Friday, July 31, 2009

Video: Seth Rogen defends Canadian health care

Canadian-born actor Seth Rogen defends Canada's health care system on the Jimmy Kimmel show. Mostly he talks about getting dissed by Megan Fox, but he does stand-up for Canada like a good Canadian boy.

Which means, by my count, even Seth Rogen has spent more time defending Canada's health care system than Stephen Harper and his cabinet.

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Michael Ignatieff tours Quebec

Le Soleil reports Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will be touring Quebec this weekend (via Google Translate):

The leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff, visiting two ridings in eastern Quebec Saturday and Sunday, during its summer tour of regions.

It will stay in the district of Haute-Gaspésie-Matapédia-Matane-Mitis Saturday with his Liberal candidate Nancy Charest. Sunday, he will move to the riding of Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine, where the candidate is not yet known. He arrived in Gaspé at 9am and will be received at City Hall by Mayor François Roussy.

He then will fly to Bonaventure, and went to Cascapedia-Saint-Jules visit the Museum of Cascapedia River, accompanied by the Liberal organizer Rémi Bujold. He will participate in the late afternoon at a meeting partisan Bonaventure.

According to Jean-François Latortue, spokesman for Mr. Ignatieff, the Liberals, both of these constituencies are prenables.
I hear his whirlwind Quebec tour will include Barrie, Mont-Joli, Amqui, Matane, Gaspé, Cascapédia—St. Jules and Bonaventure.

I wonder if Stephen Harper will be touring Quebec this summer? I hear they just love him there...

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Wafer madness, part deux: Oh, the kerfuffle of it all

As promised, a few (waaay to many, really) observations and musings about the recent flare-up of the Harper and the Holy Host brouhaha, which most thought we’d heard the last of but which hit the news again this week with a front-page apology to the PM from the paper that broke the story, the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal, the departure of an editor and publisher, and an apology to the reporters that wrote the story.

Apparently, the editor/publisher inserted something into the story that wasn’t substantiated, without the knowledge of the reporters. It’s unclear to me what specifically, but it seems to be the statement of fact that he was indeed witnessed pocketing the host, and the potentially un-sourced claim that a senior NB RC priest was looking to the PMO for an explanation. The apology, though, seems to being taken by many as a complete repudiation of the entire story.

That doesn’t really make sense to me.

*How could the whole story be repudiated? The apology is supposedly for inserting unsubstantiated facts. But a story was still written in the first place which, in theory, the reporters stood by. So what was that original story, and what was inserted?

Remember, this story was written some five days after the state funeral. This is a daily newspaper, so they'd covered the funeral story already. So clearly the original, untainted story the two reporters wrote was more than just “there was a state funeral a week ago.” That’s not a story. The story they wrote had to centre around Harper accepting communion, was that right or not, and when did he consume it? Then some things were inserted to beef that up that were apparently troublesome.

The video shows he did not consume it right away. He appears to bring it down to his pocket, but it’s hard to definitively say if he pocketed it or not. It looks to me like it was pocketed by Harper. Harper eventually said through a spokesperson he didn’t pocket it. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite the inconclusive video. When he ate it, that’s another question.

But the Telegraph Journal’s apology doesn't really change the original story, whether you think it’s a dumb or newsworthy story or not: Harper accepted communion when he shouldn’t have, and took his sweet time consuming it, when he should have consumed it right away. All they're retracting is "senior priest wants answers" and "he pocketed it."

*Looking at the original story and the apology, the TJ appears to retract this part:

A senior New Brunswick Roman Catholic priest is demanding the Prime Minister's Office explain what happened to the sacramental communion wafer Stephen Harper was given at Roméo LeBlanc's funeral mass.
Here’s the part of the retraction dealing with that:
The story stated that a senior Roman Catholic priest in New Brunswick had demanded that the Prime Minister's Office explain what happened to the communion wafer which was handed to Prime Minister Harper during the celebration of communion at the funeral mass…There was no credible support for these statements of fact at the time this article was published, nor is the Telegraph-Journal aware of any credible support for these statements now.
But the original story goes on to quote, on the record, and at length, someone who fits that description:
Monsignor Brian Henneberry, vicar general and chancellor in the Diocese of Saint John, wants to know whether the prime minister consumed the host and, if not, what happened to it.
If Harper accepted the host but did not consume it, "it's worse than a faux pas, it's a scandal from the Catholic point of view," he said.

Henneberry said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office is in order.

"If I were the prime minister, I would at least offer an explanation to say no offence was meant, and then (clarifying) what happened to the consecrated host is in order," he said. "I would hope the Prime Minister's Office would have enough respect for the Catholic Church and for faith in general to make clear whatever happened."
It’s unclear to me whether or not Henneberry is the senior priest being referred to in the lede of the original story, which is being retracted by the TJ, or whether these are two separate clergy members being referred to here.

If it’s two separate people that means Henneberry’s comments are not retracted and would seem to support the thesis of the story, and would back-up the un-sourced comment they’re retracting.

If they are retracting Henneberry’s comments, then why didn’t they name him in the apology, and apologize to him as well? Has anyone called Henneberry on this?

And if it’s Henneberry they’re retracting, are they saying the editor/publisher fabricated quotes at length and attributed them to a real, actual person? That seems unlikely beyond the realm of reason to the point of absurdity. Or did they invent a fictitious clergy member named Henneberry, and write these quotes for their fake priest? Also unlikely. It's too easy to fact-check.

And if Henneberry actually did say these things, why would they retract him? He’s entitled to his opinion, which is quoted as wanting to know if Harper consumed the host or not, and being somewhat perturbed. That’s perfectly legitimate.

*The timing of this thing is also very peculiar, coming weeks after the initial stories. Clearly these reporters must have picked up the paper the next day, read their story, and been all “wtf dude, I didn’t write this stuff!” They must have gone to the editors and said "this stuff you added isn’t accurate, we need to do something here." So why the lag of weeks before the retraction/apology? And were there any phone calls, or legal sabre rattling, from the Harper camp?

The placement of the retraction, and the on the knees grovelling nature of it, is also out of line with standard newspaper corrections/apologies, which even under threat of legal action tend to be grudging, at best.

BigCityLib also raises an interesting connection: the TJ is controlled by the Irving family, whose shipyards rely heavily on federal contracts. And which very recently got a half-billion shipbuilding contract from the Conservative government. Things that make you go hmm.

*CTV’s Bob Fife thinks he has a big scoop, alleging some kind of Liberal involvement in the story. This has CPC poobah Doug Finley into a righteous later and the Con-bots all in a tizzy saying this makes a story they had dismissed as totally lame now the biggest thing since the pita pocket.

A few things, though. What exactly are they alleging? That a Liberal called the TJ and said Hey, there’s a story here you might want to check out? Hate to break it, but that’s what comms people and reporters do every day.

Who do you want to bet called Bob Fife with THIS story?


But it’s not about specific allegations of anything. It’s about whipping up a big lather of “Big Bad Liberal Media” that will no doubt feature prominently in the next CPC fundraising letter.

*Finally, on a lighter note, it looks like the script is coming together nicely for the sequel to Angels and Demons II: Harper and the Holy Host. The conspiracy widens!

If nothing else though, it’s another chance for you to watch the video the Conservatives didn’t want you to see, and some of the resulting media coverage. Oh, the kerfuffle of it all…

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wafer madness returns, with a vengeance

You know, I'd spent a chunk of my lunch hour today working on a post about the revival of the whole Harper hiding the holy host kerfuffle thing, but then I went and left it on my work computer when I went home. So, maybe tomorrow.

The apology/retraction from the Telegraph Journal is actually very specific, not retracting the entire story at all but just two specific facts, and the whole thing raises several questions. Which I'll get into tomorrow, so I'll ask you to hold your comments for that post.

For now, to the video archives on a story the Conservatives really seem to want us to pay attention to again. Oh, the kerfuffle of it all...

