Friday, August 31, 2007

Three Quick Friday Hits

*Anyone who seriously believes Dick Harris came-up with the dumb idea of making the Conservative candidate in an NDP-held riding as a government representative and encouraging residents to bypass their elected MP all by himself, with no help from the PMO or CPC leadership, raise your hand? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

*So Iggy made a dumb analogy about a bird. It must be the silly season when this is getting as much attention as it is. It’s not even in the top five list of questionable Iggy comments. I think my favourite one had something to do with herding cats. I also liked his review of Borat. And anyway, why is it bad to hide your excrement? Should you be putting your excrement on display or something? Does Harper fling his around at cabinet meetings? No thanks, I’d rather you dispose of it, thanks.

*On a more serious note, I see the phrase “President Harper” has made its way into the official Liberal taking points. I first heard it from Denis Coderre during cabinet shuffle spin and I’ve heard it a few times now from Dion, most recently during his speech at the caucus retreat. Please, OLO comms people, can we drop this line? It’s lame, it’s cheap and it’s lazy. There’s ways to make the points you’re trying to make, that Harper is a Bush Republican-loving autocrat, without such hackneyed lines as “President Harper.” And why do we even need the Republican/Bush references, which only open us to (false) charges of anti-Americanism? Harper is screwing-up plenty himself and giving us lots to work with, there’s no need for bogeymen.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Psst! John Tory is a CONSERVATIVE! Pass it on...

Apologies for the lack of blogging of late, I've had family visiting from B.C. and we've been doing the tourist thing around Toronto. Today was the Zoo actually, and while we were on the way back on the bus we passed by the campaign office of Gary Grant, the Conservative candidate for Scarborough-Guildwood in the upcoming provincial election.

At least, I assume he is the Conservative candidate. Having been taking pictures of elephants and what not at the zoo, I happened to have my camera in my pocket. Take a look at Gary's campaign office:

Take a closer look, see anything missing?

How about on the lawn sign?

You may be wondering why the word 'Conservative' appears nowhere on these signs. Even the phrase 'Progressive Conservative' is absent. If you look very, very closely, you can see the letters PC. If you look closely, that is. Of course, you need to know what those initials stand for. Politically correct? Prior convictions?

Indeed, if you didn't know better you'd think Gary was running for the 'John Tory Party'. After all, while you have to struggle to even find the initials PC, and the word Conservative is nowhere to be seen (if you say it three times, does it conjure Mike Harris?) John Tory's name is nearly as prominent as the candidate's.

Why, on this sign they made the PC initials crazy small and even skip the candidate's name all together, and just promote the messiah:

It seems clear that Conservative is a dirty word for the Ontario Conservative Party, and they're trying to run as far away from that name, and the Harris/Eves record/baggage, as quickly as possible. They have taken it to a pretty ridiculous extreme, however.

And what's with this John Tory cult of personality? I met Jack Kennedy. I worked with Jack Kennedy. And you, sir, are no Jack Kennedy. Seriously, is this guy really so popular to justify this idolation, and this campaign strategy? I seem to recall a prohibition about the worshiping of false idols...

Really, this is just lame strategy. I thought the whole 'Paul Martin's Liberal team' thing was lame, and the "Your John Tory candidate' thing is equally lame. I have to question their picking that campaign for inspiration, as it didn't work out overly well for Paul and Co.

And as for the banning of the word Conservative, and the pretending to be moderate, a phenomenon we've seen manifest itself in various ways at the federal level too, I have to wonder when do those people that are Conservative, and proud of it, start to stand-up and say hey, screw you, this is my party too so stop pretending I'm a leper?

I mean, if it was me I'd be pissed off, you know?

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Politics in the ivory tower

Came across this story last week and I've been meaning to highlight it, as I think it raises some interesting discussion points about the potential for political interference in Canada's universities, or at least how the fear of that potential may be driving university decision-making.

Recently Stephen Owen, formerly the Liberal MP for Vancouver-Quadra, was hired by the University of British Columbia as vice-president, community and external relations. During the hiring process, the hiring committee expressed concerns about whether Owen’s political career may prove detrimental to the university’s relationship with Canada’s Newish Conservative government.

Mr. Peets said concern that Mr. Owen's appointment could sour relations with the Conservatives “was an immediate and obvious thought in almost everyone's mind” during the hiring process.

“You are hiring a guy for government relations who is from a party that is not in power and that should be a concern,” he said.
“You worry that if you hire someone from the opposition side that they may have burned some bridges with the government side and the government relations thing may not work well for them.”

It may be a pragmatic concern certainly, although its rather unfortunate that a candidate’s politics should have to be an issue. Owen invited the committee to contact members of the other political parties to discuss Owen’s political career, and whether or not it may prove an impediment to his new potential role.

UBC took him up on the offer, and Conservative godfather and former campaign director John Reynolds was among those contacted to ask whether appointing a Liberal MP to the VP’s role would be a “problem” for the university. Since Owen got the job I guess Reynolds gave him a pass, although one wonders what would have happened had Reynolds said it would be a problem.

When reached for comment by CP, Reynolds comments were a little odd:
“I am a private individual and I got nothing to do with the party,” he said.“I don't decide with the Conservative party who spends money and who doesn't spend money. I am not involved with that end of things at all. I don't think this was done at all or had anything to do with funding whatsoever. It's not (Mr. Owen's) job — his job is community relations.”

John Reynolds has nothing to do with the Conservative Party? Believe that and I have a bridge to sell you. He also has nothing to do Ottawa mayoral races of parole board appointments.

Anyway, while one hopes that no government would let politics enter into decision-making around things like grants and research funding, we do also live in the real world. And the potential for abuse is certainly there:
The last Conservative budget was the first to bypass the peer-reviewed process of federal granting councils by directly funding seven research institutes to the tune of $105 million in matching dollars.

“That is what has a lot of people in the academic community really concerned,” said Mr. Robinson, whose association represents about 55,000 academics ranging from librarians to researchers across the country. “No one is questioning that these institutes weren't deserving, but there are a lot of deserving institutions and the question is how do you decide which one? Do you make a political decision or an academic decision? We would argue that, for a whole number of reasons, it has to be an academic decision. We can't have political interference in the academic world.”

It seems an unfortunate path to be going down, where universities feel they have to vet potential hires for political compatibility with the government of the day. There needs to be a separation of politics and academe, with government setting the broad outlines, goals and mission of a program and non-political learned experts vetting applications and allocating the funding to specific institutions.

Remove the potential for political interference and testing candidates for political purity won’t be necessary.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Why it's hard to take the NDP seriously

I get the NDP's e-newsletters each week, and not a week goes by without at least one item bashing the Liberals. Often they bash the Liberals more than they bash the Harper Conservatives, but that's just carrying-on the same strategy they adopted in the last election campaign, where they all but ignored the Conservatives, even as it became clear they were heading to government, to attack the Liberals instead.

Today, however, their weekly Liberal bashing is particularly amusing:

Liberal leader Stéphane Dion today showed an utter lack of leadership and contempt for Canadian voters by flip-flopping on deeper North American integration.

In a press conference in Ottawa, Mr. Dion came out swinging against the Security and Prosperity Partnership that will be discussed at the Montebello Summit from August 19-21.

