October 2003 Archives

October 31, 2003

From the Globe and Mail:

The Ontario PC Party Caucus released Promise Breakers: Promises Made, Promises Broken by the McGuinty Liberals Friday afternoon, the first of what they promise will be a regular publication to chronicle the more than 230 promises made by Mr. McGuinty and his government to Ontarians.

"It is disturbing to think that the newly elected Premier has managed to break six of the promises he was elected on before the Legislature has even been called back into session," Tim Hudak, MPP Erie-Lincoln and PC Caucus Chair, said in releasing the paper. "When we were first elected in 1995, we had a mandate from the people of Ontario that we took very seriously. I'm proud to say that we kept our promises and led this province back to being the strongest economy in North America."

Among the promises the Tories charge the Liberals with breaking: failure to reduce private consultants; failing to live by the balanced budget law and failing to keep price caps in place.

The provincial Tories have found something they're good at - comic relief.

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Rate cap redux

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As reported yesterday, Ontario Energy Minister Dwight Duncan will spend the next 30 days drafting a new energy policy that will involve lifting the 4.3 cent hydro rate cap that Ernie Eves put into place when the deregulation of the energy market blew up in his face. And our faces. This Globe and Mail article points out a few things to take into account.

Since the wholesale market opened on May 1, 2002, the average price has been about 5.8 cents per kwh, but the government will want to pad that a bit to cover the cost of imported electricity and to entice investors to build generation plants.

There are many ways this price increase can be mitigated so that a fixed-income pensioner in a one-bedroom flat and using little power is not treated the same as energy wastrels living in monster homes with heated pools and all the mod cons.

As well, there are emergency conservation measures that can be put in place immediately. For example, California had short-term success with a scheme that provided 20-per-cent rebates on bills to customers who cut their energy usage by 20 per cent.

Beyond this, the Liberals will need to introduce measures that provide for long-term efficient use of electricity by residential and business users.

The easing of the pain for low-income/fixed-income households is called for, at least in the short term, so a scaled rate that charges more for increasing use is a good idea. Heavy users who have to pay more will have the incentive to conserve, which, given the looming supply problems the province faces as outlined in this Toronto Star article, is certainly called for. In the long term, allowing the price to rise should make new energy sources more practical.

Of course the question I have is why not reregulate the whole system. One of the things I give credit to Howard Hampton for is the way he stayed focussed on that issue throughout the election campaign. And I agreed with him. The Tories should never have gone down this road in the first place. It looks increasingly as though the private sector wins and the rest of us lose on this deal.

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Somebody gets it

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For the last week or so, federal cabinet ministers have been standing up in the Commons to confess that they've availed themselves of the hospitality of the Irving family. Some have hitched rides on the corporate jet, while others have spent a day or two at a lavish fishing retreat. When opposition MPs have criticised this behaviour Chrétien has fallen back on "the process", saying that these activities have been examined and blessed by the ethics counsellor and that there's no scandal here.

In a column in the Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson nailed it quite nicely.

This is as much a case of class conflict as of conflict of interest. There is nothing unusual in such behaviour in the corporate world. Sales representatives invite purchasing agents to enjoy the hockey game from the corporate box. Executives fly other executives to Miami in February for meetings, even though their respective head offices are mere blocks apart.

You've never done such things? Really? You've never even taken a client out to lunch?

To those who are not courted by corporate executives, who do not get invitations to lunch, such schmoozing grates. It proves to them that the playing field is not level. They're right.

It also proves that the Chrétien government, a decade on, has become so clubby that its senior members have forgotten about optics, about how ordinary constituents feel when politicians cavort with the corporate elite.

To excuse this on the basis that the ministers involved had no direct influence on legislation or contracts that might affect the Irving businesses is to insult the public. Claiming compliance with the mere "letter of the law" isn't good enough. We know how crony capitalism works and this only fuels the cynicism so many of us already feel about the political process and, in particular, the perception that corporate interests already influence that process to a disproportionate degree.

Ibbitson goes on to suggest that this little soap opera will make it easier for the soon-to-be-crowned King Paul I. He can clean house and stack the cabinet with his own people and earn brownie points with the electorate in the bargain because he's installing fresh faces that are free of the taint of corruption. Let's hope King Paul doesn't think that alone goes far enough.

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October 30, 2003

Jean makes a funny

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After the Quebec legislature unanimously voted to declare the province a nation today, Bloc MP Yves Rocheleau declared in the House of Commons that he is not a Canadian.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien suggested the MP was Canadian enough to collect his federal paycheque.
There are some things about Chrétien I'm going to miss. Not many, but some.

Update: Apparently there's more to this story, but I like my version better.

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Lies, damned lies and budgets

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Both Ian Urquhart at the Toronto Star and Bruce Little at the Globe and Mail have stories up detailing how $5.6 billion of Ontario taxpayers money went up in smoke. The numbers may vary slightly from one to the other but the basic story is the same: Eves' and Eckers' claims of a balanced budget were a con job. We were lied to. But a lot of us knew that already.

The PC party won't recover from this for a long time. And I suspect the odds against Mike Harris leading the united right at a national level just increased quite a bit as well.

There's a little more from Erik Peters' report that's worth mentioning.

[H]e took aim in his news briefing at the provincial law that requires the government to balance its books or face penalties.

