Thursday, April 30, 2009

Video: A walking tour of the new Vancouver convention centre

I grabbed my video camera this afternoon and took a little walking tour of the brand new Vancouver Convention Centre, site of this year's Liberal biennial convention. We even have a cameo appearance by a noteable political figure towards the end.


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(Video) Michael Ignatieff at the Council of Presidents

Following John Turner was inteim Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who gave a longer and rousing speach to the council of presidents, delegates and assorted media folks.

On the video you can hear me chuckle when Michael say he doesn't agree with everything Turner said. I'm guessing John's plea for no candidate nominations was one of those things, and Steve reports from the press conference after that Michael wouldn't be pinned-down on that one.

Still, a pretty good speach I felt by Michael, including a re-affirmation of a 308 riding strategy, and a declaration that we won't give up any ground but will fight for every riding.

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Video: John Turner at Council of Presidents

Forme Liberal Prime Minister John Turner may not be as spry as he once was, but he's still fiesty as can be. Today at the Council of Presidents meeting at the Liberal convention, with Michael Ignatieff sitting beside him, Turner made an impassioned call for grassroots empowement.

In particular, Turner challenged Ignatieff to not appoint any candidates but allow all candidates to be nominated by their ridings. He also called for more real and meaningful grassroots policy development, and freevotes for all MPs on anything other than the budget and the throne speech.

A good show by Turner, but I can't help but wonder where he was in these issues when he actually was the leader. Still, good to be saying it anyways.

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Liberal Party self-introspection, Part XVI: Change Commission

While taking the ferry yesterday from Nanaimo into Horseshoe Bay and enjoying the view of the mountains and the ocean, I also took the time to read the report of the Liberal Party's Change Commission, which was recently posted in PDF form at the Liberal Web site.

I have to confess to being somewhat skeptical, as I feel we've been reported to death on the reform issues in recent years. Lots of talk, minimal action. Still, trying to stay optimistic we plow forward.

I'm not going to comment on every recommendation because there's a lot of them, but overall I'd give it a mixed grade with some good and some bad.

Some general thoughts: I agree obviously with the call for a 308 riding strategy, and for more direction and support to ridings between elections. I'm somewhat leery about the call at several points in the report for giving a more prominent role to the past candidate. I agree we should encourage their continued involvement, but we need to recognize there will potentially be another nomination contest, and once the campaign is over their involvement needs to be with and through the riding association.

To my frustration about being reported to death on change and reform, the report does make a good point here:

In the past 5 1/2 years we have had: 5 leaders, 4 national presidents (with a fifth one coming in May), and 6 national directors. There have been two or three major turnovers in party staff in that time. With all these changes, we lose time, we lose institutional memory, and we lose people. Second, in the past 5 1/2 years we have had two leadership conventions (with a third coming in May), and three general elections. We have had to focus on leadership and election readiness, and we have not focused enough on the party.

Very well said. It seems like we've been running in place a great deal the last few years. We need some time to focus on party building again.

Calgary Grit has a post going into much more detail on the report. A lot of it is housekeeping I have no trouble with. I agree with the push to both offer more help to ridings and make them more accountable. I've found it channeling to get involved in my own riding. But I'd urge them to remember though that, ultimately, a riding is and should be responsible to its members, not to LPC.

I'm unenthusiastic about the recommendation for an LPC annual report. I'm fine with it, I'm definitely in favour of any measures to increase the accountability of the executive to the membership. Will an annual report do much more than kill trees though? We'll see. I do, however, support the recommendations to put measures in place to ensure the executive obeys the constitution. I'd question the constitutionality of the way the policy process was handled this time, so this is a needed measure.

There is some good stuff around fundraising. I agree with getting Liberals more involved and visible in the community though community works and a National Day of Action. It plays into the 308 riding strategy. I also like the stuff about critics putting together “townhall in a box” kits for ridings.

Also good is the stuff about working with rural ridings, and developing a media strategy to get our MP critics into the local media. I cut my teeth in a rural riding, and I found the local media are very willing to work with you on coverage, so its a good idea.

I have some concern about the recommendations around a code of conduct and sanctions. Who defines what's bad behaviour by a member? Should we even be defining that? What if I have an issue with the leader, or disagree with a decision of the executive? I can do that and still be a good Liberal. So I have concerns about that.

Anyway, those are my initial thoughts. There should be a session or two from the convention on the change commission, so I'll keep you in the loop.

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(Video) Justin Trudeau pumps-up a partisan crowd

Last night I attended a pre-convention cocktail get-together with some Left Coast Liberals in lovely Kitsilano, where the guest of honour was MP Justin Trudeau, who will be co-chairing the convention this weekend.

Trudeau gave a very pasionate and rousing stump speech to the partisan crowd that I managed to capture on video. Forgive the shakiness, I had to hold the camera up rather high and my arm was getting sore. Also had a glass or two of cabarnet, that was probably a factor too. :)

I've become rather impressed with Justin. He took an unheld riding and worked very had to swing it Liberal. He's been stumping for Liberals accross the country. And, in caucus, he has shown he's willing to work hard and pay his dues.

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(Video) The Man tries to keep Liberal bloggers down, and talking party reform with Rocco

With apologies to the S-Club, there ain't no party like a Liblogs party. A Liblogs party does quit though, but only when hotel security shuts down at 11:30pm last night. Surely a record. But we Liberal bloggers are used to being put down by The Man, whether its hotel management or the Conservative government.

While it lasted though it was a great party, very well attended and well lubricated thanks to Cherniak's decision, over my objections, to favour quantity over quality during our trip to the liqour store. They were out of Lucky, but we did clean them out of Old Milwaukee. The room was packed and the air conditioning insufficient to the task at hand. Good Party.

Thursday is the Council of Presidents with the convention proper getting underway Friday, but we still had a lot of delegates and local Liberals on hand, as well as fellow bloggers Steve of Far and Wide, Karen of Liberal Arts and Minds, Jim Calder of Progressive Right. Jim Curran of What Do I Know Grit also came out to “drink Cherniak's beer.”

I said hello briefly to incoming president Alf Apps, and had a chance to have a conversation with national director Rocco Rossi, who is very tall in person. Seriously my neck was straining. Rocco was buoyant about the quarterly fundraising numbers the party released Wednesday. The party doubled the amount it raised in Q1 09 vs Q1 08, raising $1,831, 843 compared to $846,000 a year ago. I'm also told that doesn't include another $1 million we did in April, so Q2 is off to a good start to. It's just a start though, we'll still trail the Conservatives. But it's an impressive turnaround.

I also spoke with Rocco about a 308 riding strategy, and asked where he sees the PTAs in that. He indicated he wants to upload administrative tasks and, rather than maintain PTA offices, devote those resources to hiring field workers to work with the ridings. He worked it out to one fieldworker per 6-8 ridings. I like the idea of fieldworkers to work more directly with ridings, but I feel strongly any successful 308-riding strategy can't be run from Ottawa – it needs the direction and guidance of local PTAs.

I pitched him my idea of giving riding associations a percentage of the Elections Canada per vote subsidy, as a way of both giving more resources to ridings to organize as well as incent no-luck ridings to work harder and grow their vote. Every vote gained means another $1.80 in the coffers, so its a virtuous cycle.

Rocco raised a point I hadn't considered: just give them the money and ridings could become insular and stagnant. I'm not totally sure I agree, but he did raise an interesting alternative: why not incent ridings on the percentage bump, compensate them on the increase between their last two elections. Similar idea, it's something I'll consider.
Also, a shout-out to James Morton, a fellow blogger and candidate for deputy chair of the council of presidents. His party was also shut down, about 30 minutes after the Liblogs bash.

Vancouver just can't handle us Liberals, it would seem!

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A BCer in BC: Let's get Liberal!

I'm on the ground and connected live from the bloggers room at the Liberal convention in Vancouver. And I'm ready to blog, and have some content all ready to go I'll be tossing up shortly.

First, though, I'd like to thank everyone who donated towards my delegate fees. Your support and your generosity is touching and much appreciated. I hope you'll enjoy my coverage over the next few days.

This is a beautiful convention facility here, as well it should be for $1B in construction costs. And right on the harbour, great location. Should be a good time.

I'm told we're expecting about 2000 people, a pretty good turnout given the lack of a leadership race, the economy, and the swine flu. Thusday is a light day with council of presidents meetings, including a speech by Michael, that I plan to attend. Last night I attended a number of hospitality event I'll be posting on shortly, and there's more on tap for this evening. Where, I hope, the Canucks game will be showing.