They must be referring to this release and rather detailed position paper (pdf) that the Liberals released last week, outlining Liberal concerns about the SPP process and detailing six steps PM Harper should take to put Canada’s interests first at the talks.
Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion today released Strong and Free: The Liberal Blueprint for the North American Leaders Summit at Montebello, Quebec – August 2007, outlining a detailed proposal to ensure Canada’s interests are effectively promoted at the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) meetings in Montebello.

Given that the NDP is attacking Dion for raising concerns about the direction Harper is taking the SPP, you must think Layton and the NDP are in favour of SPP, and are angry Dion is attacking it.

Well, not quite. You see, the NDP also has concerns about the SPP. They’re just angry that…the Liberals have concerns too? That only the NDP is allowed to oppose the SPP?

Well, that’s not how they put it. You see, they point to the fact that the SPP process began under the previous Liberal government as some kind of smoking gun revelation. Now that the Harper Conservatives are taking the process in a new direction that is concerning to the Liberals, Layton’s NDP is pulling out the 'ol lazy political crutch, the flip-flop card.

The NDP says:
In doing so, Mr. Dion showed a level of historical revisionism unseen since Mr.Ignatieff’s mea culpa for supporting the war in Iraq.

When all else fails, play the blame Iggy card, it's imaginative. Maybe we should start calling him Taliban Jack more, that's equally creative. And yes, Liberals, how dare you agree with us! Shame on you for now having the same opinion as us, for shame!

What a load of poppycock. Here’s Dion addressing the point:
“The original spirit of the SPP was one all Canadians could embrace,” said Mr. Dion. “It existed to strengthen Canada’s national interest on security, trade, competitiveness, health, safety and the environment by working closely with our neighbours – to allow Canada and its friends to provide a better life for each nation’s people.

“But Mr. Harper is taking the SPP in a very different direction,” added Mr. Dion. “Under the veil of secrecy, he is blurring the line between partnership and imitation.”

I know Jack may not know this, but the Liberals aren’t in government anymore and frankly, I don’t trust the Harper Conservatives to run this process, nor do I trust the direction they’re taking it in. It is entirely legitimate for the Liberals to be raising concerns, and for the NDP to be attacking the Liberals for sharing their own concerns, well, such weird strategy may be why the last SES numbers looked so bad for them.

Now, I can see the communications strategy here by the NDP. Last week the Liberals came out with a detailed policy paper outlining concerns about the SPP process with specific recommendations for Harper to take in the negotiations. It was well received. The NDP, comparatively, came out with a more general, broad release just expressing their opposition with some broad themes sketched-out that looked a tad paltry by comparison to the meaty liberal paper.

Seeing the Liberals moving in and outflanking them on what they claim solely as one of their issues, and with a poll that puts the NDP at a paltry 13 per cent nationally, today the NDP rushes out a more detailed release opposing the SPP and throws in a larger broadside at the Liberals for good measure to defend their flank.

So, I can see what they’re doing, but I think the execution here was rather off. If I could make a suggestion were I the NDP (scary thought, I know) I might have taken a more sarcastic approach, thanking the Liberals for finally coming into the light, seeing the error of the ways, joining the NDP, following their leadership, yada yada… Wouldn't necessarily be accurate, but might have been more effective.

Because attacking someone for agreeing with you just seems kinda lame. But I'm sure the pros in the NDP know what they're doing...right?

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On deficits becoming surpluses and fixed election date syndrome

Late last week, the Ontario Liberal government announced a $2.3 billion surplus for the province. Meaning, if Dalton McGuinty doesn't win the election this fall, at least he'll be leaving the books in a lot better shape than he found them: a massive (and hidden) $5.6 billion deficit left behind by the Conservatives, a legacy of the Mike Harris/Ernie Eves/Jim Flaherty years.

Naturally, the inheritor of that Harris/Eves legacy, John Tory, isn't giving the Liberals any credit for cleaning-up the mess his Conservative forefathers left behind. But that's politics. All parties, however, are certainly busy explaining how they'd spend the surplus, although Tory’s chicken in every pot platform (tax cuts AND service increases AND new spending), and his unwillingness to release any detailed costing, casts doubt on how long it will take for this Liberal surplus to become another Conservative deficit if he’s elected.

By the way, I got a chuckle out of this line from Tory:

Tory also questioned how Sorbara could have “found” an extra $2.3 billion — more proof, he said, that the public can’t trust the government’s numbers.

“Every time this guy who claims to be a finance minister puts on a new pair of pants he seems to find $2 billion,” said Tory, a former president of Rogers Cable. “I can assure you, having run a large organization before, you don’t just find $2 billion.”

Most organizations maybe, but looking at what I pay for Rogers, I wouldn’t be so sure. But the amusing bit was his comment that the public couldn’t trust the Liberal government’s numbers. I can see why he might be wary, after all, his Conservative forefathers do know a lot about releasing untrustworthy numbers, and he still hasn't given us any numbers for his platform. John knows of what he speaks.

That's not what I wanted to talk about though. Rather, I wanted to address the complaints by Tory and the NDP’s Howard Hampton about the Liberal government’s spending announcements of the last few months, accusing the government of a prolonged vote buying campaign. The government’s response is hey, we’re not going to stop governing for five months before the election.

Frankly, what we’re seeing is just a byproduct of a fixed election dates system. By setting a fixed election date all parties, by definition, know exactly when the election is, and they plan accordingly. For the government, as always, that means doing the unpopular stuff in the first year or two, then rolling-out the popular stuff in the second half to build popularity.

In a fixed election date system it’s that same process, but on steroids. The campaign lasts much longer than the fixed writ period: indeed it begins many months, if not a year, before the writ is ever dropped. All the parties have been in campaign mode for months. All the parties have released pre-writ campaign ads. All have been announcing policy, attacking opponents, and touring the province making spending commitments.

With fixed election dates we get a longer period of campaigning. We saw the same thing in B.C., which had its first fixed-election date in May of 2005. Interesting side note: I was working as a poll clerk for Elections BC on that election (neither provincial party caught my fancy) when the reporter from the local paper came in and said he had big news. I took a break and popped outside to respect the no politics in the polling place rule, and he told me Belinda Stronach had just crossed the floor to the Liberals. He had to say it three times before I believed him, it sounded so crazy. Anyway, both parties in B.C. had begun campaigning for that May election many months before, and the Campbell government over months rolled-out a series of good news announcements and commercials.

So, is there a certain element of campaigning to the McGuinty announcements over the summer? Of course there is. But, as they said, it’s not like they’re going to stop governing for five months before the writ is dropped. And all the parties are campaigning, McGuinty just happens to be the one with the advantage of incumbency.

While fixed election dates have their advantages, longer campaigns are one of their drawbacks. This is one of the reasons I wasn't a fan of fixed election dates. I like campaigns, but prefer them to stay confined to the writ period. But, as with everything, you take the good with the bad.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Globe is trying to manufacture controversy

Apologies to Bill Curry, but this story in the Globe this morning is ridiculous.

It's a piece on the appointment yesterday of Michelle Simson as the Liberal candidate in Scarborough-Southwest, and it tries to make it seem like there's some controversy about it and that people in Scarborough are upset. And of course, as always an 'unnamed source' is trotted out to somehow bolster this flimsy case, this time an unnamed 'long-time Toronto Liberal' who apparently didn’t have the guts to put their name to their comments.

I live in Scarborough-Centre, and I've heard of no controversy. Indeed, it has been well known for many months that Scarborough-Southwest was reserved for the appointment of a female candidate, and that it would likely be Michelle. The only other candidate that had been green lighted, Vijay Sappani, is quoted by the Globe as being in favour of the appointment as the best thing for the party. I know that he's supportive of Michelle and the appointment was no surprise to him either, it's been expected for months.

