need to set a domestic example or work on an international influence on changing behaviours of large emitters like China and the Americans. The rest of Canada is 2/3 in favour of cleaning up our own environment act first.

The way public policy forward is both carrots and sticks. Over 80% support government intervention to supply incentives for industry and subsidies to reduce public transit fares. The sticks are punitive measures with surcharges on SUVs and penalties for those who do not recycle.

Some will point out that these poll results show that Alberta appears to be out of line with the rest of the country. While that is true, it is mostly a matter of degree not where Alberta is on the actual positioning on the issues. All parts of the country are generally very similar in their opinions on “greeniness.” (I wanted to coin that word before Stephen Colbert did?)

The environment is the #1 issue with a bullet. Dion is the leader who is the most identified with it but he is far from really owning it. The trust and integrity aspects on who do we believe will do something and stay the course on this issue is a big part of the key to electoral victory.

Harper is hard on the environment redemption trail with his Eco-Trust announcement today. Will that redemption be granted by the voters or will they see reluctant opportunism based on a necessary political reaction to poll results. He was clearly a climate change denier. Now he has to prove he is "true green" and more than just a born again ecologist? Inquiring minds want to know!

Leadership Report Card Poll Shows Harper is Growing into the Job

So some more poll results are out that are adding to the fact that the predominant mood out there is confusion. And these results just add to the confusion so far as I can tell.

The SES Research National Survey poll today based on1002 participants between Feb2-8 on the “Leadership Report Card.” notes that Stephen Harper has “significantly improved” his leadership image in the year plus a bit since he was elected. His trustworthiness is up 14 points to 35%, his competence rating is up 17 points to 41% and the impression of his vision for the country is up 14 points to 39%. Clearly Stephen Harper is showing signs of growing into the job of Prime Minister over the past year. The January 2006 comparative results had only 400 participants so the margin of error was higher.

The Layton numbers have to be sobering with a 7% decline in trustworthiness to 18%, a 4% decline in competence to 13% and a 2% decline to 16% for having an acceptable vision of the country.

The poll numbers on Dion and May are pretty meaningless in terms of personal assessments. This is because of the party leadership changes that happened in November and December. The polls is asking the same questions about a time frame that actually had other people in the party leadership and only having a few weeks to become known, including the Christmas period. When we ask about trustworthiness during a time of transition from a Martin/Dion and a Harris/May change in leadership, what is it people are actually saying in their replies? Who is it that they are really speaking about in terms of trust, competence and vision when they answer?

It appears that Harper is growing into the job and Layton is growing out of one. Not much else can be interpreted from this poll and lots can be speculated. Speculation has like to add to any real meaning and understanding.

The Angus Reid poll out today on “Harper and Dion Who is the Greenest?” has more insight into what is on the minds and what is meaningful to voters. I will do a separate post on this poll shortly.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Harper and Charest Meet the Press Tomorrow!

I see Prime Minister Harper has announced on this Sunday afternoon that he is making an announcement at 10:30 EST tomorrow with Quebec's Prime Minister Jean Charest in Sherbrooke Quebec and then he is off to Trois-Rivieres to "deliver remarks" at 6 pm EST. That is all very elucidating don't you think?

Can’t imagine what all that fuss could possibly be about but it is "open to the media" so it must be of substance. (sic) The unspoken subtext will be the trade off deal has been made to cement an agreement Harper and Charest have come to on election timing in Quebec. Not doubt Harper wants Quebec to go to the polls first. That way he doesn’t have to make promises to Quebec in an earlier federal election that would alienate his base amongst Alberta Reformer/Alliance types and contain promises he would have to deliver on - and be held accountable for in a subsequent Quebec election.

It looks like even the serendipity is fully planned in advance in a Stephen Harper world. I smell a spring election at Harper's behest. He is engineering his defeat...even the Harper rhetoric is that the opposition "will have to account for all the unpassed Bills left on the order paper" if they bring down his government now. That reality sure did not stop him when he defeated Martin and forced a winter election. Lots of Bills of substance have been lost in the swirling winds of time when Harper saw the advantage and forced an election.

It could be the Budget and the debate on it that ticks off the opposition enough to bring down this government. NDP leader Layton is not getting much by way of "atta boys" trying to do to the Harper's budget that he did to Martin's so he is likely ready to pull the pin too. Only the Bloc is likely to be truly hesitant...but then who cares about that.