In addition to blogging I will also be Twittering, so be sure to follow me at @BCerinToronto if you're not already. Convention attendees are also being encouraged to use the hash #van09 for convention-related tweets, so follow that hash and use it for your own convention tweets.

Also, late today I'm told will be switching over to a special convention format that will be showcasing all convention related videos, pictures, blogs and tweets, so be sure to keep an eye on that too.

And watch CPAC, both online and on the Web, for ongoing coverage.

Let's get Liberal!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fung and Smith: Current kidnappings in Afghanistan aren't being reported

Last week I attended a very interesting Canadian Journalism Foundation event at the Ignatieff Theatre at the University of Toronto. The Globe and Mail's Graeme Smith and CBC's Melissa Fung took part in a panel called Kidnapped, Threatened, Under Fire: Three journalists confront the realities of reporting in conflict zones.

You'll recall that Fung was kidnapped in Afghanistan just before the 2008 election in October, and the news of the kidnapping was embargoed and not reported by the media until her release in November

Fung and the Globe's Smith, both of whom have spent several tours reporting in Afghanistan and embedded with Canadian soldiers, were on hand to speak about their experiences reporting in a war zone.

I'd hoped to hear Fung talk about the experience of her kidnapping and release, but she indicated she wasn't yet ready to talk about that. Understandable, but disappointing. There was still some very interesting insights and comments shared, however. I'll present my notes below (mainly expansions of my live tweets), followed by my comments.

*Graeme Smith on his prep for going to Afghanistan: He knew nothing going in, read lots of stuff on the plane, and the Globe also contracts safety training from British ex-marines.

*Melissa Fung CBC also provides safety training, advice was if you're in trouble offer them money and, if you're a woman, cry a lot. Unfortunately she forgot to cry.

*Smith every time he's on a plane landing in a war zone he asks himself if he's satisfied with his life if the plane crashes. It's dangerous work, you need to feel its worth it,

*When to leave in a dangerous situation? Fung says you rely on your local Afghan fixer, but no where safe. Smith says it's not what the fixer says but how wide their eyes are, are they afraid? If so, get out.

*Smith The Taliban are firing rockets at Kandahar Airfield, there's no aiming systems they just point them in the right direction and pray – literally.

*Fung you can't consider the danger of everyday life there and dwell on the risks or you'll be paralyzed by fear and unable to function.

*Smith I learned I'm not an adrenaline junkie. I've had rockets, bullets and RPGs fired at me and my office raided by masked gunmen. Its not fun.

*Fung Being there gave me new appreciation for the everyday lives of our soldiers. And the Afghan people live with this danger every day, it makes me appreciate how lucky we are.

*Fung Our editors always ask before the writer leaves the base is it safe? They do care about our safety.

*Smith He finds the editors asking is it safe to be a bit silly. Of course its not safe, its Afghanistan!

*Smith jokes their editors concern on safety is also partly HR management: he can't write them stories if he's dead.

*Fung You wouldn't be a good journalist if you're not impacted on some level by the people you cover. Yes we're objective, but we're humans first.

*Smith We can lessen conflict by reporting on it. The media did an investigative series on torture in Kandahar prisons and system was subsequently changed.

*Fung If people tell her 'you almost lost your life media shouldn't be there' she replies you don't understand why the media does what it does.

*Smith I'll give intelligence agencies background briefings but won't give them actionable intelligence "I won't be another Stevie Cameron" (this gets some moans from the crowd)

*Fung I'm not really ready to talk about my kidnapping yet.

*Smith They used to be a lot more free to move around Kandahar but since Fung was kidnapped the media have been locked down to base without a military escort.

*Fung When she was released from captivity she was surprised about the media embargo and that there was no reporting of her kidnapping. When she was in captivity she was thinking 'man this a helluva story for my colleagues.' She doesn't know if the embargo was the right thing or not, it was the CBC's call.

*Smith We're fighting a losing war right now and he wonders why we're there.

*Fung The government says we're there so young girls can go to school, but originally it was the Taliban and 9/11. The government's pr message changed.

*Fung You can really tell how a country is doing when you talk to the women and children and see how they're being treated.

*Smith He can only mainly talk to men because of Afghan cultural rules. As a woman, its easier for Fung to write on the private lives of Afghan families and talk to normal people.

*Fung Its hard to talk to regular people because you can't stay in one place for more than five minutes for safety reasons. You don't want people to know there's a foreign journalist at a certain location.

*Fung If there was a kidnapping of an NGO woke and the NGO asked the media not to report it because they're in danger they'd absolutely honour that request.

*Smith and Fung both say the media are honouring currently requests not to report on several unresolved kidnappings in Afghanistan, for their safety.

*Fung She'd like to go back if the CBC will let her. There's still stories to be told and our troops are still there We need to keep going back.

My thoughts

When I first head of Fung's kidnapping and release and of the media embargo on coverage of her kidnapping until after her release, my first thought was that's great, but isn't there a double-standard here? It's great the media were all willing to do this for one of their own, but I'd find it hard to believe that, faced with the kidnapping of a non-journalist, they wouldn't just fall back on the old public has a right to know argument.

I was somewhat heartened by Smith and Fung's assurances that, were they to receive such a request, they'd honour it. One of the audience questioners was from an NGO who had a worked kidnapped in Africa, and she was quite strong on this question. The key though is to be very proactive to put the lid on, because once it starts to come out, its hard for the media to ignore. And, of course, with blogs and the Web, its hard to keep these things secret.

I was also fascinated and surprised to learn that at least one or two current Afghan kidnapping cases are under a media publication embargo. Whomever they are, I hope they're safely released soon.

Meanwhile, within the journalism community the debate continues over whether such embargoes are a good idea or not. Myself, I tend to err on the side of the safety of the kidnapped person rather than on my right to know they're in danger. Of course, there may be cases where publicity is desired, or warranted; it's a judgment call. However, it's important that NGO or journalist, the media's standards be the same.

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A conversation with YLC presidential candidate Sam Lavoie

Yesterday I posted an interview with YLC pesidential candidate John Lennard, and I also had a chance to speak with the other competitor fo YLC president, Sam Lavoie. We did this interview over e-mail, so the answers are his own unedited words.

The YLC race cetaintly looks to be one of the more interesting ones on tap for this convention. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Also, be sure to check-out Calgary Grit's interviews with John and Sam, and Scott Tribe's with John.

Jeff: Could you outline your position on the One-Member-One-Vote constitutional ammendment, and the ammendment to that ammendment proposed by the YLC?

Sam: I firmly believe that the YLC amendment is an improvement of the OMOV amendment. I think it enables the party to continue to have a strong, dynamic youth voice. No system is perfect certainly, OMOV is a step in the right direction for the party.

We've heard some people say that the YLC amendment won't do anything for recruitment. I think that misses the point - this is about retainment of our members - it keeps them engaged and active, because they know they have a say in the party.

The point of commissions is to give voice to those groups within the party that are under-represented. I think that's an important principle to maintain. We have been on the forefront of some of the most pivotal issues - from Kyoto to Same Sex Marriage, and the fight against Missile Defence. A strong youth commission ensures leadership candidates and the party leadership focuses on issues that impact young Canadians.

I think the YLC amendment strengthens OMOV, and it was proposed with the best interests of the party at heart.

Jeff: If the YLC ammendment does not pass, will you be supporting OMOV?

Sam: I am confident that the YLC amendment will be successful and I have faith in the delegates making the best choice. I am very much looking forward to that debate on the convention floor. I have faith in the delegates to make the decision that they feel is best in whatever circumstance.

Jeff: Would you support a comprimise that would lower the YLC weighting percentage to a number closer to the percentage of 14-25 year olds in the Canadian population?

Sam: As you know, amendments from the floor are not going to be entertained (or at least the threshold for it is extremely high). I do not want to get into hypotheticals but I would say that the 25% proposal from the YLC is a compromise from where we stand today which is one-third of the delegates.

Jeff: Speaking more broadly and putting aside OMOV, how do you propose to grow the YLC's membership and make it more of a force within the LPC?

Sam: We will make a concerted effort on campuses across the country to bring in new members. We need to provide these clubs with more resources and a wider array of options including greater use of online recruitment opportunities (Facebook comes to mind as one such tool).