He compared it with a corporate board of directors that instructs its management to deliver a profit; the managers comply, but only by bending the rules of accounting out of shape. These days, it's a simple mental leap to compare the former Tory government to the accounting scandals that have rocked the United States -- a euphonious joining of Enron-Eves-Ecker into a single phenomenon.

If McGuinty's smart, he'll seize the moment and trash that piece of legislation as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, what's a Premier to do? For starters, he's trashing the current electricity rate cap of 4.3 cents as soon as he can. Technically he'll be breaking a promise since he campaigned on a commitment to keep it in force until 2006, but I think it was a dumb promise in the first place. As painful as it may be, we're better off to let the price find a more natural level and deal with it.

There are also measures he can take that were promised during the campaign.

He also said he would follow through with promises made during the election that swept the Liberals to power Oct. 2, and introduce legislation in the coming weeks to roll back corporate tax cuts, scrap plans for further cuts and eliminate a tax credit for seniors. Tobacco taxes will also rise to national levels this year.
Actually I don't remember him promising to increase taxes on tobacco. I should quit anyway.

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Mullins revisited

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Earlier today I wrote about a National Post article datelined today and written by Mark Mullins. Shortly afterwards I discovered another Mullins article in the Globe and Mail also datelined today and on the same subject - the $5.6 billion Ontario deficit that was announced yesterday afternoon.

I'm struck by the difference in tone and focus between the two pieces. The NP piece gets right down to business - the deficit is McGuinty's problem and "no amount of spin" can change that (and I somehow don't think the use of the word "spin" was accidental). The G&M piece, on the other hand, provides context and takes governments and the system in general to task.

What in Hades is wrong with Ontario that successive governments have had such difficulty balancing the books? Going back 20 budgets (including this year and next), 13 have been in deficit, one barely balanced, and one or two are subject to revision under potential new accounting standards coming from this government. By my count, this means that the province lives within its means only one year out of every five. That is a failing grade in anyone's eyes.

Part of the problem is surely the electorate. People here associate better service with more money expended -- and there is a mighty call for improvement in health and education. Another broad factor is that there is such misinformation about the state of the province's finances. How many know that health spending, far from being gutted, has increased by almost $10-billion -- or 60 per cent -- since the mid-1990s? How many know that this province already spends more than almost all jurisdictions in North American on primary and secondary education?

Other reasons lie deeper in the political system...

The first article states flatly that the budget must be in balance in five months, ignoring the fact that even the recent Tory legislation allows for a deficit when a new government takes over and finds that its predecessor left things in a mess. The G&M piece takes a somewhat more conciliatory tone - not a lot, but a little - and allows that deficits may be a fact of life for a while. The NP article concludes that cuts must be made to health care and education while the second column points out that health care makes up the biggest part of the budget and leaves us to draw our own conclusions.

I'd find the difference between the two approaches interesting enough, but it seems particularly worthy of note when the same author is involved. And the other difference I noticed is in the short "about the author" paragraphs that end both articles. The NP story simply stated Mullins position with the Fraser Institute. The G&M story ends thusly:

Mark Mullins is an economic consultant and financial markets analyst. He is also Director of Ontario Policy Studies at the Fraser Institute. Any views expressed here are strictly his own and not necessarily those of the Fraser Institute.
So are the views expressed in the National Post those of the Fraser Institute? Or the Post? Is there a difference between the two?

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Apparently the Sea King helicopters aren't actually grounded.

The air force hasn't grounded its fleet of Sea Kings, but none of the helicopters are flying unless they really have to, said a military spokesperson on Thursday.
I think the military is spinning as furiously as the rotors on their aircraft. The CBC also has a more in depth look at the Sea Kings here.

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That didn't take long

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Mark Mullins, writing in the National Post, has already been gracious enough to instruct our new Premier on our behalf as to how he must deal with the deficit.

Premier Dalton McGuinty's new Ontario government is running a $5.6-billion deficit. No amount of political spin can change the fact that this government is now responsible for the fiscal affairs of the province.
OK so far.
It has five months left in this fiscal year in which to balance the books.
Says who? Who died and made you King? Who is Mark Mullins?
Mark Mullins is director of Ontario Policy Studies for the Fraser Institute.
Ah, now it becomes clear. Let's skip the messy details in this column and cut to the chase.
At least $4.5-billion in spending cuts over a two-year period would be required to balance the budget....

How does the government achieve at least $4.5-billion in spending reductions in the next 17 months? They must come largely from health and education -- the reductions are too large to be made up elsewhere, particularly with health expenditures outpacing revenues.

Why am I not surprised by this conclusion? It seems the Fraser Institute never met a privatization it didn't like and that's the unspoken implication here - cut public spending and let the "invisible hand" take care of "business". The irony here is neck deep - Mike Harris, who is the prime architect of the last ten years of Tory policy that created this mess, now works for the Fraser Institute. So the mess created by conservative policies only has one solution - the conservative solution, of course. I've got one more quote from this article.
Since Mr. McGuinty signed a very public pledge not to raise or introduce new taxes without "the explicit consent of Ontario voters," and since he bound himself to the Taxpayer Protection and Balanced Budget Act, spending reductions are the obvious solution to eliminating the deficit.
Emphasis added. That would be us, Mr. Mullins. When you stand for election and win, you might have the authority to throw your weight around. Until then, I don't think I like your tone.

