Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cons cut ACOA funding, muddy waters

A few posts down we've been having an interesting debate around whether it's appropriate to hold a party leader to a promise he made in an election earlier than the most recent one. While interesting academically, no matter on which side the jury comes down the Harper Conservatives are breaking plenty of promises from that election we had just a year or so ago too.

So, in addition to things like now welcoming floor crossers, appointing Senators, putting unelected people into cabinet, letting senior staffers become lobbyists, not following their own accountability act, well, suffice to say breaking a whole bunch of things, we can now add not cutting funding to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to the list of Harper broken promises. I suppose it would be unfair of me to remind people of comments like this?

Tories deny cuts to ACOA budget
By STEPHEN MAHER Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA — It looks like Prime Minister Stephen Harper has broken a campaign promise to maintain ACOA’s budget, although changes in the way figures are reported make it difficult to know by how much.

Since Mr. Harper’s election last year, the Tories have cut spending at the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency by 16 per cent to $366 million in 2007-08 from $437 million in 2005-06.
(more)


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Harper pays peanuts for personal use of government jets

No need for my usual patented brand of Liberal spin with this story off the CP ticker, just read it for yourself and weep...

Harper pays peanuts for personal use of government jets
BRUCE CHEADLE

OTTAWA (CP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are paying just a small fraction of the cost of partisan and personal junkets aboard the military's fleet of Challenger executive jets.

And documents show that the Prime Ministers' Office changed the formula for calculating flight costs after Harper's first partisan journey - a move that slashed subsequent Conservative party repayments.

Neither the original formula nor the reduced charges came anywhere close to what Harper himself in Opposition had called "$11,000 per hour Challenger jet flights" by the previous Liberal government.
(more)


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Suing Poilievre?

The following press release was posted on the Liberal Web site this afternoon, relating to the fallout from this sorry episode (transcript here). As they say, interesting...

Liberals Demand Apology from Pierre Poilievre
February 28, 2007

Ottawa – Lawyers on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and Liberal MP Navdeep Bains today delivered a letter to Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre demanding that he withdraw his false, misleading and defamatory statements made during an interview on CFRA radio in Ottawa on February 22, 2007.

The statements were calculated to cause damage to the Liberal Party of Canada and to injure the reputation of Mr. Bains and to discredit Mr. Bains as a person and as an elected official. The letter serves as Notice of Action as required by section 5(1) of the Ontario Libel and Slander Act.

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Steve "gassy flip-flop" Harper is gouging Canadians

Stroll by the Conservative Web site these days or take a gander at the talking points the Con armies are parroting around blogland and inevitably you'll read some combination of Dion and flip-flop. Speaking of flip-flops though, as gas prices skyrocket it seems appropriate to revisit Steve Harper's gas tax flip-flop.

After all, if Harper hadn't flip-flopped Canadians would be enjoying a little relief from these high gas prices right now. At least, that's what he was promising less than three years ago:

In Winnipeg on Monday, Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper said he wouldn't apply the GST to the portion of gas prices that exceeds 85 cents a litre.

The move wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime, he explained, because there's no way budgets were calculated with such high prices in mind.


"These are revenues that no one foresaw even a few months ago. We are only depriving Ottawa of a massive windfall it didn't count on and that it doesn't need," Harper said in Winnipeg on Monday.


A Conservative government would also eliminate the tax-on-tax that drives many motorists crazy, he said. The federal excise tax currently rolled into pre-GST fuel prices would be made GST-exempt.


"I think the main thing is that Canadians know that their government isn't trying to gouge them at the same time they're having trouble affording the cost of filling their tank."
When he got into office though? Flip-flop time for Steve:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper says Canadians will have to live with higher gas prices, adding his promised GST cut will be all the tax relief motorists get.
.
.
Harper said that was two elections ago, adding that promise has been supplanted by the general one-point GST cut expected in the Tories' first budget.

..

Harper conceded his GST cut would only make a marginal difference to Canadian motorists.


Higher gas prices appeared to be a reality in the immediate future, he said. "That's going to be something that we're going to have to get used to.

Get used to it? Nice Steve. And two elections ago? Here's what he'd been saying six months earlier:
"Rather than continue to rake in record high revenues from record high oil prices, will the government simply cut gas taxes for consumers?" he asked in question period.
Perhaps Steve flip-flopped because he's captive to extremist gas-gouging elements in his caucus? If so Steve, signal yes by tugging your left ear and we'll send help.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dion and Strombo

Apparently before being taken captive by the extremists Stephane Dion did a taping with George Stroumboulopoulos of CBC's The Hour that aired tonight. It's a good show to reach a non-traditional, younger audience...I think it's the only show my teenage sister watches that isn't on MTV or MuchMusic.

You can watch the interview here. I thought he did pretty well. Strombo pulled no punches and asked tough questions. My only note to Dion would be too much hammering the environment message. I think our Afghanistan proposal, for example, would have played well with The Hour's audience as well. Still, I think the environmental message will also hit home with that younger demographic.

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Dion being held captive?

Breaking news from Ottawa....Stephane Dion is being held captive by extremist elements in his caucus...they've barricaded themselves in the Railroad Room...they're demanding Chicken Shawarmas from Maroush, $5 million and a plane ride to the socialist paradise of Cuba in exchange for his release...Send help!

OK, not really, but you'd think so reading this release on the Conservative Party's Web site (emphasis is Harper's):

Stéphane Dion supported the measures when he was in Cabinet during the Chrétien and Martin governments. However, since assuming the leadership of the Liberal Party, Mr. Dion has fallen captive to extreme elements in the Liberal Party and has flip-flopped by withdrawing his support for these anti-terrorism tools.
...

Stéphane Dion should ignore the extremist elements in his caucus, reverse his flip flop and allow his MPs to vote for the renewal of the ATA.
Sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry, you know? Tell me Steve, who specifically are the “extremist” members of the Liberal caucus, would you be kind enough to name names? Next time I'm at a Liberal function, if there are any extremist elements there will someone please introduce me? I bet they're just misunderstood and really only need a friend.

Honestly, does anyone outside of the political bubble take this nonsense seriously? Disagree on renewing these anti-terror provisions, sure, there's plenty of room for disagreement among reasonable people. But soft on terror...insinuating links to terrorism...blathering about conspiracies and extremist elements?

I guess $100/month really isn't enough for child care because the Cons have their toddlers writing their talking points instead. How long will it be before we start hearing accusations of baby eating, or the capture of 101 dalmatians to make Dion a new coat?

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Dion's Facebook video message

Stephane Dion posted a fun little video shout-out on his Facebook profile this morning saying hello to all his Facebook friends (1505 friends so far, and counting.)

He's sitting at his desk at his computer with his Facebook friends list on the monitor in the background, and while it's a bit fuzzy I think that may be my profile there near the top of the screen. Freaky deaky, as my sister would say. Anyway, way to reach out with the pipes and tubes and what not.

P.S. For all those talking of alleged internal Liberal troubles or rivalries lately, let me remind you that it's all good... :)

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Cher Quebec,

Shorter Richard Gwyn in today's Toronto Star: Sorry, Quebecers need not apply.

Longer take: At least Richard acknowledges the contradictions in his thesis at the end of his column: It's quite crazy. But it's wholly Canadian. And what is that thesis? OK, hang on here.