We also know that there are a tremendous amount of student organizations on campuses - from issue-focused groups to multicultural youth groups that we can build stronger relationships with and bring into our party.

The goal of the YLC should be to represent the Liberal Party to young Canadians but also the views of young Canadians to the Liberal Party. A greater harmony between these views will no doubt build a stronger party that is relevant to young Canadians and their concerns.

Jeff: The YLC represents Libeals aged 14-25, but much of the focus seems to be in the college and university demographic. How would you make the YLC more relevant to high school students, and university grads? Should the cutoff be lowered from age 25?

Sam: Similar to my above answer, I think ensuring that the issues we are advocating are relevant to young Canadians and the way we convey those issues is reaching our audience is a natural way of bringing in new people.

I mentioned a greater emphasis on online recruitment which I think would really help in that capacity to bring in more high school students. I am very proud to have high school students like Jeremiah Kopp and Wesley Cohen as supporters who continue to give me great ideas about what the YLC can do on this level.

In terms of the cut-off age - I have not heard any rumblings about this - I think the threshold it is at today is good and would not see a need to change it.

Jeff: The YLC president also sits on the national executive and has a voice and a say on a lot of the renewal decisions facing the LPC. What are your thoughts on some of the wide party reform issues, and particularly the push-pull between the centre and the PTAs?

Sam: As any member would, I will make the decisions that I feel are best for the party and advance the interests of the party. It is no secret that we need to make the Liberal party more efficient in it's operations. That means more universal rules and implementation in some instances where those decisions are best streamlined. But it also means recognizing when local decisions are best made at the local level and allowing them to do so.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

In and Out scandal is in again

In case you've fogotten, the Conservative Party are still in court with Elections Canada, trying to squeeze more money out of the taxpayers they're not entitled to, as part of the In and Out scandal.

According to CP, Elections Canada has filed its final argument in the case with the court, an argument CP calls "hard-hitting" that provides morre details on In and Out, which Elections Canada calls a "scheme."

``Senior officials in the party appear to have determined that the party's legal spending limit would not allow it to spend as much as it wished on its national advertising program,'' says the brief by lawyer Barbara McIsaac.

The 64-page document cites party emails, as well as memos and email correspondence with the agency that placed the ads, to argue the expenses were actually incurred by the party rather than 67 candidates who claimed them as their own.

The court submission calls the ad program a ``scheme.'' Party headquarters transferred tens of thousands of dollars into the campaigns of individual candidates, who had agreed beforehand to transfer the money out of their campaign accounts back to the party as payment for their purported share of the ad costs.


The brief emphasizes Mayrand's argument that candidates, as well as the party, were unable to provide evidence that the candidates, not the party, incurred the advertising expenses and arranged the contracts with Retail Media.

It cites a new affidavit from an Elections Canada investigator that quotes party emails saying senior Tory officials were concerned in December 2005 the party was running out of room within its legal spending limit for the lengthy campaign.

The brief says Public Works Minister Christian Paradis would have exceeded his spending limit by more than $7,000 had the party not given him an unexplained credit of $10,000 for his share of the ad spending.

Former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier would have exceeded his spending limit had his invoice also not been reduced and had he been charged production costs like the other Quebec candidates.
For background, the court case was launched by the Conservatives to appeal the Elections Canada ruling that Consevative candidates weren't allowed to claim this national advertising as a local expense, and therefore claim a rebate for it from the taxpayers. They're going to court to overturn Elections Canada, and get hundreads of thousands of dollars from the taxpayers they're just not entitled to.

This court case is seperate from the ongoing investigation by Elections Commissioner William Corbett, which sparked the RCMP aid of Consevative Paty headquarters.

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A conversation with YLC presidential candidate John Lennard

Yesterday I had a conversation with John Lennard about his campaign for the Young Liberals of Canada presidency and to get his thoughts on some of the issues facing both the youth wing and the party as a whole.

I've known John for a few years now, first meeting him on the campaign trail during the last leadership race, when he was supporting Bob Rae and I was supporting a long-shot by the name of Stephane Dion, and I enjoyed his blogging as well. He's a dedicated and passionate young Liberal.

I was typing notes so these won't be exact quotes, but rather a paraphrasing of his comments.

Also, I have reached-out to the campaign of the other YLC presidential candidate, Sam Lavoie, to offer the opportunity for a similar interview if he's interested.

Jeff: I read at Scott Tribe's blog about your decision to support One Member, One Vote (OMOV) and oppose the YLC amendment for a quota for youth, so I don't want to focus on that too much. But what would you say to those that say the youth influence needs to be protected under OMOV?

John: Under the delegate system only two to five per cent of Young Liberals get to become delegates. The beauty of OMOV is every member has their voices head. I think that's important to understand and maintain. The beauty of Liberalism is every single individual gets to have an opinion and a vote. I think that's an important democratic principle to uphold, and that's why I support OMOV. Young or old, black or white, everyone would get to have a vote.

(As for protecting the youth influence) I don't accept the premise of that. We can always make sure we have a strong voice in the party and that starts with recruitment. We should go out and recruit and say this is a party that listens to youth and gives you a voice. That appeals to young people more than anything else. I don't think we should be appealing to youth with a brawn mentality, but rather to their brains, and to what they want to achieve.

Jeff: What do you say to those that worry OMOV with no quota for youth will lead to the same for the policy development process?

John: At this time I'm in favour of continuing with the idea of policy conventions, it makes sense at this time. I haven't seen anything from the party what would change that at this point. We saw something briefly happen with En Famille but I'm not sure it worked that well. A few people seemed to dominate the process, and that's not what we want. It's important to maintain a broad policy process that will lead to a policy convention where people can have their say, and where Young Liberals can maintain the representation at convention we've always had.

We should be looking to engage more people in the policy process. If it means looking at ways to do online voting we need to start looking at that. And we need to engage outside people as well. Trade associations, campus groups. I think Young Liberals can take the lead in something like this, organizing policy conferences with people from broad and diverse backgrounds.

Jeff: The YLC pulls from ages 14-25, but the bulk of the activity seems to be around the college and university demographic. While there's obviously challenges around recruiting in high schools, how can you make the YLC more relevant to that 14-19 group, which is half of your age range? Also, is 25 too old for a cutoff?

John: The YLs represent all members, age 14-25. I see in that very broad groups of young people. High school we need to do better, university and college we do well there but we could do better, we need more active campus clubs across the country. And finally, 22-25, when people start to become young professionals and graduate from college.

High school is a difficult situation. We can't go into a high school like we can a university, there's rules around political discourse and involvement. We've got to respect that, but there's nothing stopping us from touching base with student council presidents and saying we'd like you to get involved, maybe put together a group of area student council members and use them as sounding board for ideas and to get people involved.

It's identifying what's really important to each group of Young Liberals. As a young professional, at this point in my life, it's the opportunity for networking, whether its finding a job or a summer position or meeting people in more professional positions, that would be interesting to me. We've seen movement toward starting a group of young professional Liberals in Ontario, and I think that's an initiative the YLC should be promoting. We need to engage these people as well.

The diversity of the YLC needs to be promoted. We need to make events more inclusive for all ages. Not every event will be appropriate for all, but I do think it's important to maintain that respect for their different issues.

Jeff: We've touched on some youth-specific issues, but the YLC president also sits on the national executive and has a voice and a say on a lot of the renewal decisions facing the LPC. What are your thoughts on some of the wide party reform issues, and particularly the push-pull between the centre and the PTAs?

John: I'd like to see most of the administration tasks centralized in Ottawa. I think that makes sense. We spend $3 million on maintaining PTA offices and most of that is duplication of stuff we could be doing in Ottawa.

But when it comes to outreach and field staff it's essential to have offices in each province and territory across the country, so people have a connection to the party. In Alberta, the party office is the only face of the Liberal Party in the province. We have no MPs, so there's no Liberal MP offices. You need to go to Edmonton. So having that very basic connection to the party in every province makes sense, it's important for the unity of the party.

I mentioned the policy development process and that's very important to me, we need to engage more people.

Fundraising is something we need to start doing more of. I'd like to see an initiative where the Young Liberals take the lead on fundraising, and every dollar a Young Liberal can raise is matched by the party itself so we automatically double our fundraising. It would increase our outreach activities and allow us to bring new people into the party.

