May 2006 Archives

May 30, 2006


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We have a neighbour, George, who lives to the…let’s say…south of us. We disagree on some things. For instance, we shop at the Farmer’s Market, and he shops at Costco. But hey, whatever - for the most part, we get along rather well. We invite him to enjoy our garden, and he is great about lending us his gadgets.

George does have one peculiar habit though. He insists on buying a particular brand of gas stove. Every few months or so, the stove malfunctions and George’s house blows up. Luckily, the wily George manages to escape with his life, but his house always ends up in ruins. Despite calamity, George continues to install this same stove, over and over, even though he, and everybody else, knows that the stove is the reason his house keeps on exploding. We’ve learned to expect this behaviour from George, and we just shake our heads when we hear the now-familiar sound of his house erupting.

Recently our household has been faced with a situation that needs to be addressed. Our own stove is not working as well as it has in the past. One element is burned out, the oven takes longer to heat things, and it’s hopelessly dirty (it is, after all, my stove). And so, we find ourselves discussing options as to how to rectify the stove situation. It’s enough of a battle to get me to cook in the first place – we certainly don’t need the added deterrent of a faulty stove.

Upon reflection, I believe that we ought to invest in fixing our stove. It has, until recently, served us very well. It has been dependable and good. However, we have let it fall into disrepair. I cost this option against buying a new one, and determine that fixing our current stove is the way to go.

But other forces in the house rise against me. They say that the old stove ought to be replaced with a brand new one. They get very excited at the prospect and soon, they’ve taken to combing the flyers for deals on new stoves – with vigour. Their enthusiasm is unstoppable - as they discuss the fate of the stove, with excited voices jabbering and flyers flying. And then they see it - a great deal on George’s stove.

When they come to me with this idea, I’m not at all for it. I point out that there are lots of options for the stove, and I remind them of George’s exploding house. I assert that while I realize our stove has problems, it’s not going to cause the devastation experienced by George whenever his acts up.

Luckily we’re a rational bunch and other alternatives are explored. Good thing I don’t live with others who would dismiss my concerns as Reductio ad NeighbourGeorgeium. Thankfully, both me and my household opposition see that it’s not really about George at all. It’s about how much we all love our house and don’t wish to see it explode. And I’m certain, that on more than one occasion, George has contrasted what he perceives to be our market experiences with his own, as he extols the virtues of shopping at Costco.

Hat Tip: Canadian Cynic

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May 27, 2006

Tony Blair has done a lot for George Bush. Without Blair's support, the Bush administration's case for pre-emptive war against Iraq would have been tougher to make to the American people, as it always was to much of the rest of the world, including a majority of the British people. Since the Sunday Times' publication in May 2005 of the Downing Street memo, we've known just how much Mr Blair was willing to do for his friend Mr Bush, just how far he was willing to go, eyes wide shut:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

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May 25, 2006

I've seen quite a few bloggers state that Stephen Harper's newest salvo in his war with the national press gallery is another example of his petulance. I'm not so sure. I wonder if this isn't a calculated gamble on Harper's part.

He may be gambling that the idea of an overall liberal bias in the media is well enough established that he can look sympathetic in the eyes of the voters by making the press gallery look like villains. It could easily backfire on him but that doesn't mean it isn't a deliberate strategy.

Meanwhile Paul Wells has reprinted the text of a speech he gave some years ago on the failings of the Canadian media's political coverage and a lot of his points are well-taken. Maybe the best move the press could take is to avoid playing tit-for-tat and go back to the job they used to do. If Harper and crew don't want to talk about their policies and legislative initiatives, maybe some enterprising reporters could actually read the legislation itself and report on what it really means. Do a few thorough analyses of government policy without giving the Conservatives a chance to inject their own spin and the reporters in question might suddenly find that representatives of the governing party actually do want to talk to them.

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May 23, 2006

Caledonia update

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For background to the renewed confrontation between local residents of the town of Caledonia, near Brantford in southwestern Ontario, and members of the nearby Six Nations reserve, see "Ipperwash revisited?" from 21 April below.

Yesterday, protestors from the reserve had begun to dismantle a blockade set up to halt construction on the disputed land, in a good-faith response to the province's announcement at last week's end that a moratorium would be called on all building there as long as intergovernmental talks continued.