First of all, he said being from Quebec is a handicap for Dion (I prefer to see him as differentially-abled myself) because Canadians are tired of all those Quebec PMs…he's one Quebecer too many is how Gwyn put it. Poppycock.

But we'll get to that in a moment, because there's more. He goes on to say Canadians are also tired of Quebec issues dominating the national debate. I'll agree with Richard on that. And he goes on to rightly point out Dion hasn't been obsessing over Quebec issues, Steve Harper has. Dion has been environment and global warming, Harper fiscal imbalance and open federalism.

Despite this fact though, Gwyn says because of the Quebec fatigue people will punish Dion, and I guess support Harper, even though it's Harper talking about Quebec issues and not Dion, because Dion is from Quebec.

Outside of Quebec, what Canadians want to hear being discussed is stuff like global warming. Instead, they keep hearing Charest talk about Ottawa and Harper talk about Quebec.

And who do they get mad about because of this? Dion, of course, because, even when he talks about global warming, he does so in a difficult-to-decipher Quebec accent.
Richard seems to have an exceedingly low opinion of the intelligence of Canadians. Sorry Richard, but we're not near as dumb as you seem to think.

First of all, let's dispense with this being a Quebecer is a handicap nonsense, as we heard that often enough during the leadership campaign. Most Canadians could give a flying-you know what where a party leader is from.

They're NOT going to vote for him because he's French? Maybe a very small percentage of people would cast their ballots along such, shall we say, racially-motivated lines; they'd likely never vote Liberal anyway and I'm fine not having their support. The vast majority of Canadians are concerned about policy, ideas, experience and competence, not ethnicity.

Secondly, as I said, Gwyn's opinion of the naivety of Canadians is off base. I think they're perfectly capable of deciding who is talking about the issues that are important to them and voting appropriately.

I'll freely admit Stephane has some challenges to overcome, but his place of birth is not one of them.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Conservative bonds and election laws

Gee, this story in the Globe this morning on the Conservatives' new bond system for candidates potentially running afoul of election financing law sounds really familiar for some reason...oh wait, that's why. Well, they're only a week and a half behind the blogs...

They did however get this rather amusing quote from a CPC spokesthingy:

The Conservatives say they have no plans to alter their rules.


"Elections Canada has not raised any questions with these rules and until they do, the rules will remain as is," party spokesman Ryan Sparrow said.


Canada's New Government: We're probably not following our own law but we'll keep on not following it until we get caught, cause that's how we roll. Accountability, Conservative style.

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Train(Station)Spotting-Lower Bay

Weekend construction this month at the TTC's Bay subway station has trains diverting via Museum station and is giving passengers a little glimpse of Toronto history: the famed Lower Bay station.

Located below the existing Bay station, hence the name, Lower Bay was opened in 1966 as part of a TTC experiment in “interlining” that essentially merged the Bloor-Danforth and Younge-University lines with trains traveling both, so you could, say, board a train at Warden and travel to Union without changing trains.

However the public wasn't keen on it, and interlining was abandoned and the Lower Bay station closed after just six months. Since then, the closed station has only been used for repositioning trains between lines, staff training, and filming the occasional movie, such as Don't Say a Word, Mimic and Johnny Mnemonic.

With the detour on weekends this month trains are transiting Lower Bay without stopping, and I arranged my route home yesterday to get a look and shot this video. For more on Lower Bay and Toronto's lost subway stations, check-out Wikipedia and James Bow.

Interestingly, people will be able to get a closer look at the station and take a look around during what sounds like a really cool event in May, called the Doors Open Project.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

My wildly inaccurate Oscar picks

Since it's a Sunday I figured why not a change of pace. Instead of politics, since the Oscars are tonight I'll make my no doubt wildly inaccurate Oscar picks before heading downtown this afternoon to see the Toronto Marlies be defeated by the farm-team of my beloved Canucks, the Manitoba Moose.

The Oscars are probably the only awards show I even half pay attention to, although I may flip on the Junos this year to see how Bev Oda arrives on the red carpet and who she's wearing. I also haven't seen a number of the movies here, but with that said here we go...

Best Actor
The nominees are Leo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond, Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson, Peter O'Toole for Venus, Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness, and Forest Whitaker for Last King of Scotland.

I'll confess, out of these five movies I only watched the first 30 minutes of Pursuit of Happyness before I could take the crappyness no more. So, I'm flying blind here. I'll say either O'Toole or Whitaker though, and based on the trailers for his movie and the buzz I'll give it to Whitaker.

Best Supporting Actor
The nominees are Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine, Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children, Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond, Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls, and Mark Whalberg for The Departed.

Hey, I've actually seen one of these ones: Little Miss Sunshine. A few times, in the theater and on several airplanes. It rocked, and so did Arkin, so I need to give him the nod here.

Best Actress
Nominated are Penelope Cruz for Volver, Judi Dench for Notes on a Scandal, Helen Mirren for The Queen, Meryl Streep for The Devil Wears Prada, and Kate Winslet for Little Children.

I've actually seen two out of five here, The Queen in the theater and (most of) Devil Wears Prada on a plane, so we're getting better. While everybody loves Dame Judy, based on the trailers her charcter just inspires too much hatred to be Oscarish IMO. And Prada seemed like a teen movie, not an Oscar movie. Besides, Mirren was amazing as Queen Elizabeth II, an amazing performance, so I have to give her the nod here.

Best Supporting Actress
Nominated are Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi from Babel, Cate Blanchett from Notes on a Scandal, Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine, and Jennifer Hudson from Dreamgirls.

I've seen Babel and Little Miss Sunshine, so that's three of the five nominated performances. While Barraza was great as the housekeeper, I think it's down between Kikuchi as the troubled student and the sentimental favourite, Breslin. Both turned in great performances. While my emotional pick would be Breslin, if the academy sticks to form they'll probably go with Kikuchi for her multi-layered performance.

Directing
Nominated are Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel, Martin Scorsese for The Departed, Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima, Stephen Fears for The Queen, and Paul Greengrass for United 93.

I've seen them all here but The Departed. It will probably be Babel or Letters, and my personal choice would be Letters. I thought it was a brilliantly directed film, wouldn't change a thing. Babel I've had some arguments among friends with. I've grown weary of the whole intersecting storylines thing, and yeah, I get the metaphor, but it just seemed like they were trying too hard, trying to win an Oscar. So I'll give my nod to Eastwood, but I won't be surprised if the academy picks Iñárritu.

Best Picture
The bigee. Nominated are Babel, The Departed, Letters from Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen.

I've seen them all but The Departed, and I don't think any are a real home-run, obvious Oscar pick. The closest to the traditional mold would be Babel, but as I've already said I just felt it was trying too hard. I really enjoyed The Queen, but is it best picture material? I don't think so. I really enjoyed Letters from Iwo Jima, but would the academy really go for a foreign-language film? While I wouldn't be surprised if they went with Babel, my choice here has to be Little Miss Sunshine.

Lastly I'd also like to give a shout-out to The Lives of Others for Best Foreign Language film. It wouldn't have been out of place among the best picture nominees, IMO.