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Video: Harper's Government Reports: Canadians seeking EI at an 11-year high

A video from daviolis on the Harper government's EI record:

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Musing on Van Loan's honour killing musings

When I read Peter Van Loan's musings this morning that maybe, but maybe not, that he'd consider, but he's not sure it's necessary but maybe, there should be harsher sentances for so-called honour killings...

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan opened the door to tougher penalties for honour killings yesterday, saying it is a crime Canadian society cannot accept.

“This notion that it is appropriate to kill a family member because of your disapproval of their lifestyle or choices like that is simply unacceptable in our society. I have a very serious problem with that.”

... I can't help but think of the arguments that his conservative brethren use to argue against hate crime legislation: murder is murder, period. They tend to argue strongly that crimes based on race, ethnicity or sexual orientation should be treated any differently than any other murder.

So I find Van Loan's musings on "honour killings" to be interesting. I'll refrain from speculating on the reasons for his public musings, although I certainly have my suspicions. I'll be interested though to see the reaction of the conservative blogsphere.

Why own feelings on this? While I do agree generally that a murder is a murder, there are cases where hate crimes legislation should clearly be applied. But is should be used sparingly, because it is a difficult thing to prove, what was in a killer's mind.

Should we extend the hate crimes concept to include honour killings? I do find them abhorrent; although, of course, all murder os abhorent. I think the challenge would be in defining the term, and when and how it would be applied. I'd want to consider the legislation and its implementation before coming down either way.

Without ruling it out though, and while I'm not convinved this is a burning crisis in Canada, I think there may be other, non-judicial ways of preventing this kind of cultural violence before it occurs. Perhaps we should be exploring them too.

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Day vs. Flaherty: Who ya gonna believe on the economy?

Now is the time when we compare and contrast at Small De..., er BCer in Toronto:

Jim Flaherty:

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says it might be premature to declare an end to Canada's recession.

The minister made the remarks Tuesday on his way into a Conservative caucus meeting.

"No, I think we will have to look back as we always do, and look at this quarter," Flaherty said when asked whether he agreed with the Bank of Canada's most recent assessment of the economy.

Stockwell Day:
I'm not kidding. The recession is over. Now I realize some of you may be saying, "hey, who gave Stockwell Day the right to say the recession is over?'

Strictly speaking, nobody gave me the right to say a recession had started, let alone declare it was finished. There is actually a technical definition which says if a certain number of measurable economic indicators are not met over a certain period of time, then, presto!, we're in a recession.

However, if those same economic goal posts are reached over a certain period of time then somebody can declare just as categorically that the recession has ended. In Canada's case that 'somebody' happens to be the Governor of the Bank of Canada.
Now, I know Flaherty is the finance minister and everything, whereas Day is good with a jet ski. Still, I feel like Stock has just a little more credibility on economic matters than Jimbo these days.

So I don't know who to believe...

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A smelly deal for Mayor Miller, and Torontonians

If the reports of the terms of the settlement in the Toronto garbage/others strike we're hearing are true (a virtual surrender by Mayor Miller) then a lot of people are going to have a hard time swallowing this. If you were going to capitulate, why not do it at the start, before enduring a long strike and allowing rotting stinking garbage to pile up in our parks?

People would have been more forgiving if it could be seen that enduring the strike had accomplished something, had generated real concessions on wages and this ridiculous sick-banking system to bring compensation in-line with the economic realities of the city, the country, and its citizens like myself, who are taking pay-cuts to keep our jobs, not getting generous wage increases.

By all reports, this deal stinks. I've never really gotten involved in municipal politics since I moved to Toronto, but next election I think that's going to change. If there's a strong, centerist candidate to oppose David Miller then I want to help. My fear, though, is another right-wing nut job being the only alternative, letting Miller slide back in again as the lesser evil.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Compare something to the Avro Arrow again and I WILL go work at NASA

I once thought that making references to The Munich Agreement and Neville Chamberlain was the most over-used as an analogy for appeasement was the most overused reference in modern politics. But I think we may have a new winner, at least in Canada: the Avro Arrow.

Lately it seems like everything is being compared to the cancellation of the Arrow, which killed our nascent aerospace industry (sorry Bombardier), scrapped one sweet-ass airplane, and sent our best and brightest down to the U.S. to help land an American on the moon and do other cool stuff.

The Conservative decision to kill the new Maple reactors that could generate medical isotopes? A new Avro Arrow, we were told loudly and often, because it would devastate the Canadian nuclear research industry, an industry in which we're a world leader. OK, I can accept that analogy, and it is a bad decision with wide-ranging negative consequences.

But I draw the line at this, today, in the Toronto Star:

Nortel-RIM could be PM's Avro Arrow
Subsidizing sale of patents to foreigners would earn Harper ignominy to rival Diefenbaker's jet legacy
OK, that is a singularly stupid analogy. I really don't want to go into too much detail here because this begins to bleed into subjects I get into during my day job, and I try to avoid that on my blog.

But I'll just say this: yes, losing any jobs is a concern. But Nortel Networks is no Avro Arrow, it hasn't been close for many, many years. It's one player in a crowded global market for telecom equipment, it has been shrinking in size, breadth, and coverage for many years, and its heyday of the late 1990s is long-since past. Along with many Canadians' mutual funds.

You can try to make a case for government intervention that's jobs-based, but an Arrow-themed argument premised on global leadership in its field and unique and valuable intelectural property just won't fly.

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Will you live or die overseas? The Harper Conservatives release a handy guide

An article in Le Devoir points the way to a new Web page the Harper Conservatives launched Tuesday through the Foreign Affairs site for Canadians traveling abroad, with advice for Canadians imprisioned abroad and information on the clemency process for Canadians sentenced to death in foreign countries.

With capital punishment having been abolished in Canada, it has long been the policy of Canadian governments of either major political party to seek clemency for our citizens sentenced to death abroad as a matter of course.

Until, that is, the Harper Reformatories came to town. Under Harper, without debate, the death penalty is back for Canadians abroad, because The Harper Government won't fight for you. Well, let me rephrase. They may or may not fight for you. It depends on whether or not you fit their demographic profile, are part of a group they want to woo, or you're what they'd define as a "real Canadian."

This selective implementation of clemency, this "maybe we'll help you, maybe we'll let you die" policy of the Harper Conservatives has rightly been pilloried by the courts, who have routinely had to step in to get this government to remember its primary duty: stand up for ALL Canadians. The court ruling against the government policy (under appeal) vis a vis the Roland Smith case, and its rejection of the UN's clemency position, underline this.

Back to the discredited and morally vacuous Conservative clemency if necessary but not necesarily clemency policy. The Conservatives have now handily released a guide online of factors that will influence whether they'll decide to help you, or let you die. As well, all applications must be submitted in writing.

Read the "factors" for yourself. And be sure to submit your clemency application in writing on Form 6B, titled "Please Don't Kill Me, Mr. Harper" and allow 6-8 weeks for processing, and affix proper postage. The Harper Government is not responsible for lost or misdirected clemency applications, and incomplete or illegible forms will be returned to sender, or next of kin.

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Video: Ujjal Dosanjh on Canada AM talking health care

I haven't seen any online video of his second CNN appearance yet (and it appears the first one has been removed from YouTube for a "Terms of use violation" UPDATE: It's still here though) but here's Liberal MP and former health minister Ujjal Dosanjh on Canada AM yesterday talking about his recent appearances on CNN to defend Canada's health care system, and health care reform:

Health care reform, by the way, is a debate we need to be having in Canada too because, as Ujjal says, our system isn't perfect either. And if you look at most polls, health care still trumps the economy and the environment as the top issue of concern for Canadians.

It's a debate we need to begin having.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Maybe Jason Kenney is manufacturing an immigration crisis

Sorry Jason Kenney, but it appears I wasn’t alone in my tin-foil hat wearing when it comes to the suggestion your government may be trying to manufacture a crisis in the immigration system to push through a dramatic overhaul of the system.

