Monday, May 31, 2010

Like sands through the hourglass, these are the polls of our lives

A poll just dropped from Angus Reid that I’m sure will get the blogsphere buzzing today. There’s the usual horse-race numbers that are bad for the Liberals and their leader, nothing new there. That’s a drama for another day. No, what’s interesting is they also polled how a potential Liberal/NDP merger would fare.

Led by Michael Ignatieff, it found the electoral result with a merger would be pretty much the status-quo, hampered, says the pollster, by Ignatieff’s personal unpopularity:

However, led by Bob Rae it’s a different result, with a dead-heat and a shot at government, depending on the regional break-downs:

Apparently, says the pollster, Bob’s popularity in Ontario would be a difference-maker:

The prospect of a centre-left merger—similar to the one that allowed the Conservative Party to challenge and ultimately break the Liberal hegemony—is not greeted with the same enthusiasm by voters when the leader is revealed.

Ignatieff would not provide the new party with a shot at victory. Rae's popularity in Ontario, and to a lesser extent in British Columbia, would turn the next election into a tight contest.

I was slightly amused as I read this, and not just because of their comments about Rae’s popularity in Ontario, which certainly turns the popular meme on its head. No, I was amused because I was reminded of another Angus Reid poll of hypothetical leaders, this one during the last aborted Liberal leadership race.

From December of 2008, with Ignatieff as leader here were Angus Reid’s numbers (changes from the then current numbers in brackets):

Conservatives: 38% (-4)

Liberals: 33% (+11)

NDP: 13% (-5)

Bloc: 10% (-)

Green: 6% (-1)

And Angus Reid from December 2008 with Rae as leader:

Conservatives: 41% (-1)

Liberals: 26% (+4)

NDP: 15% (-3)

Bloc: 10% (-1)

Green: 6% (-1)

The point being, a hypothetical poll and a $1 will buy you a can of Fresca. And the X factor, of course, is the multi-million dollar demonization campaign the Conservatives unleashed on Ignatieff, and you can be sure one is sitting in a drawer on Bob.

Finally, back to the merger numbers, according to Angus Reid the LiberalDippers would fare best under Jack Layton (that sound you hear is a collective shriek of delight from the Blogging Dippers:

But Layton would immensely help the new party with good numbers in Ontario and a remarkable showing in Quebec, pushing the Bloc to second place for the first time in years.

Of course, I should caution those numbers don't factor in the thousands of Liberals who would be unable to vote, due to their heads having exploded.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Why Bell Sucks, BlackBerry trackball edition

Two Christmases ago, my gift to myself was a shiny new red BlackBerry Curve, bought at the Bell Store in the Scarborough Town Centre with a three-year contract. I love my BlackBerry. Turning it off when roaming in the U.S. is so hard. A week in Israel with no Berry was madness – it took me four days to stop reaching into my pocket to check it, and for the phantom vibrations to end. Long story short, I’m a Berryholic.

When I bought the thing, the sales guy couldn’t stop talking about the awesome service plan that was included. It’s all covered, he told me. No questions asked, we’ll fix it or replace it on the spot, it’s all good. Good to know, I told myself, hoping it would never be necessary.

Fast-forward to yesterday. My berry’s trackball decides to stop scrolling up. Sideways, no problem. Down? That’s fine. But up? No dice. Something gumming up the works. After trying to clean it out without success I remembered hey, I have that awesome service plan with Bell, I’ll just pop over to the Bell store at lunch and they’ll fix it.

So after some chicken at the food court, I head over to the Bell Store.

My trackball won’t scroll up, I said, I think I need a new one.

No problem, they said, it’s $11.

Well no, I said, I have a service plan.

Track balls aren’t covered, they assured me.

The guy that sold it to me said everything was covered, I replied.

Reluctantly, they looked up my account. Nope, your warranty covers spills and damage, but not the trackball, that’s considered a separate component.

So, I said dumbfounded, when the guy told me everything was covered, he meant not really?

With them having no answer for that, I grudgingly forked over the $11, they swapped the trackball, and now I can scroll wherever and whenever I want.

A few things here. One, what kind of stupid service plans is Bell selling here? It includes everything BUT the trackball? That’s kind of a central component, no? And it’s not exactly a peripheral; it’s built into the dammed thing!

Two, I guess RIM has recognized this by moving to a trackpad on newer models, but what kind of crap-ass design is it to build a movement device that stops working in just over a year, and how can such a failure NOT be covered by warranty?

And third, what kind of dumbass people are designing Bell’s service plans anyways? According to their logic, I’m covered for spills but not trackpads. So, if I “accidentally” dropped my Berry in the pool, or spilled a Fresca on it, they’d swap it for me and they’d be out a few hundred dollars, but they’ll charge me $11 to replace the trackball? In essence, I’d have been better off if I’d spilled something on the dammed thing. I’d have a new phone and $11. Bell would be out a new phone. What kind of idiotic business plan is that?

And now once this contract is up I’m leaving Bell in the dust for one of the other slightly less crappy companies. Maybe those Wind Mobile people. And it’s not the $11, it’s the principle.

Bravo, geniuses.

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Tony Clement: You're going to love his nuts?

Interesting story on CTV last night about Conservative minister Tony Clement. Apparently he thinks it's OK to appear as a minister in commercials that pitch his friend's chemical companies to China. Friends he later gives government appointments to. And I thought it was only Holywood stars that did Chinese commercials that are never supposed to air in North America. Watch out Slap Chop Vince, you've got competition...

By the way, did Clement ever finally sell that stock he owned in a pharmaceutical company while he was health minister?

Wed May 26 2010, 11:00pm ET

LLOYD ROBERTSON: There are questions tonight about the conduct of a senior Conservative cabinet minister. The opposition is accusing Industry Minister Tony Clement of a conflict of interest after he did a commercial for a chemical company in his Ontario riding. Clement was health minister at the time. The video only aired in China. But in this CTV News exclusive, our Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife has obtained a copy.

ROBERT FIFE (Reporter): This ad isn't selling the Canadian outdoors. It's selling a Canadian chemical company to China. And who better to act as pitch pitchman than a high-profile cabinet minister.

TV AD: I'm Minister of Health for Canada. First of all, I want to extend my greetings to the people of China.

FIFE: Tony Clement did this promotional video in August 2008 for a company based in his riding.

TV AD: Let me have the honour to introduce to you Mr. Barry Young, who is the president and CEO.

TV AD: The science of Lord and Partners is interesting.

FIFE: It's highly unusual for ministers to play such a role.

BARRY YOUNG (Lord and Partners): He just introduced. That's what he did.

FIFE: And do you think it made a difference?

YOUNG: I think so, yes.