Your Turn

Are you going to watch the Oscars tonight? What are your picks? Will you eat your shirt if Eddie Murphy wins an acting Oscar? Am I a cultural heathen? Discuss.

Update: Perhaps not wildly inaccurate, I got half of my picks right, 3/6, and 4/7 if you count Lives of Others. Figures the one movie of the five I DIDN'T see wins best picture. DVD, I guess. Happy for Marty Scorsese. Ellen has host was safe but boring, so a success by Oscar standards I guess. But why can't they ever end these things on time?

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Con nom battle in Vancouver Island North

A very interesting battle for the Conservative nomination is shaping-up in my old stomping grounds of Vancouver Island North, where our former veteran Conservative MP, defeated last year by the NDP's Catherine Bell (no, not the one from JAG), will be going for his party's nomination against his former campaign manager and riding president.

John Duncan was our MP in VIN from 1993 to 2006 under a rainbow of party names, from Reform to Conservative and everything in between. If you haven't heard of him don't feel bad, it's because he didn't do much to distinguish himself while in office, save an early flip-flop by being one of the first Reformers to opt back into the “gold-plated MP pension plan” he'd recently been decrying. I'm also told he was known as one of the best hecklers in the House of Commons.

For some reason considered potential cabinet material in a future Conservative government (heck, they made Gary Lunn a minister so who knows), after a near-loss in 2004 Johnny narrowly lost to the NDP's Catherine Bell in 2006. Since his heartbreaking loss on the verge of cabinet fame and fortune, Duncan has been toiling away on the taxpayer dime in the DFO in Ottawa.

Now, though, he's hankering for a rematch. Interestingly though he has a challenger for the Con nomination, and it's someone he knows well: Dave Jackson. A local businessman and former military man, Jackson also wants the Conservative nod. And his party roots are deep too. He was the Conservative riding association president for eight years, and was campaign manager for Duncan's last four campaigns.

Whomever wins the nod though will have a tough battle against the incumbent, the NDP's Bell. There's a strong base of both social activists and union supporters in the riding, and they've got a lot of organizational muscle. Catherine also doesn't seem to have disappeared to the extent John would between elections. A huge crowd came out when she had Ed Broadbent in town recently to discuss electoral reform.

Duncan's big wins over the years were built on the old reform protest coalition, and when that evaporated after the PC/Alliance merger his bare win in 2004 was the result. But as long as Duncan or Jackson still have the old Socred/BC Liberal riding machine behind them, it will be a tight race.

As for the federal Liberals, well, let's just say it's a long shot. I think we took the riding once during the Trudeaumania years, and things were trending well in 2004 until the roof caved in back in Ottawa. The riding is becoming more urban though, with retirees from Eastern Canada moving to local communities, and anything is possible. I've not heard of any candidates for the Liberal nomination coming forward so far, but if you're interested let me know. The right candidate with the right campaign could really make some waves.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Keep the 'mo

It was a raucous week in the House of Commons, with the Liberal opposition taking it to angry Steve Harper over his attempt to smear a Liberal MP and the party as a whole with alleged links to terrorism and his subsequent refusal to apologize. It was good to see us on the offensive. I think we succeeded in showing Harper to be an arrogant bully, and I think this will have a lasting impact. Now, though, it's time to move on, but keep the momentum going.

Harper isn't going to apologize, despite it being both morally and politically the right thing to do. Which is a shame, because it's such a rarity for those two considerations to coincide. While we can't let people forget his arrogance, particularly as with his past behavior it builds a narrative, the thing to do now is stay on the offensive, but move the offensive to other areas. The point has been made.

I hope the powers that be will spend the weekend coming-up with such a new offensive attack strategy for Monday's QP but here's a promising hint of one from CP: Afghanistan. In a major speech this week (full speech text here), Stephane Dion outlined a Liberal policy position on Afghanistan that effectively unites the hawks and doves of the Liberal caucus and addresses the concerns of many Canadians. It includes honouring the extension of the mission to 2009 but making clear to NATO that at that point we'll have done our duty, and it will be up to other NATO countries to pull their weight. Also, dealing with the problem of the opium trade and more emphasis on development.

Now the next step is to put the pressure on Harper. Now that he has his taxpayer funded public relations strategy, where's is his exit strategy?

P.S.
To preemptively address the expected comments from my Con friends alleging flip-flops because this was originally a Liberal mission let me say two things.

One, Steve flip-flops so much he looks constantly dizzy, so that's rich.

But two, and more seriously, yes, it was a Liberal government that began this mission. And we support the mission. But we didn't create this as a mission that would last forever. And it's already been extended once. We support the mission, but it's still appropriate to regularly re-examine it to see if it's working, or if changes need to be made. And it's very appropriate to say that by 2009 we'll have done our share, and it will be time for other countries to contribute.

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"Debt that makes sense"

Interesting news out of Edmonton, where it looks like Wild Rose Country will be Debt Free Alberta no longer.

Thanks to the oil boom and the resulting tax revenue, Ralph Klein retired all of Alberta's debt in 2004, displaying a flashy "Paid in Full" sign to celebrate the achievement.

Unfortunately it seems he forgot about much needed infrastructure needs such as roads, schools and hospitals along the way as he chased that fiscal conservative debt-free rainbow. And passed out gimmicky rebate cheques. To rectify that his successor, Premier Ed, is putting the province back into debt to the tune of $341 million to pay for a highway, and it seems like that's just the beginning.

It's a funny story. I agree with infrastructure investments, even if the federal Cons don't, but given the ferocity that Conservatives both in Alberta and Ottawa have attacked debt and deficits, it's rather amusing for them to now be spinning phrases like Smart Debt, Responsible Debt, and Debt That Makes Sense. You know, I vaguely recall the NDP making some of those arguments over the years…

Anyway, in Ottawa it's a slightly different situation. But despite the Conservatives having inherited an enviable fiscal balance sheet from the Liberals, the Cons seem to be determined to endanger that record of fiscal responsibility with tax cuts for the rich, goodies to buy off targeted voter groups and billions to solve a mythical fiscal imbalance/win enough seats for a majority.

I wonder how long it will be before Flaherty starts to run a deficit and we begin to hear phrases like "Smart Deficit" in Ottawa too.

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Last night's Grey's Anatomy

Didn't notice any Conservative attack ads during last night's Grey's Anatomy, but I was too busy worrying about Meridith to pay too much attention to the commercials.

A powerful and emotional episode, even though it was clear they were never going to kill off their title character. Still, quite an emotional journey for Meridith, although she just won't be the same without the dark and twisty. Was a nice moment with her mother though, it will be interesting to see where things go for her from here. I'm glad she finally had some sense smacked into her though, her self pity was becoming annoying.

And what's with Izzy and George? Izzy really needs to smarten-up a bit here and at least try to make nice with Callie, she's coming off like quite a bitch here. And what's this I hear about a Grey's spinoff in May for Dr. Addison Montgomery-Sheppard? Guess she's out of the running for Chief. Judging by last night's episode she may be taking McSteamy with her. But what about Alex...

Anyway, I'm just glad Meridith pulled through, because I'm sure if she'd died Steve Harper would have found a way to blame it on the Liberals, and demand an apology from Stephane Dion.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Oh Bev Oda, Bev O-d-a Oda.....