From an interesting article in Embassy Mag, here’s former IRB chairman Peter Showler, rebutting Kenney’s contention that the Conservative dithering on filling vacant IRB slots was NOT a major contributor to the current immigration backlog:

Just four years ago however, Mr. Showler points out that the IRB had an inventory of approximately 21,000 claims, with a capacity to decide 25,000 claims annually. But because the government has failed to reappoint experienced members and fill vacancies left by departed members, the IRB is now saddled with a backlog that exceeds 65,000 claims.
And here’s Audrey Macklin, an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law, going even further and stating it even more clearly:
"[The government] manufactured the backlog," Ms. Macklin said. "You have a situation where the government took a system that was functioning, broke it, blamed asylum seekers for breaking it, and is now using that as an excuse to dismantle the entire system. There's something pernicious about that, and disingenuous at best."
And piling-on, the Mexican government contends it was the very fact that the system was becoming so backlogged and claims delayed due to the IRB vacancies THAT CAUSED the spike in Mexican immigration claims:
Without enough members, the processing time has slowed—something the Mexican government points to as the root cause of the multiplying number of cases from Mexico in recent years. In 2008, more than 9,400 Mexicans filed refugee claims in Canada, making it the number one source country for refugee claims.

"Organizations have taken advantage of Canadian response times to assess refugee claims, where excessive delays have become appealing in the filing of illegitimate cases," the Mexican government said in a statement on July 13.
It’s almost like a chicken and the egg situation: is the system backlogged because there’s more Mexicans, or are there more Mexicans because the system is backlogged?

It’s increasingly clear to me, however, that the Conservatives, at the very least, have deliberately worsened this situation we’re now in. What they intend to do with their manufactured crisis, I suppose, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crime is down, but rhetoric continues to escalate

Statistics Canada reports today that crime is down across the country, with the exception of those pesky Prince Edward Islanders, where the Anne of Green Gables knockoff merchandise black market continues to expand. Potato theft is also rampant.

But really, declining crime rates aren’t really surprising to most people. Well, except perhaps to Stephen Harper. Those who have been paying attention, though, know that crime has been declining steadily for some time, well pre-dating the current government.

The statistics prevent a communications challenge for the Conservative. Or, rather, they would if the Conservatives were concerned about consistent messaging that actually, you know, makes sense and stuff.

The Conservatives could claim victory and take credit for the numbers, except:

a) Harper has already made his statistics, shmatistics position clear.

b) They consistently blame the Liberals for stalling and not passing their “tough on crime” legislation. Particularly those pesky Senators.

Never mind the fact we offered to fast-track the bulk of it, they always get it to the Senate late in session and expect it to be rubber-stamped, and they’ve killed their own bills many times, like when they called an early election (in violation of their own election law, ironically) or when they prorogued parliament in December to avoid defeat at the hands of the Rebel Alliance.
So if we’re stalling their legislation, how can it be reducing crime?

c) The decline in crime rates predates this government. That could more likely mean the previous Liberal “soft on crime” policies were actually working, that demographic or other factors could be responsible, or some combination of the two.

I’ll be interested to see how the Cons square the circle here. I’m guessing they stick to the fingers in year, stats are for losers, I listen to my gut approach.

To the opposition though, and particularly my Liberals, my plea is this: the facts are on our side.

So don’t take the path of least resistance on CPC crime legislation. Lets fight fictional gut rhetoric with actual facts.

If it’s good legislation, pass it. If it needs changes, move for amendments. Of course tough on crime polls well. But tough vs. soft is a false argument that we should reject. We’ve always advocated a balanced approach to crime: get tough on criminals AND address root causes that lead to crime. And we’ve gotten away from that lately, and that’s wrong.

We should be saying sure, get tough on crime, criminals suck (although mandatory minimums are stupid) but getting tough on crime is only half the answer. The Conservative approach is half-assed, and getting tough on crime along won’t achieve the desired impact. You need to address poverty, you need to invest in diversion programs, and you need to do harm reduction.

And you need to support programs like Insite, which won over a skeptical local community and has led to sharp reductions in property crime, for example, in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

That’s the case we should be making. As I said, we’ve got the facts on our side, that’s been reaffirmed again today.

So let’s start suiting-up for this one, please.

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Video: Ujjal Dosanjh talks health care on CNN

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Friday, July 17, 2009

We need clarity on the Parliamentary Budget Office

If I could channel Stephane Dion for a moment, when it comes to this brouhaha around the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), what we need here is some clarity.

I doubt the debate around the role, powers and place of the PBO is one that really resonates outside the world of policy wonks and political media and bloggers. That doesn’t really matter though, because good governance should concern us all, and that’s what this is about.

As I make it out, there seems to be a gap between what the PBO was intended to be based on the spirit and rhetoric back around its creation by the Conservatives (an independent officer of parliament, a la auditor general, who would report to parliamentarians and the public by providing an independent analysis on matters budgetary) and what the enabling legislation actually created (a branch within the library of parliament, with a reporting structure through the parliamentary committee).

It's important first to remember that distinction between what the rhetoric was, and what the legislation actually did. Despite the rhetoric, the legislation is what it is, and I think it's legitimate to say Kevin Page and the PBO need to be governed by the actual legislation, not what we thought or wished it had said.

That seems to be the position of the Liberal Party at the moment, and I can accept that. We should respect the legislation and law as written, and Mr. Page should govern his activities accordingly.

But where we need clarity, and where I’d like clarity from the Liberals, is on whether or not we feel the legislation should be amended to create what we thought we were creating in the first place, to fulfill in legislation the spirit of the original rhetoric: an independent officer of parliament. To my knowledge, the Liberals have been silent on that issue (I suspect I know the Conservatives’ position; they're a lost cause) and I want that to change.

Now, for sure I know the theoretical political arguments against it. Sure, we love the PBO now while he’s causing angst for Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty. But what about a future Liberal government? An independent PBO could be a thorn in our side too. So let’s rein him in now, under CPC cover.

A defensible tactical argument, to which I reply tough cookies. This is about good governance; we need to rise above base political considerations. And there's a simple way to avoid getting into conflict with the PBO: provide accurate, honest, and clear budgetary forecasts. And if we still have disagreements with the PBO, argue our case on the merits, respectfully.

It's time for clarity on the Liberal position on the PBO. Do we support amending the legislation to create an actually independent PBO, yes or no?

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Canada's immigration system: Problems, yes, but what's the fix?

I can't say I've ever closely looked at the ins-and-outs of Canada's immigration system. I have a few broad ideas of what I think it should be: open, but within reason. Welcome to those with skills and education we need that are looking to make a contribution and build a better life. Welcome to those fleeing genuine persecution and strife. Priority for family reunification. And better recognition of foreign credentialing.

But really, I think like most Canadians by birth I have little to no idea how the system actually works, beyond vague ideas and the exaggerations proffered by those on either extreme of the debates.

I bring this up, of course, because of the decision this week by citizenship and immigration minister Jason Kenney to add two countries to the list of those that we require visas from to visit Canada: the Czech Republic and Mexico. It's a significant decision, one which has generated strong reaction in all three countries and one with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Kenney's argument essentially boils down to this: the immigration system is hopelessly backlogged, immigration applications from these two countries have spiked in recent years, they make up the bulk of the application pool, and the bulk of the applications are rejected as ineligible. But it costs time and money to process them, and meanwhile other, more worthy applications are greatly delayed. Instituting visas will help to weed out the false applicants, and make the system work more quickly for genuine applicants.

In isolation, I can agree with that. If two countries are disproportionately clogging the system, that's an issue we should deal with. But I'm not convinced a visa requirement is necessarily the way to do it. Are there other options? I honestly don't know. Maybe there's not. But requiring visas has a range of spin off impacts, so its a question to consider carefully, balancing the pros and cons.