I'd like to see more of a focus on accountability within the party in general. I'm concerned when I hear about decisions being made behind closed doors to change things that should be done in public.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Conservatives still trying to kill Insite

Will the Consevatives ever get past their ideology, look at the science and get it right on Insite and safe injection sites? Sadly, it seems unlikely:

Canada's Attorney General and Minister of Health will be in a B.C. court to appeal a lower court order that prevents Ottawa from shutting down Vancouver's controversial supervised-injection site.

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Peter MacKay's moral compass goes haywire

Paging Stephen Harper's moral compass repair team: your assistance is needed in Peter MacKay's office as his moral compass appears to be malfunctioning:

Defence Minister and former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay says Brian Mulroney should not only be treated with respect, but also "lauded" for his accomplishments as prime minister.

"As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week, he's a man who should be respected, and in fact, in my view, lauded for the contributions that he made during his time in public life," MacKay said of Mulroney in a joint interview this week with Canwest News Service and Global National.

"He brought to our country free trade, (and) an acid-rain treaty. In fact, during his tenure, Canada led the world in the fight to end apartheid in South Africa. So he has a number of very notable accomplishments, (including) two back-to-back majority governments. Mr. Mulroney is a man who gave a great deal of himself to this country and Canada is better for his efforts."
Gee, Ignatieff didn't do any lauding, he just talked about respecting the office. According to Harper, that meant his moral compass was going haywire. But Peter here is out and out lauding -- that has to be one messed-up moral compass. Up is down, left is right. Peter needs help.

But seriously, what happens next will be interesting. If Harper doesn't smack MacKay down he looks weak. But he may be too weak to smack him down. Either way, it's clear Harper's grip on his party is slipping. MacKay is out and out defying the boss-man.

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Ethics rules not worth the paper they're written on

Looks like Stephen Haper and Brian Mulroney have more in common than the former would care to admit these days: both had toothless ethics rules:

There's evidence that Fred Doucet, a former senior aide to Brian Mulroney, went to work as a lobbyist for the Bear Head armoured vehicle project practically as soon as he left the Prime Minister's Office.

Documents tabled at a public inquiry show Doucet was discussing the project within three days of departing from Mulroney's staff in August 1988.

He would normally have been subject to a one-year cooling off period before being allowed to lobby any departments he had dealings with while in government.

But Doucet had obtained an unusual waiver of the cooling-off provision in the federal ethics code at the time.
Sound familiar?

Look, here's my feeling on this: either have a cooling-off period, or don't. I'm less bothered by the fact people jump quickly from government to lobbying then I am by the fact the Conservatives made a big deal about closing the "revolving door" but routinenly grant exemptions to the rule. Pick one side, and stick with it.

It makes it clear it was more about politics than ethics, and the people that get hurt are the junior people that don't have the pull to secure the exemptions the senior people are getting. That leads to good people not taking the jobs, which isn't helpful for their party or, frankly, the country.

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Michael Ignatieff on One Member, One Vote

Michael Ignatieff makes the case for the One Member, One Vote constitutional ammendment in The Hill Times this morning:

"It's a convention about constitutional reform for the party. We're making an important series of constitutional changes including a weighted one-person-one-vote to select a leader. That's a very important change in a party. It's not a detail, it's not housecleaning; it changes the way the party works. It says to everybody who want s to join our party, 'If you join our party you get to vote for the man or woman who may be the prime minister of your country—so join the party.' That's why one-man-one-vote is so important and why it means an end to delegated conventions," Mr. Ignatieff (Etobicoke-Lakeshore, Ont.) told The Hill Times last week.

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Conservatives flip flop on Khadr appeal three times in as many hours

If it wasn't for the fact that a Canadian citizen named Omar Khadr is still rotting in a prison cell in Guantanamo Bay, this would almost be amusing. Almost. My kingdom for competent government?

If you're counting at home you'll note three flip-flops by the Conservatives on an appeal of the Khadr court ruling, all between this morning's question period (11amish) and the filing if this wire piece just before 2:00pm. That's an average of one flip-flop per hour.

Tories flip flop on Khadr appeal (URGENT-Khadr-Lawsuit)
Source: The Canadian Press
Apr 24, 2009 13:49


OTTAWA - The Harper government seems to be having some trouble deciding whether it's appealing a court ruling on the Omar Khadr case.

The government now says it has not decided if it will appeal a Federal Court ruling that said it must ask the United States to send Khadr home.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told the House of Commons today that their would be an appeal.

But his spokeswoman quickly contradicted that, saying no decision had been made.

Within minutes, she backtracked, saying the minister's comments stood.

A short time later things changed again, with the spokeswoman saying the government is still considering what to do.

(The Canadian Press)

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Just who leaked the Mulroney membership story?

If you remember back to the initial media reports about Brian Mulroney supposedly no longer being a Conservative member, here's how the reports were sourced by CP:

"Senior Conservatives contacted select reporters Tuesday to tell them Mulroney had effectively torn up his party membership card."
And a few day later, Macleans' Paul Wells got the same spiel from an "unnamed senior Conservative".

A little while later, we learned this from the Toronto Star:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, from overseas, was aware of and agreed with plans to leak stories that would distance him and the current party leadership from former prime minister Brian Mulroney, the Star has learned.

A Conservative party source speaking on background said Harper was in contact with his chief of staff, Guy Giorno, and communications director Kory Teneycke, the officials behind the idea, while he was in Europe last week.

And yet on Tuesday, from CP, we learn of this claim by Senator Marjory LeBreton:

LeBreton sent an email to associates earlier this month saying Harper's office had nothing to do with leaking details aboutMulroney's expired membership card.

She told old PC allies that the government actually heard about Mulroney's status from the media -- not the other way around.

But a pile of evidence suggests otherwise, and LeBreton's old friends aren't buying her explanation.
Indeed. If it wasn't the Harper PMO that leaked this, despite all the evidence to the contrary, it does raise one obvious question: just who did leak it then?

It just doesn't make sense, Maj.

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Moral Compass Watch 2009: Take a shot, Senator LeBreton

This story is actually from Tuesday, but I've been a little busy. I think, though, that I've come up with a new political drinking game: take a shot every time someone uses the phrase "moral compass."

Here's the latest, from a piece discussing Stephen Harper's return from overseas, his intention to lay the smack down at caucus over Brian Mulroney and assorted leaks, and the grief former Mulroney confidante Senator Marjory LeBreton has been taking on the issue:

A longtime friend says it's been a testing time for LeBreton. But he said she's always been guided by her moral compass -- one which has consistently led her in one single direction.
An interesting turn of phrase from this anonymous source, moral compass. Now where have I heard that phrase before recently?

Oh, right.

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Mr Ignatieff goes to Washington: The media filter in action

If you think the media can't tweak a story, you're crazy. Take Michael Ignatieff's trip down to Washington, DC this week, where he's been invited to take part in a high-level foreign-policy think-tank and meet with several Obama administration heavy-hitters.

The following two stories both cover that same trip, but couldn't be more different in tone.

First, from the Toronto Star:

Ignatieff downplays ties to Washington
The Toronto Star
Friday, April 24, 2009
Page: A15
Section: News
Byline: Mitch Potter

It's great to have friends in high places.

But Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff admits his Washington connections won't give Canada special advantages in the event that he one day becomes prime minister.

"As for my contacts, let's not overdo this. Relationships between Canada and the United States are relationships between states," Ignatieff told Canadian journalists last night in a roundtable interview after a day of meetings in the American capital.

"I very emphatically do not want to oversell my personal relationships. They're great and I use them, as one would. But I'm under no illusions this gives me some special advantage.
And now from Canwest:
Ignatieff flaunts political clout with White House; Liberal leader vies for Obama's attention
Edmonton Journal
Friday, April 24, 2009
Page: A5
Section: News
Byline: Sheldon Alberts
Source: Canwest News Service

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff on Thursday sought to demonstrate his personal clout with members of Obama's inner circle, huddling privately in Washington with the U.S. president's senior economic adviser and offering advice alongside the White House's special envoy for Afghanistan at an invite-only conference of foreign policy elites.

Ignatieff's whirlwind two-day visit to the U.S. capital -- which included a dinner with Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. Central Command -- came sharp on the heels of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's declaration this week that he considers himself a "conservative defender" of the liberal Obama on foreign policy.

The developments may signal the beginnings of a pre-election competition between Ignatieff and Harper to show Canadian voters their access to -- and influence with -- a U.S. president who scores higher approval ratings in Canada than either of them.