No inside information on this, I am just reading the entrails of the political rhetoric and the pandering that is going on. I am starting to smell an election.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Watch for Graham Thomson's Reporting from Afghanistan

My friend, Graham Thomson, a political columnist with the Edmonton Journal, is off on an “adventure.” He is on his way to Afghanistan to be embedded with our troops for a couple of months. We had lunch recently and he was really excited in an engaged and focused way. I think his is crazy to be going but he is looking forward to meeting and living with our troops and getting their stories and impressions of what we are accomplishing

He is looking forward to writing is column about the stories of the Canadian soldiers and what it is we are really doing over there that benefits and serves the future needs and aspirations of the Afghan people.

He promises to blog regularly too. His blog is linked to this site and I hope you visit him often. We need to pay more attention to the end goal there – not just an exit strategy. We are likely committed to be in this country for a generation before the needed changes can become realized.

Good luck Graham and send us back a sense of what Canada is contributing.

Harper Human Rights and Organ Harvesting in China

I have serious reservations over lots of what the Harper government is doing in so many areas, from the environment, to mandatory minimum sentences to national child care diverted to a phony positioning of presenting “choice.” I really despaired over their ideological induced demise of social programs like literacy supports. Much of this is caused by an incomplete and shallow sense of our society by the Cons who presumes simple self reliance and pulling up ones “socks" is all anyone need for success.

However, when I agree with Harper, I also have to give him his due. The reversal of a campaign promise on income trusts is one I agreed wholeheartedly with and said so in earlier postings on this Blog. I suspect his adamant campaign period promise in defense of the status quo for income trusts was pure politics. One would expect, however, with his celebrated grasp of economics, he'd of had a better handle on the issue's implications and been more forthright on it in the campaign.

We all "know", that in politics, there is a generaly held "belief" that there are certain things you just have to say to win and they are often very different from what you actually have to do once you get the job. The income trust reversal may be a case in point. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is no more redeeming than doing the political thing purely for reasons of power. Sometimes you just have to forget your principles and do the right thing, even in a campaign. (sic)

Once again, however, I am delighted to find myself agreeing with Harper, this time on China relations. The link between human rights and trade with China (and some others too) has to be made pointedly and held strongly. I disagree with the Harper government more often than I agree with it, but fair is fair.

Prime Minister Harper is right to stand up and be counted on human rights as foundational to Canada's long term trade relations with China. People have to realize respect for human rights is essential to long term mature trade relations, just as much as an independent justice system and a reliable currency system is foundational to effective trade relations.

I like Harper’s stand on this, and in particular, his rebuttal to the Liberal Opposition criticism of his stand. They have tried to frame him as “a bumbling cold warrior” accusing him of having “little influence in Beijing because of (his) blunt public criticism and lack of finesse on international affairs.” Harper counters that “past Liberal governments failed to standup to the Chinese on questions of human rights, with no apparent improvement in trade.” Appeasement and pussy-footing are inconsistent with the qualities necessary and the strength of character needed today, be it in a leader or in a country.

In the wake of Maher Arar, we now have the case of Huseyin Celil, a Chinese born Canadian citizen imprisoned in China on terrorism charges with the Chinese denying his Canadian citizenship, even though our government adamantly acknowledges he is a Canadian. Harper also seems to be on this case now too. Wow! Maybe our government is starting to see there is value and rights attached to being Canadian and they need to be protected and respected.

Good on ya Stephen Harper! Now please take up another important humans rights issue with China. Do something about the human rights violation inherent in their harvesting and trading of human organs from prisoners and members of the Falun Gong. I will be monitoring your progress with great interest and a keen eye.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Harper Attack Ads Didn't Do the Job on Dion

There are a few new poll results out that were in the field after the Cons attack ads were run. they were designed to position Dion as not being a leader and a do nothing guy on the environment.

The polls are all over the place proving voter volatility is the new normal. There is no clear preference of party leader nor do we have any definitive indication of a preferred political direction in the mind of voters.

Nik Nanos’ SES NationState poll surveyed 913 Canadians between Feb 2 and 8th and shows a Dion/Harper “dead heat” at 33% each of committed voters but the trend lines show Harper in decline and Dion ascending. There are fewer uncommitted voters everywhere since the November 2006 results except in Ontario which is constant and the highest of uncommitted voters at 12%. Quebecers are leaving the Bloc in droves (-11) and those supporter seem to be moving to the Conservatives (+8). The Greens are the strongest in the West at 9% (+1) and the Cons are waning a bit in the West (-7).