I think this group has real talent, and could even be heard from at the Junos next year. Maybe they can apply for some assistance from the Minister of Canadian Heritage to help get their start....

Update: Early contender for the songwriting Juno...

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When I signed-up for CNN "Breaking news" e-mails...

...this wasn't quite what I had in mind:

-- Judge Larry Seidlin rules that the attorney for Anna Nicole Smith's infant daughter gets custody of the former model's body.

Dubaya invades another country, that's a breaking news e-mail. Terrorists launch an attack, send me a note please. But the custody of Anna Nicole Smith's body? Yeah, not so much my most trusted name in news friends.

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Watching David Sweet

Here's an interesting new blog worth bookmarking. It's called David Sweet Watch, and it promises to keep us informed of all things David Sweet.

Sweet, of course, is the Conservative MP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, and he's quite the character, shall we say, with views that, well, suffice to say he's no the poster boy for Steve Harper's new supposedly moderate Conservative Party.

But I wouldn't want to ruin it for you, so check it out.

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Rae lobbying hard for Toronto-Centre

Updating my report from yesterday that Liberal MP Bill Graham will be announcing today he won't be running again in Toronto-Centre. It appears former Liberal leadership candidate Bob Rae really wants that seat, and Bill may be metaphorically passing the torch to Bob during today's announcement.

The talk isn't about an appointment at this point though, at least not yet, and that'd be tricky with two quality candidates actively seeking the nomination in Meridith Cartwright and Rob Oliphant. Rae will need to press the flesh and try to convince Cartwright and Oliphant to step aside and leave the path clear. And it looks like they're already running hard. If not, barring leader intervention it would be an open contest.

If Graham does pass the torch to Rae today though I'd have to think that would have some heavy sway with the members of Toronto-Centre, being as respected as Bill is, and would mean a lot should Rae end up running in an open nomination contest.

Update: CP makes it official. And Graham reportedly said he wants an open nomination, it looks like no torch was passed to Rae.

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Canadians won't like him when he's angry

We've been obsessing the past few days about polling numbers, specifically break-outs on best leader, shares our values, etc. We should save the numbers from this week. They may well prove to be Steve Harper's high water mark.

We've seen this sort of thing before from Steve. Things are going really well, he starts to get cocky, and his inner jerk/dumbass shines through. There was the 2004 campaign, the Cons were riding high in the polls and stories were predicting at least a Harper minority when a press release went out accusing Paul Martin of supporting child pornography and a petulant Harper refused to apologize. Polls reverse overnight, Liberal minority. Then the 2006 campaign, Harper sees a majority in sight and is riding high when he tries to reassure Canadians that darned Liberal courts and Liberal bureaucracy will keep him in line. Bye bye majority dreams, hello slim minority.

Now it's early 2007, and while the parties are polling tightly Harper is well in front on all the leadership polls, and the path to a possible majority is starting to come into focus. The attacks on Dion are working, the environment is neutralized, there'll be a goodie-laden budget in March to bribe people with their own money, and a Charest victory a week later will turn over an energized Quebec machine to Harper for a spring election and big gains. With Quebec onside Ontario starts to follow and Bob's your uncle.

But then we get yesterday's sickening display in question period, where Harper tried, with smears and innuendo, to tie a Liberal MP, and the Liberal Party at large, to terrorism (video here). Just a few days after he said the Liberals were soft on terrorism, and said a vindicated Ralph Goodale should apologize for not having done what they accused him of doing and refused to pull TV ads that smeared him. It was a sickening display for someone who pretends to be a Prime Minister of Canada, and he should be ashamed.

I have to ask, is this a man who shares our values? Perhaps, if drive by smears, character assassination and crass petulance were Canadian values. Is this a man who would make the best Prime Minister? If by Prime Minister we mean arrogant bully, then sure. As an aside, whatever nonsense we were hearing before, I can assure you that Liberal caucus is united as hell now.

As I said, remember those break-out polling numbers from this week. Once again Canadians have gotten another glimpse of angry Steve. And they won't like him when he's angry.

People of Canada, meet the real Steve Harper: soft on class.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Breaking: Bill Graham won't run again

I'm told on good authority that former interim Liberal leader and Toronto-Centre MP Bill Graham will be announcing tomorrow that he will not be running in the next election, confirming months of speculation about his political future.

Apparently an emergency meeting of the riding association executive has been called to discuss where things go from here, as once Bill makes it official some decisions will need to be made and the executive will want to make its feelings known to the party.

At present, there are at least two people that are public with their intention to seek the Liberal nomination for the riding, Meredith Cartwright and Rob Oliphant. Toronto-Centre has also been speculated as a possible landing-pad for an appointment by the leader, with names like Bob Rae and Martha-Hall Findlay being mentioned regularly. It has all been academic though until Bill announced his intentions, and with that happening formally tomorrow things will now start to get interesting.

For now, though, I'd like to say Bill Graham has been a great MP, has served the people of his riding well, the people of Canada ably in a variety of cabinet portfolios, and he did a yeoman's service to the Liberal Party as our interim leader. He is a class act, and whomever takes his place in Toronto-Centre will have big shoes to fill.

UPDATE: Bob Rae has his eyes on the seat, and Bill Graham may pass him the metaphoric torch.

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Imbalance shimbalance

Rather good point raised by Braeden yesterday. Let's take a look around at recent provincial fiscal news.

We'll start in my old stomping grounds, Beautiful British Columbia, where Gordon Campbell and his finance minister, Carole Taylor, played Santa Claus yesterday. It was budget day and every BCer (that's in BC, not Toronto) earning under $100,000 will be getting a 10 per cent tax cut. Throw in a $375 million program to tackle homelessness and the province and other measures and they're still forecasting a $1.1 billion surplus.

Then there's Quebec, where Premier Jean Charest is about to head to the polls. Not before an election mini-budget though that's balanced and offers up $464 million in tax breaks and $825 million in new regional spending. According to the Gazette, with these cuts included, tax relief for individuals since 2003 will total $3.8 billion.

In Ontario, the government could have posted a surplus last year but they wanted to save that splashy achievement for an election year, so instead they dropped billions into a subway expansion and other spending.

Thanks to the black gold of resource revenues Newfoundland and Labrador are swimming in black ink, and we all know the story in Alberta. Resource revenues are also boosting Saskatchewan's bottom line, which cut corporate tax rates in its last budget and recording a $102 million surplus.

Manitoba projected a $148 million surplus in budget 2006 and $99 million in tax savings. In New Brunswick, spending was ramped-up, tax relief was given and a $22 million surplus projected in 2006. Nova Scotia balanced its budget last year, projecting a $71.9 million surplus and dedicating funds to energy and tax relief. As fair as I can tell, PEI is alone in the red, projecting a $12.5 million deficit for 2006/07.

Now, remind me again please about that so-called, critically important fiscal imbalance? It's kind of hard for the provinces to say they critically need more money from the feds when nearly all of them are returning surpluses and cutting taxes.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

We don't need nervous nellies or cheerleaders

To say I've been completely satisfied with the first two and a half months (yes, that's all it's been people) of Stephane Dion's leadership would be a lie. I think we've got serious work to do. But, contrary to the Chicken Little ravings in some corners of the media and the blogshpere, I don't think the sky is falling either.