A group of local residents ("hundreds," according to the CBC) appeared, waving Canadian flags and singing "Oh Canada," apparently meaning to block native access to the town:

The scene turned ugly when a van driven by a Six Nations protester tried to force its way through the locals, prompting a fist fight.

Several native and non-native demonstrators were injured in scuffles after natives blocked the highway with the electrical transmission tower taken from a construction site and then used backhoes to tear a shallow trench across the road in front of their blockade.

The non-native blockade began Friday night, as part of a weekly demonstration by members of the community frustrated about the barricade that has been in place for almost five weeks.

One non-native protester denied that residents had made the situation worse by coming out to face the natives.

"We're not provoking the situation," Jeff MacNeil told CBC News early Tuesday.

"We're just treating them the same way they're treating us — refusing them access to various things, like, 'We're not allowed over there? OK, you can't come over here.' "

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The Conservative tax hike

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Remember all that money we were going to save from Conservative tax cuts? Well, it's official: they were just kidding.

The federal government's recent budget chopped personal taxes by about half as much as was advertised and actually lowered take-home pay for many Canadians, a new report by a leading economist says.

The report, to be released Tuesday, says the budget will mean personal tax cuts worth about $9.5-billion over the next two years, when compared with current rates.

By contrast, the government said in its first budget earlier this month that it had cut personal taxes by $19.1-billion over that time frame, or by more than $2 for every $1 in new spending.

Dale Orr, chief economist at Global Insight (Canada) and the report's author, said the government's claims aren't accurate if you compare the budget's cuts against tax rates now in effect. Instead, the government compared the new post-budget tax levels to those from the most recent legislation, which don't include the cuts made by the Liberals late last year.

“We conclude that in budget 2006, there was much less tax relief than advertised,” the Global Insight report said. “When tax relief is measured the usual way, as opposed to the Budget 2006 way, tax relief is only about 1.4 times as much as new spending.”

The Liberal cuts, which were announced in November and have since taken effect, included lucrative reductions to personal income taxes. They were implemented, but the 2006 federal election was called before the cuts had been accompanied by legislation. That allowed the Conservatives to compare their expected tax regime against the older, legislated rates, instead of the newer, unlegislated ones.

Despite massive spending increases over their final four years in power, the Liberals reduced the lowest tax rate to 15 per cent from 16 per cent, effective Jan. 1, 2006. The Conservative budget set the new rate at 15.5 per cent, which means federal income taxes will climb on July 1.

Those tax hikes will add about $4.3-billion to federal coffers over the next two years, although other measures will mean a net reduction of $9.5-billion in personal taxes during that period.

But Mr. Orr said the income tax hikes mean take-home pay — which excludes the new government's cut to the goods and services tax cut and a variety of new tax credits — will drop for many Canadians during the last six months of 2006.

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May 20, 2006

Propaganda at work

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Shorter Toronto Sun: Even if the latest story about Iran is false, all the ugly conclusions we draw from it are still true.

There's one particular part of the editorial I'd like to highlight because it's come up repeatedly and will doubtless be thrown around again every time Iran is mentioned.

[Ahmadinejad] wants Israel "wiped off the map."

Here's Juan Cole, who speaks the language.

The phrase he then used as I read it is "The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] from the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad)."

Ahmadinejad was not making a threat, he was quoting a saying of Khomeini and urging that pro-Palestinian activists in Iran not give up hope-- that the occupation of Jerusalem was no more a continued inevitability than had been the hegemony of the Shah's government.

Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that "Israel must be wiped off the map" with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.

Again, Ariel Sharon erased the occupation regime over Gaza from the page of time.

It's true that Ahmadinejad is a nasty piece of work. It's also true that we're being conned. Again.

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May 19, 2006


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Updated. Please see below.

Last night the National Post ran a story informing us that Iran was on the verge of forcing its Jewish and Christian citizens to wear coloured badges in public so they would be identified as non-Muslims. Quite a few media outlets picked up the story, all sourced to the Post. And a lot of bloggers picked up the story, mostly to take it at face value and scream and gnash their teeth about that horrible Iranian regime (not that they're particularly nice guys).

Very few picked up this from this morning:

But independent reporter Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli Middle East expert who was born and raised in Tehran, says the report is false.
"It's absolutely factually incorrect," he told The New 940 Montreal.
"Nowhere in the law is there any talk of Jews and Christians having to wear different colours. I've checked it with sources both inside Iran and outside."

And now we have this:

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May 18, 2006

Rock music

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Here is a photograph of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Britain.