"I'm grateful for the access that I have, but I'm the leader of the Opposition, and I expect when I'm in government my access will improve even further," Ignatieff said following a 45-minute meeting at the White House with Lawrence Summers, director of Obama's National Economic Council.

Now, can you guess which news organization is currently lobbying hard for a government bailout?

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ben Mulroney, Liberal MP?

A metaphor about monkeys and my posterior comes to mind, but Don Martin says Bob Fife says he has a source (who heard from his cousin's sisters roommate) so you never know:

My friend Bob Fife, CTV’s Ottawa bureau chief, had a twinkle in his eye when he took to the airwaves Wednesday to suggest entertainment reporter Ben Mulroney, son of former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, might be running for the federal LIBERALS in the next election.

That may be a stretch, but anything’s theoretically possible as this rare internecine Conservative battle continues to rage, despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to quell the backlash to his party’s Mulroney vilification efforts.

As much as I'd enjoy the sticking it to Harper angle here ... Ben Mulroney? Really? Why not Caroline? Does Brian have any other kids? Or maybe Mila wants to run?

God help me. I mean, yes, we're a big tent. As long as he keeps to the red carpet at the tent door, perhaps. Just don't ask me who I'm wearing on the way in.

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Liberal Party will be debt-free by mid-May

Good news for Liberal fortunes via La Presse, and Google Translate:

the Liberal Party is about to repay its entire debt of $ 2 million six months after the last election.

Under the new National Director of the PLC, Rocco Rossi, the debt of the party will be fully repaid no later than mid-May, freeing troops liberal an important shot at a time when lead some to cause the holding of elections in the fall.
A stunning reversal of fortunes in a very short period of time, and remarkable given that at this point we should have been at the tail-end of a long and draining leadership race that would be sucking-up all these donations instead.

Now, I like leadership races, and I'd have liked to have had one. But now we're going to be coming out of this convention with a new leader and a united, debt-free party ready to take on the Harper Conservatives at a time Canadians are increasingly open to alternatives, and to the Liberal option.

That ain't a bad place to be.

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Vaughn is not getting an NHL team

This story speculating about a National Hockey League team being located in the Toronto suburb of Vaughn (to give the Leafs company on the golf course) has a number of flaws in its theory:

A group of business people wants to bring a second hockey team to the Greater Toronto Area, and the NHL took the group seriously enough to grant it an audience.

The unidentified group met with National Hockey League deputy commissioner Bill Daly in downtown Toronto last week, according to sources. The group proposes to build an arena at the intersection of Highways 427 and 7 in Vaughan, Ont., on land north of Pearson International Airport that's owned by businessman Victor De Zen.
Now don't get me wrong, I think a second NHL team in the Toronto area, or Hamilton or even London or Waterloo, makes very good sense. I have no doubt Southern Ontario could support a second franchise.

But I question how much business sense it makes to build a new NHL sized, 20,000 seat arena in Vaughn. The Air Canada Centre cost $265 million to build. That's a lot of money, and it will have to be privately financed. No way would governments put in any cash, nor should they. Heck, when the Senators built the Paladium/Corel Centre/Scotia Bank Place in Kanata, the Harris government even made them pay for a highway interchange.

But let's say the backers raise the private capital, on top of the cash to buy an existing franchise to move here as well as to buy off the Leafs and Sabres. Is another 20,000 seat arena located in the Greater Toronto area really economically viable? It wouldn't be sustainable just with a hockey team as the anchor tenant. That's only, what, 40ish nights out of 365. The ACC has the Leafs, Raptors, Rock, and a boatload of concerts. The Vaughn arena would need to find an awful lot of concerts and other lucrative dates to turn a profit. Are those events out there?

A more likely solution would seem to be, if the team is going to be resident in the Greater Toronto area, tenancy at the Air Canada Centre. They'd need to get a share of the concessions from Maple Leaf Sports, pay them rent, but this would also go a long ways to over-riding MLS's concerns about another franchise in the area. In Los Angeles, the NBA's Lakers and Clippers both share the Staples Center.

There would be a lot of complications and issues to overcome with an ACC tenancy, to be sure. But they seem more easy to overcome than the economics of a 20,000 seat arena in Vaughn.

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Boycott Israeli underwear?

First it was CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan trying to boycott Israeli academics from our university campuses. Now there's a movement afoot on the left coast, apparently with the involvement of "BC Teachers for Peace and Global Education" to push Mountain Equipment Co-op to boycott, among other things, Israeli underwear:

Mountain Equipment Co-op -- best known for supplying Canadians with tents and sleeping bags -- is the subject of a political dispute between local opponents in the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A motion is expected to be presented next week at the organization's annual general meeting, calling for a boycott of all products produced in Israel.

"We just don't think [Mountain Equipment Co-op] should be doing business with Israel until it changes its behaviour," said Patrik Parkes, a spokesman for BC Teachers for Peace and Global Education.


MEC partners with two Israeli companies to produce two products. One company produces seamless underwear; the other produces a hydration system intended for hikers and bikers.
According to its website, BC Teachers for Peace and Global Education is a "provincial specialists association" of the BC Teachers Federation (BCTF), the union for public school teachers in British Columbia. It talks more about the issue in this press release.

What is it about unions of educators and boycotts of Israel? It seems kind of secondary to their primary raison d'ĂȘtre. But their human rights-driven action would seem stronger were they also raising similar issues in the many other countries around the world that have serious human rights issues. More often than not, though, it seems to be one country these groups target.

I'd check where my underwear was made, but it would be a bit awkward at the moment.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beware where we place the ethical and moral bar

Following the publication of his "inappropriate" Facebook photos, I can see how the BC NDP and its former Vancouver-False Creek candidate, Ryan Lam, thought it was best to part ways and find a new candidate. Nip the story in the bud and don't let it distract from bigger issues.

It really is unfortunate, though that it has come to this. He shouldn't have had to step aside. And we're all going to be the poorer because he did.

I think both the public, and political partisans, need to do some thinking here, because with the coming generation of young politicians having embraced the digital era, the world of Facebook and blogging and Twitter, stories such as Lam's are going to become all the more common.

So he consensually groped a woman. Anyone who has spend any time on Parliament Hill knows such behavior is hardly foreign to our politicians, going back to Sir John A MacDonald's era. I'd have loved to have seen Pierre Trudeau's Facebook photos. Or read Sir John's tweets:

BigJohn: Getting on boat to PEI to talk Canadian union. Picking up Cartier in Montreal we're gonna get soo drunk y'all.

This isn't new behavior by our politicians. Technology is just exposing us to visual evidence we didn't have before. And while sharing such information online is perfectly acceptable for their generation, for the older generation it's decidedly not.

We need to think though about where we're going to draw the line. For the public, we need to ask ourselves, what kind of political representatives we want. Politicians are people like you and I. Set the bar of ethical behavior so high and the only people willing to put their names on a ballot will be closeted loners. Not a positive advancement.

And for partisans, sure, it's easy to jump on any potentially embarrassing misdeed and demand resignation. But we need to remember, when we encourage the bar to be set that high it's going to be a level we have to reach as well. Be ridulous and it'll bite your own team in the ass too.

Maybe the BC NDP has an itchy trigger-finger after its federal cousins lost three candidates in BC last election. Frankly, I thought only two of them really needed to go: Dana Larsen (only because he was driving while high) and Julian West (exposing yourself to underage girls and asking them to paint your genitalia is incredibly wrong to all generations). But I'd have fought for Kirk Tousaw were I the NDP, who cares if he smoked pot on TV?

But with the Lam case, both the NDP and the Liberals set an unfortunate precedent that future candidates will have to be held to. And we should all be asking ourselves: is this a good thing?

Hell, if we held everyone to Dana Larsen's standard, Gordon Campbell wouldn't be the Liberal candidate in Vancouver-Point Grey, now would he?

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Liberal crime policies were working?

Don't you just hate when the truth shows an obvious liberal bias? Dammed inconvenient statistics!

New statistics suggest serious criminal offences were on the decline well before the federal Conservative government launched its anti-crime campaign in Parliament.


The Tories under Prime Minister Stephen Harper have campaigned on promises to get tough on crime and have introduced a number of bills in Parliament to address what they characterize as a growing problem.

But Statistics Canada says the seriousness of police-reported crime fell in every year but one during the decade leading up to the election of the Conservative minority government in 2006 through to 2007.