This isn't a time for cheerleading. It's easy to dismiss this poll or that poll, but I think it's undeniable to say we've got to make some adjustments. We need to realize what we've been doing isn't working, and that we need to make some changes in strategy.

But this also isn't a time for nervous nellies. It's time for Liberals to come together as a party and unite behind their leader. Your candidate may not have won, and that sucks, but the leadership race is over now and it's time to pull together and move on. Proclaiming doom and gloom with undertones of schadenfreude with each bit of negative news isn't helpful, and while we need to take an underlying message from these polls the fact is it is not near as bad as some say, or seem to want to pretend it is.

I'm not saying everybody should shut up and tow the party line, far from it. That's certainly not my style. But it's too easy to just throw bricks. What is needed is constructive advice. Yes, we all recognize we need some new ideas, and a new strategy. Rather than throwing bricks, why not offer some suggestions? What would you like to see happen? How would you turn things around?

For my part, as I've said before we need to broaden our message beyond the environment. We need to brand Dion as a strong leader, and get him out in public more, amongst the people, beyond the Ottawa bubble. As nice as the whole dream team thing is, it's time to put the leader front and centre. And broadening our message doesn't have to mean revealing our policy platform earlier than we want to. Why can't we talk about Afghanistan now? We put out an interesting income trust policy recently, why haven't we been talking that up more? There's a lot of issues we could be talking about, and issues that we could be taking it to the Cons on, issues where they're vulnerable. Scott and Jonathan also have some ideas too.

In summary, the sky is not falling. Harper is still in minority territory with no majority path in sight. A Liberal minority is still a possibility. But only if we get the message that what we've been doing hasn't been working, and make some needed adjustments. Our heads shouldn't be in the sand, or in the guillotine, but on the grindstone. Well, our noses anyway.

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Non

This sounds like a really bad idea. Doesn't bode well for the more open and collegial style of leadership I was hoping for.

Now, I certainly understand the desire to demonstrate some strong, decisive leadership on Dion's part, particularly given the recent leadership polling from SES and Strategic Counsel. And I think the criticism on the terror laws file from some corners has been over the line. Also, given that most of the caucus supported other people in the leadership he has an uphill battle winning them onside. Interesting though that Jennings was a supporter, and as justice critic she really should have been onside here from the start.

Anyway, whipping the vote and punishing dissenters? That's a crazy-bad idea. I agree Dion needs to start taking a firmer hand, but sharply dividing the caucus along ideological lines isn't the way to do it. Particularly when you're not coming from a position of strength. What's he going to do, suspend a quarter of the caucus?And how can he justify whipping this vote but not the one to reopen SSM?

Find a compromise position on this sunset clause issue or, if one can be found, let it be a free vote and move the attention and the focus to issues that we can agree on, issues that unite us, issues that are important to Canadians. Throwing gasoline on this fire isn't going to help our fortunes at all.

Dion to punish MPs who back anti-terror measures in vote
Leader tested by splits in caucus on issue

BILL CURRY AND DANIEL LEBLANC
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Stéphane Dion is threatening to punish any Liberal MP who supports the government's plan to extend two controversial anti-terrorism measures.

The Liberal Leader confirmed in an interview yesterday that his party will oppose efforts to maintain those never-used sections of the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act and that it would be a whipped vote, in which MPs are told how to vote.

Although he did not outline the consequences, MPs who defy whipped votes are usually suspended from their caucus. Sometimes less severe penalties are invoked such as stripping an MP of critic responsibilities.
(more)

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

New third-party attack ad

An election must be coming, with all these third party attack ads popping up. I think this one asks some very valid questions: are we really to believe Stephen Harper had no knowledge of the Pacific Scandal?

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

But first you've got to have the boots

You've probably heard that comedian, author and radio host Al Franken is seeking the Democratic Senate nomination in his home state of Minnesota. I've read a number of his books over the years and I think that he has a really good take on the issues, and would make a great Senator.

As seems to be all the rage for political candidates in the U.S. these days he has posted a video online outlining why he's running. I wanted to pull out this portion though where Al talks about what being a progressive means to him, because I think it really resonates and rings true for Canadian progressives as well.

In an era where the role of government is under attack by the political right on both sides of the border, I think this is a message progressives need to be putting front and centre.


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Intolerance, thy name is Steve Harper

We were talking the other day about the tolerance for diversities of opinion in Canada's Newish Government. More evidence today (h/t Cowboys) that it's Steve's way or the highway, as a B.C. Conservative MP is booted from his committee assignment for refusing to tow the party line.

The Vancouver Sun reports that John Cummins (CPC Delta-Richmond East) has been punted from the HoC's standing committee on fisheries and oceans for raising concerns about the government's proposed legislative changes to the fisheries act.

Cummins and other critics allege that proposed changes to the Fisheries Act will cripple the public fishery, turning it into a privilege rather than a right, and will weaken fish habitat protection while giving a boost to the fish farm industry.

Now you might think it's the job of Members of Parliament and committee members to examine the legislation before it and raise any concerns they may have. Not, however, if you're a Conservative MP. Then you just shut-up and vote like a good little robot.

I love this quote from Jay Hill, who gives new meaning to the term Conservative Whip, as he explains why he made his own MP walk the plank.

You can imagine how it would look…if, at committee, we were to lose the entire bill because of one vote, and it was Mr. Cummins vote. “I would have a tough time explaining that the to the prime minister.”

Indeed, Steve might send Jay to bed without dinner, or worse, give him a spanking. I suppose trying to convince John, find a compromise or offer an amendment or two, would be just crazy talk.

Anyway, since they've kicked a B.C. MP off the fisheries and oceans committee who do you think the Cons got to replace him? Maybe another BCer, or a Maritimer, you know, someone with some from an area where there are, perhaps, fisheries and oceans?

That would make sense, but no. Someone with some knowledge of the issues might not just shut-up and vote. Cummins' replacement?

Cummins was replaced by rookie Alberta Tory MP Blaine Calkins.

Reminds me of this. Not many oceans in Alberta. If it wasn't so sad it'd be funny.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Seniors of the world unite

Different income trust story, same Judy Wasylycia-Leis. If this keeps up I may learn to spell her name correctly without double-checking. It took me a few weeks to get Ignatieff right back during the campaign, but it was a proud moment for me.

Anyway, this income trusts story is around the Conservative flip-flop on taxing them, in the process wiping-out billions of dollars worth of retirement savings of ordinary Canadians, many of them senior citizens.

I blogged my approval the other day of a Liberal proposal that would end the flight to income trusts, ensure corporations pay their fair share of taxes, AND, most importantly, give those average Canadian citizens that lost big chunks of their life savings on the Steve Harper flip-flop a break.

Economists thought it was a great plan; some of us wondered at the time how the NDP would react. Well, now the answer would seem clear: the NDP is siding with the Conservatives, and against average working Canadians and seniors.

From Wednesday's Report on Business:

The Dion proposal faces a tough uphill battle in Parliament, however, because the NDP -- which holds the balance of power in the minority government -- opposes it. "It's the Liberals again kowtowing to the banking elite," NDP finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis said.