Ben Nevis is a nice mountain a little more than halfway down the Great Glen, that ancient diagonal slash that runs southwest from Inverness to the sea, along which are strung Loch Ness, Loch Lochy, and Loch Linnhe. The mountain overlooks the handsome Highlands gateway town of Fort William.

Everybody likes Ben Nevis. It is an avuncular sort of mountain, even if it is tall (to the British). It is climbable. There are lots of things you can do on Ben Nevis. Bet you wouldn't have thought of this one, though:

Litter pickers working on the summit of Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis, have made a startling discovery: a grand piano buried in scree below the peak. The volunteers were winkling cans and plastic bags from rock crevices when they spotted a large, finely varnished length of wood. Shifting granite boulders, they discovered first the top of the piano, then the entire frame complete with stringboard and pedals.


There already exists a bizarre series of climbs on the peak, including a couple of extremely risky drives to the top made in Model-T Fords ... In 1980 Kenneth Campbell, from Ardgay, in Ross-shire, carried up a piano single-handedly to raise funds for cancer research. But he brought it down again.

Mr Hawkins mentioned one possible clue to the grand's ascent: there was a biscuit wrapper tucked inside the grand with a best-before date of December 1986.

Sandy Maxwell, head of the trust's volunteer section, said: "This is the largest, heaviest and most unusual thing we've ever had left on the mountain. We've always fought a constant battle against litter on Ben Nevis, but this takes it into a different category."


The search may well turn up other musical debris, from the era between 1884 and 1904 when a weather station on top of the mountain was manned around the clock by meteorologists.

To relieve the tedium of their lonely life the scientists, as well as amusing themselves with outdoor ping-pong on a table constructed of compacted snow, played the bagpipes, the violin, flute, mandolin and accordion. They also devised a game which consisted of hurling boulders into the glen below - occasionally chucking down one of the instruments too.

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May 17, 2006

A word, Mr Gee?

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The word would be Pakistan.

Mr Gee would be Marcus Gee, editorial-page editor of the Globe and Mail and regular op-ed columnist as well, a curious double gig given that Mr Gee as author is a one-man sittin' 'n' typin' cure for insomnia, but there I go again, derailing myself. To the issue.

All of a sudden, the oft-not-debated commitment of Canadian troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan is going to be debated -- voted upon, even -- in the Commons this afternoon and evening. NATO apparently wants more Canada in Afghanistan. Well, of course they do, since the Americans and the British need their troops elsewhere just now, Iraq falling apart as it is, Iran on the horizon, and Mr Blair's and Mr Bush's political futures looking not all that bright. NATO would like our current commitment extended beyond next year, and may furthermore be asking us to take command of the entire Afghanistan operation in 2008. Whether or not NATO needed our parliamentarians to be debating these major commitments so far in advance on twenty-four hours' notice is another question, a serious political question raised ever so carefully by the Globe and Mail's leading news report this morning.

Update already: The Globe is reporting that another Canadian soldier has been killed, near Kandahar. And the political discussions are becoming less careful by the hour. The Bloc and the NDP have said that their members will not support the Conservative motion to extend our current mission beyond next year, and Bill Graham seems to be saying that Liberal MPs will be free to vote independently.

Now, you'd think that the editorial-page editor of the Globe and Mail would have anticipated some of the subtleties of national and international politics swirling about the Tories' surprise Afghanistan debate today, wouldn't you? In fact, you don't believe that he didn't, do you. Neither do I.

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I hadn't intended to write another piece about how we're draining our main (oil) vein to our insatiable oil-addicted southern neighbour so soon, 'till this article got my attention:

Unbeknown to most Canadians, Canada is now the Number 1 foreign supplier of oil to the United States. Given the uncertainties of Mideast and Venezuelan supplies, the US has rapidly increased oil imports from Canada, facilitated by the proportional sharing clause on energy in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

That's bad enough, but it gets worse:

Canada has become the leading energy satellite of the US at a time when America has reasserted itself globally with imperial ambitions, as witnessed by the ongoing war in Iraq.

Furthermore, the fact that securing energy supplies has risen to the top of the US national security agenda during George W Bush's presidency, has put Canada in a strategic but also delicate and vulnerable position.

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May 16, 2006

I beg your pardon, Stephen?

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Harper scraps commission idea after setback

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is scrapping the idea of a new public appointments commission after opposition MPs rejected his nominee to chair it.