FIFE: The infomercial was produced by one of Clement's political supporters.

GEORGE YOUNG (Commercial Producer): It raised the profile and gave Barry credibility in China. And, you know, what better way can you do it than a federal minister?

FIFE: Clement later named his friend to the Canadian tourism commission when he became industry minister.

WAYNE EASTER (Liberal - PEI): That is way, way over the line.

FIFE: The opposition says it's unethical for Clement to open doors for friends.

EASTER: A minister of the Canadian government promoting one specific company over all others would be clearly giving that company preference.

FIFE: Clement was in Amsterdam and wouldn't agree to an interview. He released this statement. Just because this company is from Perry Sound-Muskoka does not mean it cannot seek help from its MP to enter new markets. This is clearly not a conflict.

PAT MARTIN (NDP - Manitoba): I can't imagine a more blatant conflict of interest than a cabinet minister using his office to shill for a private employer.

FIFE: The same company also received three untendered federal contracts this year valued at $41,000.

DAVID MCGUINTY (Liberal - Ontario): Is he doing promotional videos for every company in his riding? Is he doing promotional videos now as Minister of Industry for any company that approaches him?

FIFE: Tony Clement's office says the minister has done only one other promotional video, for the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children. Lloyd.

ROBERTSON: And he's probably safe enough with the sick kids video. Well, Bob, first of all, how this a conflict interest for the minister, because he was, after all, promoting a company in his own riding?

FIFE: Lloyd, ministers are supposed to represent the whole country. There are other companies trying to sell the very same product to China, yet the minister is acting as a huckster for the one company that happens to be in his riding. Also the conflict interest code says it's wrong for ministers to promote the private interests of their friends.

ROBERTSON: Well Tony Clement, after all, is seen as a top line minister in the Harper cabinet. So might he be in trouble here with the prime minister?

FIFE: Not at all, Lloyd. The prime minister's office says he does not have a financial interest in this company, therefore, they do not believe that he is in a conflict of interest. The prime minister is going to stand behind him all the way. They do not want it lose a minister of Mr. Clement's calibre.

ROBERTSON: All right. Thanks, Bob.

FIFE: Good night, Lloyd.

UPDATE: The video:

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The thing about MP attendance

I think Member of Parliament attendance records should be public. I also think their expense information should be public and audited by the auditor general, and that not getting out in front and leading on that issue was a significant missed opportunity by Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. But I’m digressing.

Attendance records seem to potentially be the next media hobby-horse. I always find it interesting what they choose to care about. I’ll agree with them though that the records should be made public, but with one big caveat: the media needs to report on the information accurately, and in context.

If politicians are balking at releasing attendance information, I’m willing to bet there’s one big reason why: the inevitable short-sighted, ill-informed media coverage that will result decrying lazy MPs taking long vacations on the public dime, when nothing could (in most cases) be further from the truth.

The fact is, there is a lot more to being a Member of Parliament than sitting in your seat in the House of Commons chamber. There are many hours of committee work, office and constituency work both in Ottawa and back in the riding, and many public events. It’s far from a Monday to Friday, nine to five job.

Yet to many media organizations, if they can’t see you in your seat from their perch in the gallery, you must not be doing your job. It’s like the misguided bosses who believe in management by seeing you at your desk, not what you're doing. And it leads to stories of missing leaders when, rather than taking part in the empty spectacle of question period, they’re actually out meeting actual Canadians.

Whenever I see dismissive comments by pundits about all the “vacation time” MPs get I cringe, because, besides from the fact they’re not “vacationing” when the House isn’t sitting but instead are doing constituency work, research, or many other things, such ill-informed commentary only serves to further undermine public confidence in institutions already sorely lacking it.

So sure, release MP attendance information. There’s absolutely no reason for it to be secret. But I hope the media will resist the urge to just tally the numbers for easy headlines, and will instead look at the why behind the numbers, and put them into context.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On coalitions and Liberals

Lots in the Canadian press following the historic British coalition government formed by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats speculating whether we on this side of the pond can draw any lessons from our British cousins.

It's been amusing to watch conservative pundits in the media insisting no, it doesn't apply at all. Their culture is completely different (they find Benny Hill funny) and their system is too different (our Westminster model being named after Westminster, Romania or something). And on the other side, liberal pundits saying the UK example is proof it's acceptable and can work here.

And, of course, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives and are trying to revive their coalition bogeyman strategy, seeing Liberal/NDP cooperation as a threat that could hurt his hold on power. The UK example could hurt his efforts to demonize a coalition as some kind of anti-democratic coup by showing no, actually it's perfectly benign and in the best democratic traditions. He can't have that.

I think there are some notable and significant differences between the UK coalition and the one attempted in Canada. For one, the UK one involves the largest seat-holding party. Secondly, the Canadian one involved a party that the voters had just punished at the polls, a leader who (as much as respect him) Canadians had clearly rejected, and also relied on a separatist party for support. All those factors cost it public support, making Michael Ignatieff's decision to back away from it after forcing economic concessions from the Harper government the right move.

That doesn't mean, though, that we should rule out a coalition in the future. Should the circumstances be right, we need to absolutely be open to going down the coalition road. Just because it didn't make sense yesterday doesn't mean it won't make sense tomorrow.

It's a dicey political strategy question for the Liberals, though.

Obviously the Cons want to paint the Liberals into a corner, trying to both demonize coalitions and them force us into disavowing them. It's a transparent strategy: they see a coalition as a threat they want to quash.

For the NDP, it's in their interests to play-up the possibility of a coalition. It gives them added relevance and the potential for clout. And it firms up their vote. Which is also why it's dicey for Liberals. They compete with the NDP for those centre-left swing votes.

The Liberals want to solidify the anti-Harper vote under their banner; that's their key to returning to government. Only the Liberals can stop Harper, so unite with us will (once again) be the line. But if a coalition is firmly on the table, it makes it harder for Liberals to make that argument, and easier for those swing voters to feel safe parking their votes with the NDP, knowing there can be a coalition and wanting to give the NDP a stronger hand in it.

So, it's a tough line for the Liberals to take on both sides. My advice for Team Liberal? Don't rule-out a coalition, but don't get drawn into deep discussions on the issue either. The line is simple: we're not ruling anything out, but we're committed to electing a strong Liberal government that will once again give Canadians the strong, responsible government they need and deserve.

Plain and simple. Rule nothing out, but focus on electing Liberals. And when the dust settles, we'll see what's what.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Really, Alf Apps? I mean really?

I know Peter Donolo was supposed to bring adult supervision to Michael Ignatieff's OLO. Apparently his brief doesn't include the party office, because some adult supervision would have told Liberal president Alf Apps this line of attack is pretty dammed stupid:

Ousted Conservative cabinet minister Helena Guergis is getting some sympathy from an unlikely quarter: the president of the Liberal party.