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Video: Michael Ignatieff at the (interim) Leader's Dinner

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Speaking of post-referendum archival footage of now party leaders

Even those with only basic french skills will find Stephen Harper's comments interesting here, in light of his subsequent actions.

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Hey, you hear that one about the earthquake where a bunch of people died?

Hey, electors, of Kelowna-Lake Country, take Ron Cannan! No, really, please, take him. Away. Now.

Mr. Speaker, I too add my condolences to the folks in Italy. Our prayers and thoughts go out to all those folks in Italy.

But there is an earthquake happening in our own country.

I would like to remind Canadians what the Liberal leader said on April 14th, just last week, and I quote, “We will have to raise taxes”. We thank him for honestly revealing the Liberal plan.

While Conservatives work hard for Canadian families, Liberals want to make Canadian families work harder to pay more taxes. Our economic action plan is making Canada a role model for the world in these tough economic times.

The Liberals want to make Canada the most taxed country in the world.

Some questions for him remain: When would he raise their taxes? Which taxes would be raised? How much would they go up? Who would pay? I invite the Liberal leader to stand and answer.


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Welcome to the adult table, Jack

Apparently the NDP decided to go out and talk to Canadians last week. And in doing so, they discovered something they've been attacking the Liberals for saying for months: Canadians want their parliamentarians to focus on the economy, not political brinkmanship:

Layton later told The Canadian Press that his party - once eager to defeat the Harper Conservatives at the first opportunity - will spend the next 10 weeks working on improving jobless benefits and pensions.

The NDP leader says he didn't hear anyone "hankering after an election" as he canvassed voters during the Commons break.

Now, I could be a dick and mock the sudden about-face by the NDP. I could go on about how this flips all their rhetoric on its ass. I could point-out that the NDP is following the Liberal lead here. I could add it's a Liberal lead the NDP ferociously attacked the Liberals for taking. And I might speculate the NDP's suddenly not hearing the election hankering has more to do with the NDP's polling numbers, and speculation the Liberals may be ready one of these months to pull the plug themselves. And a little dickisness wouldn't be totally inapproproate, either, all things considered.

But that's not how I roll. Instead, I'll just say welcome to the adult table, my NDP friends. And hey, to hold onto that all important sense of moral superiority you'll always have your votes on votes where you couldn't have made a difference anyway and where the Liberal decisions you still mock were in support of the position you now take and say Canadians want.

So, yeah. Enjoy that one guys. And pay no attention to the contradictions behind the curtain.

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Cons to gun owners: We can't be bothered to even pretend to care

Gee, usually it takes a little longer for Conservative bluster to be exposed as completely empty, meaningless and contrived:

The Conservative government appears to be acknowledging its attempt to kill the long-gun registry is a lost cause.

Despite introducing an unusual Senate bill to great fanfare earlier this month, an official in the office of government Senate Leader Marjorie LeBreton says there's no timetable for a vote on Bill S-5 in the Liberal-dominated upper chamber.

And Liberals say the whole point of the exercise was political posturing rather than serious legislative change.

"The Liberals are opposed to it, so it's unlikely to move very much right now," Eli Schuster, LeBreton's communications adviser, said Monday when asked about the status of S-5.

Asked why the government would introduce a bill it had no intention of pushing to a vote, Schuster abruptly ended the conversation.
It's really quite amusing. I mean, of course this thing was a farce from the start. The Conservatives have had years to take meaningful action on the gun registry. But they couldn't be bothered. Always some excuse or another. It's a minority, they'd say. Shhh, we're trying to appeal to urban soccer moms, they'd whisper.

Then they decided to pretend to care last month, after Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz took fire for agreeing to speak at an event with a Beretta semi-automatic handgun as a raffle prize. They pulled Breitkreuz from that event but had Harper speak at another giving away a rifle, drawing a distinction probably lost on many folk and unappreciated by their base. But as a sop, they promised to introduce legislation finally ending the gun registry ... in the unelected, undemocratic Senate. While, at the same time, promising every job at the gun registry processing centre in a Conservative-held riding is absolutely safe.

Now they're back to saying, sorry, too hard, nothing we can do on that gun registry thing. Apparently, they've just discovered the Liberals are opposed to it. Gee, I thought Liberal researchers dropped the ball when we didn't read the whole budget. Conservative researchers could have found this one out by checking Google.

I loved this line in the story:
Asked why the government would introduce a bill it had no intention of pushing to a vote, Schuster abruptly ended the conversation.
Indeed. Really, though, a good comms person, instead of running away arms flailing wildly, would have retorted "because Michael Ignatieff wants to implement a secret puppy tax" or something like that. They must really be rattled.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Database software is sooo sexy

Or you'd think so anyways, given that this Globe story has generated over 300 comments:

In a bid to match successful tactics used in the past two election campaigns by Stephen Harper's Conservatives, the federal Liberals are importing highly sophisticated voter database software used by Barack Obama's political strategists.

To make maximum use of the technology, the party is also taking steps to centralize administration, fundraising and election preparation. This would effectively end the party's status as a loosely federated body of provincial and territorial associations.

A centralized administration and election-readiness strategy would address one of the federal party's major problems: how to get hold of membership lists and other voter data from provincial, territorial and constituency organizations.

The Conservatives' centralized database has given the party a huge advantage in fundraising and identifying potential party election volunteers and voters.

Very positive that, after years of talking about it, the Liberals will finally be starting to employ some of the sophisticated voter identification and tracking techniques that parties in the U.S., and the Conservatives, have been using successfully for years to identify voters and raise money.

Anyone who has ever used ManageElect, which LPC and riding campaigns have traditionally used for voter ID tracking, will know that it's both cumbersome and lacking in functionality. That's also why buy-in was never high with the system. And technology, of course, is just a tool: garbage in, garbage out.

I think Valpy does go off course by confusing the membership database, and the issues around centralization there, with the supporters database. Obviously you want your members in your supporters database, and I understand that has been happening for a few years now with ManageElect, but your supporters database is a very different database from your membership one, to be used for very different purposes.

Valpy's article gives the impression that challenges remain around centralization on the membership side, but by and large most of that work has already been done. The National Membership Registry was implemented in 2006, for example. That work has helped pave the way for "VAN" as the new supporters database has been dubbed.

But this has nothing to do with, as Valpy says:

To make maximum use of the technology, the party is also taking steps to centralize administration, fundraising and election preparation. This would effectively end the party's status as a loosely federated body of provincial and territorial associations.

Not at all true. As I said, the membership centralization has happened. Now, there were some renewal committee recommendations around a further centralization of functionality at the LPC level and a de-emphasis of the federated structure. I intend to devote a post to that topic soon. Spoiler alert: I'll be mounting a spirited defence of the federated structure and the PTAs, for its a great Liberal asset.

But this debate has nothing to do with VAN. The adminsitrative steps to enable it, ie. a national membership registry, have already happened. No further steps, no "effective ending of blah blah" is necessary to "make maximum use" of VAN. It's two seperate issues.

Now, the real key to success with this new system will be making it easy to use and then making it mandatory for everyone to use it, so we can get that critical mass of quality data to leverage at both the riding level, and nationally. The system is only as good as the quality of data contained within.

With good data, all levels of our party -- riding campaigns, PTAs and party central -- will benefit from the power of the new database.

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Kyle Wellwood likes Iggy

A lot of mixing of politics and sports of late. For example, guess who Canucks forward Kyle Wellwood's favourite author is right now?

- He prefers to read instead of watching TV: "I read everything. I change my mind all the time. Sometimes I don't get through the books, but I like buying them. I'll read fantasy novels. I tried to read Twilight and I couldn't read that. My favourite author right now? I like Michael Ignatieff."
Wellwood, who joined the Canucks from the Maple Leafs, has also caught-on to the thing I miss the most about West Coast living. Well, besides the mountains, and the ocean, the salt air, and everything else:
He prefers Vancouver hockey fans to those in Toronto: "It's such a contrast from Toronto where people come up to you all the time. In Vancouver it's extremely rare that somebody would approach you, even at dinner or if you were at a bar having a drink. That's been really nice. Getting to watch sports at 4 p.m. instead of 7 is nice, too."
Word to that. Still, I'm hoping for many late nights watching lots of Canucks games this year.

And at least I don't live in Saskatchewan. I hear they don't even get cable there. They have to use the rabbit ears, and the signal gets pretty snowy when the wind picks up the smell from the manure piles.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Even the Blues hate Saskatchewan

So, Saskboy is talking smack about Canada's team*, the Vancouver Canucks, and about the great City of Vancouver in the Beautiful province of British Columbia.