"So what that tells us is that we won't be able to clean up the process in this minority Parliament. We'll obviously need a majority government to do that in the future," Harper said Tuesday.

You won't be able to? You need a majority? There's a little problem with the logic here: the vote of the committee which opposed this appointment isn't binding as is noted near the end of that CTV story.

If Harper believes in his accountability package and his nominee, he's quite free to ignore this vote and put his nominee in place anyway. He might take some political flak for it, but if he's really chosen the right man for the job then it should prove out, shouldn't it? Or he could, you know, put forward another nominee.

It couldn't be that Harper chose someone controversial for the job precisely so he could manufacture a reason why he needs a majority, could it? Nah, he wouldn't do a thing like that.

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Gun Crazy

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I don't own a gun. Never have. I'm not into hunting, but I don't begrudge those folks who enjoy a moose steak or a caribou roast their right to go bag a few (though trophy hunting leaves me more than a bit cold). As I have never owned a gun of any sort, I have never really had a heartfelt position on the federal gun registry.

Sure, it was a collossal screw-up in terms of getting the thing up and running. Yeah, it pissed off a lot of people who have no difficulty whatsoever registering their vehicles, but respond with white-hot rage to the thought of registering guns. And, it provided a handy cudgel for the Conservatives (and their predecessors in the Reform Party) to thump the Liberals and energize their gun-lovin' base.

But all that was remote stuff, really. I wasn't affected by it, so I thought it best to let those folks who were affected thrash this issue out.

Now these guys are affected by the gun registry. Every single day, they use it to good effect, and they like it.

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May 15, 2006

Another Fly on the Wall

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[The scene: Cabinet Committee Room, Parliament Hill.]

Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Good morning everyone, welcome to day 123 of the glorious Conservative Revolution…

Stockwell Day (Public Security): Amen, brother…sorry, Prime Minister Brother.

Harper: Stock, I’ve been thinking about your suggestion to start the meetings with a prayer, and I like the signal it sends to our Christian supporters, so let’s do it.

Day: Wonderful, news, sir. If I may…

Our Father, who art unregulated,
Hollowed be thy federal government,
Thy tax breaks come,
Thy will be done in Canada,
As it is in Bush America,
Give us this day our military fetishism,
And deliver us from liberalism…

Entire cabinet: Amen…

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May 14, 2006

Hackery of the day

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There's an interesting editorial in today's Edmonton Sun. That's if you find it interesting to see the the lengths to which a partisan editorial board will go in an effort to boost Stephen Harper.

The authors try to argue that the recent rise in the Canadian dollar can be directly attributed to the election of a Conservative government and that, by extension, decades worth of fluctuations in the value of the loonie can be traced to the party that's in government.

But whether it's a coincidence or not, we have long thought it strange at the very least that the loonie has, for over 30 years now, seen its fortunes rise and fall in an inverse relationship to the relative fortunes of the Liberal party.

In other words, the loonie hit its lowest depths when the Liberals were firmly entrenched in power. And the loonie always seemed to find its wings when the Conservatives were riding high.

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Now that Nightingale has returned from her vacation in the sun with tales to tell, I've added her to the contributors list at the right.

And now we are... oh, never mind.

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May 13, 2006

Hi, Mum

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Breakfast. Breakfast is key. Flowers are nice, but if you are lucky enough to have a lovely mum around, then you make her a nice breakfast tomorrow morning, y'hear?

Mother's Day resonates for my brothers and sisters and me a little more than usual this year, since it falls on the second anniversary of the morning when our lovely mum woke up to streaming Alberta sunshine, said it was beautiful, and then said good-bye to us and ninety years of good works in this life.

When I think of my mother, the first word that comes to me is "strong." She was a beautiful woman, taller than I've ever been, with dramatic bones and enormous, competent, caring hands. Those huge hands used to fascinate me when I was little, and reassure me, too. People who knew our mum only socially would have called her good, or kind, or generous, and she certainly was all those things. But staying good and kind and generous through ninety years, years that included voyages through U-boat-infested waters and assisting doctors who were inventing plastic-surgery techniques for badly burned RAF fliers simply because they were there and what else was there to do, years that also included raising five bumptious brats ... that takes some steel and stubbornness, and our mum was nothing if not steely and stubborn.

We had one tough mama, in other words, and it makes me smile to remember just how ornery and determined she could be.