Alfred Apps, the federal party president and lawyer, told CTV's Question Period Sunday that he believes Guergis was treated unfairly by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"This whole Guergis situation is what I hope will become a big wakeup call to Canadians," he said. "We treat our public servants … with just horrific disrespect these days and then we go on and treat our members (of Parliament), we don't give them the natural justice that we would expect to give to ordinary Canadians."

Really, Alf Apps? I mean, really? Guergis was treated unfairly. Wasn't it just like, last week, our party was forcefully calling for Guergis to be turfed. For airport tantrums, for the sins of her husband, most importantly, just for sheer incompetence? Didn't we want her fired, or to resign? I know memories are short in politics, but I do remember that.

Now, you can certainly take issue with the way she was booted by Harper, the reasons he gave for the belated action, and how he framed it. There are big gaps between what Harper and the PMO stated as the reason for her ejection from caucus (the Snowdy allegations) and what Snowdy has apparently actually said. You can argue it's unfair for Harper to have cast this criminal cloud over her based on what are seem like some pretty dubious accusations from questionable sources, and you can argue the fairness of taking away her nomination in Simcoe-Grey when nothing has yet been proven.

Personally, I think Harper had long-decided to get rid of Guergis, and he just needed an excuse. He seized on the flimsy Snowdy allegations as a way of booting her without having to wear it himself, and he has no intention of letting her back in: she's become embarrassing and he wants her gone. He's certainly being less than honest with Canadians about the whole thing.

But you know what? Who cares. Let the media explore those angles. For the president of the Liberal Party to be now feigning sympathy for Guergis – well yes, we wanted her out, but couldn't you do it nicely? -- is dumb, and it makes us look pretty stupid. It's as if we can't pass up any opportunity to reflexively attack the Conservatives, no matter what – even when they sloppily do what we were calling on them to do.

Here's the bottom line for me: was Guergis treated unfairly by Harper? Yes. But the fact is, no matter how the deed was done, she was an incompetent minister that had to go. Her departure from the cabinet table is a net positive for the country.

In our system of government, ministers serve at the pleasure of the prime minister, and can be fired with or without cause at any time. It's how the system works, and you agree to it going in. As for her nomination, I'd prefer she have the chance to contest it, but that's an internal debate for the Conservative Party. My, and Alf's, party has enough of its own nomination issues.

So I hope the Liberals will instead focus on more important issues, and let Helena Guergis run her own defence.

And let's keep Alf Apps off tv, please.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Detainee deal can't be ad-hoc

So it appears, for now, that there will be peace in our time. In an agreement very similar to the one that the Liberals and the other opposition parties have been offering for months, and the Conservatives continually outright rejected, an agreement has been reached that will see the opposition parties briefed confidentially on the contents of the Afghan detainee documents.

Each member of the review panel will have to sign an oath of confidentiality and get appropriate security clearance before they are allowed to see the documents, both the redacted versions and the full, uncensored forms.

They will then decide as a group which documents can be made public.

Any dispute among the MPs over which material can be released will be referred to a panel of three jurists for a final decision.
That all sounds fine. That it took so much angst, vitriol, brinksmanship and drama to get here is frankly an indictment of the stupidity of our political climate today, but eventually it got to the right place: parliamentarians will get the access they need and are due, while respecting legitimate security concerns. It’s a clear victory for the supremacy of Parliament. Even if the documents aren’t made public, that’s fine. I respect security considerations. But I want my representatives to be briefed, and they will be. That's how the system is supposed to work.

Here’s the thing though. I read a quote the other day from a Conservative spokesperson to the effect that any agreement reached on the detainee documents will be ad hoc, and the government has no intention of carrying it past this issue. I think that’s a mistake.

We can’t go through this drama and crisis every time there is information Parliament needs to see that the government, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to share. It’s tedious, it’s counterproductive, and it undermines public faith in democratic institutions. This isn’t the first time a government of any stripe has tried to be less than forthright with Parliament, and it surely won’t be the last.

We need a permanent, established procedure put in place so we don’t need to resort to threats and 11th-hour deal making every time. I’ve argued before for a Commons Select Committee on Intelligence, based on the American model. That’s one way to do it, there are others. But it needs to be established and in place so that when the issue comes up, the mechanisms are there to deal with it. When you try to do each one ad hoc, it’s too easy for all sides to let political considerations get in the way of doing what’s right.

So yes, it’s great this latest crisis has been averted, and sanity has prevailed. But letting this go with an ad hoc arrangement would be a mistake. I hope that now, with the political glare of this crisis perhaps receding, our Parliamentarians will explore the systemic changes needed so we don’t need to go through this nonsense ever again.

And we can move on to other sorts of nonsense.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Travel Blog: Day Four in Israel -- Settlements, electric cars, shopping malls and children

Unfortunately I fell out of my diligent note-taking habit around day four, so my recollections of the last three days of the trip will be a little less detailed than the first three, as I'm going more on memory.

We left Jerusalem this morning though and headed west down the highway toward Tel Aviv. First, though, we made a detour into what is essentially a Jerusalem suburb to visit Har Adar, a growing commuter community and also a hilltop battle spot that was fought over both in the independence war and in 1967. And it was also the home of our Israeli guide for the week, Lior, and a rare example of a gated Israeli residential development.

One theme we heard a lot during the week, and it may have more do to with settlement expansion than any political motivations, is housing costs. The cost of living in Israel has become very high, particularly for young people and new families. Land is at a premium, particularly in Jerusalem, and that has driven housing prices very high throughout much of the country. Development began in Har Adar as a Jerusalem bedroom community some years ago, attracting young families with the prospect of higher quality of life at affordable prices near the city. It's proximity to the green line and Palestinian communities at first turned some people off, but the price was right and now the community is thriving, has expanded to the other side of the green line, and prices are now as high as elsewhere in the country. And those early movers have seen their investments increase substantially.

At the centre of the development is a mountain-top is a former British and later Syrian military position, that was hard-fought for during the independence and 1967 wars, housing a Syrian radar position when it was finally captured by Israeli forces in 1967. Today, in addition to a stylized look-out tower, bunkers are visible and a number of 1947-era tanks and military vehicles are on display.

We left Har Adar and continued toward Tel Aviv, stopping to visit a hospital in Holon that's home to the Save a Child's Heart project. The hospital itself was interesting. A little old-looking, but the only hospital I've seen with a mall, food court and McDonald's in the lobby. As well as a metal detector at the door, but that's standard in public places here.