Update: Mr. Mullins is a busy fellow. He also has an article in today's Globe and Mail and this one has a somewhat different tone although much of the information presented is the same. It says something, I think, about the differences between the two publications.

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October 29, 2003

What did I just say, Jean?

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Canada's Sea King helicopters have just been temporarily grounded. The Air Force news release calls it an "operational pause" following two recent incidents where aircraft experienced a "temporary loss of power while hovering". It seems like just a few days ago I was bitching at the way there was money to spend on new jets for senior government officials but nothing available to replace helicopters that should have been grounded long ago. (That's because it was just a few days ago - scroll down. I haven't figured permalinks out yet.)

I'm not a military buff, but I have a real problem with asking young men and women to serve this country and then providing them with equipment that's likely to kill them. While we apparently have the money for new armoured vehicles ten years ahead of schedule, we still can't deal with a problem we've known about for years.

Canada's geriatric fleet of 28 Sea Kings is plagued by parts shortages and frequent mechanical breakdowns that keep them in the shop 30 hours for every one hour of flight. Over the years, there have been four fatal crashes that killed 10 people.
Morons.

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There's something in the air...

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...when even Ralph Klein considers freezing auto insurance rates. It could be the end of capitalism as we know it.

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A fox in the hen house?

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From today's Toronto Star:

Ontario should reconsider plans to shut down coal-fired electricity plants, the co-chair of a committee studying long-term electricity supply in the province said today.

Peter Budd, who was appointed to Ontario's task force on electricity conservation and supply by the former Conservative government of Ernie Eves, told a conference on electricity restructuring that replacing five coal-burning plants would be difficult.

"It's clear that coal is an important part of the supply mix today, and if we're going to exit the current use of coal that we're employing right now, we're going to have to find a proper replacement," he said.

The story goes on to say that Budd is also the chairman of the Ontario Energy Association which is a trade association. Now I don't know Budd, and I have no inside information on the OEA, but it seems reasonable to assume that a trade association in the energy business would have a vested interest in the status quo. Between that and the fact that it's obvious Budd's appointment to the task force was by the previous Conservative government, I'm keeping a box of salt handy.

Do governments not even think about the issue of credibility when they put these task forces together?

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So now we know

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Former provincial auditor Erik Peters revealed the results of his review of Ontario's finances this afternoon. It turns out that Ernie Eves' idea of a balanced budget is actually a $5.6 billion deficit. Way to go, Ernie. Peters was, uh, diplomatic though.

Peters refused to say the Tories had lied, saying instead that former finance minister Janet Ecker may not have known what he now knows when she insisted that the province was not running a deficit.
Peters also had this to say:
His report urges the Liberals to consider drafting new legislation that would improve fiscal responsibility through improved transparency.

"The objective would be to improve accountability through greater transparency in and quality of budgets and updates such as the quarterly Ontario Finances,"? Mr. Peters said. "This approach would be more effective in ensuring fiscal accountability than legislation that limits government's flexibility in responding to fiscal challenges."

That sounds like a plan.

The Liberal response is predictable. Can't blame them though. At least we know now and from a source with a good reputation for objectivity. So we can watch how McGuinty handles it and get some idea of what we're in for over the next four years.

Update: This makes me laugh.

With questions expected to swirl for months about the Tories' legacy of a deficit, the former governing party is having difficulty finding an MPP to be their finance critic.

Sources say Eves pegged former finance minister Jim Flaherty to be the shadow minister, but he refused. A former Tory cabinet minister said Flaherty did not want be in the uncomfortable position of asking the Liberals questions about the province's finances.

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Refining the frame

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On Monday I posted about a published interview with George Lakoff, a UC Berkeley professor, in which he discussed the framing of issues. Specifically he talked about why conservatives have been so successful at controlling the terms of reference in political debate. It turns out Digby at Hullabaloo is a long time reader of Lakoff's work and he's posted at length in response to this piece. He's particularly concerned with the way Lakoff has distinguished the right from the left:

If I have a beef with Lakoff it’s that the one frame he’s most known for --- the Republican “strict father” and the Democrat “nurturing parent” --- is one of the most unfortunate metaphors for the progressive cause that I can imagine.

It’s not that he’s wrong in his analysis, it’s that he’s used the wrong terms to frame it. (Yep. You heard me. I hereby accept the 2003 Shameless Intellectual Arrogance Award. Thank you very much.)

I don’t think it’s a very good frame to begin with because it isn’t honest. Let’s not pretend that the real frame isn’t “strict father” vs “nurturing mother.” The frame doesn't really make sense otherwise. And, rightly or wrongly, this frame makes the tension gender based, and in doing so it defines progressive leadership as female leadership, something that is an indistinct and still evolving archetypal image. This puts progressives at a disadvantage because people don't immediately associate women with public leadership just yet. That will, of course, come to pass in the not too distant future (I hope.) But framing isn't a matter for wish fulfillment. To work, it must be immediately recognizable. The fact that Lakoff didn’t use the obvious "father-mother" construction indicates to me that knew that this was a problem.

It's an interesting point. I guess the challenge here is to use Lakoff's ideas to improve on Lakoff's own frame.