So what would the lovely mother in your life like for breakfast tomorrow morning? Me, I am not a mother, unless you count the cats, and the cats, alas, cannot cook. They can't even pop the frozen waffles into the toaster, fry up a little back bacon, and find the genuine maple syrup in the cupboard (genuine maple syrup: accept no less!). That would be an ok Mother's Day breakfast, depending on the mum you're thinking of.

An ideal Mother's Day breakfast? Well, Portobello Scramble with Tomato Marmalade is a thought.

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May 12, 2006

Here comes that rainy day

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Now I at least understand why the major American telcos are so interested in increasing the profits they make from the internet. It appears they might soon need the money.

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Friday Snark Fest

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Ok. It's Friday and I've had a bad month this week. And I no longer have a dog to kick so I think I'll take it out on L'il Stevie instead.

The world according to Stephen Harper:

And I think the real problem that we're facing already is that the government doesn't accept that it got a minority. - Stephen Harper
Really? Most of us had that figured out ohhh about January 24th.

But I'm very libertarian in the sense that I believe in small government and, as a general rule, I don't believe in imposing values upon people. - Stephen Harper
And just when were you planning on putting that second belief into practice?

I do not intend to dispute in any way the need for defence cuts and the need for government spending cuts in general. ... I do not share a not in my backyard approach to government spending reductions. - Stephen Harper
Note to General Rick Hillier: I wouldn't be making too many plans for all that money you think you are getting. At least not until it actually shows up. That's what you get for making a public statement without approval of the PMO.

If you want to be a government in a minority Parliament, you have to work with other people. - Stephen Harper
Guess that includes getting the Blocheads to help dismantle the country?

The government will join, notwithstanding its failure to prepare, its neglect in co-operating with its allies, or its inability to contribute. In the end it will join out of the necessity created by a pattern of uncertainty and indecision. It will not join as a leader but unnoticed at the back of the parade. - Stephen Harper
[Referring originally to the invasion of Iraq but insert Bush policy of your choice.] Gee, what a bold vision for the country - advance to the rear and go unnoticed at the back of George Bush's parade. Someone should tell Stevie that being American asswipe is not a bold vision for Canada's future.

Toryism has the historical context of hierarchy and elitism and is a different kind of political philosophy. It's not my favourite term, but we're probably stuck with it. - Stephen Harper
Take that you elitist eastern liberals and don't even think about commenting on hierarchy and elitism without approval from my office.

Universality has been severely reduced: it is virtually dead as a concept in most areas of public policy. - Stephen Harper
And give me a few more months as prime minister and I'll make sure it's dead.

Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion. - Stephen Harper
More bold vision for the country from Stephen Duceppe or is that Gilles Harper? It's getting so hard to tell them apart.

And a bonus from Stockwell Doris Day.

Judges must be free from political intervention or intimidation. - Stockwell Day
Our Parliamentary system has simply failed to meet the challenge of judicial activism. - Stockwell Day

Ok Doris. Which is it?

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It has been a busy week for Maurice Vellacott, Conservative MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin.

First he put a lot of strange words into the mouth of Canada's chief justice, Beverly McLachlin. His misreading of a nuanced speech she had given was so egregious that the Globe and Mail felt compelled to correct him in an editorial:

He claimed Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin had said that when judges take an activist role, "all of a sudden there's some mystical kind of power that comes over them . . . and they take on almost these godlike powers. She said that herself. I didn't say that." In fact, she said nothing of the sort. Mr. Vellacott was just airing his own dismissive attitude toward the courts -- a strange view for the chair of the Commons aboriginal affairs committee to hold, given the role of the courts in determining and upholding aboriginal rights.

In fact, Justice McLachlin's speech had affirmed the opposite of godlike powers -- the power of human reason to work from basic democratic principle to interpret individual cases. The chief justice broke her traditional silence in the face of public criticism to deny that she had ever claimed to be godlike; even the PMO decided it would be politic to announce that Mr Vellacott's views on the workings of the Supreme Court are not those of the government.

Undeterred, on Wednesday, when Mr Vellacott, an ordained minister, resigned as chair of the Commons aboriginal affairs committee under threat of a non-confidence vote, he kept the godlike motif going through scattershot comments wherein the godlike seemed at once very Bad (the Liberals) and very Good (his own revealed views on aboriginal affairs):

Facing defeat as chairman, he attacked the Liberals for, yes, believing they had godlike powers. "They seem to think that they have some divine right to govern, and it is deeply upsetting to them when the public judges otherwise." And, announcing his resignation as chair, he sought divine support for his own future. "I submit to a sovereign God to provide me that opportunity [to serve aboriginal Canadians] at some point in the future."