Anyway, Save a Child's Heart is an Israeli not for profit organization that provides over 200 surgeries yearly to infants and children from underprivileged areas around the world needing cardiac care. Children are brought to Israel for surgery, some procedures are performed in their home countries, and medical staff also work to develop cardiac care capacity in developing countries.

While we were there we saw children from Iraq, from Africa, and from China who had been brought here thanks to the program, and the donations it receives, to get life-saving care. The program also regularly treats many children from Gaza and the West Bank, whose local doctors refer them for treatment and follow-up.

The doctors and staff we spoke to, all of whom volunteer their time to the program to keep the costs down and help as many children as possible, say the program has nothing to do with politics. They keep politics out of these doors. It's about helping children in need, period. And maybe, they said, if we just focus on doing the right thing, the rest will sort itself out. A noble and perhaps naive sentiment, but perhaps not a misplaced one. While we'd heard from other speakers that Palestinians seen co-operating with Israelis risked blow-back, it seemed parents didn't hesitate bringing their children here for treatment. That's because, to a parent, a child's life is way more important than politics. So, just perhaps programs like this, and just putting everything else aside to just do the right thing, is really the key to peace in this region.

Continuing into Tel Aviv, our next stop was at Project Better Place in Pi-Gillot. It's a Palo Alto, Calif.-based start-up developing and marketing the infrastructure necessary to support electric cars. It's founded and led by Israel's Shai Agassi, a name I recognized as a former senior executive and one-time heir apparent of software firm SAP AG, a company I regularly cover in my day-job and whose Sapphire user conference I'm attending next week in Orlando.

Better Place sees the Israeli market as ideally suited to test the electric car concept – it's a small, westernized, modern country, where driving anywhere in the country doesn't take too long at all. And since the major oil producing-countries aren't all big fans of Israel, to say the least, it's a country with a vested interest in lessening its petroleum dependance.

We got the marketing video, and were told Better Place is building charging stations in public places across the country. It's also building robot-controlled battery changing stations – a car drives in over a bay, a robot reaches up to swap the battery, and you're off and driving in minutes. That's the promise, anyways.

Beginning next year, they plan to begin selling subscription packages that include the car and maintenance, power, and a charging station at your home and one public place of your choice, such as your office. You simply tap your smart card on the charger, plug in, and you're good to go.

A few problems with all this I see. For one, they're not telling us the price yet. I wonder what the cost is for all that hydro? And secondly, for all their talk about going green, and the nice clips in the video of windmills and solar panels, the fact is such technologies can only provide a fraction of our power needs today. The majority of Israel's power-generation is coal-based – hardly green energy – and a massive electric car network would only require more and more coal to be mined and burned. So, not to say this isn't worth doing, and certaintly the declining supply of petroleum is another factor, but aren't we really just transferring the pollution from the tail-pipe to the power plant?

Anyways, putting all that aside it was time to test drive a prototype electric vehicle on Better Place's test track. A former fuel-burning Renault converted to electricity to test the concept and infrastructure, getting started was a little different. No engine to turn over to start, you just press the on button and then another button to but it into gear. After that, it was like any other car. It had a good amount of pep and acceleration, comparable to any other similar car. And while it wasn't loud, it wasn't the stereotypical silent stalker either – I could hear the engine purr as I accelerated.

So, it's an interesting concept and I certaintly wish them luck. I'll be interested in seeing their pricing model. For now though, while the concept may work well in a small country like Israel, I see some challenges applying it to Canada.

After they made me park the car, we headed into the city for lunch with two Canadian-born journalists now living, and blogging, in Israel – Lisa Goldman and Karin Kloosterman. Kloosterman runs Green Prophet, an environmental news site for the Middle East, while Goldman blogs and writes for a number of local and international media outlets on a number of topics, including the Lebanon War.

It was very interesting to hear the perspectives of fellow Canadians who are now living and working in the region on the topics we'd been hearing about during the week. In particular Goldman, who I'd place firmly on the left, I thought provided some fascinating and important counter-points to some of what we'd heard from Yossi Klein Halevi and Khaled Abu Toameh.

Before lunch though we visited Rabin Square, and the site where former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot and killed in 1995 by a right-wing Israeli radical opposed to the peace process. It's hard not wonder how history would have unfolded if not for that unfortunate event. And it's an important reminder that extremists lurk on all sides, and that on both sides there is certaintly no unanimity of opinion on the way forward.

We returned to Canadian soil briefly in the afternoon – or Canadian air, I suppose, since our Tel Aviv embassy is on an upper floor in an office tower. Our briefing and conversation with our ambassador to Israel, Jon Allen, was off the record so I can't share the details. I did, however, appreciate his frank thoughts on the issues in the region, and on Canada's evolving policy here.

After some time to relax, explore and hit the beach in Tel Aviv, we went for dinner with Shmuel Rosner, blogger and columnist at The restaurant was on the upper floor of a modern, newly-opened mall with all the usual Western chains – including the country's first H&M – which sparked an interesting conversation for one of our other dining companions, a Canadian now living and raising his family in Israel – with the Westrification of Israel, is the next-generation losing touch with the challenges and hardships faced by previous generations in founding, protecting and building this country?

It's an interesting question. We'd also heard during the week that the more and more of the younger generation are looking for, and finding, ways to avoid the country's mandatory army service. Spending only a few days in the country I'm not really qualified to comment on societal trends, but I submit that maybe it's a positive that the people now longer feel the need to defend their country's existence so resolutely – they take it as a matter of fact. As for the Westrification of the culture, certaintly that has its downsides. I can't help but think though that a few H&Ms in the West Bank and Gaza wouldn't be a bad thing.

We also had some interesting conversation with Rosner on his experiences living in the U.S. and covering Barrack Obama's campaign for the presidency as a journalist. Rosner shared the view of many Israelis we spoke to on Obama – that he's tilting the balance too much toward the Palestinians and that his approach to the Iranian threat is off-base. There's a disappointment here that Obama's desire to reach out to and repair America's relationship with the Arab world has meant a less full-throated support for Israel. I submitted that America having a better relationship with the Arab world would be a positive for Israel, and for peace, in the long-run. That contention was acknowledged, but I suspect it may be a little too long-term for some here.

Sadly, our time in Tel Aviv was very short. Tomorrow, we drive North to meet a female Arab sportscaster in Nazareth and took take a peek into Southern Lebanon from Misgav Am, ending the day at a beautiful resort in the Golan overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Travel Blog: Day Three in Israel - Yad Vashem, security barriers, Palestinian politics and a light show

We began the day with a primer and discussion on Israeli politics with our guide, Lior. He told us that Isrealis are increasingly annoyed with the country's constant coalition governments, leading to governments and leaders that can't lead. He said they've had 12 education ministers in four years, so getting things accomplished is difficult. He also noted that corruption scandals have tainted nearly every party. There's a growing sense among people that the system needs to change, although it's unclear what sort of electoral reform is favoured. He added the constant coalitions, necessitating political comprimise, have led to blurring of traditional left/right lines. Whether that's good or bad, I think, is another debate.