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October 28, 2003

Are you listening, Paul?

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Paul Martin has indicated that he will put through another round of tax cuts when he takes over as PM. He also insists that debt reduction must be an absolute priority for the forseeable future. Aside from the obvious contradiction in those two goals, there's something else he should keep in mind. According to a poll just released by the CRIC, Canadians have different priorities.

When asked in a general manner what do with any potential federal surplus, 40 per cent argued for increased social spending, 37 per cent for debt reduction and 22 per cent for tax cuts.

But when asked a slightly different question, which specified that increased spending would be dedicated to health care and education, the number in favour of debt reduction and tax cuts dropped to 24 per cent and 12 per cent, respectively. Fully 63 per cent said the extra money should go to social spending.

Researchers with CRIC found that health, education and federal-provincial cooperation were the top three priorities in every province and territory and topped the list for residents of country's five largest cities.

So how about it? Do we get what we want, or what you think is good for us? And if the latter, who are you listening to and whose interests are you looking out for?

And if you're wondering what else in on the minds of Canadians, check this out.

The survey results also call on the next prime minister also to address an apparently popular desire for greater federal-provincial co-operation and more transparent and effective democracy.

Less than half of respondents (42 per cent) said that they believe the two levels of government are working well together, and greater number (48 per cent) say that reforming political institutions to make them more open and democratic is a high priority.

Electoral reform is an issue whose time has come. This is going to be interesting.

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RHIP

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There's no scandal here, says Chretien in reference to four of his cabinet ministers flying Air Irving and being wined and dined by the rich and influential.

"You know, we have the right to accept hospitality," the prime minister said.
We're not talking about somebody buying you a burger at Mickey D's, Jean.
Later in the House of Commons, Chretien explained that besides being entitled to accept invitations, members of government can have anything they're unclear on vetted by the federal ethics counsellor, Howard Wilson.

"Everybody did what they have to do. They went to the ethics counsellor to explain that... there is a process. There was none before, now there is a process," Chretien told reporters.

Howard Wilson reports to you, Jean. Can you say "conflict of interest"?

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October 27, 2003

So that's how they do that

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There's an interesting interview here with a professor at UC Berkeley who explains why conservatives have been so successful at dominating the terms of reference in political debate.

[T]hey've put billions of dollars into it. Over the last 30 years their think tanks have made a heavy investment in ideas and in language. In 1970, [Supreme Court Justice] Lewis Powell wrote a fateful memo to the National Chamber of Commerce saying that all of our best students are becoming anti-business because of the Vietnam War, and that we needed to do something about it. Powell's agenda included getting wealthy conservatives to set up professorships, setting up institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective, and setting up think tanks. He outlined the whole thing in 1970. They set up the Heritage Foundation in 1973, the American Enterprise Institute after that, and many others, from the Manhattan Institute to the Hoover Institute at Stanford.

And now, as the New York Times Magazine quoted Paul Weyrich, who started the Heritage Foundation, they have 1,500 conservative radio talk show hosts. They have a huge, very good operation, and they understand their own moral system. They understand what unites conservatives, and they understand how to talk about it, and they are constantly updating their research on how best to express their ideas.


Certainly that's from an American perspective, but I think Canada is comparable. I can name two conservative Canadian think tanks off the top of my head: the Fraser Institute and the C D Howe Institute. How many progressive or left-wing think tanks can you name with comparable stature or name recognition? The problem, of course, is that conservatives can't be out spent, since they have all the money. So they'll have to be out thought and this interview provides some tools to do that.

On free markets (in the second part of the interview):

[T]he "free market" doesn't exist. There is no such thing. All markets are constructed. Think of the stock exchange. It has rules. The WTO [World Trade Organization] has 900 pages of regulations. The bond market has all kinds of regulations and commissions to make sure those regulations carried out. Every market has rules. For example, corporations have a legal obligation to maximize shareholder profit. That's a construction of the market. Now, it doesn't have to be that way. You could make that rule, "Corporations must maximize stakeholder value." Stakeholders — as opposed to shareholders, the institutions who own the largest portions of stock — would include employees, local communities, and the environment. That changes the whole notion of what a "market" is.

Suppose we were to change the accounting rules, so that we not only had open accounting, which we really need, but we also had full accounting. Full accounting would include things like ecological accounting. You could no longer dump your stuff in the river or the air and not pay a fee. No more free dumping. If you had full accounting, that constructs the market in a different way. It's still a market, and it's still "free" within the rules. But the rules are always there. It's important for progressives to get that idea out there, that all markets are constructed. We should be debating how they're constructed, how they should be constructed, and how are they stacked to serve particular interests.


I've been saying that for a while but it sounds so much better when he says it.

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Thank you, Jean Chrétien. Seriously.

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30 reported killed in Baghdad suicide bombings

Around 30 people were reported killed and dozens injured Monday in a series of suicide bombings that targeted the International Red Cross headquarters and four police stations in Baghdad.

At least 10 Iraqis were killed when a suicide bomber rammed an ambulance packed with explosives into the security barriers outside the International Red Cross building on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

God, I'm glad Chrétien kept us out of that mess.

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October 26, 2003

I'll remember you said that

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Peter MacKay discussing the merger of the Alliance and the PCs:

Canadians want moderate, tolerant and inclusive policies that reflect their values.