The power of appointment is one that the members of the LPC democratically gave to the leader. It is rarely used; besides the by-elections Dion’s only other appointment has been Martha-Hall Findlay to Willowdale. Dion has signaled he will use appointments if necessary to reach his goal of 33 per cent female candidates, and as soon as Scarborough-Southwest was opened with Tom Whapell’s retirement announcement it was signaled within the party this winnable riding was reserved for a female candidate, likely by appointment.

It's unfortunate that some anonymous people with their own agendas and motivations are trying to sow the seeds of dissent, stir the pot and create controversy where there is none. Obviously, they have their own axe to grind. It's just unfortunate the Globe would play along
by unnecessarily granting them anonymity.

If the person at least had the guts to put their name to their comments I could respect that, and their points could be debated. But hiding behind anonymity while throwing bricks at people is just weak.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Compare and contrast

Two recent headlines make for an interesting comparison between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party.

First, here’s one from earlier in the week about the Conservatives:

Harper misses his chance to woo women
Gender gap might have cost Conservatives a majority in the last election


Published: Thursday, August 16

Prime Minister Stephen Harper either missed or doesn't believe a recent Canadian study that showed that if as many women had supported the Conservatives in the 2006 election as men, his party might have scraped together enough seats for a majority. Instead, the Conservative party ended up forming a minority government with the smallest share of seats in Canadian history.

Since he did nothing in his cabinet shuffle Tuesday to correct the impression that women are, in his view, trustworthy for only soft, i.e., traditionally female, portfolios such as culture, we can conclude that he apparently thinks he can win a majority without them.

And here’s one today from the Liberals:

Liberal Party of Canada Announces Michelle Simson as Candidate

August 17, 2007

OTTAWA - Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion today appointed Michelle Simson as the Party's candidate in the riding of Scarborough Southwest.

"Mrs. Simson’s strength, tenacity and passion for the people of Scarborough will make her a strong Member of Parliament for Scarborough Southwest. Her vast political experience is a tremendous asset to our team," said Mr. Dion, who has the power to appoint candidates in accordance with the Party’s nomination rules.

“As a step towards ensuring more equal female representation in Parliament, I committed to at least one third female Liberal candidates in the next election. I’m so pleased Mrs. Simson will be among our slate of qualified, skilled and experienced women on the Liberal team,” he added.

It’s kind of striking when seen back to back like that.

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New Liberal campaign signs: thoughts?

Antonio posted this pic of a campaign sign for Jocelyn Coulon, the Liberal candidate in the Outremont by-election. This looks like one of the big roadside ones, not the small lawn signs, but I still gather this will be the new look we'll have in the next general campaign.

I'd be interested in your thoughts. While Antonio complains there's too much green and not enough red, I disagree. I think they look sharp, the green leaves are understated and play the environmental theme in a subtle, low key way. There's still lots of red (maybe a scene red and green maple leafs instead of just green would have worked better?) and the Liberal logo is still featured prominently.

And forgive me for saying so, but I'm just glad we've moved on from the cult of personality era and are just saying Liberal, rather than something like Stephane Dion's Liberal Team.

On a contrarian note though I have to wonder: photos of the candidate on signs, good or bad idea? I've always understood the usual political maxim to be no: they're more likely to get vandalized, mustaches, etc. Costs a bit more too no doubt. I remember all the Liberal signs in 04 had Martin's face on them (the plastic bag lawn ones), they faded in the sun in about a week and he ended-up looking, shall we say, not so flattering. While I like the look with the photo here stylistically, I still wonder if it's the right way to go.

Your thoughts, thumbs up or down?

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Bloggers and libel chill

I've added this video to my sidebar, and I wanted to feature it here too. It's a report from last night's CBC The National, and I think it's a must watch for anyone blogging on politics in Canada, or even commenting on blogs. Among those interviewed, and facing libel lawsuits as a result of their blogging, are Mark Francis of Section 15 and Kate Holloway, provincial Liberal candidate for Trinity-Spadina.

You can learn more at their Libel Web site, get a button for your blog to support their fight and/or make a donation to help them fight the lawsuit. Canada's laws are antiquated when it comes to libel and aren't suitable for the electronic information age. This is an issue that crosses party lines, and should be of concern to bloggers of any stripe.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Call off the hounds!

Yes Virginia, there is (still) a health minister:

Health Minister Tony Clement has launched a sweeping review of safety standards as the list of tainted Chinese-made goods grows, with the ministry reporting "within weeks" on whether new measures are needed to protect consumers.

Nice to see Tony resurface, the search parties can be recalled. I’m sure he’s just been busy making people forget reducing wait times was ever one of the infamous five priorities. It must be accomplished, because it’s not on the new list of priorities, so good job Tony!

By the way, I wonder if our health minister ever sold that stock he owns in that pharmaceutical company? Some enterprising reporter might want to look into that, or maybe ask Tony about it before he disappears for another year to wherever Harper hides untrusted ministers.

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Harper is an equal opportunity hater of independant thought

Given the wealth of attention paid to the fact female representation at the senior cabinet level dropped in Harper’s cabinet shuffle this week, some may look at Harper’s decision to demote a female senior staffer, Michele Austin, described by colleagues as “a strong woman” as part of a pattern of behaviour, and given that recent history it wouldn’t be hard to see why:

A number of Tory aides and insiders spoke of Ms. Austin's abilities and credited her with a large role in Mr. Bernier's successes, and said they felt it was unfair that she would be told to trade jobs with Mr. O'Connor's former chief of staff, Aaron Gairdner, who will now run Mr. Bernier's office.

They said she was well respected, but known as willing to challenge the will of the PMO. "She wasn't a wallflower type of girl. She was a strong woman," one said. "They [the PMO] believe that if you are minister's staff, you work for the Prime Minister, as opposed to the minister."

But I don’t think the pattern has anything to do with her being a woman though. Rather, I think Harper hates all people equally that show any signs of independent thought. He’s equal opportunity in that sense, Stephen is, and never let it be said otherwise...

P.S. Conservative six (or less) degrees of separation:

…Aaron Gairdner…happens to be married to Stacey Gairdner, executive assistant to Stephen Harper's wife, Laureen.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bob Rae to have heart surgery

Good luck and best wishes to Bob Rae, I hope all goes well and he’s back on his feet fighting the good fight and taking-on the Conservatives in Toronto Centre soon…

Former Ontario premier Bob Rae will undergo heart surgery next week at a Toronto hospital to repair his aorta, which has developed a slow-growing aneurysm.

“I am in excellent health and I'm having the operation because I want to stay in excellent health,” Mr. Rae said in a statement released Wednesday.

“Doctors have determined that surgery now is the wisest treatment. They are very optimistic about a positive outcome, and expect a return to a full and active schedule after surgery and about six weeks of recovery time,” the statement says.


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Dion consulting to develop manufacturing policy

For those that were worried Stephane Dion’s summer tour would be all bbqs and no policy meat, the Star has an informative piece today on Dion’s extensive consultation process over the summer with stakeholders in the manufacturing sector, with the goal of developing sound and innovative economic policy:

What Dion can say with certainty is that a Liberal government would not allow Canada's industrial base to keep deteriorating. He rejects the view that a modern nation can sustain itself by buying and selling services. "We need a balanced economy. We need to build on what we've done well."