The New Democratic Party has marched in lockstep with the Conservatives on the trust levy, backing it to the hilt and even voting with the government to try to block recent parliamentary hearings on the levy.


Amusing to hear Judy employ left-wing rhetoric as she falls into line with the right-wing Conservatives. Banking elites Judy? Not hardly. This is about helping ordinary, hard working Canadians just trying to save for retirement.

New Liberal MP Garth Turner as been active on this issue, bringing ordinary Canadians that have been impacted by the Harper trust flip-flop to Ottawa a few weeks ago put a human face on this decision. You can watch a video of their news conference on his Web site.

There were people like William Barrowclough, a 64-year old widower and retired schoolteacher from Peterborough and David Marshall, a 69-year-old retired truck driver from Cornwall and his wife Lorraine. Also Don Francis, a 67-year-old retired science teacher and NDP supporter from Ottawa. And many others.

Those are the people we're talking about here Judy. Not banking elites. Average Canadians. Retired teachers, truck drivers, engineers. Senior citizens that lost their shirts because they believed Steve Harper when he promised trusts wouldn't be touched. It's those people, not some mythical ideological class warfare bogeyman, that the Liberal proposal is designed to help.

If you want to side with Steve Harper and the Conservatives that's fine Judy. Free country. But perhaps you'd be good enough to explain to William, David and Don, and the many Canadian seniors like them across the country that got screwed by the Harper Conservatives, why the NDP feels they don't deserve help.

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You're with us, or you're with the terrorists

So, apparently the Liberals are soft on terrorism. That's what Steve Harper says. I wonder, how long before Jason Kenney says Osama Bin Laden is praying for a Liberal victory? Sigh.

You know, the last time Harper and company were calling the Liberals soft on terrorism, it was back when they were attacking the then Liberal government for trying to help "suspected terrorist” Maher Arar. Remember that?

But back to the present, and the renewal of these anti-terror provisions. I'm unsure at the moment how I feel about renewal. While I want law enforcement to have the tools it needs to fight terrorism, that needs to be weighed against loss of personal freedom and the potential for abuse. I could be convinced they are needed still, but I don't think that case had been made yet. At least, I haven't seen it made well. Until then, I have to stand on the opposed side.

Saying those that are opposed to the renewal of these never-used provisions are soft on terrorism though is bullshit. There's plenty of room for debate and argument, but that kind of rhetoric is polarizing and divisive. As much as I detest this cliché, it really is U.S. Republican-style attack politics that has no place in Canada.

One last note on this issue. Harper and some Blogging Tories are trying to make hay over the Liberal Party being somehow divided over this, and this being example again of their Dion not a leader talking points from the hive mind. In particular, they point to the comments from Manley, Cotler and McLellan.

I can see how Conservatives would be confused. After all, no disagreement with the policies of the Dear Leader is permitted in the Steve Harper Conservative Party. It's his way or the highway, tow the line or pay the price.

But that's not how democracy works, and that's now how this Liberal Party works. Debate is healthy, and differing opinions on policy is welcome. Crazy concept, I know, but that's how it's supposed to work.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

BIG gonads

Reading this, and then this and this I was interested in the NDP's response, and I found this.

Yeah, really big gonads. Huge ones.

I'd imagine lots of lawyers are being consulted this afternoon.

Update: A friend points out to me that the NDP Web site appears to have an automatic function that scans past press releases for keywords related to current press releases, and posts them next to the new release as related links.

Take a look at the links with today's nasty little missive from Judy.

Hmm. What was that again about busy lawyers?

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A day is a lifetime in Conservativeland

Here's what they were saying on Tuesday:

Changing Canada's judiciary used to be a cause that senior Conservatives backed loudly and publicly, but now that they are in office, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson insists the Tories have no such plans.
...
When asked yesterday whether the government is now trying to appoint a judiciary that interprets the Charter of Rights and Freedoms less broadly, or is tougher on crime, Mr. Nicholson said little is being changed.

"We want individuals who are on the bench who are competent, first-class legal minds. I think the judicial system in this country works very well. We are supportive of the Charter, we are supportive of the judicial system in this country. We think it works well," Mr. Nicholson said.

And here's what they were saying on Wednesday:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday that he wants judges who will reflect his government's law-and-order agenda, stating matter-of-factly that he will pick judges who will crack down on crime.
...
"We want to make sure we are bringing forward laws to make sure that we crack down on crime, that we make our streets and communities safer. We want to make sure our selection of judges is in correspondence with those objectives," Mr. Harper said in the Commons yesterday.
Completely reversing your talking points in less than 24 hours. Now that takes strong, decisive leadership. Maybe Rob missed a memo.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bonds: Not just for criminals anymore

Sean over at Public Eye Online has some interesting news: prospective Conservative nomination candidates are being required to post two $1000 bonds with the party. To my untrained eye this looks like an election financing violation waiting to happen.

According to the party’s nomination rules and procedures - which were distributed to riding associations this past June - candidates must make out a $1,000 cheque payable to the Conservative Fund of Canada to "serve as a Good Conduct Bond." Those who follow those rules and procedures will get their cheque back. But it’s tough luck for those who don't.


I can certainly see the desire for the CPC to try and keep some of the, shall we say nuttier, people that tend to seek their nominations in check. Doesn't really mesh with their supposed love of free speech and power to the people, but I understand the motivation. Still, borrowing from the criminal justice system and putting them on bail is an interesting choice.

But wait, there's more:

And the news is even worse for candidates who win less than 10 percent of the vote at a nomination meeting. They have to relinquish their $1,000 "Non-Frivolous Bond."


As Sean points out, if you want to run for the CPC for "shits and giggles" and you don't behave yourself either you'll be out $2000. Pricy, and not just a tad elitist.

Donation limits


Here's my question though. As reported, the $2000 in bonds are in the forms of cheques payable to the Conservative Fund of Canada, and if relinquished would be cashed by the CPC. In that case, I'd imagine they'd be treated as political donations by the candidate to the CPC, right?

But…didn't the CPC lower the annual political donations limit to $1000? That would seem to mean that if both bonds were forfeited, or if just one bond was forfeited and the candidate had donated even $1 to the CPC over the past year, and you'd imagine someone seeking a nomination might have gone to a corn roast or something, that would put them over the $1000 legal donation limit. Which means the candidate would be making an illegal political contribution, and the Conservatives would be knowingly accepting illegal contributions.

Wouldn't it?

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Conservatives clawing back "day care" cheques

As Liberals predicted at the time, the chickens are now coming home to roost on the Conservatives' $100/month “child care” plan. More evidence now that Harper is clawing back the tax on the cheques and that for many families that $100 will be closer to $65.

And hopefully families struggling to make ends meet have been setting some money aside for Harper because rather than taking the tax off the cheques on the first place families will have to pay back the difference on their income taxes.

This note from the LPC(BC) lays it out well. Although, guys, the neo-con thing just sounds lame. Let the facts speak for themselves, please?

Warning to parents: it's going to cost you!

Attention all parents with children under the age of six:
Have you seen one of these forms arrive in your mailbox?


OTTAWA-Canada's Neo-Conservative Government has very quietly mailed out an innocuous sounding "RC62" tax form to over a million families this week. What they didn't tell Canadians is that it is more like a tax bill - and they'd better start saving now because they owe Stephen Harper big money. They owe all of the back taxes on their monthly child care cheques . all at once!