Have you mentioned this to Stephen Harper?

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On a need-to-know basis

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In the days following 9/11, there was a mad, emotional rush on both sides of the US/Canadian border to pass what, in retrospect, seems to be draconian legislation to protect us from terrorists. The Canadian legislation was subsequently toned down after "sober second thought", but in the US the Patriot Act remains in force despite a lot of opposition, Gitmo continues to hold "illegal combatants" without charge or benefit of counsel, and a general tone of hysteria continues to be in evidence. It was in this atmosphere that, a year ago, Maher Arar, a man with dual Canadian and Syrian citizenship and travelling on a Canadian passport, was summarily arrested and deported to Syria from New York by American officials.

Fast forward to today, and while Arar has been returned to Canada, it seems his worries are far from over. While the government has been officially close mouthed about Canada's role in all this and has resisted calls for a public inquiry, anonymous government officials have leaked to the media that Arar supplied information to Syrians regarding terrorist activity. They may have just painted a target on the man's back. If Arar is guilty of something then law enforcement officials should be prepared to arrest and charge him. If they lack enough evidence for a charge, then it's inexcusable for some anonymous government spokesperson to offer hearsay evidence against Arar in the court of public opinion where his chance of getting a fair trial is nil, and his life may have been endangered.

Former NDP leader Alexa McDonough has written to Foreign Affairs demanding a public inquiry into the leak of information concerning Maher Arar's deportation case. This comes on the heels of a formal complaint lodged by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP into that law enforcement agency's role in the deportation.

I say we need a public inquiry into the whole mess. I'd like to know if a Canadian citizenship is really worthless the moment some anonymous officials on either side of the US border decide they have suspicions about you, or will our government actually stand up for us and our rights. While Bush and Ashcroft seem more determined than ever to make due process a distant memory in the US, I'd like to think our own country is better than that. And I think we need to know.

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October 25, 2003

Mythologizing Manning

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In a piece lamenting the desperation of current attempts to unite the right, Rex Murphy looks back fondly on Preston Manning, suggesting that his attempts to do the same were somehow noble and selfless while the current effort is merely politics. This is of a piece with other attempts to cast Manning as the unsung hero of the right who had some profound and unprecedented effect on our country.

Here we are, let's say, four or five months before Paul Martin seems likely to rack up a win that would possibly blot out of existence the two shards which called themselves the Alliance and the Progressive Conservative Party -- and the two leaders of those stalled rumps finally bend to mathematics and common sense and decide to merge.Brilliant. Selfless. Just what Canadian democracy needs.

Well, if it's brilliant and selfless on the eve of an electoral Armageddon, at one minute to midnight before the writ drops and the abyss yawns its welcome to Tory and Alliance alike, how much more brilliant, I wonder, was this same idea when -- with years to execute it, time to mature it, and leisure to persuade all of the parties to its sweetness and wisdom -- it was first proposed?

...

What was a great idea five years ago is a desperate lunge (can the sharpshooter cut the rope with his piercing bullet before the trapdoor is sprung?) and a reality-mugging at this stage of the game. What could have been done cleanly and openly years back when Preston Manning drew a bull's-eye on the necessary course for all conservatives to follow, is now done with a stage show of high party emissaries, a fanfare of double-dealing (Peter McKay, say goodbye to David Orchard) and guaranteed ructions from the loyalists of either party.


Is the right in Canada so hungry for heroes that they're unable to wait for history to actually judge Manning's accomplishments? This article put me in mind of another, more critical examination of Manning that, to my mind, hits a little closer to the mark.
Myth #1: Doing politics differently
From the outset, Manning and his followers portrayed themselves as the anti-establishment, non-political political party. Their movement, they promised, would do things differently in the nation's capital, and would never stand accused of having been "Ottawashed."
...
[W]hen Manning lost the Canadian Alliance's inaugural leadership contest to Stockwell Day, the sudden erosion of his meticulously implemented power structure left the party in chaos.

Instead, the tyranny of the grassroots - which remain mostly manipulated by party elites - has taken hold of what remains of Reform's vaunted democratic ideals.

Myth #2: The father of fiscal responsibility
If Manning is prepared to take credit for the attack on Canada's deficits and debts and the campaign to lower taxes, then he might as well take credit for similar efforts all across the Western world, too.

In the 1990s, Democratic and Republican governments both nationally and locally in the United States, Labour governments across the Commonwealth (notably in the U.K. and New Zealand), and governments of all stripes in Canada (including provincial New Democrats) moved to control the deficits and debts which had accumulated and grown since the 1970s.

Myth #3: Canadian crusader
Whether one agrees with all of his positions or not, there is little question that ... Prime Minister [Chrétien] has spent his entire political career fighting separatists, in face-to-face battles with Réné Levesque, Lucien Bouchard, Gilles Duceppe, and countless others. As Pierre Trudeau's Justice Minister, Chrétien was one of the chief architects of the constitutional amending formula which embedded the notion of the equality of provinces that Manning and his supporters hold so dear.
...
[Manning's] main contribution was a 1997 campaign ad that singled out his opponents as "Quebec politicians" and essentially doomed his party's fortunes amongst moderates.