As prime minister, he would encourage Canada's manufacturers to change. The successful industries of the 21st century won't be characterized by smokestacks, Dion says. They will use clean technology. They will consume less energy, create less pollution and free people from their dependence on fossil fuels. "We need to move there right now."
Dion’s recent tour of a Chrysler facility in Windsor garnered good reaction and media coverage as well. There’s video of the visit here. Earlier in July he met with members of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters.

Given Dion’s coming push on economic competitiveness and manufacturing I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Harper put his most trusted minister, Jim Prentice, into the industry portfolio in yesterday’s cabinet shuffle. Neither does the anonymous Conservative MP that talked to the Globe:
Plus, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion is making a strong foray on economic policy, arguing loudly that the Conservatives have let down the manufacturing sector by having no industrial strategy.

"The more pressure he puts on it, the more of a priority it is for us," the source said.
It looks like Dion is more of a leader than the Conservatives would like to admit. First Dion led Harper into pretending to care about the environment, and now he’s leading Harper into paying more attention to economic strategy.

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Harper endangering lives: 'analyst'

I don't believe that, but that's the impression one analyst leaves. In a CanWest piece looking back at Gordon O'Connor’s legacy in DND, two defence analysts try to put forward the view that, while he was a poor communicator, O’Connor was still a helluva minister.

I could take the time to pick that apart, but O'Connor is gone so no need to dwell on the past. I did, however, want to highlight this ridiculous comment from Brian Reid, executive director of The Ruxted Group, a Canadian military think-tank:

"He should not have been moved. We are in the midst of a counter-insurgency war. Lives are on the line. O'Connor had a grip on the department. Now you need to bring someone else up to speed, and no matter how smart that person is, there's a lot of learning required."

Indeed, how dare Harper move O’Connor when there’ s a war on? Lives are on the line! Follow that statement to his logical conclusion and he seems to be saying by moving O’Connor now, Harper is endangering lives. Indeed, changing governments until the troops come home is probably a bad idea, so let's cancel the next election too.

That's just crazy. I think the Army will be able to soldier on through this difficult transition period.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What do Peter McKay and Stephane Dion have in common?

Neither have never served in the Armed Forces, and Stephen Harper won't listen to either of them on defence matters:

Mr. Speaker, once again, the Minister of National Defence is a veteran of the Canadian Forces. He has served this country courageously in uniform for 32 years. When the Leader of the Opposition is able to stand in uniform and serve his country, then I will care about his opinion of the performance of the Minister of National Defence.

You see, in Steve’s world only those that have served in the armed forces are qualified to comment on Canada’s military policies. Unless you’re the Prime Minister of course, in which case it’s no experience necessary.

So anyway, sorry Peter, but you’re not a veteran so Stephen doesn’t care what you have to say in your new job (ed. and he cares what his other ministers have to say?). At least this means more time to walk the dog. He misses you.

*I was an Air Cadet so I'm allowed to comment, but only superficially, and Harper will only pretend to care.

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Hey, there was a cabinet shuffle today!

I'd totally forgotten until a colleague came by my cube aghast that Peter McKay has been given the defence portfolio. She was concerned about his lack of military experience; I mentioned prior experience didn’t work out too well for the last guy. We do both feel somewhat less safe with the news; however if Stock had gotten the job I'd be building a bombshelter.

So, what to make of the shuffle? First, here’s the moves:

Chuck Strahl: To Indian Affairs from Agriculture
Peter McKay: To National Defence from Foreign Affairs, and he keeps ACOA
Gordon O’Connor: To National Revenue from Defence
Bev Oda: To International Cooperation from Canadian Heritage
Jim Prentice: To Industry from Indian Affairs
Maxime Bernier: To Foreign Affairs from Industry
Jose Verner: To Canadian Heritage (and Status of Women) from International Cooperation
Gerry Ritz: To Agriculture from Secretary of State (small business and tourism)
Diane Ablonczy: To Secretary of State (small business and tourism) from the backbenches
And Carol Skelton is out.


Some quick hit reactions without having read any spin or media analysis:

*Ablonczy finally makes it into cabinet to help Harper maintain the same number of female ministers, even if it is in a more junior role than the departing Skelton. Still no love for James Moore though.

*I’ll miss being able to make fun of Bev Oda during the Junos, but I’ll I’m sure she’ll provide opportunity for entertainment in her new portfolio.

*Given the speculation of Harper’s petulance in recent days I was semi-wishing he’d keep O’Connor in defence, if only to make the opposition’s jobs easier. He did have to go though.

*But McKay in Defence? I’m not exactly filled with confidence. If Hillier is to stay on the job as CDS he needs a minister with a firm hand that will make clear who is the boss. Is that McKay? I could have seen Prentice, but not McKay. Will be interesting. Expect QP performances with more bellicose and less substance.

*And speaking of Prentice, Industry? He’s Harper’s go-to guy, and I’ve never thought of Industry as a particularly high-profile job. John Manley had it for years, but it wasn’t until he moved to Foreign Affairs that anyone outside of Ottawa knew who the heck he was, despite being very competent and accomplished, doing an excellent job and earning the respect of stakeholders. The move would make sense, however, if Harper is planning a major push around the economy and industrial competitiveness, having Prentice in place to quarterback it would be smart.

*I like Strahl, hopefully he’ll do better in Indian Affairs, as perhaps a few face in Gary Ritz will help in Agriculture (although not if they keep the same policy).

*Bernier was rather low-key in Industry so I can’t really comment much on his move to Foreign Affairs. Perhaps they’re hoping he’ll help sell Afghanistan in Quebec.

*O’Connor stays in cabinet, but with a demotion. Credit that up to Harper’s aforementioned brassiness, he didn’t want to be pushed into moving him out all together, which is what he deserved. But then it’s always tough for a PM to dump a minister from cabinet for the first time. It took Chretien awhile to do it. But, like many things, it gets easier after the first time.

*It’s tough for the Con backbenchers though that have watched O’Connor perform so consistently badly and still have a car and driver while they ride the little green bus.

*And Stock stays put, contrary to the rumours. Maybe the Arar news tarnished his halo? I’m just glad he’s being kept away from the tanks myself.

More later, as they say.

UPDATE: And it's later, so here's some more. If this shuffle was ever going to be big move Harper would have had to shuffle himself out, since he's really the guy running the show and the face of this government. Failing that he'd have had to dump some ministers to make it interesting, but he only dropped someone that wasn't running again anwyay, as is custom.

So really this is just shuffling the deckchairs (do a shot!) with little substance behind it. O'Connor had to go, Harper had little choice, but he still stays in cabinet. That and Skelton's departure set the wheels in motion. So needed fresh faces on defence and agriculture, a Quebecer in Foreign Affairs to sell Afghanistan, and a higher profile Industry minister for a possible policy push.

Besides Prentice, most of the major moves seemed to revolve around political and optics consierations, with the other moved following as a consequence of those dominoes.

So, at the end of the day expect lots of media and blog coverage but really, it's a minor shuffle designed to address a few (admitted) deficiencies ahead of the election that is always possible anytime in a minority government.

No fresh look, no sending messages, no bold new direction. Just housekeeping.

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Dion is becoming more of a leader, and other poll spinning

I was thinking just the other day that it has been a long time since we've had a poll released. Thankfully, on the eve (or, I guess more accurately, on the morn) of a cabinet shuffle the good folks at SES have obliged (opens a PDF).