Now, Mr Vellacott's revealed views on aboriginal affairs have seemed -- oh, how shall we put this? -- other than neutral in the past:

he defended two Saskatoon police officers who were convicted of unlawful confinement. The two officers admitted to driving an aboriginal man outside of town and leaving him to walk home on a -25 winter evening.

But let's not digress. At least Mr Vellacott's replacement as chair of the committee, MP Colin Mayes, is not known for complicated prior views on aborginal affairs. He is known, unfortunately, for complicated prior views on journalists ...

Mr. Mayes made headlines last month when he wrote an opinion column in a local newspaper suggesting reporters should be jailed for writing misleading stories.

"Maybe it is time we hauled off in handcuffs reporters that fabricate stories, or twist information and even falsely accuse citizens," Mr. Mayes wrote.

The B.C. MP later issued an apology after he was contacted by the Prime Minister's Office.

But seriously: let's not digress. Conservative MPs: so many sub-plots. Back to the main plot, the careering career of Mr Vellacott.

Nothing daunted, Mr Vellacott, no doubt still driven by divine revelation, has bounced back from his forced resignation on Wednesday to champion yet another cause -- the liberation of women.

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May 11, 2006

The Toronto Star is reporting that after a two week study of the recent deal that was supposed to end the softwood lumber dispute between Canada and the United States once and for all, Canadian lumber companies are extremely unhappy with it and are determined to change it.

"Nobody's happy with this. Our objective is to get back to free, unencumbered access to the U.S. market, but this is clearly not the way — this is a managed trade agreement," said Carl Grenier, executive vice-president of the Free Trade Lumber Council.

It seems that Harper didn't stand up for us to quite the extent that his fans suggested.

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May 10, 2006

My husband, Dave, and I have just returned from a most blissful sojourn. For the last week, we found ourselves in a place where it was sunny, and windy, and sandy, and turquoise. We spied on some fish, clumsily beat a hasty retreat from a couple of very surprised moray eels, kissed some stingrays, and met some wonderful people. While the rest was fun, and I’d love to discuss it, in this context, it is the people who bear mention.

I find myself in rather strident opposition to the Iraq war. I worry a lot about pollution and environmental degradation. I stiffen at the idea of people with a narrow social agenda limiting things like reproductive rights, education free of religious dogma, and what I’m allowed to watch on TV.

In my mind, I have a picture of the people I perceive to be acting in perpetuance of these misdirections. When I imagine them, these people are likely middle-class, unconcerned with human impact on the Earth, religious, and faithful viewers of Fox News. To be truly quintessential, they are from a southern state. They probably drive an SUV, in town, for a commute that’s less than a mile in distance. They consume appalling amounts of Wal-Mart merchandise, and have never heard of Fair Trade. And they are for the war in Iraq.

If I picture a confrontation with this bunch, it’s a bitter one. If they’re going to insist on running around with a conception of rightness in stark opposition to my own, and hold to those views as tightly as I hold to mine, how else can things possibly go down? A proper ruckus is all I can envision.

Well, that’s not exactly how things went when we met them, staying two doors down, on the same floor, at our hotel.

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May 8, 2006

The company you keep

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Kick the Liberals as they're down

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government should do its best over the coming year to dig up embarrassing information on the former Liberal administration and portray it as corrupt, a prominent Republican pollster counselled an influential group of Conservatives yesterday.

Speaking a day after meeting with Mr. Harper, Frank Luntz described the Conservatives as allies of the Republicans and urged them to discredit the Liberals so thoroughly that it will be years before they make it back into power.

"I want you to do something for me because I know you might be able to make this happen," Mr. Luntz told more than 200 members of the Civitas Society gathered in a Kanata hotel yesterday. "Your Liberal government was corrupt. It was disgusting. The way they wasted your hard-earned tax dollars was a disgrace.

"I want you to leave here committed to insisting that the Conservative government hold that previous Liberal government accountable, that you do oversight, that you do investigation, that you continue doing it for the next year so that every Canadian knows and will never forget and will never allow another government to steal more from them," he said to applause.