I'd expect such nonsense from a Maple Leafs fan, but what does Saskatchewan have, besides a mediocre CFL franchise and a crapload of wheat?

Saskboy will be cheering for the Blues against the Canucks. Fine. But even the Blues, when there was a move afoot to move the franchise from St. Louis to Saskatoon, took one step off the plane when it landed in Regina and said hells no, we're staying in St. Louis. And if you've been to St. Louis, you know how much Regina must suck. So cheer for the Blues, Saskboy, they won't cheer for you!

Go back to rooting for your Regina Pats and leave the real hockey to the real cities. Oh, wait, the Pats are out of the playoffs? Awww...

*Sweden gets them on alternate weekends and holidays.

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Road to Vancouver: Convention keynote speakers announced

History dictates that, one day, one of these keynote speakers will run for Liberal leader (after Michael has a long, successful run of course). I see a name or two on here I'd like ... Jean may be a little old though, alas. But I can dream.

International human rights take centre stage at the 2009 Biennial Convention in Vancouver. Former Supreme Court Justice and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour and War Child Canada President Dr. Eric Hoskins will be speaking at the Opening Ceremonies. Former Prime Ministers John Turner, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin will also address delegates during the convention.
I'm also looking forward to the tribute to and speech by Stephane Dion. A good man who will always have my respect.

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Go Canucks! The playoffs get political

A good start to the playoffs by my Vancouver Canucks last night. They need to watch the penalties or they’re going to get burned, but 5on5 they were stellar and Bobby-Lou was his usual awesome self. The man has something to prove, so watch out.

This isn’t a sports blog though, so let me bring it back to politics. Getting politicians to blog and embrace social media has always been tricky. If they get too real and unscripted, it can backfire. But canned repetitions of talking-points ghost-written by comms staffers are boring, and run contrary to the rules of the medium.

With the BC election mirroring the Stanley Cup playoffs the Vancouver Sun is trying a novel approach to this dilemma: invite BC Liberal leader Gordon Campbell and BC NDP leader Carole James to blog for them … about hockey.

Yes, while Stephen Harper is pretending to write about hockey, Campbell and James actually will be.

The Sun is calling the joint Campbell-James blog “Faceoff” and it got underway yesterday. So far, Gordon has filed three entries and Carole has filed two. Or, more likely, their staffers have.

Here’s some post-game analysis from Gordo:

Getting Sami in on the scoring bodes well. We always do well when our defense plays their game, and then scores a goal or two for good measure…I also thought Ryan Kesler showed how a real leader contributes without necessarily scoring. It's not just scoring goals, it's stopping them…The Blues will get better, but with that game under their belts, so will the Canucks. It was a game where special teams did as much as could have been expected and we got the W.

And some pre-game scene-setting from James:
I'd like to think that playoffs are a lot like the election campaign…Anything can happen. It doesn’t matter what happened in the regular season. I feel optimistic about the Canucks’ chances in the playoffs. They've got their game together and they’ve been going in the right direction for the past several weeks…The Stanley Cup playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint. The campaign is the same. You can’t afford to conserve energy, but you can’t be frivolous about it either.

It’s early, but so far it seems Campbell is focusing more on hockey analysis while James is trying a little harder to draw political parallels. Or maybe Campbell is just being subtler.

We’ll see how the experiment goes. And maybe the Sun can invite some Canucks to write political blogs. Does Mats Sundin support the carbon tax? Does Roberto Luongo favour electoral reform? Inquiring minds, etc.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The road to Vancouver: Smaller slates, terminating memberships and protecting policy debate

While one-member, one-vote (OMOV) and the YLC quota amendment has been getting a lot of attention ahead of the Liberal convention in a few weeks, along with a dollop of related procedural shenanigans, these aren’t the only constitutional measures delegates will be asked to vote on in Vancouver.

Many are housekeeping, but here’s a closer look at a few of the more interesting ones (Full PDF is here).

*The national executive is proposing to reduce the size of the delegate slates each riding can send to convention from 20 to 14. Interestingly, in Montreal attendees voted to INCREASE the size of the slates.

I don’t know why they’re proposing this change, and as it stands I won’t be supporting it. Why not have good-sized slates? The only argument against it I can think of is one of regional-weighting: it may be easier for larger, more prosperous ridings to send full delegations while smaller ridings will send only partial delegations. This can lead to over-representation, particularly if the larger ridings back-fill into the other ridings’ unfilled slates.

With OMOV (fingers-crossed) this concern is somewhat alleviated though, as delegated conventions will be primarily policy-focused. But the biggest advantage of larger slates is that it allows more people to attend convention, thereby spreading the fixed costs amongst a wider pool of people. That means lower delegate fees, which will actually help those smaller ridings send fuller slates.

With the larger slates we have now, when Vancouver was going to be an actual leadership convention the LPC was expecting higher attendance than Montreal, and was forecasting much lower delegate fees: in the area of $600, instead of the $900+ we ended up with. It’s simple economies of scale.

So I’ll be voting NO on this change. Let’s keep larger slates.

*The membership working group has a few membership-related amendments.

One is to allow party membership for Canadians living abroad, giving them associate membership (non-voting on riding matters, but a vote for leadership races) in the riding association of their choice. I think this is a good idea, I’ll be supporting it.

Another change seeks to bring some structure to the whole idea of kicking-out members of the party. I’d speculate this is in response to Paul Martin’s banning sponsorship figures “for life” despite him having no constitutional power or ability to do so.

The proposal here doesn’t include any lifetime bans (nor should it), but it does put a process in place for booting people. It’s rather lengthy so I won’t paste it in, it’s on page 21 of the PDF.

But, essentially, if someone’s conduct is judged to “be detrimental to the Party” then their membership can be terminated by a 2/3s vote of the national executive. They must be given 13 days notice of the meeting, and will have the right to plead their case at it. They can appeal it to a Permanent Appeal Committee.

So far, I’m on board. Due process, right to make your case, right to appeal, 2/3s majority, all good. There’s an 18-month cooling-off period before they can apply to join again, so no lifetime ban. Good. But they start to lose me with the process for re-joining. Basically, the application will be heard exclusively by the national membership secretary, who can reject it “for any reason.” And if rejected, the clock is re-set at 12 months before they can apply, again, to the national membership secretary.

I think that’s too much power to put into the hands of one person. Rather, I’d prefer to see that decision go to the full national executive, and be appealable, with the reasons for any denial made public.

The amendment also goes on to give the Leader or the National President the ability to issue suspensions of up to six-months, with 13-days notice and the right of written appeal to the national executive and the appeal committee. The suspension must also be confirmed by the executive at its next meeting, or it ceases. I hope this would be a power that’s sparingly used, but it seems reasonably set-out.

While I agree with the need to bring some formality to the suspension and termination of members, and these proposals are largely well considered, I am concerned as I mentioned about vesting so much power around re-admission with the membership secretary. I’d like to see an amendment there; otherwise, I’m inclined to vote NO on this amendment.

*While I’ve obviously taken issue with the youth wing’s OMOV amendment, they do have a few other amendments that I think are good ideas that I can get behind.

The first is to reduce the influence of ex-officios at conventions, which will be largely increased if the amendment to reduce delegate slates from 20 to 14 is passed. Rather than extending automatic ex-officio status to past MPs and Senators, the YLC proposes limiting it to current sitting MPs/Senators. This is a good change. I don’t believe in giving anyone status for life. I’ll vote YES on this amendment.

Another youth amendment deals with the policy process, and speaks to the issues I’ve raised about how it has been badly mismanaged by current policy chair, Joan Bourassa, leading to a lessening of the grassroots influence.

The youth proposal would require policy, before going to the floor, to be considered in workshop by delegates at the convention.

I’m mixed on this proposal. I agree that the way policy was handled this time around was ridiculous. And I know the YLC is concerned that the advantage their delegate quota legitimately gives them was nullified by this process, and could be permanently if we made the online consultation process binding, without building-in protections.

So, while the preference for policy work-shopping and prioritization I’ve argued for in the past has been for either a full, open debate and binding vote online or, as a compromise, an online vote for delegates, I’m coming around to supporting an affirmation of the delegated system for policy.