First, the trend chart:

And the regional numbers:

And analysis from SES boss Nik Nanos:

Today's federal cabinet shuffle is another attempt by the Harper Tories to break away from what has been a neck-and-neck race with the Liberals over the past year.

The federal Tories and Grits are still close but the NDP numbers have slid in the past 90 days to 13% nationally - the lowest level of suppor
t for the NDP recorded by SES in almost three years. NDP support has slid in both Quebec (13% to 7%) and Ontario (19% to 12%). The Tories are ahead of the Grits by 17 points in the West, but trail the Grits by 7 points in Ontario and by 14 points in Atlantic Canada.

Some very interesting movement on the best PM front. The Harper 18 point best PM advantage over Dion has melted away to an 8 point advantage in 90 days. The noticeable gains for Dion have been in

Even with Harper's diluted leadership advantage, Tory s
upport moved up albeit just outside of the accuracy for the survey.

My thoughts

Once again nationally the Cons and Liberals are neck and neck. The Cons are up by three but that’s within the margin of error.

When looking at national numbers, it’s important in a FPTP system to look at where the support is coming from. While the Cons made small gains across the country with the exception of Atlantic Canada, their biggest gain (6 per cent) was in Western Canada, where they enjoy 47 per cent support.

This would tend to boost their national support a tad, but is deceptive because the Cons already hold many Western seats, and increasing their vote counts in held ridings doesn’t equal more seats. Their bump in Quebec, where they’re now just one point behind the Liberal for second, is more relevant though.

In much the same way, while the Liberals are at 44 per cent in Atlantic Canada there aren’t a lot of seats to be gained for them there. In Ontario though, a six point bump for the Liberals for a 43 to 36 lead over the Conservatives is quite interesting, as long as its not all confined to the GTA.

Nanos mentioned the NDP numbers and they’re not too good in this poll, nationally they’re only five up on the Greens. They’ve lost support in every region of the country and, most tellingly, dropped from 13 per cent to 7 per cent in Quebec. With all of their hoopla about a Quebec breakthrough that has to be sobering. They also dropped seven in Ontario, where it looks like a polarization between the Libs and Cons may be occurring. With NDP support at its lowest levels in three years Layton has his work cut out for him.

Take me to your leader

SES also included the ever popular/controversial best PM question:

Harper still leads but Dion has at least passed Layton for second place, and closed the gap with Harper to eight points. So, positive baby steps from a Liberal perspective.

Much of the Dion gain can be traced to a major upsurge in popularity in Ontario, where Dion gained 18 points to now lead Harper 33 to 24. Across the rest of the country Layton still outpolls Dion, although Dion did close the gap and post steady gains in each region.

Harper interestingly gained four points in Atlantic Canada, perhaps a post caucus meeting afterglow, and went up in the West, but dropped slightly in Quebec and, of concern I’d think, dropped nine in Quebec.

So, what to make of it all? Both Libs and Cons can find things to like here, but as a Liberal I’m pleased with the trends. I’d say the message for us is keep working hard.

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I'm just a regular Joe, with a regular job…

I know the Conservative messaging is that Stephen Harper is a regular guy that goes to Tim Horton's, writes books on hockey and shakes his children's hands good-bye on their way to school, but this story today takes the whole messaging narrative just a tad too far:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his family are about to share in that most Canadian of summer experiences – a day at the cottage.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has invited his NAFTA partner and new-found political soul mate to spend the night at the prime minister's official summer residence at Harrington Lake next Tuesday, the first time Mr. Harper has extended an overnight invitation to a foreign leader for a stay at the cottage.

Mr. Calderon, his wife Margarita and their three children will be heading to Harrington Lake in the Gatineau Hills of Quebec at the end of the North American free-trade agreement summit with U.S. President George W. Bush in nearby
Montebello, Que.

Harrington Lake, a cottage? Sure, if a main building with 16 rooms covering 8,300 square feet with eight outbuildings, situated on 13 acres of grounds, counts as a cottage. That’s a much bigger cottage than any house I’ve ever lived in.

But in order to play into this Harper as regular guy myth the Cons pretend he’s just having Calderon up to the ‘cottage’ and the media just play along. Maybe Calderon can help him with his book on hockey over beers?

And is a summer at the cottage really a regular Canadian experience anyway, or is it an upper-middle class to wealthy Canadian experience? Now, the great thing about using terms like regular or average in political messaging is that nearly everyone, despite their social or economic strata, identifies themselves as normal or average.

But growing-up an Air Force brat my family was certainly never able to afford a cottage. We went camping, in tents. Cooked canned potatoes on a Coleman Stove. Much fun. Now, if Harper takes the Mexican president camping then maybe this regular guy narrative will be going somewhere...

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Cabinet shuffle drinking games?

Unfortunately I'll be at work during today's expected cabinet shuffle so I won't get to watch the sure to be exciting, informative and educational media coverage on television, let alone play any fun shuffle-related drinking games. That doesn't mean others can't have some fun though.

Because hey, everybody needs a little help to get through live coverage anchored by Don Newman or Mike Duffy.

Wells says if there’s a new intergovernmental affairs minister, you have to do a shot. I say take a drink every time an opposition pundit uses the phrase “shuffling the deck chairs.” And take another drink every time you hear the phrase “Canada’s new government.” And do a shot every time Duffy thumbs his Blackberry on camera. And if Michael Chong is back in cabinet stop drinking, you've had too many and must be hallucinating.

Any other suggestions?

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Anti-Americanism from the Conservative Party

You may not know this, but Michael Ignatieff spent some time teaching at Harvard, which is down there in the United States. No, it's true. Big deal, sure, he followed in the footsteps of greats like Alex Trebek and Mike Myers, but the kind of thing you'd expect some on the left to make a big deal out of.

But the Conservative Party? The Conservative Party that routinely accuses the Liberals of anti-Americanism (actually we don’t hate Americans; like most Canadians, and Americans, we just dislike Dubaya)? Yes, it’s sadly true.

Part of the Conservative narrative these days (in addition to making fun of the French, those cheese-eating surrender monkeys) is that Ignatieff is out to get Dion. I stopped by their unimaginative Kyoto dog blog tonight to see if they had yet abandoned their unfunny idea (conservatives just can’t do humour) and, seeing they haven’t surrendered yet, found this entry:

You may be planning to prance around Québec to deal with these numbers. But as any dog would tell you, watch out for the wolves. In this case, the wolf in American clothing. He is looking lean and hungry. And he appears to have put you on the menu.

Besides being incredibly lame (seriously, I’m a Liberal but hire me and I’ll write you better satire to save you the embarrassment for the sake of the World Wide Web) I was rather surprised by the anti-Americanism here. I wonder how the dual Canadian/American citizens would react to the Cons using the fact Ignatieff worked a few years in the U.S. as an attack line. Are the Cons saying they think there’s something wrong with working in the U.S. for a few years, or with Americans? Wayne Gretzky would be crushed.

In other lame Conservative Internet news that illustrates just how little the Cons get this new medium, in July they set-up a fake Facebook account for their Kyoto blogger and begged for friends.

Takers so far? Just 22.


But really, why is it the right is just so thoroughly and completely unfunny? Are they missing some sort of funny gene or something? Have there been any studies done? Let’s get Oda to award a grant before she’s out of a job tomorrow and get to the bottom of this.

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To all the Chantal Hebert fans out there...