Next we visited Yad Vashem, Israel's holocaust memorial and museum. It's a very large complex on a mountain, including an educational centre, archives and the museum, which is quite impressive architecturally. The museum itself is triangular in shape, carved into the mountain and emerging on either side. As you walk through it you're slopping up toward the light at the end of the tunnel but you can't go straight there; you're forced to weave through the exhibits on the sides. It's meant to symbolize that the Jews didn't know where their journey would take them.

The museum exhibits focus strictly on the holocaust, using personal stories of victims and survivors to take it out of the history books. It was well done. And as you emerge at the end into the light, you're greeted by a beautiful vista looking down on Jerusalem, meant to symbolize the home the Jews found in Israel after the holocaust.

A few years ago while in Berlin I visited that city's impressive new Jewish museum, and I found the exhibit style and even some of the architectural choices similar to Israel's. I think what really got to me at Yad Vashem though was the separate Children's Memorial. The emotion had probably built through the morning, but I felt it most as I walked into the very dark cave. The ground slopes sharply and it's too dark to see, so you're forced to advance slowly gripping a handrail, the cavern illuminated only by two candles reflected by many mirrors, as a sombre voice slowly reads the names and ages of children who died during the holocaust. It was very simple, yet very powerful.

After lunch we met up with Avi Melamed, a security consultant and former advisor on Arab affairs to the Mayor of Jerusalem, for a security briefing and tour of the controversial security barrier/fence between the West Bank and Israel/Jerusalem.

While he admitted that it has proven highly controversial, unpopular with some Israelis as well as Palestinians, and also very expensive, Melamed claimed it has contributed to a share decrease in attacks. I suppose the question is if the prices, in all forms, is worth it, and how long it will be before their enemies adapt.

While it's often refered to as a security wall, the barrier is actually mostly fence. There's a closed patrol road beside the barrier, and a dirt section beside it to check for signs of infiltration. Movement sensors are tied into regional command posts, which dispatch patrols when movement is detected. I was reminded os the U.S./Mexico border and those who want to build a border there, but of course there are key differences in the U.S.: it's an established politiclal border so no one is cut off from their homes or land, it's much longer and less populated, and the Mexicans crossing illegally are looking for jobs, not violence.

One overlook we went to in the Arab section of Jerusalem, from which we could see clear to Ramallah in the West Bank all the way around through Palestinian villages to Bethlehem in the distance, included a large set of ruins that Melamed didn't tell us about until the end. It turned out the ruins were to be a summer palace of the Jordanian Ryal Family, back when Jerusalem was part of Jordan, and the land, although abandoned, still belonged to the Hashemites as Israel, as a peace gesture, hadn't seized it after the war. So I hope they didn't mind us taking in the view.

As happened on the other overlook on the first day, what struck me the most here was just how small the disputed areas are, and how interwoven Palestinian and Israeli/Jewish villages are. The situation doesn't lend itself to easy answers.

Melamed also made an interesting point on terminology. Depending on which side of the question you come down, you would call Israeli construction in disputed areas either settlements, or neighbourhoods. And some of them in the more contentious areas to the south most likely do look more of the temporary settlement variety. But we drove though some of the areas of Jerusalem that Obama and Biden called settlements, and they certaintly looked like established, thriving, permanent neighbourhoods to me. complete with bus service, grocery stores, schools and synagogues. Avi said he doesn't think Obama misspoke on the matter; he believes the U.S. made a deliberate choice to say settlement.

In the evening we had dinner with Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab/Palestinian/Israeli journalist and Palestinian Affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post (formerly owned by our own Conrad Black) who I'd place firmly on the right-wing. He's certainly a man of strong opinions not afraid to express them, even when they fly against the popular line.

Toameh said he'd never heard about boycotts of Israel until he came to Canada. He'll write for anyone that gives him a free platform. And in a statement that would stun some of our more leftish speakers in the days ahead when we repeated it, he said many Jews and Arabs miss the "good old days before peace."

While the concept of Oslo was good, Toameh said the implementation was bad because Arafat was unable to deliver. By taking millions of dollars from the West and building a casino or diverting it to Swiss bank accounts, he said Arafat succeeded in radicalizing the Palestinian population, driving them to Hamas. Even Christian Arabs voted for Hamas in the last election to punish the PLO for taking their money, he said.

However, Toameh said because such stories aren't anti-Israel, most main-steam media outlets won't cover them. He's worked as a fixer for many Western journalists and he said their editors tell them they want only anti-Israel stories, not internal Palestinian stories. For example, he said when Hamas beat the PLO it pushed them out and they fled to Egypt who wouldn't let them in. It was Israel that stepped in and transfered them from Gaza to the West Bank, but he saisd that story hasn't been told.

Toameh said we have gotten a two-state solution: Gaza, and the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is supposd to be the government, but they're not even in control of the West Bank. They're only in power, he said, thanks to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), and if they were to withdraw, Hamas would take over immediately.

We can't move forward with the peace process, he said, without a willing (and in control) Palestinian side, so Obama needs to go to the Palestinians and tell them to get their act together: one stable government, no militiat. Then we'll negoiate. After 16 years, he said the fact we're now having proximity talks speaks volumes.

On the elections won by Hamas, Toameh said the international community insisting on the vote when Abbas told them he couldn't win was a mistake. Even the majority of Arabs in Jerusalem votes Hamas, he said. If you want to have an election, you need to respect the results.

On the poll cited by Khaled Abu Aker of Amin Blogs the day before that most Palestinians don't really expect a full right of return, Toameh said it was one poll, the pollster was beaten, and there have been no similar polls since. By those standards, I think Frank Graves has gotten off easily.

Finally, Toameh told us he regualrly vists North American university campuses, and he finds American campuses more radical that Hamas.

(Read fellow blogger Terry Glavin's take on our dinner with Toameh.)

And on that controversial statement, I'll say that we ended our day with the light-show at the Tower of David in Old Jerusalem. I wasn't sure what to expect but it was actually a pretty cool show. You can get a taste of it in the video.

Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem for the busting seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, vistiting the square where Yitzhak Rabin lost his life, visiting a hospital making a difference, and having lunch with some Canadian bloggers now living in Israel. And driving an electric car.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Travel Blog: Day Two in Israel - Peace and politics in Jerusalem

My second day in Israel was also spent in Jerusalem. This day was a little more heavy on briefings, and a little less heavy on the tourism. A few of the briefings were off the record so I can't share the details. They did, however, provide some insights both on Canada's development activities in the West Bank (active around justice) and Gaza (negligible due to inability to work with Hamas), as well as the Israeli government perspective on lawfare and Canada's policy on the Middle East. I can't share specifics, but it will help to shape my later conclusions.

The day begin with a briefing and a tour of Israel's Supreme Court. The contrasts to the Canadian system were very interesting. Their justices are appointed by a panel that includes both government and opposition politicians, current judges, and learned members of the legal community. The politicians are a minority on the panel; some want to change that due to the sweeping power of the court here, while others argue against politicization.

The court heard 12,000 cases last year, a number which I'm sure would put our Supreme Court to shame. There's two reasons for the high number. One, most cases aren't heard by the full court. Most are heard by three-judge panels, although the chief justice can select larger panels of any odd number for more complicated cases.

The second reason for the high number is that, in addition to being the court of final appeal for criminal and civil cases, anyone, including non-citizens, can bring a complaint against the Israeli government to the court and be heard. For example, many cases have been heard by the court, and more are pending, on the controversial security wall Israel has built between it and select Palestinian territories. It has caused much hardship, with many Palestinians cut off from their land and their neighbourhoods by the wall/fence. The court has upheld the security necessity of the wall, but in a number of cases has ordered costly reconstruction and relocation of the wall, or compensation, when it's placement caused a burden where the hardship imposed outweighed the security necessity, and it was felt the line was drawn more for ease of constriction than security reasons.

Next we headed over to East Jerusalem, the Arab-dominated half of the city that could become part of a Palestinian state in any peace settlement. We went to the American Colony Hotel, a really cool, Hemmingway-esque facility, to meet Khaled Abu Aker. He's an Israeli-Arab and the director of Amin Blogs. It's a blog site for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza that's designed to allow the citizens to bypass the Palestinian media and publish stories the press won't.

It's not about blogging for blogging's sake, said Aker. It's about blogging for change, and using citizen journalism as a tool for social change. And he said it's about more than just ending the occupation. Bloggers criticize the Palestinian Authority over internal management and mismanagement, issues, things that impact daily life.

While blogging is still in its infancy here compared to other Arab countries, Aker said it has the potential to be an important tool for social change, and instilling democratic values, although it's still to early to gauge the influence. But he noted 51 per cent of Palestinians have regular Web access. And they can't rely on the local media, which he said routinely self-censor. There may be reason for hope though, as he said on a recent press freedom day event at his offices in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayad stopped by unexpectedly to lend his support for press freedom.

On larger peace issues, Aker said the Swiss model just won't work here. He said Israel is becoming an Apartheid State because it has no choice, and it's only getting harder with the difficulty in making peace and balancing security issues. He said he'd like to see Israel take more responsibility for the Palestinians as it did pre-Oslo, rather than ceding it to the PA. He said most Palestinians don't reasonably expect a full right of return, and most don't want to return to live in any Israeli-state anyways. What he said they want is a symbolic right of return to be negotiated and implemented.

Lastly, Aker took a different view on Obama that the Israeli-Jews we've spoken to, saying he feels Obama is prepared to listen to both sides, marking a return to the Clinton-style from the less balanced policy of the Bush years.

Later in the day, we visited the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, and met with Labour Party MK Einat Wilf. Although traditionally a left-wing party, Labour is part of Likhud's governing coalition and Wilf's leader, former Prime Minister Ehud Bark, serves in the coalition as defence minister.

Wilf delivered a fairly frank and wide-reaching message, in-line with what we'd heard earlier from Halevi about the decline of the Israeli left, and the blurring of left/right distinctions in the country. Even for a member of a governing coalition, she delivered what from a Labour MK was a pretty strident defence of the Likhud and Netanyahu line, more strident than probably necessary by coalition loyalty alone.

She began by talking about U.S. policy under Barrack Obama, a popular topic over here, and Wilf made clear that she feels the Obama administration has made a strategic policy change to out the settlements issue front and centre. It's a change she said has nothing to do with any alleged insult of Joe Biden, and one that requires an Israeli policy response. She added the current government had frozen settlements where others had allowed expansion, but that this government got no international credit for that because it's not sees as being as committed to peace as its predecessors.

Moving on, Wilf said over the last decade she, like many Israelis, has grown disillusioned wit the peace process. The Israeli people want two states, but they wonder if some/many Palestinians will ever accept the existence of a Jewish state. She employed a break-up, scorned lover metaphor. The Israeli people were deeply hurt, she said, and aren't keen to jump into a new relationship. So if someone (like the U.S.) wants to push them into one, it had better work out because if it ends badly, they could close off their hearts for a very long time.

Iran is a popular topic over here; Israel views a potentially nuclear and stridently anti-Jewish Iran, arming terrorist groups like Hezbollah, as a real and serious threat. Wolf again here took issue with U.S. policy, saying Obama favours process and talk over actual results.

Finally, we asked a few questions on the Israeli left, and why, by and large, the left around the world tends to have strong issues with Israeli policy. Wolf made some pretty colourful comments here. She said the Israeli left is actually staunchly Zionist, while the global left is anti—Zionist. She went on to add two-thirds of the countries in the world make less sense than Israel, but no one questions them. She added the Israeli left feels isolated from the rest of the world. She said we're not just fighting about real estate here, it's about societal values, and to those who say it should just be an Arab-dominated country, she said as a woman she wouldn't want to live in any of the Arab countries in the neighbiourhood, and she wondered why the global left isn't talking about that issue (women's rights under Arab governments.)

We ended the day over dinner with Sara Miller, the editor of, the Web site of the country's largest English-language Web site. Much of the conversation went of on a bit of a tangent about Web site monetization and search engine optimization I won't recount – suffice to say they seem a little ahead of Canadian media. When we got around to politics, Miller probably provided one of the first defences of the Israeli-left we'd heard on the trip at that point. As Steve recounted, she said the left has actually proven influential in that now all of the country, even the right-wing Likhud, now accept the inevitability and necessity of a two-state solution. She was also more optimistic on the prospects for peace than others, although not any time soon.

That's it for today. Tomorrow, a primer on Israeli politics, a security tour of Jerusalem, and dinner with a right-wing Israeli-Arab journalist.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Travel Blog: Day One in Israel - Jerusalem

I’m back from my earlier mentioned trip to Israel; it was truly an amazing experience. Rather than blogging during each very busy day overseas, I decided to instead take notes, savour the experience, and share my experiences on my return. This will also allow a little time for contemplation. So I’ll be posting a blog for each day of my trip (six in all), one each day, followed in a week’s time with an overall post of my impressions, thoughts and learning. Some of my commentary may creep into these daily posts but I’m saving the bulk of my conclusions for that final post, so these first six daily posts will be mainly sharing the thoughts of those we spoke to and what we saw, largely without my commentary or criticism.