And on the wider problem of the immigration backlog, I agree again that something needs to be done to fix the system. But the system wouldn't be so badly backlogged if Kenney and his successors, Diane Finley and Monte Solberg, hadn't continually dithered so badly over the years on appointments to the Immigration and Refugee Board. The chronic under-staffing of the IRB has been a major contributor to the backlog in the system.

That's what sparked my tweet this morning that led to my Twitter exchange with Kenney, when I pondered whether Kenney was attempting to "manufacture a crisis" in the immigration system. My thinking being, let's say the Conservatives want to made substantial, philosophical changes to the immigration system. They need to build public support. There may be some systemic issues with the system, but not enough to build a mood for change. But let IRB vacancies build to create a chronic backlog and hey, the system's broke, we've got to do something! Then throw in some visa fireworks, and the mood for change becomes strong.

Conspiracy theorish? Perhaps, but it's not really that far fetched. And it worked for John Snobelen. Well, at least until he talked about it. What I'm more concerned about though is just what change they might have in mind. So far, Kenney has been vague on the details. But when I think back to the comments from the Conservatives on dual citizens, or the rescue of citizens from Lebanon, I worry.

While we wait for though, some thoughts on the Czech Republic and Mexico.

Czech Republic

Yes, there's been a spike in immigration applications from the Czech Republic. But is there a valid reason for it? The answer would seem to be quite possibly yes, with the reports of an increasingly hostile persecution by some elements in Czech society of their Roma population. Humanitarian immigration has always been a fundamental part of our immigration system, and so we do have a moral obligation if there is genuine persecution.

But at the same time, we're one country and we can't handle the entire population. And that can't be the answer alone anyways. The Czech government has a responsibility to its citizens, and if they're abdicating it we have an obligation to speak-up. And where is the European Union here? Why aren't they acting on the Roma issue? When I read about the EU threatening retaliatory measures against Canada for the visas I want to say hey, bite me EU, why don't you address the root cause here: Roma persecution in the Czech Republic.

So, I'm conflicted. I'm tempted to say let them all in, but we can't handle those numbers and at the same time, it's like we're letting the EU and the Czechs abdicate their responsibilities and just dump it on us.

And then there's the likely retaliatory measures requiring visas are likely to bring, from trade sanctions to requiring visas for Canadians to lost tourism revenue. I think just slapping visas seems like an inadequate solution. We need to find a way to weed the genuine immigration claimants from the fakers, accept those fleeing genuine persecution, and at the same time pressure the EU and the Czechs to act so the climate improves and the exodus ends.

The Harper government seems unwilling to go down this road though. The official Canadian line seems to minimize the Roma claims, and some more extreme Conservative commenters outright mock them. Instead, we seem determined to just turn a blind eye and slam the door shut, and that's reprehensible.

And usually wouldn't be tolerated by most Canadians, were there not a crisis being manufactured...


The Roma issue has been ongoing for some time, but Mexico's inclusion caught me and, I think many causal observers, by surprise. They're our NAFTA partner. A popular vacation destination. When we hear about Mexican immigration problems its usually in the US where its a right-wing hot-button. And while they're building border fences, even they haven't considered visas.

Here the hit for us is likely to be tourism-related. I know lots of Canadians venture south and, frankly, Mexico needs the dollars so I don't see them slapping a retaliatory visa requirement on Canadians (except our diplomats, perhaps). But apparently many Mexicans vacation and study in Canada, its a large industry, and with the tourism sector already hurting because of the down economy, the visa requirement is going to cost the industry at a time it can ill afford to be taking any hits.

And its not just the visa requirement, which on some grounds you can make an argument for. But you need to have the infrastructure in place to process and issue visas without making it a huge pain in the ass for people. I read somewhere than the only place in Mexico to get a visa is in Mexico City at the Canadian embassy, and people were camping-out outside to get them. That's crazy, and most people won't suffer through that. But with the cutbacks the Conservatives have made to the foreign affairs budget over the years, its not surprising.


While I can understand the arguments for why visas may be necessary, even if I don't agree with all of them, the fact is this is just addressing the symptoms, and its not going to fix the issues in the end. We should be looking at why people are trying to flee these two countries in abnormal countries in the first place. And we should be looking at how we can reform the immigration system to better handle and process claimants, so we don't have to throw these kinds of walls up.

In today's modern world, walls aren't the answer anymore.

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Twittering on immigration with Jason Kenney

Over the course of the day I've exchanged a few tweets back and forth with Conservative immigration Minister Jason Kenney on Twitter, on the topic of his recent announcement of visa requirements for visitors from the Czech Republic and Mexico.

I'll have more to say in length about this decision, the myriad consequences, and what it may mean for our immigration system, at a later point, when I have the time to compose a lengthier commentary.

But for now, I did want to share by Twitter exchange with Kenney for those of you not on Twitter, and say that while I naturally disagree with him on many things, I give Jason credit for embracing the medium and using it to engage those of other viewpoints. It's good to see.

P.S. I'm pretty jazzed about the tin-foil hat comment. That's going on the "Praise for A BCer in Toronto" greatest hits board, for sure.

Me: Have a feeling @minjk is channeling John Snobelen by manufacturing a crisis in immigration system. ? is, what will he do with it? #cdnpoli

Kenney: @BCerInToronto Take off the tin foil hat.No "crisis," but serious, longstanding problem: taking 2+yrs to finalize refugee claims isn't good

Me: @MinJK I agree changes needed, although not sure what they should be. But the still unfilled IRB positions are only worsening the situation.

Kenney: @BCerInToronto Fair point. I've made 33 appointments & 10 re-appointments to the IRB. Its now @ nearly 85% occupancy, and will soon be @ 95%

Kenney: @BCerInToronto But even if the IRB was operating @ full occupancy for the past 3 years, there would still be a huge backlog.

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Video: Where in the World is Prime Minister Stephen Harper?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Conservatives keep digging in Quebec

Macleans has an interesting article on the Conservative Party's increasing woes in Quebec. And between interesting anecdotes like this:

Meanwhile, organizers were scurrying across the room, pleading with attendees to keep quiet during the PM’s speech. Despite shelling out $150 for the privilege, diners didn’t appear particularly interested in listening to what Harper had to say. In fact, Harper didn’t even get the evening’s warmest reception. That privilege went to Maxime Bernier.
And advice Harper the egomaniac is unlikely to ever take, like this:
Bob Plamondon, a longtime Conservative and the author of Blue Thunder: The Truth about Conservatives from Macdonald to Harper, goes even further. He says Harper needs to strike a power-sharing agreement with someone able to countenance the prime minister’s sharply partisan instincts when it comes to Quebec. It’s the only way, Plamondon says, for Harper to avoid making missteps like those on culture and young offenders that are widely credited with sinking his chances of a majority in the last election campaign.
What struck me as most interesting though, as the article outlines how the Harper Conservatives continue to do much the same things that got them in trouble there in the first place, reinforcing the negative perceptions of the Conservative brand, was this observation from Harper's Quebec boss:
While it may seem counter-intuitive for the Tories to return to the ideological territory that may have played a role in derailing their campaign in 2008, a spokesperson for Conservative MP Christian Paradis, Harper’s Quebec lieutenant, says the party plans to stick with the tough-on-crime pitch to Quebecers.
Do they think Quebecers are going to suddenly do a 180 on the issue? Did the Conservatives learn nothing from the last campaign? It's like Harper is saying to Quebecers: "It's not me, it's you. I'm right, you change."

Honestly, I thought he was smarter than that. But apparently I gave him too much credit, as he's continuing down that same road again. Which, frankly, is just fine with me.

Amusing that Bernier got a warmer reception than Harper. Bernier might be the party's only MP left in the province after the next election, the way they're going.

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Global leadership, or the small man of the G8?