...who regularly find my site via Google searches like this one, apparently researching the Toronto Star columnist’s sexual preferences (seriously, it happens at least twice a month): I’m sorry but I have no information for you.

The latest Google searcher is from the House of Commons, interestingly enough. While the MPs are away...

My advice to Looking for Love in Bytown? Get out of Google and just ask her out already, the worst she can do is say no.

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Three to tango in Vancouver-Quadra?

Unfortunately, none of them is Neve Campbell. But Public Eye Online's Sean Holman reports there may soon be a third entrant for the Conservative nomination in Vancouver-Quadra, and the chance to take on Liberal Joyce Murray:

In an interview with Public Eye, Howard Jampolsky - who recently lost the Tory nomination race in Richmond to Alice Wong - confirmed he's thinking about putting his name on the ballot.

If he tosses his chapeau into the ring Howard would be facing some stiff competition in the form of former BC Cancer Foundation president and CEO Mary McNeil and UBC business lecturer Deborah Merideth. He’s also be entering into a heated atmosphere: Harper loyalist John Reynolds is touting McNeil as a ‘star candidate’ while old Tory Senators Gerry St. Germain and Pat Carney are backing Merideth. There were even rumours last week that McNeil’s supporters were pushing for a cabinet spot for their candidate.

And even if Jampolsky got past all that he’d still face an uphill battle against a former provincial environment minister in Murray in a riding Liberal Stephen Owen carried handily last time.

So, if I were Howard I’d think twice about getting in the middle of this dust-up. Particularly given that he just ran for, and lost, the Conservative nomination in Richmond.

I’ve never been a big fan of this kind of riding shopping. Between elections is one thing; Murray ran in a New Westminster-Coquitlam for the Liberals in 2006. Conservative star Peter Kent is moving to a riding seen as more winnable within the GTA for the next election.

But two ridings within the same election cycle? It just doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t like the message it sends to the constituents of either riding, which is that it’s much more about getting elected then it is about representing them.

It can be tough when a good candidate narrowly loses a tight nomination battle and there’s an open riding next door, but I feel the right thing to do is wait until next time. A very desirable Liberal candidate in the Toronto area lost a tough nomination battle a few months back, and there was talk of running her in another riding. As much as I’d like to see her on a ballot I was against it, I don’t think it’s right, and it’s wrong for Jamplosky too.

Anyway, even if he gets into the race it will probably be all academic, I’d bet on McNeil at this point. Of course, this is all assuming Harper ever bothers to call the by-election

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B.C. can't get no speculative respect, and other speculative 'news'

We're kind of like Rodney Dangerfield in that regard. Yesterday I blogged about the lack of a by-election call for B.C.'s Vancouver-Quadra riding; today in the Globe we get 'speculation' on the timing of the two Ontario by-elections, Toronto-Centre and Willowdale.

Now, I should caution this is commentary the Globe has so little confidence in they haven’t even sourced it to a 'senior conservative' or even a 'junior janitor.' Rather, the only sourcing is 'there is also speculation.' So, who knows, could have been overheard at Dunn's. We report, you decide:

There is also speculation that the Prime Minister will call by-elections for Sept. 17 in the two Toronto ridings that were vacated by senior Liberal MPs Bill Graham and Jim Peterson.

Given there are already three by-elections in Quebec scheduled for that day, Mr. Harper would have an argument to make if he were to prorogue Parliament instead of allowing the House to reopen as scheduled on that day.

What’s missing here? Vancouver-Quadra. Out there west of Thunder Bay, in British Columbia. Aren’t we worth speculating about? No unsourced, unfounded random speculation for us?

Anyway, I find this latest ‘speculation’ rather dubious. While I wouldn’t put it past Harper, calling the Ontario by-elections for Sept. 17, which I’d be in favour of, would go against the consistent Con position on the issue. But, one assumes, if the Ontario ones are called for that day Quadra would be too.

What’s the timing here though? For a Sept. 17 vote wouldn’t he have to call them, like, today?

In other speculative news, the official cabinet speculation now is no backbench promotions. So, once again, no love for James Moore and Diane Ablonczy. Certainly sends a message that Harper doesn’t think much of the talent on his backbench.

I share that with him, and don’t think much of the talent on his frontbench either, but I wonder how long before some of these backbenchers start to get antsy with no clear chance of promotion, especially when they see that a train wreck like Gordon O’Connor still stays in cabinet, even if in a more junior portfolio.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Geography for Conservatives

I'm not sure if Mr. Harper is aware of this, but Vancouver is actually not in Ontario. I know it's an easy mistake to make; after all, transplanted Torontonians abound in Vancouver. But in actuality, Vancouver is in British Columbia, not Ontario.

I mention this because Harper called a third by-election for the last vacant Quebec riding last week; voters in three Quebec ridings will go to the polls on September 17. There are also vacancies in Willowdale, Toronto-Centre and Vancouver-Quadra, but Harper has again delayed calling by-elections in those ridings.

The stated reason for delaying calling Toronto-Centre and Willowdale, which, with Liberal wins, would bring Bob Rae and Martha Hall Findlay into the HoC, is to avoid conflict with the October provincial election in Ontario. I don’t think having the by-election a month before would be a big deal, but it’s an excuse within the bounds of acceptability.

However, and maybe it’s possible that Harper just isn’t that good at geography, but Vancouver-Quadra is not in Ontario. B.C. has a few years until its next provincial election. So, no excuse not to call that by-election for the same day as the Quebec ones, get those good people some representation and save Elections Canada a few dollars in the process.

No excuse within the bounds of acceptability, that is. Outside the bounds of acceptability there’s a few excuses. For example, there’s the fact the Conservatives don’t yet have a candidate in the riding to take on Liberal Joyce Murray. Indeed, Vancouver-Quadra is turning into a bit of a Conservative family feud.

The old Tory guard, led by Senators Pat Carney and Gerry St. Germain, is lining-up behind Deborah Meredith. The other candidate is Mary McNeill, who is being touted as a star candidate by Harper loyalist and once (and future?) Conservative campaign co-chair John Reynolds. McNeill’s supporters have reportedly even been pushing for a cabinet post in the upcoming shuffle (and presumably an appointment) for McNeill. One wonders how the grassroots in the riding will react if things go down that way.

Nevertheless, Conservative infighting isn’t a good enough reason to avoid calling a by-election for this riding, Mr. Harper.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Historical context on the Harper Conservatives and Maher Arar

Stephen Harper is ignoring his own record (again). Responding to the release yesterday of previously classified portions of the Arar report, sections ordered classified that his government fought in court to keep secret, Harper said this:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper brushed off questions asking whether he would raise the matter with the United States. He said it happened when the Liberals were in office - and told reporters they should ask Stéphane Dion, then the minister for federal-provincial relations.

"Let's be clear: We're talking about events that occurred under the previous government. So I would suggest to you that in terms of asking what actually happened, those questions would be best directed to Mr. Dion," he said.

Perhaps reporters might also want to check the record too. Because while the Liberal government was trying to get to the bottom of what happened to Arar back in November 2002, who at this time had been deported by the U.S. to Syria, Harper and his caucus were mugging for the QP cameras and the media. Indeed, Harper chastised Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley for defending “a suspected terrorist”:
While the minister participated in high level consultations to defend a suspected terrorist, it apparently took a trip by the U.S. Secretary of State for the minister to admit what he really knew.