Myth #4: Constitutional reformer
For many involved in the earliest stages of Manning's movement, the Triple-E Senate was its raison d'etre.
...
[O]n the one issue that Manning and the Reformers really staked their reputations on, their efforts amounted to absolutely nothing. In fairness, without forming government there simply wasn't a way for their party to force major Senate reform.

Myth #5: Builder with a vision
Often cited as Manning's greatest accomplishment, the creation of the Reform party and its successor, the Canadian Alliance, is seen as nothing short of a political miracle in some circles.

Conservative pundits often refer to the accomplishment, stating that it was the first time in history that a party had gone from "almost nothing" to Official Opposition almost overnight.

Sadly, the Progressive party (1921) and the Bloc Quebecois (1993) both beat the Reformers to the punch, robbing Manning and his followers of even this somewhat debatable accomplishment.


Only a few years after his retirement from politics, the party Manning built seems about to vanish, replaced by an uneasy amalgamation of "conservatives" whose overriding concern isn't so much the principles they hold dear, as the desire to re-establish a political force with enough credibility to attract corporate money and to avoid being wiped out of existence by the Martin machine in the next federal election. That's hardly the stuff of myth.

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October 24, 2003

Busy, busy, busy

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One day after the swearing-in, and there's suddenly lots to say about Ontario's new government, although some of it doesn't amount to much.

Apparently our new Finance Minister, Greg Sorbara, isn't afraid to say"no". Beyond that he's not saying much until Erik Peters finishes his review of the province's books.

Education Minister Gerard Kennedy plans to cancel the Tories' private school tax credit and remove the trustees that the preceding government had installed in three jurisdictions including Toronto.

"We want to send a strong signal" of commitment to public education, he told reporters.

I'm all for that, Gerard.

Health Minister George Smitherman's first priority was actually announced by his boss, Premier McGuinty.

McGuinty said he wants Smitherman to immediately get to work on closing the controversial private diagnostic clinics established by the Tories and to move MRI and CT scan services back into the public sector.

Right again.

Monte Kwinter, Minister of Community Safety and Correction Services, wants to depoliticize the police, whatever that means. Since Craig Brommell is no longer the head of the union, and since the Liberals promised to hire 1,000 new officers over the next four years, I imagine the relationship between Kwinter and the police will be relatively calm, at least for a while.

Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen and Minister of Public Infrastructure Renewal David Caplan ganged up to say that the campaign promise to invest a portion of the provincial tax on gasoline in public transit will be kept, but no real timeline or specifics were offered.

In the same article linked to above, Environment Minister Leona Dombrowsky said that she's "leery" about incineration and approves of composting. She'll have to do better than that since John Ashcroft is watching.

Dombrowsky did speak up on the subject of coal, reiterating her government's commitment to shut down coal-fired generating stations by 2007. I guess it's a good thing she spoke up because Energy Minister Dwight Duncan had nothing of substance to say. (I suppose I should give him a break since the Tories made a thorough mess of that ministry, but where would the fun be in that?)

Agriculture Minister Steve Peters says there will new inspectors hired for the meat industry by year's end, and that there will a full public inquiry into food safety. Good idea.

Michael Bryant is doing triple duty as Attorney General, Minister Responsible for Native Affairs and Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal. He's confirmed the promise to hold a public inquiry into the death of Dudley George but hasn't said when, nor has he committed to the promised referendum on electoral reform.

And McGuinty himself announced that auto insurance rates are frozen, effective immediately. And in response to his promise to halt development on the Oak Ridges moraine, builders have stopped all activity for two weeks.

I don't know about you but I'm tired just writing about it all. Of course you know I just did this to help me learn all the new names.

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October 23, 2003

Rogues gallery?

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OK, so the title's facetious. For now. Dalton McGuinty has now been sworn in as Premier of Ontario and we can officially start bitching and moaning about his government. After all, it's our God-given right. Here's the official list of McGuinty cabinet ministers including pictures and links to bios. Let's hope the title doesn't stop being facetious.

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October 22, 2003

Haven't you forgotten something?

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The Opposition parties in the House of Commons plan to introduce a motion asking Chretien to leave office as soon as possible after Paul Martin wins the Liberal party leadership on Nov. 14th.

"We know that Mr. Chrétien is not the one taking the decisions," Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said today in explaining the rationale for the motion.

"We know decisions are being taken in the backroom by Paul Martin and we want things to be clear. He should be in the House answering questions."


The Liberals plan to treat this as a confidence motion which means the Liberal caucus will be instructed to vote no.
Even Martin's most ardent supporters in the Liberal backbench — the same cast that pushed so hard for Chrétien's ouster — aren't prepared to back the Bloc motion.

"It comes from the wrong side," confided one Martinite.


So Martin's allies want him running the country immediately but doing it from behind the scenes, while the Opposition wants Martin running the country immediately and doing it openly. Does anybody care what the voters think? I'm not a fan of Jean Chretien, but enough other Canadians were to vote him into office.

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The buzz is that the House of Commons will adjourn on Nov. 7 and be prorogued. It won't resume until after Chretien retires and Martin becomes PM. That's over three months of inactivity because, as Ibbitson speculates, the Liberals will be the butt of jokes once Martin's coronation is confirmed and Chretien is still the nominal PM. Ibbitson itemizes the legislation that will die before ever reaching the House because of Liberal false pride. I don't know what the Libs are worried about - they're already the butt of my jokes.