What Harper gains in Quebec he is losing in the West but will that result in any seat changes in either place? Not likely but it will be interesting to see how much Harper is prepared to risk his western base loyalty to win Quebec in search of a majority government. The west is obviously noticing Harper's priority focus on Quebec's issues.

Leger has a survey of 1500 run from January 30 to February 4th. They redistribute the undecided responders in proportion to the actual poll allocation and get an increased 7% delta between Cons and Libs, in Harper’s favour. What evidence that undecided will vote and if so, that they split like the rest of the population? The Libs and Bloc are tied in Quebec and Harper “owns” Alberta at 59%. Again the Greens are knocking on the NDP door in the west but they are not there yet to surpass them. A full 15% were not committed or didn’t want to participate. The trend lines show no net change in the party support levels since the 2006 election when the margin of error is applied.

Finally we have Angus Reid’s results of 909 Canadians surveyed on line January 30 and 31, 2007. This was an on line survey designed to test the effectiveness of the Cons attack ads. They asked questions before people saw the ads and then asked them again after they viewed the ads on their computer screens. The report results say “the attack ads didn’t work.” The decline in perceptions of Dion post –viewing the ads was negligible dropping 1% from 40 to 39 on the question of who “would be the best Prime Minister.” Harper’s approvals stayed the same at 36%.

So not only did the attack ads not diminish Dion they added nothing to Harper’s positive profile either. Another key figure is the “Don’t Knows.” A quarter of Canadians have yet to make up their minds on which of these two guys are the best to lead the country. Voter volatility is potentially the ruling factor in the next election results. That means the campaigns will matter.

The next set of questions went to the Dion’s character and capability. The ads reduced perceptions of Dion ability to lead – the prime reasons for running the ads in the first place – by 5% - moving 3% away from his pre-ad supporters and 2% from undecided voters. Other perception questions on Dion and the environment, trust to keep promises and manage the public purse saw the ads have more impact. They changing poll results with more people have a diminished perception of Dion but the change came mostly from the undecided ranks and not from the core Dion support. these question tend to remind voters about the old Liberal fiascos under Chretien and Martin. The Liberals are not yet out of the penalty box but Dion does not get blamed for the "penalty" in the first place.

Only in the "will he improve the environment" question did Dion seem to have a glove laid on him. Then his core support went from 53% before seeing the ads to 47% afterwards. Some perspecitve isneeded here. If Dion actually got 47% of the popular vote in an election he would be forming a Liberal majority…so it is not really indicating much of a body blow to Dion’s potential electoral fortunes.

The hoopla over the ads and the big money spent, including the Super Bowl buy has to be very discouraging to the Tory war room given the net results being bugger all. Not much momentum coming out of this "full court press" on Dion by the Cons, especially for the money they spent on those ads. There is a glimmer of hope though; the ads are reported to have had to the most impact, such as it was, in Ontario and female voters, two key targets for Conservatives in the next election. Their money may not have been totally wasted.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Who Should Do What in a Progressive Canada?

Here is a unique opportuity to gather with some other Canadian progressives and get into the issues of the day through the progressive lens. Great speakers and interesting folks wiht a focus on the future.

Here are the details and I encourage all of those so inclined to progressive politics to attend:

(La version française suit le texte anglais)

26-28 March 2007. QUICK: SAVE THOSE DATES!

Join world-leading Canadian and international thought leaders for Canada 2020’s must attend policy conference in the national capital region March 26-28, 2007.

Continuing the discussion that began last year at the inaugural conference, this year, Canada 2020 has teamed up with Crossing Boundaries to deliver a progressive, innovative examination of the challenging theme:

“Who should do what in a progressiveCanada?”

Join the discussion and tackle the tough questions:
What is the role of citizens, government, the volunteer sector and businesses in solving social and economic challenges?
What does this mean for the traditional roles and responsibilities of government when the old top-down approach no longer works?
The conference will apply this new governance model to two major issues – the economic digital divide and the environment.

Participate in a discussion that will shape the future of the country - Save the dates today!