And Diane Ablonczy went even further:
Mr. Speaker, it is time the Liberals told the truth: that their system of screening and security checks is pathetic. Arar was given dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship by the government. It did not pick up on his terrorist links and the U.S. had to clue it in.

How is it that the U.S. could uncover this man's background so quickly when the government's screening system failed to find his al-Qaeda links?

Mr. Speaker, the government needs to take responsibility for what it is doing to protect Canadian security. The fact is that these Liberals were asleep at the switch. Arar was not properly checked. Instead, the government ran around chastising the U.S. for sending Arar back to Syria, where he is also a citizen. Why is it that the Liberal security system is so weak here that they overlook vital information that the U.S. picked up on a routine check?

Imagine what Harper would have done if he were Prime Minister at that time? It’s also worth remembering that if he was, we’d be fighting in Iraq right now.

Now, I’m not happy about the fact the Arar deportation took place under a Liberal government. It’s unclear just how in the loop Liberal ministers were. If they sanctioned what happened they need to answer; if they weren’t aware they weren’t performing their oversight duties, and those security officials need to explain why they kept elected officials in the dark.

Harper, however, cannot run from the record of his party here. Nor can he escape the record of his government now. I agree with Steve, the assertion that Harper wasn’t involved in the classification decision is laughable. If he wants to throw Stockwell Day over the side here that’s fine, but he still needs to explain his government’s decision here too.

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A rumour to make Reformers cry...

Cabinet shuffle rumours are a dime a dozen these days. One of them involves Peter McKay going to Industry, with Maxime Bernier taking his place at Foreign Affairs. An anonymous "Tory" (I guess not senior enough to be called a senior Tory) described the scenario as a win-win:

The thinking is that rising star Maxime Bernier, the current industry minister, would raise the party’s profile in Quebec if he was moved to foreign affairs, while Mr. MacKay would have the opportunity to boost flagging Tory fortunes in Atlantic Canada by doling out Industry Department money.

It's enough to break the heart of a die-hard Reform Party loyalist. I can just imagine a single tear running down Preston Manning’s cheek. Or the cheek of Stephen Harper circa 2002:
Members of the Nova Scotia legislature voted unanimously Thursday in favor of a resolution condemning Stephen Harper, the leader of the Canadian Alliance.

The resolution was in response to Harper's comments that there is a "defeatist attitude" in Atlantic

"There is a dependence in the region that breeds a culture of defeatism," the Opposition leader said Wednesday following question period in the House.

How far Mr. Harper has come in his thinking. Anyway, more anonymous Tories expound on what would be the best portfolio for McKay to buy votes with in Atlantic Canada:
On the other hand, it wouldn’t be a good idea, since Mr. MacKay is already in charge of ACOA, which doles out economic development money in the region, and a move to Industry would be seen as a demotion.

"ACOA’s a cash cow in Atlantic Canada," said one Tory. "If they really want to win back the region, they’ve already got him holding the purse. It’s a decent portfolio and I could see them doing it, but I don’t think it helps them win back the region."

Sure, but there’s a third hand too, attached to the wrist of yet another anonymous Torry:
On the other hand, says another Tory, the industry minister controls infrastructure spending, and that means power.

"There’s a load of infrastructure money in the last budget, and the Atlantic Gateway is all about infrastructure," the Tory said. "I wouldn’t say that’s a bad move for MacKay. What kind of profile do you get with foreign affairs? You might have a profile in Britain, but it’s not doing much for him in Nova Scotia."

How best to dole out the pork, save the Cons from a wipe-out in Atlantic Canada and save McKay’s seat from Elizabeth May? Choices, choices.

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Congrats to Kate

There's news this morning that Kate Holloway has been appointed the provincial Liberal candidate for Trinity-Spadina, and will run for the McGuinty Liberals in the fall election.

Kate is a former high profile Green Party member, and I had the pleasure of meeting Kate a few weeks ago a the Progressive Bloggers BBQ in Toronto. I think she’ll make a great candidate, I wish her well.

August 10, 2007
For immediate release

Environmentalist, activist Kate Holloway Liberal candidate in Trinity-Spadina
Former high-profile Green Party of Canada member appointed by Premier

TRINITY-SPADINA – Ontario Liberals today announced that high-profile environmental activist and former Green Party of Canada executive member Kate Holloway will be the party's candidate in the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina.

Holloway has been appointed as candidate by Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"Kate Holloway has two very strong passions – the community and conservation. She believes in action, she has compiled an impressive list of achievements and already serves as a role model. I'm proud to have her as part of our Liberal team," said Premier McGuinty.

The addition of Holloway to the McGuinty Liberal team has received immediate applause.

"Today's announcement represents a huge environment coup for Premier Dalton McGuinty. To be able to recruit such a high calibre environmental candidate shows he means business in further developing his strong green team going into this fall's election.
Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals, now including Kate Holloway, are where the action is for environmental protection in Ontario," said Deb Shulte, Co-Chair, Friends of Boyd Park.

"Kate has a rare combination of qualities. She is passionate about the environment, wise in the ways of business, and politically astute," said Chris Lowry, Executive Director of Green
Enterprise Toronto.

"Kate understands the issues of sustainability and the urgent need for a greener agenda; she will be an energetic and effective Member," said Michael De Pencier, publisher of
Toronto Life.

"Kate Holloway is very well known in the community as a strong and effective proponent for progress on environmental issues," said David Donnelly a prominent environmental lawyer and activist. "From action on renewable energy to climate change, she's been a leader. She's a green diva."

Holloway has founded, managed and directed several
Toronto environmental startups and non-profit associations. She sits on the Steering Committee of Green Enterprise Toronto, a network helping independent businesses and consumers become greener and buy locally and is a founding member of the Women's Environmental Alliance.

She was also a high-profile member of Green Party of
Canada, where she served on the national executive, co-founded the Green Party Women's Caucus and ran as a federal candidate.

"As a conservationist and advocate for strong, sustainable communities I've been impressed with progress made by the McGuinty Liberals, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, investing in public transit, becoming a leader in clean energy such as wind power and offering incentives to help Ontarians go green – not to mention support for our schools, hospitals and neighbourhoods. I want to make sure thatprogress continues," said Holloway.

"We all know where the province was four years ago – the environment was under attack, our cities were facing neglect, public health and education were on a downward slope. We can't afford to go back to that. We need to keep moving forward," she said.


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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Another unelected Harper minister?!

The intrepid Sean Holman at Public Eye reports an intriguing rumour that Mary McNeil, the Conservative (*nomination, see update) candidate in the as yet uncalled Vancouver-Quadra by-election, may be elevated into cabinet as an unelected minister in the upcoming Harper cabinet shuffle:

Meanwhile, we're hearing suggestions Vancouver-Quadra nomination candidate and former BC Cancer Foundation president Mary McNeil should be given a seat at the big table.

This is rather interesting actually. It would address Harper’s problem of weak female bench strength, discussed in the Globe this morning. And it would give McNeil a boost (should she become the candidate) in a tough by-election battle against former B.C. cabinet minister Joyce Murray in a riding won handily last election by outgoing Liberal MP Stephen Owen. Campaigning as a minister is a plus for sure.

And it’s not entirely without precedent to have someone in cabinet before being elected to the HoC: Stephane Dion provides a handy example. And Harper broke even that convention (that the minister runs immediately in a by-election to win a seat) with the Michael Fortier Senate/Cabinet appointment, so don’t put it past him.