Why? Well, if we’re still going to have policy conventions, they should mean something. And if we’re going to maintain the demographic quotas for policy conventions (and I think we should), then that must be reflected in the policy workshoping and prioritization voting.

I could see down the road an entirely new policy process that sees regional policy workshops, where more people could participate and debate and take have their say. I think we should explore that, and how we can do it in ways that ensure strong voices for the commissions. But that’s a long-term rethink and debate.

For now, the shenanigans of this year’s policy process shouldn’t be repeated, and this amendment ensures they won’t. So I’ll be voting YES on this amendment.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Will Harper be honest with Canadians?

Apparently Michael Ignatieff is making news because, in response to a question today from a citizen about how we can deal with this escalating deficit, he admitted we may need to raise taxes to get the books balanced again.

A political faux pas, to be sure, in the sense that it's bad politics to give honest answers to Canadians when they ask tough questions of politicians. It's better to just lie, and tell them the Gum Drop Princess will just plant more candy canes. Which seems to be the Conservative economic policy, as far as I can tell.

Of course, the Conservative war room is all over this. They're going to need to re-cut their first negative ads. That doesn't change the fact though that Ignatieff is right. And it doesn't change the fact that the Harper Conservatives aren't being honest with Canadians about the deficit, and how we're going to get out of it.

But then, what else is new? Harper denied there would be a recession, right up until we were already hemorrhaging jobs. Instead, he talked about buying opportunities. He said me, run a deficit? Never! And then when the election was over, he abruptly changed his mind. Instead of bringing in stimulus in the fall, he played political chicken -- and nearly lost. And he continues to mislead Canadians about the true size and scope of this downturn.

So is it any wonder the Conservatives aren't being honest with us about the deficit?

We were heading for a structural deficit before the budget, and its getting worse. Once the economic tsunami has passed we won't be able to grow our way out of this hole. Private sector forecasters and the parliamentary budget officer agree Jim Flaherty's go-forward revenue projections are grossly optimistic. Harper isn't being honest with us about the challenges ahead. They're trying to hide the problem. But we will have to deal with it.

If we're going to get back into the black after this economic storm passes, then there will either need to be tax increases, program cuts, or some combination of the two. I give Ignatieff credit for saying the politically unpopular: we'll need more revenue, ie. taxes.

Harper owes Canadians some honesty here too. Where's his real, realistic plan for dealing with this deficit. If he says tax cuts are a no-go, what specific programs does he plan to cut to balance the books? How is he going to deal with the deficit? What's his magic plan?

The Conservatives can play the tax bogeyman all they want. They'll even scare the more gullible among us. The rest of us, though, want some answers. Taxes? Program slashing? What's the plan, Steve?

Actually, the answer is b) gutting program spending. It's long been their game plan: choke off government revenue, forcing a radical reduction in the size of government. The only way to undo it? Politically unpopular tax increases to preserve program spending. Of course, they won't tell you this now.

Why? People like program cuts in the abstract. But in the real world, they like those services and programs, and would punish Harper for planning to gut them. So he'll promise abortions for some, minature American flags for other, and hope we can't put two and two together.

But I'm betting Harper is planning on not being around when the bill comes due leaving it up to, once again, the Liberals do the heavy lifting, make the tough choices, and clean-up his mess. Just like we did with the last Conservative deficit.

FOR MORE: Far and Wide, Liberal Arts and Minds and Impolitical.

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Conservatives' phallic faux pas

The weird, unfortunate-pun-filled, lots of jokes I could make but won't story of the week comes to us from the Sun's Greg Weston:

On today's tour of the federal funny farm, we find Stephen Harper's government stubbornly refusing to spend more than $300,000 to save a 10-inch stone penis from American hands. Imagine.

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The politics of green

And by green I don’t mean money, although dolla bills are certainly part of the equation. No, by green I mean environmental policy, and specifically carbon shifts, carbon taxes, green shifts, NAMBLA, whatever you want to call it.

With two green policy motions (dating back how many years, I don’t know) set to be debated at the upcoming Liberal convention that mention a carbon tax (in passing, it should be noted, as one possible component of a wider environmental policy) the issue is back somewhat on the federal scene. The Conservatives are/will also try to make something of Ignatieff’s original support for a carbon tax.

I’m fairly confident that a carbon tax won’t be part of our election platform. Even though every expert agrees it’s the superior solution. We took it to the people last time, and they said no. They didn’t like the tradeoffs. That’s democracy. We’ll try other approaches. C’est la vie. If public opinion comes around in the future, we can revisit it.

What’s more interesting though is what’s happening on the carbon tax front in British Columbia, where the provincial election is underway. There, the carbon tax is already implemented by the BC Liberals (no relation). And it caused us federal folks no end of frustration during the last election, with both the NDP and the Conservatives teaming-up to spread lies and misinformation, scare-mongering about double taxation and promoting other myths.

But federal headaches aside, it has been fascinating to watch the carbon tax drama unfold in BC.

There was a time I might have looked at a carbon tax as an ‘Only Nixon could go to China’ kind of thing. It’s good policy, but the fed Libs would (and did) get slammed on the right for trying it (my idealistic hopes we could pull it off to the contrary). But if you sold a conservative government (like the BC Libs) on a carbon shift, which every environmental expert will tell you is the right policy, and had that conservative government put it forward, then surely the more progressive parties would be on board, and Bob’s your uncle.

Well, the first half worked. Gordon Campbell went to China. And then the BC NDP went all Joe McCarthy on his ass.

It’s hard to see the NDP’s decision to oppose the carbon tax as anything but political opportunism, designed to win rural votes in Northern British Columbia, where the carbon tax is deeply unpopular. Any support their stance wins them though may cost them support with their traditional base, however:

"A step backwards for climate action." That's how three environmental organizations described the provincial New Democrat's campaign platform during a media briefing today, stating the "positive ideas" included in that document are "insufficient to compensate" for the party's promise to cancel the carbon tax. At the same time, they applauded the Liberals for taking British Columbia from being a climate change "laggard to leader in four years" by introducing that tax, among other measures.

Or maybe not. Because while three groups were present for yesterday’s presser attacking the BC NDP’s climate change platform (the David Suzuki Foundation, ForestEthics and The Pembina Institute), a year ago 16 environmental groups came together to support the carbon tax. Because I guess, for some environmental groups, while criticizing NDP opposition to a carbon tax is one thing, doing so on the eve of an election is quite another.

From the Western Canada Wilderness Committee:
"Yes, the wilderness committee is disappointed that the NDP do not support the carbon tax. But, in a broader environmental sense, we are very pleased with many parts of the NDP platform - including their protection of BC Hydro and keeping it public and protected, our best tool for fighting climate change."


"Well, I understand their disappointed over the NDP not following the carbon tax, but for God sake! The sucking up to large industrial polluters, the gutting of everything from the Forest Practices Code to the very right for citizens to know whose polluting in their neighborhoods, the catering to the carbon spewing industries - including those industries that profit from sprawl development - why in the Hell would you support that or pander to it in this way?"

Fair enough. A carbon tax is just one element of environmental policy. It’s one that the BC Liberals have gotten right, and it’s a significant step, but it’s perfectly legitimate to argue they’ve dropped the ball in other areas, and that the NDP platform is superior in other areas.

And one wonders, even if the NDP does piss off some of their green base, where is it going to go? It’s like the federal Conservatives pissing off the so-cons: where are they going to go?

Some may go BC Liberal, but probably not in large numbers. They fundamentally disagree with Gordo on too many other issues to hold their noses. What would be interesting is if we see NDP supporters going to the Green Party, particularly in urban seats. It could be enough of a margin to swing a few seats. Most though will probably take the pragmatic view and hold their noses, remembering Kang and Kodos’ advice about voting for third-party candidates.

So, it will be fascinating to see how the carbon tax issue plays-out in the BC election campaign. As an interesting sidenote though, consider how this could play out if we’d passed STV in 2005 (hopefully we’ll pass it this time). Rather than feeling they need to vote NDP to stop Campbell and with the impact of those that do go Green being muted by FPTP, under STV green NDP supporters would feel freer to vote Green to express their carbon tax displeasure. And it wouldn’t take much of a percentage shift to see a number of seats go from NDP to Green. You’d also likely see the BC Liberals bleed seats to the Reform/Conservatives/ whatever they’re calling themselves these days.

It would be a very different legislature, with very different dynamics, to be sure. This could be the last election where the NDP could get away with a strategic calculation like this. Time will tell.

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