On the heels of Stephen Harper's latest less than stellar performance on the global stage at the G8 in Italy, an article in Embassy Mag is filled with anecdotes of Harper abroad, and how he's not exactly making us friends:

Although the misstep by the prime minister will likely make few waves with Canadians—most of whom are busy enjoying summertime—experts say it adds to a troubling pattern in Mr. Harper's approach to foreign policy. They say he seems content to miss opportunities to contribute to the international dialogue, instead commenting on internal, domestic politics that international journalists will have no interest in.

You'll remember Rona Ambrose's attack on the Liberal environmental record in Nairobi back in 2006. While, of course, it wasn't a hit with Liberals, the global community wasn't a fan either. Overall, it seems foreign policy just isn't a priority for Harper:
"Foreign policy is not [Mr. Harper's] main interest," said Errol Mendes, a professor of international law at the University of Ottawa. "It would be interesting to know how many average citizens of the G8 would know who our prime minister is, whereas they certainly knew who Trudeau was, even Mulroney. So the fact that he does not shine on the international stage does impact on us having profile."
Some interesting observations in the piece from Canwest's David Akin:
...the Canadian leader is so poorly known that photographers are constantly asking who Mr. Harper is.

Mr. Akin recalled that at the prime minister's first G8 Summit in St. Petersburg in 2006, Mr. Harper avoided the press for three entire days, even as every other G8 leader loudly trumpeted their messages to the international press gathered on site.

"He was so uncomfortable he was invisible, he physically looked smaller in that '06 summit...he seemed really out of his element," Mr. Akin said. "When you're travelling with him, there's never enough information about his activities, about who he's speaking to. The read-outs that we get from the PMO communications when he meets with other leaders are frustratingly bland and vague."

Ouch. Andrew Cohen is also critical:

"What struck me about this is that he was relentlessly and unnecessarily partisan," Mr. Cohen said. "And you wonder why he did it; it doesn't help him internationally and it doesn't help him at why did he do it? Maybe because he just can't help himself.

"We will probably have to wait...before we ever know what kind of a prime minister he was in those summits, but my sense is if we were doing innovative things and we were as daring as once we were, we would know."

Pollster Frank Graves says the domestic impact for Harper is likely minimal:

"Most people are paying very little attention," said Frank Graves, president of Ekos Research Associates polling firm, though he said he suspects Mr. Harper regrets the attack on Mr. Ignatieff, and the impression it may leave on the public.

"Why would he have offered up this gratuitous and what turns out to be erroneous critique of his competitor in Canada when he'd just done a reasonably good job otherwise?" Mr. Graves said. "That might reinforce this view that he has difficulty transcending partisan instincts."

I think Graves is probably largely correct on the domestic polling side; I don't think foreign policy or even Harper's embarrassing international stumbles are likely a vote-mover for many Canadians. But political calculations aside, our decreasing credibility on the global stage does bode ill for Canada on a number of fronts, both economic in our ability to attract trade and investment, and in our ability to influence global affairs.

I'm going to take issue with Graves' comment though that he thinks Harper regrets the attack on Ignatieff. He's right, and he's wrong. Harper undoubtedly regrets that he got bad information, I'm sure of that. Harper doesn't like being embarassed. But don't believe for one second he regrets the impulse to attack. It's ingrained in his psyche, his very nature.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Angels and Demons II: Harper and the Holy Host

It was difficult but I think I, and the nation(s), had moved on from the Harper holy host wafer communion did he or didn't he brouhaha. And then Stephen opens mouth, and, well, the dear leader sayeth:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has blamed the uproar over his handling of the Holy Communion host at former governor general Romeo LeBlanc's funeral mass on people trying to cause embarrassment and create division between Catholics and Protestants.

"People who want to cause embarrassment in religion and drive a wedge between Protestants and Catholics" are driving the controversy, Harper told a Catholic news agency in an exclusive interview after his meeting Saturday with Pope Benedict.

First, this story was dead and buried. Why are you resurrecting it, Stephen, and with wild conspiracy theories to boot?

Because really, Stephen Harper? You're the victim of some kind of religious-themed conspiracy to sow division between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism? Really??

I think someone has been reading too much Dan Brown. But just to be safe, we should really call in Robert Langdon to investigate.

He'll begin at the church in New Brunswick, then find a clue amongst the Gothic carvings of the Parliamentary Hill Library. It's the only part of the original parliament not destroyed by fire, a fire secretly begun by a secret cult of conspirators who came to Canada hidden amongst the United Empire Loyalists, but really trace their lineage to King Henry VIII and Martin Luther, and are determined to destroy the Holy Church once and for all. They're just waiting for the coming of The One.

From Ottawa, Langdon and Chantal, a beautiful young French-Canadian historian from Gatineau, will race to Montreal and Quebec City and then to Charlottetown, birthplace of confederation itself, then to Harper's childhood home in Leaside before the climatic ending in Calgary, at a stampede breakfast, where the truth is finally revealed and Harper can finally come out of hiding and blame it all on Michael Ignatieff, before sending-out Dimitri Soudas to correct him five minutes later.

Watch for it in summer 2010. Harper will be played by Daniel Baldwin.

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Conservative minister wants a spring election

Conservative revenue minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn has been in the Quebec media pleading with the BQ to not bring down his Harper Conservatives this fall, saying an election right now isn't right for Quebecers. Fair enough. But what's interesting is Blackburn has suggested a desired window for the next election: he'd like one in the spring:

(Via Google Translate:)

"The interest of Quebec, it is precisely that there are no elections in the fall. The right window is in a budget and the budget will be next spring," he added.
Most of the piece was same 'ol, but I did find it interesting mentioned spring as the time for an election. I haven't seem the Conservatives giving a prefered timeline in the English media. And I'm sure they could have a different story come spring, should it come to that. Odd though that Blackburn is boxing them into a date, and that the message seems to be Quebec-only.

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A little too ironic? Yeah I really do think

I find it quite ironic that the rush by Canadians to get passports, sparked by an overly security paranoid, post-911 United States requirement for all Canadians visiting the country to carry passports, has led to concerns about the security of passport issuing procedures?

Security might have been compromised as Canada's passport office scrambled to meet an unprecedented demand for travel documents, an internal review says.

An audit of Passport Canada's security bureau found some employees felt time constraints and inadequate training may have "contributed significantly" to documents being rushed out the door.
Somehow, alas, I'm doubting Homeland Security will appreciate the irony.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Conservatives expanding the gun registry, but it still totally sucks, promise

If you're one of those value for money people, or an ideological conservative, you really want to wonder about the news the Conservative are poised to spend millions expanding the gun registry processing centre Miramichi, New Brunswick:

You always hear rumours the gun registry is to be closed down, but how often do you hear it's going to actually get bigger?

But growth may be in store for the registry, said a spokesman for the RCMP last week.

"At this time, the anticipated in-service date for the new accommodation is summer 2011," RCMP Sgt. Greg Cox said by e-mail from Ottawa.

Cox said the RCMP is in talks with Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) to arrange appropriate space for the gun registry, and are awaiting approval for such a project. He hoped it would come in the fall of this year, after which it will be easier to tell how things will go from there, including when tenders will be issued.
They're not adding staff, but apparently the current space is to smaller, so they need a bigger one.

For ideological conservatives, the annoyance is that the Conservatives since first elected three years ago have failed to take any meaningful, serious action to attempt to abolish the gun registry, despite such a policy having been a core policy principle for years. Indeed, they're pumping more money into it.

Second, for those who just favour sensible fiscal management, its puzzling as well. While the Conservatives have promised not one job will be cut from the Mirimachi centre and they're investing tax dollars in its expansion, at the same time they've been continually taking steps to weaken the effectiveness and viability of the registry by issuing amnesties so owners don't need to register their rifles and shotguns. Does it really make sense to be spending more money on a program you're actively working to undermine and supposedly desperate to kill?