Day 1

Myself and Steve V/Far and Wide were booked on a 12-hour flight direct from Toronto to Tel Aviv with El Al, the Israeli flag carrier. While I was a little disappointed to not be on Air Canada (so many Aeroplan points missed!), I was interested in the El Al experience, particularly their notoriously stringent, and different, security regimes.

I arrived over three hours early for the flight and there was already a very long line for check-in. I was questioned before getting to the counter by an El Al agent, who found the whole idea of a blogger trip to Israel a little crazy, I think. May have been why I was flagged for secondary screening. This didn’t involve anything more invasive than getting to the gate a little early, where they unpacked my carry-on and swabbed it, as well as my shoes (which I never did have to take off). No biggie at all.

Our plane was an ageing Boeing 767, with only mainscreen video – no personal seatback video (one of the many things Air Canada does right). However, as my headphone jack wasn’t working I was given one of the personal portable video systems reserved for business class customers, so that was nice. Ended up sleeping much of the 12-hour flight anyways. Dinner was passable chicken and rice, breakfast an uninspiring omelet.

Immigration formalities at Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv, and in no time we were motoring toward Jerusalem to pick-up the other bloggers (Terry Glavin, Grant Shilling and Erin Sikora), who had arrived the night before from the left coast. During the drive I was struck by all the green I saw; it certaintly wasn’t how I pictured Israel. There were many planted forests, apparently many trees were planted following the independence war. We also saw the narrowing of the highway to Jerusalem where Jordanian snipers tried to stop the resupply of the city during the 1948 war.

After getting the rest of the group we headed to a promenade in south Jerusalem for a sweeping view of the city, from Old Jerusalem and the Golden Dome, to the Mount of Olives, to the Security Wall. The wall was quite a jarring site to see in this ancient city. I was also struck by the uniformity of the colour in the city – nearly everything is made with the beige Jerusalem stone.

The view from the promenade really drove home how small this highly contested city is – East Jerusalem is under claim by the Palestinians – particularly as our guide pointed-out Israeli and Arab villages, side-by-side, and not easily separable.

We headed down from the promenade to old Jerusalem, entering through the Jaffa Gate. It was bustling in busy, narrow and roughly-cobbled lanes lines with vendors eager to sell their trinkets and made a deal. Interesting to t-shirt vendors selling both PLO and Israeli Defence Forces shirts – capitalism clearly trumps politics.

As we came by one of the stations of the cross (which Mel Gibson made seem much longer in the movie) we came across a group of Christian pilgrims carrying crosses, re-tracing the stations. The devotion of their belief, and their obvious joy in being there, was inspiring.

We proceeded to the Church of Holy Sepulchre, which houses the final stations of the cross, including the what are believed to be the spots of the crucifixion, entombment and resurrection of Jesus. You can touch the stone on the spot of the crucifixion, and where his body was prepared for entombment. Even for a long-lapsed Catholic, it was powerful.

Having been up some 24 hours, it was time for lunch. Funnily enough, we went to an Italian restaurant – and I can report pasta is pasta. What I found most interesting about Israeli meals though were the copious appetizers that, if you weren’t careful, filled you up before the mains. Delicious fresh vegetables were plentiful. Excellent pitas, breads and humus. And the important Israeli appy rule – if you don’t know what it is, it’s egg plant.

After a much-needed nap at the hotel, it was back again to Old Jerusalem, visiting the Jewish Quarter this time to see the Western Wall. It’s the most sacred spot in Judaism, the remaining wall of the second Jewish temple. And it’s in the shadows of the Dome of the Rock, the second most sacred site in the Islamic faith. With some of the holiest spots in Judaism, Islam and Christendom in such proximity, one can’t help but wonder how history could have unfolded if they’d only had a little breathing-room. Still, despite heavy security and the occasional flare-ups, all three were worshiping peacefully, side-by-side. The long-term status of the area, though, is highly contentious.

As we approached the Western Wall we realized the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) were holding an induction ceremony there for new recruits, which was interesting to see. The Israeli people seem to hold their soldiers in quite high esteem – unsurprising in a country that feels under siege from all sides, and where most have lost someone or know someone who lost someone in the service.

We toured the Western Wall Tunnel excavations, and then approached the Western, or Wailing, wall itself. Again here, as at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it was powerful to see the devotion of the faithful, as they wrote prayers on little pieces of paper and slipped them between the cracks of the wall.

Finally, we ended the day with dinner where we met with Yossi Klein Halevi, fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, and a contributing editor of the New Republic.

Yossi spoke with us about the evolution of Israeli political thought, and how, like many Israelis, he has tried both left and right as we’d define them in North America, and both have failed Israel. Indeed, the theme could have been the death of the Israeli left – we’d hear in again from other speakers – from a one-time lefty.

He told us how he wrote a book on interfaith dialogue -- At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land -- that, in a case of incredibly bad timing, launched on September 11, 2001. In preparation, he spent a year trying to immerse himself in Palestinian society, to learn their perspective and to feel as comfortable in a mosque as he does in a synagogue. He says once he showed an interest and respect for their faith, he found them incredibly warm and welcoming. He realized later though that the interest was largely one-way; rarely was he asked about his culture and traditions as he learned about theirs.

Like many Israelis, he says he became deeply disillusioned over the rejection of Oslo and Camp David in 2000 by Yasser Arafat. He says many felt Israeli has offered everything for peace, and still it failed. This has led to a disillusionment with the left in Israel, which has pushed hard for the peace offer. And it has led to a certain fatalism in Israeli society. A strong majority – the figure we kept hearing was 70 per cent – of Israelis believe a two-state solution is a necessity. They see the occupation as an unacceptable moral blight for a democratic society and, if continued, will lead to the creation of an apartheid state. But at the same time, they don’t believe a two-state solution will necessarily solve anything as far as the security threats to Israeli.

So, while there’s a feeling peace is impossible until there’s someone to negotiate with on the other side, in the mean time Yossi said many Israelis have turned to the right, and Benjamin Netanyahu. Voting for Likhud for the first time in the last election, Yossi said he wanted “our bastards negotiating with their bastards.”

Finally, he said that the uncritical support for the Palestinians from the international community serves to “infantilize” them and is counter-productive to long-term solutions. And on Barrack Obama, he said the new administration’s Middle Eastern policy, particularly it’s new tone on settlements, is not popular with Israelis and is unlikely to be successful.