Confirmed keynote speakers for the March 2007 conference include:
Booker and Whitbread winning author Salman Rushdie. With his usual flair, Rushdie will tackle the issue of multiculturalism and what it means for progressives today.
The man who inspired Al Gore (last year’s dinner keynote speaker) and the author of the Weather Makers, Tim Flannery. Flannery will offer his insights on who should be leading whom in the public debate over the environment – the public or the politicians.
Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and author of the widely acclaimed book on the new niche digital economy, The Long Tail. Anderson will challenge us to make the most of the transformational forces of the internet and new digital technologies. Canada , a country with a small market and a lot of geography, is well placed to benefit from the Long Tail.
New Brunswick Premier Shaun Graham will reflect how New Brunswick will engage the public in achieving its goal of making New Brunswick a have province by 2025.
Share your views and experiences. Test a new model of Progressive Governance. Meet with key leaders and decision-makers from the public, private and third sectors.

Registration will open February 1, 2007 on the Canada 2020 web site ( Early Bird rates will be available for the first 100 registrants.

See you there!
Canada 2020

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Stelmach's GHG Reduction Plans for Alberta is in the Works

Alberta’s new Premier Ed Stelmach is reported to say that he will not be reducing GHG emissions and “…stands firm on greenhouse gas plan.” There seems to be as much misunderstanding and confusion on Alberta’s intensions on GHG emissions as there is about how equalization works.

The half truths around GHG levels are sometime factual and sometimes conceptual misunderstandings and at other times they are induced by selected rhetorical references for scoring cheap political points.

Alberta knows that our energy economy is a disproportionately high contributor to GHG. The issue is what we are doing about it. Quite a bit actually and lots more is in the works. Calls for absolute GHG emission caps may work in sectors that are established and mature industries. Power generation, transportation, building standards, agriculture perhaps lend themselves more readily to absolute caps becasue the marginal costs can be calculated. Oil sands on the other hand is an embryonic industry sector. It is also a large user of energy, heat and water and a big time emitter of GHG as a result.

Alberta's big emitter industries have already been working for a few years to reduce GHG levels. The model is based on intensity reduction goals They are voluntarily and on a specific industry sector basis. These deals were worked out between industry with the governments of Alberta and Canada. This all happened by the way on Dion’s watch as Minister of the Environment.

The results of the volunteer program, instituted in 2004 I believe, have already seen a 16% reduction of GHG by Alberta’s energy industry on per unit of output. We are getting more effective at reducing GHG’s but since the oil sands, and Alberta overall, is growing rapidly, the total emissions have obviously gone up. Current oil sands production is just over 1 million barrels per day with projections to reach 3 million per day in less than a decade. The problem is obviously not going to resolve itself.

The USA just released some fiscal costs of the Iraq war, and it is over $470 per year for every man, woman and child in the States. That is not sustainable either so we can expect pressure from them for more energy supply from Canada very shortly. So total GHG emissions from Alberta are going to continue rising. Especially if we want the oil sands to be developed as a safe secure, reliable continental energy source. But even with that reality, we can’t just presume to continue in the old extraction adn mining models either. We need to create, change and adapt to new technology for oils sands extraction. That change is going to happen because it has to, both environmentally and politically.

We have a new deal on GHG emissions in the political works and it seems that Alberta and Canada are again on the same wave length with the Conservatives of today as they were earlier with the Liberals. In the face of rapid growth and the growing demand for energy, and with no reliable data, as yet, on the marginal costs of absolute caps, the intensity model will have to prevail, at least for now. It is not the end game but an interim measure that will become regulated, not voluntary, and likely more rigourous standards and with penalties for lack of compliance. New technologies that emerge to reduce GHG emissions will have to become compulsory for new plants and the older operators will have to adapt and adopt them too. Efficiencies will result and eventually absolute emissions caps will make practical sense.

The really big payoff for reduced GHG emissions in the Alberta energy sector will be when we truly come to see carbon dioxide as an asset instead of a liability. Once we commit and commence to capturing CO2 for use in enhanced conventional oil and gas recovery we will have turned a corner to toward realizing absolute, not just relative reductions of GHG from the Alberta energy sector. That is an idea whose time has come and the way has to be found to make that technology and its practical application a reality right now. That significnat culture change will change the climate in Alberta too - in more ways than one.

UPDATE: See these current and very related links:
Carbon capture...
Edmonton Journal story on oils sands mining option for heat source:
Edmonton Journal editorial:

Alberta Firewall Guy Clarifies Equalization Payments

There is a very good op-ed in the Globe and Mail today that clarifies many of facts and the questions around equalization payments from the government of Canada to the so-called have-not provinces. The piece is written by Ken Boessenkool, now GM of Hill and Knowlton Alberta and one of the famous Firewall Letter signatories in 2001.