Assume they do eventually kill the registry for rifles and shotguns, leaving it for just handguns and what not. If they were serious about doing that, why expand the centre when the bulk of its workload would then be taken away?
Statistics from the Canadian Firearms Program's most recent report, however, shows that the long-gun registry makes up the vast majority of guns registered across the country and, therefore, the bulk of the work for Miramichi employees.

The figures show that of the 7,313,247 firearms registered across Canada as of December 2008, 6,652,208 are of the non-restricted or, long-gun variety, which includes hunting rifles and unmodified shotguns.

With restricted and prohibited firearms, meanwhile -- including handguns, semi-automatic and automatic weapons -- only about 660,000 are registered nationally.
They really seem to want to hold onto Tilly O'Neill-Gordon's seat.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Where's the plan, Steve?

In the midst of a disastrous week for the Conservatives, Stephen Harper finally admitted what has been obvious to everyone with half a brain for months: the Flaherty budget projections of emerging from deficit within five years are fantasy and will not be met:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has scrapped his government's controversial promise to stop running annual budget deficits in five years.

For the first time, Harper said today that keeping the government's pledge to balance Ottawa's books by 2013-14 will depend on how quickly Canada's economy recovers.

"We will allow the deficit to persist if necessary," Harper said.
At least he's not lying to us anymore on the deficit time line. But while, once again, he is tacitly admitting that he and his finance minister were very wrong (see $50B deficit) and Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page was very right, he still wants us to know Page is dumb:
But yesterday, Mr. Harper disputed the suggestion that the government would need to slash spending or boost taxes to balance its budget when the economy recovers.

"We will not start raising taxes and cutting programs. That's a very dumb policy and, to the extent, frankly, that the parliamentary budget officer suggested it, it's a dumb position," he said.
Well, Harper is an economist, after all. I'm just a writer, but I have to say I find Harper's plan to balance the budget, which seems to boil down to "do nothing and hope for the best" to be irresponsible and doomed to failure. Maybe Harper just doesn't plan to be around when the bills come due?

But it has become increasingly clear that we won't be able to grow our way out of this hole. Through endemic Conservative economic mismanagement, we're now in a structural deficit, as Page has reported. Harper seems to dismiss this finding, but let's consider his and Page's track-records here: who you gonna believe?

There are only two ways to deal with a structural deficit: spending cuts or tax increases. Or some combination thereof. There is going to need to be sacrifices, and Canadians deserve the truth from their government, not the willful ignorance of Harper and Flaherty.

According to Ipsos Reid, Canadians are increasingly skeptical of the veracity of anything the Conservatives have to say on matters budgetary. Indeed, just 35 per cent of Canadians believed the Harper Conservatives would be able to meet their budget commitments. And that was before Friday's credibility-busting admission.

The poll also found 88 per cent of Canadians favoured spending cuts over tax increases, which is hardly surprising. Asked in isolation, that's always going to be the case. But ask someone to choose between actual services, such as health care, and taxes you're going to get a different answer.

Ipsos doesn't seem to do that, but they do ask which spending people would like to see cut first:
But if the Canadian government and others were to cut spending, the top three programs that should be on the chopping block are, according to survey respondents, foreign aid, salaries and benefits of government workers and military spending. Environmental protection, public transportation, education spending and health care were at the bottom of the list.
Fact is, you're not going to find substantial savings in government spending without getting into those areas favoured for protection by survey respondents. There's little savings to be found in foreign aid and government salaries, and military cuts would be difficult. Much of the recent spending there has been capital acquisitions anyways. But the point is, to have any meaning, a spending cuts-alone policy will hurt those areas Canadians don't want hurt.

Of course, it's a discussion Stephen Harper is unwilling to have with Canadians. Just cross our fingers, he says, close your eyes, keep spending, and never mind the perpetual deficits. It will all be fine. Trust him.

You're supposed to be an economist, Stephen. And you're supposed to be a leader. So level with us: where's the plan? Or are you just making it up as you go along?

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Hey kids, want to go see dying animals or dangly man bits?

Not to harp on the controversy around the $400,000 in funding the Conservatives gave the Toronto Pride Parade, but if you'll recall one of the prime objections we hear from the outraged so-cons is that they don't want their children exposed to dangly man bits and what not.

That's fine, I can respect their parenting choices. But how about exposing your children to the death of animals? That's what's been happening at the Calgary Stampede, fueled by $2 million taxpayer dollars from the same federal program that has Brad Trost all pissy:

An outrider horse at the Calgary Stampede has died of an apparent heart attack, becoming the fourth animal to perish at the event this year.

Doug Fraser, a spokesperson for the Stampede, said the horse was cooling down after a race Friday night when it collapsed and died.

A veterinarian determined that the horse, from the Ray Mitsuing chuckwagon team, died of a heart attack.

It's the fourth animal to die this year at the Stampede, and the third chuckwagon horse.

On Thursday, a steer had to be put down after it suffered a spinal injury during the steer-wrestling competition.

As a young tyke, I don't ever recall being traumatized by partial nudity. When Babmi's mom died though, that was another story. And to my knowledge, no animals died as a result of the Pride Parade.

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Not discriminating takes guts in the Conservative caucus?

Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth seems ready to submit Diane Ablonczy's name to Stockholm for Nobel consideration:

"I give Ablonczy 100 per cent credit for choosing not politically to discriminate against something Pride Toronto had a legitimate reason to apply for and met all the criteria," Ruth said in an interview Thursday.

"It takes guts not to discriminate when you know there is a faction within your party who isn't going to like it. That takes guts and courage and I admire that."

Now don't get me wrong, I support Ablonczy on this. But when NOT choosing to discriminate against an event that will pump millions of dollars into the economy takes GUTS and COURAGE because it might offend some nutbars, then I think that speaks to some rather serious problems with this Conservative government, doesn't it?

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Exposing the Conservatives' secret pro-jazz agenda

Amusing column in the Globe today:

Much like Conservative MP Brad Trost – who, in a statement to this week, claimed that Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy's decision to fund Toronto's Gay Pride events had come as a shock to most of the Conservative caucus – I, too, am troubled by some of the choices that our government has made in supporting cultural events.

In fact, I'm glad that we're finally talking about this issue, because I really don't enjoy jazz music.

Our government funds many cultural events, but it always seems to me that they fund a lot of jazz festivals. What with the CBC playing so much jazz, one could easily start to believe that our government has a pro-jazz agenda.

Not that I consider myself anti-jazz, you understand, any more than the group to which Mr. Trost directed his comments is necessarily anti-gay. They're just pro-family. And I'm just pro-music.

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UK Tories turn to Canada for economic advice

But David Cameron's Tories aren't looking to their Harper Conservative cousins for advice on dealing with debt and deficit. No, they're looking to the Liberal Party of Canada:

As a younger Gordon Brown was bolting the New in front of Labour in the mid-Nineties, he made frequent schoolboyish field trips across the Atlantic to study the slick campaign and policy lessons from Bill Clinton's victories in the US. This is the stuff of opposition, to learn from those who have blazed a trail you want to follow – and also to lodge in the public consciousness back home the idea that, yes, you are destined to follow them.

So it is that the Tories are obsessing about another North American political success story, that of the Canadian Liberal Party, which swept to power in 1993 and proceeded to implement the biggest reduction in government spending in the country's history, eliminating a crippling C$42bn (£22bn) budget deficit in just four years. The international acclaim was raucous: The Wall Street Journal had proclaimed Canada "an honorary member of the Third World" in 1993, when its national debt was heading towards a peak of 72 per cent of the size of the economy; in 1998, Paul Martin, the finance minister, was heralded by Business Week magazine for having produced "a maple leaf miracle". The centrist Liberal Party went on to further electoral success – and Mr Martin inherited the prime minister's office. No wonder the Conservatives are salivating.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Video: Please, stop, you're embarrassing us!