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Read this

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The CBC is worth fighting for

I will appear tomorrow, along with CBC president Robert Rabinovitch, before the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, which is now looking at the state of media industries in Canada, to argue that Canadians need choices, and that CBC/Radio-Canada should be enthusiastically supported as one of the broadcasting options available to all Canadians.

Emphasis added. That's the money phrase. Media concentration in this country is well out of hand and getting it back under control would be a long fight, even if the will to do so was in evidence. Since the will to do so isn't in evidence, how do we ensure alternatives without funding them? Global TV looks more and more like Fox News North and given the commercial success of that formula, why shouldn't the other privately owned media follow suit? We need choices. If the CBC has problems then let's fix them, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Yeah, yeah, cliches 'r' us.)

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You'd almost think they heard me

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McCallum expected to boost army spending

Defence Minister John McCallum is planning to spend nearly $600 million on new armoured vehicles for the army while cutting almost $100 million at military headquarters in Ottawa, according to reports.

...

The Defence Minister said one of his priorities is to replace the accident-prone Sea King helicopters.

So what else should I gripe about?

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October 21, 2003

Because being superior is such a burden

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Shorter Brian Mulroney:

Terrorism arises in a vacuum because terrorists are just evil. There's no point in examining root causes or historical context. Just reorganize everything to make it easier for the US to have it's way, er, show leadership in crushing resistance to American domination, er, protecting our treasured freedoms. Now put your hand on your heart and pledge allegiance. To the UN, of course.

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Social safety what?

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Shorter Stan Woloshyn:

Kick 'em while they're down. Maybe they'll give up and leave the province. Or die. Either way they won't be my problem anymore. Pesky poor people.

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More from Chretien on the rushed purchase of two jets:

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien yesterday defended the rushed purchase of two Bombardier jets worth $100-million, saying he had money to spend in the dying days of the 2001-2002 fiscal year.

"We acted quickly because we had money at the end of the year," he said in Bangkok, insisting that the government followed all the rules.


Translation:

The money just mysteriously showed up. We don't know where it came from but no one claimed it so we spent it on ourselves.

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October 20, 2003

The RIAA's wish list

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IP Justice has published a White Paper on the proposed chapter on intellectual property in the FTAA. A copy in PDF format can be downloaded here, or it can be viewed online here.

Even as some American legislators are taking a second look at the DMCA, believing that at least some provisions of that legislation are too harsh, the regulations that are being proposed for the FTAA make the DMCA look mild by comparison. At their most extreme these proposals would:

  • restrict or, in some cases, eliminate fair use rights

  • deprive even those suspected of copyright violations of due process

  • stifle research and innovation

  • transfer the cost of protecting copyright holders' property to the taxpayer

  • force all countries which sign the agreement to support the extension of copyright protection currently in force in the US

  • restrain trade and create monopolies (ironic, ain't it?)

  • turn border patrol and customs agents into copyright cops with judicial authority

This is made in America policy for the benefit of American coporations like Disney and members of the RIAA, MPAA etc. Since many of the provisions are in violation of the American Constitution and numerous precedents in American law, one would normally hope that legislators in that country would eliminate at least the most egregious of excesses before these proposals became final. Unfortunately Congress may never have that opportunity because President Bush has "fast track" authority. He can authorize this agreement without Congressional approval.

This highlights the danger for the citizens of the member nations involved in agreements such as these. If these provisions remain in the final agreement, then all signatory nations will have to change their laws to conform and a small minority of corporate interests in "Hollywood" will have hijacked democracy. They will have stolen it not only from 300 million Americans, but from 500 million others - the citizens of all the countries involved. To quote from the White Paper:

One of the fundamental principles of a democracy is self-government, where the laws reflect the will of the public and people govern themselves. Yet in the case of intellectual property laws, Hollywood buys its way into the position of drafting the laws under which the people are forced to live. Democracy is yet another casualty in the FTAA Treaty process, which exemplifies a form of corporate tyranny, as the fundamental right to self-government is lost, and will of a powerful minority becomes the law in half of the world. One would expect that an agreement among the hemisphere�s 34 �democracies� would find greater value in protecting democratic values than what the FTAA�s chapter on intellectual property rights proposes.

This has to be stopped and I'll be returning to this issue as developments warrant.

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Ah, it was advertising

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Chretien on the controversy over the rushed purchase of two new jets for the use of government officials:

"We wanted to have Canadian planes. I don't think the Americans travel in French planes," he said. "I wanted to have Canadian planes for the ministers to show off a Canadian product. So I don't see the problem."
As long as you don't see a problem, Jean. Moron. Did the government, meaning taxpayers, get paid anything for this $100 million dollar advertisement?
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October 19, 2003

Oops

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The Global Redlining of America

The previously unthinkable is now on the table. Russia, the world's second largest oil exporter, is giving serious consideration to trading its black gold in euros, a switch that would surely set dominos in motion among other oil producing nations and, ultimately, knock the dollar off its global throne. Americans can thank George Bush and his Pirates for accelerating a process that might have taken decades to evolve, but which now looms as a "catastrophe" on the horizon.

...