"With Tory cuts forcing daycares to hike their fees, or shut down all together, the last thing parents need is a huge tax bill. Many families who were relying on a tax refund this year will be shocked to learn they now owe Stephen Harper a ton of cash," said Blair Wilson the Member of Parliament for West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast -Sea to Sky Country.

Box 10 of the form corresponds to the amount of money each family has received over the past year from Mr. Harper's ill-considered child care scheme. If a family has one eligible child the total in Box 10 will read $600 - if they have two young children will read $1200, and so on. This is "income" they have already received and likely already spent on child care or other family expenses.

"But now these families have to try and come up with hundreds and hundreds of dollars all at once to pay for Mr. Harper's political stunt. Any sensible government would have taxed this money at source before it was mailed out. But would a $65 dollar a month cheque gotten Mr. Harper any headlines?" asked Wilson.

Now ordinary families will have to pay big for Mr. Harper's election-time stunt. And this year's benefit has only been in effect for six months. Next year families are going to have to come up with twice as much. This whole plan has been a disaster from day one - and it hasn't even created a single new child care space.

Blair Wilson is the Chair of the BC Caucus of the Liberal Party of Canada. He was first elected as the Member of Parliament for West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country in 2006.

Visit Blair online at www.blairwilson.ca

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Liberal income trusts proposal

This news this afternoon sounds very promising. It looks like what I've been hoping to see, a real, concrete proposal that appeals to Canadians, puts the Cons in a tough spot AND it's on an issue other than the environment:

Grits propose alternative to Tory trust tax
Canadian Press


OTTAWA — The Liberals say the government's plan to tax income trusts should be changed dramatically — and that their plan could save billions of dollars for ordinary investors.


They say the proposed tax on trusts should be reduced to 10 per cent from 31.5 per cent and that it should be made refundable to Canadian residents.


This, they say, could save two-thirds of the $25-billion that investors lost after the Conservatives announced last fall that they would tax income trusts.


They said the government should maintain a moratorium to prevent further expansion of income trusts.

(more)

There's more details on the Liberal Web site:
After hearing from numerous witnesses at the Standing Committee on Finance, the Liberal Opposition has a plan. It is proposing that the government repeal its planned 31.5 per cent tax regime and replace it with a modest 10 per cent tax, to be paid by the companies, that would be refundable to Canadian residents. The tax would be imposed immediately with the revenue shared equitably with provincial governments.
..

Underpinning the Liberal proposals are four main policy objectives that should have been considered by the government:

• minimizing the loss of savings for Canadians who invested in income trusts;

• preserving the strengths of the income trust sector, notably a high-yield instrument for savers and for the energy sector;

• creating tax fairness by eliminating any tax leakage caused by the income trust sector; and,

• creating tax neutrality by eliminating any incentive to convert from a corporation to an income trust purely for tax purposes.
So, average Canadians screwed by the Harper flipflop get a break, the corporations pay their fair share and leakage is eliminated. The reaction from Harper's friends in the energy sector will be interesting. And Conservatives are put in the position of having to oppose a tax break for average Canadians.

Sounds good to me, but here's what some financial experts have to say about the Liberal proposal:
The proposal has already received support from Gordon Tait, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets, who had previously told members of the Finance Committee that extending the phase out period to ten years would likely return one-third of the investors lost savings.

“This new proposal would likely return at least of two-thirds of the losses experienced by the holders of income trusts after the October 31 announcement,” said Mr. Tait. “It would also ensure that Canadian investors continue to have a high-yield investment vehicle available to them.”


Dirk Lever, Managing Director for RBC Capital Markets, agreed with that assessment.


“I would concur with Gordon Tait’s view that at least two thirds of the lost value will be recovered,” said Mr. Lever. “It could be more.”


Yves Fortin, a noted economist who formerly worked for the Department of Finance, indicated that the proposal would put an end to any tax leakage alleged by the government.


“While I am not convinced that there is tax leakage, and expert opinions differ as to the existence or the extent of the tax leakage, this proposed 10 per cent tax would more than cover the problem,” said Mr. Fortin.
Over to you Steve.

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We built this nation on rock and roll and politics

Braeden points out this rather interesting comment from Steve Harper yesterday as he showed the love to Quebec by reinstating some of the funds the Liberals had earmarked for the environment and he'd cut:

Harper said Quebecers are a nation now because of their hard work in building the country, not because of sovereignty.

I'd be interested in seeing a transcript, but still, is that it then Steve? OK, fair enough. I look forward then to motions recognizing all the First Nations, Newfoundlanders, Acadians, Halagonians, United Empire Loyalists and a host of other groups as nations, if that's your criteria. Or, you could explain to them why they just didn't work quite hard enough in building the country to deserve nation status. Either way.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Hey Pauly!

Ted Rogers isn't paying Pierre for that photo and extra big headline, is he? :)

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Liberal wake-up call

Since we always like to pooh-pooh all pollsters save SES, when the Sage Nanos speaks we should all listen. And while SES has the parties in a horse race, its latest leadership numbers are troubling for the Liberals (download the pdf).

Particularly if, as Wells contends, the leadership numbers foreshadow the horse race numbers. If so, the trends shown here would argue for the Cons to engineer a spring vote and the Libs to work darned hard to avoid one, since it appears those Con attack ads are well positioned to pay dividends:

As you can see Steve Harper has made big gains over the last year across the board on trustworthiness, competency and best vision. Meanwhile, Dion lies well back of Harper in all categories and, more troubling, scored worse than Paul Martin on competency and vision.

This needs to serve as a wake-up call to Liberals and we need to take away two messages: Stephen Harper is resonating with Canadians in a way many Liberals have not cared to admit and Canadians don't know Stephane Dion and until they do (and hopefully positively) they'd rather stick with the not so scary Harper.

We've been talking much about the need to define Dion but it clearly isn't happening, and the Cons may well beat us to the punch if we let them. This poll would seem to show our communications strategy has not been working.

While you and I may have a hard time seeing Harper as trustworthy, competent and having any vision beyond getting a majority, the fact is Canadians would seem to disagree. That's not their fault, it's ours. We need to do a better job of going after Harper in these areas; certainly there is fertile material here. This stacking the benches story today would be an excellent example. We need to expose the difference between the Harper rhetoric and the Harper action.

But more than that, we need to move up Dion's numbers on trustworthiness, competency and vision. And that ties into the debate at Jason and Jonathan's today. I believe firmly we need to broaden the scope of our message beyond just the environment. It's incredibly important, yes, but the election will not be won on Kyoto alone.

I believe strongly in the three pillars approach, and connecting environmental sustainable development. It's a powerful message, and trying it to jobs and the economy is particularly important. But that doesn't mean we forget the other two pillars, economic management and social justice.

I know the environment was a big part of Stephane's victory, that’s undeniable, although it wasn't the only large contributing factor; the victory was a perfect storm of a variety of factors from the environment to being a consensus candidate everyone could agree on to a handful of Kennedy voters deciding to give Martha a boost on the first ballot. But a leadership race is very, very different from a general election. Recent history teaches us that lesson pretty clearly.