Usually when a Prime Minister goes overseas to an international summit like the G8, they get days of glowing media coverage looking all statesmanship on the world stage, always good for a bump in the polls.

And then there's Stephen Harper's summer vacation. Canada's back, baby!

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Conservative reality? You so funny, Dimitri

Dimitri Soudas today on the false quote brouhaha:

"Because in politics you do have exchanges between political opponents but you have to make sure those exchanged happen within a certain reality of things that people actually say."
Is this a new rule for the Conservative Party of Canada? It must be.*

*See "Liberals plan to raise taxes" "megatonnes of money" "insulting Ukrainians" and the many, many other quotes the Harper Conservatives have deliberately butchered and taken out of context to smear their political opponents over the recent years.

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Another reason we need an election this fall..

Imagine the international embarrassment when summit host Stephen Harper isn't there for the group photo because he's wandering lost in the woods...

Canada will host the 2010 G8 Summit in Huntsville at the high-end Deerhurst Lodge, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced today.

"I am pleased to announce the 2010 G8 Summit will be held in the heart of the Muskokas in Ontario's glorious cottage county," he said.

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Harper lies and insults, sends aide to apologize

Where does the buck stop? In The Harper Government(TM), apparently on the desk of the nearest convenient hapless staffer.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched a blistering attack here Friday against Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, though moments later his office withdrew the allegation and apologized to the Liberal leader.

Harper, here attending the G8 summit of major industrialized countries, slammed Ignatieff for allegedly saying that a new group of industrialized countries might be formed that won't include Canada.

Harper, whose party has questioned his rival's commitment to Canada because the Liberal leader lived three decades overseas, said Ignatieff should withdraw any suggestion that Canada could be excluded from a new body to replace the G8.

"I think it's an irresponsible suggestion, and Mr. Ignatieff is supposed to be a Canadian."

But his spokesman, Dimitri Soudas, quickly met with reporters to say he had misinformed the prime minister on the matter. Soudas said the remark attributed to Ignatieff was actually made by an academic, and apologized for the error.
Harper slings the mud, then sends the staffer to apolgize?

So, Soudas gave Harper bad information, and let a hapless zeal for partisan mudslinging get ahead of the facts. Its bad staffing, and while mistakes happen, they seem to be happening a lot lately in the PMO comms department. But that's an employee matter for the PMO. But if I were them, I'd be looking for better talent.

Bad info or not, the fact remains it is Harper that chose to act on it, and Harper that slung the mud in public and on the record by leveling outrageous falsehoods against the honour and reputation of the leader of the opposition. And, even if the attacks had been accurate, it is still Stephen Harper that decided to use what may have been his only full media availablity at the G8, at an international summit in another country, to wage an attack against a political rival. Very Prime Ministerial.

There seems to be a clear pattern in this government of ministers and the prime minister hiding feebly behind their staffers. Frankly, it's pathethic. Its Harper that made the public comments, and its Harper that needs to offer a sincere and public apology.

You make a mistake, you aplogize. That's how my mother raised me. She didn't say anything about staffers.

Man-up, Steve.

UPDATE: The story is now updated with an apology from Harper himself, so credit to him for that:

"During my press conference, I attacked Mr. Ignatieff for some things he had allegedly said about Canada and the G8," Harper said.

"I learned shortly after the press conference this was not a quotation of Mr. Ignatieff. I regret the error and I apologize to Mr. Ignatieff for this error."

Now maybe he can apologize for using an international summit to attack a political rival in the first place, for running ads that question his patriotism and commtiment to Canada, for...

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Harper holy host video censored

I guess the Harper holy host video has gotten to someone, because YouTube has pulled it offline, supposedly because of a copyright claim by SRC (french CBC). Which is odd, because its not even their footage in the video, but CPAC's.(The extender version is still online.)

Copyright advocate Michael Geist weighs-in on the fallacy of the copyright argument:

I recall that a few months back YouTube also pulled a GritGirl video, that time supposedly at the request of CTV. The common denominator both times? Videos that were troublesome for the Conservative Party. Ironic, that.

Also ironic that this hamfisted attempt at censorship will only give this Harper holy host story another day or more of coverage, when otherwise it was pretty much over. And if I know the Inter-tubes, the video will live on...

PS sorry for lack of linkage, am on the blackberry.

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Time for Bob Rae to go back to Sri Lanka?

Looks like after earlier barring the doors while ensuring Bob Rae will hit Aeroplan Super Elite this year, the Sri Lankans have relented and decided to let Deepak Obhrai into the country. They just won't let him see the Canadian citizen the government is detaining:

MP Deepak Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, said he got no clear answers when he asked what Sri Lanka plans to do with the alleged Canadian insurgent, and no immediate acceptance of a request to see him.

“We asked for consular access, but at that given time, yesterday, they said no,” Mr. Obhrai said in a telephone interview from Sri Lanka.

“I then said, what will you do? Are you going to be charging this individual? What are you going to do? They hadn't made up their minds. So as the process goes on, we'll be back. We're mindful that he's a Canadian, and so…we've written to them and expressed our interest in this case.”

A troubling case, and I hope Obhrai stays on it. But maybe he could do me a favour, and swing by Gitmo on his way home? Please and thanks.

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No snark necessary (just strategic bolding)

Less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised the G8 for its latest climate-change targets, his environment minister said those targets are ``aspirational'' and that Canada may not meet them.

Jim Prentice, in an interview with CBC from L'Aquila, Italy, said reducing emissions by 80 per cent by the year 2050 is an ``aspirational goal.''

The best-case scenario for the Harper government's climate-change program _ which does not yet have enforceable regulations in place _ is a reduction in Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions of up to 70 per cent by 2050.

Prentice said Canada does not need to change its policy.

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The Conservative gay sponsorship scandal

First off, props to Dalton McGuinty:

"I can't speak for my colleagues in Ottawa, whatever their political stripe, but I can say that we take pride in investing in Pride," Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters in Windsor.

"It's one of the single largest tourism draws to benefit our province, it generates millions and millions of dollars, it awakens more and more of the world to the fact that we have a tolerant, accepting society here in Ontario and here in Canada," McGuinty said yesterday.
Now, back to Ottawa. The Conservatives really seem to want to have their gay cake on this, just as long as no one sees them eating it.

I can understand how different segments of the Conservative Party might have different views on this thing.

*The small government Cons say government funding for any parade or festival is crazy, although I doubt they'd get to aggrieved over, say Stampede funding.

*The more business-savvy Cons say the tourism marketing program pays for itself in taxes spent by tourists attracted, and gay dollars and hetero dollars spend just the same.

*And the so-Cons say eww, scantily clad gays, get away before you threaten my marriage.

Personally, I think the government's policy on this is right. Funding tourist events like this makes good sense by getting both tax payback and economic spinoffs. And you can't run a program like this on ideology, so they're right to be funding gay pride parades across the country as well as stampedes in Calgary and what not. Fund all (with sound business plans, of course) or fund none is the right approach.

If the Harper government could have just left it at that, and defended that policy "we don't screen events based on ideology, but on business fundamentals and economic impact" then I'd have said bravo. But as I said, they want to have their gay cake but not be seen eating it too.

That's because they still insist on pandering to the so-Cons in their tent, like MP Brad Trost. By leaving his comments on the program and his characterization of the view of the PMO and the Conservative caucus unchallenged, the government lends them credence. And if moving Diane Ablonczy from the file really was jsut coincidence, by saying nothing they just make the conspiracy theory all the more plausible.

And in the end, by trying to play both sides, all they're going do is piss off them both while getting credit from neither. The goodwill from the gay community for funding all these parades evaporates when you let Trost go unchallenged and let it seem Ablonczy was canned for a photo-op with drag queens. And the so-Cons won't be satisfied with a backbencher mouthoff when you're still funding pride parades accross the country.