Of course, there are downsides. For one, Harper would fly flat in the face of past statements like this:
…you need to be elected to the Parliament of Canada to become a minister.

Not that Harper has been adverse to flip-flopping and completely reversing once deeply held principles in the past, mind you.

But such an appointment would also smack of desperation. Dion came into cabinet after a near referendum loss to fight for Canadian unity; I’m not sure low Conservative polling numbers equate to a national crisis. It would also be a smack in the face to the women in Harper’s caucus passed over for cabinet spots.

And then there’s the risk if she loses the by-election (which he’ll delay calling as long as possible) and is forced to resign in embarrassment. Even as a minister McNeil faces an uphill battle against Murray.

Anyway, a fun rumour for a slow summer day. Other B.C.-flavoured cabinet speculation from Holman:
Well, some party members are wondering whether Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Chuck Strahl will be shuffled out of his portfolio or lose his post as the province's political minister in favour of Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn. Not surprisingly, perennial rumours of a promotion for Port Moody-Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam parliamentarian James Moore are also blossoming. And some say Abbotsford parliamentarian Ed Fast could also be named to cabinet.

Since when did Lunn become a star, did I miss a memo? I've always felt it was rather the opposite. And the wheatboard shenanigans aside I’ve always liked Strahl, he’s just carrying the bag for Harper there anyway. Ed who? And I agree with Kady, let’s not get Moore’s hopes up. Every time I read this quote from James, back when Harper was about to announce his first cabinet, it breaks the heart a little. Poor kid:

A few words seared into my brain that I've been saying for about 2 weeks now: "Mr. Harper will announce his cabinet on Monday. I have nothing more to say." Where is Superman when you need him to spin the globe a little faster so Monday arrives sooner?

UPDATE: I'm reminded that McNeill hasn't even won the Conservative nomination for Quadra yet, but is running against business professor Deborah Meredith. One presumes Harper would give her an appointment or force/encourage Meredith to drop out before the cabinet appointment. Would be weird to put her into cabinet and still have a nomination race, wouldn't it?

But what adds another layer to this story is the dynamics of the nomination race, which is shaping-up as a battle of Harper insiders (i.e. John Reynolds) behind McNeill versus old Tories (Senators Pat Carney and Gerry St. Germain) behind Meredith.

Reynolds et. al. would certainly have the juice to pull off an appointment/cabinet slot for McNeil, but at what price to party unity?

While anything is possible, and I've learned to put nothing past Harper, one wonders if these McNeil cabinet rumours have a lot more to do with nomination race spin and positioning then anything else.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A suggestion for Harper on how to save taxpayer money

Just fire your PMO communications staff. I mean, it's not like they seem to actually be doing anything...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be a fill-in for his Japanese counterpart when he speaks to the Australian Parliament on Sept. 11, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday.

Mr. Harper's office in Ottawa refused to confirm the speaking engagement
, but Mr. Howard broke the news in Canberra earlier in the day.

Gee, now why does this sound familiar?

Oh, yeah, this is why
The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as G8 leaders gather later Wednesday at a German resort.

There has been no confirmation of the meeting from the Prime Minister's Office.

Then there are stories like this:
So yesterday morning I call the PMO press office asking to speak to someone for a story I was doing about the SPP and the upcoming Montebello summit.

By the end of the day I got a response. An intern replied to my request with a web link to a month-old press release annoucing that there would be a summit in
Montebello. I responded thanks, but I know how to find old press releases on the Internet. Could I please speak to a live human being? No response.

Maybe they're trying to fuel the conspiracy theories?
If Harper is looking to find redundancies and cut waste the PMO communications office may be good place to start. Of they could start, I don’t know, communicating or something, on such routine and simple matters as these. (To the media that is, not the RCMP.)

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Whatever happened to the NDP's 10-day ultimatum?

Yes, bear with me, it's back to the O’Connor/Hillier detainee document classification scandal. Remember that? If you don't the government’s strategy of silence and stonewalling has worked. Such is how it goes when the HoC isn’t in session and the media have short attention-spans.

Anyway, you may remember that back a few weeks ago, after the Liberals had been pushing this issue for a week, NDP defence critic Dawn Black made a media splash by issuing a news release that promised unless O’Connor explained himself within 10 days…

…Black will make a formal request under Standing Order 106 (4) for the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence to convene and discuss this matter on 48 hours notice and to call such witnesses as it wishes including O'Connor, the Deputy Minister, the Chief of Defence Staff and all relevant officials involved in this decision.
That release was issued July 17th. That’s 20 calendar days ago. Or 14 working days with the civic holiday factored in. Still, not a peep from O’Connor, let alone a formal letter of explanation. Their strategy is clear: keep quiet and hope it goes away.

And also not a peep from the NDP about the passing of the deadline, or Black making a formal request to call back the defence committee. I trust that will soon be forthcoming, and that the ultimatum wasn’t just intended to garner some quick and easy media headlines? Or maybe they just forgot to issue a release.

I’m disappointed this issue seems to have fallen off the Liberals’ radar too. It’s unfortunate, given that Denis Coderre was out in front of this a week before the NDP caught-on. If the NDP isn’t going to follow through on its threat perhaps the Liberals should. Because we can’t let this one go unchallenged.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Does this mean we get our billion dollars back?

Troubling news on the softwood lumber front. You remember that fantastic deal Steve Harper got us by giving away over $1 billion in illegally collected tariffs to the Americans? Apparently, he did as good a job of “fixing” that one as he did ending the long, tired era of federal/provincial bickering:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States asked for binding arbitration against Canada on Wednesday in the latest flare-up of a two-decade-long dispute over softwood lumber.

U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said the United States "has no choice but to initiate arbitration proceedings to compel Canada to live up to its SLA (Softwood Lumber Agreement) obligations."

The agreement, reached last fall, was intended to end years of wrangling over Canada's shipment of softwood lumber to U.S. buyers. It also allows binding arbitration under the rules of the London Court of International Arbitration, a commercial mediation body.

The Liberal Party’s international trade critic, Navdeep Bains, weighs-in:

"The Conservatives have repeatedly said that the softwood lumber deal was better than litigation," said Mr. Bains. "Yet we now hear that the U.S. is taking Canada to court."

"Thanks to a bad deal that left $500 million in the hands of the American lumber industry to fund legal and political attacks against the Canadian industry we are facing a situation where Canada's ability to assist its forestry sector could be curtailed by a court in London with no possibility to appeal the decision," said Mr. Bains.

"It is now time for the Conservatives to admit what the Liberal Party has been saying since the deal was first announced last year: that their deal is flawed and that it has solved nothing," said Mr. Bains.

No wonder Harper strategists were planning on a spring election. His carefully doctored image as a straight-shooter that gets results is collapsing like a house of cards, along with CPC polling numbers.

From the start, Harper’s softwood strategy was more about politics, showing we could get a deal, any deal, when the Liberals couldn’t, then it was about getting a good deal for Canadian industry. He and David Emerson (remember him?) signed a bad deal that gave away a over billion dollars in illegally collected tariffs and had to bully and browbeat the industry to drop their legal challenges.

Some value-added manufacturers even saw the U.S. market closed to them by the Harper “deal.”

And now here we are again, back in court with the U.S. and likely in a weaker position.

Bravo, Mr. Harper. Bravo.

P.S. For a quick and informative softwood primer, Rick Mercer has Everything you've always wanted to know about softwood, but were afraid to ask.

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