The myth busting article reflects and aligns with the same reality outlined in an early post in this blog. No wonder I like it.

The Firewall letter was signed by other notables including now Prime Minister Harper, but then he headed the National Citizens’ Coalition. Failed PC Leadership candidate, now Alberta Cabinet Minister, Dr. Ted Morton also signed the letter. It was a letter addressed to Premier Klein recommending that Alberta withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and set up its own cheaper scheme offering the same benefits. It recommended replacing the RCMP with a provincial police service. Both of these issues were part of the debates in the recent Alberta Progressive Conservative Party leadership campaign.

Other recommendations included Alberta collecting its own income tax and take complete control of Medicare even if that resulted in breaches of the Canada Health Act and withdraw of federal funds to the province for health care. These two recommendations have proven to be non-starters politically and economically in Alberta.

The motivation for the Firewall letter is captured in this sentence from the document: "It's imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction."

Another telling part of the letter dated January 2001 noted "As economic slowdown, and perhaps even recession, threatens North America, the government in Ottawa will be tempted to take advantage of Alberta's prosperity, to redistribute income from Alberta to residents of other provinces in order to keep itself in power."

Albertans overwhelming see themselves as Canadian even with a core group of about 10% separatist sentiment in the province. The mythology of a federal government plundering Alberta’s resources runs deep in certain sectors of Alberta society. It arises in the ghosts of another National Energy Program or the mistaken assumption that equalization payments are from Alberta resource revenues. The belief that equalization payments are made from federally expropriated Alberta resource dollars. There is no evidence for either of these myths but that rarely matters to some people in Alberta.

It really helps to have people like Mr. Boessenkool clarify the terms and scope of equalization as part of the national conversation, particularly around fed-prov relations and the role equalization plays as part of our Constitution.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

It's Not About Politics. It's About the Planet

I have been watching, with increasing dismay, the diminishing level of political discourse on the issues surrounding climate change in national Canadian politics. The “debate” is not on the issues, the merits of policy options or the design of the way forward. It is almost entirely concentrated on efforts to define the “other guy” in negative terms for some less than adequate political “advantage.”

The Cons have a big television buy for their Attack Ads, attempting to position Dion as the guy who is totally responsible for all Liberal alleged lack of action on environment policy for the past 13 years. The Liberal rebuttal is Harper is merely a born-again environmentalist of political convenience but not a true believer and therefore not to be trusted.

The facts and evidence in support of each position are thin at best but that is not the issue really. There is plenty of blame to go around but time for action is a-wastin’ and we need some definitive action and serious competent political leadership with a larger vision and a longer view than the pending election.

My sense is Canadians will reward resolute, stringent and responsible regulations on GHG limits. The policy we need must encourage and provide incentives for what is nothing short of a culture change in how we live as part of nature and not as its “masters.” That is what polls are saying will be rewarded by the majority of citizen's at election time.

The people are much farther ahead of the politicians in seeing it is time to act on the issues of climate change. We know this is about “us” as much as it is about “them.” We know “we” as individuals, families, communities, countries and enterprises have to change first. We can’t afford to wait for “them” to move first and we have precious little leverage on others save persuasion and market forces.

We need our biggest brains, our most creative minds and our wisest thinkers to be unleashed and able to focus to help design a different way forward. We don’t need more communications consultants commissioned to produce misleading manufactured political rhetoric.

The policy framework for all of this is simple to see but difficult to deliver. It has to link economic growth to enhanced ecological outcomes and provide for improve social cohesion – on a local, national and international context. No big Whoop! (sic)

The chance to actually rethink our operational definitions of success and progress is upon us. Growth without concern for all the costs involved and the integrated ecological implications is no longer "on." The public policy change parade is forming and is at the tipping point for a new public policy approach.

The new approach must balance economic well being, ensure ecological enhancement and advance our social cohesion. The practical people, be they in business, politics or social activist, who can get in front of that parade with credibility and ability, will be the new leaders and agents of this change.

We need to attract, nurture and reward a different kind of person to come into politics if we want to change the nature of how we are governed in our democracy. I have great respect for the abilities of all the current leaders in our federal political parties. My sense is we have good people in a poor system because the system often rewards the wrong things. It is too much about attaining and exercising power for its own sake and not enough about defining progress and measuring achievements for the sake of us all.

This will only change when citizenship becomes something we all value and return to using its power to make a difference. The political system is only as good as the express expectations and the forceful insistence's of its citizens.