These guys need to pick a side and defend it. Either back-up Trost or shut him down. Their silence is deafening, and its dumb.

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No more water for Harper at G8 meetings?

I joked yesterday that may Stephen Harper should try to change the channel on the holy host story by staying in the bathroom during another photo-op. On to more serious matters shortly, but it would appear I may have been (shudder) channeling the PMO:

By the way, another lame attempt at political communications from Dimitri Soudas, when asked why Harper was late (his holy host explanation yesterday was wholly lacking):

Harper's spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, declined to give details on why the prime minister arrived late to the photo shoot.

"I don't think you're paying attention to the summit ... The prime minister was at the photo op," Soudas said Thursday.
Since its hard to judge tone from text, I can't tell if Soudas was going for cuteness or dickishness there with his Wizard of Oz'ish answer (pay no attention to the man behind the mirror!). But why not just say why he was late? Nine times out ten a simple, unambiguous and truthful answer will get you further that dickish (or cute) evasion.

It's a lesson these guys seem to refuse to learn.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

And now the Conservatives are bearing false witness?

As if possible desecration of the host by Stephen Harper wasn't enough, it now appears his spokesperson, Dimitri Soudas, may be bearing false witness.

The Toronto Star has more of Soudas' attempted damage control this morning, where Dimitri makes the Conservative position very clear:

Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the prime minister, said that Harper "was offered communion, and accepted."

Soudas said he consumed the consecrated host immediately afterwards, within seconds of taking it from the priest, contrary to suggestions a video shows he did not.

"Unfortunately CBC cameras don't stay on the prime minister long enough sometimes," Soudas told reporters in L'Aquila, Italy, where Harper is attending a G8 summit.
Well that's a clear and fairly unambiguous statement. He says Harper didn't pocket it, and instead consumed it "within seconds." Except, as I said, the video evidence doesn't support that at all.

Dimitri mentions the CBC cameras. Maybe they cut sooner, I don't know. Maybe he's just trying to distract his upset base by implying a Liberal media conspiracy. CPAC, however, stayed with the Prime Minister awhile, and it does not show Harper consuming the host "within seconds." Far from it. Rather, it shows him slipping the wafer down to his pocket, standing a bit as people around him consume the host, and then sitting down.

A longer version of the footage has appeared on YouTube. Take a look:

By my count, it stays with Harper at a good 20 seconds after he accepts the host from the priest. That should be well within Dimitri's window for consumption. Yet no sign the host ever left his pocket. There's a fraction of a second he's off when they change cameras, but he'd have to have lightning-quick reflexes to consume it within that window.

And as for why Harper accepted it in the first place:
Soudas explained that while Harper is a Protestant, "who is the prime minister to question a priest offering him communion."
He's Stephen Harper, non-Catholic, that's who he is Dimitri. You can't expect a priest to know the religious affiliation and currency of every person at such a service. It's up to the individual to decline if ineligible, and to do so is perfectly acceptable.

Why he didn't is baffling, and why Soudas is compounding the mistake is even more so.

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When, exactly, did Harper consume the host, Dimitri?

Recognizing a significant scandal brewing, PMO spokesperson with Dimitri Soudas is quick off the mark with an attempt at damage control over Stephen Harper's insult to Canadian Catholics last week, when as a non-Catholic he accepted and then pocket the host wafer at the funeral service of former Governor-General Romeo LeBlanc (h/t):

The Prime Minister's Office moved swiftly Wednesday to refute allegations that Stephen Harper pocketed a sacramental communion wafer at the funeral mass of Romeo LeBlanc instead of consuming it.

"It's totally absurd," the prime minister's press secretary, Dimitri Soudas, said. "The priest offered the host to the prime minister, the prime minister accepted the host and he consumed it."

Unfortunately for Dimitri, though, his explanation is belied by the video evidence, which clearly shows Harper accepting the host and slipping it in his pocket:

Which raises a follow-up for Dimitri, and for Harper who should really man-up and explain this one himself. If he did eat the wafer, when? If it was shortly after he got it, why pocket it first? Or was it later that day or something, did he save it for later? Why?! And is it really appropriate for a non-Catholic to do accept it in the first place? Why not just respectfully pass?

Soudas' explination is deeply lacking on many fronts.

UPDATE: According to the Toronto Star, Soudas is claiming Harper never even pocketed the thing but apparently "consumed it" right away:

"The story today alleges he put it in his pocket and did not consume it which is false. It's totally absurd and ridiculous."
Umm, have you SEEN THE VIDEO, Dimitri? Watch it, and then get back to us with a less idiotic line, please.

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The Conservative Party's gay groundrules

If you're following at home, here's what we've been able to gather so far.

You can be supportive of people who are supportive of gay rights, just for god's sake don't tell anyone that you are.

And you can give money to pride parades, just please don't be all flashy about it or you'll rile-up the heteros:

Ablonczy, the MP for Calgary-Nose Hill who famously introduced Harper to his wife, Laureen, was reportedly so impressed by Pride's "polished and professional" application that she insisted on coming to Toronto to present the cheque in person. A Conservative source said it was the media coverage that prompted the backlash against Ablonczy.

"The TV shots of her with transvestites inflamed some people," the source said.

Another Tory insider agreed the sight of drag queens with the minister caused Ablonczy "big-time" trouble because she had not cleared her attendance at the event with Harper's office.
In other words, keep your support for the gays on the down-low, would seem to be the message.

Stay classy, Conservative Party.

And an interesting lesson there for Conservative ministers: Call the PMO before you're seen in public with any drag queens. My god, if they had that rule under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, then Hedy Fry would have needed her own 1-800 number.

BTW, here's the pic that seems to have riled-up the neanderthals of the Conservative kingdom:

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Video: Stephen Harper puts the host in his pocket

Following-up to my previous post, looks like someone has the video of Stephen Harper pocketing the host up on YouTube.

It's ironic that Harper is due to have an audience with Pope Benedict XVI this week while in Europe for the G8. Perhaps the Pope can explain to Harper why his behaviour is so insulting to Catholics.

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Catholics want answers: Why did Harper pocket the host at LeBlanc's funeral?

This story almost seems unbelievable, but the Telegraph Journal is reporting that last week, at Romeo LeBlanc's funeral mass in New Brunswick, when Stephen Harper was offered the communion wafer by the priest he slipped it into his pocket.

In Catholic understanding, the host - once consecrated by a priest for the Eucharist - becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is crucial that the small wafer be consumed when it is received.
Monsignor Brian Henneberry, vicar general and chancellor in the Diocese of Saint John, wants to know whether the prime minister consumed the host and, if not, what happened to it.

If Harper accepted the host but did not consume it, "it's worse than a faux pas, it's a scandal from the Catholic point of view," he said.

Henneberry said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office is in order.

"If I were the prime minister, I would at least offer an explanation to say no offence was meant, and then (clarifying) what happened to the consecrated host is in order," he said. "I would hope the Prime Minister's Office would have enough respect for the Catholic Church and for faith in general to make clear whatever happened."
According to the paper, the slight to the church was visible on the television feed of the event:
On Friday, during the mass, Harper reached out with his right hand and accepted the wafer from a priest.

A television camera lingered long enough to show New Brunswick Lt.-Gov. Herménégilde Chiasson, the next person to receive the host, raise his to his mouth.

But the tape shows that Harper does not consume the wafer before the camera cuts away several seconds later.
Harper isn't even Catholic; he's a member of something called the Christian & Missionary Alliance, an evangelical Protestant denomination. So it's unclear why he would be accepting the host in the first place, instead of politely declining. Even among Catholics, you don't accept the host until you've had your First Communion, and then only if you've kept up with certain activities.

I think Harper owes an explanation, and a sincere apology, to the Catholic community. And one wonders, just what the heck happened with the host he was given anyways? Did it stay in his pocket? This is more than just a wafer in the Catholic community, and Harper's cavalier behaviour seems pretty insulting.

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