A very interesting and busy first day, followed by a heavy sleep. Tomorrow, more perspectives in Jerusalem, including an Arab-Israeli blogger who hopes citizen blogging can transform the West Bank.

(I'll have video for each day as well, but the video for the first day is still uploading to YouTube. I'll add it to this post and update when it's available.)

UPDATE: Now with day one video:

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

I'll be back...just not quite yet...first, to Israel

Apologies for this corner having gone dark recently.

It's been a busy stretch at work, including spending most of the last week in Las Vegas for HP's Americas Partner conference. It's an event that always generates lots to cover for us, but then throw in HP deciding to drop $1.2 billion to buy Palm while I was there, and it got even busier. Was a fun trip though. Stayed at one of the newer Vegas properties, Aria, and I quite liked it. Unlike most cavernous Vegas properties where they don't want you to be reminded of the world outside, Aria has lots of glass and natural light. And there's also a route from your room to the conference centre that doesn't involve going through the casino , a first in my Vegas experience and surely a design flaw... And speaking of the casino, I'm not a big gambler but did finish in the green, including a win in the sports book from taking the Habs in game six. Didn't bet on game seven; they surprised me there.

After less than three days back home though, on Sunday afternoon I'm on the road again, but this time for pleasure. I've been invited on a week-long trip to Israel, organized by the CIC and funded by a private donor. Steve at Far and Wide will also be coming, along with some NDP/left-wing bloggers I look forward to meeting. Steve has a good run-down in the itinerary so I won't re-hash it, suffice to say it's busy, diverse and interesting. A good mix of sight-seeing and meetings with an interesting group of local politicians, journalists and bloggers, and even our ambassador to Israel. I shall try to approach it all with an open, but slightly skeptical mind. (If you're interested, here is the current Coles Notes of my opinion on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.)

I'm not sure the schedule will allow for much time for blogging during the trip, but I shall try, and certainly I'll have lots to say and share upon my return. All I ask are for two things while I'm gone: my Canucks to still be playing hockey, and my country not to have bumbled its way into an election.

Since my hiatus is to continue a little longer, a few brief thoughts on recent developments in Canadian political land:

* While we've all been distracted with either Jaffer/Guergis nonsense or the detainee docudrama, the Liberals have actually been talking and releasing policy. And much of it is aimed at rural Canada. First was some very sensible ideas around getting more doctors and nurses into rural areas by, among other things, forgiving part of their student loans if they make that commitment. This was followed by a "Canada First Good Policy" to support and promote local farmers and access to safe, healthy food, and a commitment to rural postal service.

Of course, policy isn't sexy enough for media coverage these days so you may not have heard about any of this, and the punditry that scolded the Liberals for not talking policy are, when they talk about it at all, scolding them for talking policy. Outside the Ottawa bubble, however, Canadians are much more concerned about finding a family doctor than they are about who Rahim Jaffer e-mailed. So I hope we keep pushing the policy.

* That's not to say the Jaffer/Guergis stuff isn't important. The investigations should proceed, and if serving ministers acting inappropriately or in contravention of the rules, that should be exposed and they should face the consequences. The e-mails and other documents that came out this week certainly seem to show that the Conservatives have been far from honest about Jaffer's access and influence in his seemingly not overly successful non-lobbying career. And it's often more the lack of honesty than the actual deeds that seems to hurt more in these stories, in my experience.

* On the docu-drama, the speaker's ruling this week was certainly very significant, as was the reaction of Conservative partisans. I think what some of them fail to recognize is that this isn't really about detainee torture anymore. It's about democracy, and it's about the right and responsibility of the legislative branch to be a check on the activities of the executive branch. Harper was elected by a little over 38,000 people in Calgary Southwest; he has no right to thumb his nose at the Parliament of Canada.

One has to think saner heads will prevail here. Ignore the testosterone-fueled rantings of the likes of Kory Teneycke. The Conservatives don't want an election over this. They won't be able to make it about coddling the Taliban, it's an asinine argument. It would be about a dictatorial leader refusing to respect the will of the people's elected democratic representatives. And the Cons didn't exactly fare well during the prorogation drama, now did they?

There will be a compromise reached that allows the opposition access to the uncensored documents, likely in a secret or confidential manner that respects national security concerns. We've seen signals along those lines already from Conservaland. Ironically, always concerned about political posturing and positioning, they're already trying to paint such a compromise as an opposition back-down. Truth is though, the opposition has been proposing such a scenario for months; the government has continually rebuffed it. So, as much as it matters, it would be them backing down. Let's just hope saner heads prevail all around though.

* Speaking of saner heads, the head of our military, General Walter Natynczyk, is cool with giving all of the un-redacted documents to parliament, saying the military has nothing to hide. Which raises two questions for me. One: must it be the Harper government with something to hide then? And two, if we employ standard Conservative logic here and respond as the government would in question period, I have to ask, why does our Chief of Defence Staff not support our troops, and why is he a Taliban sympathizer?

* Speaking of interlopers in our midst, turns out that pollster Frank Graves, who the Conservatives are portraying as some kind of undercover Liberal mole polluting the public airwaves of the CBC pretending to be unbiased, has actually been getting millions of dollars of polling contracts from the Conservative government. Including $131,440 from Harper's own Privy Council Office.

I'm sure Dean Del Mastro will join me in demanding that a Parliamentary Committee immediately investigate how this government could give millions of dollars in polling work to a know Liberal stooge. Or maybe they could just, you know, admit this whole manufactured drama is stupid and move on to serious issues. Either one would be fine.

* And on Graves and this culture war nonesense the Cons are hyper-ventilating about, I could go on at length but let me just say this: the Cons have been fighting a culture-war for years in this country. Urban vs. rural, Tim Horton's vs. academic elites and fancy gala goers, support the troops vs you're all taliban lovers, tough on crime vs hug-a-thug. They've been fighting a culture war, we just haven't been fighting back. All Graves "advised" was for the Liberals to start employing some wedges of their own, to fight back, to basically use some of the same tactics Harper et. al. have to some success. And this is news, somehow? For the Cons to be all bitchy about someone suggesting their own tactics be used against them, tactics which have been part of politics, by the way, forever, is just stupid.

* Lastly, I have a great deal of respect for Ujjal Dosanjh, for what he has consistently and resolutely stood for throughout his career, the principled approach he takes to public life, and the energy and commitment with which he approaches it. And I join those who have condemned the threats and attacks against him and others who have dared to stand up to extremism in any of its guises. I'm no sure I agree completely with his take on the impact multiculturalism is having on Canadian society. But it's an important issue we should be debating, and it should be a debate free of threat and intimidation, in the best of Canadian traditions.

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