I certainly agree that evidence of corruption should be brought to light. And I think it should be done simply because corruption is wrong and in particular any solid evidence of illegal activity should be pursued and the perpetrators brought to justice.

But the irony is pretty thick here on at least two counts. First of all, the Conservatives are being advised to focus on their opponents' corruption by an ally -- his word -- affiliated with a Republican party that looks more and more like a crime family every day. While I continue to regard Harper as an ideologue and his party as the worst possible choice to govern this country, I've never supposed them to be the outright criminal conspiracy that the GOP has become. Harper and the Conservatives might want to think about avoiding this particular association.

And secondly, do the Conservatives really want to take strategic advice from a Republican at a time when George Bush's approval rating has just reached the lowest point of his presidency?

On second thought, Mr. Harper, forget I said anything.

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May 6, 2006

They have a special way of doing it in George Bush's Washington. Everyone is very positive about it -- not quite nice (that would be too Canadian, although Canadians also have a way with quiet disappearances and the occasional spectacular public back-stabbing) -- but definitely upbeat and positive. Searching for words yesterday to pay tribute to Porter Goss, the departing director of the CIA, Mr Bush managed to choke out these words of praise:

"Porter's tenure at the CIA was one of transition. He's helped this agency become integrated into the intelligence community. That was a tough job. He's led ably."

Ok, faint praise, very faint, barely perceptible, in fact, but you have to give it to them: they all stood there manfully, the president and the departing Mr Goss and the not-departing national intelligence director John Negroponte, and they did the ritual praise number for the most recent of Mr Bush's appointees deemed to have become a liability to the current administration. How many does that make now?

Cheers were apparently audible all the way from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where Mr Goss has presided over the exodus of numbers of senior staff who seem to have resented the implication that their work was politically motivated, or at least not politically motivated in the direction that the White House would consider not politically motivated.

In little words, Mr Goss failed. Mr Negroponte has apparently not failed yet, although Melanie at Bump notes that he has lately shown distressing signs of developing a conscience. (That would be a very late-developing conscience in Mr Negroponte's career, but these days, we take what we can get, yes?) Melanie detects no such signs in Donald Rumsfeld, Mr Negroponte's major rival for the moment. Such larks.

Meanwhile, across the pond, they do things differently. British prime ministers are seldom nice. They would scorn to be nice, especially when they are cornered. They may pretend to be upbeat, but they dispense pretty quickly with all that nonsense of propping up the dead bodies politely for a final feel-good photo-op.

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May 5, 2006

The Kim-killin', Svend-slayin' dragon lady of VanCentre, not content with being one of the few politicians in Canadian history ever to unseat a serving Prime Minister, now wants the job for herself. Displaying the charming modesty which has endeared her to Canadians coast-to-coast-to-coast she declares:

I never undertake a challenge unless I expect to win

This after a mediocre decade or more in Parliament as one of the few MPs representing the downtown heart of our country's third largest city never to hold a significant cabinet post. Kim Campbell was (briefly) Prime Minister and long-serving Liberal Ron Basford was rarely out of Trudeau's cabinets.

This despite a near-fatal attack of rampant foot-in-mouth disease for a would-be anti-racist:

We can just go to British Columbia, in Prince George, where crosses are being burned on lawns as we speak.

The good citizens of PG did not take kindly to this slander - and she's still (sort of) apologizing:

she said she named the wrong town...

Most recently she took out star NDP candidate Svend Robinson in a nasty 'don't let the ring thing die' campaign.

It's clearly gone to her head.

My fellow canucks, I abjectly apologize for our MP's overweening ambition and over the top hubris. Please, pay no attention as she embarrasses us yet again and proves herself a living embodiment of the Peter Principle. If successful (goddess forbid!) may she reign no longer than the last Prime Minister from Vancouver Centre.

Where's that bluenose holdout Morris Finster when we need him?

Note: In the interest of full disclosure - I am not now and have never been a member of the CPC or the CPC.

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Power plays

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Updated below.

I'll give Stephen Harper this much credit: the man knows how to pursue an agenda. Having gained a foothold for the neoconservatives in Canada, he is intent on extending that power not only for his own party at the federal level, but for his ideological allies at the provincial level.

Exhibit A in this little indictment of mine is his slap down of Dalton McGuinty, who had reason to believe Harper was serious aobut helping him address the so-called fiscal imbalance he likes to talk about. Harper was very sympathetic to this cause during the election campaign, but his recent actions make it clear that Ontario will get little help from the Conservatives until they elect a government more to his liking.