Iraq - the invasion and resistance - has worked a sea change in global relations. History is galloping ahead of every scenario that could have been envisioned before the Bush Pirates set out on their hegemonic mission. However, the scheming fools at the Project for a New American Century must be given their due; only the most monumental stupidity, arrogance and willful ignorance could have set the reigning superpower on such a calamitous course toward political isolation, economic instability, and shrinking relevance to the designs of mankind.

This article is definitely worth a read. This blog will normally focus on Canadian politics but the scenario discussed here would have a profound effect on Canada.


Update:

Here are links to two Moscow Times articles as background:
Putin: Why Not Price Oil in Euros?
ECB: Pricing Oil in Euros Sensible

Update 2:

From a Moscow Times article that just came online earlier this evening:

The European Union has held informal talks with Russia on its long-sought aim to have Russian oil exports priced in euros, European Commission President Romano Prodi said Friday.

"Russia is ... given its own national interest, drawn to having its imports and exports denominated in euros," Prodi told a news conference after an EU summit in Brussels.

But Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said his government would not force the market's hand. He said it was up to exporters to decide if they should to stick to the dollar or buck the international energy markets and price oil in euros.

...

Putin's remarks may have been less a promise than a new bargaining chip in tough talks with the European Union on Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization, blocked by Brussels, in part, over what it sees as unfair gas pricing.

"Putin's comments were framed in the context of the conversation he was having at the time with Schroeder," ING emerging markets economist Phil Poole said.


So it's not a done deal yet. It would be instant karma for Bush if that happened, of course, especially when some suggest that part of the motivation for the invasion of Iraq was to prevent Saddam from making this kind of move. But serious damage to the American economy means, almost by definition, serious damage to our economy as well. All the more reason to try and minimize our economic dependence on our neighbour to the south, because I don't think the Bush White House is any more inclined to play nicely with others now than they have been so far.

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While congratulating Canadian peacekeepers in Afghanistan for their sacrifice and acknowledging that he has asked more of them than any previous PM, Jean Chretien indicated that he foresees no increase in military funding:

Chrétien also suggested that dollars allocated to the military are almost always spent and that money restored to the military in recent budgets is the best the federal government could do after years of defence cuts.

"Last year, we gave them virtually a billion dollars," he said, prior to touring the Canadian base southwest of Kabul, known as Camp Julien. "But it's never enough. I have never seen an army anywhere in the world who returned a government money anywhere. They all need more and they all have plans for more. It is a question of priority."


There's no profit in it, you see. I guess that means that our troops will continue to go up in helicopters that are older than they are. It's a little hard to take given this from an article on the upcoming Auditor General's report and specifically on the rushed purchase of two jets for use by senior government officials:
"It's a juicy one," said a federal official of the chapter on the purchase of the Bombardier jets.

The $100-million deal was quickly drawn up and completed just before the end of the 2002 fiscal year. The Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office had to overcome stiff opposition at Public Works Canada and the Department of National Defence to get the deal to go through.

In addition, then-minister of defence Art Eggleton was clearly unhappy with the orders from above to buy two new planes out of his department's budget.

The Bombardier aircraft were bought without going to public tenders. The deal was announced to the public only after it had been signed.

Ms. Fraser is expected to report that numerous policies and rules, including international trade agreements, were bent or broken to allow the speedy purchase.

In addition, she raises questions over the need for the two new jets.


It's hard to avoid thinking that sacrifice is for suckers, or at the very least, not for government officials.

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Hoping for a bad day

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Bernard Landry wants to start planning for the next referendum on Quebec sovereignty. The one thing he doesn't want to plan on is the actual date.

But Landry refused to commit to calling a vote on independence quickly after returning to power.

The PQ leader reiterated past warnings that the timing must be right.


This makes me wonder whether M. Landry really cares whether the majority of Quebecois really want sovereignty or not. It seems more like he's laying in wait for a time when people are just pissed off enough to vote for something in a fit of pique that they might later regret. But pique is something that M. Landry seems to know a lot about.

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October 18, 2003

Of special interest

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While speculation swirls around the identity of the future leader of the united right, to me the most notable name mentioned is the one who has said she isn't interested - for now.

Belinda Stronach is being given credit for playing a key role in bringing the representatives of the two parties together and keeping the process on track until this "historic" agreement was signed. Her interest in the matter has been described thusly:

"I feel that it's important that we have strong parties so we can debate policies, so we can once again create policies and debate policies which are good for Canada and which make for a stronger Canada."

...

With Mulroney, Stronach first drafted the outline of an emissary process that would see top negotiators from each side working out the details of an agreement, a source said.

She then got on the phone to Harper, whom she'd never met, arranging to meet him at his Stornoway residence in early June. She told him that corporate Canada wants to see a united right, and argued for the need for a stronger alternative to the Liberals.


Emphasis added. Corporate Canada? Hmm. When the right uses the term "special interests", it's usually meant in a disparaging manner and the implication is that while the left caters (panders?) to those special interests, it's the right that represents the real voice of the people. But given Stronach's role in all this, and the admission that she's acting on behalf of corporate interests, it suggests that the new leader of the Conservative Party will be charged with representing the most powerful special interest of all. There's only one thing that leaves me a bit confused. I thought that was Paul Martin's job.

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