I'm not saying forget the environment, that would be a mistake and besides, it'd look silly. But dial it back a bit. Talk more about those megatons of jobs, and the economic opportunities of a green economy. After all, people vote out of self interest. But also we need to start articulating a broader vision.

And Dion is more than just the former Environment Minister. I was first attracted to Stephane because I knew him as the brilliant, take no prisoners unity minister that wouldn't take shit from the separatists. Look at his performance in those unity debates, now that's leadership. Let's have a little more of that piss and vinegar.

Why not a big speech on foreign affairs and Canada's place in the world? What's our plan for Afghanistan? For African development? For trade? Remember day care and early childhood education, do we have some new ideas there?

During the leadership campaign Stephane talked about canceling the Cons' next promised one per cent cut in the GST and investing the money in fighting child poverty. That's very powerful, why aren't we talking about that? And reviving the Kelowna Accord and offering ideas for fighting Native poverty?

These are all Liberal issues, great Liberal issues, and they're part of the other two Liberal pillars. And they are all issues that speak to the values of Canadians, and paint a contrast between us and the Conservatives. Alongside the environment they would provide a compelling vision for Canadians, one that would resonate.

And, when viewed side by side with Harper's grab-bag of pseudo-action points, the contrast would be striking indeed.

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Worried about electing a Liberal government?

Don't fret. Apparently the courts will keep us in check...

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

A two movie day

It's been a few weekends now since I've been to see a movie to I decided to make up for it today and see two, and they were both really good.

The first, and my favourite, was The Lives of Others. It's a German-language film nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar and is set in East Berlin circa 1984, before the coming of Gorbachev and Glasnost. It's an era that has always held interest for me since I lived in West Germany from 1986 to 1990 as an Air Force Brat. I also went back to Germany in 1994 as an exchange student and took a trip to Berlin. Even though it was five years after the wall had fallen and Germany had been reunified, it still felt like I was in a different world walking around the Eastern half of the city, with the drab Soviet era buildings. It's hard to describe but it felt very grey, sombre.

So it's not that hard to imagine the East Berlin of 10 years earlier, when this movie is set. It tells the story of an agent of the oppressive East German secret police, the Stasi, assigned to spy on a prominent director and his actress wife. A very dour workaholic, as the agent listens to their every conversation and action he begins to bond with them, question what's missing in his own life, and question the motives of his superiors and the state he has dedicated his life to serving.

Besides the political intrigue it's a really good human story, forcing us to ask us just how far we're willing to go to get along, to play the game, work in the system, instead of standing out. It's an excellent movie, probably the best I've seen so far this young year, and I like it better than most of the best picture Oscar nominees I've seen this year.

HRH

Speaking of which, I also saw one of the best picture Oscar nominees today, The Queen. It's set in the days after the death of Princess Diana and chronicles the tug of war between a Royal Family clinging to tradition and a British people, led by new Prime Minister Tony Blair, demanding a more modern monarchy, and public mourning for the people's princess.

I enjoyed it. Helen Mirren was excellent as Queen Elizabeth; she'd be a very worthy winner of the best actress Oscar. I also enjoyed James Cromwell's portrayal of a slightly pathetic Prince Phillip. Michael Sheen's Tony Blair was passable, though I found the other Downing Street characters to be slightly one dimensional, and Cherie Blair came across looking like a dingbat.

It almost seemed like a tale of two movies. In the first half the royal family comes off very unsympathetically, as mean, cruel and uncaring; indifferent to Diana's death. In the second half it changes though, at least with the Queen, as Mirren's performance shows her struggling with the role she had thought she was to play in her country and the new demands the people seem to be making of her. This tug between the traditions she holds dear in her core, and the desires of the people she had dedicated her life to serving, you can see how it eats at her.

So, a very good film, but I'd still give Little Miss Sunshine the Oscar nod ahead of it. I haven't seen The Departed yet though, maybe next weekend.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Steve, Rona, John, You didn't get it done

It was the Conservatives in government last summer, right? When they made this commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas that apparently they've done sweet-nothing since to meet? I look forward to reading how the Cons failing to meet their own promise on the environment is somehow the Liberals' fault.

I'm sorry Steve, but you didn't get it done. Steve Harper is not a leader.


Emissions report card puts Canada last
Country has 'no plan' to fulfill pledge from G8 summit, U of T researchers say
MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT
From Friday's Globe and Mail


TORONTO — Canada ranks dead last among members of the G8 industrialized countries when it comes to keeping a pledge made last year to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, according to a report prepared by researchers at the University of Toronto.

Canada was the only Group of Eight country deemed to have posted a complete lack of compliance with the greenhouse-gas reduction goal set at last summer's G8 summit in St. Petersburg.

Canada has "no plan" to cut its emissions in the short or long term, and could have rising output of the gases blamed for global warming under the Conservatives' Clean Air Act because the legislation doesn't cap releases, the report said.

Ottawa has announced that Canada will reduce greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent -- to 65 per cent -- by 2050, but the report noted that as of Dec. 31, the date at which it conducted the country comparisons, "Canada had not taken significant steps to curb GHG emissions, nor did it have a plan in place to move forward on meeting its Kyoto-mandated targets nor the ambitious 2050 targets."
(more)

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The Audacity of Hope

I blogged the other day about my long, long trip to Florida via Chicago and the weather associated delays. On the plus side, the delays gave me a chance to finish reading Barrack Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope. Seemed fitting, since he's the junior Senator for Illinois.

Books by politicians are often unreadable, perhaps that's my bias as a writer myself, but Obama is actually a good writer...or he had a good ghost writer. Either way, it was a very easy read that flowed well, and was a much faster read that William Johnson's Harper bio.

Obama's book is partly autobiographical, he touches on growing up in Malaysia and Hawaii, working as a community organizer in Chicago, serving in the state house and running for Senate, and meeting his wife and his family life with his daughters. But rather than simply recounting his bio, these details are always grounded in the greater context of how he formulated his ideals and policy beliefs. For example, he relates his experiences as an ex-pat child in Malaysia to American foreign policy from the Cold War through today.

The main purpose of the book is to layout Obama's vision for the United States, both foreign and domestic. The chapters are broken down to cover the major broad themes facing the U.S., from race relations and faith to values, politics and the ongoing battle between Democrats and Republicans.

The cynics will say Obama, now gearing up for a presidential bid, steered a middle course in the book to appeal as a moderate to both sides in a presidential race. Perhaps that's why I enjoyed the book, we Liberals are great fence sitters.

But I think those critics would be part of what's wrong with politics today; despite the mugging of politicians for the cameras and the attempts to paint every issue as a case of good and evil most Americans, and most Canadians, have a lot more in common with each other than they don't. I found Obama's honest and frank take on the issues and attempts to find common ground between left and right to be refreshing. And a lot of his messages can apply to us in Canada as well, such as being willing to admit that sometimes the other side does have a point, and while we may fundamentally disagree on the issues at times their motives aren't always evil.

All and all an excellent read, I recommend it. I'll be wishing him luck on the presidential campaign trail and watching to see if he can hang on to this idealism through the rigors of a national race. I'd definitely vote for him over Hillary.

*The publisher provided a review copy to facilitate this review.

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