Why is he so intent of screwing over the Ontario Liberal Party in order to get John Tory of the Progressive Conservatives elected? Short answer: he's an ideologically-driven prick our to cripple liberalism in Canada. Long answer:he's an ideologically-driven prick out to cripple liberalism in Canada, and he doesn't care what damage he does to the nation in the advancing his goals.

First of all, let me just do a pre-emptive strike for the trolls: "OOOOH! Harper's sooooo scary! Not that tired anti-American rant about Harper being a neo-con! You're suffering from HDS! Blah, blah fucking blah if Harper shit on my head I would call it a hand-knitted toque." Your sad and predictable protests have now been entered into the record, and those of us dealing with reality will now continue our conversation.

Harper has gone to great lengths to screw over Ontation Premier Dalton McGuinty over the past 24 hours, first by giving McGuinty the high hat over their meeting regarding the Preimier's perceived "fiscal imbalance".

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May 3, 2006

Budget Round-up

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There’s a tonne of good commentary out there about the budget, so I thought I would present some of the more interesting stuff I found while touring the Canadian blogging community. [You mean instead of doing the actual work yourself? – Ed.] [Yes. – Tim]

Balbulican at Stageleft finds some disturbing overtones of assimilation in the budget, noting the short shrift given to the Kelowna Accord and many other misguided ideas.

Well, the good news is…the mask is off; and the face under the mask is the ugliest side of the old Reform Party. To those of you who suggested my earlier reservations about Conservative policy were premature…I suggest you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Greg Staples at Political Staples gets a bit metaphorical in his budget analysis, suggesting that the Harper budget may help Canadians grow up a bit.

If it is true that the Nanny-State turns citizens into children (I will leave that to you in the comments) then you could argue that this budget allows the children to age, if ever so slightly. You could say the training wheels have come off but there is still a parent behind the bike with their hand on the seat - if only to make sure. Will we be able to one day ride free? Not if the Conservatives keep growing expenditures faster than growth+inflation. But you can't expect the world in a minority budget.

Declan at Crawl Across the Ocean does his usual bang-up job in analyzing the budget, and finds both positives and negatives. What bothers him most is the dishonesty inherent in some of the projected benefits from the tax cuts.

Two points - the first one is that they pointedly don't highlight how much a family making over $150,000 will save - probably because it is a figure which would dwarf the savings for lower income earners (although to be fair there is a more complete chart on page 67), reflecting the fact that this is a budget which will worsen inequality.

But more importantly, note the wording, "will be better off by almost $300."
In order to believe that someone will be better off by the entire amount that their tax bill has been reduced, one has to assume that taxes, once collected, simply disappear into thin air without providing any benefit to anyone. Maybe just a poor choice of words, but I think it goes deeper than that.

This Conservative budget, which lacks much imagination beyond simply taking the projected surplus and handing it back to Canadians via a huge uncoordinated stack of tax cuts, tax credits, tax exemptions and flat out handouts, perfectly reflects this Conservative belief that government can not be a force for good in this country.

Greg Bester at Sinister Thoughts notes something that I felt too. Sure, tax cuts are popular. Who doesn’t want a few extra bucks in their pockets? But there is always another price to pay, as Ontarians found out after the Mike Harris years.

Finally, the tax cuts will be popular, at least until the next election (which is all that matters to Harper). But later, when the program cuts kick in and people start to realize there is no such thing as a free ride, the grumbling will begin in earnest. I have seen this movie before, in Ontario, from 1995 to 2003.

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May 2, 2006

That was then, this is now

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Stephen Harper, one year ago, on the "NDP budget" being brought down by the Liberal Party.

"An NDP budget gives us no reason to support Liberal corruption," Harper told reporters earlier in Ridgetown, during a stop while he campaigned in southwestern Ontario. "This government is behaving in a completely irresponsible manner with the taxpayers' money. We're talking about a secret deal worth almost $5 billion to stay in power."

Stephen Harper today:

OTTAWA—Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally appealed to the New Democrats to support his minority government for two years, the Star has learned.

In return, the Prime Minister offered to make good on all the spending contained in the NDP's budget deal with the Liberals a year ago — almost $4 billion worth of new cash that was at risk of expiring.

Let the lectures about honest Conservative government begin.

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